One of the most liberating qualities of Netflix is that anyone with enough resources can concoct a version of their own creative passion, and share it through a universal platform. Take the creation of one of the most bizarre projects of late—an anime-esque parody on classic hierarchy and traditionalism created and written by the front man for Vampire Weekend: Ezra Koenig. If that wasn’t head-scratching enough, he managed to collect an ensemble of celebrities such as Jaden Smith, Susan Sarandon, Jude Law, and Steve Buschemi to voice major characters within the show. And to add further weight to the mountain of bizarre expectations is that Studio Deen and Production I.G., two major animation studios in Japan, aided in key animation. With all this power in the hands of a new-age rock star to compose, what should one ever hope to expect?
To answer the question immediately, they should expect complete mediocrity. At a glance, Neo Yokio is an amateurish work of fiction that means to satirize the problems of youth, the expectations of high society, and the confusion of life in general. A proper piece of fiction dedicated to such delicate themes should think to handle them with careful writing and a cleverness born from wanting to tell a story. Koenig’s writing hinges upon the work of a bored high school student procrastinating before a final test, taking pointers that anyone in their general area would suggest. At times too blunt, other times too light, there is no balance between the things that seem to want to push beyond the boundaries of the show’s reality and the necessity to make it all legible.
What only drags the production down further is the technical aspects surrounding Neo Yokio, most notably animation and vocal performances. Jaden Smith as the lead role sounds absolutely bored, putting the least amount of effort possible. This wouldn’t be such an issue if his character was an apathetic shut-in, but the lead has a wide variety of expressions (most notably depressive) that Smith characterizes as “monotone.” Regardless, one wouldn’t be able to tell as the animation does the series no favors, either. Constant jumps in animation make the reality stiff and incomplete, and while the emphasis on absurdist character designs are poignant enough, there remains an aura of amateurism with how jumpy everyone moves in nearly every scene. Combined with a script determined to never make anything determined, the technical qualities of Neo Yokio make the series borderline unwatchable—despite it only being six episodes of twenty-two minutes in length.
Leniency is expected for someone who has never released any sort of major work of storytelling in his entire career, but Ezra Koenig’s project remains a failure in my eyes. Appreciative I am that the work is at least attempting to portray some underlying themes about political and individual freedom—perhaps in spite of the current regime—though such can only go so far if every other aspect is more painful to view than otherwise. In this case, the external prospects make the internal intrigue not worth the effort of even booting up the streaming service.