Neo Yokio is a six-part American animation in Japanese-style that has just landed on Netflix and, emphatically, it is not worth your time.
Reviews in this publication are seldom so blunt, but in this case it is a necessary precaution. For, on paper, Neo Yokio might appear to be interesting TV (again, it is not).
The speed-reader or distracted peruser might notice that the program has, say, a stellar line-up of voice actors (Jude Law, Stephen Fry and Susan Sarandon just to name a few), accidentally overlook a conventional, nuanced critique, and waste a few minutes of their lives watching Neo Yokio. This would be a mistake.
Neo Yokio is the brainchild of Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig. It stars Jaden Smith, best known for being Will Smith’s son and for tweeting out indecipherable psychobabble.
The plot: in a futuristic mishmash of New York and Tokyo, aristocrats aspire for the title of ‘most eligible bachelor’, and the current state of this contest is projected on a huge billboard for all to see. When he’s not playing field hockey or chasing girls, leading man Kaz (Jaden Smith) works as a demon hunter.
There are demons, by the way. Their motivation is obscure, but they seem to hate people with money. Ezra Koenig was a vocal Bernie Sanders supporter, and if Neo Yokio is satirising something (it’s not clear that it is), it’s the class system. This basically just amounts to various characters saying the word ‘bourgeois’ for no real reason.
The fruits of the bourgeois, however, are celebrated; several episodes of the program serve as excuses for characters to discuss watches, tuxedos, fine art and handbags. The characters in Neo Yokio talk about ‘elegance’ nonstop, but the show itself – its animation, its plotting, its characters – is a dog’s breakfast.
Neo Yokio, though preoccupied with beauty, is not, itself, a beautiful show. It is heavily inspired by Japanese Anime, but apart from a few references here and there, this doesn’t contribute anything overall. Where you judge Neo Yokio on its merits as an anime, or as an ironic pastiche of East and West, it does not qualify as an artistic success. To be frank, Neo Yokio is a show about what it is to be rich that has been animated on the cheap. The characters are one-dimensional and boring. The plotting is simplistic and shallow.
Neo Yokio might have worked as a show for children – it is bright and colourful – were it not for liberal use of the f-word. Again, the redemptive feature throughout is an impressive list of voice actors. As well as the aforementioned, the show also boasts Alexa Chung, Desus Nice and Richard Ayoade. Jason Schwartzman stars as the baddie, for crying out loud. The line-up is one Bill Murray away from being a Wes Anderson movie. Hipster Jesus Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange and Lightspeed Champion) even composed original music for the show.
Clearly, Koenig has built up a roster of very impressive and talented friends. On the other hand, how good a friend could any of them have been, truly, if not a single one sat down with Ezra and asked him to abandon Neo Yokio.