Original Airdate: July 18, 2011
Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Adam Muto
Whenever the question of an underrated episode of Adventure Time arises, Morituri Te Salutamus is usually the first thing that comes to my mind. I really like this one. The plot is pretty standard when observed on a surface level; Finn and Jake enter a battle arena and fight some gladiator ghosts while Jake fails to follow through with his buddy’s plans. On the whole though, the episode has a lot of nice, small details going on in the background, while also including some of the darker and grittier battles we’ve seen on the show to date.
The main conflict between Finn and Jake is kept very subtle, and relatively sweet. Jake’s lack of focus has been harped on several times before (prominently in Power Animal) and it’s somewhat endearing that Finn has enough of an understanding of that to not bicker with his brother over following a very simple strategy. Of course, it results in Finn nearly scarring Jake for life, but hey, lava hula hoops just aren’t a good alternative for battling ghosts. They’re both written so well that neither of them comes off unlikable for their relatively questionable actions. Jake is still a ton of fun despite the lack of attention he gives his best friend, and Finn is still enjoyably bonkers even if he takes it one step too far. Also, props to Rebecca Sugar for writing one of my all-time favorite songs in the series. Tropical Island works not only as a catchy song, but also to undercut some of the more intense moments in the episode.
The Fight King’s arena is awesome. The colors surrounding it really help emphasize the darker feel to the underlying subject at hand by subduing the bright and colorfulness most people are accustomed to in a typical AT. In addition, the underground has a couple cool details as well. For instance, it’s practically a gladiator graveyard for anyone who ended up dying in the battle arena, which is a pretty grim and quietly placed bit considering it’s never explicitly mentioned. The Fight King (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who does a pretty good job delivery-wise, per usual) himself is well-designed. He has many bandages, a missing limb, and several weapons attached to him to help create the sense that this dude’s been around forever. He doesn’t seem like a powerful villain in terms of strength or abilities, but he’s certainly one that seems to have mastered the art of manipulation.
The real gem in this episode, however, is the ghosts. First off, all of them are really inventive and unique. It would’ve been so easy to have every gladiator look the same, but the artists took it one step beyond and gave each gladiator a very specific looking mutation or accessory. Second, it’s a very subtle element of tragedy that all of these ghosts were once loved ones that were pitted against each other, and the remorse that they feel is certainly heavy-handed and powerful. Without even knowing who these people are, you almost get a sense of their backstory and their connection to one and other, as they were likely similar to Finn and Jake in their motivations. Two friends, companions, or siblings who took on a challenge for the fun of it, as one was tragically manipulated into killing the other, carrying with them a deep feeling of regret as a result. It’s clear that no one has ever managed to actually succeed in the battle arena, and I’d theorize that after one of the soldiers killed the other, they later ended up killing themselves as a response to their guilt. It’s a lot of little, but crucial moments that make this episode have a real emotional core to it.
And that emotion carries willingly to the very last third. Again, it’s a moment where we know that Finn isn’t actually going to kill his brother, but at the same time, it’s easy to just feel so scared for Jake. He’s hurt and terrified that someone he simply wanted to retrieve a lava hula hoop for has suddenly turned on him so dramatically. It’s a really intensely packed remainder of the episode that truly kept me on the edge of my seat the first time I watched it, and even still kind of does to this day.
This episode goes back and forth a lot with Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar’s drawings, but Muto choreographed a good chunk of the fight sequences, and man did they turn out well. Not only is there some decent slapstick, like Jake using his stretched out thighs to crush a gladiator, or one of the ghosts landing crotch first onto his shield, but it really packs a punch! It’s somewhat hard to pull off the idea of Finn and Jake fighting ghosts, because, well, they’re ghosts, and as Jake states, “ghosts don’t got meat.” Still, the show manages to pull off some pretty effective feeling fight scenes despite the insinuation that Finn’s opponents are already dead. The swords Finn uses in this episode aren’t really as visually interesting as most of his other swords, but man, the way Finn slings them left and right is just so terrifically animated and carried out that I don’t mind. They’re used for some fast-paced stabs and shanks, which really assists in improving the final product.
Also, there’s a heavy use of Latin in this episode. The title itself, Morituri Te Salutamus translates to “we who are about to die, salute you.” In addition, Finn utters such phrases as abet (be gone) and eludere (evasion), while one of the gladiators shouts “non pugnant, Flamma!” (be not repugnant to him). It’s a nice example of dialogue that really assists in making the scope of the world of AT feel bigger, and the different cultures throughout. If I got any of those translations wrong, let me know. I totally Google translated all of ‘em.
So yeah, this is one I really like a lot. It’s one that I don’t see a lot people mentioning often, but it’s certainly an episode that deserves more publicity. Great atmosphere, intense battles, an emotional core, and our two lovable main boys. The episode ends thankfully on a light note, as the gladiators descend to another realm, presumably one of the Dead Worlds. Jake and Finn are the perfect duo to set an example of what true companionship means, and how disagreements are trifling in the long run of lifelong friendship. I only wish that Jake one day does reach that tropical island. What a way to end the series that would be!