Predictably, the internet has already digested this short series and hacked up a Toblerone-shaped owl pellet, but I watch things (in my own time) and have opinions too, dammit. Here is my owl pellet.
While the name of the series suggests post-apocalyptic futurism against an 80s Japanese cyberpunk backdrop, our setting is simply New York—I think? Neo Yokio is New York reimagined in ways that are sometimes cool, but also random and unimportant (the anthem being replaced by an adaptation of English poet William Blake’s poem And did those feet in ancient time, for one). It’s bombastic, but disorienting.
The show begins with some brief exposition about the world, which is unexpectedly magical: generations ago, Neo was beset by demons, the city’s gentry brought in magicians to expel the demons, yadda yadda yadda, and the old-money rewarded the magician “ratcatchers” by raising them to high society as new money. Fast forward to the present day, and Kaz Kahn (conspicuously voiced by Jaden Smith) is a new-money bachelor who disinterestedly exorcises demons while fighting to reach the top of Neo Yokio’s Bachelor Board.
However, it’s not super clear what the deal is with the demons, or the power and role of magicians in the present day. We get to see Kaz perform a couple routine exorcisms and pewpewpew some demons with magic missiles, while his “trashy” cousin has somehow mastered human transformation. Per Orson Scott Card, magic needs a cost, it has to be internally consistent. The magic in Neo Yokio isn’t even consistently present.
Next in importance would be the characters, though the actors behind them beam through like sunlight through Saran Wrap. How in god’s name did they get all those big American stars like Susan Sarandon and Steve Buscemi to join a freaking anime project? How did they get Kazuhiro Furuhashi and Junji Nishimura to join an independent, American anime project? The world may never know.
Lauded animation directors notwithstanding, I was dismayed by the spare yet jerky art direction, which feels well below the quality I’ve come to expect in these computer-assisted times. The final product has the rough edges of an early Furuhashi or Nishimura classic, but none of the charm or originality.
I really like The Kid Mero as Lexy, who’s given a decent spotlight in the Ranma ½ parody episode. Unfortunately, Desus Nice gets the short end of the “protagonist’s two sidekick buds” schtick.
I’m running out of things to say because Neo Yokio is just so darn confounding, but at least I haven’t used the phrase “wasted potential” yet. The cast and characters evince a metropolitanism usually not present in insular and foreigner-wary Japan, which is genuinely refreshing. And at the same time, I always get a weird feeling from American-made anime, especially anime with distinctly Western overtones like a Jude Law reading of a Rudyard Kipling poem.
The showrunners have probably seen a crapton of anime, which I guess is how any creative art begins. After one or two episodes I was laughing out loud with embarrassment. After about the third episode…I wasn’t so sure. And weeks later, I think that’s where I need to leave it.
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