Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Tagged: TV

US animated tv series (2020). DreamWorks Animation Television. Created by Radford Sechrist, based on his web Comic Kipo (2015). Developed for television by Bill Wolkoff. Executive Producers Yoo Jae Myung, Radford Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff. Directors include Matt Ahrens, Michael Chang, Chase Conley and Bridget Underwood. Writers include Christopher Amick, Joanna Lewis, Ben Mekler, Kristine Songco and Bill Wolkoff. Voice cast includes Dee Bradley Baker, Sterling K Brown, Deon Cole, Karen Fukuhara, Amy Landecker, Sydney Mikayla, Dan Stevens and Coy Stewart. 30 24-minute episodes. Colour.

Earth, 200 years in the future: in the chaos following an attack on her Underground settlement, 13 year old Kipo (Fukuhara) is expelled onto the surface. Though she is scientifically literate, this world is unfamiliar to her, with Mutant animals variously displaying extra body parts, gigantism (see Great and Small), anthromorphized bodies and Intelligence (see Uplift). She befriends one, a blue, six-legged, four-eyed pig, calling it Mandu (Baker). Kipo then meets Wolf (Mikayla), a young scavenger girl in a wolf pelt, who very grudgingly agrees to help her return home; they are joined by the laid-back pair of Benson (Stewart), a human, and his pal Dave (Cole), a large talking bug who is on a permanent life-cycle loop. Kipo's colony is also sought by Scarlemagne (Stevens), an ivory-tickling mandrill whose court of primates, including people, dress as eighteenth-century nobles (see Apes as Human): he plans to expand his empire using human soldiers.

Whilst searching for her colony Kipo interacts with various mutant (or Mute) societies: scientifically curious wolves ("let knowledge be our prey" – though as it turns out, so are Kipo and her friends); giant plaid-wearing cats; colossal bunnies; rocker snakes; and a Hive Mind of Tardigrades. The latter lulls the group with wish-fulfilment dreams, the individual tardigrades effectively behaving as living nanobots (see Nanotechnology) to manipulate brains (see Dream Hacking), eventually intending to devour them. Kipo dreams of rejoining her parents; Wolf of Kipo and herself as buff adults, having boisterous adventures on the surface.

Kipo discovers she exhibits animal powers when attacked. Wolf reacts badly: raised by a wolf couple who ultimately used her as their younglings' first hunt, she reacts to Kipo's secret as a similar betrayal, but eventually comes to her senses. The human colony is found, but Scarlemagne now attacks, capturing the population, including Kipo's father.

Kipo and friends foil Scarlemagne but learn he was a mandrill Uplifted, raised and deserted by Kipo's parents. They were Scientists in a colony working to return humans to the surface: they Genetically Engineered Kipo ("I'm a living science experiment – isn't that cool?") to make her part Mute jaguar. Realizing their discovery would be used to reverse engineer the Mutes, they kept it secret (preferring to have humans and Mutes coexist). But at the end of season two the colony's head scientist Dr Emilia (Landecker) has their workbook and plans to reconquer the surface for humans: again Kipo and friends find themselves opposing someone arguing the superiority of one group over another (see Race in SF; Politics). In the final season Dr Amelia develops a serum to convert Mutes back to their animal forms, and nearly succeeds; she has the support of most humans, having convinced them that Mutes are a threat -–though Kipo eventually wins them over. Dr Amelia resorts to transforming herself into a giant two-headed mega-mute, but suffers a loss of Identity. Kipo mercifully saves the Doctor – who shows her gratitude by trying to stab her, only to be taken by a powerful but childish Mute fungus, who plans to make her its friend forever.

Unusually for western children's animation – none too common in adult animation either – the show has a mainly Black cast of characters, with one, Benson, casually stating that he is gay. The vibrantly rendered Post-Holocaust world, interesting worldbuilding, moral themes, good humour, remarkable soundtrack, and likable characters (Kipo and Wolf in particular) made this is a strong and memorable series. [SP]

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