Based off of its creator’s dystopian dream of New York City, “Neo Yokio” fails miserably in a half-baked attempt to analyze bourgeois urban society.
Neo Yokio is the brainchild of its executive producer Ezra Koenig, the frontman, lead singer and guitarist of Vampire Weekend. After the release of his band’s third LP Modern Vampires of the City, Koenig took time away from music due to lack of inspiration and in turn concocted the idea of this six-episode Netflix exclusive.
Centering around Neo Yokio’s second most eligible bachelor Kaz Kaan, the show follows Kaz as he fulfills his sworn duty to protect Neo Yokio from the demons that once nearly destroyed the city. However, Kaz could care less about his role as a “magistocrat” — he’d rather spend his time shopping, playing field hockey and mourning his recent breakup. Combined with his feud with fellow rich kid Arcangelo Corelli, Kaz’s world is fast paced and has the makings of an exciting show.
“Neo Yokio’s” stacked lineup of voice actors only furthers its hype. Leading the cast is Jaden Smith as Kaz, and following suit are Jude Law as Kaz’s robot butler Charles and Susan Sarandon as Kaz’s relative and boss Aunt Agatha.
Every voice actor but one adapts to their role and blends into the world Koenig crafted, and Smith is that one. Smith sounds exactly like a robot might reading one of his many poor attempts at being a poet on Twitter — blunt and relatively emotionless. Smith brings no energy to his heartbroken character, delivering lines such as “Win, lose … we’ll all be equal in the grave” with absolutely no change in tone or gusto. He consistently struggles to connect with Kaz and fill the character’s basic needs.
Beyond its voice acting, “Neo Yokio’s” visuals and ambiance are fairly impressive. Famous anime storyboard artists Kazuhiro Furuhashi, lead artist of “Hunter x Hunter,” and Junji Nishimura, who worked on the anime classic “Urusei Yatsura”, team up to assist Koenig in his vision, mirroring notable New York landmarks with impressive integrity. The colors and music additionally reflect each scene’s mood properly — dark when serious, light when playful.
Yet no matter how many minor components the show gets right, nothing can recover from “Neo Yokio’s” glaring lack of soul. The majority of each of the 21-minute episodes center around Kaz complaining about clothes, how it sucks to be rich and loveless or having to run jobs as instructed by his aunt. Rehash that formula six times, and you’ve essentially reconstructed this series.
Even when Kaz defeats demons with his powers, the scenes are dull, short and unrewarding. Smith stays surprisingly monotone during these action sequences. Kaz is the perfect mash-up of Richie Rich and Superman, but none of the focus is put on Kaz’s status as a superhero. Instead, “Neo Yokio” gives off satirical vibes, like it’s mocking the elite class of New York.
If that were the goal of “Neo Yokio”, it might have been successful. But instead, halfway through the series it becomes apparently obvious that Koenig isn’t attempting to satirize or parody anyone — he just wanted to make an anime about a whiny 20-year-old.
If Kaz’s recent breakup had been explained further, some kind of compassion could be built for his character, but “Neo Yokio” leaves viewers with no cause for emotional attachment. Combined with its propensity to rehash the same predictable plotlines and outcomes over and over, “Neo Yokio” is truly a letdown, appealing to only two kinds of people — bored Netflix surfers and the show’s creator himself.