Neo Yokio is clumsy, awkward, and incompetent in ways that only something made with a singular, devoted, essentially delusional vision would allow. It’s a mess of disparate influences forced to co-exist within the mind of a madman. It’s the sort of thing those who lack real vision and imagination would lamely boast of “having to be on drugs” to fully understand. It’s the stuff of late night screenings and, where it not readily available on that monstrosity known as Netflix, passed between eager, morbidly curious hands through 8th generation VHS tapes. It’s kinda terrible, incredibly fascinating, and we should be thankful we got to experience such a brilliant hot mess.
The plot is standard Shounen Jump stuff. Guy has magical powers meant to deal with a specific sort of foe. Guy has a cast of wacky friends who do stuff. Drama and action unfolds. If the show were only about that sort of thing, it’d be a relative failure, since its aesthetic is about on par with the output of mid-00s French-Canadian cartoons like Totally Spies. The action is serviceable at best, and doesn’t really make up for the lack of dynamics with creativity or whatever. What makes it worthwhile is the sheer strangeness of it all.
The main dude, Kaz Kaan, comes from a line of magical demon hunting exorcists who immigrated from The Old World to alt-present New York/Neo Yokio. These Magistocrats exist in some nebulous strata of society– below the “old money fuckboys” who rule the city, well above the unseen (if even existent) middle class and very visible lower class denizens of lower NY boroughs, yet somehow on the bottom rung of it all despite wealth, importance, and notoriety. Kaz is an Other who can touch the power of The Man without the hope of actually grasping said power. It’s a weird social dynamic that gets skirted over throughout most of the series, largely because Kaz is still living in denial of where exactly he falls in society. It’s an interesting concept that doesn’t have enough room to really breathe outside of the story’s margins. If we get more of this thing later on, maybe they’ll delve into it more, since it’s clearly on the creators’ minds.
Social dynamics get toyed with in other areas as well. One of the main characters, who starts off as a fashion blogger, ends up becoming a anti-materialism hikkikomori terrorist after being possessed by a demon. At the same time, one of the demons Kaz fights makes some comments where it sounds like demons are being treated like an oppressed class rather than a malevolent threat being thwarted for the betterment of society. When you take that along with the brief history of Neo Yokio we get during the first episode– where we find out that these demons have hounded the city since its founding hundreds of years ago– and it comes off as something akin to the struggles of colonialism. Europeans settled in this area, and the native threat they faced were demons. That threat has never subsided, despite said Europeans importing help to deal with the demon “problem.” So we have one group lifted up in society (but not too high) because of their ability to deal with another group. They’ve been pitted against one another, as if the old blood was using this to distract both groups or something. Or at the very least that’s what they dynamic has become over time and both sides had to be kept in check to make sure everyone stayed in their “right place.” Again, something the series just flirts with, but it’s there and ripe for further delving.
Other than the social dynamics at play, the show’s dialogue is kinda brilliant. It juxtaposes the ennui of being rich and melancholy with these characters’ obsession with trends, fashion, elegance, and all manners or shallow shit. Characters go from bemoaning navigating the void that is daily routines to waxing philosophical about Tolberone chocolate bars and Chanel suits. It’s precious, navel gazing and insufferable in a highly stylized, endearing, and hilarious way.
Then there’s an episode that riffs on Ranma 1/2 that’s… well… it tries to tackle gender stuff, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I’ve heard some people call it offensive, and others say its just kinda lame and poorly executed. I’m not gonna say much other than it doesn’t really work as a Ranma homage. But that’s, like, half of an episode out of six, and the only bit in the series that’s a legit misstep and not just some goofiness to relish.
Also, Mila Malevich is awesome and I wanna see more of her in future seasons.
And yeah, see how she’s a Soviet? I dig how they’re playing around with the politics and geography of the world. Neo Yokio is referred to as a city-state, and I can’t help but wonder what, exactly, is its actual political standing. Is it its own state within the US? New Jersey is still New Jersey, so what is Neo Yokio? Since we still have the Soviet Union in “modern” times, what else is different about this world? This is stuff they’ve clearly thought about, and now I want a proper geopolitical map of the Neo Yokio world to hang on my wall.
Yep. Neo Yokio is pretty rad.