Netflix’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a post-apocalyptic world in which humans live underground and nature has reclaimed the surface Kipo and her three pals trek across the above-ground world try to reunite protagonist Kipo with her underground community.
While each episode focuses on an encounter with a strange, new creature, the show’s foundation is the four characters’ relationships, which provides a source of tension and joy. Even in a wacky world full of guitar-playing snakes and giant multi-eared bunnies, the moments between characters feel real and grounded. Case in point: Kipo has one of the most chill coming out scenes in all-ages programming, one that’s notable for just how understated it is.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for episode 6 of Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts]
After Benson takes Kipo to a carnival for her birthday, she begins to develop a bit of a crush on him. As the pair ride a ferris wheel and look up at the impressive night sky, Kipo confesses that she likes him. Benson doesn’t return her feelings.
“You like me as a friend,” says Kipo.
“Yes!” says Benson. “Because … I’m gay.”
Kipo accepts this right away, a bit embarrassed, but otherwise unhurt. The interaction is short, and in a landscape where more and more animated shows are finding room for inclusivity, not that significant at first glance. But this particular scene is a first for all-ages animation: Benson actually says that he’s gay.
Despite the fact that LGBTQ represetation in all-ages programming is better than ever, no one has actually uttered the words “I’m gay” in an all-ages animation series. While some shows feature characters in more prominent and explicitly queer relationships than others (Mr. Ratburn’s Gay Rat Wedding in Arthur, for instance, as well as Bow’s dads on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power), up until now, no character has actually come out to another.
One could argue that it’s a matter of showing and not telling. The highlights noted by GLAAD over the years emphasize worlds and settings where being in a gay relationship is not challenged or seen as something different. No one in Arthur is confused when Mr. Ratburn walks up the aisle with Patrick, the nice chocolate store owner (in fact, all the kids breathe a sigh of relief because they thought he was getting married to a real Bridezilla — who turned out to be his sister). When Rayla off-handedly mentions her uncle-figure Runaan’s male partner in The Dragon Prince, Callum never questions. In She-Ra, Adora and Glimmer meet Bow’s dads without batting an eye and all the citizens of Beach City attended Ruby and Sapphire’s big day in Steven Universe.
These are all important depictions of queer characters, especially in terms of presenting positive relationships, but there’s a different effect to a character proclaiming “I’m gay,” let alone a lead character. Disney Channel’s live-action Andi Mack had a continual coming out storyline, with Cyrus realizing his feelings for friend Jonah and coming out to his friends across two seasons (sometimes tearfully, sometimes casually), Kipo and the Wonderbeasts does it for the first time in animation. And compared to the dramatic storyline in Andi Mack, Kipo’s scene is more understated, which makes it particularly noteworthy.
Coming out storylines tend to be weighty ones, where the announcement ripples through every facet of life. While those sorts of stories should continue to be told, there are casual instances between friends that are just as meaningful. Benson’s coming out scene isn’t a big, tearful affair, but a quiet moment between two people who are close. The LGBTQ+ community knows you don’t just come out once, but over and over, to co-workers, to new friends, to prospective love interests. Kipo and the Wonderbeasts gets that right.
For those worried about whether Benson’s sexuality is reduced to that one line, don’t be. While the show skews more action-heavy and doesn’t really do romance, Benson meets a cute boy in the last episode and is instantly twitterpattered. Even before that, when being lulled into a conjured fantasy world by water bug Tad Mulholland, Benson dreams up a party full of cute boys and spews rainbows. We stan a king.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is streaming now on Netflix.
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