Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is one of those word-of-mouth shows that started small and grew into a tidal wave. The post-apocalyptic story of a half-jaguar girl and her friends roaming a brightly coloured wasteland continues with season two, which wonderful expands its world while making a few sophomore missteps.
Here are the six things we loved about this latest season and three others we thought could be done better.
It’s as Gorgeous as Ever
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a show that’s overflowing with colour and style, and season two does not disappoint. The series continues to grow and enrich its world with bright, beautiful locations — from the ridiculously fun Brunchington café to Scarlemagne’s shopping mall-turned-palatial grounds. This is the kind of show you can enjoy visually, with every corner of the screen hiding its own little work of art.
It’s kind of ironic that season two of Kipo is out right around the same time as The Last of Us II, another huge post-apocalyptic series, as the two of them approach the end times very differently. Personally, I prefer talking animals and musical numbers.
“Heroes on Fire”
I’m a sucker for a good karaoke number — probably because I’m a sucker for karaoke in general. In episode four, “To Catch a Deathstalker,” Kipo (Karen Fukuhara) and Wolf (Sydney Mikayla) are hiding from oversized scorpions when Kipo learns that her compatriot’s secret hideout is actually a private karaoke room. She turns the machine on and proceeds to belt out one of her favourite songs, “Heroes on Fire” (an original tune created for the show), helping Wolf come out of her shell a bit in the process. It’s a great song that has been stuck in my head for days — no wonder the Wolfpack made it “our song.”
In the first season of Kipo, Scarlemagne (Dan Stevens) was more of a behind-the-scenes player. He showed up occasionally as this elegant yet terrifying threat to Kipo and her people, only to then fade into the shadows as his minions did the dirty work. In season two, Scarlemagne has taken centre stage… and every scene he’s in is glorious. Scarlemagne manages to become both more and less threatening the more time we spend with him. He’s volatile, irrational, and enraged, but much of it comes from a lifetime of pain and loneliness. This is expanded on in the episode dedicated to his backstory, “Sympathy for the Mandrill,” which stands out as the best one of the season.
It’s also important to note that Stevens is in peak form, delivering a wild performance that takes us through all of Scarlemagne’s layers. He’s really a force to be reckoned with here. It makes you wonder what kind of Beast he could’ve been in the live-action Beauty and the Beast if Disney has loosened the stays a bit and let Stevens embody the role on his own terms.
Benson and Troy
Their love is pure and we must protect it at all costs.
Much of season two is focused on Kipo’s complicated relationship with her dad, Lio Oak (Sterling K. Brown), after learning what happened between him and Scarlemagne. It’s an interesting story — albeit with one key issue (more on that below) — but it’s only part of what makes Kipo who she is. There’s also the way the season slowly unfolds the story of Kipo’s mum, Song Oak (Jee Young Han), revealing how she sacrificed everything to give Kipo her best chance at survival. That’s not an easy decision for anyone, especially a parent, but it’s one she made without hesitation. That’s true bravery and love.
It’s kind of amazing to see how much of Song’s personality is reflected in Kipo, even though they’ve never met before. But wait, before? Isn’t she dead? Well, without giving the big twist away, let’s just say Kipo may already know her mum more than she might think. I will say that the truth about Song’s fate wasn’t the most surprising reveal in the show, but it gives a lot of hope for Kipo’s family in the future.
The Power of Hope
If there’s one thing that helps Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts stand out among its post-apocalyptic peers, it’s that its heroes truly want to make the world a better place. Much of that is thanks to Kipo, who came into their lives like a hurricane of positivity and goodness, and taught them that it’s ok to believe in something again. Wolf, Benson, Lio, and so many others have overcome insurmountable odds, growing up in a world that doesn’t seem to want them anymore. But in this season, we really see them come together and become a family, standing up for each other and the Mutes they previously feared.
What they all needed was someone to remind them it’s OK to seek happiness where you can find it, and that it’s good to strive for something better — especially when you’re willing to do the work to make it happen. It seems fitting that the season ends with our heroes coming together to sing “Heroes on Fire.” The world may be “so cold,” but they’re ready to face the light of day because they don’t have to face it alone anymore.
We Didn’t Like
Scarlemagne isn’t the only problem the Wolfpack has to deal with this season. There’s also Dr. Emilia, played by Amy Landecker. We first meet her as a shadowy figure stalking Scarlemagne on his hunt for the mega monkey. It turns out she’s the head of the research institute Kipo’s parents lived in, which was seeking to reverse the mutagen that made all the animals bigger and smarter. The facility may lie in ruins, but Dr. Emilia and her ragtag team of scientists are still hard at work trying to put humans back on top of the food chain.
This seems like a fine story with decent motivation, but Dr. Emilia wasn’t a very interesting character. We spend several episodes with her, but the whole time she comes across as one-note and rather boring — even in her darker moments. She needed a bit of fleshing out to help us learn more of her story and point-of-view, so we could understand what makes her such a powerful foe. Because by the time the season ends, we’re supposed to see her as the new threat to the world of Mutes, but I don’t think it was earned.
Not as Much Music
There are some solid tracks in season two, including the amazing “Down with the Humans” sung by theatrical otters, but the soundtrack didn’t feel as big as season one. This isn’t a major problem, it’s all still highly enjoyable. I just wanted more of what helps make Kipo such an awesome show.
Come on Kipo, Just Admit This Is Kinda Fucked Up
In episode five, “Fun Gus Part 1,” Kipo learns the truth behind her mutant powers: Song experimented on a few of her eggs, infusing them with animal DNA before impregnating herself (presumably via in-vitro fertilisation). This means Kipo was the subject of some risky genetic engineering, which could’ve caused serious harm in utero (since it was untested). Luckily it didn’t, but it did leave Kipo at risk of losing her humanity and becoming a full Mute. Even though Benson and Wolf are weirded out by this fact, Kipo never bats an eye.
I get that Kipo’s a positive person, and she loves science and admires her parents. That’s all fine and good. But at no point does Kipo question the fact that her parents performed an untested experiment on her before she was born. Not to her father, not to her friends, not even to herself. It’s not like Kipo is averse to confrontation: She gets upset at her father for how he treated Scarlemagne, and rightly so. But there was a comeuppance moment with her father about her origins that never came. It makes it seem like Kipo is in no way conflicted about being turned into a human-animal hybrid without her consent, even after learning what happened to her mum because of it. I don’t know if this is something that will be addressed in a (yet-to-be-announced) third season, but if not it absolutely should be.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is currently available on Netflix.