Neo Yokio

Neon Walrus reviews the futuristic anime "Neo Yokio." It is a Netflix Original co-produced between American and Japanese animation houses.
Average User Rating:
5/5,
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    Series: Neo Yokio
    Original Release Date: September 22/2017
    Genre: Science Fantasy, Thriller, Dark Comedy, Action
    Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi, Junji Nishimura
    Writer: Ezra Koenig, Nick Weidenfeld, Alexander Benaim
    Studio: Production I.G. / Studio Deen / MOI Animation / Infinite Elegance , LLC /Friends Night
    Number of Episodes: 6



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    Overview


    Neo Yokio is a futuristic, alternate timeline of New York, and is hailed as the greatest city in the world. In the past, Magicians helped prevent the city from falling into despair by acting as exorcists for demons. As a result, they’ve gained a higher level of status among the elite as wealthy "Magistocrats.”


    Kaz Kaan is your self-centered, vain, whiny, and sociopathic manchild of a main character. He's also a young "Magistocrat" who must start earning a living as an exorcist to maintain his lifestyle as an immature little punk. This means that his priorities are all screwed up, as he pisses and moans over his recent break-up with Cathy – only to completely lose interest in her the moment another love interest/replacement shows up.


    He’s obsessed with being number one on the bachelor board, which is a thing in this show – you have to see it to believe it. Lots of
    inconsequential things happen in this show as he performs exorcisms and hangs with his friends. Silly antics occur, there’s a socialist straw-man in there and a big grand prix race. Did I mention he has a robot butler that’s actually piloted by a person?


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    'Membah Sailor Moon?

    Introduction


    Neo Yokio just might be the worst anime ever made. It's almost a complete failure at everything it attempts. I’m not even being hyperbolic – at least, I don’t think so. Even if it was going for a "so bad it's good" angle, it manages to mess that up, so it's just bad. For the most part, anyway.


    Now I know what everyone’s thinking; “Oh there are worse anime out there. Ever seen School Days? Eiken? Butt Attack Punisher Girl Gotaman? What about Apocalypse Zero?” Yes, I’ve seen my share of terrible anime, but the difference between shows like the ones listed and Neo Yokio is that they're consistent at what they’re doing. They’re over-the-top, exploitative trash and they relish in it. They own it and that's their main ambition – to partially just be bad and have fun, but to also make the viewer say "what the fuck is this?"


    Neo Yokio is the pet project of Ezra Koenig who plays and performs in a band called Vampire Weekend. I feel as though Ezra Koenig and company made this anime simply because they wanted to make an anime. This outlines the difference between a vanity project compared to a passion project. The way the show's made, it tries to hard too be cool with its nihilism and cynicism,
    resulting in something that appeals to pretentious hipsters who say they don’t like or watch anime: even though they actually do.



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    'Membah GOBOTS?


    Story


    Neo Yokio has numerous problems beyond being conventionally bad. Sure, a lot of material from a basic plot stance make little to no sense, but the issues with Neo Yokio run much deeper than that. Perhaps the main reason the series doesn’t work on a structural, narrative and thematic level is because it’s cynical and nihilistic about what it’s doing. It's this apathy that undermines Neo Yokio's attempts at theme and sincerity later in the show.


    Most of the episodes are situation-based, with different problems and missions Kaz must navigate until the last two episodes that tie together as an overarching story. The exposition is carried out both in a verbal and visual way and ranges from implicit to being force-fed to the viewer. The opening of the series barfs exposition all over the viewer as does every mission, character or demon when encountered. The world-building however, is done better because most of it is done with visuals. For instance, I like how it’s implied that the polar ice caps have melted, as some of the people now live in underwater apartments on streets that were clearly at one time, dry land.


    If Neo Yokio remained episodic in structure and doubled down on its apathy, I'd feel more like I was in on the "it's so bad it's good" joke. It would be clearly something that’s meant to be laughed at, and to be honest, the first few episodes do this moderately well. Instead, Neo Yokio tries to throw in an overarching plot, themes and sincerity into the last three episodes. The problem here, aside from the fact that these ideas weren't set up or foreshadowed, is that the series starts off not caring about anything; not the characters, the setting, ideas – nothing. Then it demands that I take it seriously later on? To be on board with its sincerity? Yeah, no.



    A perfect example of this is on the “Ranma ½” episode where Kaz’s friends, Lexy and Gottlieb transform after swimming in a cursed pool. Lexy transforms into a woman, which leads Kaz to use him as a date to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Now, this does seem like a good set up to make a strong socio-political statement about sexism; however, this doesn’t work.


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    'Membah Ranma?


    At one point, Lexy gives Kaz a lecture about sexism, the gender spectrum and misogyny, which I’m sure sounds good and meaningful. However, there’s a scene just immediately before Lexy’s big speech where he’s willing to take advantage of his female body to seduce a woman who’s a lesbian. Fucking seriously? So all his talk of sexism and misogyny end up being meaningless hypocrisy, and to be honest, I found this scene downright condescending and insulting to my intelligence. It also doesn't help that this ordeal is inconsequential: Kaz and Lexy don't learn from it. As for the actual Ranma½ anime? It's a sitcom and doesn't try to be anything else.


    It also doesn’t help when it tries to shoehorn anime nostalgia and Easter Eggs into it. They’ve got Tuxedo Mask glasses and hats. I remember Sailor Moon. Maybe doing this was a bad idea, since it made me think: “Hey, you’re watching this crap when you could be watching something that’s actually good.” Other references include Akira, Neon Genesis and Ranma ½ (as mentioned). Not only does this come off as desperate; it comes off as insulting. When the foundation of the gag is “Ha ha, I recognize where that’s from.” The outcome is identical to what the movie Pixels does with its references to 80's nostalgia and video games: lip service.


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    Over-consumption of anime and video games leads to undesirable side effects.


    This also creates major issues in terms of the show’s actual identity and its ambition, since it comes off like it’s trying to parody anime when in reality, it shits all over the medium.
    When a piece of art/entertainment manages to parody and/or deconstruct something well, it comes from a place of respect and admiration. Think about One Punch Man or Puella Magi Madoka Magica; they don't succumb to showing contempt for their genres with nihilism or cynicism. This is because they’re implemented and executed with care and respect, which makes them great shows that are entertaining with a substantial amount of depth.



    While I have heaping amounts of disdain for Neo Yokio and what it represents to me, I admit that some of the material is downright hilarious in how it’s handled. Whether some of the comedy is intentional or unintentional, there’s no shortage of laughs to be had, not only at the silly dialogue but also how it’s timed. Overall though, because of the way this show goes about implementing and executing its ideas, the story just doesn’t work on a functional or abstract level.





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    "I vant to get drunk forever!"


    Themes


    Neo Yokio attempts to deal with the constraints of a capitalist society. Specifically, the constraints and burdens entailed with being economically privileged, as well as the ones individuals place on themselves, since it’s told through the lens of the wealthy elite. This covers everything, from heavy competition to power struggles with peers, as well as the burden of trying to live up to a standard.
    I'm sure this all sounds great, but Neo Yokio fails at this on multiple levels.


    Neo Yokio's themes
    are undermined with its overall “too cool to care” attitude and its inability to introduce and elaborate on said ideas properly. This is caused by the abrupt change in tone halfway through its run. However, these attempts at having thematic ideas also interfere with the show's ability to be a fun, bad show – which ironically, would've given it some thematic consistency in the process.


    If Neo Yokio maintained its nihilistic, sardonic tone during the early episodic half to the end, it could've worked. This nihilism would've complemented Kaz's attitude as a result of growing up as a wealthy elite, as well as developed a solid thematic idea about the complacency and apathy of the wealthy. This also would've been a more organic approach, all the while maintaining the "so bad it's good" angle possibly making it a fun satire.




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    "Woah, the text is alive."


    Taking Neo Yokio as it is however, its apathy destroys the thematic ideas it tries to develop later on. “But what about some of the ecchi fan service shows you watch and defend, Neon? Doesn’t the frivolous nudity, like in Queen’s Blade undermine the thematic ideas there?” Sometimes yes; however, some of these shows, such as Queen’s Blade double down on their thematic ideas. They recognize what they are, so they work that much harder to communicate their thematic ideas.


    What I mean by this, is that Queen’s Blade is aware of what it's doing with its ecchi, so to counter this, it's heavy-handed about these concepts. It begins developing its thematic ideas and characters right from the beginning of its run, and stays consistent with a precision and focus I only see in a few anime. It's not cynical, nihilistic or apathetic about what it's doing – which would be easy to do. Instead, it cares about its characters and thematic ideas, so it puts in the extra effort to do so while also being self-aware.
    Perhaps Neo Yokio should've extended the same effort considering its thematic ambitions.


    Now, people could argue that the conflict between socialism and capitalism does come up earlier in the series with Helena's character, and sure, she does talk about capitalism being evil; however, this falls flat for numerous reasons.




    First off, the show's smug attitude makes the viewer believe it's making fun of Helena because of the cheesy dialogue she's spouting. Thus, I didn't consider her dialogue to be a part of the thematic development, as I didn't take her take her seriously – I couldn't. I didn't even know that I was supposed to.


    Secondly, we’re given a character that’s pretty much a socialist straw-man. Her dialogue consists of generic "down with capitalism" sentiments. She never makes any mention of the wealth gap, the entitlement of the elite, people going hungry or dwelling in poor living conditions, lack of access to healthcare or anything else that would reinforce this idea. There's no nuance or depth to Helena's dialogue of why their capitalist society is a sham.


    This is why it’s difficult to take what this show is attempting on a thematic level seriously: since it’s so
    indifferent and smug, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s making fun of socialism or capitalism, or endorsing them. I seriously don't know. The communication is muddled and the execution of these ideas doesn’t make it any easier.


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    Jerry was a race car driver, he drove so god damn fast; never did win no checker flags but he never did come in last.


    This only becomes worse when it tries to be more serious towards the end of the series and they show a short sequence where the race cars have to tear through the slums. This scene is a good visual representation of the city’s disregard for the people’s safety by not taking the time to barricade them out of the path of the race cars. There’s also the condition of the buildings there and how the people inhabiting them are designed.
    However, while the implementation and execution of criticizing the wealth gap is bad on its own, it's made only worse because of how little the show cares about itself or anything else.


    Just from a basic writing standpoint, the thematic ideas don't work. If I examine how excessive wealth and avarice are bad and apply it to Kaz, it fails. Anytime anything bad happens to Kaz as a result of his greed or selfishness, it's contradicted because his wealth and position of privilege end up helping people and himself. There's also the issue of how Kaz's negative behavior lacks any real consequences.


    Neo Yokio
    sabotages its own thematic ambitions with its nihilism, cynicism, poor implementation and execution, bad writing and overall lack of integrity, making it hypocritical and classist.


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    I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping; Still my Toblerone gently weeps


    Characters


    The characters aren’t really done so well either. Sure, there’s some decent fleshing-out, but it's the characters' portrayals that are communicated poorly. I understand Kaz is a spoiled, narcissistic, selfish rich kid, but beyond that, I’m unsure if I’m supposed to be rooting for him or if I’m supposed to laugh at him.


    This framing issue proves to be jarring and conflicted to the viewer. One scene he’s a narcissistic, whiny, sociopathic man-baby, but other times, he’s shown as a good guy willing to help others. This is mainly a symptom of the show’s overall attitude, as well as its failure of its thematic ideas and socio-political aspects. Sure, Kaz is struggling with his identity as a Magistocrat and a fun-loving playboy who wants to hang with his friends, but Neo Yokio doesn't do anything to develop these aspects of his character or the implications of his actions.




    So Kaz doesn’t grow as a character. A few depressed words at the end don't convey actual development unless everything in the story is done well enough for it to warrant that. If he would’ve undergone a dynamic character change, I think his actions should’ve conveyed this, instead of the empty words this series seems to embrace.


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    "Hadouken!"


    The rest of the cast is made up of non-characters. I’m given a very sterile idea of who they are in terms of how they’re fleshed-out, but I don’t know them as characters beyond their relationship to Kaz. Arcangelo is Kaz’s rival and only shows up to make fun of Kaz, Lexy and Gottlieb are Kaz’s friends, Charles is Kaz’s mech butler, Kaz’s Aunt Agatha, and a few others.


    None of these characters feel like actual characters or barely even feel like a supporting cast, to be honest. The only other characters that I do have an understanding about would be Russian Driver Mila, who craves a capitalist society. It's actually done relatively well with a light bit of dialogue from Aunt Agatha, but then it’s played out. Mila acts upon this desire: she doesn’t sit around moping or talking about it, she just goes and does it. Sadly, after Mila’s desertion, we never see or hear from her again.


    Then there’s Helena, who receives some decent development as a character through some dialogue mentioning her status as a fashion icon that everyone looks up to. Shortly after a demon is exorcised from her, she undergoes a dynamic change – which is a lazy method of development – becomes a socialist straw-man as opposed to an actual character. As I've already discussed, this is a problem that connects to the Neo Yokio’s poorly developed thematic because of its own nihilistic cynicism.


    Aside from all this, there isn't much left to discuss about the characters in Neo Yokio. At this point, it shouldn't be surprising in the least, considering the lack of quality that's inherent in the series.



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    "Look at me, I'm so anime, I'm cool"


    Music


    The music is terrible. Allow me to rephrase that: the music is terribly applied to Neo Yokio, as it's pretty much all classical music. This means there aren’t any licensing fees to pay to use this music, and the series creators didn’t hire a composer to come in and write a score for Neo Yokio. So instead, the soundtrack we get is a selection of classical favorites misused for a terrible anime.


    On the other hand, if we look at Neo Yokio from the perspective that it’s so bad it’s good, the misuse of classical music only enhances how awful many of the scenes are. In a way, the music adds a lot of flavor to making most, if not all, the scenes on Neo Yokio laughably bad.



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    Citation needed.


    Animation/Aesthetic/Direction


    For anyone who has watched or plans to watch Neo Yokio, it’s painfully obvious that this isn’t Production I.G. or Studio Deen’s finest work. Other studios are involved, including American-based studio Friends Night. Even though there is some American involvement on the production of Neo Yokio, this is still an anime. The involvement of Japanese animation studios and directors who work in the medium makes this an anime. A very pathetic and sad anime, but an anime nonetheless.


    Neo Yokio is not kind to the eyes. The overall aesthetic is absolutely hideous, with clashing colors that make some scenes particularly difficult to look at. When the general aesthetic coloring throws pink, brown, white, blue and yellow crammed into a frame, the overall outcome is something that’s borderline vomit-inducing. Backgrounds are inconsistent with some being highly-detailed, while others are bland and flavorless.


    Character designs are generally simplistic
    and flat. Some of the characters have elements of a Western design, making it understandable how some people might confuse this for an American cartoon rather than an anime. The common aspect that links the character designs together is the lack of detail on their faces, hair and clothing. Not that all anime have intricately detailed characters, but I find this strong detail in anime more often than not.


    The faces of the characters are where the aesthetic really suffers, with a severe lack of shading and depth giving the characters a sort of dead/drunk/flat look all the time. So sometimes their eyes will look completely out of whack or their faces will actually look slightly warped at times. Charles the Butler Mech is especially creepy looking with how his eyes and face are designed. He also has no color variation, making depth perception obtuse on him.


    The direction and animation are downright silly. I'll admit there is the occasion where there’s some smooth movement from the characters and vehicles; however, most of the time it’s completely wonky and static making the animation and direction laughably bad. Normally good direction and editing can make still frame or key frame animation work extraordinarily well. These tricks of the trade are things anime has been using for years. Neo Yokio isn’t one of those.


    Overall, Neo Yokio actually looks more like a fan-made anime on YouTube, as opposed to something professionally done that I’m required to pay money for.


    It did manage to make the Toblerone chocolate bars look nice though.



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    "We've been spending most our lives, living in a dudebro paradise."


    Voice Acting


    The voice acting is terrible. Once again, I’m not sure if this is a conscious decision it's creators or an accident. I do feel that there’s a greater possibility of it being the latter, since there are some accomplished big name actors here like Jude Law, Susan Sarandon and Steve Buscemi – all of whom admittedly pull off great performances.


    On the other side of the spectrum however, Jaden Smith’s performance comes up considerably short of even being seen as
    serviceable. A lot of the time he sounds tired or hungover (or maybe both), or like he’s just not into what he’s doing. There’s a complete lack of emotion and effort in his performance and I’m unsure if this is how he was directed to play this character or if his voice acting skills need some development. I’ve seen him in movies and I know he can act; however, just because someone can do screen acting doesn’t necessarily mean they can do voice acting. They’re entirely different beasts.


    From there, the rest of the performances range from
    lackluster to downright awful. Helena sounded more winded and emotionless than the lead, while most of the actors sound like they’re too close to the microphone. There's this strange, slight muffle to the timbre of their voices. To be honest, I’ve heard fan dubs and abridged dubs that have a cleaner, more refined sound with superior performances than those of Neo Yokio.


    The worst thing is that this is originally an English-dubbed anime, meaning there was no original Japanese dub to work over.



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    The Bottom Line


    As an anime, Neo Yokio just doesn’t work on any level. Even if a person wants to watch it from a so bad it’s good perspective, its attempts at sincerity and thematic development disrupt the tone and style. Granted, it has some preciously intentional and unintentionally hilarious moments, but this is not consistently done throughout the series.


    Neo Yokio tries too hard to be cool to care about anything, so when it tries to implement thematic ideas or be sincere, it comes off as completely pretentious, phony, hypocritical and condescending. This also inhibits its ability to be a parody or a deconstruction, because it seems to lack any respect or admiration for anime as a medium.


    Ultimately, I despise what this show represents, as it feels like it pisses on the anime genre as a whole, whether that's the intent or not. This is particularly why I enjoy ripping on it as an anime and I don’t feel bad for doing so.


    So would I recommend this show? That depends. If you’re looking for something good and you’re on a tight time budget avoid this garbage heap. However, if you feel like having a laugh and if you're looking for something to use as an intellectual punching bag that actually deserves it – especially with a group of your friends – you'll find this show serves that purpose well.


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    Special thanks to Tonto-banchou and Shannon Apple for their feedback, advice and overall help with editing to make this review the best it can be.

    About Author

    Neon Walrus
    Anime/Movie connoisseur. Bass and music practitioner. Swimming, and Martial Arts hobbist.
    Tonto-banchou and tripplej like this.

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