In 2017, Netflix released an anime called NEO YOKIO. I binge-watched the entire anime after my brother recommended it to me. Neo Yokio is a modern day city that is a mix of New York City and Tokyo. NEO YOKIO centers on Kaz Kaan; a Black, upper class, 20-something magician who exorcizes demons. He does this while competing with his nemesis (Archangelo), making time for his socially active friends, and trying to look as cool as a celebrity. The most astounding thing about this anime is how its Black characters are a true representation of Black people in real life. The characters aren’t drawn as racist caricatures, they talk and act like Black people without being a stereotype. This representation stands true as we see Kaz receiving no credit for an innovation in fashion after it is appropriated.
A Quick History Lesson On Race In Anime
Historically, anime has not been kind to anyone who represents anything other than whiteness (light skin, eurocentric features). Often times, Black people in anime are portrayed with a likeness to a colonially racist figure named Sambo. This character has big, beady eyes, dark (often literally black) skin, and unrealistically oversized lips. Check out an example from POKEMON:
Let me remind you that Pokémon first aired in 1998! That’s not that long ago considering the Sambo caricature has been around since 1899. Even though reproducing a racist portrayal of Black people has been wrong since day one, it still continues on today.
Brief history lesson aside, NEO YOKIO is doing everything right with the representation of Black characters. NEO YOKIO’s main character, Kaz Kaan, is Black and looks nothing like Sambo. Notice the normally sized irises and the absence of overbearing thick lips. Kaz and his friend Lexy also rock natural hairstyles. This is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially since a law in New York City was passed in February 2019 that is meant to stop discrimination based on hairstyles, such as dreadlocks and cornrows.
NEO YOKIO is not the first anime to have accurate depictions of people of color, for example; THE BOONDOCKS. A lot of anime shows rarely have diversity among the cast. NEO YOKIO stands out from the rest because it features a Black protagonist who isn’t the token person of color in the show. In fact, he has two best friends who are people of color, making the cast of main characters predominantly non-white.
Lexy & Gottlieb Represent Without Turning Into A Stereotype
Kaz’s best friends are Lexy and Gottlieb, who bring their own cultural mannerisms to the show. While that might leave some of the audience in the dark, it opens up a gateway that is seldom open to the Black community. It’s rare to see a character in anime speaking the way we do or acting the way we act without their actions feeling like a stereotype. While characters in anime may be Black, sometimes the only Black thing about them is their skin. Creators forget that in order to make the characters authentic, you have to do more than change their skin tone. NEO YOKIO has created well-rounded Black characters in Lexy and Gottlieb.
Lexy and Gottlieb speak like typical New Yorkers, although both have immense wealth. As someone who grew up close to New York City, the slang in the show is spot on. The voices behind the sidekicks are Desus and Mero. Desus and Mero are friends and coworkers on the show, DESUS & MERO. The whole angle of their show is that the two are typical middle-class Black men from NYC. Desus and Mero give the characters authenticity because they were born and raised in NYC. There is no better way to represent a group of people than to include said people in the making of the show. When I hear Lexy and Gottlieb talking about fashion, food, or their future plans, it channels memories of conversing with old friends. It makes me smile because I know that, like myself, other Black people will feel personally connected to the show.
Kaz is Us When it Comes to Self-Expression Through Style
It can be said that a lot of Black people have a penchant for name brand things. Of course, this is true for our protagonist, Kaz. Kaz is often talking about fashion and its importance to society/women/culture. He argues that fashion “is a glimmer of hope in a cruel world.” His statement on fashion is completely right. In a world that is cruel to Black people, fashion is indeed a glimmer of hope. Kaz’s attitude towards fashion is mirrored among young Black people in America. Black people in brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga are saturating the internet. With inspiration from celebrities and musicians, a lot of Black people experiment and push the boundaries of style as a form of self-expression.
Of course, this glimmer of hope doesn’t come without a gallon of reality. In an episode where Kaz almost sports a midnight blue tux to a Black and White Ball, his nemesis (who is white), Archangelo taunts him until Kaz decides to conform and wear the traditional attire. However, Archangelo ends up wearing a midnight blue tux to the ball. The press loves Archangelo’s look, and he takes all the credit for the idea. Kaz’s nemesis hasn’t done anything unheard of in the real fashion world.
For example; most people know the Kardashian name. The family is constantly in hot water over their ‘choices’ that appropriate Black culture. Let us not forget the time Kylie wore a du-rag for her… aesthetic. Do you think Kylie or Kim ever credited where their signature looks came from? No. They pass tese ideas off as their own. White designers and celebrities steal from Black people in fashion constantly, and Archangelo and the Kardashians are no different.
NEO YOKIO Gives Us All Of The Things We’re Craving
NEO YOKIO: the drink of water that quenched my thirst for seeing people like myself on the screen. Although this show is an anime, it gives me a healthy dose of reality. It gave me a positive Black male lead, diversity in numbers, and not just a token Black character. It gave me the sounds of friends and neighbors that made it feel at home and it even shined a light on something that I take for granted; our freedom of expression through fashion. NEO YOKIO is certified by myself for a balanced consumption of anime.
Lastly, we have to ask ourselves if all of this would be possible if this show had originated from Japan. I believe that it’s possible. There’s a slim chance that a show like this could be made in Japan because of their small black community. There are more Black people in America than there are in Japan, yet the number of anime shows with a mostly POC cast are few and far between. As long as people are mindful when making it, a show this authentic can be made anywhere.
If you are a part of the Black community and haven’t seen it yet, do so! If you want an example of realistic representation, go see it! Those of you who have seen it already, I hope I’ve inspired you to watch it again and pick up on things you didn’t realize were there.