The Watchening: Neo Yokio

This was a mistake.

I’m watching this because I hate myself.

Episode 1: The Sea Beneath 14th St.

We begin the series with a tongue-in-cheek informational video package from the Neo Yokio board of tourism explaining that Neo Yokio is a metropolis that was once attacked by demons, and that the families of exorcists who handled the attacks are now part of Neo Yokio high society.  Kind of a weird thing to focus on, but whatever.  The important takeaway seems to be that Neo Yokio is a huge city and a place you want to be.

It’s actually pretty amusing. Why do I get the feeling this will be the best part of the series?

And we cut to the OP, an unoriginal series of character cuts accompanied by classical music.  The idea seems to be that this is a slice of life about rich people.  BURN WITH ME!

Huh.  Why do I feel like watching Someday’s Dreamers again?

Ahh, that’s the stuff.

Oh shit, I’ve got a full series to go through.

Our main character, Kaz, is rich, entitled, pretentious, and voiced by Jaden Smith.  God help us all.

I’m not sure how much of this is intentional, but I plan on sticking around to find out.

Words cannot properly describe just what Kaz is like.  Jaden’s delivery is utterly atrocious, but considering the content of what he’s saying (deliberately pretentious life commentary with an air of high societal boredom), it could very well be intentional.  Especially since his two friends have so much energy and more natural dialogue.  It’s like they were rejects from The Boondocks.

So, before I forget, Kaz is currently moping and waxing poetic about his ex, Cathy.  They broke up recently and currently, the viewer has no reason to care.

Almost every second of this show hits the viewer with some kind of anime or 80’s cartoon cliche, from Kaz’s robot butler, to the cyberpunk designs of the motorcycles, to “artistic” off-subject angles to the inconsistency of the background designs…

See if you can find all the differences.

It’s very subtle, I know.

Okay, those probably aren’t the same restaurant, but why does one have a huge patio and the other barely have a sidewalk?

Anyway, Kaz meets his Aunt Agatha to provide the audience with important (?) exposition.  Kaz is a Magistocrat who has a duty to protect the city in addition to being a depressed snob.  Also, the relationship with Cathy was destined to failure because she’s an “eastsider,” whatever the fuck that’s supposed to entail.  This could be a Romeo & Juliet thing or a Great Gatsby thing… we’ve got plenty of possibilities.

Ah, Agatha says Magistocrats are seen as “Neo-riche,” so I guess that makes Kaz a Gatsby.  Wonderful.

There’s a lot I want to describe, but if I talk about every little joke or error, I’ll be here forever.  So, let’s hit just the main points.

Agatha wants Kaz to take up the exorcism business because of both duty and to support himself, otherwise he’s just sponging off of his family and being a dick.  Kaz doesn’t like it because Kaz.

We’re introduced to Arcangelo, Kaz’s rival for some reason and stereotypical douchebag.

Please tell me that’s not a Sousei no Onmyouji reference.

By the way, there’s this whole subplot of Kaz being Neo Yokio’s #2 bachelor to Arcangelo’s #1.  Oh, and they’re both field hockey players.  And there’s a big game tonight.  The same night that Kaz has to perform an exorcist on a girl named Helena.

Kaz thinks he can do both.  Kaz basically spends half a minute flirting with small talk, then extends his hand and gets blasted.  He immediately gives up and understandably gets chewed out.  Unperturbed by his own complete and utter uselessness, Kaz visits a grave that he reserved for himself and mopes before noticing an old man and basicallytalks down to him long enough for him to have an epiphany about Helena.  So, he heads back to Helena’s place and exorcises the demon in her chanel suit.  I’m not even going to explain why that’s a thing.

Kaz and Helena have a chat and keep open the possibility of hooking up down the line, because why not.

Just some pointless fanservice, these things happen.

With the exorcism job finished, Kaz rushes back to the field hockey arena and saves the game, but not before basically explaining the entirety of the episode in one sentence: “As you know, I’ve been depressed and it’s been affecting my attitude toward field hockey.”  That’s pretty much Kaz’s entire character up to now.  Well, that and being a snobby elitist that isn’t as snobby or elite as the people around him, so he’s very slightly more tolerable.  VERY slightly.

Kaz wins the game, and… yeah.  That’s about it.

So far, what I’m getting out of this series is that it’s a parody of anime, but one that is precariously straddling the line between satire and homage.  The problem with it potentially being satire is that the west is infamously really, REALLY shitty at satirizing anime, while anime satirizes anime just fine by itself.  On the other hand, there have been a handful of great western homages to anime – most notably Boondocks, which takes a variety of cues here and there but mostly sticks to being its own thing.  Neo Yokio really doesn’t have its own identity to fall back on aside from being a shallow criticism of social stratification.  It’s like anime-fying The Great Gatsby and flattening the characters.

As for the anime parody part?  Well, props for not going the low-brow route that almost everyone else takes.  It’s all too easy to have people in sailor uniforms wielding katanas, firing energy beams from their hands, having crazy-ass hair, and making tentacle jokes.  Neo Yokio only does the energy beams.  Yeah, the hair is out there, but it’s not as extreme as one would hope.  But what it mostly makes fun of are more subtle things like setting, direction, style and dialogue.  At best, someone can appreciate the little things it makes fun of, but the end result is a knowing chuckle.  Basically, it chooses not to push the envelope so it isn’t immediately satisfying, and it isn’t deep enough for its subtle approach to feel convincing.  It has multiple avenues to really be something worthwhile, but chooses to get stuck in the middle.

Well, might as well trudge through the rest of this series and see if it gets any better at anything.

Episode 2: A Pop Star of Infinite Elegance

We’re at the second episode and this gag is already old.

Kaz attends a Neo Yokio Knickerbockers game.  An idol named Sailor Pellegrino, somehow NOT wearing a sailor uniform (yay?) singing the national anthem, which sounds like something out of an older Studio Ghibli movie.  It evokes scenes from the Matsumoto-verse and Macross, which, honestly, not a lot of likely watchers will “appreciate.”  It doesn’t help much that A) It’s not done particularly well and B) It’s already been done to death by other anime.

Grade: C. “It’s definitely parodying the thing you’re trying to parody.”

Funnily(?), Sailor Pellegrino’s normal voice has a heavy southern accent.  And… that’s pretty much it.  The two get caught on the kiss cam, and we finally get our first jab at nosebleeds.  Now, let’s set the scene here.  Kaz has a date with Helena at the upcoming Black and White Ball.  We’re going to assume that name is referring to tuxedos and not the other thing.  When they’re caught on Kiss Cam, Kaz seems disinterested in the prospect, but begrudgingly decides to participate for the crowd.  Pellegrino ends up kissing him in the cheek.  Anyway you cut it, that is NOT a nosebleed moment.  It’s at this point I’m beginning to suspect that this isn’t a labor of love or at least has a very flawed perception of anime.

Moving on, Kaz decides to wear his tux ahead of time.  But oh, no!  It turns out his tux isn’t black but midnight blue!  Arcangelo shows up randomly just to draw attention to it and runs off.  In what’s likely going to be the best running gag of the show, whenever Arcangelo makes his first appearance of the episode, it’s followed by his signature title card.  I’m not gonna lie – that’s a pretty funny idea.

Agatha shows up and brings Kaz over to a museum for exorcist duties, but Kaz isn’t into it.  He does do his due diligence and sweeps the place to confirm no demons are possessing anything, but he’s more interested in his tux.

Kaz decides to call Helena to get her expert opinion on whether or not he should go with his current tux or get a true black one.  He finds out Helena is in the hospital, so he decides to make her feel better with a big Toblerone.  This is probably the most memetic part of the series, so best to get it out there.

Honestly, probably the most realistic part of the entire series. I know Toblerones make ME feel better.

It seems that after hitting her head, Helena feels like she’s been “enlightened.”  How?  Well, now she no longer has an interest in high fashion, and she sees her former friends as snobby elitists.  Suddenly, Helena is my favorite character in this series.

Kaz still loves being a socialite, though, so the difference in values results in a heated argument, and Kaz says the famous line “You don’t deserve this big Toblerone.”  So now you have context.

A genuinely funny moment happens when Kaz gets his tux swapped for a black one.  He bumps into Arcangelo and asks “do you live here?” to which Arcangelo responds “I wish I lived here.”  Something about the snappy delivery of that admission just hit all the right buttons, and I unironically laughed out loud at this series for the first time.  Honestly, I was so impressed by that one line that I decided to look up who did Arcangelo’s voice.  It’s Jason Schwartzman, and from what I’ve gleamed, he’s only been in a handful of things I’ve actually seen, and not in a role I would have remembered him from.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Oh yeah, and a pointless jab at Tuxedo Mask because the opportunity presented itself.

Kaz decides to go with Sailor Pellegrino, but his mates tell him that she’s only into him because he’s currently the #1 bachelor.  They go to the ball together, but Kaz has to do security duty, and Sailor ends up chatting it up with Arcangelo, who decided to come in a midnight blue tux, which it turns out is a “fashion forward” choice.  Kaz goes “Fuck this” and does what Kaz does: neglecting his duties for his own selfish desires.

Surprisingly, Arcangelo’s douchebaggery is still a turnoff for fellow Neo-riche Sailor Pellegrino, so I guess she’s not quite as shallow as Kaz’s friends seem to think she is.  Conveniently (for drama), she walks off screen at about the same time Helena shows up, still in hospital gown, to protest the ball like she said she would.  Suddenly, the diamond-studded skull that he was supposed to be guarding is missing.  Turns out Sailor Pellegrino took it.  Because she’s also a demon.  Legit didn’t see that one coming.

So, the two have a major battle, resulting in Kaz killing Demon-Sailor Pellegrino.  Kaz walks away from the battle looking a bit messy, and everyone, including Helena comments on it.  And that’s how the episode ends.

Once again, the exorcist angle is treated as more of a side-note, with the main focus being the world of the socialites.  It’s an interesting direction, though one that would only have any merit if it had anything interesting to say about the social elites.  Well, there’s still time.

In terms of humor, I’m starting to get a very subdued Archer vibe, mostly from the dialogue, but also a little bit from how the action aspects of both  series serve as window dressing for the social/office aspects.  Hell, Aunt Agatha is basically a less abrasive Malory Archer.  Now, Archer isn’t my thing and neither is Neo Yokio, but somehow, I find Neo Yokio more tolerable.  It’s stupid as shit and seems to want to have a point and fails spectacularly at it, but its unlikable characters are intended to be unlikable while Archer’s unlikable characters are intended to be endearing to the average American asshole, so… yeah.  I’m saying at this moment, I think Neo Yokio might be better than Archer.

Episode 3: O, the Helenists

Okay, this gag has better legs than I gave credit for.

After Kaz’s previous epic battle, he’s been completely dropped from the bachelor standings, sending Kaz into yet another spiral of depression.

His next job involves his former school, where students are wearing hospital gowns and bandages, thinking Helena’s protest was a fashion statement.  Kaz decides to meet with Helena before going to the school.

I like what she’s done to the place.

Helena continues to eschew the socialite world and declares that she’s “hikikomori now,” withdrawn from the world.  I know, I know: your first instinct is to call out how that’s not hikikomori at all.  If anything, Helena is going through a counterculture phase, so the intent clearly isn’t that she’s a hikki.  But the bewildering question is what point is there in calling her phase hikikomori?  Is it intentional, or did the script writer legitimately not know what the term actually entails?

Jaden Smith just said that line. What is life?

There’s also a subplot where Kaz’s friends want him to endorse a new cocktail.  It seems to be an excuse to do some random-ass anime cuts as if to go, “hey, don’t forget that we’re parodying anime.”  It’s worse than when Teen Titans did it.

Not sure if anime style or Steven Universe.

Kaz is supposed to be teaching elegance to the Helenists at the school, but it’s actually a cover for Kaz to find out who in the school is secretly a demon sympathizer.  Y’know, his real job.

After thinking it over, Kaz thinks the camp gay music teacher Professor Muley is the demon sympathizer.  So he investigates him and agrees to his invitation to “get high and have a fashion show.”

Despite his suspicions, Kaz finds Muley’s fashion sense appealing, but then when he meets his friends for a photo shoot, they get him to think twice.  The phrase “yeah, I guess you’re right” seems to be the slogan for Kaz’s character, as he’s being pulled at all angles into adopting what they think is fashionable, and he just goes with it as if he has no opinion of his own.  I’m pretty sure this is an intentional part of his character, but I have no idea if they’re going to do anything with it.  I’m honestly a little intrigued.  Hell, part of me thinks this is all an elaborate prank to get Jaden Smith to satirize himself unknowingly.

Anyway, Muley obviously isn’t the sympathizer.  Helena has a creepy nightmare about Kaz’s Toblerone.

I don’t want to think about what this could symbolize.

And she realizes that her fans are in fact the sympathizers.  Just as they kidnap Kaz for a sacrifice to the demons.

Wait, a demon sacrifice is shaped like energy in the shape of a giant Toblerone? Is that on purpose?

Helena shows up and and whacks one of the Helenists on the back of a head with a giant Toblerone.  This causes an energy feedback taht blows the Helenists up.  Harsh.

I would not be averse to seeing someone cosplay as Helena in a hospital gown wielding a giant Toblerone as a club.

So uh, mission solved.  Kaz attends his friends’ cocktail party and is sad.  We’re 3/3 for inappropriate post-climax scenes ending the episode.

Episode 4: Hamptons Water Magic

We finally are introduced to Kaz’s ex, Cathy.

Yeah, that looks about right.

Cathy is the latest in a long line of characters with voices that are inappropriately old for their design.  It’s distracting and I don’t like it.

Also, I’m disappointed we actually see Cathy.  I was hoping she would stay unseen like Maris on Frasier.

Turns out, she has a new boyfriend.  Kaz, flustered, decides to immediately leave to his uncle’s funeral.  As it turns out, he wasn’t lying about that; his uncle really did die.  Weird.

So, Kaz is tasked with checking out his uncle’s summer home to make sure it’s presentable for resale.  It’s not.

Kaz’s friends check out the pool, and it turns out it’s Jusenkyo cursed.

I… I can’t.

I… That… I…

*sigh*

This barely constitutes a parody.  It’s pretty much just a pointless reference.  “Hey, Ranma 1/2 was an anime.  Let’s do something Ranma.”

Kaz butts heads with his cousin Jeffrey, a “Hamptons hillbilly” that thinks he deserves the house.

I’m going to assume this is a lazy jab at Trunks’ hair. “Oh hey, Trunks had hair like that.” Hahaha.

Jeez, the laziness of the anime references in this episode is really bringing me down for some reason.

Throughout this episode, Kaz’s Mecha Butler Charles has been needing a recharge.  This may lead to a decent payoff.  I’m betting no.

Arcangelo shows up, and his title card doesn’t show up.  The fuck?  You just ruined a quality running gag.  Are you TRYING to sabotage yourself?

Arcangelo hits on the feminized Lexy, and Kaz gets the brilliant idea of having Lexy act as his date to tonight’s party (because there’s ALWAYS a fucking party to go to).  Cathy’s going to be there too, and Kaz wants to show her that he’s moved on.  Clearly, he hasn’t.  Also, Lexy can’t pass up the opportunity to get it on with a hot lesbian.

Y’know, Ranma needed more of this. I mean, it had some of it. It just needed more.

Kaz, panicked, forces Lexy to give him a kiss, gets chewed out for the act by both Lexy and Cathy, and gets humiliated.

The next day, everyone meets up with Jeffrey and get him to reverse the curse.  A raccoon jumps into the pool and reveals that Uncle Albert didn’t die – he was turned into a raccoon by Jeffrey because Jeffrey wanted the house.  Then we find out that Charles is out of energy from not Kaz continually neglecting to get him charged up.  So we see that inside of him was a female pilot.  Because “that’s how mecha work,” and Kaz was the only one int he group that didn’t know.

Okay?

The streak of pointless anticlimactic ending scenes is broken when we see explosions in the distance and a traffic alert warning of a terror attack.

Episode 5: The Russians? Exactly, the Soviets

It turns out the target of the terror attack was the bachelor ranking board.  Presumably because the board was what defined their rivalry, Arcangelo attempts to make peace with Kaz, but Kaz is having none of that because he’s a selfish dick.

It’s said that demons are behind the attack, so Kaz is called in to be a bodyguard for soviet racer Mila Malevich.  Honestly, I’m putting my chips into Helena being behind the attack.  I’m just saying, it sounds like where her character could be going.

Mila looks like she’s fresh out of Totally Spies.

Because of the recent terrorism and the upcoming Grand Prix, Kaz is hired to look after Mila.  In addition to the regular dangers, it seems Soviet athletes are known for defecting after tasting the luxuries of capitalism.  Note it.

Kaz does what he does best and neglects his duties, heading off to his place to take a shower and having Charles look after Mila.  He’s approached by a creepy-looking man named The Remembrancer, a sort of investigative super-judge.

He looks pleasant.

Something about him just strikes me as a reject one-off Boondocks character.

It seems Helena is suspected of being the terrorist, but Kaz doesn’t think she is.

Guess what?  There’s ANOTHER FUCKING PARTY!  There’s a pre-race gala, and one of the racers is the current boyfriend of Cathy.  Arcangelo and Mila try to pull Kaz away from the gala, and since he’s still pissy over Cathy moving on, he agrees.  This leads into a pub crawl with a variety of interesting theme bars.  My favorite is a place called the Green Haus, which is literally a greenhouse.

I have to say, it took a while, but they finally managed to get a handle on a consistent sense of humor.

At some point, Mila ditches the group to defect for real, leaving only her jumpsuit behind.  Kaz brings her jumpsuit with him to his apartment, where Helena is waiting.  Holy crap, this is a two-parter.

Episode 6: I’m Starting to Think Neo Yokio’s Not the Greatest City in the World

Helena basically admits she’s the terrorist behind the bachelor rankings bombing, so the majority of this episode is Kaz trying to protect Helena from the investigation of The Remembrancer.  They decide to disguise Helena as Mila Malevich using the jumpsuit and helmet she left behind.  This actually leads into a genuinely funny moment where she completely bluffs through a presser by giving thumbs up.  And then an even funnier out-of-nowhere moment when Kaz puts an end to the presser to get Helena out of there.

I swear, it took until literally the last episode, but Neo Yokio eventually managed to find its comedic stride.  Almost the entire last episode is actually surprisingly good, and most of the previous episode was too.

The Remembrancer ruins their Plan A to sneak Helena on a train out of Neo Yokio, so they move on to a convoluted Plan B: having Kaz dress up as Mila to race in the Grand Prix while smuggling Helena on the race car and taking a detour during the race to get the fuck out of Dodge.

I bet this isn’t even sponsored by Toblerone. It’s just that damned good a chocolate.

Speaking of the race, the track is utterly ridiculous.  It involves going through a walled city with blatant disregard for the poorer citizens that live there, traversing an underwater neighborhood, and racing to the top of the Guggenheim and jumping a ramp bolted on the roof.  I fucking love it.

You just gotta love that knocking priceless works of art into your opponents’ windshields is an acceptable tactic.

In the end, The Remembrancer catches up to Kaz in New Jersey, but the body stowed away in the car isn’t Helena, but Charles’ pilot – it was all a decoy while Helena got away in the butler mecha.

So, Helena goes free, the bachelor ranking board is back (meaning Arcangelo is inexplicably enemies with Kaz once again), and the status quo is restored, but Kaz now has an unease that something huge is about to go down in Neo Yokio.  Fin.

I have to say… yeah, the series is poorly done on many levels, and far too many of the parodies are misguided and pointless.  As a whole, the series seems to have a point but never quite gets to it.  It’s like a long, elaborate joke without a punchline.  That all said, it has a good number of legitimately funny moments, and once in a while it’ll actually be clever.

By far the most intriguing element of Neo Yokio is just how much of its poor quality is intentional and how much is just plain shit.  Jaden Smith’s delivery is uneven and never quite convincing, but for the most part it fits the character of Kaz.  If he were more skilled, the moments where Kaz jumps out of his melancholic persona would be delivered with more surprising energy.

It’s bizarre how some character voices are spot on while others are just completely off base.  It’s especially shocking once you take a look at the star power that went into the casting.  It’s very much a Boondocks-like treatment in that regard, and while I do consider Neo Yokio to be better than it initially appears, it’s nowhere near that level of genius.

A close second element of intrigue is the setting itself.  Neo Yokio is a completely absurd warping of New York, filled with future tech in limited areas, an integrated obsession with high society, cartoonish unrealistic districts, and snappy, surprisingly hilarious references to everyday customs that are never elaborated.  The term “Herv” is slung around like an insult, but we’re never quite given enough context to understand what it means.  It’s apparently customary to pray to a god of death that as few lives are taken during the Grand Prix.  People just accept that someone is watching everyone’s every move and rating their viability as a bachelor.  It’s small moments like those where Neo Yokio has an opportunity to shine as something original, and it’s just a shame that it falls back on tired references in between.

It also doesn’t help that Moonbeam City basically did it better two years ago.

Goddamn, I miss Moonbeam City…

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