Original Airdate: June 14, 2010
Written & Storyboarded by: Luther McLaurin & Armen Mirzaian
Season one of “Adventure Time” is likely the weakest season in my books. That’s not to say it’s bad, by any means, but its focus is more on sheer absurdity and silliness, rather than character building and experimentations. One of the common criticisms I’ve received about this blog thus far is that it’s heavily synopsis based with little review. This is because it’s pretty difficult for me to discuss these early season episodes in great depth and analyses considering that the past fourteen episodes I’ve gone through before have been mostly silly, with hints of backstory here and there. There’s only so many times I can say “that’s funny” or “that’s really silly.”
That being said, “What is Life?” changes the definition of what “Adventure Time” is, and is the most significant episode of the first season. This is the very episode that showed me that AT is a series that’s more than meets the eye. That it was a show that could include the occasional fart joke, but also one that was deeply enriched in the emotions of its characters. This episode really spotlights the many layers behind Ice King’s character, and proves that he’s much more than just the classic Saturday morning cartoon villain. There’s been hints of his tragic personality here and there, namely that he can’t connect with anyone even if he tries. Never has it been so explicitly obvious until this episode, however.
The real star of this episode is NEPTR, though. After being pranked a series of times by Jake and reading about “Yo Whadup!”s in a book, Finn brings the Never Ending Pie Throwing Robot to life. Andy Milonakis does an excellent job with NEPTR’s reflections, and gives him such a likable presence. NEPTR’s truthfully one of my favorite minor characters. He’s so charming and delightful, and the fact that nobody in the series gives two shits about him only makes me like him more.
While Finn tries to teach NEPTR about the art of pranking, they break into Ice King’s house. It’s here we get a brief melancholic moment of Ice King having a conversation with himself in a female voice and claiming to Gunter it’s what it would sound like if he was actually married. It’s really the first “awww” moment the Ice King has, and you immediately can form a sympathetic connection with him. We get to see a little more of the ice castle in this episode as well, and I really like how creative they get with the ice creatures. The design of the Ice Bull is terrific, especially his transcendent guts just hanging out in the open, but it’s the Ice-o-pede that really grabs my eye in this one. He fucking shoots lasers!
After getting zapped with Ice King’s bolt and fully bringing himself to life, NEPTR begins to have a fascination with capturing princesses, and IK begins to feel a connection to the robot as well. As Finn and Ice King argue on who would be the better parent to NEPTR, it’s important to note that IK hasn’t really done anything wrong in this episode. Besides attacking Finn, who broke into his house to pull a prank on him, Ice King hasn’t done anything immoral or unethical, besides trying to swoo NEPTR over. In the end, NEPTR chooses Ice King (to prank) and joins Finn in throwing pies at Jake. It’s here that we see Ice King shed a tear and enter his imagination zone, in which him and NEPTR share a loving father-son relationship.
It’s sad stuff, and the aftermath of this episode makes it worse. When you realize that Finn and Jake neglected NEPTR for months, Ice King probably could’ve made a better father for NEPTR in the end. Considering Simon’s long history with Marceline before the crown caused him to go insane, this may have been Ice King subconsciously trying to connect with a child once more. This episode does a perfect job of humanizing Ice King and having the audience empathize with him. It’s fitting that it’s called “What is Life?” because this episode really explores the meaning of not only NEPTR’s life, but also Ice King’s, showing that life isn’t always black and white, and villains aren’t always truly villains. Ice King’s character was forever changed for the better by this episode, solidifying him as one of the show’s most sympathetic characters. Also, suicidal balloons.
(UPDATE: As of now, I only have enough time in my schedule to post two reviews a week. So one review will be posted on Friday and the other will be posted on Monday. Sorry for the inconvenience.)