After fans wondered if Neo Yokio, Netflix’s oddball anime-style series from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, would return, we were gifted not with a second season exactly (though Netflix styles it as Season 2, Episode 1), but a one-off Christmas special. Pink Christmas goes even further than its predecessor did in far less time, and while Neo Yokio’s first season, which focuses on the privileged “magistocrat” Kaz Kaan (Jaden Smith), was a delightfully strange and extremely cleverly-written experience, it’s Pink Christmas that really delivers the goods.
The new story is told as a story-within-a-story, as Kaz is bored and miserable with a cold on Christmas Eve, which his mech butler Charles (Jude Law) tries to help alleviate by telling him a story. Kaz, always the narcissist, asks that the improvised tale be about him — not because he’s self-obsessed, he explains, but because it will help him relate to it (this is after Kaz rejects Charles reading the New Testament, which he had excitedly told Kaz to “buckle up!” for).
But Charles’ tale is so realistic that Pink Christmas has to keep cutting back to the framing story to remind us that it’s not part of the actual narrative. Or is it? Kaz’s early note for Charles is that the realism is nice and “gritty,” but it could use more whimsy. And what is Neo Yokio, really, without whimsy? Like Season 1, almost every single line of Pink Christmas is quote-worthy, especially regarding a Caprese Boys subplot starring Lexy (The Kid Mero)and Gottlieb (Desus Nice).
Yet (much to Kaz’s initial disappointment) the story of Pink Christmas really belongs to Sales Clerk, a.k.a. Herbert (not a herb!), voiced by the fantastic Richard Ayoade. When we meet him, Herbert worships the materialistic Neo Yokio culture and the Bachelor Board one-percenters who rule it. The special begins with images of the city’s department stores and designer boutiques adorned with Christmas decorations, and the scene of a young girl convincing her mother to buy her a $2,000 hospital gown based on Helena St. Tessero’s Season 1 look (she then tells her mother she hates her after adding a diamond-encrusted crown to the ensemble and being told this is for Christmas and her birthday). Kaz is at the store to find a Secret Santa gift for his arch-nemesis Arcangelo (Jason Schwartzman); as another example of one of Neo Yokio’s insane rituals for the wealthy, the men of the Bachelor Board engage in competitive gift giving on national TV.
Herbert is taken for granted and ignored by everyone except for Kaz’s memoirist Aunt Angelique, a liberal thinker who invites him to stay for breakfast despite Herbert and Agatha’s protestations. It’s there that Kaz starts to see him as a human and not just someone whose job it is to work for him, something that Angelique also acknowledges with Charles (which will come back into play later), refusing to ride on him even though it’s his job to carry her.
The special has several wonderful small crescendos, including Arcangelo refusing Kaz’s gift to, instead, gift him a song. He instructs everyone to chant with him “fuck materialism!” and in nearly the same breath advertises his podcast and a Christmas performance with tickets available now. The irony of buying exclusive tickets to a Christmas spectacular against consumerism at Radio City Music Hall is not lost, and it’s one of the many ways that Pink Christmas is far more overt in its satire of the rich and its take-down of brand-obsessed culture than Season 1 was. It plays out most blatantly the Caprese Boys story, as the friends go from canning their drink for profit, to creating logo-driven merchandise, to having their logo available for pictures uploaded into the holy Cloud. Again, it’s not particularly nuanced, but it’s very funny and works exactly because it’s not far-fetched in the least. For a fictional city in this anime-painted world, Neo Yokio has one of the most realistic understandings of modern media and nauseatingly shallow “you are a brand” trends that dominate the culture.
Where the show really brings this home, though, is in its final moments. In a stunningly dark scene, company-man Herbert is laid off from Bergdorf because of Arcangel’s anti-consumerism message. “I would hate for my salary to jeopardize your profit margins,” he says dutifully as a bot dismisses him. From there, without a family or purpose, he calmly walks off of the building’s rooftop and kills himself. Even though he doesn’t really die in that moment, he is dead — his body is possessed by the Great Demon, who explains to him why he must destroy the city and its rich patrons who subjugated him and treated like him trash (“garbage, even” he reasons). His transformation into a demon brings forth an important truth about Kaz (in this fictional story from Charles, remember) that he is actually a demon himself; all magisticrats are. They are demon turncoats, essentially, and to allow the demons to rise again and “restore the balance,” a magisticrat must kill the demon’s host body — again that would be Herbert, someone constantly in use a pawn by the forces around him.
Ultimately it is Agatha who does the killing (poor Herbert), as Kaz can’t bring himself to. But it still unlocks a flood of pink demon ether that drowns and destroys the city, as all of our main characters die.
Merry Christmas, Kaz!
Kaz tells Charles he doesn’t love the ending, but did love the Toblerone jokes. He also faults the story for being left ambiguous, which Charles takes into consideration. But at the stroke of midnight, Sadie (Charles’ pilot, who we met in Season 1) leaves the mech suit to go to mass. Kaz is confused, not knowing she was religious, to which she replies “there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Kaz Kaan.” Those are the same words a demon-possessed Herbert said to Kaz in the story, which makes one wonder if Sadie (via Charles) is actually advocating for the overthrow of Neo Yokio’s rich herself. Was the story dark entertainment, or a warning hidden behind a smile? Kaz learns to see Herbert as more than a servant — was this all a parable to get him to understand Sadie/Charles in that same way?
To further confuse things, Pink Christmas ends with Arcangelo sailing across the sky as Santa Claus, saying “wink.” Essentially, it could all be true and is true, at least, up until the destruction of the city. As for Kaz’s magisticrat lineage, that could play out as canon in further episodes of the series, if they are coming. But what Pink Christmas really leaves us with is a bubble gum-pink takedown of the wealthy; not in the way of Season 1 did, with its gentle ribbing of the one-percent as a knowing send-up. Here, it’s about revolution — and of a devastation that is of their own making.
Viva la Christmas revolution!