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Neo Yokio uses New York City culture to show the hypocrisy of high-class society in a flawed and fizzled animated series.
As someone who was born and raised in New York City, hearing about a anime theme story about life in the city had my eyeballs turning to fire emoji's. Would there be fights on top of the Empire State Building? An epic chase down Park Ave? A transformation of a foil character? Yea, issa a no on all three. The fighting on top of the Empire State Building was replaced with an "eligible bachelor board." The epic chase-down in the city turned into a getaway attempt of a known terrorist. And the only thing that transformed was the futuristic robot butler Charles (Jude Law). My idea of New York was completely different from creator Ezra Koenig.
Back in 2014, Vampire Weekend's frontman Koenig wrapped a world tour for his band's third studio album Morden Vampires of the City, which not only received a Grammy, but also charted on Billboard 200. After the success of the tour, Koenig found himself in a state of quinary. In an interview with Pitchfork, Koeing stated, "For the first time, I didn’t have a strong sense of what I wanted to express as a songwriter, lyricist, musician.” He took this time off to create Neo Yokio, an animated perception of New York's perplexing high-class culture.
Koenig taped Jaden Smith as the melancholy Kas Kaan. A so-called demon extremist teenager working for his covetous Aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) to rid the city of its supernatural nuisance. Kaan's close friends Lexy (The Kid Mero) and Gottlieb (Desus Nice) attempt to cheer the young lad's demeanor with their blissful attitudes, and their self-made caprese martinis, but to no avail. Kaan's mood only takes a turn with the appearance of his name on the aforementioned eligible bachelor list.
His rival Arcangelo Corelli (Jason Schwartzman) never fails to remind the young demon-slayer of his “Neo Riche” (a.k.a nouveau riche) statue. The two consistently battle for top billing on the board, but even the rival seems to be a bore for young Kaan. His life appears to just be a series of privileged perceived issues. From losing his girlfriend to a Grand Prix driver to wearing a midnight-blue suit to a all black event, Kaan struggles to find the purpose in his ever-changing life. The elements of this teenager life draws parallels to the struggles in class and race; however, the series doesn't tie together a fully-clothed storyline.
Neo Yokio Trailer
The "anime-inspired"—out of respect for anime he calls his show an inspiration— version of New York culture stands out in the city afternoon traffic. Whether it was the vail shot at Taylor Swift through the pop-star-turned-demon Sailor Pellegrino (Katy Mixon), or having "The Sea beneath 14th Street" literally submerged underwater, elements of New York culture scream throughout the show. The season finale shows Kaan walking blocks out of his way in order to return home because of police blockage in the street. Every New Yorker has screamed inside the car at the sight of barricaded streets. The overall backdrop of New York City is the strongest character of the entire show, but the city can't hold up for lack of depth from the surrounding characters.
There is no reason any character to act the way they do. Helena, played by Tavi Gevinson, is the only one who goes though some sort of change in the story, after she was possessed by a demon. Once she is saved by Kaan, she completely flips her principle ideas to the point where she basically commits 9/11. Outside of this extreme turn, no one in the show has anything that draws fans toward them. The worst culprit of this is Kaan himself and the chop cheese, herb, and deadass b references can save his apathy for anything.
Neo Yokio centers around Kaan's desire, or lack thereof, to complete his demon work. Characters who see the world as a meaningless place give fans a weird sense upfront. Kaan not only fails to invoke that feeling, but he causes fans to question his purpose in the story. He stays in this state of unbalance, which makes it hard for fans to actually want to engage with him. He shows no grow, as he is seen in the same position in the open scene as he is in the final one. Yes, there are only six episodes to work with; however nothing is done with Kaan to have any emotion toward him.
Neo Yokio isn't a story of fighting foil characters looking to discover some sort of hidden power to defeat their enemies. The story strays away from the norms of anime history. Koenig spoke of criticism the show has received by its "nontraditional" ways. Anime doesn't need to have fighting or a display of overall aggression in its characters; however, the lack of any real passion from Kaan makes his overall story too boring to invest any time in.