Kazuhiro Furuhashi, Junji Nishimura (directors), Ezra Koenig, Nick Weidenfeld, Alexander Benaim (writers)
Jaden Smith, Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Jason Schwartzman, Tavi Gevinson, Desus Nice, The Kid Mero (cast)
Released September 22, 2017
If there’s any sort of mission statement by the Ezra Koenig (what) helmed anime Neo Yokio, it has to be “COMFORT.” The pastel colors and design trappings boil New York City into a layer cake city-state populated by aristocrats, ghosts, and mecha alike. It opens with the soothing, low voice of Jude Law running us through a VHS tape from the Neo Yokio board of tourism introducing us to the luxury district, and the magic attacks that besieged the city at the turn of the century.
Kaz Kaan, our protagonist is a “magistocrat” or descendant of the magic users that were needed to stem the tide of magical attacks, and so they rose to the higher ranks of society within the city.
It’s here where we can definitely see Koenig taking cues from animes like xxxHolic or Black Butler, where the supernatural and the mundane definitely clash and often! I think this works best if you look at it more like sherbet ice cream, than something more substantive like say a gelato. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this first season!
The Sea Beneath 14th Street
It’s gotta be the weakest opening I’ve seen for an animated program on Netflix thus far, but that said, it’s a sensible introduction to the satirical setting we’re in. Desus and Mero play Kaan’s best friends! The lead of the anime is black! He’s played by a very nonplussed Jaden Smith! Susan Sarandon plays his Aunt Agatha. Kaz is a playboy whose broken up with his girlfriend, and needs to keep up with his work to support his lifestyle while maintaining said lifestyle.
This episode was about eleven minutes, which seems to indicate to me this show maybe got pitched somewhere other than Netflix the first time around. I mean that length is pretty consistent with say Adult Swim. Its got a lot of positive firsts for an animated program. Kaz’s being black isn’t a fulcrum that the plot hinges on, which is a positive direction to move in, though it’s odd we also have a prominent class narrative?
- The ending where it’s basically colored storyboard photos slightly stylized probably indicates something on the production side
- We are gonna see a lot of Giant Toblerone Cosplay
- Wait giant toblerones are real, holy shit
A Pop Star of Infinite Elegance
After saving a young woman with whom he had a previous fling, Kaz is now juggling social functions, his work, and his possibly perilous placement on the Bachelor Board, a device in Times Square (or whatever stand-in name they use) that shows his status as an eligible bachelor within the city.
Status, maintaining it, and how it creates personal conflict is probably the most accessible thesis the show’s satirical layer has. In an example, his friends notice that Kaz is wearing not a black tuxedo, but the darkest shade of midnight blue. This bit is a recurring joke throughout the episode, and almost seems like a callback to the weird conflicts in traditional Stage Plays but works in the context of an anime! This episode features Kaz giving the gift of a big Toblerone, only to revoke the gift of the big Toblerone. He walks with it in the rain. You’re gonna be seeing that meme for awhile.
The absurdist imagery associated with Kaz’s love of fashion is more telling than showing because of what had to be limitations of the show? We see boilerplate anime costuming and clothing and all that’s required for the characters is to say Chanel or Gucci and the viewer’s supposed to have suspension of disbelief and nod in agreement because at least they’re making the right references? It’s a bit lazy if you look at say, anything Kaz and co. wear.
- Katy Mixon plays a southern pop singer in an anime
- I didn’t know the editor and founder of Rookie Magazine played Helena
- Kaz fights against a diamond encrusted skull
O, The Helenists
After falling in status, our depressed hero is in the dumps. Helena begins protesting against the upper class and later goes “full hikikomori” which becomes a gag when referring to her. Holy shit Ezra Koenig is a huge weeb. Gotlieb and Lexy invent a new cocktail, that Kaz becomes the face of in print ads, and Kaz has to rectify a situation Helena creates! Or so he believes! This episode says more about Kaz and his prevailing attitudes and priorities. He values fashion and status in equal parts, but his populist need to defend everyone in the city is at odds with an elitist philosophy he always embraces, yet leaves him alone. There’s an investigation underway that he conducts, where he goes after a previous high school teacher he had, only to discover his surface judgments are off base and essentially speaks to his ease of personal prejudices.
- Stephen Fry saying “Oh for fuck’s sake”
- Big Toblerone as weapon
- Kaz comes off as a big asshole in this episode
Hamptons Water Magic
After meeting his former girlfriend and learning she has a new partner, Kaz rushes off to a funeral, learning his uncle has passed. He goes to the Hamptons which for some reason, in such a magnified sense of things, is actually lower class in this universe. Ike Baronholtz plays his cousin, a water magic user. From there, the episode turns into an impromptu session of Ranma ½. This is not a joke. The Kid Mero plays a gender swapped Lexy and Gottlieb is now a panda. The mecha butler Kaz has is piloted by a tiny, gnome-like woman. The Kid Mero says the phrase “OKAY FIRST OF ALL, GENDER IS A SPECTRUM” and calls Kaz a misogynist asshole. The through-line of transition and change is a bit heavy handed in this episode but necessary, if we want to keep Kaz a character we care for and root for.
Obviously if you look into the distance, you can see the glint of a scope from the M40 sniper rifle used in the Vietnam war. It’s being trained on my head, because as a transgender woman I apparently have to say something about the gender bending portion of the episode in depth:
I don’t really give a shit, although if you happen to, you wouldn’t be wrong for giving a shit. This show’s lineage draws from stuff like I mentioned above, as well as Japanese stuff you can’t ever criticize without someone saying “cultural differences” and then the critique just dies. I don’t know if the episode is all that different from similar soapy garbage like say Ouran Host Club, but its a joke that lingers in outlandish ways, that it seems like Koenig was willing to take a few on the chin for. For some, a sticking point is that the character Lexy is gender swapped after encountering water magic. He then kisses the town’s coolest lesbian, and folks have said “HEY COOL, GOOD JOB VALIDATING TERF ALARMISM”.
For those of you not in the know, terf is an acronym for trans exclusionary radical feminist. These are white women who start radical feminist coffee shops that constantly fail, who believe trans women are men in disguise that secretly want to force all of them to fuck us. I hate white women, I hate America.
Anyway, those critics are correct in that assertion. I’d give Ezra Koenig the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that narrative writing like this is probably some shit he is relatively new to, and that he probably should have had a fucking consultant (seriously the rates are so low for consultants, this could have been solved for 200 dollars) to avoid writing such a dumb alarmist sticking point. I don’t think it was intentional given the aforementioned talking-to that Lexy gave Kaz, but that same talking-to bookends Lexy kissing a lesbian despite identifying as a man. Unless Lexy doesn’t identify as a man, and we’ve all made assumptions? I don’t think that’s the case, but that’s probably gonna be their back door solution should people interview Koenig about this.
- The Kid Mero gender swap episode
- The uncle was a raccoon all along
- Probably the funniest and most absurd episode
The Russians? Exactly, the Soviets
In what is essentially a two-part finale, Kaz is assigned security detail to a Russian Grand Prix racer after a terrorist attack destroys The Bachelor Board. Things come to a head when in a faux nod to post September 11th New York, Kaz’s rival Archangelo befriends him, and they all go out club hopping while it’s revealed Helena was the terrorist that blew up the board. Steve Buschemi plays an inquisitor type, and constantly hounds Kaz searching for Helena. The show tries to ramp up tension, but when we’re looking at a high-society spoof its a little hard to worry, or at least in the way the show guides us towards a sense of worry?
This show has one significant problem but also drawing point? It’s Jaden Smith. This has to be some of the worst goddamn voice acting ever. I’m not a voice actor, but if you watch this show with headphones on this show seems to have been recorded on the fly with many different microphones, and in all of their sessions Jaden Smith is on beta blockers. Seriously sometimes it lands perfectly as a deadpan Tim and Eric reference and at most other points Kaz sounds like a character from Resident Evil on the PlayStation One.
- “Communism forever!”
- Caprese Boy
- Aunt Agatha almost an antagonist
I’m Starting to Think Neo Yokio’s Not the Greatest City In the World
The finale sorta fizzles. All of the conflicts leading to this point leads to Kaz undergoing a lot of risk to protect Helena who openly admits to destroying the board, and telling him that Neo Yokio has much more sinister goings-on aside from demonic invasion. Its here where Neo Yokio’s “Kowloon Walled City” stand-in is Kaz’s first real realization of class consciousness aside from his being viewed as a lesser, a “Rat Catcher” in high society standings. This seems to come at the right time in the story, but without the height it should have? Bystanders to the race ding up his race car with signage, and then he’s on his merry way.
It’s incredibly strange?
If the show is about a marriage of old world beauty ideals and status juxtaposed with modernity through the lens of anime, the see-saw of CURRENT FASHION and OLD ARISTOCRACY do not bounce up and down in cooperation but instead are being flung back and forth by the use of demented pistons. It feels inconsistent in major ways, that almost are responsible for its charm. It leads to great satirical moments, albeit from the writers unintentionally dunking on themselves.
- What happened to the Russian driver???
- Speed Racer homage
- A callback to the first episode
I’m heartened by this first season, and the possible direction it seeks to take should it get renewed for a second season. With today’s talk about it on Twitter, I’m of the mind it’ll be doing quite well, despite all the specificity this show has. All the fashion references, all the anime references? If you don’t like one, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll like the other in tandem with inspired casting! We’ll see!