Before we kick off this review, a brief announcement. I’ve been posting somewhat frantically the past month because I’ve had a lot more freetime, though any upcoming reviews will return to the Friday release date. Thanks to all of y’all who have been patient with the lack of a consistent schedule lately, and take some time to breathe as things return to normal within the new few weeks.
Now, without further ado, season 5.1! This one is an oddity on it’s own, because though it technically isn’t an entire season, I’ll be treating it like an entire season. And, as far as seasons of AT go, I actually found this one somewhat lackluster.
Season 5.1 definitely makes more of an effort to focus on lighter, sillier stories, after coming off of the often heavy and intense season four. And I’m not opposed to this at all; I know there’s plenty of people out there who solely enjoy Adventure Time for its story over its “filler” episodes, though I’m certainly not one of them. I’m perfectly content with the “fluff” that AT churns out, as long as it’s, of course, enjoyable. And while this half-season had its fair share of good one-shots, I don’t really think there were many great one-shots.
Among some of these standalone episodes are Up a Tree, Davey, the Graybles entries, Mystery Dungeon, Little Dude, Shh!, Princess Potluck, James Baxter the Horse, The Party’s Over, Isla de Senorita, and Candy Streets, and out of all of these, I think Mystery Dungeon is the only one that really shines among terrific territory (though, I don’t even know if I could call this one standalone; I’m sure it does include some understanding of the tertiary characters that are featured). Shh! and James Baxter the Horse were both pretty solid in their own right, while Candy Streets, The Party’s Over, and Davey are ones I find just good enough to divert from “meh” territory. The others, however, I find pretty disposable. Upon first watching a handful of these episodes, I was wondering if I was just simply growing tired of AT’s lighter material and wanted the show to be full-on serialized, but I now realize that it was a somewhat of a silly consideration. AT still has plenty of terrific comedic episodes to come, and season two and season three still hold up tremendously as mostly silly masterpieces. The issue with a good chunk of these episodes, I find, is the stories are either a bit too paper thin, or that they don’t really take full advantage of their subject matter. Little Dude is about Finn’s hat coming to life, which is a really bizarre concept that could have all kinds of comedic possibilities, but it’s just kind of a simple story where nothing particularly interesting or memorable takes place. Elsewhere, Princess Potluck is story where Ice King is upset because he didn’t get invited to a party. I get that going simple often offers the most inventive ideas, though it’s quite the opposite for AT. The more simple they go, it often ends up with generic and unremarkable results.
On a more story-oriented note (or continuity based, at least), this season offered up Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, Jake the Dad, Vault of Bones, All Your Fault, Bad Little Boy, The Great Bird Man, Simon & Marcy, and One Last Job. A ton of these are episodes that a lot of people tend to consider amongst some of their all-time favorite episodes, including the two part season premiere and Simon & Marcy, though I view these episodes much differently than most do. Finn the Human is an incredibly boring excursion, Jake the Dog is a somewhat frenzied mix between comedy and depth that doesn’t really blend well at all, and Simon & Marcy is an 11 minute ball of exposition that I feel like I didn’t really need to see. Alternatively, the two episodes that stood out amongst the bunch were All Your Fault and Vault of Bones, for reasons that actually fit into what I look for in the standalone episodes: they were tons of fun! They weren’t entirely heavy or depth-filled stories that broke barriers, but they were simply enjoyable romps that focus on some really entertaining adventures filled with great humor and solid character development.
I think 5.1 hit its highest peak when it focused on the more experimental episodes, as AT typically does. All the Little People remains one of my all-time favorite episodes for its unique character study and interesting themes, while Puhoy was a thoroughly fascinating journey into a dreamlike dimension that focused on Finn’s insecurities and gave a glimpse into one of his many possible futures. BMO Lost is an entertaining entry featuring BMO on a solo-journey that’s filled with fun, heartwarming moments, and drama. Even Mystery Dungeon has elements of being experimental! It’s pretty ballsy to put 5 completely different side characters together and to make them the focus of the episode, but it actually worked out tremendously. Adventure Time works with subversive topics and stories quite well, and this half-season shows just how effective these types of episodes can be.
The teams for this season fluctuated greatly, which could possibly be attributed to the changing quality from episode to episode. Instead of a solid 5 or 6 teams of artists and writers per season, with the occasional guest writer or two chiming in, this season has had tons of guest boarders and constantly changing teams. Rebecca Sugar and Skyler Page departed halfway through this season to pursue working on Steven Universe and Clarence respectively, while Kent Osborne returned to the writing staff, and many short-term storyboard artists were brought on, such as Thomas Wellmann, Luke Pearson, and Michael DeForge were brought on, along with Graham Falk, who would eventually join the writing staff full time. David O’Reilly also guest-starred to write, direct, animate, and storyboard his own cartoon, which was a first for AT overall. And then there was also the fun game of “which storyboard partner will Somvilay be paired with this week?”
The three somewhat consistent teams were Ako Castuera and Jesse Moynihan, Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard, and Cole Sanchez and Rebecca Sugar. Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard, who began their long career as partners during this season, would later become my favorite team in the entire series, though I think Ako and Jesse once again take the cake this season, with Jesse getting specific praise. Not only did they work on both All the Little People and Mystery Dungeon, but Jmoyns also co-wrote The Suitor and Wizards Only, Fools, which are all pretty splendid episodes. Surprisingly enough, I’d have to say that Sugar and Sanchez were the weakest team this season. I never did think their styles blended particularly well, and I think it shows in episodes like Jake the Dog and Simon & Marcy where the tone can really fluctuate greatly. Overall though, the schizophrenic pairing of different teams somewhat works against this season. I think it’s hard to watch a good handful of these episodes and think, “oh, this writer worked off of this writer particularly well,” because you never really get a chance to see the team dynamic by how little we get to see from each team. Season six was also one that consistently brings on guest artists and writers, though I think that was one that actually benefited from it because of how ever-changing the tone and the stories were. Season eight and nine also change up the teams a good bit, though we know pretty much all of the artists and writers by this point in time that we can kind of understand how they would be able to work together. I think having consistency in writers and storyboard artists has proved to work wonders for AT through the years, and I think it was able to find a happy medium in the second half of this season.
As for character arcs, there wasn’t anything quite noteworthy. Finn continues to travel through adolescence, PB continues to battle with her emotions and her responsibilities, we get to see a bit more into Marceline’s past history, and Ice King begins to show very subtle signs of moving into a slightly emotionally stable future. In all, I think Jake kinda stole the spotlight this time around! And I know what you’re thinking, I still wasn’t a big fan of Jake the Dog, Jake the Dad, or even One Last Job that much, but I think his overall presence was the most enjoyable and I like how they took the steps to evolve his character a bit more. In the grand scheme of things, Jake is just kind of the cool dude that’s watching everything around him go down, so it is nice to get this bit of depth behind his character and to have specific time devoted to watching him.
Top 5 Best Episodes
Honorable Mention: Mystery Dungeon – don’t typically do this, but I can’t leave this one unnoticed. It’s a hilarious episode that focuses heavily on some of Adventure Time‘s greatest side characters.
5. Puhoy – An imaginative and emotionally compelling episode that takes on a very interesting alternate version of Finn, while including fun interludes between Jake and BMO.
4. Vault of Bones – A terrific dungeon themed episode that focuses on Finn and Flame Princess’s relationship, and is probably the best FP episode to date.
3. BMO Lost – Strictly a personal preference. I’m a sucker for BMO episodes, and this one is done exceptionally well. It’s everything I enjoy about BMO’s character in one sweet package.
2. The Suitor – A really terrific look at PB’s confliction when it comes to relationships, while also focusing on an interesting and likable protagonist. It also has probably the best display of Pepbut’s interest in the dark matters I’ve seen thus far.
1. All the Little People – You all saw this coming! One of my personal favorites, if ya wanna hear me ramble on about it in great detail, read my review, dammit!
Top 5 Worst Episodes
5. Another Five More Short Graybles – It had a terrific Lemongrab-centric grayble, though its completely frenzied pacing and generally uninteresting stories did not do it justice.
4. The Great Bird Man – One that I find pretty dull, and proof that Xergiok should never be the focus of an episode.
3. A Glitch is a Glitch – One that I’ve grown to appreciate in animation and visuals, though one I particularly loathe in its writing and portrayal of the characters.
2. Finn the Human – A really dull and unimaginative look at Finn’s alternate self, and one that lacks excitement after coming off of The Lich.
1. Princess Potluck – A totally unremarkable episode with an even more unremarkable plot.
Season 5.1 is a bit polarizing for me. It has some great entries, as to be expected with Adventure Time, but the episodes that are just good aren’t really THAT good. But in the same sense that the episodes that are bad aren’t really that bad. Overall, I think there’s a lot of dull moments in this half-season, but it’s even somewhat hard to say that. I mean, I’m judging this by Adventure Time standards, so obviously I’m going to be harsher on some episodes even though, when comparing them to any other series, could be looked at as gems. So even if it seems like I just flat out didn’t like this one, I just find it weaker than what I’m usually conditioned to expect with any typical AT episode. Though, luckily enough, things really pick up in the next half-season, and I look forward to kicking off 5.2 next week!