I know what everyone has said about this hot mess, but I love it. I can’t help myself.
“Neo Yokio” is a Netflix-created anime released last year. I only finished watching it recently, but because of the topic, be warned. There are some mild spoilers below.
The anime stars Kaz Khan, a “magistocratic” socialite and demon hunter living in an alternate reality of modern-day New York, or Neo Yokio, as it’s called in the anime.
In this bizarre alternate reality, Manhatten is underwater but still inhabited, the Soviet Union never disbanded, mecha-butlers serve the rich, the rich have inexplicable magic powers, and the city is constantly threatened by demonic activity.
Kaz and others of his social class are descendants of powerful demon hunters brought in from Europe to deal with the city’s demon problems. However, Kaz is a kind-hearted but shallow 20-year-old who would rather deal with problems in his social life than with demons, and so the anime has more to do with Kaz’s absurd social life than it does with supernatural forces. The result is, well, absurd.
Absurd is a great way to describe this anime because it is such an odd creation in substance and in quality that it’s no wonder that the reviews on it are as mixed as they are. I love this anime, but I certainly understand the criticism.
For one thing, the show’s writing and script are unbelievably strange. The residents of Neo Yokio are more concerned about parties than they are about the demons running amuck in their town or the supernatural events occurring on almost a daily basis. Characters change on a whim. Plot lines disappear out of nowhere. Kaz and the others have lines of dialogue and actions that run the gamut from normal to exceptionally out there and out of place, but everything is played completely straight. People don’t react much to these strange occurrences and revelations either. Like I said before, they are more concerned about their social standing on the bachelor board or about upcoming social events than about anything supernatural happening.
Some other problems that everyone mentions are the animation and the voice acting. I didn’t think the animation was terrible enough to really rant about, but the voice acting is another story. Oh, man. I have never heard more uneven performances in my life. On one hand, I found Jaden Smith’s voice acting for Kaz to be surprisingly good. His deadpan is effective, and he really struck the balance of making Kaz a shallow and naïve socialite without making him unkind or completely unlikable. Most of the other recurring voice actors are fine and serviceable at worst, but often, you get these minor role voice actors whose performances are so bad that they pull this already weird anime into an almost surreal plane of existence.
Nevertheless, I love “Neo Yokio,” and I don’t think it deserves to be dismissed as readily as it has been.
The primary reason for my love is because of how absurd and surreal this anime is. I love absurd humor, and that is where most of the comedy comes from. Honestly, I think that that’s where most of this anime’s perceived problems come from. I cannot be 100% sure, but I think this anime was made a hot mess on purpose and people dismiss it because they don’t understand it.
My argument is supported by the fact that “Neo Yokio” does make some sharp satirical points beneath its absurd plot points. There is a rival who becomes a friend once the city’s bachelor board that made him competitive was destroyed but goes back to being an enemy when it’s rebuilt. There are fangirls who are willing to get themselves demon-possessed just to be exactly like their idol. There is a teacher who’s suspected of being a demon sympathizer mostly because he’s different than the other teachers. Then there’s the fact that after every absurd occurrence, no one really reflects on anything but goes back to everyday life as soon as they can. There are solid satirical points being made about American society here and underlying tensions that become more obvious to Kaz towards the end of the series. All that was done on purpose.
The satirical element explains the writing decisions and the odd, odd script. Everything is weird and borderline nonsensical because that is how Kaz and people like him live in the world. The dialogue is out there because that is how these people react to problems that affect most people. It is absurd and bizarre, but that’s the point. American society is absurd and bizarre sometimes, especially when it comes to how the 1% live.
Does that excuse every dropped plot thread and every instance of bad acting? No, but it does make the series make a lot more sense thematically.
I earnestly hope that “Neo Yokio” gets a second season. Towards the end, Kaz was starting to see the social injustices in his beloved city and hinted that he had a feeling tensions were going to only get higher. I would love to see that come to play, and I pray that the powers-that-be see the potential this anime has and give it a chance to happen.