Amelia, Peter, and Vrai tap into their inner-ennui to navigate the interminable abyss of wackness that is Neo Yokio! One thing’s for sure: All three deserve a big Toblerone after this.
SPOILERS for Neo Yokio.
04:19 Cultural appreciation/appropropriation
16:39 Everybody is bad in a bad way
19:58 Episode 4
26:45 Gay representation
31:29 Racial representation
36:19 The wealthy vs the super wealthy
39:36 What is Neo Yokio supposed to be about?
44:38 Jaden plays himself
49:40 Where is Neo Yokio going?
Recorded Saturday 23rd September 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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AMELIA: Hi everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist Podcast. My name is Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist and I’m joined today by Peter Fobian and Vrai Kaiser. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves…
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian, I’m an Associate Features Editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist, and I do other things on the internet. You can find me on Twitter @writervrai.
AMELIA: Okay. I thought you were going to promote your website!
VRAI: Oh! Yes, well I also have a… my website is vraikaiser.com. If you put my name in to Google all the things that I do.
AMELIA: And Vrai’s writing is great, so do look it up.
AMELIA: Okay, no no no, you’re not allowed to disagree with that. So we’re here today to talk about Neo Yokio, which came out yesterday, and I feel like I spent all day watching because I started pretty much as soon as I woke up and was live-tweeting. Every few seconds I’d stop, make a tweet, and then I’d go back and start watching again and it took a very very long time. So I have spent all day in this world, and it’s had effects.
We are going to discuss the show hopefully from a more feminist perspective then perhaps some other commenters have. Maybe challenge some of the things that are getting a lot of positive discussion and maybe examine some of the stuff that’s getting negative discussion. Hopefully end up with something useful and interesting for you. So to start off with, just general impressions: Peter, what did you think when you finished watching?
AMELIA: Would you have recommended it to somebody?
PETER: Well… I know there’s a couple of people really revel in certain types of bad media or memes who—
AMELIA: [Interrupting] Hello, Vrai!
VRAI: It me.
PETER: —Who I feel that it’s very catered toward, who I might recommend it to based on their personal tastes, but I don’t really… I kind of feel bad because I don’t know if I came into this…I might have been disinclined to like it before I even started. My experience with it was that I didn’t take anything positive out of watching Neo Yokio at all.
AMELIA: Oh wow, nothing at all.
AMELIA: Wow, okay. Vrai, did you feel as strongly as…
VRAI: [Interrupting] I’m four hours closer to death after watching this.
PETER: It was two hours long though!
VRAI: I know!
AMELIA: Nothing? Nothing positive, okay.
VRAI: Well, this should be the kind of thing that’s my jam, but for many reasons we’re going to get into, I’m sure, it failed. It failed to be trash, and again, I like trash.
AMELIA: Wow. “It failed to be trash.” That is a damning statement to make.
VRAI: It is not trash, it is only garbage.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It has not reached the level… okay.
PETER: [crosstalk] If only it could have been trash. Lament the fact that it was not trash.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It has not reached the level… okay.
VRAI: I will concede that Big Toblerone is a good and funny meme. They forced it pretty hard but I’m enjoying the Twitter memes about it.
AMELIA: I feel like I’ve been manipulated there because I’ve spent all day craving a Toblerone and I don’t like it when The Man messes with me like that.
PETER: Yeah those product placements. I don’t think they made any money off those either, but they were throwing like eight or nine out per episode.
AMELIA: [laughing] But they made no money off it. I assumed there was some kind of sponsorship in place.
VRAI: And yet in this show about a main character who is obsessed with fashion and we’re never allowed to get away from this, he doesn’t recognize a Louis Vuitton bag [yelling] I could recognize!
PETER: I was like, “Of course it’s a Louis Vuitton bag” and he’s like, “Oh, who made that?” Could you not see? That’s the Louis Vuitton bag print.
AMELIA: They also had that comment about Toblerone being luxury chocolate. I assuming it’s not in the US either?
PETER: I think the references were just part of the atmosphere of consumerism that they were trying to push. Maybe they did make a lot of money off of eight hundred product placements, but I don’t feel like they did.
AMELIA: Let’s dive into this, because that’s something I actually quite enjoyed. I’m stunned by the way that I may actually turn out to be the most positive person here about Neo Yokio. I thought I was pretty damning about it.
AMELIA: Wow, no, nothing compared to you guys. I’ll be the voice of positivity here. I really enjoyed the cultural mish-mash. I really enjoyed that they took this New York high society and they had lots of dropped-in Japanese references. They had a lot of multicultural references, they had a lot of racial diversity which I’ll talk more about later.
I really enjoyed that and I really appreciated moments of that that felt more similar to experiences I had at university, for example, which was a very multicultural environment and was full of people had cultural references from all over the place. And they did become a bit of a mishmash. It felt really fun spending time in that world.
However, I think we do need to talk about cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation and talk about when Neo Yokio may have fallen on this line. I know Peter, you wanted to talk about this a little bit.
PETER: Yeah, specifically in reference to… the one that I just didn’t get was all the Japanese stuff. I feel like this might have been a method of marketing the show to anime fans, and it’s my opinion that they just got Japanses studios and a director involved so they could say a Japanese studio and a director was involved, not because they…
There’s a couple of scenes where obviously… the work that they did where there were a couple of the action scenes where he was fighting a demon or something and it actually has a camera pan. Or something that looks like character animation or something like that.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Advanced!
PETER: The rest of the time it just looked like any Adult Swim Flash-based animation that we’re all used to. Then they just placed Japanese stuff inside the show over and over again in a way that wasn’t really significant or important to the story but just kind of—I don’t want to use the word “signaling,” I hate that word—but indicating that they were in on the memes. Like that one guy’s wife brings him a snack or something and its onigiri for some reason, they talk about how because Helena went totally hikikomori…
VRAI: [interjecting] No no, she self-describes as… she’s hikikomori now.
PETER: “I’m hikikomori now,” yeah.
VRAI: Like, Jesus Christ, Ezra Koenig!
PETER: I think that one was probably the worst one because it was… she made it sound like a lifestyle rather than a huge cultural problem and I felt like it was just completely blind to the actual… And it kind of sounds like someone who just watched a bunch of anime like Welcome to the N.H.K. and thought it was just kind of a thing in Japan. Which I was not a fan of. And, you know, the Japanases faces and stuff like when he had the caprese martini or whatever. I didn’t know why it was there except to go like: “Hey, yeah, we also watch anime.”
VRAI: [Sarcastic Announcer Voice] Neo Yokio would like you to know that it has seen a thing.
VRAI: [sarcasm continues] It would like you to know that it too saw Akira. It may have seen Eden of the East. I don’t want to say that it saw Tiger and Bunny because then I’d have to be even more angry and offended at it.
PETER: Oh, and all the episode titles were in the Evangelion font.
VRAI: [Guttural frustration noise]
AMELIA: Well they’ve definitely seen Sailor Moon. Lot of Sailor Moon imagery in there.
VRAI: And they straight-up steal the first episode of Sailor Moon with the jewelry store shit.
PETER: Oh, the skull?
VRAI: Yeah, the skull. Which is deeply reminiscent of the possession jewelry from the first episode of Sailor Moon with Naru’s mother and all that stuff.
AMELIA: Oh right! I haven’t seen Sailor Moon for an extremely long time.
PETER: Yeah, it’s a shame. I really liked Sailor Pelligrino because I felt like she was the only one who actually had any sort of appreciation for working and the benefit of working.
VRAI: But then she’s a literal demon!
PETER: Yeah, then it turns out she was a demon. I was like, “Yeah, oh well.” I dunno. What was her line? I thought it was one of the only important things that anyone said in the show. It was something about, I dunno, the importance of hard work.
VRAI: Right. There’s no shame in working.
AMELIA: That’s it. “There’s no shame in making money from work.” Or something like that.
PETER: And then he’s like, “Yeah, I can’t really go to the dance with you.” And she’s like, “Well so long as I can get in, it’s an important networking thing for me.” I was like, “Okay, wow.”
AMELIA: She doesn’t even say that. She’s just like, “As long as I’m on your arm and I’m your plus-one and I get in that’s fine.” And he’s like, “I can see how you sold a billion records, you’re amazing!” [laughs]
PETER: Yeah. Oh, and when he said “I don’t like her work but I have an admiration for someone who is successful in business” or something like that. [Frustrated noise] Yeah, I mean, yeah sure, it’s great. His admiration just comes from the fact that she has become rich, I guess.
VRAI: [Sarcastic Announcer Voice] Neo Yokio would like you to know that it doesn’t matter whether you’re old money or new money as long as you have money. And a lot of it.
AMELIA: There was that moment in the last episode, I think, where Jaden’s character Kaz…I keep forgetting his character because I called him Jaden throughout my entire watch.
VRAI: Because he’s Animu Jaden.
AMELIA: He’s Animu Jaden. So when he drives through the wrong part of town, he takes the wrong road in the fork and he ends up with a lot of impoverished people, them saying “Get out of here” and jumping on his car and beating it. You realize how much of a bubble these characters have been in, and how much we as viewers have been kept in that bubble. So they kind of make a nod to the class situation, but they don’t actually—
VRAI: [disgusted groan]
AMELIA: —explore it. And that’s something that really runs through Neo Yokio where, in the same way [we’re] looking through Japanese imagery, but they don’t actually show us any Japanese-Americans. Oh no, there’s Matoko Goldberg, who is “the hottest lesbian on Long Island”—
VRAI: [whispering “hate” repeatedly]
AMELIA: …and she shows up for one scene to be hot and then we don’t see her. So the fact that she’s Japanese is neither here nor there really. We get two mentions of Japanses names. There is, I think, Hideki Mazzoni and Michael Fujikawa on the bachelor board. They are numbers five and six—they’re not too high, let’s be clear about this.
My big disappointment was that Cathy’s boyfriend, we hear that he’s a racing driver from [Italian accent] “Japone,” and I was thinking “Oh my goodness they’re going to get a Japanese guy to be the love interest of this investment banker who’s in San Francisco who is clearly like the desired love interest of Jaden.” She seems pretty great when we’ve met her and her boyfriend is going to be this Japanese guy and he’s a successful athlete and he’s like a five-time winner or something.
And he’s Italian. “Japone” is just a joint country between Italy and Japan for some reason. It’s never explained, it’s never explored, but it is used to erase Japanese-ness while at the same time paying lip service to Japanese-ness. I think that’s something they’re quite guilty of in this anime in a number of circumstances.
VRAI: Yeah, hearing you describe… You mentioned in one of your tweets actually a thing that I thought was really interesting. I think it’s Lexy and his use of language that was initially interesting to you but then fades away because everybody speaks the same and seems to be basically the same social strata regardless of race.
AMELIA: Yeah, so he shows up and he’s like, “That looks like a dope-ass”—whatever—“a dope ass watch, dawg.” It’s like, “Okay, is there a purpose to this?” Because presumably I’m guessing Black people who exist in this high society have to code-switch drastically and they have to erase what would be perceived as being “ghetto Black”—and I’m doing air quotes—and they have to erase slang like that to fit in.
That’s not really acknowledged here, so he has this use of language that I don’t think fits in with what we’re led to believe of his background. He has a similarly flippant approach to work as Jaden does. He’s clearly been brought up in a privileged way, like he starts opening up a bar at one point then shuts it really quickly because he’s bored and he wants to go on holiday.
This is not somebody who is from a standard background; he’s from a rich background. He is not used to working; he is not connected to the real world, as he would want his language to imply. But that is never explored at all. So it feels like they’ve just airlifted in “generic Black guy friend” and they’ve not actually adapted that for the circumstances that a Black kid in that situation would probably face.
Whereas on the other hand you have Jaden, who in many ways is a really well-rounded character. I don’t want to praise him too much because I don’t particularly like his character, but he’s got this whole Gothic thing; he’s got existentialist dread. At the same time, he’s extremely entitled and spoiled. He hates working. He hates working on himself. That’s reflected in the way he uses language. It’s so pretentious half the time and then so lazy and almost childish the other half, where he just kind of shouts out profanity because that’s the only thing he can think of to express strength of feeling.
VRAI: I think he’s—and I wouldn’t know this if my partner weren’t a big fan of the show—but I think he’s a deliberate Jeeves and Wooster reference, because his name is…
AMELIA: That makes so much sense.
VRAI: …He has an Aunt Agatha, and Jeeves and Wooster is about a rich idle idiot fop who just wants to be left alone and is constantly flouting society. But the difference is that Bertie actually does just want to do his own thing whereas Kaz is hugely obsessed with his social standing.
Also, Jeeves and Wooster had Jeeves to call him out on what a stupid, shitty, privileged rich boy he was, and all of the people who work for Jaden are either—excuse me, Kaz—Animu Jaden—are happy or at least contentedly resigned to working for this shitbag.
PETER: He only refers to people by their job title.
VRAI: [exasperated] Salesclerk is that dude’s name!
AMELIA: Oh my goodness. Salesclerk.
VRAI: It’s in the subtitles! We turned on the subtitles. It’s “Salesclerk”! One word.
PETER: Yeah, when we meet his relative, who—I dunno what they are; his extended family in the Ranma episode—and he seemed to have some disdain especially for his cousin who used water magic. But I remember his cousin, well, his cousin turned out to be a bad guy I guess because of the whole “taking his dad’s house” thing.
AMELIA: He was a pretty bad guy.
PETER: But when they’re in their first interaction Jaden was putting him down since he wasn’t a demon hunter or something like that, and he could use water magic and he said, “Hey, I like doing this, I like living out in the sticks. I don’t need to live up to your standards,” was basically the summary of that conversation. And then he was made out to be an idiot and villain in turn. Every time you get somebody who has any sort of work ethic, they turn out to be the villain for that episode.
AMELIA: I think work ethic is a strong word to apply to that character, who specifically wanted to effectively get his father out of the way so he could just live in this big fancy house without having to pay for it.
PETER: At least in the context of that conversation he was basically saying, “I like being a poolboy and if I like that that’s none of your business.”
AMELIA: Yeah. Yeah.
PETER: But then it turned out it was all a smokescreen because he was stealing his dad’s house.
AMELIA: He’s a difficult character.
VRAI: I think the show thinks that it has covered its own ass because it has characters that call Kaz out, but then all of those characters turn out to be wrong in some way. They’re a literal demon or as self-serving asshole who’s actually the villain or a complete and utter strawman who’s in love with him actually though.
PETER: Yeah, I felt like it spent a lot of time really taking… like, Helena, she had her realization that their culture was really bad, but then I think the show spent a lot of time showing that she was also really dumb in various ways.
VRAI: I can’t tell if she is Winona Ryder in Reality Bites or a cis-swapped Christian Slater in Heathers, but they’re both bad.
PETER: Yeah, it’s like she’s just the classic Hollywood Woke Person, is what she became, rather than the… I don’t know, somebody who realized there’s actually an issue and is trying to correct it. Because she’s like, “I don’t like this but I’m just going to lock myself in my room instead.” There’s the plot later on. They tear her down first.
VRAI: There’s even a comment of “You’re still just a rich girl” that Kaz makes, but then they do nothing with that. They’re like, “Well we mentioned it so we can just keep going on and doing it now and that’s fine” and I… [yelling] FUCK! [exhales]
AMELIA: And that’s something I really liked about Helena as a character. I didn’t… I liked the fact that she was just like this anime [Neo Yokio], actually. She’s kind of paying lip-service to stuff without actually doing anything about it. So she becomes hikikomori; she doesn’t actually try to go out and do anything. And then her eventual answer is quite violent: she destroys the Bachelor Board, but then she doesn’t do anything with that. She doesn’t use that to rally people into a movement or actually achieve anything at a grassroots level. So it’s a very “idle rich” way to be a rebel.
PETER: Woke. Woke, yeah.
AMELIA: I really appreciated showing a character like that in the same way that I appreciated them showing a character like Jaden being awful on-screen. Or a character like Lexy being awful on-screen in the Ranma episode. I liked that they showed the awfulness. What I don’t like is the characters’ seem to suffer no consequences for it. It was not explored. It lead to no self-reflection at all.
PETER: Yeah. I think what it was trying to do was make one of those shows where everybody is bad, which can be good.
AMELIA: Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the classic example.
PETER: Yeah. You hate all the characters, but in the context of the world they’re in, they’re not good people. If it’s in—some literature has done it—where it’s trying to say something about modern culture. Something like that. But I feel like the show never took any effort to actually make any sort of consistent message or they didn’t do anything with the fact that these people sucked.
AMELIA: But they didn’t choose not to do anything. If they’d taken a no-hugging, no-learning approach and just said “This is it, this is how awful people are. They would be just as awful in a sci-fi version of New York as they are currently in New York or anywhere else,” that would be fine, but that’s not what they did. They’re actively presenting themselves as more progressive and I take slight issue with that.
VRAI: Yeah. It’s just too stupid because… I think to tell shows about terrible people, you have to be a better writer than this show has.
AMELIA: I’m not going to dive into our critique of the writers or anything on that score, but I would like to talk about episode four, so I’m sure it’ll come up naturally.
VRAI: [wincing noise]
AMELIA: Episode four. Vrai, do you want to kick off on this, because I’m sure you have a lot of things you want to address in this one.
VRAI: Well, I was poking around, because I also wrote an article about this series, specifically focusing on the transphobia element. Spoilers! And Ezra Koenig mentioned that Ranma ½ was one of his favorite anime and that was why there was a big, long homage to it.
And guess what, my dude, there’s a reason that people don’t do Ranma homages and parodies anymore. And I say that as somebody for whom, as a teenager, Ranma was definitely something I read a lot as a wish-fulfillment fantasy because Ranma is an ungrateful sack of shit who doesn’t realize what a great gift he has.
AMELIA: Absolutely. And I love Ranma. I didn’t have the same connection to it that you did, obviously, but I really enjoyed it [emphasizing] as a problematic fave. As soon as it showed up I realized why people have been saying to me… because I’ve been getting people tweeting, saying, “You just wait until you get to episode four. I really want to know what you think after episode four.” And I was like, “Oh no, what happens in episode four?”
Then as soon as that happened I was like, “This is why. This is not going to be good.” It is so hard to do Ranma in a respectful way because Ranma in itself is not a respectful story in many ways.
VRAI: No, it’s a series… Rumiko Takahashi has shitty gender essentialism all over her work, and Ranma was not immune to it.
AMELIA: And let’s talk about Lexy, because Lexy was the biggest frustration for me almost. Because he stands there and does this lecture about “gender is a spectrum, not a binary and you are a misogynist and I don’t like how you’re talking to me and how you’re treating me. I don’t think you treat women very well.”
And he does not at any point apply that observation to his own behavior where he, in a woman’s body but not at all identifying as a woman, basically manipulates the lesbian Matoko Goldberg into kissing him because it’s under false pretenses. He is a man and he knows full well that in his own form she’d have no interest in him. But he’s like, and this is his exact phrase: “I want to smash the hottest lesbian on Long Island. Let me make lemonade out of lemons.”
It’s horrendous. And he doesn’t actually join those dots. So he comes across getting all these cookies for being such a woke guy for giving that speech and throwing Jaden in the pool as he deserved, but then does nothing with it about his own behavior.
PETER: It’s like he knows all of the right words and they apply to him but he doesn’t care how he uses it. He doesn’t actually understand the concepts. Just like, what he is supposed to say. That’s what I got out of that.
AMELIA: And he doesn’t even care when Jaden… when he turns back into a male body, Jaden is instantly like, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t treat you right.” And that’s the end of it. What?
VRAI: I think it’s really important to hammer home that that episode is more offensive on a meta-textual level than that, because the idea that trans women are just men who are doing all of this to get at lesbians is TERF rhetoric.
AMELIA: Yes, absolutely.
VRAI: As well as the idea that… It spends the entire episode patting itself on the back because it’s an episode about how Jaden—Animu Jaden—does not treat women very well, and it’s going to learn us a thing about misogyny and consent and respecting your partner.
But also it’s going to be an episode that doesn’t examine the fact at all that Animu Jaden tells Lexy not to talk because his masculine-sounding voice will give away his very good and on-point female presentation. And also he’s secretly just a dude looking to bang the lesbian. And also, I hate this so much! And then it has the fucking unmitigated gall to pat itself on the head and say [mocking voice] “But gender’s a spectrum!” Fuck you!
[Heated] You have no idea the complexity and depth of the issue you’ve stepped into and the amount of mealy-mouthed, insidious ideology that is used to discriminate and dehumanize trans people. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck this episode.
AMELIA: I just want to give you a round of applause.
AMELIA: I’m incapable with just two hands but… seriously. All of the above.
I mean, I wrote this in my livetweet but, you know, I’ve been with guys before who put conditions on public interactions. You know, don’t talk to me when I’m over here or whatever. That happens to cis women, okay. Just a wild guess, I’m imagining it happens more to trans women or non-binary people a hell of a lot more. And if it’s painful enough for me as a cis woman to have those conditions put on my existence in public by somebody I’m supposed to have a connection to, I can only imagine how painful it must be when you are not cisgender.
And that they touched without realizing the significance of what they touched on I think is an example of… probably an example of lack of diversity behind the scenes. Now I don’t know the gender identity of the people involved in this, but it does feel like woke people talking about something they don’t actually identify with.
PETER: If you’re going to write that episode, why don’t you ask somebody to whom those sort of themes apply to? Just literally say, “Hey, did I write something really offensive? Could you let me know please?”
AMELIA: And we don’t know for sure that they didn’t. I don’t want to put too much burden on if one person gives permission then it’s all okay. Clearly they just screwed up with this one, and even if there’s a transgender person who gave the script a look over and said, “Yup, fine by me,” that doesn’t mean that it’s okay. That doesn’t mean they did their due diligence.
It does feel like this storyline came from somebody who didn’t have a personal stake in it. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t want to speculate too much on that.
VRAI: It would still be bad if this were… if this show had just idiotically said “I want to do a Ranma homage” and it had no commentary on top of it, it would still be bad. But the fact that it’s so self-satisfied in going to teach you a thing makes it so much worse. A thing specifically about rhetoric and ideology as applied to cis women while ignoring trans women all together. Like, I hate it. I hate it!
AMELIA: Because it was really really bad. Do you want to touch on anything more in that episode?
VRAI: I don’t think so. I think that general idea of “you thought you were saying a thing but you’re incredibly stupid and patronizing” applies to other issues I have with the show. And the deeper issue of [why] I can’t enjoy this as fun, stupidly written, camp garbage because it thinks it’s people.
AMELIA: So another example you would give would be?
VRAI: We’ve kind of mentioned off and on that the general thrust of this episode is dumb rich idiot meets equally dumb, supposedly woke freshman who just read The Communist Mannifesto and then she blows up a billboard. Holy shit, holy shit Ezra Koenig, you grew up in New York. You grew up in New York!
AMELIA: Let’s talk about this. So explain who Ezra Koenig is and his background.
VRAI: Ezra Koenig is the lead singer of Vampire Weekend and he created the series and wrote, I believe, most of the scripts. Peter, you had a little more information on his background growing up in New York, to the point where I think this is a little bit autobiographical.
Certainly it seems like his circle of friends was tapped for secondary characters. Which by the way includes, at the very best, an eye-rolling gay sterotype who everybody is kind of icky on. Oh, but it’s because he’s occult, not because he’s… not because they’re all homophobic. Fucking… anyway.
AMELIA: Who are you thinking of there?
VRAI: The professor during the episode where Animu Jaden lectures young women on who is or isn’t a good role model for them.
AMELIA: Mr. Muhly. Yes, that was a little bit painful because he… I think the first thing he does is he tells Kaz that “Girl your trousers are too tight” or whatever. And then says “Come to my apartment and we’ll get high and have a fashion show.” And it’s like, he’s his former teacher, right? This is hugely inappropriate behavior and of course it comes from the most overtly gay character in the entire show.
VRAI: That wasn’t even… what bothered me more is that later in the episode Kaz goes to… you know, because Kaz is investigating this guy because he might be a demon sympathizer because sometimes this show remembers it has a plot but only when it’s convenient.
VRAI: And then later Kaz tells his friends about it and Lexy is like “Man that guy always kind of creeped me out” with the clear implication that it’s because he’s gay though. It because he’s gay.
AMELIA: It was not a good character at all, and not a good use of that character at all. I actually spent ages thinking that Lexy and Gottlieb were a couple.
VRAI: That would have been better.
AMELIA: I was a little disappointed when Lexy talked about wanting to go to the Hamptons to meet a woman, not to become a woman.
VRAI: [Exasperated] Oh my God.
AMELIA: But that was the moment where I was like “Oh, you’re straight, or at least bi. Oh, okay. I thought you were a couple, but nevermind.”
VRAI: The fact that Kaz refers to people in the Hamptons as hicks, by the way—who the fuck is this show for? People are dying because the can’t afford healthcare! What is this show!?
AMELIA: Okay, so my only understanding of the Hamptons comes from Gossip Girl, which I have watched extensively. It’s a guilty pleasure. I don’t know a lot about the Hamptons, but certainly it is not a word I would have associated with hick ever, under any circumstances. So I watched that and went, “Oh really? I had no idea. Is it a really rural area? I didn’t have a clue.”
PETER: I feel like it’s supposed to be a condemnation of the super-wealthy in New York but it’s written from the perspective of somebody who’s only moderately wealthy in New York. So they’re like, “Oh I live in…”, I think they’re supposed to dislike, uh, I don’t know too much about New York and these upper-scale residential areas. So the super-wealthy who all have apartments next to Central Park probably think that they’re hicks or something and Ezra resents that, maybe, I dunno.
It’s like, whenever it talks about how out-of-touch they are, it does it from a perspective that’s only one or two rungs down from that, so it seems equally… the show itself has no perspective. And by portraying characters that have a slightly less amount of perspective for people who can’t just buy a car when they feel like it.
VRAI: Well also if it’s doing… if it’s supposed to be a parody of the super-wealthy, it’s having a hard time doing it while its mouth is full of all of the fashion labels it’s fellating.
AMELIA: One thing that I could say about it in a positive sense, I really enjoyed just being in a world with that much racial diversity on screen. We don’t get that a lot. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the specific racial dynamics of my family replicated. When Jaden went to tea with his Aunt and she was white I was like “I have never seen this! I have white aunts.” I am not White myself. It’s just something you don’t see.
We don’t know if Jaden is mixed-race or adopted, actually. We can assumed mixed-race because the demon thing seems to be hereditary, but they don’t put enough time into the world building for us to really understand how that works. However, Jaden is… the entirety of his family who we meet is then white, which is a little bit uncomfortable. There’s not a single Black relative you want to introduce us to? For this Black kid? Okay. Not one.
VRAI: It is kind of disappointing that they invent an entire backstory about an oppressed class of people and then have nothing to say about actual racism.
AMELIA: Well I think the parallel for this is Yuri!!! On Ice, which has come under decent critique. People have said, “It’s set in Russia and you have this couple”—part of it is set in Russia, sorry—“and you have this couple behaving in the way that a queer couple would behave in public and they’re not stopped at all, even though being gay is illegal there,” and it’s clearly built to be a world where homophobia is not an issue.
VRAI: Oh yeah, and I think that’s great. I just think that with Neo Yokio—and maybe I am wrong, but it struck me as a little different because it has that aspirational element like Yuri on Ice does, but then it also wanted to have a thing where the shitty blonde Draco Malfroy could use an imaginary slur against Kaz early on when we’re establishing that he’s an asshole.
AMELIA: What does he say?
VRAI: He spends a lot of time calling him a rat catcher, and how all the exorcists are neo-rich because…
AMELIA: Oh, because of the magic use, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a weird, invented prejudice that the show wants to use for character things but then it also wants to be aspirational—and that’s great, but why is it trying to be both?
AMELIA: I mean, I guess. But there’s power just seeing lots of brown people on the street.
VRAI: Yeah, and I shouldn’t—yeah.
AMELIA: I really appreciated that aspect of it, so. And it wasn’t handled perfectly, like I said. The fact that we don’t meet any of his brown relatives is a bit of a problem. The fact that the don’t… none of his friends are Black women. He’s surrounded by white women. That’s a bit odd.
I think the one Black woman who we see is on the stage at the burlesque performance which Arcangelo takes them to. Which I quite enjoyed, by the way. It felt like a nod to Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl, who ends up taking people to these alternative nightlife venues, because he likes to be the guy who can take you somewhere you’ve never been before. That’s just another way for him to use his status or come across as impressive.
That definitely fit the Arcangelo view; whereas it felt like Jaden’s character would be more interested in going to places where he could be seen to be going.
But the burlesque performance is the only place where we see a Black woman and she, I think anyway, and she calls out Jaden—sorry, Kaz—as being a magisticrat. Magisticrat? And she gets everyone to look at him because she says, “You know, it’s a really rare and special thing that we have a demon chaser in the house.”
But you don’t get any sense of how rare and special it is because you are just in that bubble. Where he always is. There’s this alienation, almost because those kids and the perspective they want you to have as viewers, where you understand that he’s special and you understand his family background, but they don’t actually spend any time looking at that at all. So just another example of them touching on something and then not really exploring it.
VRAI: Yeah, it seems to… the writing seems to assume that the supposedly satirical or parodic elements that you will just understand; that obviously you, as a regular person, know that these things are ridiculous. But this is a fantasy alternate New York. We don’t know what normal looks like here, we have no baseline what he looks like compared to the underclasses and the oppressed.
AMELIA: Yeah, it was… I wish I could go back now and look at the scene where he goes down the wrong road in his racecar and see if those people are mostly people of color. Because when he goes to the Hamptons, most of the people there are white, when he goes to the Hamptons party.
PETER: You mean where he went into, it’s Kowloon Walled City is what it is, but the race was supposed to go through there. Do you just mean where he went down… he got dead-ended there, but they were specifically racing.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] He goes down where they were supposed to go down and he gets hit on his car with a baseball bats.
PETER: Yeah, but they were specifically racing within… it’s Kowloon Walled City, I don’t know why they decided to reference that. But they specifically drove through it because they didn’t care about the well-being of the poor people in that city.
AMELIA: Yes, and they make that very explicit in a line where they say “Neo Yokio doesn’t care about the denizens of its slums” or something.
VRAI: [sarcastic] Thank you, Neo Yokio.
AMELIA: Yeah, thanks for making that clear. [laughs] We would not have picked up on that otherwise. The classism in it is odd, like you say. It’s part of world-building without being—
VRAI: [interrupting] Kaz owns a human being.
AMELIA: Kaz does own a human being.
PETER: That was so weird. Charles.
AMELIA: And when he finds out that his mecha-butler is actually a human being he says “I wish you could just get back in there and stop talking. I don’t want to see you.” And as soon as Sadie, who has her own identity, gets back in Charlie, he just forgets she existed.
And that’s it, he continues to refer to Charlie as Charlie. Which is fine.—Charlie? Charles. Wow, I got really informal.—He continues to call him Charles and doesn’t seem to affect him at all. Now he knows there’s a human in there, he quite happily lives in blissful ignorance. Which is at least consistent with his character.
VRAI: Is he paying her all the wages he didn’t pay her after he bought this mecha robot at a used robot sale?
AMELIA: We have no idea. And now she’s come out and she seems to be quite comfortable continuing to come out now that she’s broken that seal.
VRAI: She doesn’t seem to resent him in any way other than occasionally giving him good ole fashioned grandmotherly guff.
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s a very odd beat and I didn’t really understand it. Because the point of her coming out then—this is the end of episode four—so the point of her coming out then would be to tell him, “You treat everyone badly. You treat the people you see around you as less than badly. It is not just your friends being unreasonable, you are not in the right here.” And she kind of briefly says something and then moves on.
VRAI: She specifically talks about how he was inconsiderate and now the robot will be hard to fix because they will have to drag it across town.
AMELIA: “And now we have to drag this hunk of junk back to town.” Exactly! It’s not “You realize you’re being a terrible person.” It’s not that. It’s “Ugh, we’re inconvenienced now”, which is something that Jaden already understands because he’s constantly complaining about being inconvenienced.
VRAI: He had to walk a whole extra six blocks to get to his house, and it’s framed like a walk of sadness.
AMELIA: But see, I quite like that stuff. When they lean into the fact that he is—
AMELIA: —such a spoiled brat, yeah! When they have—I think it’s in the first episode—I kind of love this moment when his aunt is like “Finish your tiramisu” and you have the close-up of the tiramisu and this dramatic music and it tilts up to his face looking all forlorn and he says, “I’ve lost my appetite.” [Laughs] That’s great! Do more of that.
They have this running joke in the second episode, which was my favorite by the way. I think the second episode is where it peaks. I would just stop watching after that. Where they talk about his midnight blue suit and how he’s like “Fashion is a light in this cruel world” or something, and those words come back to haunt him. There’s moments like that where they lean into him being a spoiled brat and say, “Yeah, he’s spoiled, let’s laugh at that.”
Which I think goes back to what you were saying, Peter, about how there is some fun in just having awful people on screen being awful to each other as long as you don’t act like anyone is going to get anything more out of it than that.
PETER: Or, it’s gotta be one or the other. It’s either got to be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or The Great Gatsby. You gotta be trying to accomplish something or not accomplishing anything.
AMELIA: Yes, exactly.
PETER: It just felt like this really half-assed attempt at commentary that made it bad in both ways that it could be bad, because they made a dishonest attempt at doing that. I got the humor they were going for. Every time Jaden was making… we’re just going to call him Jaden forever.
AMELIA: He deserves it.
PETER: Every time something not really—we would be happy for something like that to happen to us, but he acts like it’s such a trial. That’s funny because he’s, I guess because he’s such a shit bag.
VRAI: I would argue that, as somebody who really loves Always Sunny: (a) These are people who live in the gutter and they always lose, and also they love each other and it’s kind of sweet occasionally. Always Sunny is very cunningly written to make sure that these characters look the fool.
AMELIA: It is so smart.
VRAI: And Jaden, not only is Jaden idle rich and so, so stupid, he wins every time other than these mild inconviences. He’s never made to look absurd in any way beyond that brief ironic remove of “Oh don’t we know that this guy’s actually a fucking asshole.”
PETER: Yeah, the Always Sunny guys never win ever, and I think that’s very intentional.
AMELIA: Yeah, of course. That’s why it’s acceptable. Otherwise it would feel deeply unfair, and it does feel deeply unfair. It really reminded me of Gossip Girl in that way, and I think that’s absolutely intentional. I’m assuming that someone on the staff had seen it.
VRAI: This show wants to be something like that, but it fails to understand the structure of how those shows work and what makes them appealing.
PETER: Well you can see the pivot that’s happening, right? Because the series just ends obviously with the intention to make more episodes…
VRAI: GOD. I’ll burn down the internet.
PETER: Maybe realizing the city is not so great. Despite all the mistepps with, I don’t know what they were trying to do with Eleanor really, but it turns out destroying the Bachelor Board was a good idea.
Because after that Arcangelo actually became my favorite character of the series, after the Bachelor Board was destroyed. He didn’t have this very competitive masculine… because the whole thing was mate competition, right? The whole thing… maybe that was the part of the series I didn’t hate so much. It was this beacon of toxic masculinity and I could totally understand why Helena wanted it gone.
But after that, Arcangelo didn’t feel like this very apparent, always-in-the-back-of-his-mind sense of competitiveness for getting girlfriends with Kaz. He just decided, “Hey, why aren’t we friends?” And then after that he kind of becomes a cool guy who leads them around town and stuff like that. I mean, he’s really dumb still but it’s… I don’t know how I felt about that. I felt like Arcangelo kind of became a decent character, better than Kaz actually.
VRAI: I liked the blond shitbag!
AMELIA: I liked him a lot. It helped that his voice actor was Jason Schwartzman and I think nobody does shitbag better than Jason Schwartzman. He is so smug. He is so smarmy, and it comes across really well, but he is also a comic actor. So as soon as Arcangelo was required to soften a bit and become funnier, that was done, that was easy.
Whereas Jaden—Jaden Smith; I don’t know what name he goes by—he doesn’t have that skill. And the moments where he was funny I think were entirely unintentional.
PETER: It’s weird. They have an all-star cast of, like, Steve Buscemi and Susan Sarandon and stuff like that. And then they have Jaden Smith who is famously flat and lacking any affect as the main character, which I didn’t understand. That’s literally the joke about Jaden Smith.
AMELIA: So the problem I have potentially with Jaden Smith’s casting is that he is one of the few very famous Black boys and he is one of the few very famous Black boys who is known for pushing gender boundaries. And there is a cynical part of me that wonders: was he brought on to give them a bit of a pass in this area? Well, we didn’t screw up episode four, look, we had Jaden Smith onboard.
VRAI: No, actually casting Jaden is completely—at least as my experience of Jaden’s public persona—is completely in line with episode four, because he too is very interested in patting himself on the back about [how] he understands these gender things as they apply to him, a predominantly cis dude. I don’t care… [frustrated noises] Jaden, in my experience of him, is in that line of smugly stating: “Gender is a binary, not a spectrum after I did all this other shit in this horrible episode.”
AMELIA: Spectrum, not a binary?
VRAI: Yeah, there we go.
AMELIA: Yeah, so he’ll say this stuff but not actually back it up with action.
VRAI: Doesn’t seem to grasp what… You’re just saying words. You’re saying words and words mean things.
AMELIA: That’s good to know then. So these people who potentially kind of hired him in part because he has this reputation, actually the reputation is a little unjustified.
VRAI: At least… I try not to be too hard on Jaden Smith through all of this, because I think he’s kind of a performative asshole whose career was bought every step of the way, but he’s also nineteen, and if I had that much money and rich parents I would have bought myself a career too.
I do blame Ezra Koenig. I blame him for this, all of this.
AMELIA: I don’t want to be terribly harsh on Jaden, but I do want to question whether there were reasons for hiring him other than his ability to voice act.
VRAI: No that’s, not to step on you and say you’re wrong. Sorry.
PETER: If you look at living circumstances, it’s a one-for-one with Jaden and Kaz, so…
AMELIA: I think Lauren made a comment online about how his lines all sounded like they’d been workshopped so they could be Jaden Smith tweets.
VRAI and PETER: Yes.
AMELIA: Which at moments, absolutely it felt that way. He’s got a really distinct style in his Twitter and the script did feel like that at moments.
But that—again, I don’t think that Kaz Kaan was a bad character. I think that Kaz Kaan is in many ways a very interesting, well-rounded character. But the character doesn’t face any consequences and the character doesn’t really learn anything. So it’s sort of a waste of what is a really rare example of quite such a fleshed-out Black main character. So that’s a bit of a shame. Bit of a missed opportunity.
VRAI: Yeah, I think you could have taken a… you would have needed a much stronger framework for a character like Kaz to work and not come across as completely frustrating, but I see what you mean. In a better story, yeah, I could find that kind of character interesting. Or this character specifically.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s a lot you can do with the idea of young, Black men in a privileged world. But that doesn’t, again, seem to be something they’re interested in because they wanted to create a world that was already racially diverse. Which is kind of great in its own right, but again it was a very specific type of racial diversity.
So it was awesome to see so many brown people on screen. How many of those brown people were South Asian? Not so sure. How many of them were East Asian? Not so sure. How many were South American? No idea. So there’s… it was very Black Versus White, and—well, not versus; it was Black And White—and, you know, “Look at us living the Martin Luther dream,” but that’s not necessarily diversity. Again, it feels like tick-boxing.
I did enjoy living in a world that was… had a lot of brown people in it for a while, because I watch anime and I just don’t see that a lot. And it is meaningful, you do experience that impact when it affects you, and I appreciated that. So that was a world I enjoyed hanging out in for a while.
And I did enjoy also hanging out in that privileged society for the same reasons I watched Gossip Girl. Although I actually stopped watching Gossip Girl when I started buying myself designer things. I was like, “No, this is not how I want my mind to be warped by television.” So I think it can be a fun thing to have in small doses.
PETER: Yeah, I dunno, I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but maybe there is something he’s trying to say that will be revealed later on.
PETER: I dunno, the whole walled city thing where it… you never saw what it was like to not be rich. All the people, pretty much the lowest rungs of society you ever encounter in the show are people in customer service positions who are well-dressed and accommodating, but you don’t see what those people’s lives are like when they get home.
Then just at the end, you get this glimpse of the walled city and I guess Kaz has his “Maybe things aren’t so great.” I dunno if this is the pivoting point where he’s supposed to… where the bottom falls out. And I may be giving Ezra way too much credit, but he might realize that it sucks. He might realize that: “Oh wait, Helena was right. Maybe we should do something that will change this really bad dynamic we have.”
VRAI: I concede that it might be—God forbid it gets another season—I concede that it might be trying to say something. Nut the thing is, I don’t care at this point.
VRAI: It spent all of my good will. The big climax of the series is the blowing up the Bachelor Board, which is supposed to be this big move of revolution towards a freer society by, of course, a freshman who read The Communist Manifesto. The thrust of this is that we’re meant to be along with Animu Jaden thinking “Maybe what she did was justified after all, man. It really makes you think.”
Except this Bachelor Board has nothing to do with the actual plight of the oppressed minority. It applies only to the most wealthy of the wealthy. We only care because it’s the thing around which Kaz structures his social life. [wryly] Who gives a fuck about everybody else who’s not incredibly rich and on this board specifically?
To do this incredibly shallow, empty gesture of woke, meaningless rioting towards supposedly social justice, the episode uses some incredibly potent imagery. It blew up a building in a crowded New York cityscape. And I’m not saying you can’t do something with that, but you better damn well be prepared to say something deep and meaningful that you thought out with it.
AMELIA: See, I didn’t pick up on the 9/11 the first time around. It took our tweets for me to get that, and in episode six it makes it really explicit when it says something like “That was a symbol of the subjugated working class of greed”—
VRAI: [Interrupting] Bull-fucking-shit it is! It doesn’t apply to… [angry noise] I’m sorry, please go on.
AMELIA: No, it really isn’t. I guess you could make the argument that just the existence of a sign of this upper-class echelon is enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s structured around romantic relationships. Having that front-and-center in Times Square, that’s enough. I guess in the same way as the aristocracy in the UK. Just the fact that they exist and there are magazines obsessed with them, that in itself you could see worthy of destruction.
However, for me, the Bachelor Board was far more about how misogynist this society is, and about the heteronormativity of this society. And so I assumed whoever blew it up had more feminist reasons for doing so, and obviously that’s my lens coming into play.
But the idea of it being about class did not even occur to me. So I think that was a bit of a miss. I think they could have picked something else. They could have made that board into something else, except that it’s relevant for the rest of the story. This is the only point that they use it because it’s convenient.
VRAI: They could have had her go after Wall Street for God’s sake. That would have been meaningful. I don’t think the series is smart enough to be building up to saying “These are children playing with very important issues they don’t understand and hurting people.” I think it really thinks it’s saying something about people becoming woke and fighting the man, man. And I really resent that.
AMELIA: Which is a shame, because actually I think their message of “privileged kids get these ideas in their head and then don’t do anything properly with them” is far more powerful to emphasize the strength of grassroots action they’re not taking. I think that’s far more interesting.
But that doesn’t seem to be where they’re going, because Helena got that criticism in what, episode 3, and it goes nowhere. But, at the same time, I really want to acknowledge Peter’s point because if this is an origin story then that actually reframes it into something I’d be interested to see more of.
PETER: I mean, it would have to continue down the same path, right? It’s either she blew up—the only allegory I can think of was she ruins Marie Antionette’s haircut or something, and then everyone is talking about what a revolutionary they are, but the people of France still can’t eat bread.
So, it’s these aristocrats thinking that they’re [making a] meaningful social difference when actually they’ve done absolutely nothing and people are still starving. Which is basically what’s actually happening.
So if they showed any indication they were aware of that, like I dunno, if Helena’s fans or even the main characters were talking about what a crazy difference she made for everybody in the city, juxtaposed against something that makes it obvious that absolutely nothing has actually changed, that could be meaningful.
Or if it’s Step One of many steps that eventually lead Jaden to actually see that there’s this supporting class of people who aren’t getting the things that they need to live happily, who allow him to give a shit about what year a certain perfume was made.
AMELIA: My goodness, that whole scene at the grave infuriated me. He was so rude! And again, it didn’t do anything. You kind of got the sense that the old man was getting more and more irritated with this strange kid telling him that his wife’s favorite perfume wasn’t good enough and wasn’t going to make her happy. And then they did nothing and he just gets away with it! And then we meet up with the old man later when they kick him out of the bar and he still doesn’t get annoyed.
PETER: Well the whole point of that scene was that the perfume was an allegory for Babylon 5 versus Star Trek, I think. Literally everything he said, he was talking about science fiction. It wasn’t about perfume. But the situation they put him to have that allegorical joke was just him berating an old man at his wife’s grave.
AMELIA: Seriously? That’s awkward.
PETER: Yeah, that was the joke. He was talking about science fiction, not perfume.
AMELIA: Oh my goodness.
PETER: [sarcastically] Hahaha!
VRAI: [angry noises]
AMELIA: [dryly] Hilarious. You’ve not changed your mind on it, Vrai?
VRAI: I’m even closer to death and still talking about this show.
AMELIA: Okay, let’s wrap it up. Do either of you got any more you want to address before we close this down?
VRAI: I like your ideas, Peter, but I don’t think the show is going to do any of the good ideas, what you had.
PETER: Yeah. I guess this is like my best-case scenario; this is what they’re going with. But even if they do it, I don’t have any confidence it would be well-executed based on the first season. So, like I said at the beginning, I finished the series and I don’t feel anything good about it, really.
AMELIA: Well I like to be optimistic.
PETER: I can appreciate that. I can respect it.
AMELIA: One way in which this differs from most of the anime we talk about is that the staff behind it are English-speakers. Actually, one of the executive producers followed me on Twitter while I was live-tweeting this, which was a little bit unnerving, but I don’t think I changed my response as a result.
So I think that they are paying attention to the response that this gets, and there is a chance that they will take some of this on board and they will actually really consider some of the criticism this gets. Hopefully particularly around issues like race and gender identity and sexuality, and that they actually put their money where their mouth is as progressive men, presumably, who want to do right by these communities. So let’s end on that positive note of hope.
PETER: Our crossed fingers.
AMELIA: Crossed fingers all around. Hopefully if it does get a second season, we’ll get some acknowledgement of those issues and we’ll see some improvement on those areas.
However, I did enjoy watching Neo Yokio. I do intend to watch it with my housemates. I think they’ll enjoy it. On that level, it is an anime I can share with people who don’t normally watch anime, because it doesn’t have a lot of the fanservice-type stuff or so many anime in-jokes that can sometimes make anime completely impenetrable to people outside the community. So that’s also a good thing, I guess. Yes.
PETER: That good.
AMELIA: Okay, let’s wrap this up. You can find us on www.animefeminist.com. You can find us on Twitter @animefeminist. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/animefem. And you can us at animefeminist.tumblr.com.
We also have a Patreon, pateron.com/animefeminist, where we’re over $1000 in income, but we do need more to be fully self-sustaining, so if you can spare a dollar a month I promise you that adds up so far so quickly.
And if you give $5 a month, you get access to our Anifem Discord, where you can discuss things like Neo Yokio extensively with like-minded fans without having to go over the same Feminist 101 discussions. It’s great. You should definitely give us $5 a month.
But if can only stretch to $1 a month, that would be so meaningful to us. So if you can do that, please go to patreon.com/animefeminist and send us what we can so we can continue our work
So thank you so much to Peter and Vrai for joining me today. I look forward to catching up with you next time Neo Yokio has a season out.
VRAI: I look forward to being on a podcast where I get to be positive about a show again.
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