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Netflix’s latest anime adventure Neo Yokio should be an enjoyable ride. When it dabbles in parodical anime tropes it excels and a few of the jokes are genuinely well timed and executed. All too often though this fashion-soaked anime feels like an indecisive mish-mash of different ideas, thrown together with unlikable characters and average voice acting that hurt the overall appeal of the series. It does improve late on; an episodic format takes hold for the latter period of the season but it never quite peaks the interest it so easily could have done given the intriguing setting around the characters. Tonally, Neo Yokio jumps between being a parodical comedy and a serious, dramatic anime and this incessant need to keep flitting between the two tones ultimately leads to a confused, frustrating anime that can’t quite work out what sort of show it wants to be.
The story follows Kaz (voiced by Jaden Smith) and his robot butler (voiced by Jude Law) as they live in the hierarchical world of Neo Yokio. This metropolis of fashion and prestige plays host to a range of interesting themes around class and power that are touched on but never fully explored. Instead, Neo Yokio focuses solely on Kaz. This fashion conscious, apathetic boy is mired by a cynical outlook on life, accentuated by his addiction to the bachelor board that shows the most eligible bachelors in the city. Its not until late on that Neo Yokio does put a little more focus on world-building which helps to advance the plot but the majority of the screen time is graced by issues about wearing the wrong suit to a party and teaching children how to be elegant. Whilst I appreciate this might be supposed to be parodical, its difficult to tell at times as the tone jumps between the serious and the comedy at random times.
Mixed in with this anime is an element of the mystical which feels like its used to keep the show from becoming stale. As a “rat catcher” (the colloquial term for an exorciser) Kaz constantly struggles between his rich, extravagant life as a bachelor and tending to his duties exorcising demons. It would have been nice to see more of this inner struggle beyond the couple of minutes’ monologue we get and seeing the consequences of these choices but its never really explored as the show zips along from one set piece to the next. Despite the intriguing premise and some promise throughout, the biggest focal point of the show is ironically the weakest. With Kaz effortlessly navigating the social hierarchy with ease and managing to overcome all obstacles put in front of him without much issue, the lack of tension makes it hard to root for him, even when the situation looks dire.
Thankfully, the hand drawn animation is slick and gives off a great 90s vibe with its colour choice and water coloured backgrounds. Late on though the art suffers slightly when the show dives into a more episodic format and it comes off as a little heavy handed at times. The voice acting is hit or miss too, with some characters having a tendency to over-act their lines and Kaz himself coming across as a little monotonous. Jaden Smith’s vocal talents need some serious refinement at times but on the whole, the cast do an okay job with the script they’re given.
Whilst Neo Yokio might appeal to a certain niche of anime fans, is hard to recommend the show when its so tonally confused for vast periods of its 6 episode run. There’s some nice ideas thrown in and the setting itself is intriguing from the off, but its frustrating to see such a missed opportunity. Aesthetically, Neo Yokio has a great use of colour throughout and its presentation is really nicely done. There’s no denying that the show is a visual splendour but it counts for nothing when the substance is lacking. For all its pretty looks and slick presentation, Neo Yokio is let down by a lacklustre plot and a tone that fails spectacularly as it navigates between being a comedy and drama. Ultimately, it falls somewhere between the two, making it hard to recommend this anime as anything other than a pretty poor effort.