The Vampire Weekend frontman tells us about the films and series that inspired his new cartoon Neo Yokio
Ezra Koenig’s Jaden Smith-starring cartoon, Neo Yokio, dropped on Netflix on Friday (September 22). Since then it’s been watched, critiqued, memed, and, for the most part, enjoyed. The show, in which Jaden Smith plays a demon-slaying ‘magistocrat’ in the city of Neo Yokio, also stars Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Jason Schwartzman, and a ton of other huge names. In a six-episode series it deals with everything from gender to communism to class and is full of references and homages to anime, English literature, modern culture, New York, and pretty much everything else.
It’s also been the subject of debate about whether or not it’s anime, which – strictly speaking – it’s not. It does, however, reference and pay tribute to the artform and is the culmination of Ezra Koenig’s own obsession with and love for it – so we got Ezra to break down his favourite anime, many of which influenced Neo Yokio.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
Ezra Koenig: Classic, hugely influential series which went on to spawn more series, films, sneakers, video games, etc. Hideaki Anno is a genius. It has references to Kabbalah, Christianity and psychology plus incredible fight sequences and a pet penguin. I was intrigued from the first time I saw the “Tree of Life” in the opening credits. The main characters Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami are iconic and certainly influenced Neo Yokio.
Ezra Koenig: This is was the first anime series I ever saw. It’s a gender-swap martial arts romantic comedy. We did a whole tribute episode to it. It was first made in 1989 which was such a good time for anime. I love the simple look and feel of the animation. Gender-swap is a tricky genre and Ranma has a very unique spin on it.
Ezra Koenig: Another classic, more romantic anime. I picked this one because some later episodes take place in New York. I’ve always loved seeing New York depicted in anime. The first one I ever saw was Mad Bull 34 – which is hyper-violent and over the top. Marmalade Boy (as the name suggests) is a much kinder vibe. Also, the basic premise was fairly ahead of its time.
Ezra Koenig: I’m kind of old-school but I wanted to pick at least one newer anime I’ve enjoyed. Assassination Classroom has a super-weird premise. An alien with the power to destroy earth takes over a classroom of misfits at a high school and encourages them to assassinate him. It’s strange and has lots of wacky action sequences but it also hits on some of the classic motifs of classroom dramas. It’s like Dead Poet’s Society with a mysterious, capricious, gluttonous, horny alien teacher with tentacles instead of Robin Williams.
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
Ezra Koenig: I wanted to throw in a film as well and this is a real classic. There’s a lot to say about it but what I really love is the location. It takes place in a vaguely French/Italian/Mediterranean environment. It’s like a fantastical Amalfi coast or Cote d’Azur seen through the eyes of a Japanese genius. Like all Miyazaki, it can be appreciated by people of any age and has deep, moving insights about growing up.