Comedy is something that does not just have to make us laugh. When properly used, comedy can be a tool that sheds light on problems, whether in another work or in the world. Two forms of comedy that fit into this school of thought are parody and satire. Parody is about sending up another work through an ironic fashion, while satire is about holding flaws up for ridicule in the hope of inspiring others to be better. In both cases, they are about taking the components of something (tired tropes in the case of the former, social vices in the case of the latter) and using them as tools of mockery. Ezra Koenig, lead singer of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, has attempted to employ these methods for a joint Japanese-American anime on Netflix known as Neo Yokio. Within the series, he attempts to parody anime by playing around with familiar tropes as a vehicle for satirizing the upper class and issues of class conflict. Unfortunately, the result is a six-episode series that wavers in how it wants to tell its story, falling apart in the process.
The City of Neo Yokio stands as a shining example of success and culture. Of course, when a city becomes so powerful and influential, it is only natural that enemies would arise to bring it down. In this case, demons seek to tear the city apart, seeing it as a symbol of greed and decadence. Standing guard against such evils are a collection of people known as Magistocrats, rich descendants of the original wizards and witches brought over to defend the city. Among this class of citizen is Kaz Kaan, a skilled demon slayer and one of Neo Yokio’s most eligible bachelors. Unfortunately, he has no real interest in working as a demon slayer. Despite his stern Aunt Agatha’s insistence, Kaz would rather deal in fashion and lay about in luxury rather than work. In fact, his main aim is to win out over Arcangelo Corelli, a member of the old money that mocks Kaz for being “neo riche” and for having to actually work for his cash. Still, the job of a demon slayer must be done to maintain the city’s splendor. In fact, the work seems more important than ever when a demonic possession causes fashion blogger Helena St. Tesero to drop from the fashion world and set out to cast a light on the city’s darkness.
While the show generally falters in its execution, there are still a few strong points. For instance, the show’s side characters have some fun personality to them that is delivered by good talent, such as Jude Law as Kaz’s mecha-butler Charles or Jason Schwartzman as the snobbish Arcangelo Corelli. There is also a strong sense of an interesting and developed setting, with hints that suggest an interesting alternate universe in which Neo Yokio resides (such as Japan and Italy apparently united as one nation named “Giaponne”). However, the satirical goal behind the show falls flat in its execution. In terms of being a parody of anime, its approach is weak-willed. It attempts to play with tropes like nosebleeds and sudden chibification (rendering a character with a more cutesy, cartoonish appearance), but these uses are rare and the tropes themselves have already largely fallen by the wayside in most modern anime. More than just those misfired attempts at anime tropes is a far bigger issue at play. Namely, the show’s attempts to satirize the flaws of upper-class perceptions flounder in their execution.
Over the course of its six half-hour episodes, it is clear that greed and vanity are two major follies that Neo Yokio wishes to satirize. However, the attempts to mock these points become muddled in how the show operates. For one, Kaz Kaan is presented as a symbol of that decadence and celebrity obsession, wallowing in his own melancholy despite living the good life as ordinary citizens sing his praises. While those close to him do call out his shallow and selfish behaviors, others who indulge similar attitudes (like his best friends Lexy and Gottlieb) are treated as normal and let off the hook. Later, the show attempts to delve into more serious issues of class warfare, but that is stymied by how little the poorer denizens of Neo Yokio are actually shown. It feels as if they are only seen for a part of the last episode. Honestly, there is more focus on class warfare among the upper class between old money and “neo riche” than there is between the rich and the poor. When it attempts to do this more meaningful class struggle, it is too little, too late. It is a shame, really. There is a solid idea for a series at this show’s core. Unfortunately, the writing fails to commit fully to its message and the six half-hour episode format is too short to fully realize the story they wanted to tell.
Thoughout the year, satire has been a school of comedy that has produced plenty of great works that aim to inspire improvement in humanity. Neo Yokio is not an example of those good works, as its attempt to offer a message satirizing greed and class warfare is muddled in how it presents that message.