Archive | June 2017

“Jake vs. Me-Mow” Review

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Original Airdate: November 21, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

The title card concept originates from an actual drawing created by fourteen-year-old (at the time of its debut, that is) Gunnar Gilmore, as Pen Ward himself loved the drawing so much that he wanted an entire episode based around the character Me-Mow. It’s an ambitious concept, but the idea of Jake being pitted against some cat seems especially ludicrous and fanfiction-y for the Adventure Time world. However, the episode is taken in a much, much different direction that actually makes for a genuinely compelling plot.

The character of Me-Mow is actually what I consider to be a more engaging version of the Cute King. Me-Mow is legitimately cute, with her voice be provided by Kyla Rae Kowalewski (also the voice of Anais on The Amazing World of Gumball). In addition to being cute, Me-Mow is a very competent villain, and one that is never downplayed for her size or charm. The show doesn’t pull some manipulative trick by making Me-Mow’s cuteness her strongest weapon, but instead creates a villain that’s able to be so effective as an opponent because of her small size. The scene where she attacks Finn builds a great deal of tension and actually makes some valid points. Though her dagger isn’t able to make very effective dents, it’s pretty evident that she could pretty much just slice Finn’s eyeballs at any point and render him blind. It’s rare that you actually get to see tiny enemies in any animated series that aren’t purely comedic, so I’m glad Adam and Rebecca were so graceful not to fall into any generic cliches.

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I mentioned how sympathetic Jake’s character was in No One Can Hear You, and this one really continues the trend of gut-wrenching Jake-centric episodes. It’s incredibly hard to watch the pain he endures in this episode, from the various times he’s brutally injected with poison to all of the psychological burdens he’s probably bearing. You gotta wonder what it’s like from his perspective. There’s points where he literally considers killing Wildberry Princess, and it sounds fucked up, but wouldn’t that thought cross your mind at least once if you were in that position? It’s obviously morally wrong, but Jake simply has his hands tied and there’s not much that he can do to save himself besides the only known solution in front of him. It’s a dark road for the series to cross, but one that doesn’t make Jake seem like he’s bordering psychosis or generally unlikable in the slightest bit. Of course, it’s handled with humor as well. Jake’s “maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be killed!” gets a big laugh out of me, and all of his attempts to get Me-Mow out of his nose, in addition to anytime he tries to act completely normal around Finn and WBP, are really amusing.

Finn’s sort of an idiot in this episode, but again, I don’t think the writers go too far with his stupidity that it’s completely unbelievable or irritating. His side of the story is still handled with much humor and likability too; I’ll never understand why the hell he started shouting “meow” when Jake shushed him, but it’s something only Finn would do, and it’s just silly enough that it works for me. It’s also a sweet one for him too: not only does he share a moment of emotional turmoil towards the end when he threatens to kill Me-Mow for what she’s done and watch his best friend nearly die, but there’s the scene where he sings his mother’s lullaby (written by Rebecca, of course!) that she used to sing to Finn and Jake , and maybe even Jermaine, when they were babies. It’s a brief, out-of-nowhere bit of poignancy that really builds a connection we rarely ever see, that being between Finn and Margaret, and just adds a bit of quiet enlightenment to and otherwise suspenseful episode.

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And yes, this one really makes use of the element of suspense. It’s such a small-scale episode, but the many ways we empathize with Jake and are so concerned for his well-being, in addition to the anticipation in regards to whether or not his plans will work out, really kept me at the edge of my seat the first time I saw it. In fact, I’m still able to be fully enthralled by the events of this episode despite knowing the actual outcome of the situation. The resolution I think is really clever, and something I actually didn’t think of once during the duration of the episode. My reaction was pretty much the same as Finn and Jake’s when Jake increased the size of his liver. Biiiiig liver, YEAH!

If there’s one minor criticism I have, it’s that the title is a bit misleading. The original title for this episode was An Assassin in Jake’s Nose, which is much more fitting in my opinion. There’s very little of Jake and Me-Mow facing off, in fact, Finn actually engages in combat with her a lot more. Like I said, though, the contents of the episode are better than what the title suggests, I just wish it was slightly more fitting with the tone and plot of the episode.

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Besides that slight nitpick, I do really enjoy this one. The stakes feel really high, and even if we know that Jake isn’t going to legitimately die, it still feels like a very real conflict that’s engaging from beginning to end. There’s a couple of nice gags throughout the episode, like I really enjoy the fact that the people of Wildberry Kingdom eat meat for some reason. I guess they can’t eat berries or fruit, so they must be pretty extreme carnivores in that regard. The backgrounds from Ghostshrimp are really nice in this one; I love that it’s very similar to the setting of the Treehouse, but adds a bit of a unique spin with the many layers of tree branches and berries that gives the Wildberry Kingdom its own separate feel to it. There’s a lot of nice character moments, between Jake’s anxiety of choosing between murder and being murdered, and Finn’s obliviousness, but all-around devotion to his friend. Definitely another high-point in an already above average season.

And if you think it takes Susan Strong a long time to return, let’s just wait and see how many episodes it takes Me-Mow to come back. I’ll start counting now.

Favorite line: “Give it up, Me-Mow! You’re only making my face look cooler!”

“No One Can Hear You” Review

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Original Airdate: November 14, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan & Ako Castuera

I always tend to forget how relatively humorless No One Can Hear You is. It’s practically a psychological thriller, and one that’s very creepy, atmospheric, and genuinely unsettling. That being said, it’s one of my all-time favorites. It takes the series and its characters in an incredibly dark and unpleasant direction, yet is still able to be completely enjoyable and engaging.

It begins in a very fast-moving and brief fashion, not wasting any time setting up the plot as quickly as it can. It always amazes me just how much Adventure Time can pack into an 11 minute time-slot, and still leave a lot of room for the characters to breathe and relax. A lot of the great moments from this episode are just Finn lurking around the empty Candy Kingdom and drawing conclusions about his whereabouts. It’s not very exposition heavy, in the sense that we don’t get to know exactly what Finn is feeling or what’s going through his head throughout the episode. He’s pretty much there as an observer, and his thoughts are practically ours as we’re able to empathize with him in the way that any psychological thriller or horror movie allows us to put ourselves in the main character’s shoes.

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There’s a real underlying tragedy to Jake’s character in this episode as well. Clearly he’s completely insane, but his motivations aren’t so out of control or psychotic that it makes him genuinely unlikable. All he wants is to be surprised for his birthday party, and will go to great lengths just to fulfill this desire. It’s the perfect balance of terror and sympathy, as we’re both rooting against Jake and hoping he’s able to regain his health. There’s just something straight painful about watching him so far gone too; the moment when Finn ponders, “face it, Finn. Your best friend is gone,” is a very, very sad moment. To watch a character we all know and care for so much be completely deviated into a complete lunatic is somewhat heartbreaking, and to see even his best friend and brother give up on him is even more tragic. It’s a pretty crucial moment for Finn’s character, as he acknowledges that he may have to leave his brother behind for the greater good of society, and doesn’t hesitate to look back once.

While that’s an understandably solicitous moment for Finn, even worse is Jake realizing that his best friend and brother lied and betrayed him twice. As I mentioned, Jake’s really lost his marbles, but he’s relatively harmless on the other hand, and to watch his aching moment of hardship as Finn runs away from his birthday party is just really heartwrenching. It’s an episode that pits the two best friends against each other in the very best way possible, making each side empathetic and the entire situation really tough to watch.

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As I mentioned there’s very few laughs in this episode, which really works to it’s advantage. Besides a few goofy lines from Finn as he’s roaming around and some funny gags towards the end, it spends most of it’s time focusing on the creepy and uncomfortable elements. There’s moments that really raise the question of, “was that funny or unsettling?” such as the bugs crawling on Jake and Jake’s general demeanor throughout the episode. There’s not a single moment in the entire show where I’m more conflicted to laugh or sit there uncomfortably than when Jake has a birthday party composed of sock puppets and milk cartons. It really excuses the fact that the episode is unfunny when it sticks to a specific mood and atmosphere and goes above and beyond with it. I think I actually would’ve actually liked this episode less if there were more jokes phoned in, as it would take away from the general tension of the overall plot.

And then there’s the reveal of the true villain in this episode. I’m not shitting you, you guys, that deer is in my fucking nightmares. Nothing creeps me out more in this episode than when he takes off his hooves and wiggles his fingers around. And the way he licks people and sticks them to the wall is out of a full-fledged motherfucking horror movie. Goddamn, that stag scares me! I think it’s a pretty brilliant out-of-nowhere reveal that the deer was the true antagonist the entire time, and his frequent appearances throughout the episode build up to a very satisfying and well-planned payoff that I think is pretty unpredictable for any first time viewers. Also, the idea that he wanted PB’s sugar and that she wouldn’t give it to him triggers more unsettling visuals in that regard. Yeesh. So Finn, Jake, and all ten of the rescued Candy People that make up the entire kingdom (yeah, something I’m noticing while rewatching these episodes is that the artists really hate to draw a good handful of characters. I mean, obviously they couldn’t draw the entire kingdom, but c’mon! Lady isn’t even there) float off into the night sky.

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This is one I really adore. From the intense and creepy atmosphere to the relationship between Finn and Jake, it’s an especially tough one to get through, and I mean that in the best way possible. Another one of my favorite parts of the episode is the subtle way they leave it up for debate as to how long Finn was actually asleep for. Was the six months conclusion a product of Jake’s damaged brain? Did he mean six months in magical dog years? Or was Finn legitimately in a coma for six whole months? I always tend to gto with the middle option, but I think it’s really arguable and I’d be willing to settle with any conclusion in that regard. It’s also worth noting that it’s the first time Glob is mentioned as a legitimate religious figure: something that would become a staple with Moynihan’s episodes later on. As is, I have little to no issues or complaints about this one. It’s a trip through psychological terror that I truly never get sick of watching, and one that I hold with very high regards in a season of already high ranked episodes.

Favorite line: “(just had his legs broken) … Whatever.”

“Beautopia” Review

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Original Airdate: November 8, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Adam Muto

Beautopia is Susan Strong’s first appearance since her debut episode, and her last episode for a very long period of time. Some general developments are made, as she obtains a wider (albeit broken) variety of vocabulary and a subtle, yet more intelligent grasp of the world around her. It’s even somewhat of a conclusive piece to her arc, even though nothing is explicitly given away and her character returns much later on to drive her story even further.

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The relationship between Susan Strong in her debut episode was driven by Finn’s growing interest in the existence of humans and his fascination with her as a member of his species. Here, it’s quite different, but even more endearing to me. Finn simply wants to help her out as a friend, despite the fact that she may not even be one of his kind, and caused great danger for the Candy Kingdom previously. Finn is still considerate enough to be by her side and never once question her motivation or beliefs. He’s written terrifically in this episode, and it really shows what an honest and caring guy he is. Even when everything Susan does seem to be completely ludicrous and unethical, with her even going so far as to almost drowning Finn, he still has her back completely, possibly due to his belief that she is still strongly connected to him despite her different appearance. His line towards the end “humans and hyoomans gotta stick together,” strongly indicates that, even though he acknowledges that Susan and her people may be different from him, he still considers them worthy of his utmost respect. It mirrors Jake’s line of “we’re all wild animals, brother,” from Susan Strong, and it’s just delightful to see his strong support of his humanoid friend.

Speaking of Jake, he can be a bit of a jerk in this one, but I feel like it’s necessary and makes sense with the plot. On one hand, he is entirely disrespectful (or as he put, “disruptive and obnoxious”) towards Susan and her people, and even mocks the hyoomans on several occasions. I dunno, isn’t that considered like, racism in the AT universe? C’mon Jake, you’re better than that. On the other hand, his reactions and behavior do seem completely rational, considering the circumstances. In a way, he’s everything that you’d expect Finn to be: distrusting of Susan, completely skeptical about her ridiculous claims, and in fear of death throughout their entire travels. It’s humorous to watch Jake act so completely smug and condescending, and his actions are almost completely understandable. Obviously he isn’t going to trust Susan, because, for one, she almost destroyed the entire Candy Kingdom. In addition to that, she almost drowned his brother, gotten the three of them killed on several different occasions, and has paranoia that seems to be entirely irrational.

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For that reason, it’s really nice to have a blend of both Finn and Jake’s opposing viewpoints in this episode. It’s really refreshing to see the boys on two completely different sides and not have it be intolerable to watch, but instead actually strengthens the episode. It’s a perfect perspective aspect that shows us exactly what we’d want to see from each character.

Susan herself is enjoyable to watch; she’s more used as a plot point than anything. She’s still enjoyable to watch, but not necessarily as amusingly wide-eyed as she was in Susan Strong. That being said, I do like her progression from a character who was completely shut off from the outside world to someone who’s gained a basic understanding of society and the actual dangers within it. It feels like an appropriate growth of her character, and it would’ve been so uninteresting if this episode picked up exactly where the last one left off and just followed Finn teaching Susan new information that she hasn’t learned yet. That’s the fun part about the amount of time it takes for characters to return in AT; time passes within the show somewhat naturally, and progression is happening in real-time, whether we get to see it or not. So characters are allowed to grow and develop without us necessarily getting to see every bit and piece of it. I do really love the brief moment where Finn pulls his hat off and Susan quietly says “you no gills!” It’s a very subtle and downplayed moment, but very crucial in the sense that it’s a moment where Susan comes to a realization about Finn that she hadn’t even known: he isn’t a fish person, he’s a full-fledged human boy, and it wasn’t until this point where she actually began to understand that.

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The design of Beautopia is really, really cool. Michael DeForge worked on a lot of the backgrounds in this episode, and they range from very eerie and dark to something of a post-apocalyptic beauty. I love how Beautopia is actually just some sort of shopping mall as well, as it really adds to the notion of vast worlds and lands just simply being everyday parts of society that we recognize today. In addition, the Lub Glubs are really well-designed too. The way their teeth are practically ingrained in their body in a 2-D fashion is so freakin’ cool to me, and the lack of eyes and gas-like body are both chilling and pretty grotesque as well. The idea that Jake recognizes that one of them reminds him of his mother (and a drawing early on reminded him of his father) is surely more than just his mind going insane and an in depth observation of a part himself that he may subconsciously recognize. It’s a bit of a stretch, as the Lub Glubs don’t exactly resemble what is later revealed to be Jake’s true form, but it’s still an interesting point from Jake’s perspective, and something he probably had a better understanding of than he even consciously knew.

However, those lines are pretty funny on this own, and so is the rest of this episode. Jake plays a major part when it comes to comedy in Beautopia, from his long, panned out attempt at throwing the lantern into the City Heart to his attitude toward everything going on around him throughout the episode, I just really love watching him react to his surroundings in this fashion. His I’m On a Boat song gets a kick out of me every time I watch this episode, it’s so amusing yet so annoying at the same time.

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The last act ends on a perfect note as well, with Finn receiving a private revelation through Susan Strong that we can only assume is positive. It’s a bit more teasing for the audience, but it is entirely satisfactory that one of the characters at least has an idea who Susan Strong is, and Finn’s content, friendly wave to her at the end leaves him feeling closer than ever to Susan, and without any further questions of her identity… for now, that is.

Anyway, I like this one. It’s not one of my favorites of the third season, but it has some really great characterization among the main cast, as well as some further developments in one of AT’s most mysterious story arcs. It’s also one that leaves me feeling completely fuzzy inside, and one that really can’t make Finn any more lovable if it tried. It’s a perfect wrap to Susan’s character for the time being, and left me entirely content until her later reappearance in the sixth season.

Favorite line: “C’mon, Finn, let’s go! I grabbed, like, 100 soft pretzels!”

“From Bad to Worse” Review

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Original Airdate: October 24, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Kent Osborne

I always sort of look at From Bad to Worse as a lesser The Creeps. Both possess a large horror theme and feature a set of major characters working together. In addition, both are quasi-sequels to past episodes. This episode is a follow-up to the very first episode Slumber Party Panic, and while this one is definitely more cohesive and enjoyable than the episode it’s based around, I think it squanders a bit of its potential by struggling to work in good humor and character interactions in its execution.

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The episode essentially lives up to its title by being exactly what it promises: situations going from bad to horribly wrong. While I do like some of the transitions the zombies go through, especially LSP’s luscious lip formula, I think the show could’ve been funnier and more creative with the way these zombies transform. Even the characters, who are the ones that create these potions that end up fucking things up are just sort of there to observe everything. I’ve always believed that disbelief and confusion can be two of the funniest reactions to watch in any TV show, and I really think From Bad to Worse could’ve worked in some stronger ways for the characters to react to the insanity going on around them.

Somvilay really pushed the bar with just how many dynamic shots he could include in this episode, and it really shows. Somvilay can have some of the funniest anti-joke oriented episodes when he puts his heart in it, and I think that, while it’s a very distinct type of humor he tried to incorporate, it just doesn’t work aesthetically with the episode. There’s very long sequences of the characters mixing different juices and potions and it just feels… dry. There’s tons of unique and nice looking shots, but they just aren’t outrageous, in depth, or even funny enough to keep my attention. Somvilay’s one of the most ambitious storyboard artists on Adventure Time, but there are times when he can get a bit too carried away with forms of anti-humor that the episode ends up being just that: humorless.

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Now, that’s not to say this episode is really that bad though. It’s a very fast-paced episode, and while it’s not a particularly funny one, it’s still relatively enjoyable from beginning to end. I do really like the frantic speed and the urgency of the situation. Although The Creeps was primarily a horror-themed episode, the circumstances didn’t seem to have a feeling of dire consequences till the last third, while this episode has a sense of dread throughout its entirety. There are some nice bits, like Jake trying to outrun his arm and being turned into a zombie. That entire scene is both humorous and creates a large feeling of tension, and man, you really do sympathize with Jake. His actions in particular are just really considerate; he doesn’t freak out or want any of his friends to worry about him, and quarantines himself for the safety of others. It really shows Jake at his best. He isn’t always as morally centered as Finn in his actions, but Jake is firm in his belief to not let anyone worry about him, and to protect those he cares about most.

In addition, while I don’t think Somvilay’s drawings make for some very funny scenes, they are really visually interesting to gawk at. Somvilay really knows how to make shots dynamic without them seeming too off-model or distorted, and the way he incorporates both the ceiling and the floor in several shots make the episode seem much more aesthetically pleasing on some levels. There’s also a longshot where Finn slides through PB’s lab on a task chair through a bunch of the Candy zombies and it just looks so freakin’ cool. Kent and Somvilay really mesh well when it comes to well-crafted intriguing shots.

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I could kinda see the ending coming from a mile away. I don’t mean to sound like a stuck-up little snob when I say that, but the minute I saw Science and remembered PB’s line, I was all “yeah, Science is totally her rat.” But whatevs, it was a cute ending and it wasn’t a twist that deserved to be completely ambiguous. I especially enjoy Science using “knife juice” in his concoction. I wonder how one even gets to acquire knife juice. The solution with Finn dousing himself in the serum was very clever, and the award ceremony at the end was equally amusing. Although, I call bullshit on Finn not getting an award. The little guy sacrificed himself to save the Candy People. All Science did was comically shrug!

So yeah, this isn’t really a great one in my book. I think there could’ve been a lot more jokes and funny character interactions, but for what it is, it’s a mildly enjoyable bit of frantic terror that compellingly keeps the viewer’s attention all the way through. A bit odd that we got The Creeps and From Bad to Worse back-to-back; I know they both aired during the Halloween season, but I’m wondering if they were purposely next to each other in production order. While both episodes are good at conveying this genre in their own merits, the best horror-themed episode of season three is yet to come.

Favorite line: “Sorry, LSP, PB, Jake, LR, peepee poopoo doodoo.”

“The Creeps” Review

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Original Airdate: October 17, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

From the premise alone, you’d think The Creeps was a cheap imitation of the season two episode Mystery Train. However, The Creeps cleverly acknowledges its recycling and even pays homage to Mystery Train, in an execution that makes this episode stand out on top in my book. It’s much more diverse in its cast of characters, and even leaves us wanting a bit more by the end.

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The atmosphere in general in this one is much more desolate. Whereas Mystery Train was pretty much straightforward comedy, The Creeps adds a bit of a horror element to it, increasing the tension behind the murder mystery and the gang’s surroundings. There’s generally a lot of nightmare fuel within this episode as well, with PB melting, BMO’s face being ripped off, Cinnamon Bun’s eye drooping into BMO’s body… it’s all pretty nasty. It makes me really wonder why Jake goes through great lengths to potentially traumatize his younger brother. But hey, he’s thirteen. The kid can handle it.

I also like how the culprit of this episode isn’t really clear. The conductor of the mystery train was pretty obviously Jake to me, but here, I was kinda second guessing myself a lot. It bounces back from Finn, to Jake, to Finn, to some sort of outside force. It’s a twist that I really didn’t see coming, and the fast, thrilling pace of the episode leave little time for you to even have time to think about it. Jake puts on a damn good front as well. His blatant acknowledgement of the fact that they had already done a murder mystery before, his ability to get everyone else in on it, and even small details, like the fact that he was disappointed with his nickname “Randy Butternubs”. He was totally the one who picked out those names!

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In addition, I really love the cast of characters they chose for this episode. It’s an interesting choice of people, but they all work off of each other really well. Some great exchanges in this one, from CB trying to flirt with Lumpy Space Princess, LSP’s melodramatic monologue regarding her ex-boyfriend Brad, Finn’s infatuation for PB allowing him to remember something as insignificant as what he wrote on her birthday card two years prior, and the constant distrust Jake shares towards Finn a majority of the episode. It’s rare we ever get to see a group of characters like these interact with each other, and I really think that adds to the episode tremendously. This could’ve been a completely self-contained murder mystery, but the way each character attributes their own unique presence makes the entire experience much more enjoyable. There’s also one of my favorite BMO lines:

When bad things happen, I know you want to believe they are a joke. But sometimes, life is scary, and dark. That is why we must find the light.

The fun part about it is that it isn’t even supposed to be taken completely seriously based on the circumstances, as BMO was just looking around for a light switch. It works entirely as a beautifully out-of-nowhere bit of poignancy that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a mostly comedic episode. I do have one gripe with this scene in general though: isn’t BMO in on Jake’s plan? Why would the two of them be talking about something scary and dangerous happening if they know exactly what’s going on? Perhaps BMO wasn’t in on the plan till later on? I dunno, it’s pretty much just an afterthought.

This episode also introduces the ghost from the mansion, which will later have a much bigger role later on. For now, she’s simply locked in Finn’s vault, where he hides all of the traumatizing material he experiences. Maybe it makes sense that Finn’s so unaffected by his friends dying grotesquely around him. He can just simply lock it away anytime he wishes. I do really love the way they carry out the ghost scene by treating it as one little glimpse of information to chew on while the conclusion sets in. Finn’s experience of almost dying via train the last time Jake pulled this stunt was a scary thought, but even scarier for Finn is something he can’t entirely understand or even believe before his own eyes.

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A very minor thing, but I also really love the attention to detail with the outfits in this episode. Ako designed a majority of the masks and costumes, and it treats the characters like visual candy (as I frequently say on this blog, no pun intended) by diverting from the standard models. It’s rare we ever get to see Jake, LSP, or Cinnamon Bun fully clothes, and even more interesting is the fact that when Jake stretches, his clothes stretch with him. Not sure if I should consider that an error or a fun visual gag. It can be two things.

Overall, I like this one a lot. It really does a lot with the murder mystery story and uses it to its greatest advantage, something it’s predecessor, Mystery Train, did not. It’s jam packed full of fun jokes, including the false personas of each character (Duchess Gummybuns and Guy Farting being two of my favorites) and its creepy atmosphere keeps me coming back for more. This is certainly one that isn’t getting locked up in the vault anytime soon.

Favorite line: “난 제이크랑 항상 한 몸이 되는데. (Jake and I merge our bodies all the time.)”

“Apple Thief” Review

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Original Airdate: October 3, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich and Bert Youn

Apple Thief is Tree Trunks’ return to center stage after her revival in Crystals Have Power. It’s a basic mystery themed story, and it’s a pretty decent one at that. AT has done many, many noir or mystery-esque stories down the line, and this one isn’t really one of the stronger episodes. However, I do have a bit of a soft spot for Tree Trunks, so it makes this experience at least passable.

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There’s some nice introductions in this episode including a brief bit of history into Jake’s criminal past, which we come to know as a central part of his backstory and early life. Finn’s reaction to it is perfect as well, he just briefly glances over it without even asking follow-up questions. We see a bit more into the Candy Tavern, which is a very enjoyable unseen aspect of the Candy Kingdom. We’re used to seeing Candy People who are strictly bubbly and dimwitted, so seeing a tougher, grittier version of said Candy People is really amusing (I love the image of a candy cane person on one of the bathrooms. What is that even supposed to represent?). I especially like the two gangs introduced in this episode, and almost wish they’d make subsequent appearances. They’re really cleverly woven into the plot, and I really wanna know what’s up with the Dr. J gang and the other rival group. Could totally see it working as a West Side Story homage.

This episode also introduces Mr. Pig, whose presence on the show is somewhat of an enigma to me. I never know really how to feel about him, his personality is never really fleshed out in full. He’s just kind of a reserved, quirky dude. Ron Lynch is really what carries his entire character though, he does a terrific job of giving him a sense of dry sincerity that’s completely monotonous. If you’re not familiar with Ron Lynch, check out Home Movies. It’s great!

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Besides that, there are a good handful of funny gags in this episode: I love Raggedy Princess’s brief cameo and how Finn, Jake, and Tree Trunks just completely ignore the fact that she fell and is stuck in a ditch. Raggedy Princess is one of my all time favorite princesses in the show, I just wanna give her a hug every time she’s on screen. That girl’s got, like, zero self-respect! I like Finn, Jake, and Tree Trunks trying to be tough, and TT thinking that eating toilet paper will make her seem grunge. In addition to that, I just enjoy the chemistry between Finn, Jake, and Tree Trunks. Finn and Tree Trunks’ relationship went in a bit of a formulaic direction back in Tree Trunks, but I just really love how genuinely sweet to one another they all are. Tree Trunks is a character that certainly requires a lot of patience to deal with, not because she’s antagonistic or obnoxious, but because she’s simply old and senile. Finn and Jake have the perfect amount of optimism and acceptance when dealing with her, and watching the three of them together is just really endearing. 

Besides that, it’s a pretty okay episode. Nothing that leans in the direction of really good or really bad, it’s just relatively subpar. There’s not really anything that noteworthy either. The resolution to the conflict of the episode isn’t really predictable, but it’s just something that doesn’t feel ingenious or hilariously executed. It’s just… cute, really. I think that’s the best way to describe this episode: cute. It’s not one that’s really strong in its story, or even its premise, for that matter. However, it is relatively enjoyable from beginning to end, and the characters are delightful to watch either way. Definitely not a strong episode, but one that’s perfectly passable for what it is.

Fun fact: Nick Jennings accidentally fucked up with the backgrounds in an early version of this episode and drew every tree with apples. Good thing he picked up on that!

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Favorite line: “All ne’er-do-wells call diamonds ‘apples’, calling money “bread” or rock-knockers ‘butter-slaps.'”

 

“What Was Missing” Review

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Original Airdate: September 26, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

I’ve felt iffy about What Was Missing for a very, very long time. It’s arguably one of the most popular episodes to date, and while I’ve always thought that the episode was well crafted, I also sensed a feeling of tonal difference from the rest of the series. What I love about AT is that the characters’ feelings, motivations, and life paths are left mostly ambiguous and up for debate, and that notion has only increased throughout the run of the show. Rebecca Sugar, on the other hand, has her own specific style that is very different from everyone other staff member on the show, mostly because she has her own vision for the characters and precise ways of writing for them. Sugar’s style is evident on a show like Steven Universe, where all of the characters are very honest and genuine about their emotions and feelings, and almost every episode works towards some sort of conflict resolution or developmental change. AT, as I said, is very different in its approach. It’s more about drawing your own conclusions about what the characters are feeling, and continuously opening new doors (no pun intended) within the Land of Ooo. These are two very different mediums that collide especially in later seasons when Sugar’s style becomes more evident, this episode included. I could even see this working as an SU episode, with Steven, Pearl, and Amethyst filling the shoes of Finn, PB, and Marceline respectively.

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So what point am I trying to make by this? Well, frankly, for a while I was less enthusiastic about What Was Missing than everyone else was. I really just thought it was too big of a tonal shift for the show to take on, and the characters acting this open and honest with each other felt a bit… out of place. However, after rewatching this episode and the commentary for it specifically for the review, I do have a bit more of an appreciation of it. I realize that this is just a very big passion project that involved Sugar pouring every little bit of her heart into it (not ignoring the fact that it’s also Adam’s episode, but let’s face it, this is pretty much Rebecca’s baby).

The songs she wrote for this episode, I’m Not Your Problem and What Am I to You? are some of the best written songs in the entire series, and derive from very personal place in Sugar’s heart. I’m Not Your Problem not only addresses the subtle, long term conflict between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, but channels an experience Rebecca had while trying to impress a roommate she once had, but failing in that regard. Some of the strongest songs in the series come from personal experiences that help the tune feel more raw and passionate (All Gummed Up Inside, Lost in the Darkness) and this is another great example. It’s an aggressive and intense experience, and pretty much gives us everything we need to know about Marceline and PB’s past history without ever giving us any flashbacks or long bits of exposition. It shows the flaws between both characters: Bubblegum’s unintentional ego and Marceline’s feeling of inadequacy. It’s a very well done conflict that I think a lot of people can identify with, and it’s done in such a unique and entertaining way.

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What Am I to You? is in the same vein. Dealing with Finn’s inferiority complex towards Bubblegum and Marceline is something that feels a bit overlooked and undermined through time, but it’s done in such a catchy and sweet way that it’s hard not to instantly be able to empathize with Finn as a viewer and immediately see things through his perspective. The inspiration behind this song is actually something that admittedly had me tearing up a bit while listening to the commentary (or someone in my house was just coincidentally chopping onions. I like to think the latter). Sugar wrote this song based on her experience with the Adventure Time crew, and how she finally felt accepted in her position and no longer saw her job as work, but rather something she genuinely enjoyed doing with people she loved. It’s a very endearing, loving message that honestly makes the episode itself even more heartwarming, and for that reason, it’s really hard for me not to get drawn into this episode. It puts every bit of care and compassion into it from the crew who love working on this show so much.

Besides that bit, I like the little in-between bits as well. Jake pretending to be the jerk of the band is funny enough, and even gets better when he alters his entire appearance. Finn’s little song about pasta is cute, and I just really love seeing all of these characters together at once. It’s rare that we even get to see Finn, Jake, and Marceline hangout from this point on, so it’s very nice to see Bubblegum and BMO included on this friendship train. It highlights some of the most important flaws of each character and focuses on them in great detail: Finn’s awkward and sometimes creepy interest in Bubblegum, Marceline’s inferiority towards her old friend, PB’s intelligence that can often come off as condescending, and Jake’s inability to take anything seriously. I even like the Door Lord as well, voiced by Steve Agee. His design leads me to believe he’s some sort of relative or distant cousin of Key-per, and it honestly cracks me up everytime he speaks in his hummed speech. Apparently the storyboard has legitimate translations for what he’s saying, but you can pretty much gather the gist of it without even needing to know.

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In the end, it actually is an episode that warrants the characters being so open about their feelings. In fact, it’s basically the whole point. Though I do like the ambiguity that each character possesses in their emotions and personal struggles later on, it’s nice to watch them finally get what is bothering them off their chest, and it’s a pretty good message to show that the truth will set you free a majority of the time. Finn got to open up about his feelings towards Bubblegum to Jake recently in Wizard Battle, and while he isn’t that explicit this time, it’s nice to see that he does acknowledge how he feels about her in a way, and that he’s able to earn a newfound respect in return. In addition, Marceline’s able to do so by accepting the way that she feels towards her ex-BFF. By not getting angry at herself for wanting to reconnect with Bonnie, Marceline allows a possible chance for forgiveness and new beginnings, something she couldn’t envision with her bitterness blinding her beforehand. It also shows PB’s side of things by showing her brief admiration for Marcy by having deep sentimental value in the shirt that she gave her, which was really just icing on the cake. My only problem with this episode is most likely your only problem with this episode: why the hell wasn’t BMO mentioned in the song?! She’s sitting right there, Finn! How couldja forget her like that?

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And I guess I should acknowledge the brief controversy surrounding this episode. On an AT oriented YouTube channel called Mathematical, which was started up by Frederator Studios, there was a video that gave a brief recap of What Was Missing and analyzed it further by addressing the implied homosexual relationship between PB and Marceline, equipped with fanart of the two in a romantic scenario. The entire channel was shut down, and the mastermind behind it, Dan Rickmers, was fired. To be honest, this is just some dumb bullshit that went down. I get that a couple of years have passed since then and animation and television in general have become considerably more LGBTQ positive recently, but c’mon, PB and Marceline are basically openly lesbian at this point in the series. Whether you interpret them as best friends or an actual couple, the show and the staff seem to be doing everything they can to stress the pairing of them in a romantic sense, so really, was there any point in making such a big deal over allegations if said allegations would later just become practically true without anyone even batting an eye? It was a dumb bit of controversy from the start and only seems more absurd with the current state the show is in.

Getting back to the actual episode, I definitely have grown more positive towards What Was Missing as time goes on. I still don’t know if I’d call it one of my personal favorites, but it’s just so charming and likable that it’s hard for me not to get sucked into what many people consider one of the all time best episodes. It just goes to show that whenever you want the show to be as sweet as can be, ya just add a little Sugar!

Favorite line: “I’ll get your kid back, toy!”

“Fionna and Cake” Review

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Original Airdate: September 5, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

A bit of background for this episode: the characters of Fionna and Cake were created by storyboard revisionist Natasha Allegri (as I’m writing this, it’s actually her birthday. Happy birthday, Natasha!). Allegri put the characters in several different humorous comic strips, and Pendleton Ward liked ‘em so much he said, “fuck it, why not make a whole episode around these two characters?”

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That’s where Fionna and Cake comes in, the show’s first big experimental challenge. The thing about Fionna and Cake as characters is that it would’ve been so easy to just make them carbon copies of Finn and Jake. Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar took it one step beyond that. Fionna and Cake become fully defined characters in the course of 11 minutes, and the Land of Aaa feels like its own entirely realized world, despite it being fictitious. That’s what works so greatly about Fionna and Cake; it is just like fanfiction, and can take characters, relationships, areas, and so on wherever it pleases. This episode is pure, illuminating enticement, from brilliantly using characters we all know and love and slightly altering them to giving us a legitimately well devised plot that would work entirely in a standard episode of the show.

As I mentioned, Fionna and Cake themselves are gender swaps of Finn and Jake that take on almost entirely different roles, but still retain attributes of the boys that inspired their creation. Fionna is very independent and even more mature than Finn, but maintains her love of adventure and excitement. This also works with her gender swap as well: she’s much less interested in what society stereotypes in terms of how women should be portrayed and more interested in what she loves to do, that being swinging swords and fighting bad guys. In addition, Cake’s possibly the most defined of the Fionna and Cake cast, and the most different from her male counterpart. Cake’s loyalty to Fionna and her relationship advice pose similarities to Jake, but she’s much more outspoken, sassy, and spunky. When it comes to others, there are minor differences, Gumball’s very proper demeanor and Ice Queen’s downright villainous persona, but part of the fun is just the way the two main leads work off of these characters. This episode captures pretty much all the AT typicalities: Fionna’s crush on Gumball, Ice Queen’s desire to marry Gumball, Cake and Lord Monochromicorn’s interest in each other (there’s an exclusive vinyl of the two that I’d give anything to have, but alas, I am a broke college student), and so on.

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What really works beyond anything else in this episode is just how naturally it flows. A lot of the time with experimental episodes of television, I find myself in a brief moment of disbelief, no matter how good said episode might be, of whether it connects to the world of the series enough or has a chance of succeeding by pushing the boundaries so drastically. Right off the bat, Fionna and Cake takes you right into the action. It doesn’t take the time to introduce individually to everyone because, as I continuously mention, we already know these characters in a way. The idea that we’re able to so easily adjust to something that’s so wildly different, yet exactly the same, from the standard episode of Adventure Time is so delightfully pleasurable and only helps the viewer enjoy every bit of the journey a little bit more.

Aside from that, it’s just generally a really fun episode. There’s plenty of great jokes, primarily from Cake (love the bit with her and Monochromicorn out of breath). The song Gumball sings to Fionna is a catchy and sweet homage to Aladdin that gives the entire episode a big, sweeping cinematic feel. And, as I mentioned, just the general interactions between the characters. I really love the honesty of Fionna during her time with Gumball (“dude, that was like, the stupidest thing ever”) and just the fun of seeing all of the various gender swaps. A character like Marshall Lee, who became so popular off of less than five seconds of screen time, shows how enjoyable it is to be able to see pre-existing characters who you still don’t know a single thing about. They can be anything you want them to be in that sense, and you’re able to allow the mind to create whatever canon you please. Although, I think Lady Cinnamon Bun deserves more love. Was her inaudible dialogue with Gumball simply not enough? Also fitting is the addition of Gingerbread Rebecca taking Gingerbread Muto’s spot in the opening theme, especially considering the two worked together on the episode. Even little things, like the lack of change for BMO and Ice Queen’s penguins, are really nice touches that are so subtle that they may be overlooked.

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The scene when faux Gumball brings her to his room is straight out of a horror movie, even dealing with the uncertainty of Fionna when it comes to intimacy. Finn is awkward and hesitant when it comes to his relationship with the Princess, but I always believe his reaction would be slightly different in this scenario. Maybe I’m just reading way too much into a brief moment, but I really think that Finn would look at this instance with shyness, but acceptance, whereas Fionna expresses briefly that she’s most likely uncomfortable.

Of course, she’s made even more uncomfortable when Gumball is revealed to be the Ice Queen. This whole sequence is some of the best animation in the entire series. It’s a thrilling battle between good and evil, equipped with just the right balance between the two that Ice Queen actually comes across as a threatening villain. It’s slick, smooth, and flowing, right down to the moment when Fionna smashes Ice Queen’s head in with her frozen hands. Once defeated, the scene when Cake runs in and attacks Gumball when she see’s Fionna’s ripped dress is another moment of significance. I could totally see Jake walking in and acting like Finn’s weird uncle and just giving him a simple thumbs up or a wink, but the gender swap allows for some interesting views of cultural differences that apply to our real world as well.

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Finally, the ending reveal that the entire episode was a mere story from Ice King’s fanfiction. This pissed a lot of people off, but honestly, that makes it all the more interesting to me. Not only that Ice King wrote a surprisingly coherent piece of work outside of the ending, but it’s just really fascinating to view the entire story from Ice King’s perspective. His depictions of the characters are especially intriguing, right down to the fact that he wrote Ice Queen as a straight up villain. It almost makes you wonder if he believes this of himself, and Fionna’s line of “be careful! You might catch her crazy!” makes me question if deep down, Ice King subconsciously does know truths about himself that he wouldn’t consciously realize otherwise. There’s also the really creepy notion that Fionna is kissing Ice King in the cover, so I don’t know what to make of that, besides the more endearing version that Ice King simply likes the idea of Finn and Jake worshiping himself, rather than resenting him. That’s the fun part with future Fionna and Cake episodes. They are all told from a certain person’s perception (albeit the most recent one) and it leaves more room for analysis and allows us to unintentionally explore the author’s psyche.

All in all, I really love this one. It takes full advantage of the opportunity at hand, and goes one step beyond by giving us one of the most beautifully crafted episodes to date. This is truly my favorite of the Fionna and Cake saga. There are a couple of other goodies, but I think this one particularly crafted so much from so little. It’s an episode I never truly get tired of watching. Terrific character explorations, nice animation, terrific writing, lovely music (all thanks to a sweet hammered dulcimer), and genuine fun: it’s simply Adventure Time in its truest, most passionate format.

Favorite line: “Why are y’all breathless if we’re the ones running?”

“Wizard Battle” Review

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Original Airdate: August 29, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Wizard Battle is a bit of a missed opportunity in my book. Instead of taking the time to actually show us some really cool wizard battles (this really could’ve simply been a standalone Ice King episode of himself participating in the battle) it’s mostly shaped down to a pretty simplistic, yet mildly effective Finn-PB romance plot.

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In general, pretty much all the wizards are there. Huntress Wizard, Laser Wizard, Bufo, Grand Master Wizard, and so on. Even Science Whyzard is there, who is actually just Doctor Princess in disguise. What a bizarrely interesting cameo that makes for as well. What prompted the writers to have Doctor Princess pretend to be a wizard? Considering her character’s entire life is a giant facade, it actually does make sense with her identity that she’d make up an entirely new false persona.

It’s a considerably weaker Ice King episode, since he really doesn’t have any strong characterization or motives besides simply wanting to kiss Princess Bubblegum. And c’mon, where are his ice nunchucks from Chamber of Frozen Blades?? That could’ve easily solved the barely addressed conflict of the IK cheating right there. Though he doesn’t take a large amount of focus, because this is the debut episode for Abracadaniel. Abracadaniel’s a humorous dork; he’s definitely not one of my favorite side characters, and in terms of awkward nerdlings, I think I’d choose Banana Man over him. He still gets a decent amount of good lines, and I still really love that Steve Little delivery. The animation and timing for how much he struggles to use his wand is really terrific and only strengthens the experience of Abracadaniel’s incredibly weakness as as wizard.

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Love the total of five people in the audience. I hope that gator had a good birthday.

It’s also a bit odd to see Princess Bubblegum at a pro-wizards event, considering how strongly she feels about magic versus science. Even weirder is her subjecting herself to being seen as a prize to anyone who participates in wizard battle. As Jesse Moynihan gracefully stated:

“She’s a diplomat, her number one priority is to keep the peace.”

And from Kent Osborne:

“It’s like the president participating in an Easter egg hunt.”

I still think it’s a bit of a stretch that she’d attend an event like this, but it seems like she isn’t completely taking it seriously to begin with. The only one who’s really taking it seriously is Finn, who arrives at a breaking point when it comes to his feelings for Bubblegum. The real meat of the episode is when he blows up at Jake, simply because it’s taken Finn this long to be completely honest with his feelings about PB. Though at the same time, it’s somewhat odd. Wasn’t Finn pretty upfront with Jake about wanting to go out with the Princess back in Too Young? It seems like this scene could’ve fit a bit more gracefully back in season two, but nevertheless, it’s a very well performed moment of turmoil that doesn’t take itself too seriously or dramatically.

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Besides that one scene though, I think the rest of the episode is pretty disposable. I love a lot of the designs of the wizards, including Finn and Jake’s cosplay outfit, and I really would’ve enjoyed seeing some of the many interactions between them. There’s plenty of quirky gags and funny lines to get me through, but Finn’s infatuation with PB just isn’t enough to keep me invested in the plot, and I think this was a point when these types of stories were becoming stale. We pretty much know for certain that, as of Too Young, PB totally isn’t going to slide for Finn romantically. That’s not to say his infatuation can’t go in an interesting direction, like it does later in this season. But Wizard Battle takes it in a direction that just feels repetitive. I’m glad that Finn got his one kiss from PB (his very last in the series, as well) but I’m also glad this is the last episode that deals with his love for her in such a competitive way. 

At least Ice King looks crazy see-yik in those glasses though.

Favorite line: “Well, I’m going back to my cave to wait for someone to kill me. Goodbye.”

“Still” Review

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Original Airdate: August 22, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Somilay Xayaphone & Kent Osborne

Still is simply one of the funniest developmental Ice King episodes of all time. I can’t think of a single episode I’ve rewatched up to the point that I’ve laughed at as much as this one. There’s a lot of great one liners, gags, character interactions, and just a really hilarious story that carries through till the very end.

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Not a particularly interesting screencap, but who is that dude in the picture frame with Finn?? Is that supposed to be Jake?

It’s funny because this episode could’ve easily just worked as a sequel to the ending of Hitman, and it fits with the general tone of continuing to experiment with Ice King’s admiration of Finn and Jake. It’s funny because, while he’s completely insane and actually comes off as somewhat threatening for freezing F&J, he shows that he legitimately has general knowledge about the duo’s interests and aspirations, including Finn’s love of meatloaf (a recurring character trait of his) and Jake’s incapability to express his emotions genuinely. It actually makes him more sympathetic because, while he has no idea how to be a true friend to anyone, he actually does truly care about Finn and Jake and has more interest in their lives than they would ever have about his. Even though Jake notes that the IK has tried to kill them “like, four times” but of course, that’s only because the two boys are constantly “princess blocking” him. Any guy would do the same!

A good majority of the episode, however, is just the very quirky interactions between the Ice King and the boys that takes place exclusively in the tree house. From this point, it’s a pure romp of nonstop laughs. Ice King dressing like Finn and pretending to be him is both really creepy (imagine if you were witnessing him doing this in real life) and truly hilarious. Actually, creepy and funny are themes mixed quite a bit in this episode. I’m not sure if the IK taking pictures of his penguins’ body parts is more uncomfortable or really funny, but maybe I just have to settle for both.

I really love any episode of any animated series that deals with general annoyance with another character, and Jake’s reaction to the Ice King throughout the episode is just priceless. John DiMaggio does a really standout job of giving Jake a very angry yet deadpan tone, and the drawings coincide perfectly with some really humorous facial expressions. I was literally gasping for air laughing at the breakfast scene: “Well, how ’bout I make us some omelettes?” “That sounds pretty good, actually.” “I’m gonna put my foot in it!”

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The other chunk of the episode is Finn trying to connect with an astral beast, which later turns out to be his spirit animal, a butterfly. It’s equally as amusing as the main plot to watch Finn continually shout in an artistically pleasing setting about channeling this beast through his mind. It’s also somewhat of a star episode for Gunther, who was called to “act like a cat” in the outline of this episode (Somvilay even drew him as a cat in the early storyboards). It’s just really cute watching him roam around and play with his surroundings, though I still never know how to feel about the blatant scene where he’s dry humping Jake’s face. The staff jokes about this in the commentary by saying “Gunther’s got some really great dance moves.” Y’all know what you did!!

The episode ends on a perfect note as well. Ice King learns a thing or two about what being a true friend means and the fact that he isn’t going to get anywhere by forcing his two buddies to love him. Considering he never pulls a stunt like this again, I really think Ice King begins to grasp a bit of an understanding of how friendships and love work, and the idea that his misconception is causing him more bad than good. It’s a bit of a crucial moment because of how difficult it is to get through to Ice King. He’s certainly trying to improve his life on one way or another and, despite his craziness, he is learning to be just a smidge more sane day by day. Even though he ruins it in the end by purchasing the wrong unfreezing potion. I really wonder how the three of them got out of this pickle.

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My only lingering question from this episode: where is BMO? It seems like a bit of a contrivance that he’s just completely missing because, obviously if he was there, this plot wouldn’t hold much water. I’m just gonna go with the excuse that he was at soccer practice or something, and later came back to unfreeze his friends.

Aside from that minor detail though, this episode cracks me up. It’s continuously funny from beginning to end, and I really just love the consistent characterization of Ice King throughout this season. Season three really is Ice King’s star season of the show, putting him in many of the series’ funniest episodes, as well as some of the most poignant, and those types of episode would only increase in quality from hereon in.

Favorite line: “Jake, sometimes you don’t cry because you’re afraid of real emotion. It’s okay, let it out.”