Kipo is back and better than ever. The excellent first season of “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts” ended on a massive cliffhanger with many questions left unanswered. Luckily the second season starts right where the first leaves off and exceeds the quality of the first season in almost every way. While Kipo herself grows immensely over the course of this season, the development of her antagonist is even more gratifying to watch. It is everything a viewer could ask of a second act.
The plot of season one revolved around the titular Kipo as she tried to find her way home through a colorful and strange post-apocalyptic world. Along the way she met various anthropomorphic characters, called “mutes,” and gathered a group of quirky companions along the way. The show stood out by presenting a more lighthearted adventure while still packing emotional depth through character development and alongside quite a bit of comedic relief.
Season two not only retains the core aspects of the first season, but it builds on them. In particular, the second season has a lot more action than the first. While “Kipo” is not necessarily an action-oriented show, I still enjoyed scenes involving Kipo and her friend Wolf, the latter of whom provided most of the group’s muscle until Kipo developed superpowers. We only really got to see Kipo fight during the latter half of the first season, but the second opens with Kipo going to rescue her father and her people, only to narrowly escape a fortress without succeeding. Kipo failing to rescue the people of her home burrough provides plenty of motivation for the rest of the season.
The action in Kipo serves a narrative purpose. At the end of season one, Kipo had just started to awaken her mysterious powers but could not fully control them. Having her suddenly become a master fighter would have been a cheap way to progress her character arc. Instead, season two is about Kipo learning to control her powers, with the fight sequences serving as ways of physically demonstrating how she improves over time. For example, after defeating two henchmen in the first episode her father notes that she got very lucky by catching the two off guard. But by episode nine, Kipo has defeated far greater threats and improved greatly and her father notes her amazing fighting capabilities. This is shown not only through her father’s dialogue but also is shown visually through Kipo’s improvement over the course of the season.
One of the most interesting dynamics in season two is the relationship between Kipo and the season’s primary villain, Scarlemagne. Scarlemagne is an evil mutant Mandrill with the ability to control primates and humans. In season two, he reveals his plan to take over the world, force the other mutants to serve him, enslave all of humanity and crown himself emperor. While his ambition may paint him as a typical evil antagonist trying to take over the world, season two reveals Scarlemagne to be a much more emotionally complex character.
While Scarlemagne is presented as an unhinged egomaniac, his origin story makes him much more relatable and even portrays him as a tragic character. In season one, his interaction with Kipo’s father indicated they had met in the past and had some mutual animosity. However, season two reveals that Scarlemagne was originally named Hugo and was a test subject of Kipo’s parents. They eventually formed a kind of family unit, but when Hugo finds out about the true purpose of the experiments is to get rid of the mutant animals’ advanced intellects, he feels his first sense of betrayal from his parental figures. Eventually Hugo is abandoned by his parental figures when the lab is destroyed and he is forced to find a way to survive on the surface.
While this is more than enough backstory to make any villain sympathetic, it also connects Scarlemagne more to Kipo. Their stories mirror each other: Both characters became lost on the surface after the destruction of their homes. While Kipo found a new family through love and compassion, Scarlemagne survived by forcibly controlling others. Despite his evil acts, Kipo recognizes that Scarlemagne is redeemable, and towards the end of the season Kipo eventually gives herself up to Scarlemagne in hopes that she can help him. Her interactions with the mad Mandrill reveal that his vulnerability and need to control others stems from his earlier abandonment and the idea that no one would ever choose to be his friend. He and Kipo’s common origin makes their conflict both more intense but also uniquely intimate.
Season two of “Kipo and the Wonderbeasts” exceeds all expectations. It not only retains all of the aspects that made the first season so enjoyable, but actually improves upon them. Adding both more action and even more emotional complexity to all the characters, even the antagonist, while maintaining the animation quality and values of the first season, makes this show a perfect example of how a second season should be done.