Chances are high that if you fancy yourself a hardcore anime fan, you won’t like Neo Yokio, an American-made Netflix animated series that some are calling the “vanity project” of Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig and Jaden Smith. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Because if you’re drawn to Wes Anderson’s brand of colorful oddities, then you might be in the right place.
Neo Yokio is an utterly ridiculous show that’s both fun and funny; you just can’t take it too seriously. Think of it not as an anime, but as an Americanized parody that homages everything from classic anime to upper-class New York fashion and culture while satirizing high society.
You could say the show’s about a purple-haired demon slayer named Kaz Kaan enjoying an opulent lifestyle in the greatest city in the world, but Neo Yokio is oh so much more.
Spoilers for the totally bonkers Neo Yokio follow.
The hero of Neo Yokio is Kaz Kaan, a purple-haired demon hunter with a delicate frame that cares more about high-end fashion and Caprese Martinis than he does actually working. At the start of the series, he’s preoccupied with a recent breakup and wistfully “mourning the death of a relationship,” which he can afford to do for days on end because his family is fabulously wealthy.
His Aunt Agatha rightfully calls his a “wretched lifestyle”; it consists mostly of worrying about fashion, maintaining his status on the very huge and very public “bachelor leaderboard” in the heart of the city, and playing field hockey with his other rich friends. Fortunately for Kaz, he’s a member of the “magistocracy,” a small segment of Neo Yokio’s social elite that gained their status centuries ago fighting the city’s demons. It’s a job his aunt still forces him to still do on occasion.
Kaz’s actual conflicts with demons occur inconsistently throughout the six episodes of the series. The funniest and best comes from a Taylor Swift knock-off that turns out to be a demon in disguise as a beautiful woman with the singing voice of an angel and the speaking voice of a country bumpkin. She and Kaz date for a brief stint, and when someone says, “I wasn’t aware you listened to pop music,” Kaz plainly responds, “I don’t. I’m just a fan of her success.” As it turns out, she’s a demon Kaz has to slay.
But Kaz, and Neo Yokio by extension, care much more about high fashion and his social life than anything to do with demons. He’s selfish, disrespectful, and often downright asinine. He’s the kind of privileged jerk that forces a feeling of melancholy into his life because it’s trendier than his midnight blue suit. And he doesn’t display any growth until less than three minutes before the end of the season. This might serve to frustrate some, but it’s best just to let yourself laugh at Kaz’s ridiculousness than dwell too much on the scarcity of character development. The show’s entire duration is less than a couple hours after all, so cut it some slack.
Kaz is hilariously dismissive of everyone and unabashedly calls the sales clerk at his favorite suit store “Sales Clerk.” He doesn’t bother to learn peoples’ names because he doesn’t really care all that much. The items in his world — including people — are there to serve him, and it’s more convenient to name each of them by function. One glaring exception to that is his robot butler Charles, who gets a delightfully posh British accent from Jude Law.
There’s no one that suffers more mistreatment at Kaz’s hands than Charles. Kaz literally rides on the robot’s back to and from his errands. In one story, Charles becomes woefully short on battery power. Kaz ignores the robot’s overly polite requests for a “quick charge, sir?” Instead, Charles has to fly Kaz and two friends out to the Hamptons for the weekend so they can party.
Why should Kaz even care if Charles’ battery dies? It’s just a robot. Neo Yokio constantly challenges us about why we might care about anything, but it subverts our expectations in surprising ways — like when Charles’ battery dies, and a very angry, very tiny woman emerges from the robot to berate Kaz. And In the same episode, one of Kaz’s friends gets magically transformed into a woman by accident, and rather than help change his friend back, he compels him — now her — to attend a party so Kaz can make his ex jealous.
All this magic and futuristic technology might seem crazy, but it’s the choices Kaz makes that are truly remarkable and representative of the bonkers places the show goes.
At face value, Kaz’s ridiculous behavior borders on the offensive, but these satirical elements make Neo Yokio totally hilarious. The dialogue is superbly written and outrageously funny because it often borders on nonsensical. We laugh when Kaz says, “Helena St. Tessero has lost the plot.” not because we’re in on the joke, but we can’t possibly begin to understand what the heck any of this means. The whole thing is a joke, and we’re all laughing.
Kaz and his two best friends Lexy and Gottlieb (The Kid Mero and Desus Nice) constantly just, like, do whatever man. Take an adult field hockey game way to serious? Check. Invent, trademark, and market a new cocktail with Kaz as the handsome poster boy? Check. Open up a tiny bar? Check. The list goes on and on: During a minutes-long bar crawl sequence, they go to a Tiger Bar where a real tiger is chained up, a Greenhouse Bar in a real greenhouse that grows cocaine, and then “The Box” where you order champagne sized by the names of ancient kings. It’s almost impossible to keep up.
Did I mention that the villain voiced by Steve Buscemi in the back-half of the series wears a powdered wig and totally vapes?
Nowhere is the ridiculousness of Neo Yokio more on display than the literal display at the heart of the city: the Bachelor Leaderboard. It’s a giant list of the top bachelors in all of Neo Yokio. Much of Kaz’s greatest existential frustrations come when he’s not at the top of the leaderboard. His ongoing nemesis and greatest competition in that regard is the long-haired, blonde Arcangelo Corelli (Jason Schwartzman).
Arcangelo has an entourage of murmuring bros that giggle and wear short shorts, and he lives for tormenting Kaz whatever way he can. Usually, he’s insulting Kaz by calling him nouveau riche (it roughly means “new rich”). The insult represents the class tensions at play in the city: People like Arcangelo come from “old money” but Kaz and his friends — including everyone in the magistocracy — are considered “new money.”
But eventually, Neo Yokio presents the mutability of shallow, long-standing vendettas. When the Bachelor Leader Board is bombed by a terrorist, Arcangelo immediately becomes friendly to Kaz. Their feud was so shallow that when the board itself no longer exists, and they are no longer in direct competition, the cause for conflict evaporates.
In this weird way, Neo Yokio meditates upon the cult of celebrity, metropolitan high society, and commercialism. The satirical exaggeration of high-class society sometimes make you forget that this is supposed to be a show about a demon slayer.
Throughout the course of the much-too-short first season, Kaz gets drawn into a budding conspiracy involving an old hook-up, Helena St. Tessero, a fashion blogger that he has to exercise a demon out of early on. Their reunion triggers a puzzling sequence of events that makes Kaz question everything he thought he knew about Neo Yokio and his place in it — only to wind up back at square one: lovesick and watching a tennis match while his abused robot butler stands idly by.
As is the case in real-life, even when things change, they often wind up staying the same.
Neo Yokio’s first six episodes are available on Netflix.