Tread lightly. There are spoilers ahead.
When I heard that the second season of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts was dropping a mere six months after the first season was released on Netflix, I was thrilled.
In January, Kipo had burst through the Seasonal Affective Disorder of Minnesota with a colorful, chaotic romp overlaid with a riotously cohesive soundtrack. I was entranced by the series’ show-don’t-tell worldbuilding and exceptional character design. Rapping astronomer wolves. Heavy metal rattlesnakes. A colony of tardigrades that will dream you to death.
The showrunners did an excellent job of carefully creating the mythos of the show’s central villain before revealing him, a veritable Tantalean effort that would arguably be lost on most of the show’s youth-skewed market but appreciated by those us still chasing the animated high of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
But for those hoping that the show would recreate the same kind of slow-burn reveal of Wolf’s backstory and provide further opportunities to dig into the whimsical sandbox universe, you, like myself, would be disappointed.
Where Season Two Falls Flat
Season two suffers from a pacing and punch issue, primarily. Within the first six episodes, two major plot lines are revealed: 1) Kipo is a Mega Mutant Jaguar and 2) Kipo’s mother, Song, is a Mega Mutant Monkey, notably the one we encountered in season one.
Neither reveal quite has the same oomph we got out of the major emotional kicks in the first season. Kipo’s reveal happens in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, failing to provide us with the same grace to savor the moment given to reveals like the discovery of the “clover” in season one.
The showrunners tried to mimic the dramatic reveal of Wolf’s backstory through flashbacks and revelations about Song, Lio and their grand experiment, but the show reveals too few details in each snippet in moments that are overshadowed by other plot points.
The show struggles to balance its revolving-door introduction of new species and locales with callbacks to favorites of the first season. We get to revisit the Timbercats and the Umlaut Snakes, heavy favorites from the first season, but these appearances feel shoe-horned in.
Their presence, although underwhelming, serves to do little more than remind us that the new introductions pale in comparison. Some of the new additions act more as opportunities to make puns (Fun Gus and the TheOtters) than as opportunities to reveal new things about the world. Other, more central characters, like the Fates-reminiscent Chevre Sisters, annoy more than they inspire intrigue.
Many of this season’s players feel too one-note, including the show’s new villain, Dr. Emilia. The show’s newly introduced villain never achieves the same level of mythos as Scarlemagne and, even by the end of the show, fails to feel like a real threat. Even Dave spends much of the season as a vessel for jokes about his molting mechanics.
Where Season Two Triumphs
Ever the pessimist, I’d rather lead with the bad than with the good. That doesn’t mean that Kipo is without its laudable qualities.
Kipo is still a visual force. No matter what age you are, it’s easy to get lost in the brilliant color schemes and inventive location design. From Scarlemagne’s grand haunts to the Chevre Sisters’ jungle hideaway, every setting provides a feast for the eyes.
In the same vein, the show’s soundtrack continues to kick. We get smaller amounts of the exceptional musical direction that we did in season one, but tracks like “Down With Humans” and the “Humans With Capes” instrumental slap just as hard as anything you loved in January.
It scratches the social commentary itch. Season one introduced us to a power dynamic similar to those posed by almost any media involving mutants: mutants are the next step in evolution and humans need to start taking the backseat. In season two, we really receive the full brunt of that struggle in myriad ways as the two factions voice and act on their disdain for one another.
The Final Verdict
Shows like ATLA, Steven Universe and Adventure Time have demonstrated that shows geared toward younger audiences can still have deep lore and mature themes that will appeal to a broader audience. In its first season, Kipo presented itself as a contender to eventually join that pantheon with a strong follow-up, but season two under-delivered on that lofty goal.
I’d call it Worth a Watch, But Not a Re-Watch.
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