“Lady & Peebles” Review

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Original Airdate: August 20, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Cole Sanchez & Rebecca Sugar

Lady Rainicorn and Princess Bubblegum’s relationship is one that always baffles me. In the original series pitch bible for Adventure Time, the friendship between PB and LR is really exaggerated to the point where it includes “when she [Lady Rainicorn] wakes up and doesn’t see Princess Bubblegum, she’ll dash around the castle grounds gaily searching for her mistress.” While the pitch bible isn’t necessarily the most factual piece of reference for AT’s current status, it still was insinuated in the very early days of the show that these two were supposed to be close pals – hell, PB’s even riding on top of Lady in the opening theme. Besides that, we get a few instances of the two together, namely in the pilot and What Have You Done? and… yeah that’s about it. Weird that we’re supposed to believe these two are close companions when the show has never suggested otherwise, until this particular episode. It’s nothing particularly telling of the friendship between the two, but it does give us some insight into two of Adventure Time’s most prominent female leads.

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The beginning starts off as a compelling, tension filled bit of expository information regarding Finn and Jake’s disappearance. It’s enlightened by Bubblegum’s goofy behavior which is always refreshing; I enjoy how she can go from a very stern and solemn ruler to somehow who is just as wacky and unusual as the rest of the cast of AT. The tenseness comes from Lady’s perspective, and, while a good majority of us have no idea what she’s saying, Niki Yang delivers it so eloquently and in such a sincere tone that it keeps my attention despite the fact that I can’t understand Korean. I feel like I’m watching a weighty foreign dub throughout this scene, and despite the fact that it feels heavy and serious, it’s once again lessened by PB’s totally genuine, yet sarcastic reactions to Lady’s monologue. You can tell she’s taking every word LR says seriously, but she does so in such a hammy and amplified way that is then followed by such a minuscule response that it just cracks me up. I love any depictions of PB’s character, but goofy PB really just rubs me the right way. Also, I’ve never mentioned it before, but the way Lady communicates with others is done so in such a non-pandering way. Most English-speaking viewers won’t be able to understand her, but they don’t go the unnatural route of having every character that interacts with her respond to her with “what do you mean you feel [this way] because of [this]?” There’s no spoon feeding with the writers trying to make us understand every single thing Lady says or feels, and we’re just generally supposed to accept this based on the way she emotes and her tone, which is so much more effective than having an English-speaking character repeat every single thing she says. It would defeat the point of having a Korean-speaking character to begin with.

In my somewhat scathing review of King Worm, I mentioned that the slow pacing of the episode was what really brought it down, and this episode takes its sweet time with the entire middle section as well. The only difference to me is that it actually works to strengthen the episode a great deal. The entire expedition through the black ice cave is remarkable, once again showing off the terrific backgrounds (BGs have been on point this season!) equipped with an ominous atmosphere to really drive the tension and mystery even further. Lady & Peebles embraces the quieter and more subdued moments to make a very convincingly unnerving atmosphere, and also helps make the action sequences more impactful. The action sequences themselves aren’t anything special, though the girls do face some visually interesting foes, from hand beasts to a giant tongue. These battles really show off how Lady and PB deal with physical combat: PB is equipped with her typical scientific technology, while Lady herself seems to be somewhat of a pacifist. Lady’s strengths seem much more on a moral and virtuous level rather than her own physicality. She’s evasive and defensive with her own skills, such as her tactic of phasing through walls and ability of flight, though I think it’s tough to picture Lady being someone who would throw punches, especially with her condition that’s revealed later on.

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The real icing on the cake is the reveal that Ricardio was behind Finn and Jake’s disappearances, however. I wasn’t too big on Ricardio or the episode he debuted in, for that matter, but by God, Sugar did her damnedest to make his return as chilling and uncomfortable as possible, and boy, does it work. They’ve somehow managed to make him seem even creepier and more grotesque than his first appearance, and added a layer of body horror with his loosely connected limbs. And for the first time, he does feel like a legitimate threat. I think the brief scene of him breaking Ice King’s bones was totally wince-worthy, and this time, he’s an actual adversary to Finn and Jake. Despite being easily beaten the first time, Ricardio had the upperhand by poisoning the boys with zanoits (something he and Bubblegum both shared a fond interest of in Ricardio the Heart Guy). It makes for a nice role reversal that Finn and Jake are now the ones who are in danger and PB has to be the one that saves them, and really shows how far she has come since the beginning of the series as a character.

After an unnervingly blatant moment of Ricardio making sexual advances towards the princess, Bubblegum is able to face off with him in a very simple, yet effective takedown. Sugar herself said it was really rewarding to include a scene where Peebles is able to engage in hand-to-hand combat without any of her weapons, and yeah, it’s pretty awesome to watch. It doesn’t feel out of character or like a manipulative tactic from the series to highlight feminism, but instead a great spotlight chance to showcase PB’s true strengths: her role as an intellectual. She isn’t able to defeat Ricardio specifically because she’s really buff or fierce, but because she identifies factually that Ricardio is simply not built as a stable living creature. She denotes this by saying, “I know a thing or two about building a body out of biomass,” which could both refer to herself, as well as her people. Bubblegum can easily identify strengths and weaknesses within living creatures simply because she built herself and her people from scratch. She can use her knowledge to help create life on all layers of the earth, or destroy any artificial being in a matter of seconds if need be. It’s a moment that really had me fully invested in PB as a character. Season four is really her first shining season in my eyes, and this particular battle had me cheering her on and just acknowledging how fucking badass she is by the end of it. It’s an excellent bit of growth for what was originally a damsel-esque character, and it’s terrific to see how far she has come from that stereotype.

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So with that, Finn, Jake, and Ice King are saved, Ricardio is defeated, and everything returns to normal… that is, besides the fact that Lady reveals to Jake that she’s pregnant. I love how this bit is handled, too. With Lady’s tears and general tone, it seems like she and Jake had no plans or desires to have children just yet, and Jake’s humorous closing remark suggests that as well. Despite the fact that the two end up loving their children, it’s clear that they’re a couple that wanted to play things safe and casually for the time being. And how ballsy is it that an unmarried couple are having children on a kid’s show? Pen Ward mentioned in the commentary that the original pitch was to have Jake and Lady break up, due to the stress that Lady endures when Jake goes on adventures, I’m so glad they didn’t go that route. It would’ve been incredibly melodramatic and pointless for a couple as laidback and caring as Jake and Lady to break up, especially given Lady’s devoted and unconditional love for her boyfriend. The pregnancy reveal honestly strengthens the episode for me as well. I love the little bits of foreshadowing, such as the heart monitor reading seven heart signatures instead of two. It also increases the impact of some scenes much more – I feel legitimately sick to my stomach every time I watch Ricardio tie Lady’s body in a knot. I know that aspect never comes into fruition (a lot of people argue Jake Jr.’s face is a birth defect, but that theory has been officially debunked) but it’s still very gruesome to watch a pregnant woman abused in such a way.

I enjoy this one, primarily because it does spotlight these two characters who are rarely seen together, yet feels so genuine and powerful. I don’t think there’s a single other time in the series where PB and Lady are seen together, yet, this episode does such a terrific job of building the unseen connection between them that I never have a hard time believing they are close friends. It also adds layers onto their individual characters, and leaves us wanting more from each of these gals. It’s both honest and telling for both PB and Lady, and adds excitement for the future of their respective character arcs.

Favorite line: “Then, I’ll use my Ball Blam Burglerber!”

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“King Worm” Review

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Original Airdate: August 13, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Bert Youn, Steve Wolfhard & Somvilay Xayaphone

There’s no denying that Adventure Time has some kind of giant dream fetish. Up to this point, there’s been several trippy dream sequences (namely in The New Frontier and BMO Noire) and there will be many, many more to come, but this is the first episode to completely revolve around the absurdity of Finn’s unconscious projections. There’s a couple of neat ideas in here, like the idea of foreshadowing future events to come and resurfacing Finn’s developed fears throughout the years, but ultimately, it kinda falls flat for me. The humor of the episode derives from unusual and bizarre imagery, but I don’t think King Worm ever commits to this concept strongly enough and the end result is a very slow-paced and somewhat awkward entry.

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Somvilay drew Finn’s hat’s ears longer unintentionally at first, and the staff just kind of rolled with it as a way to distinguish Finn’s dream-self.

I mentioned in my Burning Low review that the preview for that episode was a giant tease, and while I don’t think this one falls under the same category, it’s a preview that was so fucking awesome that it made the entire experience legitimately underwhelming. I mean, check this shit out! It’s sick. It promises a high-stakes battle in Finn’s dreamworld that he may not even be able to escape. And there’s a keyword included in that sentence that’s the main issue of the episode: the stakes feel incredibly low. The way Finn is written in this one is just somewhat bland and dull, he doesn’t seem to react to his environment that strongly, and it’s actually tough for me to feel like there’s a legitimate conflict when Finn is completely stone-faced for half of the episode. He doesn’t even slightly flinch when his best friend melts in front of him! I know he realizes that it’s not real, but still, real or not, that’s gotta be traumatizing.

With the dream sequences, there’s nothing that creatively interesting to me. Again, there’s hints of the future with Finn glancing at his alternate self in the mirror and the army of Gunters which are nice touches, and there’s a few standout moments I enjoy. The dream version of Lady was adorably creepy, if that’s even possible (though that scene in particular really took its sweet time), and the bit with Joshua added a psychedelic edge, but besides that I can’t really think of anything that noteworthy in the first act. A lot of the “weird” moments aren’t really unique, psychedelic, or funny enough to get a reaction out of me. The episode was heavily inspired by YouTube Poops, and honestly, that just isn’t my type of humor. Not to downplay the creativity that goes into some YouTube Poops, but even with some of the better videos I’ve seen, they always come up hit-or-miss regardless. The season nine episode Orb later attempts this same plot with arguably much better results because it knows how to make dreams over-the-top and insane enough to be enjoyable. This one is a lot more subtle and downplayed, which works on occasion, like the scene where Ice King is running up the hill and then randomly runs right up to Finn and Jake, but I think any type of story like this is strengthened by being as overtly surreal as possible. While this one doesn’t fail at doing so, it fails at choosing the proper tone to assist the story. In addition to that, there’s a ton of little bits of information and the subconscious in Orb that are able to be analyzed further and thought about in great detail, while King Worm doesn’t give us much to chew on in the aftermath. Not that every episode of AT should have to be analyzed in great detail, but there should be some lasting impression.

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The one bit I do really like is where Finn does face his subconscious fears, namely involving his fear of the ocean, the ghost from The Creeps, the Lich, clowns, and, most notably, the idea that he is “too young” and is therefore looked down upon. It blends complexities within Finn’s inner soul perfectly while also being perfectly amusing, and is the final driving point that defeats the King Worm. Though enjoyable, I do wish this whole scenario was a bit longer and even darker. I think it is played a bit too comically and never acquires enough time for legitimate fruition.

The other thing I really like about this one are the backgrounds. Besides regulars ghostshrimp and Santino Lascano, background designers for this episode in particular included Derek Hunter, Jon Vermilyea, and Peter Herpich (Tom’s brother). The landscapes are very well crafted in a topsy-turvy sort of way, and they all look beautiful. It’s just the kind of imaginative absurdity I wanted from the rest of the episode. Somvilay also includes some of his trademark dynamic shots, which usually look very off-putting, but work with this type of episode regardless.

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The entire last half was boarded by Steve Wolfhard, his first board for the series!

Overall, this one just doesn’t sell me. I’m not even sure what the timeline is with King Worm; the character of King Worm hypnotized Finn and Jake all the way back in Evicted!, so are we just supposed to believe he came back a second time after hypnotizing them the first? It makes no sense to me. I think it could’ve been a lot more engaging and imaginative with its humor, and as is, it stands as one of my least favorite episodes of the fourth season.

Favorite line: “Make-out dreams? Nice…”

“BMO Noire” Review

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Original Airdate: August 6, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Skyler Page

BMO Noire is the first true BMO-centric episode of the series, and it quite delightfully blends experimental themes of black and white crime films with a hint of BMO development added in. This episode is essentially working off of everything we’ve learned about BMO so far; despite his childlike wonder, BMO wishes only one thing: to have normal “living” emotions like Jake and Finn. And while BMO does experience feelings deep down similar to his close friends, he still is a robot on the outside, which has kickstarted a lot of inner turmoil that has caused him to be almost borderline sociopathic at times. No matter how cute BMO is, there’s not denying that a lot that goes through his head and his everyday actions are generally fucked up. BMO Noire is essentially the best kind of episode to showcase this aspect of his character; it’s a fun and sweet adventure on the surface, but underneath is a layer of BMO’s dark and tortured imagination.

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It’s probably appropriate to start off this review by mentioning that BMO was totally playing with himself at the beginning of this episode. There is just simply no other way around it. The episode wastes no time, however, by immediately setting up the somewhat trivial conflict that is taken completely seriously by our robot friend. The episode pulls off many noir-themed references and homages very humorously as well as effectively. The episode, of course, is completely in black-and-white (something that Pendleton Ward was really psyched about doing), there’s the bit where BMO steps on his controller cord as if it were a cigarette bud, and the dialogue between the characters (or, in this case, the characters BMO has created) is all very 1950’s. A lot of the exchanges between BMO and his imaginary friends, though very amusing, can also be taken completely straight as well. This episode is full of its funny moments, but honestly, I found myself laughing a lot less after watching it this time around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. I just think anything noir-themed is pretty fucking cool, so I mostly enjoy this one out of admiration for its tone and style rather than believing it’s a straight-up hilarious parody of crime films, and I think that’s how most people feel as well. You can laugh at the fact that BMO is legitimately having a serious discussion about his past relationship with a chicken named Lorraine, but it’s played so dramatically by BMO that it still amazingly kind of works as a somewhat somber tale.

Of course, I also enjoy this one for the aforementioned development of BMO’s character. Throughout the episode, it’s filled with a lot of silly conversations between Ronnie the rat, Lorraine the chicken, Lieutenant Whiskers, and others that exist as talking figures in BMO’s imagination. They start out harmless and playful enough, but BMO’s dream sequence really sheds light to the questionable and histrionic elements of his actions. BMO concocted the entire scheme, meaning he stole from his friend, supposedly “killed” Bebe, put lipstick on F&J’s pet chicken, and knew the entire sequence was all in his imagination.

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It makes me question what exactly BMO’s motivation behind this elaborate plan was; was it to get attention from Finn and Jake and appear as a hero like the two of them do? Was it strictly for the cause of going on his own enjoyable investigation? Or, going off of the last reason, was it to ultimately feel more “human”? The dream sequence also suggests this aspect (boarded by Tom Herpich, who always does a standout job with dreams or hallucinations, but this is definitely an exceptional one) as BMO is briefly seen with a human face, the same human face seen in the title card for this episode. I think it once again stresses the fact at how BMO feels like a living creature and desires to be like any living creature, but simply cannot be one with the body he was given and the function he was, supposedly up to this point, made for. BMO will always be Finn and Jake’s cute, baby robot, but with any child, there are layers of hidden trauma and turmoil that I’m sure BMO himself isn’t completely cognizant about. The only thing he is aware of is that he has a conscious desire, without soundly too cliche, to “be more”. This is hinted during his exchange with NEPTR, leading to one of the funniest and most poignant lines of the episode, “no NEPTR, I am not like you.” It’s works as a laugh-worthy “fuck you” to Adventure Time’s most in-universally ignored character, but also as a glimpse into what BMO believes he truly is, and that’s something more than just a robot.

This heaviness is blended nicely with the fact that, once again, it is all in BMO’s imagination. I like all of his interactions with these characters, and how he’s able to effectively converse with Lorraine or Ronnie without them ever responding back. There’s a really great moment where Lieutenant Whiskers hands BMO a confession from Ronnie, and there’s just no way in the fucking world someone actually handed it to him. It just kinda sticks up out of nowhere, which harms the authenticity that all of this episode is just in BMO’s head, but it’s so hilarious that I don’t even really mind. There’s also moments reminding us that BMO is indeed still a robot, like the controller stomping I had mentioned and the bit where BMO splashes his face in water, only for his circuits to smoke a bit. I’m actually really glad Herpich got to work on this one. Not even for a writing reason, but I just feel like his really chunky and squishy drawings of the characters blend nicely with the black-and-white and old-timey feel of the episode. It was a nice stylized choice. Also, huge kudos to Niki Yang in this one. Ako Castuera refers to this one as a “Niki Yang voice acting extravaganza” in the commentary, and that’s pretty much the best way of putting it. Yang does an excellent job of pulling of different, distinct and silly voices for each of the newly introduced characters. 

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And after all the psychological issues he goes through, BMO is able to have a moment of victory and lightheartedness as Finn and Jake return home from Glob knows where. The staff would oddly elaborate on this subplot later in season five, but we’ll get to that when the time comes. The ending does hint that BMO does want to be more like Finn and Jake and go on adventures like the two of them, so it’s endearing that he’s able to have a brief moment of triumph at the fact that he saved the day, though it was secretly instigated by himself. We do get one final very small, yet effective scene at the end where BMO blushes at the thought at Lorraine, once again showing that he’s much more “human” than we were lead on to believe. Though he’s still a robot at the end of the day, BMO will always have his attributes that make him equivalent to any other lovable, yet troubled little boy.

I dig this one a ton. Like I said, it’s not one that I find particularly hilarious, but it’s filled with great atmosphere and interesting peeks into BMO’s character that I don’t mind at all. It’s silly, yet intense, and a perfect start to BMO’s descent into his own personal issues.

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Favorite line: “I feel like I got hit with a Dracula by King Kong.”

“Burning Low” Review

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Original Airdate: July 30, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Cole Sanchez & Rebecca Sugar

Burning Low opens to Finn and Flame Princess acting like a couple and almost completely ignores the past events of Hot to the Touch. It seems like a jarring change to have her previous episode end so vague and profound and then quite abruptly switch to lovey-dovey and endearing. In addition to that, it doesn’t really add anything that new to Flame Princess’s character. Through the entirety of this episode, FP herself only has a total of, like, 7 lines. We do learn a bit into why she had been locked up for several years of her life and the potential dangers that she could cause in her relationship with Finn, though it’s really never elaborated on any further. That said, it’s not really supposed to be a developmental Flame Princess episode, but instead release the turmoil that’s been building inside Finn ever since he let go of his infatuation with Princess Bubblegum. It does a great job of showing both sides of the situation, namely that Finn finally revealed his feelings toward PB after four seasons of build-up.

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First of all, this episode was the biggest fucking tease of all time by Cartoon Network. They really hyped the shit out of this one as if Finn, PB, and FP were going to be apart of some big love triangle that seemed 100% out of some 12-year-old’s fanfiction. Luckily enough, the staff chose a much more interesting direction that led to a pretty obvious misleading, but one that brought out the best in both Finn and PB’s characters.

Princess Bubblegum is clear, concise, and to a point about how she feels: she simply doesn’t want Finn or Flame Princess, someone who she has kept protected and sheltered from the world since she was a baby, to get radically hurt whether it be physical or mental. The only thing unusual about her point is the fact that she doesn’t draw a specific line about whether she believes Finn and Flame Princess should stop dating or just cease all connections completely. She repeatedly asks Finn to not “see” or “hangout” with Flame Princess, and if she means that he can’t engage in anything physical with Flame Princess, it’s completely understandable that she wouldn’t want to see either get hurt. Though, if she wants Finn and Flame Princess to stop hanging out all together, I have some difficulty getting behind that. Does she believe that the idea of Flame Princess and Finn hanging out at all could end disastrous because they eventually will want to give into those desires, or is it also somewhat of a jealous motherly/friendly tuition that she simply isn’t ready to see Finn dating yet? The latter seems more selfish, but I’d be surprised if that wasn’t just slightly a bit of her reasoning. After all, the ending shows that she does feel some jealousy seeing her little friend develop romantic feelings that don’t lean towards herself, which, again, I don’t think is anything out of character or unusual for her. I’m sure PB had very positive intentions to make sure Finn and Flame Princess remained as safe as possible, but also did enjoy the attention that Finn has solely given her over the years and will miss it. Bubblegum deeply cares about Finn, and watching him grow up is both a rewarding and also a tough experience for her.

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The jealousy aspect really stems from Jake, however, who basically instigated the entire conflict of the episode. It’s not unlike him to entirely disregard something important that PB intended for him to pay close attention to, and I find it even more fascinating that, essentially, he was right the whole time. As I mentioned, PB’s intentions were aiming at everyone’s best interests, but Jake wasn’t wrong in believing what he did. Problem is that he accidentally almost caused the death of Flame Princess, but Finn is also at fault for not sticking around while PB was trying to talk to him. Even if Jake did kickstart Burning Low’s conflict, he makes up for it by continuously sticking by Finn’s side throughout the episode. The scene at the beginning where Finn and Jake discuss love and tiers (the tier 15 bit is so infamous now that I’m sure it goes without mentioning) is surprisingly really funny and cute, and the bit where Jake finally blows up at PB for everything she had put Finn through in the past was both heartwarming and intense. Despite Jake and PB having a relatively civil connection, he has no shame in completely blowing up at her for all the emotional turmoil and stagnation Finn had experienced in the past. PB and he have never had the best relationship when it comes to what is best for Finn, and this is the first time they’re really put at odds.

But the icing on the cake is, of course, Finn blowing up at PB. It’s a really powerful moment for Finn to finally get his emotions for the princess out, and that he’s able to do so when his integrity and patience is tested. Finn knows that it would be entirely unfair for himself to give up everything he’s worked for in the past few weeks to be with someone who wouldn’t give him the time of day, and that he deserves better. It really shows how much he’s grown from developing a real, mutual relationship, and that he knows that he never wants to go back to feeling how he did when he was infatuated with Bubblegum.

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These three perspectives are really what carry the episode through, and make the end result a very raw, powerful experience. That doesn’t mean that Finn and Flame Princess’s relationship is covered poorly, however. I do think that Finn assisting FP in building a new house (where Marauder Village coincidentally used to be) was a very cute sequence, and just very sweet to see Finn in a relationship where he’s receiving mutual care and respect. Made me really happy for the little guy. The bit with Flame Princess bursting through the core of the Earth was definitely an intense sequence, but didn’t quite ring with me as much as the rest of the episode did. Maybe it’s just because I enjoyed the introspective looks at how the Finn-PB relationship has escalated and shifted overtime that when it came back to the FP-Finn relationship, I just wasn’t nearly as invested.

But what we have is an excellent display of anger, jealousy, empathy, and even more turmoil that has built up amongst our main characters throughout the years. It’s really intriguing to see them all act so honestly and brutally with each other, not out of hate, but out of care for one and other and for themselves. It also goes without saying that this is one that is loaded with some of AT’s most iconic moments, whether it be the tier 15 scene or Bacon Pancakes. Yes, this is where Bacon Pancakes all started. And obviously it’s been played out profusely over the years (in one of my favorite renditions here), but it still strikes me as an extremely charming and enjoyable tune. Sugar was especially nervous about this one because she figured it was going in the direction of being way too random and absurd to the point where it was making fun of itself, but I never got that kind of vibe from it. It never seemed too embarrassingly self-referential and always struck me as especially delightful. There’s also the bit with Jake videochatting a silly character by the name President Porpoise, who later receives an entire episode dedicated to him much, much later on.

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This one is just a collection of terrific character interactions and development based on the past sequences of events that led up to this point. For all the people who wanted to see more of Flame Princess and Finn’s relationship in depth, this probably wasn’t especially satisfying, seeing as how FP’s physical instability never really plays a large part in the story again and she’s barely even in it. Though, for anyone who has been anticipating the relationship between Finn and PB to have somewhat of an official close, like myself, it’s all the more rewarding.

Favorite line: “You’ll make it to Tier 5, where she’ll let you discover all fifteen feet of her long, beautiful stomach.” (I don’t wanna know what Jake and Lady do in private)

 

 

“Sons of Mars” Review

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Original Airdate: July 23, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

The official planned release date for reviews will be Fridays from now on. The only exception may be next Friday, only because I’ll be pretty damn busy. And I know one review a week might seem slim, but I’m going to try my best to increase that amount through time and see how much I’m able to juggle at once. Again, thank you all for being patient!

So, to end this summer of daily reviews, we have Sons of Mars! A personal favorite of mine that I may have seen one too many times (the luster has faded a bit because of how many rewatches I’ve sat through) but one that signifies how all-around awesome it is. It’s loaded with world-building and mythology, and delves into the lives and stories of its central characters.

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First and foremost, this episode reintroduces Magic Man, and he enters in the most sadistic and jarring way possible by turning that fucking creepy deer from No One Can Hear You into a telescope. This is still when it was fairly uncommon for AT one-off characters to return, so it was very surprising to see the nihilistic wizard who lacks empathy back once again, but surely rewarding. Magic Man is one of my favorite characters in the series, simply because I enjoy how little of a fuck he gives for other people, yet still manages to retain an unusually sympathetic side. This is the first episode to showcase this, as we get a look into some of his inner turmoil. Speaking of firsts, this episode is a pretty prominent point in Jesse Moynihan’s writing tendencies, as he began to get much more personal and surreal in his boarding efforts. Much of Magic Man’s story in Sons of Mars revolves around Moynihan’s own experiences with his girlfriend Margaret, who he called “Margles.” Jesse used this pet name to portray Magic’s lost love interest, and did his damndest to channel all of the negative emotion he had been feeling into this character and particular episode. In the words of Moynihan himself, “Magic Man had gone insane because I had gone insane.” This kind of self-insertion doesn’t seem to appeal to AT’s audience much, and would only receive even more negative attention as Jesse turned it into a regular practice. I dunno, for me personally, I think it’s one of the most interesting and ambitious aspects of Jesse’s writing in general. There’s no one on the staff quite as heady as Moynihan, and while I’ve criticized specific styles of the writers and storyboard artists on the show somewhat often, Moynihan’s is one I’ve never really had a clear problem with. It’s something I completely understand as to why people find it pretentious, but it also makes for some of the most imaginative and poignant stories and character arcs in the entire series. Moynihan’s ability to connect with Magic Man so closely and make one of the biggest assholes in Ooo seem more human is a really impressive task and one that I think was exceedingly well done. Moynihan believes he may have went a bit overboard with just how much of his own self he inserted into this episode, but I think it was handled with a great deal of subtlety. She’s only even mentioned twice briefly, but the most powerful moment comes from Magic Man discovering her photo after Finn tosses it aside. In a rare moment of Magic Man acting completely straightforward and honest, he quietly acknowledges the location of his Martian transporter. It’s a moment that feels so real and genuine, and doesn’t at all feel like it’s forcing me to care about a relationship that we barely know anything about. All we know by this encounter is that Magic Man had a significant other, who he tragically lost. But it’s how it personally affects Magic Man that makes it so much more interesting. The heartwrenching promo art sets up this unseen relationship, and amazes me at just how vaguely emotion is conveyed in this one without going into too much detail about what happened in the past.

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We also get a bit of history with the introduction of Grob Gob Glob Grod and the King of Mars, two very important characters in regards to the overall lore of the series. These two characters have their fair share of goofy and fun moments (including the hilarious run-through of all of Magic Man’s terrible crimes, which they don’t have footage of, so it’s a good thing Grod is good at drawing), but I do really enjoy how the episode still treats them as very crucial beings in the world of AT. Grob Gob Glob Grod (blending the many humorous variations of “glob” mentioned throughout the past few seasons, though has anyone actually said “oh my Grob” before or even mentioned Grob? Poor dude doesn’t get enough praise) is essentially the religious figurehead of this universe, while King of Mars isn’t necessarily a religious figure but instead an all-knowing ruler of entire galaxies, who is represented by Abraham Lincoln himself. Pen Ward obviously incorporated Lincoln in the pilot of Adventure Time as a silly gag that was never intended to be utilized again, but this episode is very clever in never mentioning the 16th president of the U.S. by name, and is only ever referred to by his stance as king. It’s open for a good deal of interpretation as well; I think the whole story behind the King of Mars himself is that he is a magical entity and possesses the power to travel time and the multiverse. Him sacrificing his immortality meant that he would allow himself to be as human and vulnerable as the rest of society, causing him to take his place as a legend of the past, present, and future. A soul who traveled Earth as a human being thousands of years ago, an entity who ruled over the cosmos as the King of Mars, and a spirit who will continue to embark throughout the many lands of Dead World. Honestly, it just makes me think that the actual Abraham Lincoln was a lot more fucking cool than what high school history classes taught me. Props to you, Jesse and Ako. Of course, there are plenty of connections to the King of Mars and Abe Lincoln as well. The notion that he’s the “most honest being in all the land”, the penny he carries with him at all times, and his sad remark about his lack of peers that references his longterm depression. His exchange with Death is one of my all-time favorite moments in the series, and feels like a classic negotiation between two friendly rivals as opposed to good facing off with evil.

And at the center of this heady venture is the relationship between Finn and Jake. It’s funny because, looking deeper into Finn’s mission to get Jake back, he could honestly give less of a shit of the events going on around him. He has one goal: to get his best friend back and save him from certain death. He doesn’t care about the trial Magic Man was put through or the sacrifice of Mars’ thousand year ruler. He just wants his buddy back by his side, and it’s both really endearing and quite funny when you acknowledge that he just does not care that he practically initiated the King’s sacrifice. I mean, it’s pretty clear that ol’ Abe probably would’ve let Jake go when he discovered that Magic Man may have been experiencing real emotions, but Finn just pops the fuck out of nowhere and hits GGGG with a chair that ends up striking Jake with the wand. Finn inadvertently set a prophecy into motion, whether it resulted in positive or negative consequences, though he was correct in citing that nothing would have escalated had Abe and Glob believed in his brother’s statements. It definitely could’ve made Finn come off as a dick, but again, he’s doing everything for the sake of his brother, and he doesn’t care what powerful entities he has to cross to do so.

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Jake’s role in this episode is interesting as well. He doesn’t do a ton, but we’re once again reintroduced to his desire to go out with a bang when it comes to death and destiny, though Jake acknowledges for the first time that, though he’d love to accept the afterlife with open arms, he’d be leaving his best friend behind, and he just can’t do that to Finn. It’s very heartwarming and thoughtful of Jake to put Finn before himself in this situation, and really shows how far he has come from his original stance. Knowing that Finn would do anything to save him and have him by his side, Jake will simply have to put off his own prophetic desires for the person he cares about most, and that’s what is really at the core of this trippy episode: the connection between Finn and Jake. Through all of the drama Magic Man experiences with his own personal problems and the collapsing of Mars’ government, Finn and Jake simply want to be with each other, and in the toughest of life’s problems, the relationship between two best friends can often bring light to some of the darkest of moments. Even the releasing of Tiny Manticore, who wrongfully dissed Finn and Jake, but will regret doing so to the two most caring guys in Ooo for presumably the rest of his life. His new prison is shame, if you haven’t heard.

The entire Martian space system looks amazing. Ghostshrimp once again designed a bunch of the scenery for this one, and I love everything from the design of the numerous domes and silos that populate Mars, as well as the terrific red, purple, and pink color scheme that makes the entire land feel foreign and unique. I think the designs of the martians who view the trial are kind of lame, however, though characters strictly in the background of AT episodes never look superb or detailed. I guess it’s just weird that they decided to include these random Martian civilians in the background at all because wouldn’t they like, be freaking out about what’s going on? They’re kinda just there to be there, so I feel like they could’ve just be excluded completely unless they were in-sync with the tragedies occurring in front of them. The design of GGGG is awesome though, one of my favorite character designs in the series. Love his/her rotating heads and the groovy headgear they wear to cover their baldness.

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Sons of Mars embodies some of the greatest elements of any AT episode up to this point: the honesty of our two main characters, the ambition and headiness of the world surrounding them, the ability to humanize even the most abysmal characters, the intrigue of wanting to see even more of what this world has to offer, and the deep connection between writer and character. It’s one of my personal all-time favorites, and even though I’ve seen it a million times, it just has so much to offer every time I do watch. One of the biggest steps towards more surreal and intoxicating mythology that would grace the series much later on.

Favorite line: “How long have you had this house?” “Yes, that is true!”

 

“Card Wars” Review

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Original Airdate: July 16, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Bert Youn

Card Wars is somewhat of a fan favorite and was very popular when it was first released. It spawned its very own Card Wars card game, a mobile app, a spin-off comic series, its own DVD release, and a sequel episode. It’s pretty safe to say it’s one of the most known AT episodes overall, and while I couldn’t really call it a personal fave of mine, it really does highlight the fact that Adventure Time doesn’t necessarily need to be adventurous to put out a solid episode, just likable characters and good writing.

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The entire premise is a lot of fun; I really enjoy any type of story that involves jealousy or competitiveness, and this one is particularly done well. The actual gameplay of Card Wars is not very interesting in itself, but the interactions between Finn and Jake are really what carry it through. I love Jake’s portrayal and how you know from the beginning that he was practically begging Finn to get involved with the game so he could mercilessly defeat him, and seeing it backfire greatly is just an excellent pay off. It’s quite enjoyable to see Finn basking in the glory of winning at Card Wars as he should be; where Finn is simply having fun and enjoying the game, Jake is taking it way too seriously than it actually is, which is what drives the conflict compellingly forward. It’s honestly a pretty scary depiction of Jake; we rarely see him get remotely angry or too solemn about anything, and it seems that his connection to Card Wars is really what stems to his greatest character flaws.

The game of Card Wars itself is something that Pen and Pat McHale spawned from a long term idea they’ve wanted to do since season one, so it’s nice to see one of their passion projects resurface. I think it’s pretty obvious that the game itself is heavily inspired by other card and roleplaying games such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Dungeons & Dragons. I was never part of the audience that appealed to any of those brands, so I feel like I can’t connect to the actual game as much as others might, but I think it’s still pretty interesting and delightful in its own right. Again, I think they missed a bit of an opportunity to make the game a bit more goofy and entertaining, but Finn and Jake’s reactions to said moves are really what drive the humor, not the game itself.

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I think it was sweet for Finn to decide to lose the game for the sake of his brother’s sanity. His relationship with Jake is more important to him than some game he doesn’t even care for much, so it was very endearing to see him choose to lose and do it with honor and grace. He does it in such a genuine and honest way as well, even when Jake is testing his patience by rubbing it in his face. I guess if there’s one thing that leaves me with a bit of discomfort, it is that Jake got to win while being such a sore loser. I think it ends up just making me feel more bad for Finn, but it’s somewhat justified towards the end as Jake realizes he may have gone too far and wants to prevent his brother from drinking that nasty ass soda. It’s a sweet ending that shows that, even through their differences, the two bros will never hold anything that petty against each other. Only thing that remains is poor BMO, who got the silent treatment while Finn easily evaded such a punishment.

The drawings in this one are great as well. I love the really grotesque close-ups Bert Youn works with, in this is an episode that highlights a good handful of them. There’s so many different special poses designed by Nate Cash that a large amount of the humor from Card Wars comes specifically from the expressions. There’s also a couple of really funny Somvilay sight gags, including the bit where Jake shapeshifts into Lady Rainicorn’s head, and where Jake abruptly tosses a pile of plates out the window to clear room for the game. The latter one always gets me laughing. Here’s some of my favorites of Bert’s shots:

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I have surprisingly little more to say about this one besides the fact that it just works. While it focuses on the game of Card Wars heavily, the real spotlight is on Finn and Jake’s relationship, and I often say that at its most simplistic, Adventure Time is still able to succeed in phenomenal ways. Not one I like a whole lot, but definitely an enjoyable entry in the increasingly entertaining fourth season.

Favorite line: “BMO! Jake’s acting banununununus!”

“Princess Cookie” Review

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Original Airdate: June 25, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Skyler Page

A brief update before I start this guys, this will be the last week for semi-daily reviews. I return to college for my junior year this upcoming weekend, and I just simply won’t be able to commit to this blog full-time for the time being. You can all still expect one or two reviews per week (hopefully), but attempting to do four a week like I have been would just be impossible. This blog is still a big passion project for me and I plan on finishing it till the very end, so I appreciate the patience of anyone who is reading. I still love revisiting these episodes of my very favorite show, so you can guarantee yourself that I’m involved with this project for the long-run! Without further ado, Princess Cookie.

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Crime and danger within the Candy Kingdom has been handled in very silly and comedic ways in the past. Susan Strong is a prime example of PB not giving a shit when it comes to possible threats to her kingdom that she doesn’t necessarily see as threats. However, like we saw in Goliad, PB’s feelings of unease and vulnerability once the Lich was unleashed certainly made her more aware of the possible dangers around her. Which is why in Princess Cookie, the situation is handled with a higher sense of concern and direness, as shown by the extended levels of Candy Kingdom military units. It makes the entire conflict of the episode seem much more intense and concerning than it really is, and alludes quite eerily to an actual hostage situation.

The character of Baby Snaps, and his connection to PB, is quite interesting to me. I think Baby Snaps as a character is sympathetic, though very clearly insane. His interaction with PB as a child is both tragic and somewhat hilarious, and that’s a pretty accurate summary for the character as a whole. I really enjoy how passionately he views his own desires and goals, yet, he always puts them in such a sincere and genuine way that his tone and inflections still come off as rather humorous to me. Tom Herpich and Pen Ward repeatedly mention in the commentary for this episode that they wanted Donald Faison, the voice of Princess Cookie, to play his lines completely seriously without even remotely trying to be goofy, and I think it really works on both a serious and amusing account. We take the character of Baby Snaps seriously, but also are able to laugh and how he personally takes everything so seriously himself. It’s a load of hammy tragicomedy packed into one single cartoon character that I think they pulled off exceedingly well for the type of story they wanted to tell.

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Back to the actual flashback sequence, which highlights the very dangerous element of what could potentially traumatize a child. Again, it’s a bit of a silly example, but it still accurately portrays the very devastating psychological effects one can have on a child from simply not taking them seriously or pandering down to them. Obviously we know PB wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt Baby Snaps’ feelings or even directly laugh in his face, but it still had a giant impact on the poor little cookie man that led him to serious corruption and mental instability. It’s very sad to see that an instance that Bubblegum likely doesn’t even remember happening led to the mental deterioration of one of her own citizens, and changed a relatively normal, loving child for the worse. There’s two other noteworthy things about this scene: 1. For a while, this scene was pretty confusing because it’s one of the first instances we see into Princess Bubblegum’s actual age. I thought it was originally an error that PB was older while Baby Snaps was a child, or that Baby Snaps grew rapidly over the course of a couple months or so, but now it’s evident why Princess Bubblegum seems relatively unaltered by time. 2. Why exactly did PB laugh at Baby Snaps? I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? She laughed because Baby Snaps is a boy, and a very young boy at that, and a princess is typically defined as a feminine role of power in a family monarch. Well, in the Land of Ooo, apparently anyone of any gender can be a princess. It’s basically like being president, I guess. We see this with the King of Ooo later on, who is elected princess by people who don’t even seem to bat an eye at the fact that he’s a man. Not even PB. So, was she instead laughing because he was a child? I dunno, I’m just willing to assume it’s a part of the show that wasn’t really thought out ahead of time and now only slightly feels like a bit of discontinuity. That, or you could look at it the way I just mentioned, which seems a bit too condescending for PB to do to a young lad.

The connection with Jake and Baby Snaps is extremely heartwarming and likable. I think Jake’s moral ambiguity is arguably highly in question here, as he’s blatantly going against the law to help a criminal in what I’d called Stockholm syndrome in any other situation, but he’s clearly doing it because he does see the large aspect of tragedy within Baby Snaps character, and perhaps even a bit of himself. Jake didn’t have the cleanest past either, so he most likely see’s all the things that Baby Snaps could be if he left behind his criminal actions and started anew. I think it’s a very compelling depiction of Jake’s character; we’re used to seeing him just kind of go along with Finn and PB’s deeds, but here, he completely goes against both of them and does what he believes is the right path for everyone. Again, it’s hard to argue whether this is a great moral choice or not, but I don’t think the staff was really trying to push this off as a great message. Just that Jake was trying to help someone in need in his own unique way that would potentially lead to success from all sides of the party. The most fascinating concept behind this is that Finn is actually against Jake’s decision. Yeah, Jake willingly abandons Finn after he doesn’t agree with his decision, and while it’s sad to see the brothers at odds, it’s also quite nice to see them have a completely different perspective of the situation that makes sense for both parties. Finn’s all about doing things the conventional and lawful way, while Jake seems to base things on a more emotional level when it comes to bad or good.

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The scene with Baby Snaps’ monologue before he falls back into the canyon is both really heavy, and again, pretty funny. I know a lot of people see this as a straight-up tearjerker scene, but again, it’s riddled with lines that seem so cliche that I almost doubt the dialogue was meant to be taken so seriously. I still appreciate the sentiment Baby Snaps left for Jake before his seemingly final blow, only it fails because I guess Candy People are pretty incapable of committing suicide. Luckily enough, Baby Snaps is able to receive the potential help he needs, while also ruling over the Grasslands as a newly elected ruler. It’s a beautifully crafted grand climax that just makes for a delightful ending, as we’re able to see both the consequences for Baby Snaps’ actions, and the positive future that he may hold. All hail Princess Cookie! In fact, I may take back my previous complaint about male citizens being able to be elected princesses. Perhaps Baby Snaps was the first male princess in all of Ooo, which ushered in a new era of men who wanted in on the princess action as well. What an interesting subvert that would be!

This episode’s riddled with funny moments, along with the bits I mentioned above about Baby Snaps in general, and a special highlight going towards Finn acting as Jake’s shadow. It’s such a bizarre and ridiculous idea that would almost make no sense on paper, but it’s executed in an especially clever and hilarious way that it never ceases to amaze me. There’s zany lines of dialogue, as always, including the widespread favorite “Alvin’s hot juicebox,” which I still have no idea what the intention behind that one was. There’s also a lot of great callbacks, from the cameo of Goliad and Stormo locked in psychic combat in the background to the return of the Baby Whoozlefut & the Wuttlebugs book, as well as PB learning a thing or two from Ice King by trying to sway Baby Snaps with a poo-brained horse. Also, poor Jake just wants to be a mailman. Is there a specific detail of Jake that makes him incapable of being a mailman? Is it the fact that dogs are portrayed as anti-mailmen? You shouldn’t assume those things of Jake. Racist!

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If there’s one overall criticism I have for this one, the drawings are a bit wonky. It looks like Herpich worked on a good majority of this one, and his boarding and general designs of the characters usually look great, but there’s something that feels off. Finn’s face is really stretched out to the point where it looks like an oval, and the general size of the characters look distorted in some scenes. There’s a bit at the beginning and towards the middle where the Banana Guards look GIGANTIC, they’re seriously taking up like, half the screen. There’s also a couple of other errors, such as the chip who is supposedly doing a double jump in the air (though this may have been an error on the animation department, Herpich mentions it didn’t translate as well as he wanted it to) and a couple brief continuity errors, such as the many times PB changes the position of her arms while holding Baby Snaps as a child.

Besides that, I think this one’s great. Lots of intense moments with an overall sweet side, that elaborates on more character studies between Jake and PB, as well as a brand new character central to the story. It’s one that hits all the right feelings of raw emotionality as well as fun and endearing, while still covering a very satisfying story in the course of 11 minutes.

Favorite line: “It’s funny, but you sort of remind me of a mailman I used to know.”