Is 'Neo Yokio' Saving Anime?
I dislike other critics because they often dislike, or don't 'get' humor, causing comedy series to be hit by bad ratings and reviews. They tend to be very sharp-witted, serious people. So entertainment designed to be a joke leaves them feeling unfulfilled, disgusted, and not intellectually stimulated enough - they can't just take the stick out of their asses and appreciate the humor.
So, when you see Neo Yokio, there are basically two types of people; people who recognize its genius as a 90s-early 2000s genre parody of anime, and people whose stick is still firmly lodged betwixt the buttocks. Or who just don't know enough about anime to appreciate the subtle difference between a real bad anime and a well-conceived anime parody. But, I think that Neo-Yokio hits the nail on the head with being an affectionate spoof of old anime tropes, and it consists of Jaden Smith making fun of himself, and his performance adds definite charm and humor to the story.
What I mean by "saving anime" is that this kind of humorous beating is necessary. Anime has been feeling stagnant for a while now. I haven't seen an anime that ripped on anime tropes so savagely since Kill La Kill, and everything seems boring and tame after a masterpiece like that hits the scene (with a few exceptions). And I didn't get into this medium to see boring and tame.
But let's take a closer look at Neo Yokio.
Neo Yokio stars Jaden Smith as Kaz Kaan, a rich dandy obsessed with elegance and style. He loves lingering in melancholy, musing about the meaning of life the way sheltered brats often do, and chilling with his friends and robot butler. Only problem is, his mean aunt Agatha (voiced by Susan Sarandon) makes him do actual work, occasionally. That work is battling demons that can possess people and inhabit objects, so your typical anime protagonist stuff. It's the family business, so his work performance puts his nouveau riche family's reputation on the line, much like Jaden Smith in real life.
One thing I really like is that early on, we see a character, Helena, who becomes dissatisfied with the vapid consumerism of the fashion industry. Thus, she acts as a challenge to and foil for Kaz, who adores fashion nearly religiously. A cult following of Helena arises, girls who ditch their school uniforms in favor of hospital gowns, who want to be possessed by demons because they think that would be cool. They kind of remind me of the goth kids in South Park, kind of an affectionate parody of rebellious, angsty, but ultimately shallow and spoiled, teenagers.
Kaz struggles with wanting to uphold his family's reputation in elite society, his demands as a demon slayer, and various peer-pressure situations. It's sort of like if a male version of Quinn from Daria had his own show. (And that would also be hilarious... Netflix execs?)
Do you like Neo Yokio?
It's easy on the one hand to judge this show as a lazy, stupid, bad anime as a knee-jerk reaction to it. But when you do that, the joke's on you for not seeing this for what it is - a brilliant and refreshingly witty commentary on anime as well as a social commentary on the lives of the rich.
It's not using limited animation because it had a limited budget, or because the animators were cheap, lazy, or stupid. I won't tolerate people talking about Production I.G. and Studio Deen like that. No, these people are experts and they knew what they were doing. The animation style and design of Neo Yokio is intended to parody cheesy older anime. It all contributes a nostalgic feel to the show that a more updated style of animation would not. So, what looks like bad animation on the surface is actually a deliberate choice, and I would argue, a brilliant one.
Neo Yokio also seems like it's satirizing anime fans themselves. After all, we're similarly prone to things the protagonist does, like:
- saying a bunch of "trying to sound deep and philosophical" crap
- having an obsession with fancy toys
- being crazy about fashion and obsessed with girls' school uniforms in particular.
This is just taking the entitlement and narcissism of an average "bad apple" otaku all the way up to 11. Like Kaz, we live in our own heads and in fantasies and obsessions, so much that we sometimes have issues when dragged back into the real world. So part of liking this show comes down to whether or not you, as an anime fan, can laugh at yourself.
I think humor of this nature is good for us. When people get too serious about it, it stops being fun, and starts to feel like an empty, meaningless chore to watch anime. Remember the word "manga" means "whimsical pictures", and I think the medium has such great potential for comedy and drama. I got into this medium to be entertained. In the drive to gain prestige and respect for anime fandom, I don't want us to become guilty of pretentiousness or a lack of self-awareness.
But mostly, I just think Neo Yokio is fun. And at the end of the day, isn't that our main concern when it comes to critique? Is the viewer likely to have fun? If not, why watch it at all?
Watch "Neo Yokio" if You Like:
- Kill La Kill
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- Trigun (Vash's innocent puppy-dog-like ways during the humorous scenes is something Jaden's character reminded me of)
- Ranma 1/2
- Ouran High School Host Club (both poke fun at the crazy excesses of rich kids)
- Anime from the 90s and early 2000s in general
- Anime parodies and 'Abridged Series' videos and the like