Neo Yokio Review
It’s Saturday morning, and my 3-year old is distracted enough that I’m able to regain control of the television, freeing the rest of the house from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The tell-tale audio tone and familiar logo following my selection lets me know that within seconds at this point, there would streaming options aplenty! Soon, there would be Netflix, and all will be right with the world.
I didn’t come in looking for anything specific, just an honest attempt to avoid an entire morning of television geared towards toddlers. I’m browsing my queue, and something jumps out at me that I don’t recognize at first, so I leave the dining room for a closer look. Firm in the belief that I wasn’t losing my mind, I say aloud, “That anime character is Black. Yay, inclusion!” Created by Vampire Weekend frontman, Ezra Koenig, Neo Yokio released September 22, and opens with a promotional video from the opulent city’s Board of Tourism detailing its history. Its residents refer to Neo Yokio as the envy of the world, and as such, demons attack the town during the 18th century. There is no origin for the invaders, nor motive given, only that “hateful creatures” attacked on a massive scale. After the resulting turmoil, Neo Yokio’s Mayor allows low-class magical adepts referred to as “Rat Catchers” to become town citizens, granted they use their unique abilities to defend the town, perform exorcisms, etc. Generations later, the descendants of those original mages now live among the other non-magical residents, as “Magistocrats,” bringing us to modern day.
We’re introduced to the story’s protagonist, Kaz Kaan, played by Jaden Smith, as he’s attended by Charles, the mecha-butler voiced by Jude Law. Kaz is feeling a bit sullen after a break-up, and 3 weeks later, would rather spend his days sulking on a bench at the Tennis Club where his former lover used to play. Right on cue, since this is in an intro, we soon meet Lexy and Gottlieb, two friends of Kaz, also teammates on the Field Hockey team. The Championships are coming, but Kaz is too crestfallen to focus on playing, so he and Charles take off for a pre-scheduled lunch date with another character, Aunt Agatha. The perennially apathetic Kaz is no more attentive to Agatha’s demands as he shirks his duties, not only to the city, but his family’s legacy as a Magistocrat. Auntie Exposition makes mention of a world-famous fashion blogger, who just so happens to be possessed by an evil spirit. Finally motivated by something, Kaz springs into action; because remember, this is a show about magic and mysticism, not Dolce & Gabbana. Right? Well, one of the voice actors also used to be… a world-famous fashion blogger! Remember this for when you start seeing labels everywhere.
Unfortunately, the backstory is about as good as this show gets. What follows next are six dull episodes, starring a lead that is as flat, aloof, and vapid as Jaden Smith’s performance would indicate. Kaz Kaan is an extremely self-absorbed character, with the only notable personality trait being his obsession with the fashion industry and the concept of high society. When passing an elderly man tending his wife’s grave with perfume, he chastises the man for his choice in fragrance stating, “You old folks are funny like that. You don’t have the same understanding of style.” Neo Yokio as a city is only notable in that the majority of its citizens are extremely wealthy – that, and it’s underwater for some reason that’s never explained. With all its riches, you’d think it would manifest in some way other than brand-obsession, but you’d be wrong. Charles, Kaz’ mecha-butler is the only sign of advanced technology you’re likely to find in the series, as everything else is pretty much 2017 for rich dicks.
There was plenty of mediocrity to go around considering the other characters aren’t handled that much better. Lexy and Gottlieb, Kaz’ two best friends seem to be written just to inject a little “flavor” to the ensemble but as it stands, come off droll stereotypes. Lexy’s only purpose beyond being another dark-skinned character is to say call you “B,” or “Dawg,” if he isn’t saying, “Oh, snap!” Partner Gottlieb isn’t too dissimilar minus his written dialogue. Both characters are about as empty as Kaz, though the actors (Kid Mero and Desus Nice) themselves appear to have put in a lot more effort in voicing their characters than our star, Mr. Smith. The duo is also involved later in a story line about Caprese Martinis somehow, but you’re not likely to care. When there is action, the music almost never matches the backdrop, strange considering how many professional musicians are involved behind the scenes.
Despite its promise of showcasing “a diverse labyrinth of cultural and architectural innovation,” both as show and a concept, Neo Yokio misses the mark by a longshot. Instead, it comes across as little more than a series of ads for the fashion industry, brought to you by the fashion industry. There may be more characters of color here than in any anime I’ve ever seen, but I’m not sure who this show is trying to cater to. Characters drool incessantly over labels, while it seems entire conversations were crafted just to cram as many big-name designers and high-end shops into one sentence until all that’s left is an aural orgy, a cacophonic clusterfuck of capitalism gone horribly wrong. Even performances from actors like Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Steve Buscemi and the late Frank Vincent don’t save this sinking ship. Scenes are even replayed with different dialogue, to pad the production. Note the tennis game that opens and end the series.
Even if this is intended to be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek indictment of the ultra-rich (is it?), other shows have done it better. It does break ground in its attempt to tackle topics such as gender fluidity and the Sex-positive movement, but mostly it just rips off other anime. (Good anime, like Ranma ½!) Neo Yokio even attempts to illustrate the lengths some people will go through to emulate their idols. In this example, fans of Helena deliberately get possessed by demons, though Helena herself had long been exorcised. Again, good attempt, but a bit on-the-nose and ultimately falls flat. Unfortunately, that also also sums up this series perfectly as a whole. Kaz Kaan said it himself, “the future is an interminable abyss of wackness.” That’s what’s in store if you plan on visiting Neo Yokio. Nothing to see here, people. Move along!