Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts returns for its sophomore season this week, and while it may not be exactly as mysterious as the first, it's just as funny, colorful, and heartfelt. One of Kipo's greatest strengths is its ability to shift from dark to hilarious and back again without missing a beat, all while constantly and consistently promoting the power of love, friendship, and determination. In that respect, Season 2 is more of the same, but in the best sort of way.
At the end of the first season, Kipo's friends and family from her burrow home -- including her father, Lio -- were whisked away by the villainous Scarlemagne, a mandrill with the ability to control the minds of primates. Oh, and Kipo's got a giant furry paw now. The second season largely focuses on her journey to mastering her new abilities in order to enact a daring rescue mission, all the while learning more about her past and how she, Scarlemagne, and her father intersect.
And that's the narrative crux of the whole thing. The rest of the cast provide admirable performances, including Coy Stewart as Benson, Sydney Mikayla as Wolf, and Deon Cole as Dave, but it's Karen Fukuhara's Kipo and Dan Stevens' Scarlemagne that especially steal the show. Without spoiling too much, and as mentioned above, the three characters have significant history between them, and though Season 2 is only 10 episodes, it manages to pack in some serious character development without resorting to any easy stereotypes. In what comes across as particularly poignant at the time of its release, it's all about the choices we make in the here and now rather than what's come before. There is always the opportunity to do better, but it's a choice we must consciously make.
Though the remains of the world might be divided between humans and mutes in the show, Kipo the character bridges that divide, and regularly provides the most compassionate response to literally everything, but she also isn't afraid to tussle if it comes to it. But at every turn, with every person or mute, it is clear from the start that she would much rather crack jokes, eat, and play games. Fukuhara's ability to go from bubbly youth to serious fighter is used masterfully, but never without cause.
As the primary antagonist set up by the first season, it would have been easy enough to showcase Scarlemagne purely as a villain, but the second outing actually gives background that will likely leave many sympathizing with the character despite his actions. It's significant enough that by far my favorite song on the soundtrack is now one that basically features just Scarlemagne and a piano, and that's saying something considering how incredible the soundtrack is overall.
As with many of the DreamWorks Animation titles produced for Netflix, Kipo is constantly laying the groundwork for future plot points while still trying to wrap up what's come before, and that sometimes leaves individual seasons a little wanting when it comes to secondary or tertiary arcs that are plodding along in the background. Season 2 certainly has its fair share. That isn't to say that it's a bad thing, but there are absolutely weaker elements that don't really come together -- and it seems like they were never intended to, instead setting up for some future resolution down the line.
If you liked what came before, Season 2 of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts will absolutely satisfy, but it never quite manages to be as magical as the first season. The soundtrack doesn't feature anything that tops Season 1's "Newton Wolves Rap" from GZA and John Hodgman, and while the A plot of Scarlemagne vs. Kipo is realized beautifully, the rest is a little lackluster by comparison. It's not perfect, by any means, but it absolutely left me wanting more.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts Season 2 is set to release on Netflix this coming Friday, June 12th. The first season is currently available to stream.