‘Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts’ shines a light on a colorful post-apocalypse

February 7, 2020

Dreamworks’ “Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” is a welcome addition to any  Netflix watchlist. Based on the webcomic by Rad Sechrist, an animation storyboard artist, the plotline follows the adventures of Kipo, a young girl living on a post-apocalyptic earth, as she tries to find her people and her way home. While this premise may sound like a gritty story about survival in a radioactive wasteland, it is anything but. The show takes a more lighthearted approach to the dystopian genre. 

Instead of a wasteland devoid of life, Kipo journeys across a colorful urban jungle turned into a real jungle. Instead of zombies or deformed humans, Kipo’s world is populated by animal mutants, the titular “wonderbeasts.” They serve as obstacles, allies and antagonists to Kipo as she tries to find her way back to her burrow. From mega bunnies to mobster frogs to lumberjack cats, the interesting mutant animals swap a realistic post-apocalypse for fun anthropomorphic adventures.

Kipo, voiced by Karan Fukuhara, is a human girl from a burrow, an underground city of humans. When a disaster hits her home, she ends up on the surface and has to find her way back. Kipo’s naivety and curiosity quickly get her into trouble, but her lack of knowledge actually makes the show more accessible. Instead of getting a huge amount of exposition about the world and how it got this way, the audience learns about the world as Kipo does. 

On her travels, Kipo is joined by Wolf (Sydney Mikayla), a rare surface human who wears a wolfskin cloak. Although she is much smaller than Kipo, her ability to survive and her knowledge about the surface make her an invaluable part of the group. Her lone wolf and pessimistic personality make her the perfect foil to the positive and friendly Kipo. Their dynamic usually consists of Kipo trying to befriend a giant, dangerous mutant, while Wolf reminds her that it is actually very dangerous. The other two members of her group include Benson (Coy Stewart), a human scavenger, and his best friend, a friendly mutant bug named Dave (Deon Cole). These two reluctant members of Kipo’s party serve as comedic relief. Dave in particular is an interesting character as he ages rapidly from pupa to old bug and back again in the span of one episode. 

“Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” also has excellent animation. The art style draws clear inspiration from anime. The action scenes in particular are very well animated: the fights are fluid and the over-exaggerated expressions, a common trait in anime, are a perfect fit for the show.

The show is not episodic, instead following the overarching storyline of Kipo finding her way home. But each episode does have a similar set up: Kipo meets a new kind of mutant wonderbeast, her naivety causes a problem and the crew must work together to solve it. While this is the basic formula of each episode, the show avoids feeling repetitive through the solutions to these problems. First of all, Kipo and her friend’s actions have consequences, like creating a recurring villain or a decision that generates animosity within the friend group. Second, not all of these actions result in a fight sequence. While sometimes Kipo and company have to physically defeat mob frogs, other times Kipo resolves a problem peacefully, gaining an army of lumberjack cats.

The show’s colorful nature seems to appeal to kids, but it can definitely be enjoyed by all ages. It’s not just a bright view of the post-apocalypse: there are a lot of deeper themes throughout the first season. While it may be funny, the show’s comedic nature can quickly turn into an emotional punch to the gut. Wolf in particular has a lot of emotional trauma that puts stress on her friendship with Kipo. The emotional maturity within the show balances out its childlike appearance, resulting in a show anyone can enjoy.

One structural detail that makes the show enjoyable is that it actually gets better as the season goes on. Too many times have I started a Netflix show and enjoyed the first few episodes only to lose interest half way through. On the contrary, “Kipo” is continually compelling throughout the season. It’s not a show where the first few episodes are a slog to get through; it is consistently good and improves over time. The ending, however, clearly suggests a second season is coming. I don’t like shows that end on a cliffhanger without knowing if they’re getting a second season, but to the show’s credit, there is material from the webcomic to draw on (sorry for the pun).

A fun and easily bingeable 10-episode series, “Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” is an excellent addition to any Netflix watchlist.

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