Neo Yokio: Ezra Koenig’s Unforgettable Anime Journey

Ezra Koenig’s Adventure into Anime: A Unique Vision of New York City


Ezra Koenig, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, is not only known for his hyper-literate lyrics but also for his love of Japanese anime. Inspired by the creative minds behind Adult Swim cartoons and the iconic style of Japanese animation, Koenig embarked on a remarkable journey to bring his vision of a Japanese anime-style New York City to life. The result? “Neo Yokio,” a captivating series released on Netflix that combines A-list actors, Japanese production artists, and Korean animators. In this interview, Koenig shares his insights on the making of “Neo Yokio,” his passion for anime, and the joy of creating something truly unique.

Discovering the World of Anime

Koenig has been a fan of anime for as long as he can remember. While not an expert, he admits that numerous anime shows and movies have played a significant role in shaping his life. In fact, he confesses that he watched shows like “Mad Bull 34,” a violent Japanese vision of NYC, before being introduced to iconic American films. Anime became his gateway to the city he was born in, presenting a different perspective from renowned directors like Scorsese and Woody Allen. It was this appreciation for 80s and 90s anime that fueled his desire to infuse “Neo Yokio” with an authentic Japanese anime look.

Collaborating with Japanese Anime Artists

Finding the right animators to bring his vision to life was no easy task for Koenig, especially since it was his first foray into animation. However, he embraced the process and thoroughly enjoyed working with talented individuals such as Maki from Production IG, Toshiyuki Hiruma from MOI in Korea, and storyboard artists Kazuhiro Furuhashi and Junji Nishimura. Their wealth of experience and deep understanding of the 80s anime aesthetic greatly contributed to the authenticity of “Neo Yokio.”

The Essence of “Neo Yokio”

When asked about the show’s premise and the choice to use anime instead of live-action actors, Koenig offers a refreshingly open-ended response. Rather than providing a definitive explanation, he prefers to let the audience interpret the show for themselves. Initially conceived as a loving parody of old anime, “Neo Yokio” has evolved into something more complex and layered. Koenig wanted to create an alternate-universe reality that transcends cultural biases and neuroses, and anime provided the perfect medium for this concept. By collaborating with a diverse team from different backgrounds, the project united people from various ethnicities and showcased the beauty of cross-cultural collaboration.

The Collaborative Process

Creating an animated series involves a complex series of steps, from writing the script to storyboarding and animation. Koenig provides a glimpse into this intricate process, where a rough script is sent to talented storyboard artists in Japan. Once they return with their boards, a rough animatic is created, blending still images with voiceovers and a soundtrack. Studio Deen takes charge of character and prop design, leading to numerous decisions that shape the visual aspects of the show. Although Koenig couldn’t be involved in every decision due to the sheer volume of choices, the collaborative nature of the process allowed for creative problem-solving when necessary.

From Songwriter to Show Creator

Koenig’s transition from songwriter to show creator came as a breath of fresh air. The idea for “Neo Yokio” emerged while he was on tour with Vampire Weekend and seeking a break from music. After three albums, he yearned for something light-hearted and less “tasteful.” Embracing his passion for writing, Koenig explored narrative storytelling, focusing on the quirky phrases and moments that he loves. Refusing to lend his voice to the show, he stepped back from center stage, allowing the talented voice cast to shine. Although elements of his songwriting occasionally influenced the show, “Neo Yokio” became a separate entity in Koenig’s creative universe.

A Stellar Voice Cast

“Neo Yokio” boasts an incredible lineup of voice actors, including Jaden Smith, Jude Law, Susan Sarandon, Tavi Gevinson, Alexa Chung, and Jason Schwartzman. Koenig explains that the actors were eager to be part of the project, as animated shows offer more flexibility than live-action productions. The collaborative nature of the show enabled the actors to infuse their own personalities and improvisations into their characters, resulting in memorable and quotable moments that define “Neo Yokio.”

The Impact of Netflix and Future Plans

Working with Netflix has been an exciting experience for Koenig, as it allowed for the entire season of “Neo Yokio” to be released at once, reaching a broad audience. While the show spent two years in limbo before its release, Koenig appreciates the surreal feeling of seeing his creation out in the world for everyone to experience. The show’s unexpected popularity, complete with fan art and cosplay, feels like a strange dream come true. As for future plans, Koenig envisions a second season for “Neo Yokio” that could be even more amazing. But for now, his focus is on finishing the eagerly awaited new album from Vampire Weekend.


Ezra Koenig’s venture into the world of anime with “Neo Yokio” is a testament to his creativity and love for Japanese animation. By collaborating with talented artists and embracing the unique style of anime, Koenig has brought a wonderfully unique vision of New York City to life. The success of “Neo Yokio” on Netflix has opened new possibilities for future seasons, as Koenig continues to balance his passion for music with his newfound love for storytelling through animation.


1. Is “Neo Yokio” suitable for anime enthusiasts?

Absolutely! “Neo Yokio” pays homage to the anime style and captures the essence of classic 80s and 90s animation. Fans of both