Mecha butlers, demon bloggers, gangster wizards and big Toberlone. Surrealism oozes from every part of “Neo Yokio,” much like the bourgeoisie culture shown in every episode. Created by Ezra Koenig of popular band Vampire Weekend, the new Netflix anime series “Neo Yokio” details the extravagant life of the main character Kaz Kaan, a demon-slayer much more preoccupied with acquiring status and wealth than helping exorcise the city’s supernatural infestation.
Unlike anime series of other genres, such as shonen or harems, where protagonists are either infallible paragons or lovable scamps, “Neo Yokio” has no problem showing disdain for Kaz himself and the Hampton Hills lifestyle he chooses to brand himself around. Almost every character in “Neo Yokio’s” six episodes accosts him for his vanity, arrogance, ignorance and casual misogyny, subtly letting viewers know that the show is always laughing at him but never with.
Played with a deadpan performance from “The Get Down’s” Jaden Smith, Kaz serves as the perfect protagonist to introduce audiences into “Neo Yokio’s” bizarre world and the class conflicts simmering underneath it. Kaz is cut straight from the cloth of modern America’s hype-beasts and Instagram ‘influencers,’ a young man obsessed with Gucci belts and Margiela loafers despite the city under siege from demonic possession demanding his utmost attention.
The rest of “Neo Yokio’s” main cast includes Jude Law as Charles, the devoted robotic butler serving Kaz’s every whim, and Susan Sarandon as Aunt Agatha, the cantankerous Ms. Moneypenny to Kaz’s James Bond. Jason Schwartzman delivers a strong amount of laughs as the series antagonist, Arcangelo.
Newcomer and former fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson makes her presence felt as “Neo Yokio’s” esteemed voice on fashion, Helena St. Tessero. The true star-making performances though, come from Viceland comedians, The Kid Mero and Desus Nice, as Lexy and Gottlieb, best friends and partners in crime to Kaz.
When watching “Neo Yokio,” its satirical focus on class and its effect on those hooked on it is almost impossible to miss. Most cast members are preoccupied with material commodities, with wizards betraying their own family members over island houses and entire conflicts being forged over accidentally wearing midnight blue tuxedos to black-and-white galas. The infatuation with materialism routinely proves to be the downfall of each character, always showing how ridiculous snobbery and narcissism truly are when raised to a mirror.
Not all characters fall for the allure of wealth; it is exclusively the women of “Neo Yokio” who come to question what about greed is so good. Students will likely relate the most to Helena St. Tessero, who goes from idolizing the same one-percenter lifestyle that Kaz has to becoming an aspiring Marxist after seeing what truly lies in the heart of the city.
While it’s surreal and absurdist nature can be mistaken for stupidity by some viewers, “Neo Yokio” skewers young elites of the 2010s much like “American Psycho” satirized the yuppie movement of ‘80s New York.
For a show firmly rooted in the madcap antics that only anime can provide, there is also a surprising amount of influence from the works of director Wes Anderson (which is sure to appeal even more to UNC Greensboro’s artistic populace). Episode introductions and scene transitions are littered with pastel pink and joyous classical music playing in every frame. It would not be hard to draw comparisons between the aesthetics of “Neo Yokio” and that of Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
With such appealing design choices made for the series, it is only a shame that the same was not done with the designs of characters themselves. Originally made for cable channel FXX before being picked up by Netflix, it can be assumed that the budget for “Neo Yokio” was not high in any circumstances. While this is beneficial to the trippy and low-rent nature of Adult Swim comedies, one cannot help but wish “Neo Yokio” had a larger budget to help resemble more traditional anime like “Soul Eater” or “Shirokuma Cafe.”
Despite not looking as good as it could have, “Neo Yokio” is no less of a riot to watch. It is a hilarious look at the lives of the eternally preppy with satisfying demon-slaying action to boot. Hardcore weeaboos on campus may unleash scorn upon it for not obeying the traditional laws of anime but the show is an instant viral because it found its own path to walk on.
With its combination of surreal anime tropes, designer fashion culture, sharp class-conscious satire and aesthetics resembling some of indie film’s best, “Neo Yokio” is a new take on pop art that could only exist at this moment in time. Check it out on Netflix today and enjoy the insanity for yourself.