Considerable Ambition of "Neo Yokio" Anime Outstrips its Storytelling Ability

Model and actor Jaden Smith voices Magistocrat Kaz Kaan. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

If you’ve been scrolling through Netflix recently, you might have noticed a new anime show called “Neo Yokio.” With a 5.9/10 average rating on IMDB, the Netflix anime’s reception was incredibly mixed.

“Neo Yokio" is a six-episode collaboration between producer Ezra Koenig (a member of the band “Vampire Weekend”) and Furuhashi Kazuhiro (who directed countless animes, including “Hunter x Hunter” in 2011). With a star-studded cast of voice actors including Jaden Smith, Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, and Tavi Gevinson (who spoke at Scripps College on Nov. 7), the show seemed promising.

As someone who grew up watching anime, I often find it hard to watch English-dubbed or American-produced shows because of the low-quality voice acting and dialogue. American-produced shows try – but often fail – to imitate the Japanese anime style. Though skeptical for these reasons, I tried to keep an open mind when watching “Neo Yokio.” I was able to watch all six episodes for this review.

“Neo Yokio” tries to do too much at once and ends up accomplishing nothing. With only six episodes running a little over two hours, it simply does not have time to deal with all the plotlines thrown in together and develop its characters on a more intimate and meaningful level. There isn’t enough world-building, making it difficult to contextualize the events that happen in each episode.

The show is set in what seems to be futuristic New York, with recognizable locations such as the Hamptons and 14th Street. The series includes openly LGBTQIA+ characters and characters from different racial backgrounds. This was refreshing to see, since the traditional animes I’ve watched generally only include characters with light skin. The main character, Kaz Kaan (Jaden Smith) is part of the “magistocracy,” a play on the words magic and aristocracy. His family’s duty is to protect the city by exorcising demons. Right off the bat, I did not find him a very likeable character: he was shallow, whiny, and seemed to embody privilege and teenage angst.

“Neo Yokio” makes fun of the shallow, aristocratic society that most of the main characters are a part of, and in turn, critiques the elites in our society. In the very first episode, Kaz throws his expensive Cartier watch off a building because his girlfriend broke up with him. He also debates whether it’s okay to wear a midnight blue tux to a “Black and White Ball.”

The character Arcangelo (played by voice actor Jason Schwartzman) is introduced as Kaz’s main rival. While the tension between them is poorly developed, it establishes the divide between the East “old money” who worked for their wealth and the West “neo riche” who inherited theirs. Though both are part of bourgeoisie society, the East views themselves as elegant socialites, while the West are “rat-catchers” that have to exorcise demons to maintain their wealth.

The show also lacks character development, especially for Arcangelo and the main female lead, Helena (played by voice actor Tavi Gevinson). Both characters seem to completely change personalities with little to no plot explanation. However, I enjoyed these changes as they moved the characters away from the stereotypical rival and love interest anime archetypes.

A major part of each episode illustrates Kaz’s job of exorcising demons. But, because that part of the world seems completely separate from his personal life, this detail feels like a disconnect. The show could have better integrated different parts of its storyline together in order to make it feel more cohesive.

The voice acting for most of the characters is mediocre. There were some notably monotonous lines delivered by the characters Kaz and Helena. However, I can’t quite tell if it’s bad voice acting or if this was done for characters on purpose. There are also several accents that I can’t quite identify.

Overall, the show definitely has an interesting premise and is incredibly different from anything I have watched. While it was not hugely entertaining for me, I do believe that the show has potential. While I initially disliked the show, I was able to appreciate it more after finishing the whole thing. A realistic antagonist is finally introduced in the final couple episodes, and the last episode ends with a nice cliffhanger that makes me look forward to the next season.

3/5