The Importance of Benson in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
What is Kipo?
*MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!* Indicated by red spoiler warning text ;)
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is an animated Netflix show consisting of three seasons with a total of 30 episodes, each with a duration of 24 minutes. The setting is a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the 23rd Century where animals have mutated and gained human intelligence. They overthrew the humans who are now forced to live in burrows underground. The show follows Kipo Oak, a human who got separated from her people when their burrow got attacked by a Super Mute, a gigantic animal mutant. The show got praised for its representation and diversity of the main cast. Praise is well-deserved because the main characters are all people of color of which one is an in-show-confirmed gay character.
Kipo Oak, the protagonist of the show, is a young biracial girl with a pacifist and curious outlook on life. She’s interested in science and wants to know what the surface world looks like. She is joined by Benson, a gay Black boy and his anthropomorphic bug friend Dave. The latter often being the cast’s comic relief. Their group of friends is completed by Mandu, a food obsessed mutated pig and Wolf, a Black girl who kind of fills the Brooding Loner But Secretly Caring archetype. Together they form a great, diverse cast that bounces well off and compliment each other.
In this post we like to highlight the character of Benson and his importance when it comes to queer representation in the media.
You can’t be what you can’t see
Representation is important for many reasons. First, it’s important to see people similar to oneself shown on the big screen. Seeing oneself represented in big media shows people that they’re not alone. That there are others like them. It also shows the possibilities people with a similar identity can have. Because you can’t be what you can’t see.
Secondly, it’s important for other people to see characters that may not share the same identity as them. Representation tells people that everyone is worthy of a story, of living the fantasy. It can create empathy and humanize marginalized people.
Enter Benson Mekler
Benson Mekler is an outgoing, optimistic teenager who, at one point, befriended a mutant bug named Dave. Together they travel around the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Benson and Dave’s buddy relationship is the living proof that humans and mutes can live together in peace. The animosity or friendship between humans and mutes is a theme that often returns in Kipo. Benson, in that regard, is optimistic and hopes that one day the world can be reunited again.
Benson is one of the three protagonists and appears in all episodes except for the first episode of season 1. There are many instances where the group gets separated but there are always scenes where the focus is on Benson. Remarkable is that there is no big focus on romance throughout the show, but the romantic arc that is present, belongs to Benson.
In episode 6 of the first season, Benson explicitly tells Kipo that he’s gay, after she had expressed some romantic interest in him. She awkwardly apologizes but is quick to also point out she’s glad to be friends with him and that he’s being himself. This more intimate moment is quickly interrupted by the show’s antagonist attacking Kipo and Benson.
In many shows, the word ‘gay’ is not explicitly said and if it’s hinted at, it usually remains a one-liner, the character’s sexuality restricted to only that one scene. In Kipo Benson’s sexuality is luckily not sidelined nor is it his only defining character trait. Instead, Benson remains a well-rounded character with depth. He grows as a character alongside the others. And to top it off, Benson is allowed to have a crush on another boy and actually get in a romantic relationship with said boy. Troy, his crush and later boyfriend is introduced in episode 10 of the first season. He is a mixed Asian/Latino human from the same burrow as Kipo. Over the following two seasons, their friendship deepens and they develop romantic feelings that get reciprocated. Romantic tropes that are usually reserved to straight characters are now used for Benson’s romance arc. This included but isn’t limited to:
- Accidentally falling on top of your crush
- Romantic slow-motion shot with sappy background music when your crush appears
- A Prom episode, Prahm in-universe (Party Reconciling All Humans and Mutes)
In this latter episode, we see Benson nervously propose to Troy, asking to be his Prahmdate. Troy accepts and the boys share a hug, followed by a kiss. During the Prahm arc, we also see Wolf being given a special cape as her Prahm outfit. This is remarkable because up until now, Wolf has always been this tomboy character. In any other show, the “Prom Episode” might’ve been the turning point where this masculine girl or woman gets put in make-up and a girly outfit. But in Kipo they respect Wolf’s clothing preferences and give her something fancy she actually likes. Gender-nonconformity, especially in black girls, is often punished or not represented at all, so this is extra affirming representation in an already great show.
The casualness in which Benson’s sexuality is presented is refreshing. There’s no Big Coming-Out part, his friends are accepting, Troy’s father is also a supporter. Homophobia seems to be non-existing, even in this post-apocalyptic world. Benson and Troy’s romantic arc gets treated like any straight arc would get treated. In a real world where homophobia is rife and even fictional shows and movies often give gay characters tragedy and death, Kipo’s normalization and celebration is a truly needed breath of fresh air and relief.