This article originally appeared on Crossfader.
Late first century Roman poet Juvenal said that “It is difficult NOT to write satire.” In the divisive age of post-internet irony, nearly every millennial’s hot take is in the form of easily-accessed, byte-sized memes or parodic posts that make Bill Hicks sound like Jonathan fucking Swift. Lately, many celebrities, who themselves have emerged from the predatory pop culture landscape, have found that the best way to engage in the conversation is through the medium of animation, wherein thinly-veiled metaphors can be literally painted as they see fit. NEO YOKIO falls into this category as probably the worst form of self-aggrandizement guised as politically progressive sermonizing since SAUSAGE PARTY.
Where’s Dad when you need him?
Taking place in the titular hybrid metropolis (which manages to be less believable than BIG HERO 6’s San Fransokyo), this Netflix original series directed by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig follows Kaz Kaan, voiced by the wise-beyond-his-years Jaden Smith, as he balances demon-slaying and keeping up with the latest fashion trends. As a member of the “magistocracy,” denoted by their violaceous manes, Kaz is tasked by his aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) to uphold his ancient duty of using magic to protect the city from encroaching demons. An obvious allusion to racial tensions, “magistocrats” started as downtrodden rat catchers and have only recently ascended into Neo Yokio’s high society as Kaz’s Aryan douchebag rival Arcangelo (Jason Schwartzman) is quick to remind him of, constantly dubbing Kaz “neo riche.”
If CODE GEASS is an anime fresher’s course on classism, this is a preschool play. We’re given absolutely no context as to why demons attack the city, much less the sense in pompously disparaging someone who can use fucking magic. Kaz’s unhealthy obsession with style eclipses his demon-slaying priorities along with any semblance of character development or sympathy audiences can garner for him. With the demon problem and magic-user discrimination getting casually reduced to a subplot, we are literally given predicaments in the first few episodes of Kaz desperately trying to find a suit of a certain color, making the most vapid of Barbie direct-to-video specials a thing of high drama. Designer brand after designer brand is shamelessly name dropped as Kaz’s servants endlessly pacify his insatiable lust for all things opulent. The only one who dares challenge his views is former fling and fashion-blogger-turned-Marx-reader Helena St. Tesoro (Tavi Gevinson), but even then her enlightenment distorts given her distance to struggle, having never been through the dregs herself. Guess what woke Helena’s radical crusade ends up insensitively recreating. Hint: Bush did it and it rhymes with “pine-be-smellin’.” Even as a capitalist critique, NEO YOKIO is still intensely shallow. Kaz’s insufferable relishing in the lavish life of being “Neo Yokio’s #1 Most Eligible Bachelor” is matched only by terrorism.
Where BOONDOCKS had no qualms about tackling big questions head on, NEO YOKIO clumsily mishandles heavy topics. Right as Kaz’s friends Lexy and Gottlieb start becoming the only likable characters, the former, voiced by The Kid Mero, goes through a problematic gender swap. We still could have had a charming ode to RANMA without Lexy taking advantage of his temporarily female body by macking on hot lesbians and Kaz warning him that his voice is an easy tell of his maleness, both played for witless laughs over the plight of real world transpeople. In the end, the two don’t learn from these wrongs, but instead are somehow suddenly aware of a shoehorned, rudimentary lesson on gender being a spectrum and not binary. With the show itself functioning on polar extremes, no important stance on the part of the author is truly taken. Koenig and Jaden just don’t really have much to say, and thus, the show is empty.
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The whole thing is a step below childish, a terribly ostentatious vanity project created by rich people too self-righteous to pull their heads out of their asses. Attempts at humor and irony achieve forced meme status at best (“big Toblerone” and “snacks are ready” both already deeply nestled into the cancerous fanboy lexicon) and are padded with empty references to more name brands than anime at worst. For every “Tuxedo Mask” there’s an unneeded speech ranking preferred brands as if dictated from the depths of the fashion blogosphere. The star-studded voice cast is so one-note and dialogue is try-hard to the point of frustration. It can’t even aim at being wordy enough considering the very term “high society” is repeated every other scene. Every second is excruciating, knowing everyone adlibbing together would have been much more funny. Barely any character has their own thing going on. They’re just merely subserviently defined by their relationship to Kaz. Even the animation stays in subpar, early 2000s quality save for the few frames per episode where there’s some inconsequential action, all of which is showcased in the trailer. The only true value is probably every so often being in awe at the uroboros-esque pretension and lack of self-awareness from Jaden and his team. And it’s not like the irony is lost on some uncultured, Polo-wearing peasant writing on a culture site either! I may be pretentiously typing this in my ivory tower through Ermenegildo Zegna shades while wearing Greg Norman, but I keep it real. All I ask is for NEO YOKIO to do the same.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend