One of the first articles I wrote for Geekade covered my then-early experience with anime and also my first trip to the AnimeNEXT convention. I was just learning that there are thousands of anime in existence and as many genres to appeal to different fans. I have since viewed dozens of shows and have found that I don’t just like one or two different genres – if a show seems to have interesting characters and a decent story, I’m willing to give the show a try. However, nothing could have prepared me for the Netflix-original anime, Neo Yokio.
Neo Yokio is set in a world where New York City has been renamed, and the remnants of an old New York are underwater (but I’m sure that the subways still smell like urine). In this world, demons exist and so do magic-wielding demon hunters. Agatha, a member of the “magistocracy,” sells her nephew’s magical abilities to those who will pay to have demons exorcised from people or objects. The nephew, Kaz Kaan, is a privileged young man who cares much more for his social status than defeating demons. His two friends, Lexy and Gottlieb, while also privileged, are very easygoing and provide a comical contrast to the bourgeois attitudes of other characters. Arcangelo is Kaz’s condescending social rival and often the cause of conflict. Also, this show is absolutely ridiculous.
Kaz is a pampered brat to the point of hilarity, and his primary mode of transportation is on the back of his flying mecha butler, Charles (wish my mecha butler could fly). The young man incessantly worries about his standing on the “bachelor board,” a giant billboard in the middle of Neo Yokio which ranks the city’s most eligible bachelors. Of course, the coveted number 1 spot is the primary point of contention between Kaan and Arcangelo. After Kaz has an argument with potential love interest, Helena St. Tessero, he visits a cemetery, where he already has a grave prepared, in order to brood. In fact, the majority of the first four episodes deal with Kaz’s ex-girlfriends and his desire to either be in a relationship, or at least number one bachelor.
As awful as this show may sound, the fact that Kaz takes himself so seriously is part of what makes Neo Yokio so damn funny. One episode, in a nod to Ranma, features a magical pool that changes Lexy into a woman and Gottlieb into a panda (a friggin Sumo-wrestling panda!). Because Kaz cannot possibly arrive to a party without a date, he convinces Lexy to accompany him. Lexy’s masculine movements and voice contrasted with his new appearance are hilarious, and he gives Kaz a harsh lesson about gentlemanly behavior. At the cemetery, Kaz laughs at an old man spraying perfume on his deceased wife’s grave because it was her favorite scent, but Kaz expresses disbelief that anyone would like that particular, outdated brand. Arcangelo laughs at Kaz for walking around with a panda when “everyone knows the hot new pet is a cheetah.”
Neo Yokio makes fun of high society using anime tropes, and the sheer ridiculousness of this combination is what makes the show so entertaining. The fact that the characters appear to take themselves seriously is part of Neo Yokio’s comedic charm. Kaz is not aware that he’s spoiled or ignorant, Arcangelo is not aware that he’s a smarmy jerk, and even Helena St. Tessero, who denounces the bourgeoisie, is not aware of how privileged she is, nor how her incessant protestations against Kaan’s beliefs fall on deaf ears. None of the characters are caricaturized stereotypes, they are all awful, and that’s why this show is so funny – Neo Yokio satirizes the truly awful attitudes of pretentious rich people and lays them out for ridicule against an anime backdrop (oh please, you had me at flying mecha butler).
Before Patti and I watched this show, a friend told us that it received bad reviews, but I purposely do not read many reviews of comic books, movies, or shows, especially before experiencing something myself, because I would rather naturally form my own opinion. It was only after I wrote out my initial thoughts of Neo Yokio that I looked at reviews, and I couldn’t understand why there was so much negativity surrounding the show (bunch of panda-haters, I bet). One reviewer claims that the show seems like nothing more than commentary on high society, another reviewer claims that it fell flat as satire, and yet another complains about the mistimed comedy. Did those who reviewed Neo Yokio not get the joke?
Opinions are subjective, and I am not directly quoting the reviews I have read because I am not trying to take away from others’ opinions. However, even if the creators of Neo Yokio took me out for dinner, and during a fancy meal, explained that their intent was to make a social commentary on high society through satire, and thought that the comedic timing was perfect, I would still have to disagree and point to the most glaring aspects of this show. Neo Yokio features superficial and ignorant rich people surrounded by magic and demons (of course the rich get cool stuff like magic and demons). That the characters are snooty stereotypes just shows how absurd the notion of anime tropes in a show featuring stuck-up, ritzy characters can be, and it’s this ridiculous blend that compliments the often-funny dialogue and situations. Not necessarily a clever type of humor, but dry, “I can’t believe how stupid that was,” humor. Perhaps that wasn’t the writers’ intention, but if you can’t tell by now, I sincerely enjoyed Neo Yokio for exactly what it was.
I’m sure it would be difficult to convince anyone to give Neo Yokio a watch, but I’ll tell you what our friend stated that sold the show to Patti and I – Jaden Smith is the voice of Kaz, and the character actually gives an enormous Toblerone as a gift to Helena St. Tessero. That sounded so stupid that we knew we needed to watch Neo Yokio. Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, and Jason Schwartzman are regular cast members, and Steve Buscemi is a guest for the final two episodes, so there were clearly talented entertainers willing to contribute to this terribly fantastic show. Sadly, although a second season was intended, there has been no confirmation that it is actually going to happen. Still, the 6 existing episodes tell a stupidly satisfying story. I would recommend Neo Yokio to anyone who wants to see anime done differently, but I will caution you to set your expectations low. Still, it was a very enjoyable show, and a great way to kill 2 hours.