This Neo Yokio review is based on all six episodes of the first season.
Neo Yokio, the new animated Netflix series from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, is being anticipated (or not) as a satirical homage to anime culture. This is a representation that will leave many anime enthusiasts disappointed. As an anime — satire or otherwise — Neo Yokio falls short of its contemporaries. However, as an animated dramedy poking fun at and indulging in the absurdities of privilege in late capitalist America, it’s a gem.
Neo Yokio stars Jaden Smith as melancholical, out-of-touch pretty boy Kaz Kaan. While Kaz has grown up with immense privilege in the “best” city in the world, Neo Yokio, his family are the nouveau riche among his old money peers. Kaz is a member of the “magistocracy,” a family of pink-haired demon-hunters who have to work the tiniest bit to maintain their place in high society. (Don’t get too excited about the demon-slaying plot. It’s mostly set decorating.)
Kaz’s family is chiefly represented in this first season by the strict, ever-exasperated Aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon), who is constantly interrupting Kaz’s busy schedule of field hockey games and signature cocktail modeling to ask her nephew to slay demons. It’s such a drag, and seriously interferes with Kaz’s life purpose of topping Neo Yokio’s Most Eligible Bachelor Board, a mission that is constantly threatened by suave douchiness of Neo Yokio’s other most eligible bachelor Arcangelo Corelli (Jason Schwartzman).
Watching these two fight over the thoroughly arbitrary Bachelor Board is endlessly enjoyable, mostly because Neo Yokio has the narrative distance and deftness to realize how silly Kaz, Arcangelo, and the Bachelor Board all are. Over the course of the first season, Kaz and Arcangelo may have the opportunity to save themselves from their silliness. The Bachelor Board, by its very definition, does not.
The difference in perspective between Neo Yokio‘s main character and Neo Yokio as a larger story is best exemplified by the delightfully over-it Helena St. Tessero (Tavi Gevinson). Helena, an ex-fashion blogger who is possessed by a demon in the first episode, is one of the many woman Kaz has his eye on as a prospective romantic partner.
Helena, however, refuses to be put in that tiny, claustrophobic box. While Kaz is paralyzed by high-stakes decisions like “Can I wear a midnight blue tux to a black and white ball?”, Helena has moved on to staging anti-capitalist demonstrations in an attempt to use her social influence to expose the injustices of the world, injustices most egregiously committed and ignored by the Neo Yokio elite.
Rounding out the cast of main characters is Kaz’s thanklessly-indentured mecha-butler Charles (Jude Law), who has hidden depth, and Kaz’s two best friends Lexy and Gottlieb (The Kid Mero and Desus Nice), two characters who make Kaz’s pitiful attempts at contextualizing his privileged life look like Wild-level character growth. Kaz may be glacially slow in recognizing Neo Yokio’s faults, but Lexy and Gottlieb don’t seem poised to ever question the cost of their luxurious lifestyle.
More than any anime, Neo Yokio had me thinking of that most quintessential of Upper East Side-set dramedies: Gossip Girl. Kaz is a cross between Dan Humphrey’s self-pitying not-as-richness and Blair Waldorf’s elegance-obsessed, anxiety-ridden snob. (Charles is Dorota.) Like the latter character, Kaz has a desperate earnestness that is endearing, despite its often misguided foci.
Like Gossip Girl before it, Neo Yokio falls short of any real socioeconomic criticism, too in love with the aesthetics of the lifestyle to tear it down in any real way. But, with the six-episode first season only ramping up to a thematic point in its final episodes, who’s to say what could come in a Season 2… The fall of Neo Yokio itself?
All six episodes of Neo Yokio premiere on Netflix on September 22nd.