Let’s get one thing clear: Neo Yokio is a hot mess, but a brilliant one nonetheless. The lovechild Vampire Weekend’s lead vocalist Ezra Koenig and the animation efforts of Production I.G. and Studio Deen, the first season of the “not quite an anime” doesn’t know what it wants to be; while it does miss the mark frequently, overall it’s a fun romp for those that have a penchant for the avant garde.
Neo Yokio is an alternate universe version of New York (and I would assume Tokyo), where the wealthy flock and live their lavish lifestyles. However, a horde of demons devastated the city in the 19th century, but it was thanks to the efforts of the Magistocrats (those who used their magic powers to slay demons) that the city was once again inhabitable. Enter Kaz Kaan (voiced by Jaden Smith), a descendant of the Magistocrats who, with his robot butler and aunt, balances being a rich young adult and demon slayer. Now, this premise was oddly engaging; after all, with a city full of demons and a young, wealthy demon slayer, it could turn into a little “Batman meets Mob Psycho 100” sort of deal. However, while the initial plot seems pretty interesting, it’s the execution of it that’s pretty uneven.
The demon slayer arc is promptly shelved halfway into the six-episode season, which is a bit of a shame. The series is strongest when it takes a lighthearted spin on fighting monsters in a metropolis, with the first two episodes dealing with Kaz’s Magistocrat powers as well as his obsession with wealth and fame. After exorcising fashion blogger Helena St. Tessero, he has to constantly deal with her comprehensive lectures on the dangers of excess, and how the rich are terrible for caring about themselves. Other than this, Kaz also has to try and fix his ranking on the “bachelor board”, an odd landmark that displays guys based on how “eligible” they are.
The main issue with Neo Yokio is that it doesn’t have its own identity. I would’ve much rather have a consistently “bad in a good way” show that the first half provided rather than a “slice of life” series with angst in the second half. It shifts into a satire of the contemporary view of success (as well as lineage and old money/new money), which is fine, but the tonal shifts are so abrupt it ruins the pacing quite a bit. The pieces for an excellent anime are there, but they don’t fit together.
For how much a lot of the supporting cast looks down on him, you’d be hard pressed to actually like the main character, however. Throughout the series, Kaz is a self-centered, manipulative boy that, for the most part, cares only for himself. He’s full of angst and spouts pseudo-philosophical nonsense at every turn, and…
It’s pretty hilarious, actually.
You see, everything about Neo Yokio is filled with decadence and egotism; almost every character lives the life of luxury with no sense of self-awareness, and it does make the show feel like a commentary on the upper-class. Think if the entirety of Adventure Time was basically the insufferable, bratty Lumpy Space Princess living in Lumpy Space for 8 seasons. However, it’s unintentionally a humorous comedy due to how low-quality the show is. Characters won’t lip sync properly, the animation is choppy and awkward at times while the sound design is unintuitive (quiet sound effects ahoy!) It’s so bombastic, however, that you can’t help but chuckle at the gaudiness of it all. The third episode, for example, has a trio of rabid fangirls dedicated to Helena’s exploits so much that they decide to sacrifice Kaz in order to get themselves possessed because, as they put it, “Helena got possessed, so we should too! She’s our queen!” Said episode is also resolved with a big Toblerone, which is a surprisingly important item that is referenced in nearly all the episodes. It’s this ridiculous plot that got me going through the rest of the series, and while the episodes after that are humdrum compared to the first three, they’re still worth a look. (There’s one scene where Kaz and his arch nemesis reluctantly call each other homies in the final episode that’s pretty cheesy, though.)
The voice actors are of varying quality, which is surprising due to the sheer number of celebrities this show manages to have in its cast: you’ve got Jude Law and Susan Sarandon as main characters, and even Steve Buscemi and Stephen Fry guest star in a couple of episodes. The newer voice talent is where the show falters, with Jaden Smith and Tavi Gevinson (who voices Helena St. Tessero) delivering their lines as awkwardly as possible. However, this actually benefits due to the aforementioned unintentional comedy, but when compared to the all-stars in the cast, the voice talent is mixed in execution.
As much as I love the lighthearted trainwreck of it all, I can’t fully recommend Neo Yokio to those looking for a serious high-quality anime, however. Its vapid exposition mixed with below-average animation and unlikeable characters will likely be ignored by connoisseurs of the medium. Would I want another season? Of course! But just one more, because any longer and it follows the Sharknado sequels’ decline in quality, where it gains self-awareness and turns from “so bad it’s good” into just plain bad. If you’re a fan of the dubbed version of Ghost Stories, however, you should check this one out.
: While objectively a disappointing series with a cast of obnoxious characters and stilted visuals, Neo Yokio is still an enjoyable romp if you’re into unintentionally funny stuff. Just be sure to leave your expectations at the door before you stream this one on Netflix.