Neo Yokio isn’t nonsense: Pink Christmas’s sardonic defense of season one’s satire

Neo Yokio Story Time with Kaz and Charles

Segments of the anime fandom just baffle me sometimes. If some archetypical forum trawler doesn’t understand something, it’s bad, unless it’s funny-bad. Then it becomes a whole new level of empty stupidity: a meme that pollutes discussion with non-sequitur, conversation-ending image macros. I’m swatting at an imaginary composite of anonymous annoyances, but if you frequent online fan sites, I think you know the type.

To my caricatured online commentator, if something’s bad, it’s for inspecific* reasons like “art” or “sound” or “writing,” which so-called “objective” reviewers like to pretend to assess for “quality.” However, that segmented approach often seems to forget the context of the piece. For example, taking flat voice acting as a universal criterion for low quality will often miss the purpose of specific lines, like deadpan humor. Contextless assessments then risk descending into simple solipsism, with “good” equating to “things I like” and “bad” equating to “things I don’t like.” It’s perfectly fine to prefer dynamic, lively performances, but it’s important to also recognize that flat acting has valid uses in certain contexts as well (if this chariture sounds uncharitable, just wait: the review I review here misses Neo Yokio’s clear deadpan humor!).

* (inspecific: not a word, but I like the sound more than “nonspecific”)

That’s all a roundabout way to my reaction to Neo Yokio, or rather my reaction to the reactions. They seem fall into three broad categories: 1) those that recognized it as a deliberate satire, 2) those that did not, 3) and those that did not care because they just wanted Toblerone memes. I suppose the title makes it obvious that I belong to the first group and, given Neo Yokio’s absurdist humor, I suppose I can understand the third group.

However, the vitriol expressed by some members of the second group surprised me when Neo Yokio first landed on Netflix last year. Among the anonymous online public, my imaginary forum-going rivals absolutely trashed the show for “objective” reasons like ugly animation and bad voice acting. Browsing through its 31% Rotten Tomatoes score for season one, even many professional critics ignored or dismissed the satire angle.

Having rewatched the first season, I’m mostly just confused. How could anyone watch a show full of oxymoronic one-liners like “two is the loneliest number” and take it at face value as bad writing? It’s like criticizing a horror movie for being scary… when that’s the point. Or how could anyone watch a show with a pink-haired, demon-exorcising “magistocrat” and complain about poor world building? It’s like attacking an action movie for lacking a well-developed romance… when that isn’t the point.

Did the harshest critics miss the joke? Neo Yokio isn’t a bad (or even funny-bad) failure cobbled together by a cheap, rushed production. It’s a reasonable success that uses ugly animation and voice acting to parody old anime series and sarcastic, deadpan writing to satirize upper-middle to upper class consumer culture. Neo Yokio is lucidly self-aware of its own absurdity, and that contextual distinction makes all the difference in an assessment of its quality.

Now that the meme-fueled hype has passed, maybe it’s worth approaching Neo Yokio again, especially with release of its surprise, hour-long special Pink Christmas. Even more so than the first season, Pink Christmas presents a serious satire of conspicuous consumerism with one notable addition: a subtle mockery of the first season’s critics that refused to recognize the parody that kept slapping them in the face. It’s worth watching just for that.

But nah, discussion’ll just get buried under Toblerone memes, jokes about Jaden Smith’s Twitter account, and pointless bashing of the art, voices and… eh, maybe I’m ranting again.

Let’s start by stopping the vague rant to consider a fairly typical example of the negative reaction against Neo Yokio: this Anime News Network review of season one. Afterwards, I’ll attempt a close reading of Pink Christmas’s satire against the critics that well… maybe missed the joke.

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