Esquivel, Eric M. (author); Franscisco, Tina (artist); Hao Mae (colorist); Duenas, Rob (cover art)
1 Volume (complete)
Yo-kai are strange creatures who can temporarily influence humans with abilities or emotions. Some yo-kai try to help people; others cause mischief. Snartle, for instance, is supposed to teach naughty brats a lesson, but his definition of what a “naughty brat” is is going overboard! Will anybody be able to stop him?
Yo-kai Watch, as most of you know, is a Japanese media franchise. There is a manga version being released by VIZ Media, but IDW Comics got the rights to create their own American-style comic. Three issues were published, and although the last chapter ends with the hope of a second volume, the series was likely canned.
And if it wasn’t cancelled before, it is likely now: in December 2018, news broke that the author of this Yo-kai Watch comic was accused of sexual abuse and misconduct. As of this writing, Yo-kai Watch is still available for purchase in physical and digital formats, but it is possible that IDW Publishing may eventually pull it. I went back and forth on whether I should even post this review since it’s ultimately giving Esquivel more attention, but I ultimately decided to because a) I had already done the work and b) others may be interested in his works (which include Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man, series which may be of interest to manga fans) and be unaware of these allegations.
Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t be recommending this anyway.
I have played the original Yo-kai Watch and watched some of the anime, but I haven’t read the manga adaptation. So while I am hardly an expert, I do know the rules of the Yo-kai Watch universe. Or at least I thought I did. I’m not sure which is wrong, the comic or me… but I think it’s the comic.
Before I go any further though, I want you to take a look at the cover. Let’s also take a look at the official description used on the back cover and on websites:
The Japanese smash hit comes to America! YO-KAI WATCH is one of the hottest video game and collectible toy brands in the world, and now you can capture the fun in these all-new comics!
Come along with Nate, Whisper, Jibanyan, and all your favorite YO-KAI WATCH characters, human and Yo-kai alike, on an all-new adventure. Some not-so-friendly Yo-kai, like the sinister Snartle, are up to no good, and it’s up to our heroes to save the day and restore peace to Springdale!
Ok, ignoring the fact that Yo-kai Watch is rapidly falling in popularity in Japan — let alone in America and the rest of the world — the blurb seems pretty straightforward: Snartle is causing trouble in Springdale, and the main characters have to stop him. Well, let me show you who on the cover is actually featured in the story:
Yep, only Jibanyan and Whisper. Nate and Negatibuzz are seen in one panel, but that’s it. Whisper is a narrator and color commentator for the story of Snartle versus the three main ‘nyan yo-kai. First is a story set in the past with Shogunyan, then Jibanyan in the present, and finally in the future with Robonyan. All together, the book runs about 80 pages, which is on the short side. Not including Nate means that gags like, “It must be a yo-kai!” or Whisper using his tablet are not included, and instead most of the jokes involve Snartle’s age, his obsession with taking down the ‘nyan family, and the images of being inspirited by the ‘nyan.
As Snartle is the only character to appear in all three chapters (minus Whisper, who doesn’t participate in the actual story), this is his story. He decides to punish every “ye naughty brat”, but Shogunyan stands in his way. After that, Snartle swears to get revenge on him or his descendants. Snartle’s backstory is revealed in the very first chapter, and it is revisited in the last. What confused me is that he mentions that long ago, “not even other yo-kai” could stop his pranks, but we see him as a human. Unless the author meant that yo-kai couldn’t inspirit him to make him good or happy, like Happierre? There’s no yo-kai in the panel, so it’s confusing. It gets more confusing later when — spoiler alert — he meets his mother, who calls him “Snartie-poo”. How was she able to see him and know that was her son? The comic is hardly the first entry in the series to play around with time travel, but I think the only explanation is that Snartle goes into hiding for hundreds of years at a time before emerging in a new version of Springdale, from its Japanese feudal past to the high-tech city of the future.
In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. The whole thing is a side story, and if you’re like me and enjoy the main combination of Nate/Whisper/Jibanyan, Yo-kai Watch will leave you disappointed. The conversations Snartle has with Jibanyan and Robonyan give a little taste of what could have been: Jibanyan is just clueless why this weird creature is demanding revenge, and Robonyan’s many tools and android logic play well of off Snartle’s overly emotional self.
Even besides that, it’s disappointing that there are really only four, five yo-kai featured out of 200+. The opening pages show a diverse Springfield, so this could have shown the American-like city that the localized version tries to present instead of the Japan-like one in the anime. The coloring is also fantastic, and it’s my favorite aspect of this release. The art is shaky at points (the panel with the princess being inspirited shows her with an ugly, off-balanced expression), but thanks to the full-color pages, this is something that really could have beentruly eye-grabbing. Snartle, for instance, looks impressive, and I can’t help but wish we would have seen more yo-kai like in the opening introduction.
I don’t mind the fact that this is one arc versus several separate chapters like in some other IDW Publishing releases, but at least that might have allowed readers to have more yo-kai fun. There are ways I think the comic could have told Snartle’s story in a single issue by reducing some of the bloat. Seeing a Japanese princess suddenly kicking butt with an umbrella was a lot of fun, but it probably could have been shown in a single page instead of three. Or Snartle and Shogunyan’s fight could have been fought then and there versus a few pages later. Otherwise, the art is modern American comic-style, but it throws in a few jokes like using Japanese sound effects when set in the past.
I will also add that the physical version of this comic is a hardcover release. I did not realize that, but to compensate, it’s smaller than, say, IDW Publishing’s My Little Pony collected comics. Still, the cover is of nice quality, and combined with the smaller pagecount and height/width, the book opens nicely and the binding feels tight even when fully opened.
While the colors will attract some attention, this comic version of Yo-kai Watch did not impress me. It just did not feature enough of the titular yo-kai — let alone the watch — to capture my attention.