There’s a bit of a misleading detail about this Netflix original “anime” series that I feel I should clarify before anything else. This is not a “Jaden Smith” anime, and Jaden Smith had nothing to do with the creation or writing behind this anime. He only voices the lead protagonist. This is, by all intents and purposes, an Ezra Koenig anime. Smith is only along for the ride.
The “anime” itself, is horrid. Filled to the brim with technical deficiencies and vocal performances that would sound bad even for a high school production. Smith has absolutely no energy; next to no one sounds anything more than bland or annoying. Animation-wise, Lamune has better production. And that’s sad. For a final product, the result feels more like a blueprint of Koenig’s greater ambitions. More than anything, Neo Yokio dribbles itself absurdly between self-indulgent fanfiction and clever, intentionally-idiotic satire.
Such that this work is so hard to properly define, the one positive affirmation is that it is not completely brainless. There are messages to unpack and symbolic presences lingering throughout the work, most notably ones about being open-minded, challenging the status quo, and individual freedom as opposed to systematic hierarchy. Blunt and atrociously presented as they are, under the cover of one of the most aimless (and borderline obnoxious) plot progressions in all of media, one could reasonably argue that the work is victim of having too little time for such ideas of grandeur. It becomes harder to defend when the product also walks and talks like a 14-year-old with a five-dollar webcam and a Youtube account.
I don’t normally like to rag on production values so much, as I feel there are more integral aspects to visual media that can make up for it, but these issues make Neo Yokio borderline unbearable. Combined with its already simplistic manner of storytelling and unrealistic writing (especially dialogue between characters), the sudden jumps in animation, the sound of bored voice actors, the manner of tone not matching with the characters’ facial expressions, and all else encompassing, it’s among the worst “anime” I’ve seen from a technical viewpoint. They have the design down fine, with a little added flair with the diversity of skin colors and hair colors, yet the movement feels stiff and off, like the entire production itself.
If one is curious, I’d recommend looking at Twitter gifs of the show, as sitting down and watching the whole thing is really not worth it, even for a joke. With only six-episodes of standard anime length (21-23 minutes), it felt like an eternity before I was finished, and in return was rewarded with an ending that was actually decent. Of course, should the series continue, it would jeopardize the ending’s entire point. Regardless of its continuation, I’m in favor of putting the series to rest on even an accidental pinch of positivity, rather than try and legitimize Jaden Smith as an “actor.”