Neo Yokio is a new show on Netflix. The show is animated in the style of Japanese anime and features a lot of anime’s stylistic influences. As an example, the title refers to the city of Neo Yokio, a futuristic vision of New York City where advanced technology and magic work side-by-side. Our main character is Kaz, a young demon-hunting aristocrat played by Jaden Smith. The show follows Kaz’s adventures through the upper echelons of Neo Yokio society, attending parties and sporting events while also trying to stop demons from taking over the city.
If that brief summary seemed interesting, let me know, because it will mean I am a better writer than the creators of Neo Yokio. I watched this show last weekend with some friends. We had heard about the show and thought, what the heck? We’d seen the memes, and we all enjoy ridiculously bad stuff, so we gave it a watch. Two episodes in and we all decided that anything would be better than continuing to watch the show.
There are a lot of problems I have with Neo Yokio. The animation is fine, if ultimately uninteresting. The voice cast is really odd: our leads have bland, uninteresting deliveries, while side characters get strange accents that feel out of place. But my big problem is the writing (gee, a writer having problems with writing, who would’ve guessed?).
In any piece of writing, there are two major aspects to consider. I’ll call these story and delivery. Story refers to the structure of the narrative and plot, while delivery refers to the actual manner in which the story is delivered through prose and dialogue. If the story is good, that means the plot is consistent and realistic, and the added thematic and symbolic depth enhances the reading experience, rather than subtract from it. If the delivery is good, that means the actual writing of the piece, the dialogue and additional prose, is enjoyable to read and sounds fitting to the tone of the book.
For an example of this difference, let’s look at one of the most famous plays in English: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, the story of Romeo and Juliet is flimsy and hinges on misunderstandings and mistakes to move it along. The delivery of the play elevates it above its narrative flaws. The poetry of Romeo and Juliet makes the story seem more romantic than it logically should be.
Neo Yokio has issues in both delivery and story. Delivery-wise, the dialogue often comes across as unnaturally formal. The wooden performances don’t help this at all, but the dialogue is too often comedic where it shouldn’t be and flat where it tries to be. They make good Twitter memes and reaction GIFs, but not a great viewing experience.
Story-wise, there are even more flaws. Neo Yokio is a story about the upper class, but it doesn’t really know whether it wants to be for the upper class. A lot of jokes are made based on luxury items (the infamous big Toblerone among them) and potential social and fashion faux pas, but it’s never clear if we’re meant to laugh at the absurdity of these concerns or at the social implications of them. In the second episode, a major story point involves Kaz accidentally wearing a midnight blue tuxedo to a black-and-white party. Is it supposed to be funny because of the audacity of wearing that color to such an event, or is it supposed to be funny because of how little that matters to us? This extends to the characters as well. Kaz is a demon hunter constantly called to help protect the city, but he only does it begrudgingly, preferring to play field hockey and lounge around doing nothing to saving people.
This is where I start getting conflicted about the show. While I was watching and trying to piece together what was going on, I started to see faint glimmers of a good show underneath the terrible writing and acting. This was just the latest example of me seeing something so bad yet with some redeeming factor that I desperately wanted to rewrite it.
There are two ways the show could work, and two possible ideas that you may see from me later down the line. The first is the easier route: go straight for the absurd. Skewer the 1% and make it clear that the petty concerns of which perfume to wear or what to order are stupid and mean basically nothing. Make it clear to the audience that this is something to be laughed at. This is what I think the show may have originally intended, but ultimately failed at achieving.
The second idea is one that fits a more classic structure. Start with an aristocrat, the heir to an old family legacy and secret. Show them in their charmed life of decadence and luxury. Then, rip the wool from over their eyes and reveal the world around them, in all its wonder and magic. Have them learn their family destiny and go on a quest. They may lose some friends to their own self-obsession, but they will gain a sense of perspective and self-actualization that makes their return to a comfortable life all the more rewarding. This is a basic story structure grafted onto the show’s aesthetics, but it feels more cohesive and less aimless than the current show itself.
Neo Yokio now joins the proud club of “things whose potential I desperately want to squeeze out.” It’s not a good show. I really don’t recommend it. But, there are a lot of shows and movies I’ve seen that I don’t recommend, but have one idea that grabs me and won’t let go.