With the recent debut of the English dub of Yo-kai Watch on Disney XD in North America, the global takeover of the Yo-kai Watch franchise has begun. We were fortunate enough to ask some questions of David H. Steinberg the writer behind the English localization of the anime series and get the inside scoop on the Western take on the Japanese phenomenon. Read on for the full interview:
Yo-kai Watch has officially debuted in the West with the anime now airing on Disney XD in America. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and involvement in the series localization?
Early last year, the Executive Producer Mark Risley was hired to head up the localization team. I had worked with Mark on several other projects in the past and he brought me and my writing partner Keetgi Kogan onboard. What we do is more than translating but less than pure writing since we’re adhering to the original story. We take the translation of the Japanese and then conform it to the Western speaking styles, trying our best to make it sync with the original animation. We also change certain cultural elements that might not be easily understood by a Western audience.
When you became involved with the series were you aware of the level of popularity it had in Japan as well as abroad? How did it affect your approach to the dub?
Yes, absolutely. We knew from the beginning what a massive hit the property is and that added to our stress level to make sure the U.S. version was as good as the original. We also became big fans of the show ourselves, so we always wanted to satisfy the real fans and not just make a low quality American version.
Many of the English names for the Yo-kai are rather ‘punny’. Did you get to name any of them or did you simply follow suit from the localization team of the 3DS game? Do you have any personal favourites?
The names were given to us by the LEVEL-5 team. We couldn’t believe what an amazing job they did. I love Dazzabel and Hidabat. Also Buhu and Dimmy are fun names. Insomni!
Considering that Yo-kai Watch is a multi-platform media project, did you feel any pressure with the dub to ensure that it remains consistent with the other extended media such as the manga series or the video-games?
LEVEL-5 was in charge of making sure everything stayed consistent. Occasionally we got notes that a different platform was handling something differently than the way we did it but usually we were always on the same page from the beginning.
One of the major concerns anime fans have when they hear a series is getting dubbed for the West is that it will end up censored. Is the Yo-kai Watch dub censored in any significant way and what challenges did you face in this regard?
Let’s be honest—there are some things in the original Japanese version that just won’t fly in the U.S. However, I bet people will be very surprised how much of the more outrageous moments we were able to keep.
The series is known for its handling of the concept of death. This is usually a taboo subject matter in English localization, often being censored as being ‘defeated’ or ‘going away’. I imagine this is not something easy to censor in a series like Yo-kai Watch, what with the tragic backstory of Jibanyan revolving around it. How will this be approached in the dub?
Many Yo-kai are dead people or animals so there’s really no way around that! Often it’s simply a matter of de-emphasizing the dying itself, but often it’s just not a problem. Aside from Jibanyan’s back story and maybe Manjimutt’s, we usually don’t see how Yo-kai became Yo-kai. And I think the original handles it very tactfully.
Earlier this year a preview was released online for the dub featuring an original song not present in the Japanese version. Many thought this was planned to be the localized theme song for the series. However soon after an English version of the popular ‘Gera Gera Po’ song was released online and revealed to be the actual theme for the dub. Was this always going to be the case or was this change in reaction to negative fan response to that original theme?
I have no idea.
I read that you wrote the lyrics for the English version of ‘Gera Gera Po’ and ‘Yo-kai Excercise No.1’. There is a line in the ‘Gera Gera Po’ song that has got a lot of fans wondering where exactly Springdale (The town in which Nate lives) is located in America. Is it a town in Idaho as many believe or is are you going for a Springfield situation like in The Simpsons to keep fans guessing?
I co-wrote the English lyrics to ‘Gera Gera Po’ with the director Mark Risley. The Idaho line was really just a funny line about how there’s more Yo-kai than potatoes (taters) in Idaho (where potatoes are grown in the U.S.). Mark wrote that line and it was never meant as some sort of Easter egg for savvy fans to figure out that the show really takes place in Idaho! In fact, someone recently told us there really is a Springdale in Idaho and we were like, “Oops.” No, it doesn’t take place in Idaho. It takes place in an average American town. I believe Springdale is a close translation of Sakura New Town in the original.
Yo-kai Watch is often compared to Pokemon, which of course needs no introduction. Pokemon and Yo-kai Watch even share the same anime production company in Japan, OLM. A lot of anime fans grew up with Pokemon with many saying it got them into anime. Do you believe that Yo-kai Watch can be this generation’s Pokemon and inspire another anime boom or do you think it will be something else all together?
I know everyone likes to compare Yo-kai Watch to Pokemon but honestly the shows are so different, it’s really kind of silly. Yo-kai Watch is much more like a traditional sitcom and I think we see things much more from the point of view of the human characters.
Some have had concerns about whether the very Japanese concept of ‘Yo-kai’ would translate to a Western audience. How have you tackled that in the localization and do you feel that the series is universal in its content?
I really do think it taps into something universal. Yo-kai Watch is about the human experience of trying to explain the unexplained, but it’s also about the difficulties of being an adolescent when adolescence is all about daily embarrassments. Yo-kai are in my opinion a story-telling device that personify these embarrassments. They are awkwardness explained.
The series has blown up social media ever since the dub was announced. Have you been surprised by the intense following the series has inspired in on social media and do you find yourself influenced at all by it when writing the series?
Not surprised at all—I expect no less from the die-hard fans. The only influence the popularity has on the production is that we really, really want to make it great.
In Japan there are stores dedicated entirely to Yo-kai Watch toys or even stores just for Yo-kai Medals in Akihabara. Hasbro has announced a plethora of merchandise based upon the series for the West including there own line of Medals which are sure to be a hit. Have you had a chance to get your hands on any of the new toys? If so what do you think of Hasbro’s take?
I have only seen concept designs, no actual products. I can’t wait to see them though because I have heard that the U.S. toys are absolutely amazing.
By all counts Yo-kai Watch is set to be a huge hit with LEVEL-5 launching what looks to be the beginning of global Yo-kai domination. How does it feel for you personally to be a part of something as big as Yo-kai Watch?
It’s fun and gratifying to be a small part of any huge cultural phenomenon for sure. But it’s also daunting and a little humbling. We have to get it right or we’re in big trouble!
Do you have anything you’d like to say to fans of Yo-kai Watch who will be tuning in to watch the dub on Disney XD?
We are big fans of the series, too. Our job is to make it accessible to people who’ve never seen the original anime but to keep it as close to the original as possible. We want to satisfy the fans who fell in love with the show in Japan and don’t want to see it anything changed, but we also want to make it accessible to new fans who can come to the show and see what an amazingly rich, and funny, world the show has to offer.
Special thanks to David H. Steinberg and LEVEL-5 Abby for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out Yo-kai Watch on Disney XD in the U.S. Be sure to check local listing for those outside of North America. Be sure to let us know what you think of this interview in the comments section below.
You can follow all things Yo-kai Watch on their various channels:
Yo-kai World Website
Yo-kai Watch Youtube
Yo-kai Watch Official Facebook
Yo-kai Watch Instagram
Yo-kai Watch Tumbr