Created by: Ezra Koening
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, and Jason Schwartzman with Steve Buscemi, Stephen Fry, Desus Nice and the Kid Mero
Available on: Netflix
My Rating: *½:5
“Neo Yokio” is an animated TV series made for Netflix, which began streaming earlier this fall. Even though the series is not the worst of its kind, it is still a viewing experience that is dull at best and painfully bad at worst.
The series is the brainchild of Ezra Koening of the band Vampire Weekend and is an American/Japanese co-production with work from anime companies Production IG and Studio DEEN. Despite the influence of anime having far-reaching effects on western animation, the anemic voice acting from a talented cast, incoherent writing and animation that resembles the deluge of low-quality anime knockoffs from the early to mid-2000s, make for one of the more disappointing ventures that Netflix has been a part of.
The premise of the series is as follows: in the fictional city of Neo Yokio (a sort of post-apocalyptic mashup of Tokyo and New York City), a young man known as Kaz Kaan (voice of Jaden Smith) tries to balance vying to become the city’s most eligible bachelor with fighting paranormal phenomena such as demons and individuals with psychic powers. Other characters, for lack of a better word, include Kaz’s adoptive aunt (voice of Susan Sarandon), a robotic butler known as “James” (voice of Jude Law), Kaz’s snide rival Antonio (voice of Jason Schwartzman) and a couple of Kaz’s goofy friends (YouTube comedians Desus and Mero).
Even though the series has the template to be a genuinely entertaining show, the series squanders the potential of its talented cast and the influence of its medium, making it Netflix’s second anime-infused misfire this year after their live-action remake of “Death Note.”
Despite having a relatively interesting premise, the execution of the series botches every genre that plays a part of the show. The scripts of the series so far are so overblown that they could be much more amusing if they were a dramatic reading of Jaden Smith’s infamous Twitter account. Instead, the series proves to be little more than a glorified vanity project for both Smith and Ezra Koening, failing to realize that deadpan delivery on its own is nothing without good writing to bolster it. Even skilled actors such as Stephen Fry and Steve Buscemi seem sedate in their line readings.
The animation resembles an off-model mashup of numerous other anime and a bunch of “How to Draw Manga” books put into a blender. Many scenes appear to have been ripped off from Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic “Akira,” and the concept of the show seems to have been stolen from the anime series “Yu Yu Hakusho” (which was not lost on Funimation, who took a subtle dig at this show when promoting the 25th anniversary of the series on social media).
The characters do not seem all that likable or relatable in any way, and the attempts at comedy are less than successful. Barring one running gag about oversized Toblerone chocolate bars, the comedy is by far the weakest aspect of the series. A gag about what color suit to wear to a formal dance is effectively rendered a non sequitur when it’s made by a group of Antonio’s admirers, who resemble Calvin Klein models in candy-colored golf shorts. The intensity of the demonic possession of a group of schoolgirls is severely marred by them all giggling like stereotypical “valley girls” during a sale at JC Penney. Such a prospect would have been better handled by a delivery in the classic 1976 version of “The Exorcist.”
Despite being billed as a “first season,” reception among critics and audiences has been less than favorable. With Netflix having a myriad of better anime and other TV series influenced by anime available, “Neo Yokio” is not worth your time. Even though it’s relatively easy to breeze through all six episodes and mock the material in the style of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” on its own merit; it’s not worth viewing for all the Toblerone in Switzerland.
Review by Steven Pryor