According to the internet, it’s impossible not to have an opinion on Netflix’s new anime series Neo Yokio. If most reviews are to be believed, people are split into two camps: those getting tattoos of that big Toblerone meme and those who have been screaming into a pillow non-stop ever since they watched it. “All that money dumped on celebrity voices and so little money invested in the actual animation,” they say. “There’s poorly synced mouth movement! It has too much fun with capitalism to pose a convincing critique of it!” But regardless of which way you swing, one thing the show did well was open up a conversation about mental health.
The show is set in a world similar to ours, only with enough magical differences to give it a fantastical allure. There are demons and robot butlers, and Bergdorf’s assistants who don’t spit at customers when being addressed simply as “salesman.” But the joy of the show is how the Neo Yokio is still similar enough for viewers to draw parallels with the real world — especially when it comes to the technology in the show and the internet.
While Kaz is as devoted to the internet as you’d expect for a character voiced by wunderkind Jaden Smith, his character’s obsessiveness about it all suggests how harmful tech can be when we’re in a fragile place. So, without further ado, here are the mental health hacks to learn from Neo Yokio.
Social Media Makes Things Worse If You’re Feeling Fragile
We first meet Kaz post-breakup and he’s not doing so well. The fashion addict is so haunted by the memory of his ex-girlfriend that he chucks an expensive gift from her — a 1919 Cartier Tank watch — over the side of a building. But the breakup does have one dubious silver lining: he’s now made it onto the Bachelor Ranking Board in Times Square.
The billboard does pretty much what it says on the tin, constantly ranking and re-ranking the city’s eligible bachelors. It’s hard not to draw parallels here with social media — much like any platform’s “likes” or equivalent, everyone can see how popular a person is and this makes the bachelors incredibly self-conscious about their public images. As such, it’s Kaz’s Bachelor Board ranking rather than his breakup that seems to niggle most, with him making decisions motivated more by improving his ranking than actually because he wants to do the thing (which is the equivalent of showing up at that cool party for the Snapchat story even though you have a head-cold and just want to take a nap at home).
If intentional, the metaphor is a clever one. University of Houston (UH) researcher Mai-Ly Steers found in 2014 that “the relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms was uniquely mediated by upward, nondirectional, and downward Facebook social comparisons.” In other words, you’re never just you, you’re either above or below everyone else, much like the Board. Plus according to Psychiatric Times, researchers from Humboldt University, Berlin found in 2013 that roughly a third of those browsing Facebook reported a downturn in their mood after visiting the site, which which “sparked frustration, jealousy, and decreased life satisfaction.”
We see this on the show when it emerges that the only reason Kaz’s enemy Arcangelo is so envious of him is because of the Board. As soon as the Board gets bombed, it frees Arcangelo to become friends with the pink-haired exorcist and means that instead of being stuck obsessing about his position in the social strata, Kaz is able to pursue actual adventures. There’s also a clear uptick in Kaz’s mood. Coincidence? Probably not.
The lesson: if you’re feeling down, consider controlling your social media use. Finding it to hard to quit? Try Work Mode, which blocks all social media channels when switched on.
Turning Hikikomori Is a Terrible Idea If You’re in a Bad Mood or Feeling Down
When fashion blogger Helena St. Tessero survives being possessed by a demon, her worldview does a backflip. Suddenly she thinks trends, clothes and Neo Yokio itself is all pretty dumb. She eventually decides to stay in her room forever and states “I’m hikikomori now,” clarifying “I’m withdrawing from the world because the world is total bullshit.” This isn’t great. The show has led us (to some degree) to sympathize with the former blogger’s view. It really does seem kind of superficial and dumb out there. But Helena’s that-guy-in-your-office-who-just-read-Marx vibes (“The outside world is a marketplace of illusion.”) undermine the seriousness of what hikikomori is: a severe mental health issue in modern day Japan.
Real talk: according to The Independent, the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry defines a person as hikikomori if they have stayed in their home for over six months or more, “without going to school, work or venturing out to socialize.” A 2016 survey found that over half a million of Japanese people between the ages of 15-39 years old fall under this definition and that more than a third of those half a million people have shut themselves in their home for at least seven years. And it gets scarier. A New York Times article from 2006 reports: “As a hikikomori ages, the odds that he’ll re-enter the world decline. Indeed, some experts predict that most hikikomori who are withdrawn for a year or more may never fully recover.”
The lesson: Avoid going hikikomori like the plague.
Multitasking Makes You Less Productive
Disaster tends to strike on the show the moment the demon slayer attempts to multitask. We see it when he tries to work the black and white ball to guard a work of art from demons and simultaneously be popstar Sailor Pellegrino’s date. He ends up losing both the girl and Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God.” We see it when he tries to teach a class on elegance and demon hunting. We see it when he tries to dance with an exotic dancer and take care of Russian race car driver Mila Malevich. He often seems a few degrees slower when he’s trying to do two things at once.
Is this realistic? Completely. According to Quartz, multitasking isn’t what it sounds like. We can’t physically do multiple activities simultaneously, so we’re constantly switching between activities and “using up oxygenated glucose in the brain” — the same substance your brain uses as fuel. Professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, Daniel Levitin told Quartz: “That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.”
Levitin recommends taking a 15-minute break every few hours to let the brain wander. And no, spending that time on social media doesn’t count — he argues social networks just make the problem worse, encouraging your brain to move swiftly between different focuses of attention. Similarly, according to a study carried out by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, multitasking with electronic media caused a greater IQ drop than smoking marijuana or staying up all night.
The lesson: Slow down and take your day one activity at a time.
Mindfulness Is Key
At the beginning of episode 4, the Bachelor Board star complains of enduring a “turbulent few weeks.” Luckily, however, his mecha-butler Charles is ready at hand with some sage words. He advises his charge to take a deep breath before explaining the lake before them. “Just as this calm pool of water sits at the center of a chaotic metropolis, you too, have an inner reservoir of peace and tranquility,” he says.
This isn’t pseudo-spiritual nonsense. The few times we get to see Kaz Kaan at his best are when he limits his attention to the present moment rather than the noise and hubbub of the city and its Bachelor Board. He cracks the case of the Chanel suit demon while hanging out at his future grave (as you do). Similarly, he resolves to help Helena when the situation forces him to think no further than the present — she’s in his bedroom and is a known terrorist. He has to either hand her over to the authorities or help her — there’s no time to be distracted.
And Charles isn’t the only one recommending the practice. The American Psychiatric Association describes the practice of paying attention to the present moment as having been “linked to reduced stress and anxiety, and improved concentration and focus, less emotional reactivity.”
The lesson: Give it a try. InsightTimer is a good general free mindful meditation app, while Aura is specifically targeted at those suffering from anxiety and depression. Stop, Breathe & Think, meanwhile, gives more background on why mindfulness is important and information about the benefits of meditation.
Next up; here’s how to minimize the effects of alcohol on your body.