Review: Neo Yokio is cuckoo bananas.

kaz kaan in new yokio netflix

This show is cuckoo bananas. Straight up. It will likely be divisive as hell too because nearly every globule of Neo Yokio bleeds the kind of singularly weird voice that speaks to an alienatingly specific crowd.

Synopsis: “Welcome to Neo Yokio, the greatest city in the world. Neo Yokio is a diverse labyrinth of cultural and architectural innovation at the forefront of global fashion and finance. All of this is cold comfort to the lovesick Kaz Kaan (Jaden Smith), the youngest member of a family of: “magistocrats” – pink-haired demon slayers who once liberated the city. Today, his demon-slaying is barely more than a side-hustle coordinated by his Aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) – Kaz himself would rather concern himself with shopping, field hockey and – of course – mending his broken heart. Always by Kaz’s side are his faithful mecha-butler, Charles (Jude Law), and his inseparable friends Lexy and Gottlieb (The Kid Mero and Desus Nice) as he navigates the complexities of life in Neo Yokio and tries to stay one step ahead of his arch-rival, Neo Yokio’s number one most eligible bachelor, Arcangelo Corelli (Jason Schwartzman.) Things take a mysterious turn when Kaz is drawn into the turbulent world of ex-fashion blogger Helena St. Tessero (Tavi Gevinson), setting in motion a sequence of events that force him to question everything he knows about Neo Yokio.”

Okay, that’s a big synopsis and it only covers part of what this show’s about. The first thing you have to know is that this show has some ingenious levels to it – or it could just be so arduously bad that it tricks you into thinking it does. Way, way back, Neo Yokio was infested with demons so the mayor hired wizards (known as “rat-catchers”) to exorcise these demons from high-society’s ranks. Over the years, these wizards became ingratiated into Neo Yokio’s upper-class. They are looked down upon by the “old money” and seen as “neo-riche” (new rich). So there’s this divide between the wealthy elite that Kaz is caught up in (when he’s not exorcising demons to fund his extravagant lifestyle).

Another important part of this show is that it almost exclusively focuses on the 1% of Neo Yokio’s most wealthy citizens (which becomes a big plot point later on) and their eccentric (foolish, self-absorbed, bizarre, wasteful) tastes & hobbies. Most people will look at New Yokio as an anime parody – which it is on a few shallow levels – but really the show is mocking people’s obsession with materialism and celebrity. It has a great deal of fun at high society’s expense and even begins to touch upon the divide between the ultra-wealthy and ultra-poor (though the show is only six episodes long so what we see is just the tip of the iceberg on that front).

An example of this is Kaz’s friends and their start-up business that sells “Caprese Martinis” – which is exactly what it sounds like: a martini made using the ingredients of a caprese salad. Like so many of the ultra-rich they can spend their time on such random endeavors. They even start their own bar which only seats two people (unless both Lexi and Gottlieb are there, then it only seats one person) – a most fitting metaphor for the snobbish enclaves they inhabit.

Neo Yokio emphasizes the supercilious importance of high-fashion  throughout the series. At first it just seems like the show is name-dropping high-end brands to drive home the point that these characters are wealthy, but from episode one – when Kaz literally tosses a several-thousand dollar watch away because it reminds him of an ex – this obsession with fashion is nuanced, but immensely ridiculed. Even more so with the arrival Helena Saint Tessero – the former fashion blogger turned anti-materialistic hikikomori (don’t feel bad, I had to look that up too) whose becomes the only member of the wealthy elite to challenge Kaz and Neo Yokio’s fashion-obsessed social structure.

helena st tessero in netflix neo yokio

The show wades pretty deep into the waters of societal commentary, but is also just pretty damn funny and creative. The animation style is that of any number of low-grade anime, but the show itself is very imaginative in its conception of a neo-modern New York. Between the underwater neighborhoods, the rooftop cemeteries and even the larger throw-back global political scene, the world of Neo Yokio is fully realized to a surprising degree.

The characters follow suit with this clandestine complexity.  Even the most air-headed, one-dimensional character of Arcangelo is utilized to speak volumes about this society. At first he is Kaz’s most heated rival, but after the Bachelor Board (oh, right – forgot to mention, there’s a huge digital billboard in Times Square that shows the “bachelor rankings” of Neo Yokio’s upper class; another bit of commentary on our obsession with celebrity) is destroyed Arcangelo wants to be immediate friends with Kaz. His cavalier attitude towards their rivalry shows how most of what happens at that level is purely about keeping up appearances. Kaz himself exemplifies this attitude. Despite being tasked with the duty of exorcising demons, he sees this mainly as an impediment to his social life. People are literally being possessed by demons and he’s more caught up in the drama of whether or not his midnight blue suit will be acceptable for the black-and-white ball later that night.

 

The best part of the show is the absurdist humor sprinkled in between anti-materialistic (some say “radical”) undertones. Jokes about gigantic Toblerones, mecha-robot pilots, magical water spells gone awry, dating a shitty DJ and squid-ink fettuccini are just a handful of the snake-fuckingly-weird jokes this show lays in throughout the course of the series. The only weak-point is the voice acting for some of the characters. Voice acting is a rarified art and while the slipshod delivery may be an intentional nod to early 90’s anime dubs, it wasn’t that off-putting to the untrained ear. In some ways it actually added to the low-fi charm of the whole endeavor, but again – if someone watched the first ep and was thoroughly annoyed by it – that would be completely understandable (and they’re probably a fucking herb anyways).

With only six, twenty-minute episodes (so basically two hours), you could easily burn right through Neo Yokio in an afternoon – if you can make it past the first episode. Even if the show doesn’t resonate with you (and you’re probably more emotionally healthy if it doesn’t haha) you have to appreciate creator Ezra Koenig’s audaciousness in crafting such a distinct vision.

jason schwarztman as arcangelo in neo yokio

You can let us know your thoughts (we’re sure they’ll  oh-so well informed and eloquent) about Neo Yokio on Twitter @Official_FAN