(Courtesy of Netflix)
Unless you are already a devoted follower of cult animation, and have a great appreciation for more mature children’s programming, then it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of Wakfu. Wakfu is an animated show based off of an online video game of the same name and, despite it’s relative obscurity, this show has been aired on-again, off-again, and on-again for almost nine years now. It began airing on French television in October of 2008, currently has two seasons as well as a short OVA (original video animation) series, and a third season is supposedly coming to Netflix later this year. Wakfu takes place in “The World of Twelve”, and follows the quest of a magical young boy named Yugo and his friends as they the search for answers regarding Yugo’s mysterious past and missing family. If you were to just casually glance at this show from a distance, you could be forgiven for writing it off as some silly-looking action cartoon for children, barring the occasional adult joke snuck in here and there. But if you left your curiosity at that then you’d be doing yourself, as well as this cartoon, a massive disservice, because in my and many other people’s humble opinions, Wakfu is an underrated epic adventure story, as well as one of the best cartoons ever released.
The thing that caught me off guard the most about Wakfu as a children’s show, even among all of the other things that it does remarkably well, was it’s truly unique and skillful world-building and art-design. This show has some of the most creative building, character, and creature design that I have ever seen, as well as surprisingly deep and intricate lore for it’s universe. This is likely due in part to the show’s video game roots, seeing how the team at Ankama Animation had multiple character classes and regions to easily flesh out on-screen, bringing with each of them themes of pride, cultural identity, humanity, romance, political conflict, and so many more. Every location, whether it’s a city, a forest, or a different dimension, has unique cultures, races, architecture, and color schemes to distinguish one from one another. Each race is visually and characteristically distinct from one another, with different cultural and societal standards. The different regions even have their own religions and different takes on popular in-universe sports to make the world feel absorbingly big. Not since I first watched Avatar: The Last Airbender have I felt so thoroughly sucked-in to an animated fantasy world that felt so real.
Courtesy of Netflix
While Wakfu is a show aimed primarily at children, like many great cartoons, it manages to appeal strongly to viewers both young and old through the occasional heavy moment or dramatic bit of character growth. While the first few episodes are mostly silly shenanigans, and the show does take breaks from the main plot fairly often throughout the entire series, the plot shows its prominence right from the start and establishes nearly all important aspects of the story immediately. Bodily humor and mild fan-service* share screen-time equally with a looming sense of catastrophe and dreading for the lives of each of the show’s many interesting characters. The show can very effectively shift moods in a matter of seconds, and over time, your opinions on the different characters may change completely as you get to know them. I am unashamed to admit that the final episodes of the first season actually left me in tears.
What will likely catch your eye first is Wakfu’s unique and fluid animation style. The show’s art-style is of course based off of the game it shares its name with, but what you may be surprised to learn, is that Wakfu is animated almost entirely in Adobe Flash. While Flash can produce great looking animation in the right hands (e.g., Black Dynamite, Motorcity), some people unfortunately see it as a crutch for lazy animators, and believe that shows animated in Flash will almost always look cheap or even awful. I can say without hesitation that Wakfu is one of, if not THE best looking show I have ever seen made with Flash. While you can tell that it’s made in this program, if you look close enough to observe the rotation of characters heads and rare copy-pasting of large groups of characters, most of the time you’ll likely be too distracted by the amazing color palette choices, fluid movement, visceral anime-style action sequences, and unique, highly expressive characters to notice or even care.
Courtesy of Netflix
As much as I love Wakfu, it is certainly not perfect. Particular character relations and arcs, while interesting, aren’t handled as well as they could have been, usually in the way the character plots begin or the way the end. The show also repeats certain themes a little bit too much when it comes to the conflicts presented in each episode. I swear the main cast washes up on the shore of like three or four different islands, fight or compete in giant arenas like four or five times, and get turned into zombies or mind-controlled monsters of some sort so many times I lost count. Also–I felt I should at least mention this–there is a modest amount of fan-service in this show that mostly pertains to female characters. It’s not too distracting, and thankfully I don’t feel as though it ever crosses over into being tasteless, but it’s still easy to notice and may turn some viewers off, however for the most part it is done subtly.
I also have two major tips to hand in regards to how somebody should actually watch Wakfu. The first, and MOST important tip being that you should not watch this show with the English Dub. I usually prefer subs to dubs (subtitles to dubbing) when looking at foreign works as some things are not translation well most of the time, and while that isn’t too often the case with Wakfu, the real sticking point is the voice acting. Compared to the original French voice actors for the show, many of whom carry immense weight and personality behind their performances, the English Dub just sounds corny and distractingly childish in comparison. The dub isn’t really that bad, but it just doesn’t compare to the original French, which I strongly advise you watch with subtitles.
The second tip I will give you is in regards to the way in which Wakfu as a show is distributed. The first two seasons of the show are currently available on Netflix (and will likely be staying there seeing how Netflix has actually acquired the rights to the show) so that’s obviously the best place to watch the main series. However, there is also a three-part series made up of 40 minute special episodes that take place just after the end of Season 2, titled Wakfu: The Quest for the Six Eliatrope Dofus (also available on Netflix and should be watched after you are done with the main series). The last bit to remember is that there are two special prequel episodes, entitled “Noximilien the Watchmaker” and “Ogrest the Legend”, which to avoid confusion, should probably be watched after everything else I’ve mentioned. These two episodes, unfortunately, are not on Netflix, so you’ll have to track them down elsewhere if you are interested in them; thankfully, despite how good they are as episodes, these episodes are not necessary to understand the show’s overarching plot.
While Wakfu is far from perfect, and the often silly style of comedy and character interactions may turn some people off, it is nonetheless an excellent animated series that deserves far more attention outside of it’s own country than it has received. I recommend Wakfu to anybody who enjoys both action and comedy cartoons, and especially, especially to fans of shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Wakfu is an excellent video game adaptation, a beautiful Flash-animated show, and an often dark and emotionally gripping children’s show. It’s like a brilliant unicorn, and one that more people need to take a ride on, sooner rather than later.
Courtesy of Netflix
GREYSON DITZLER | A pirate in a trove of hidden gems | KXSU Arts and Media Contributor
*Editor’s note: For those unfamiliar with this term, “fan-service” refers to material that is intentionally added to please the audience. If you are interested in learning more about this method, see this link.