When I First Heard About Neo Yokio, I Thought it Would be BAD!
Then, on the day it came out I saw the glorious “Big Toblerone” memes and knew I was in for a real treat. I decided then and there that I needed to watch Neo Yokio because at the very least, it would be something enjoyable to make fun of. However, I was pleasantly surprised when this anime (and yes it is anime) actually turned out to be pretty good. It helped that it was absurdly funny too.
Where do I even begin with Neo Yokio? After all, there is a lot going on here from the absurd humor, the surprisingly solid writing, references to older anime, actual plot twists, the product promotions, and so much more. Perhaps it would just be best to start from the beginning.
For those unaware, Neo Yokio is a Netflix exclusive anime created by Ezra Koenig (not Jaden Smith, as many believe. Smith only voices the lead character Kaz Kaan) in conjunction with Production I.G and Studio Dean. It’s only six episodes in length but the entire story fits nicely into this runtime with no real padding. Genuinely, Neo Yokio provides a good time.
If I had to describe Neo Yokio I would say it was more akin to something like an over-the-top The Boondocks than a traditional anime. Really, if you go in expecting something “Japanese” then you are going to be sorely disappointed as this has a hefty Western vibe. I know this may be a turn-off for some “purist” anime fans, but I hope you’ll take the time to hear me out as to why Neo Yokio is enjoyable.
Right away I was intrigued because Neo Yokio opens with an old VHS-style commercial advertising “The Greatest City in the World,” Neo Yokio. It’s a city for the super rich and handsome with way too much time on their hands… oh wait that’s Host Club, but also pretty much true here. Jaden Smith’s Kaz Kaan is second on the “bachelor board” and mourning the end of a relationship since his girlfriend broke up with him to take a finance job in San Francisco. Also, he is from a family of top exorcists.
You get to meet his mecha-butler, Charles, who has the worst design in the show. He’s all white with no shadows so it looks weird (but still kind of good). At some point Kaz needs to exorcise his friend Helena, the best fashion blogger in the world, who has become possessed. That’s when the show really picks up and starts being legitimately good and not just funny.
Fun fact, Tavi Gevinson, the voice of Helena, is also a real life fashion blogger. The cast is full of “coincidences” like this, which I thought was pretty interesting. It enhanced the viewing experience for me but I’m weird and just know weird things like this. I’m mentioning it here because I didn’t have a great place to do it anyplace else.
Any way, after Helena is saved by Kaz she begins to realize that Neo Yokio is a city for the self-indulgent and is full of narcissistic rich people. Therefore, she rejects her fashion blogger ways and society in general. At one point she even becomes, hikkikomori *gasp!* Throughout Kaz has to do various exorcism things while trying to convince Helena to come back to society (only to eventually realize she’s right) etc…
By the way, Helena is where all the Toblerone memes come from and I think that is just the greatest. Enough summary though, let’s talk about some highlights from the show. The first highlight is in the story’s structure. Many of the plots follow an A/B storyline. What makes it different is that the “B” plot in Neo Yokio is the “A” plot and vice-versa.
For example, in one episode Kaz is going to go to a black-and-white ball with famed pop star Sailor Pellegrino. He meets her at a basketball game where she sings the national anthem, an opera song. In said episode, Kaz discovers his suit is actually midnight-blue! Obviously you can’t wear this to a black-and-white ball so he needs to get that fixed. This would normally be a “B” plot but here is the “A” plot.
The B plot of the story is actually when Kaz has to provide security at the event due to a suspected demon hiding out at the museum where the event is located. Of course, Kaz ends up creating all of the problems only to haphazardly “solve” them at the last minute.
Another point of interest is the general disconnect between a normal person and the dialog of the show. Constantly, characters rattle on about products that only the rich purchase. These are definitely ads in the show but somehow it always felt surreal and fit the general tone the show had. It made sense for the characters to talk about this stuff and ultimately was part of the overall message that maybe these kinds of things aren’t what matter most in life.
Later into the series, there is an episode that is basically Ramna 1/2. This isn’t the only reference to an older anime, but it’s the most obvious one. In this episode one of Kaz’s friends gets turned into a girl after swimming in a cursed infinity pool. Kaz decides to make his ex-girlfriend, Cathy jealous by taking his newly female friend to a party. This episode had actual social commentary and highlighted a lot of character flaws with Kaz.
In the same episode, a fairly big twist occurs that is mostly played for laughs but I’ll get back to that a bit later. While I definitely enjoyed all the humor, which is going to be hit-or-miss for most people, I appreciated that Neo Yokio actually managed to have a cohesive story. It isn’t just an endless stream of jokes. There is substance and actual attempts (at the very least) at sending real messages.
Near the end of the series, Helena needs to escape the city after being a suspect in a terrorist attack. Kaz and gang decides to help her out. This is when that earlier twist comes into play. That’s the linchpin to the success of the plan. I thought that was pretty clever and also funny, despite how obvious the outcome of the final episode is.
A Law and Order style character called “The Rememberancer,” voiced by Steve Buscemi, shows up for these final two episodes. I mention him because his character was both creepy and amusing whenever he was on screen. He’d always enter with a sinister background noise and is the over-the-top bad guy that Neo Yokio desperately needed.
In the end, the show circles back to the start but Kaz has realized that maybe Neo Yokio isn’t the greatest city in the world after all. He grows as a person and begins to question the values society in this city has. It’s interesting and well done. Not perfect, but for a show that I expected to be awful and only redeemable from the joy I’d get from making fun of it, a pleasant surprise.
Of course, there is so much more that I could talk about but I feel I would take away from the charm of this anime. Neo Yokio isn’t an experience for everyone, but it was one that I greatly enjoyed. The animation is decent, it had a surprisingly well thought out story, and never got boring/overdone in its six episode run. For those heralding this as “the worst thing to happen to anime,” that’s just crazy. At worst, this is a good time that’ll provide a laugh. Personally, I loved it though and would happily watch it again. Give it a try, it’s not that long and you may just be surprised at how enjoyable Neo Yokio can be.
Have you seen Neo Yokio and what are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed the article be sure to hit that like button and consider checking out my Patreon. The support is always appreciated and every little bit helps. Just click the button below for more details. As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again soon!