So maybe a month ago or so a trailer came out for the anime styled American cartoon Neo Yokio, which is produced by Ezra Koenig. Within the first few seconds of the trailer you could hear the voice of Jaden Smith, and I already knew that this would be a divisive piece of work because a good number of people hate the teenage son of Will Smith. Whether it be his movies (with exception to The Pursuit of Happyness and Karate Kid) or his tweets that are deemed odd because they’re trying to be way more deep than they are (which is fine because he’s a teenager, and I don’t know why we’re getting mad at the actions of a teenager who’s being dumb—it’s what they do; it’s what we did) there’s always something for people to be critical of.
I wanted to take a chance on it even though the voice acting in the piece was rough and all the signals were there that screamed that this would be a trash anime (the gratuitous use of cliché anime transitions etc.), because this was an anime starring a black character and had other black characters in it, which you don’t see much, and before we get into diversity and anime…I mean…don’t hold your breath. Another reason I watched this show was because of the animation studios involved with the show. Production I.G. helped out with Kuroko no Basket, Blood-C, Eyeshield 21, Suisei no Gargantia, and Attack on Titan. Studio Deen (bless them) helped out with various shows I loved like, Rurouni Kenshin, Rave Master, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?, and, last but not least, Konosuba (praise be to Studio Deen!).
Anyways, I watched this short series, it’s only six episodes long, expecting for the show to be trash, but I ended up liking it and not in an ironic way. I have a weird amount of admiration for this ambitious mess of a show. It tries so many things. It tries to say a lot of things. It’s deeper than it seems. But it’s not executed in the best way and for a first season (since the ending kind of implies that there’s intention for a second), that’s fine. It can improve. And no I’m not saying this in a position of belief that every show, if they have a less than stellar first season, should get another season, and in that another chance, but from a position of a person who wants this show to work—and for a moment it makes me feel like a member of workshop cheering on a flawed story that needs another draft.
It’s easiest first to talk about the bad. First the show’s animation isn’t that great. There are stunning moments sometimes, but other than that it’s not of the best quality, sometimes it would remind me of early 2000s anime (which might have been the intention, but still regardless of the intention, it still looked bad).
Another problem, which I’ve already mentioned, is the quality of the voice acting. It’s not the greatest and sometimes the delivery is downright cringe-worthy. Sometimes Jaden Smith will speak and it will sound great as if he should always be an anime protagonist, but then there will be scenes where he needs to convey emotions—the lines feel off. And sometimes I felt as though the writing of the dialogue didn’t help the voice acting, especially when characters would talk in philosophical ways because simple lines of dialogue would drag on for maybe a sentence or two too long, which the lines of dialogue that sound akin to the tweets Jaden Smith types out are kind of a flaw too. For the most part, the dialogue will be really simple, kinda quick, but then you’ll get these trying-to-hard-to-be-deep lines that stick out, at first, in a bad way. Once you get used to it, it’s completely fine, but the first few episodes might remind the audience of their terrible teen years (you know? the ones where they were edge lords. maybe I’m speaking from first hand experience, others might just cringe.). One of the other flaws would be the focus on high fashion and in that same vein, the reason for the focus, Kaz. Throughout the entire season Kaz is selfish, focuses on fashion to a vain level, and is kind of annoying, but at the end of the season, he starts to show signs of changing. And that’s what we call character development, even if it was simplistic (the concept of being rich and learning that the world doesn’t care for poor people is too easy a thing now).
Now for the good. The cast is amazing. You’ve got Susan Sarandon, Jude Law, Steve Buscemi, Richard Ayoade, Stephen Fry, and Jason Schwartzman—which that’s pretty awesome. You have a lot of talent going on and when they work quite a bit for the cast. Also throughout the season you can tell that quite a bit of satire is going on. When you see the anime cliché transitions, in context, you can tell that they’re poking fun at the medium. The use of Helena’s character satirizes the idea of high fashion and the rich Neo Yokions who cherish this culture of richness, and though the narrative focuses on Kaz killing demons, you can notice this underlying commentary on Neo Yokio culture that’s going on. And that really reflects the same vanity we experience in life (or at least super rich people). The use of cheery bright colored animation tied with mundane lives of our characters, despite the paranormal activity going on in their daily lives, and the lines of deadpan melodrama adds for a delightful juxtaposition that I enjoyed and chuckled at quite a bit. I mean there was even an episode where Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” was possessed, and everyone kept yelling, “For the love of God!”
The music, though it reeks of pretentious wealth, adds another level of satire to the culture of Neo Yokio. And the concept of this futuristic city oozes with creativity that I looked forward to in each episode, I wanted to know more about each feature of the city. I wanted to learn more about why Kaz and his family hunted demons. I wanted there to be a bit more. I was intrigued. And as much as I loved the ending scene of the season, I wished that the focus on demon hunting didn’t take a backseat to the Helena plot.
With as much as I liked/loved about this show, there was one thing (or should I say two) that was the MVP of this show, and that I hope will continue being the MVP for this show. When I was watching the first episode I thought I would hate it and was going to switch to watch a show I already knew was trash, Fuller House, but a few minutes into the episode our MVP(s) said, “We gotta teach those old money fuckboys a lesson! You can’t give Arcangelo the satisfaction, B.” And with that line, I knew that Lexy and Gottlieb, no matter how low the show would sink, would keep me watching. In episode two I would start to lull, but Lexy made comments on non Neo Yokions not knowing about chopped cheese, so I kept watching, and time and time again Lexy and Gottlieb said or did something that made me laugh and appreciate the culture of this show, it wasn’t solely rich people or stereo-typed rich culture.
What I believe I’m trying to say is that yes, this show does plenty of things bad, but it does plenty of things well. And yes. Maybe your hatred of Jaden Smith is stopping you from watching. Or maybe it might be the bad voice acting. Or the flawed critique of rich culture. Or the centered focus of aforementioned pretentious culture. But I think you should give it a chance. Watch an episode or two or maybe the whole season—it’s only six episodes long. And hopefully you’ll see the potential of what it could be and stick around for the ride. I leave you with a link in case you want to be a big Toblerone (if you don’t get, please watch the show). Later days.