Netflix Cringe-Watch: Neo Yokio and Big Mouth

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I deserved this Toblerone, because looking sad on a shopping mall bench when taking selfies is harder than Jaden Smith made it seem.

My twin brother let me borrow his Netflix password, and thus enabled my exploration into a realm of serialised entertainment which devoured several midnight hours I needed to kill right now, all my DVDs and books were packed away in plastic buckets because I’m moving house again. Things could be a lot worse, this time my father made a spreadsheet to track which bucket of my stuff contains what, and we don’t have to scramble for a place to live like most of the hurried house-movings I’ve experienced. The only actual downside this time is, my enormous Halloween article’s gonna be late as usual, guess it’s a recurring theme here at Pagemaster General. In order to provide you content instead of excuses, I decided I’d check out two of 2017’s most hyped animated disasters to hit Netflix, Neo Yokio and Big Mouth. I’d heard atrocious word of mouth about both these programs, although having sat through every episode of each show, I can now judge the merits (or lack thereof) either one with an informed perspective. If Ezra Koenig aims with his six episode Western anime Neo Yokio to ape the raw insanity of Mad Bull 34. he more or less succeeds without compromising his unique vision to suit the otaku who’re confused as to why The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air‘s son couldn’t spring for more expensive soundtrack options than George Friedrich Haendel’s Sarabande from Barry Lyndon. I suspect Jaden’s choice of classical music accompanying his vanity project is no accident, he is conveying to us his idea of the modern day gentleman, and within the context of a broader hip-hop milieu it’s an idea which has gained traction in the past decade or so. Kanye West’s Graduation was a landmark 2007 rap album sporting a cover by Superflat pop artist Takashi Murakami, closing the book on the gangsta posturing of 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, bringing us into an era where mainstream rappers you’d never expect had any passion for fashion began name-dropping Gucci and Louis Vuitton in their lyrics. Elder commentators who only know Kanye as that obnoxious braying jackass interrupting Taylor Swift at MTV’s 2009 Video Music Awards may not understand why he’s attracted such a loyal fanbase, despite his self-admitted crass materialism and his baffling behaviour, this man has had a profound impact on both music and its associated uniform. The music video for Stronger hinted at Kanye’s closeted anime fandom, hence if Wu-Tang Clan’s admiration of kung-fu cinema could manifest in RZA directing The Man With The Iron Fists, a brand new Japanese animation fan-fic catering to the sensibilities of Jaden Smith’s Twitter account seemed inevitable if you’ve been paying attention on Tumblr. Only in our post-Kanye world, does dialogue where a black American teenager exorcising demons by invoking Coco Chanel, with the same reverence as Sailor Moon‘s catch-phrase “In the name of the moon, I will punish you!” make any goddamn sense. It is quite unsettling to discover that as the New Willennium heralded by his father completes its astrological rotation, the Fresh Prince‘s heir apparent envisioned himself as a purple-haired Carlton Banks listening to Vivaldi like Uncle Phil would’ve wanted. If this show was about a rich white boy, it’d be insufferable, but with a wealthy black lead as its protagonist it’s rebellious and subversive in ways celebrity-centric cartoons seldom are. Granted, Neo Yokio‘s pandering to the sad boy subculture with such melodramatic lines as “I’m grieving the death of a relationship.” and “Win, lose… we’ll all be equal in the grave.” are a different flavour of insufferable than what I’m used to seeing over and over again on TV, but if Mr. How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real? can keep me invested in Kaz Kaan’s adventures, I’ll endorse his hubris. Neo Yokio is a Netflix original show where Jaden Smith fights a demon-possessed Damien Hirst sculpture called For The Love Of God, between this and 50 Cent’s Blood On The Sand video game, I’ve noticed a diamond encrusted skull motif in at least two rappers’ vanity projects. Nonsense which makes the audience dumber for having watched it is a genuine drain on our intelligence, however nonsense that enriches the soul is underrated, and Neo Yokio is certainly that. I appreciated Stephen Fry uttering his immortal line: “What in the name of Shakespeare’s arse?” – as only an accomplished British thespian can. Product placement is also elevated to a new height of Space Jam pop artistry in Neo Yokio, the much touted “You don’t deserve this big Toblerone!” scene is brilliant not just because it’s quite successful at advertising a product, but the narrative significance of this big Toblerone confers a status symbol entrusted only those worthy enough to possess it. Kaz Kaan is born into a family of “rat-catchers” – a derogatory slur for sorcerer-exorcists who’ve protected the city for aeons yet are still discriminated against by old moneyed cliques, whose sons are evaluated upon a “Bachelor Board” where eligible bachelors compete against each other. His robot butler Charles, a recurring comic-relief character, has a hidden surprise inside him I won’t spoil here. We are introduced to this whimsical world via an informational video that samples the Thames logo chime familiar to nerds my age who grew up watching Danger Mouse or Count Duckula reruns on ABC Kids, weeaboo meets tea-a-boo, the underwater sea-palaces owned by the wealthy are either a commentary on climate change or a possible Bioshock reference. Kaz Kaan relaxes atop his own grave he built for himself, lecturing an old man spraying his dead wife’s favourite perfume onto her tombstone that “scents change with the times” – this tactless exchange would be awful if it didn’t lead him to discerning the source of his client’s demon-possession through an extended rant about youthful teen fashions demanding unique bespoke custom items. I kinda love how the philosophical duels between anime heroes are parodied via sparring with wisdom quoted from Karl Lagerfield, Richard Ayoade shouts “Kiss the woman, you magical bastard!” at Kaz, during a basketball game in the second episode where his nose bleeds upon getting smooched on Kiss Cam by the blue-haired pop diva Sailor Pellegrino. Anime has a habit of making niche hobbies seem more compelling to outsiders who are unfamiliar with their granular details, sports anime being a prolific example, but fashionista anime aren’t uncommon (Paradise Kiss is among the best) and Neo Yokio‘s supernatural soap-opera melodrama endears us with its silliness rather than detracting from the storytelling. It’s no Rose Of Versailles-tier comedy-of-manners, however I’m glad Neo Yokio isn’t a carbon copy of that masterpiece nor any specific anime classic which it’s homaging. First world problems like whether or not wearing a midnight blue tuxedo to a black and white ball is uncivilised, or working security on the evening of your platinum-seller pop star girlfriend’s date, are the stuff of earth-shattering importance in this show. The possibility raised by Helena and her teen fashion blog devotees that Neo Yokio‘s rich society is vapid and shallow in its opulence is raised several times over many of its six episodes, depicting her as a demon-sympathiser (this show’s Satanist equivalent) doesn’t confirm or deny the accusations of vain excess at expense of the poor, because in the last episode of Neo Yokio‘s first season we’re privy to how the other half lives when Kaz Kaan collides his racing car into dense populated slums. Soviets still exist in Neo Yokio‘s universe, I doubt this show’s target demographic were old enough (myself included) to remember why Soviet athletes often attempted to defect from communist regimes via the Olympic village throughout the Cold War, but in tankie-curious times it’s a sobering reminder of how much my parents’ generation feared Stalin’s Russia. Kaz’s Aunt Agatha (played by Susan Sarandon) forces her nephew to undertake expensive exorcist missions from prestigious clients so he can finance his baller Caprese Boy lifestyle, which leads to encounters with red herrings like a sophisticated music teacher suspected of demon-sympathy, who is in fact nothing more than a Gregorian house DJ’s boyfriend. I hesitate to claim Neo Yokio‘s LGBT representation is devoid of detractors, a controversial episode that entails Kaz Kaan repossessing a deceased uncle’s squalid Hamptons estate property from his cousin Geoffrey who hopes he’ll inherit a new bachelor pad received criticism for transphobia. I’ve never seen any of Ranma 1/2, from what I understand, Yu Yu Hakusho is the worse offender; but instead of telling actual transgender viewers how to feel about a comedy bit where Lexy falls into a magic pool and transforms into a busty woman, I’ll point out Neo Yokio‘s comedic laughs centred around Lexy lamenting “I came here to meet women, not become one! I’m really not enjoying the male gaze right now, B!” seem to ridicule his toxic masculinity more than the transgender community. I’ve heard worse on Eazy-E albums, Lexy getting clam-jammed by Kaz Kaan when he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, interrupted before he can “smash one of the hottest lesbians in town” is framed as a violation of Bro Code instead of heteronormative gender identity. Kaz uses Lexy as a means to an end in a scheme to get back at his ex-girlfriend, with unwanted advances which expose Kaz’s manipulative scheming and his gross misogynist entitlement. Neo Yokio‘s conclusion spans over two episodes, Steve Buscemi’s Remembrancer character is a sinister agent of law and order who vapes, Kaz Kaan must choose between an alluring forbidden romance and loyalty to his family’s profession. I’ll miss Neo Yokio‘s technicolour dream of anime New York, its recursive ending brings to mind FLCL in wistful melancholy nostalgia, spiced with a tart dose of harsh skepticism for its designer brand worshipping ethos. The magic Kaz Kaan wields is effective, but the false gods he serves are long-dead fashion icons, whose luxury consumer products leave his soul feeling hollow and empty. You can’t go home again, said Marshall McLuhan, and neither can Kaz, burdened by hard-won consciousness of his beloved city’s corruptions. If Neo Yokio isn’t permitted to explode again, this disquieting ending is rather rebellious, condemning the bland status quo which prevents further experiments from another African-American auteur getting green-lit. I’ve always been fascinated with art that dares to exist, the shiny diamonds clogging the cultural landfill which nobody asked for, yet happened all the same. The question of whether Neo Yokio counts as an authentic anime, if Studio DEEN produced it, is less interesting than the immediate impact this show might have on black nerds among us who wear Dragon Ball Z t-shirts and get hyped over Marvel’s Black Panther teaser trailers. Kaz Kaan is an OC whose time has come, the anime OVAs of yore only had six episodes or less to wow us, and Neo Yokio continues that bonkers tradition which transcends rock-bottom expectations we’ve kept for celebrity cash-in cartoons since Hammerman jettisoned this sub-genre’s goodwill.

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We may never get a second season of Neo Yokio, but it found its audience online, who are devoted to this weird little oddity show.

I was prepared to give Big Mouth a miss, but all you cartoon reviewers started acting like this show’s the second coming of Chris Hansen, once I’d processed the fact it received an R-18+ certificate from our Office of Film and Literature Classification… I’d have to binge the season. Watching ten episodes might tell me something about what the OFLC is willing to sacrifice its prudish principles for, because after this they have no standards and no soul. I remember when Pasolini’s Saló was refused classification until I was old enough to vote, A Serbian Film was gonna get a censored DVD release with its “NEWBORN PORN!” sequence cut out, but it got scrapped at the last minute. Bill Henson’s photography exhibition was raided back in 2008, depicting underage nymphs in your work can get artists into serious trouble down under. Robert Crumb cancelled his Sydney Opera House Graphic festival gig, fearing reprisal from wowsers at the airport, maybe he’ll pay us another visit if Big Mouth slipped through the cracks. Nick Kroll’s newest Netflix animated program for adults is my first impression of his work, I hope he realises my exasperated weary reaction to his latest project isn’t so much a personal attack, as it is a lament that South Park video games have been censored in Australia over far less than anything edgy Big Mouth brings to the table. Its maligned scene from the trailer where a middle school girl talks to her vagina through a hand mirror is never mentioned again once it’s run its due course, because the Hormone Monster/Monstress gimmick that replaces this pointless narrative arc renders potential for Chatterbox-style talking vagina shenanigans obsolete, like a Happy Madison clone of Pixar’s Inside Out where Riley’s stuck on her horniest setting. Puberty Blues this show ain’t. Most of the gripes I have with Big Mouth as an animated adult program have nothing to do with little boy penises, and everything to do with the fact said little boy penises are flashed full frontal at the spirits of Elizabeth Taylor, Prince, Richard Burton, and Whitney Houston. I recognise not all of my readers are superstitious as I am about hipster-ironic resurrection men who’d make Burke and Hare blush forcing deceased celebrities into cheap unsolicited celebrity cameos, especially if they’ve swag-jacked many likenesses of prominent gay icons for one of the least sincere LGBT anthems in television history, but I wrote a terrible fan-fic about Oscar Wilde endorsing gay marriage and his pitiless laughter still haunts me after I’d woken up from that drive-by shaming in my dreams. It’s irresponsible enough to make an enemy of one dead person, let alone several at the same time, dabble in glib postmodernism at your peril. Jordan Peele voices Duke Ellington’s ghost, I cannot take anything this hateful cartoon stated about his biography (or anyone else’s) at face value due to the fact a Family Guy writer is involved; I’ve been listening to The History Of Jazz on Audible a lot and none of Duke Ellington’s alleged abandoned pregnant girlfriends were mentioned, because Duke Ellington’s varied “cutting contests” with other jazz artists which invented the modern day rap battle were more important to the historical narrative being explored by the narrator. Big Mouth‘s musician jokes aren’t all winners, however the running gag about Jessi Glaser’s father being a burnout deadbeat, signified by his fondness for Rusted Root and Sublime at least establishes character traits for this man whose wife leaves him for another woman. It would be devastating to watch, if this gay parent plot-point was executed with Moral Orel‘s abrasive brutality across multiple seasons, but Big Mouth‘s ambitions are much lower and unclear. No adult I’ve ever met talks to their own children the way Nick Birch’s parents do, because if they did my lawyer mother would be seeing them in her family court, and I’d be eating my dinner on the couch again due to their divorce papers spread across my living room. Big Mouth‘s violent video game parody of Grand Theft Auto got a few sleep-deprived delirious chuckles out of me when it was revealed the goal is to murder hookers and steal their souls escaping from their corpses, it’s pretty much the idea of what Grand Theft Auto is to conservative congressmen who’ve never played it and don’t understand there’s a lot of driving missions and fetch-questing in-between committing your homicide against sex workers. This show tends to throw surrealist imagery like that at you every so often, I’d be nodding off if it weren’t for the occasional penises-playing-basketball sequence: for each Girls Get Horny Too which tackles female sexuality there’s a painful slog through another three superfluous filler episodes revolving around the Hormone Monster encouraging regrettable decisions or Jay the Hispanic magician fornicating with his grandma’s pillow. Stereotypical as Jay is, Big Mouth managed to give me a rare blast from the past I wasn’t expecting, because I befriended someone of Latin extraction who looked and acted a lot like Jay back in primary school. I never got embroiled in a game of soggy biscuit, fighting for a VHS tape of The Italian Stallion, but I reckon everybody regardless of geographical location encounters their Jay equivalent sooner or later. In an era where Agro’s Cartoon Connection got interrupted by a news broadcast where Bill Clinton denied having sexual relations with that woman, the Jay in my life was all too happy to explain to me what Bill’s specific sexual relations entailed. John Waters refers to these fellows as “filth elders” – yet the Jay your son will meet on the playground performs the exact same function that the moniker implies: they provide forbidden knowledge young men need to survive puberty. It is no accident Jay is portrayed as a card magician in Big Mouth, he’s a shaman whose card illusions are flim-flam, but his initiation of male peers into adulthood is a necessary evil. I outgrew my Spanish BFF’s Scarface-poster ethos as I got older, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t miss the guy, even if he always ganged up on me in GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64. In Big Mouth‘s season finale, our dull voyage of the damned concludes with an Apocalypse Now parody inside the “Pornscape” wherein Andrew plays the role of our Col. Kurtz, who builds his fortress inside a literal Heart Of Darkness resembling the science museum exhibit where he met his first girlfriend. I’d be impressed by the reference if I wasn’t so cranky that it took ten episodes to get to its main thesis about internet pornography. Welcome To The NHK took a harsh cracked-mirror-of-regret approach to the same topic long ago, and if you asked me which show was funnier, I’d say Tatsuhiro Sato trying to cure his lolicon vices by Yamazaki photographing him creeping on schoolgirls wins over Big Mouth‘s rushed subplot hands down. Weeaboo biases aside, speaking as Australia’s sole Ralph Bakshi apologist, I believe Western comedy animation doesn’t have to be Disneyland face-character pretty if it delivers laughs. Dan Vs. aired on the same network as My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, vengeance-fuelled humour served the story, because the visuals complimented its cruel anti-hero’s unpleasantness by contrasting his jerk behaviour with a nicer world than him. Ugly Americans often lived up to its name, but its unique EC Comics vibe and observational jokes about social security bureaucracies helped it stand out. Drawn Together‘s let’s-offend-everyone mean-spirited writing hasn’t aged fantastic, however when I first saw it airing in-between Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law reruns on SBS, the technical marvel of multiple animation history eras colliding for a Big Brother-esque reality show contest felt refreshing. Big Mouth suffers from a lot of Drawn Together‘s worst detriments, if this bold concept was executed by either a different creative team or a different philosophy behind its messages, we’d have something else worth praising up there with Bojack Horseman or Bob’s Burgers. I am not keen on Big Mouth‘s Seth McFarlane-meets-Brickleberry aesthetic, say what you will about Ralph Bakshi’s reliance on rotoscoping, at least his socialist politics give me food for thought. Pearl-clutching YouTubers comparing Big Mouth to Jimmy ScreamerClauz’s Where The Dead Go To Die remind me of the teenage girls who fled my local multiplex screening of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! – the first ten minutes of Where The Dead Go To Die‘s CGI abyss are more extreme than all of Big Mouth‘s ten episodes combined, you’re grown men acting like showing footage from its official trailers risks potential jail-time for cartoon reviewers. Big Mouth never shoots the moon into Australia’s Refused Classification stratosphere like Violence Jack‘s notorious Evil Town OVA once did in Manga Entertainment’s prime, nor does its creator push boundaries anywhere near as provocative as OZ Magazine’s “School-Kids Issue” which published Rupert Bear hentai decades before FurAffinity was established. I once attended a university lecture with Bill Henson, seating was packed to the gills when I encouraged him from the front row because he needed support from fellow Australians then, the disgusting parochialism on display from the OFLC giving Big Mouth a certificate just because it’s made by some foreign interloper whose creative freedoms are protected by America’s Bill of Rights (which we don’t have for ourselves) is profound in its hypocrisy. Big Mouth is no Caligula by any stretch, I’m not surprised the OFLC found it too boring to ban, nonetheless I shall cite this show’s rating as my alibi in a court of law if any of my own creative endeavours are stifled by our classification board: “You objected to the televised adaptation of my satirical cybergothic horror novel where my hero named Ichi: Grandson Of The SS burns the OFLC to the ground, as I Am A Viking by Yngwie Malmsteen plays on a boombox, but let me remind you that Big Mouth got an R-18+ rating in 2017. Case closed.”

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Netflix renewed Big Mouth for a second season, but I took advantage of its thumbs-down button so my binge-watch wasn’t an endorsement.

 

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