I watched another Netflix series. An animated one. It was highly recommended to me by a friend. “Watch ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’.”, he said. Now that sounded familiar! Oh, yeah! Dan Stevens had put up a trailer of this show on his Instagram. Yes, the magnificent Dan Stevens voiced a character in an animated series! That just upped his desirability quotient by a thousand points!
Anyway, ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’ isn’t widely known. But, it’s a pretty damn amazing show. And I’ll tell you exactly why you need to go catch it. It’s set two-hundred years from now. The world as you know it has completely changed. The animals have undergone some mutation that has transformed them. Some of them have attained human level intelligence, and behave as humans do. Others have physically mutated to become gigantic versions of themselves, or developed extra limbs and eyes. They are now called “mutes”. These are the “wonderbeasts” that the title references. The humans have gone underground to protect themselves, and live in subterranean cities called burrows. Now Kipo, a human girl living in one of these burrows, finds herself on the surface because of an accident. And here begins an incredible adventure!
She meets two humans who have managed to survive on the surface, and two mutes. She asks for their help to find her way home. There’s a perpetually grumpy, brooding girl who wears a wolf’s skin as a cape, and is simply called Wolf. There’s a sweet, carefree, street smart guy named Benson who likes jamming out to hip-hop music. There’s a seemingly immortal insect called Dave who is constantly metamorphosing. And by that I mean he is constantly going through the different cycles of an insect’s life. When he dies, he simply turns back into a larva again. And there’s also a really adorable little pig with four eyes and six legs called Mandu.
Now Kipo is navigating a whole new world. She’s travelling with folks who are nothing like the kind of people she is used to. They struggle to get along, navigate the dangerous surface and deal with all kinds of dangerous, weird and crooked creatures while trying to get Kipo home. They learn a couple of life lessons and one or two things about each other in the process. Also Kipo is turning thirteen years old, and is struggling with bodily changes. And no, these are not the kind of changes that usually happen to a girl when she hits puberty. But that’s twist you’ll have to watch to find out about. I’ll drop a hint just to get you pumped up a little more. It has something to do with genetic mutation!
Anyway, there’s also a mandrill called Scarlemagne (who is a mute with human level intelligence) that is obsessed with finding humans and enslaving them. He comes to know about this human girl from a burrow who is roaming the surface. He plans to catch her so she can lead him to the other human beings. That is the premise of the story.
The basic structure of the story reminded me of other series like ‘The Last Airbender’ and ‘The Dragon Prince’. There is a main character or a very important character that possesses something that a villain covets. They might also be the world’s only hope. So this character and their friends embark on a journey, while constantly dodging said villain and his cronies, to get to safety or attain something that is important or defining to them. Kipo also mildly reminded me of Katara from ‘The Last Airbender’ series. She’s a strong, powerful female character. Compassion and kindness are her dominant traits, and she’s brimming with hope like Katara. But she’s not skeptical like Katara is of other people. She never stops trying to see the good in everyone. (Coincidentally, Kipo is also an Aries like me. And her birthday falls just a day before mine!) Anyway, while those are some similarities, ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’ is extremely fresh and entertaining in terms of the plot, backdrop, setting and time the story is set in.
It is a well thought out and executed series. It has a brilliant, solid story and well fleshed out characters. There is so much going on in the story besides how Kipo finds her way home. How did Kipo end up on the surface in the first place? Why is Scarlemagne the way he is? Why does he hate human beings so passionately? Why is Wolf so angry all the time and untrusting of mutes? All of this is revealed through flash back sequences, realizations, confessions and discoveries as the series progresses episode by episode. Even the fact that the series is set two hundred years from now is only revealed in the second episode. Not everything is blurted out at once. That ensures that your attention is held and your curiosity piqued, so you continue to watch. Each episode is a different adventure on the path to finding home, and in each episode the plot gets just a little bit thicker.
The fact that the characters’ back stories are revealed also ensures that you’re really invested in them and the story. There is more scope to do that in a series than in a movie, of course. When the reasons for why they are the way they are is revealed, they become more real to you. They gain depth. You are able to sympathize with their cause. You are able to understand their flaws and really connect with them.
The landscape has been really well thought out and created as well. On the surface, all the man-made structures are in a ruin. All the buildings have either fallen down, have been completely neglected or taken up by the mute clans. There’s vegetation growing through them. Heck, there are even waterfalls gushing through some. The mutes have formed their own clans, and occupied different parts of the surface. Each clan has a defining characteristic. The frogs are kind of like the mafia, the skunks are bikers, the raccoons live near the garbage dump and love to work out, and there are many other clans with such quirky characteristics. It’s all very out of the box and so fun to watch. In fact the mutes that were large or had extra body parts were slightly reminiscent of Pokemon to me in terms of their physical appearance.
Also Scarlemagne is a really, really great antagonist. He’s eccentric, but very charismatic. He’s a megalomaniac that is obsessed with the 18th century and fancies himself to be a king. He despises humans and likes to make them tap dance like puppets. Come to think of it. That is pretty much how a lot of animals have been abused by humans today, isn’t it? So is Scarlemagne’s hatred justified? The series makes you reflect on that a lot. Shouldn’t other creatures be treated with more dignity? Anyway, he has a heartbreaking backstory that is revealed in the second season. Every good villain has a compelling backstory that forces you to empathize with them in the end, no matter how bad they are. That’s the case with Scarlemagne as well. He is terrifying, compelling and even funny at times. He’s one of those bad guys whose presence you’ll actually enjoy! And Dan Stevens who’s breathed life into Scarlemagne with his voice acting has done a bang on job!
The action scenes are very nicely done, and evoke excitement in you. The background music is also great and so are the songs. There are songs from different genres like hip hop, classical, folk and pop. The lyrics flow easily and they sound natural. In fact music seems to be a recurring and very important theme in the series. There are lots of instances where peace, love, tranquility, courage and togetherness are demonstrated or brought about by playing music. One instance is when Kipo and group get along with a group of vicious rattle snakes by jamming out to some rock music!
The animation is in 2D. Recently a lot of production companies have been trying to make their animation look more like real life, and less like it has been animated. That isn’t the case here. Sometimes we watch animation, because we like getting lost in the world of surrealism. Not everything has to mimic reality. That’s the beauty of this series. The realism and depth of an animation comes from how well the the story and characters are written, how the expressions are drawn and the voice acting. All in this case are spot on. It’s important to note that by being made in 2D, the series stays true to the comic it was made from. The comic artist and the creator of this show is a guy named Radford Sechrist who worked as a storyboard artist for the likes of Cartoon Network, Disney and Dreamworks. The animation was done by Studio Mir that also worked on ‘The Legend of Korra’. So you can expect some quality stuff from this series.
Another important thing I’d like to point out is the representation of different communities in the series. There are Black characters, Asian characters, Hispanic characters, gay characters and unconventional female characters. The leader of the mafia frogs is a female and so are the rattle snakes who love hard core rock music. Kipo is voiced by Japanese-American actor Karen Fukuhara and her father has been voiced by Sterling K. Brown from ‘This is Us’. In fact, the cast is predominantly from the black and other minority communities.
The main themes of the story are love, friendship, kindness, courage, looking past each other’s differences and harmony, not unlike most animations that have been made. But what makes a really good animation watchable for an adult is the depth that goes into it. There is a whole lot more to the show than what I have revealed to you. There are so many more laughs, thrills and surprises. Season one sets the tone for this amazing adventure and season two will blow your mind with its plot twists and turns. I vehemently recommend that you go catch this one.
(Images from various sources on Google.)