Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s Neo Yokio.
Going through the six-episode first season of the Netflix anime Neo Yokio, you vaguely feel like you’re watching a parody of something. But a parody of what?
The names behind the project alone are enough to give the impression of a show that doesn’t plan on taking itself too seriously. Neo Yokio was created by Ezra Koenig, frontman of Vampire Weekend and cardigan-clad prince of Twitter quips. Jaden Smith is on the roster of voice actors as protagonist Kaz Kaan, the scion in a long line of demon slayers whose day-to-day life looks like a Lacoste ad, aided by a mecha butler played by Jude Law. Tavi Gevinson (an upstanding human being, if you ever get to meet her) plays Helena St. Tessero, a fashion blogger turned enemy of the state bent on dismantling the bourgeoisie status quo. All this in an art style reminiscent of, say, Cardcaptor Sakura or UFO Baby.
A dope synopsis for sure, and sometimes the setup works. There are many ways a setting like magical upstate New York can work, like when Kaz has to exorcise a demon pop star from Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, which is worth a laugh just because it’s ridiculous. (Fave zinger: “Demonic chapel? This is a club! My boyfriend’s the DJ, he spins Gregorian house!”)
For all its idiosyncrasies and goals, perhaps Neo Yokio is meant for an audience with very specific tastes. The kind of people who grew up with Ouran High School Host Club then got into Skins. Or the kind of people who are perfectly comfortable talking about the evils of capitalism while munching on a P600 granola bowl.
But there are a lot of things about Neo Yokio that make it feel a little too offbeat: upper class trappings that seem more alienating than entertaining; the stiff and choppy animation (which can work, like in Kappa Mikey — does anybody remember Kappa Mikey? — but just doesn’t here); the obvious parallels between melancholic rich boy Jaden Smith and the melancholic rich boy character he plays. Plus it’s really weird hearing Smith and Gevinson say the word hikikomori with deadpan seriousness.
So it’s a parody of what? Anime? Rich people? I don’t know, and it seems like the show doesn’t either. And I wasn’t aware there could be a line between earnest and self-mocking, but it’s there, and Neo Yokio straddles it pretty awkwardly.
For all its idiosyncrasies and goals, perhaps Neo Yokio is meant for an audience with very specific tastes. The kind of people who grew up with Ouran High School Host Club then got into Skins. Or the kind of people who are perfectly comfortable talking about the evils of capitalism while munching on a P600 granola bowl. I don’t know, man. Neo Yokio is both a tongue-in-cheek statement about the spectacles of free market capitalism and a goldmine of tweetable screengrabs, but whether or not it’s good is debatable. You’re certainly free to enjoy it. But as for me, if I wanted to watch wealthy people wallow in malaise, I’d stick to Bojack Horseman.