Arts

Twende: Entertaining, but could use more Kenyan creative touch

BDTwende (1)

Twende follows the adventures of Twende, a pangolin, known as the slowest creature in the savannah. PHOTO | POOL

The modern social media algorithm is highly proficient at curating your feed to align with your interests. As an artist, my feed naturally overflows with art-related and creative posts, particularly those featuring animation. Over the past few days, one animated series consistently appeared in my feed, sparking my interest, fast forward to the weekend and am seated about to press the play button to watch a few episodes of the said animation. In that very instant, a Swahili proverb crossed my mind: Chema Chajiuza, Kibaya Chajitembeza, roughly translating to "Quality speaks for itself, while mediocrity requires promotion." I take a moment to reflect, smile to myself, and then proceed to press play.

Twende

The first 2D animated series produced by Showmax, Twende, follows the adventures of Twende, a pangolin, known as the slowest creature in the savannah. Twende's belief that "Life is about the journey, not the destination" constantly contradicts his job as a boda boda driver in the bustling fictional East African city of Milima.

What works

One notable aspect that stood out was their adeptness at utilising visual gags and cues to amplify scenes. They artfully integrated small, clever details that periodically emerged, transforming a conventional scene into a humorous experience.

This also enhances the show's rewatch value, as I kept uncovering numerous details I had overlooked during my second viewing. The quick and lively pacing, coupled with clever editing, contributes to a playful atmosphere that heightens the overall entertainment value. This series never loses sight of its primary aim: providing pure entertainment and not taking itself too seriously.

The episodes occasionally address societal issues such as our dependence on the internet. However, they opt for a lighthearted and engaging approach to these topics. The primary voice actors are from Kenya, and you initially expect to recognise many of their talents.

Yet, due to the excellent combination of skilful writing and clever voice performances, the series completely immerses you. Gradually, you become less focused on the personalities behind the characters and more connected to the characters themselves.

The music and sound effects play a significant role in enhancing the scenes, but the beauty of it is that they appear and disappear at just the right times, never overstaying their welcome.

The character designs are easily distinguishable, catering perfectly to young viewers, while occasionally introducing characters that evoke a sense of nostalgia for older audiences. The inclusion of familiar African patterns in the visuals effectively roots the story in an African context.

The colour palette strikes a balance between vibrancy and subtlety, avoiding overwhelming the viewer with its warm and harmonious tones that align with the overall tone of the show.

Kenyan voices

The voice cast primarily features Kenyan talent, including Junior Nyong'o (known for his roles in The Legend of Lwanda Magere and Hamlet) lending his voice to the character Twende. June Gachui (recognised for her work in Crime and Justice and Nairobi Half-Life) portrays Nuru, an unlikely best friend and navigator.

Elsaphan Njora (from Super Sema and Kati Kati) voices the Boss, a financially strained and weary hyena who owns the boda boda agency where Nuru and Twende are employed. Charles Ouda (known for Crime and Justice) takes on the role of Kimbe, a flashy stunt driver, while Mkamzee Mwatela (famous for her role in Mali) voices Madam Mongoose, the rival CEO of the nefarious tech empire Goober, in addition to several other talented actors.

Nitpicks

The closing credits serve as a reminder that this production isn't exclusively Kenyan. Although it includes individuals like Kwame as an executive producer and Musyoka as the music coordinator, along with a handful of other Kenyan contributors here and there, my primary concern lies in the limited Kenyan representation within the art and animation departments.

With the exception of Elvis Wairia Kagwe, there is a noticeable absence of Kenyan artists in these crucial areas. I would have preferred to see a more significant presence of Kenyan talent in the animation department.

While the visual style, characterised by its clean lines and flat colours, possesses a universally appealing quality and streamlines the production process, I believe it could have incorporated a more African essence by involving additional Kenyan artists, particularly in the preproduction phase, such as the concept art team, or by collaborating with concept artists from Kenya.

Final word

This show serves as a testament to the idea that animation is not limited to a young audience.

Twende is a fast-paced, highly entertaining series that caters to both a youthful audience and those young at heart. It skillfully addresses complex themes playfully and enjoyably, making it a delightful experience for everyone. Most importantly, the animation never forgets what it is and never forgets its purpose which is to entertain.

Produced by Braintrust in London and Mind’s Eye Creative in Johannesburg, Twende is the collaborative creation of Charlie Maas, Kayla Archer, Mike Scott, and Regan Riskas Maas, with Greig Cameron, known for his work on Seal Team and Supa Strikas, overseeing the show. It's only grounded in Africa by the predominant Kenyan voice talent and selective visual elements and themes. The 2D animated series is on Showmax.

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