There’s a lot to like about the new Netflix original Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. The background and scenery are absolutely ethereal, vivid and unique; the characters run the gamut in personality, the soundtrack is definitely one of the best I’ve heard, the so called wonderbeasts are fascinating and the world, despite being post-apocalyptic, feels somewhat warm and lived in.
If nothing else, this series is a treat for the eyes and ears.
But the main character a little generic. Our protagonist, the pink-skinned Kipo, had been literally living under a rock until the events of the movie. She lived in a city with many others, in order to escape the horrors of the surface. As such, when disaster strikes, and she’s left stranded on the surface, she has no idea how to survive.
And her optimism and good nature doesn’t make her well-suited for the frog eat frog world up above. Not the most unique or compelling arc. We’ve seen how optimism and the power of friendship can change people.
Sure, it’s mostly been from a hopelessly naive and the most immature 14 year old on the planet, but still. Luckily, Kipo isn’t annoying nor overly naive to the point of thinking there’s no bad in the world.
The plot is also pretty generic: Kipo and her newly found friends have to journey from dangerous destination to dangerous destination to try to find her people. Each episode introduces a new group of Wonderbeasts, actually called “mutes,” short for mutants, in universe. And of course, there’s the overtop villain Scarlamagne.
What I love about the different groups of mutes, is that each one has their own aesthetic, but the animals don’t necessarily fall into stereotypical roles. The frogs are gangsters (so, Meet the Robinsons did it first, but it works), the possums are 80s fitness aficionados, the cats are lumberjacks…you get the idea.
And each has their own musical theme. Which is great in a series that places a lot of emphasis on music. Kipo, for all its worth, is an excellent musician despite her lack of other notable character traits and burgeoning super powers.
I already know exactly how her arc is going to go, so I’m just not too concerned with her safety. She’ll be fine. Her companions?
They’re gonna have gone through some emotional turmoil….But I love them anyway.
Firstly, there’s Benson. He’s about 13, and chill kid who uses tricks and all kinds of sneakery to survive. His friend Dave, an immortal bug who is constantly going through his life cycle at the most inconvenient times, is mostly comic relief.
The two play off each other well, and I assume Dave will have a big role to play. Benson, at first, seems to be Kipo’s love interest. She’s definitely attracted to him, and he seems to flirt with her.
Turns out, he’s gay. He just comes right out and says it, which is impressive for a TV show. And they even give him a crush at one point. But, it’s not his primary character trait. It’s nicely woven in with everything else.
And also nice that he’s figured that out in this messed up world where he’s constantly at risk of being eaten.
And then there’s Wolf.
Think Toph Beifong, but not blind and no powers. Instead, you have this perpetually annoyed, four foot tall girl wearing the pelt of a dead sentient wolf who sees Kipo and immediately promises to take her home against her usual code of survival.
She’s cranky and grizzled from surviving alone on the surface, but Kipo reminds her there’s more to living than just surviving. And Wolf has a pretty cool, dark backstory that I hope will be explored more because learning to rely on and trust people after a lifetime of working alone? Great trope.
And I always find it entertaining when tiny 11-year old girl act like a Samuel L. Jackson character. All the main casts’ personalities and desires balance out pretty nicely. And the villains are classic, campy and over the top. Though, to be honest, I can see Jamack’s heel-face turn coming a mile away. I just kind of hope the whole frogs binding characters with their tongues thing, slows down.
It just makes me uncomfortable. And I love Scarlamagne’s whole aesthetic. Some of it is pretty reminiscent of April and the Extraordinary World but don’t take me wrong, this show absolutely stands on its own. I’m a just a sucker for a villain with a British accent and a hypnotizing motif.
As for other noticeable aspects of the show — all three of the main characters are people of color. Both Benson and Wolf are Black and Kipo, despite her skin being pink, is revealed to have Black father and a Korean mom.
It’s a little unclear where in the world the series is taking place; we know it’s 200 years post apocalypse, we don’t know where in the world it is. I suppose it’s not as important as to how there’s still edible food left in stores after all that time.
I don’t care if the animals are sentient. Are you telling they don’t enjoy convenience store snacks?
Also, all the mute creatures avoid that weird thing character designers tend to do with sapient animals and that makes the female ones look weirdly human and have breasts while the males look more like animals.
With most of the creatures, unless they’re speaking, you can’t really tell their gender on sight. And the default gender for most of the creatures is female.
While this isn’t my favorite show and I think there are some issues with pacing, I can see a lot of potential for this series. And even though it was pretty predictable, it was entertaining, hilarious and just fun to watch. It’s a solid show and I think that once it finds its identity and footing next season, we’ll get something really amazing.
Year of release: 2020
Length: 10 episodes, 24 minutes each
Creator: Radford Sechrist
Executive producers: Bill Wolkoff, Radford Sechrist, Yoo Jae Myung
Producers: Park Sang Ah, Kim Han Byeo
Voice actors: Karen Fukuhara, Sydney Mikayla, Coy Stewart, Deon Cole, Dee Bradley Baker
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