Yōkai Watch is the smash hit creation of video game company Level 5. Based in a world where a young boy gains the ability to interact with spirit creatures, called Yōkai, through the use of a mystical watch, the series has so far had three number video games, a TV anime series, and three movies–the latest of which is currently in Japanese theaters.
Yōkai Watch: The Flying Whale and The Double World Adventure (unofficial title translation) is the third Yōkai Watch movie–and a massive departure from most children’s anime movies like it. The movie follows protagonist Keita Amano and his pal Yōkai. One day, as they are going through their daily lives, a giant whale Yōkai appears over the city. The whale lets out a giant bellow and, instantly, the world is transformed from anime to real life, leaving Keita and the Yōkai confused.
From the onset, the Yōkai Watch movie is ambitious in its concept; mix anime and real life in a coherent story. And on that level, it works fantastically. A lot of effort has obviously been put in to make the transition scenes between the two worlds work smoothly and the resulting effects are genuinely entertaining. Backgrounds blend smoothly between the anime and real life and back again, and the real life people are as close to their anime counterparts as possible. While everyone else in the world remains blissfully ignorant to the sudden change, Keita and his friends are acutely aware that things are different and even work differently compared to their own anime world. This leads to numerous meta gags that quite honestly never get boring. The characters are regularly commenting on how things in the anime world are a lot easier than in the “real” world.
Those who know me know that more often than not I have problems with child actors. That said, the actor they got to play the real life Keita, Ryouka Minamide, manages to pull off an excellent job. Of all the child actors in the film, he was by far the best and most natural, and while there were a few moments where his acting felt a little rough around the edges, I was never completely taken out of the movie. Considering he was on screen for the majority of the time and pretty much had to hold up an entire movie by himself, I have to say I was impressed.
As for the Yōkai in the movie, as can be seen from the trailer, in the real world scenes, all the Yōkai character are portrayed with CG. This works for the most part. The premise that they’re spirits makes any sort of “fakeness” easier to buy. It’s only when they try to really integrate the real world and the CG through direct contact or literal fusing that things become jarring.
While the movie remains adventurous and magical for the most part, it’s towards then end when it gets into a climactic battle that it actually gets weaker. The final showdown feels very drawn out and a little ham-fisted in its execution. A “bad guy but actually a victim” character is introduced earlier, but their motivations–and pretty much existence–are all but forgotten until the very end. All the character drama that has been driving the movie to that point seems to come screeching to a halt for a lengthy set piece to take place before getting to continue.
The Yōkai Watch is primarily aimed at children. As such, the movie also has a “kiddy” feel to it with emphasis on adventure and fun, but weakness in consistency and a story that, while world-encompassing, hardly ventures outside the protagonist’s personal space. As much as I personally hate the term “turn your brain off to enjoy,” the Yōkai Watch movie fits firmly into that category. At the same time, while things hold up less the more you think about them, if you can’t get over the series’ premise alone–young boy can see and befriend various spirit creatures that are responsible for everyday supernatural phenomena–then you already know whether you’ll be able to get into this movie or not.
I went into the Yōkai Watch movie dreading the fact that it had a child actor in it. In the end, that turned out to be the least of my concerns. While the movie features many of the weaknesses of your standard children’s film, it still managed to remain entertaining with the concept that it was sold on–the switching between the anime world and the real world–holding up and making for a legitimately entertaining piece.
The third Yōkai Watch movie, Yōkai Watch: The Flying Whale and The Double World Adventure, is currently playing in theaters in Japan. No word on a Western release.