“Food Chain” Review

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Original Airdate: June 12, 2014

Written & Storyboarded by: Masaaki Yuasa

When a guest animator comes aboard the AT crew to produce their own episode, they often succeed by a visual standpoint, but fail in terms of actually capturing Adventure Time’s atmosphere and understanding what makes it work. The previous episode produced by a guest animator was A Glitch is a Glitch, and while that incorporated some stellar CGI, it felt like it was written by someone who has seen a total of three episodes from the first season of the series and hasn’t seen anything since. Japanese animator Masaaki Yuasa, on the other hand, seems to have a deep understanding of what makes Adventure Time work. Yuasa’s style blends surprisingly well with the series, and it’s interesting to see that this is his only gig in terms of Western Animation. Yuasa has previous credits on two of my other favorite TV shows, Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy, and his work translates just as well with those series as it does here. And, in a refreshing twist, this effectively blends visual specter and surrealism, rather than focusing on story and characters, which really helps it to thrive. It’s also educational in a way that’s fun and enjoyable; almost reminiscent of Animaniacs ability to get across information through wacky characters and musical numbers, this episode carries along the same spirit.

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First off, this one is equipped with a specially made intro from Yuasa, and it looks awesome! It’s a very fast-paced, angled pan through the Candy Kingdom, where Finn and Jake have assumed the faces of most of the main cast, including some obscure characters, like Gunter and the Snow Golem. It also features a humorous role reversal, where Finn leaps onto Jake’s head, Jake rides Finn through the Ice Kingdom, and the two are presented as “Jake the Caterpillar” and “Finn the Flower.” It’s sung by Yuasa, whose voice perfectly fits the odd nature of the theme song in general. This is probably my favorite theme variation, outside the Elements version.

To refrain from sounding redundant throughout the entirety of the review, I think I should just address now how great the animation is in this one. It’s fun and vibrant, and probably some of the most fluid stuff we’ve seen come out of Adventure Time. It really shows how impressive this guy’s work is, and it’s no wonder that the AT staff continually asked him and his studio to come back and animate for each miniseries. Yuasa’s style is also pretty cute and nostalgic; don’t know if y’all know who Taro Gomi is (author of “Everyone Poops”), but Yuasa’s style constantly reminds me of his children’s books. It’s pretty neat to see how simplified the storyboard process was for this episodes compared to others, seeing as how much more detailed everything is in the final product, while still keeping the spirit and expressions from each board alive.

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From a writing and character perspective, I actually like how dry everything is in this episode. David O’Reilly’s take on Finn and Jake’s life was frenzied and hyperactive, while Yuasa went with a much more laidback and toned down depiction of the characters. Even the kids at the beginning, who are very hyper and excitable, aren’t really overdoing it. They’re acting like kids normally would; it feels natural and doesn’t even necessarily feel like it’s trying to amuse, just trying to show something unique and visually interesting. And the stellar camera angles as we watch the children ride down the slides from their perspective supports this entirely. It’s even cool that Yuasa somewhat brought logic (at least within the AT universe) into this one! Where I had trouble trying to convince myself that the story of A Glitch is a Glitch could actually happen within the Land of Ooo, Food Chain has Magic Man instigate the entire experience, and it’s pretty cool to see a secondary character such as himself have somewhat of a major role within the plot of this kind of episode.

Most of Food Chain is just simply enjoying those visual experiences I mentioned earlier, and each sector of the food chain is a ton of fun. This episode is full of great musical moments, like the electronic rendition of “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” as Finn and Jake turn into birds, or the hilariously trippy “We’re Plants” song, which utilizes Finn’s autotuned talents to their best abilities. The bird and bacteria sections show off some terrific facial expressions and animation; love the chubby Finn bird trying to fly away as his belly continuously rubs against the ground, and the consistent drooling, creepy look that his bigger bird self possesses is just great. The bacteria portions provides for some really cute chibified versions of Finn and Jake, and their endearing expressions that come along with it.

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My favorite portion is likely the caterpillar bit, which has Finn meet a new lady named Erin of whom he actually marries! I’ve seen tons of fanart with Finn and Roselinen, is there any of him and Erin out there? I’d love to see some! But I digress, this sequence is as close as the episode comes to having a “story” and it’s told relatively well. I like Jake spying on the two and essentially pressuring Finn to get hitched, and Erin’s character is pretty adorable and funny in her own right. I like her little line right before the two get eaten of, “I might see other people when we’re bacteria!” That was a clever addition keeping to the overarching theme of the episode.

Of course, there’s also that final song, which, I’m gonna be honest, might be my favorite song in the entire series. The animation is smooth, the rhythm is flowing, the visuals are vibrant and eye-catching, the lyrics are simple and informative, Finn and PB sound terrific in duet form, and Finn’s bright red suit and fedora are absolutely irresistible. I know everyone is more likely to choose a Sugar song as their favorite melody in the series, but this one just feels so cinematic and powerful, and such a terrifically random climax for the episode. Though the episode is great on its own, this is one I will specifically revisit solely for the song sequence. The children, however, are less than impressed by the tune than I am, and continue their own cycle of playing instead of sitting through some decent education. Such as life! At least the boys learned the importance of the food chain through Magic Man’s off-color teachings.

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This is one of those episodes that I can’t really discuss in great detail as to why it works aside from the obvious reasons, but man, this one is awesome regardless. I have one minor nitpick with this one, and it’s the fact that the snail never shows up! It’d be alright if that was the case with all of the other guest animated episodes, but even those managed to squeeze the lil’ guy in some place. Seems like a minor inconsistency, and sad that this is the only episode in the entire series to lack the Easter egg that is almost religiously placed into each episode. Regardless, Food Chain boasts stellar animation, contains some great song sequences, trippy visuals, great designs, a simplistic, yet effective story, and is an all-around awesome experiment to put our two favorite brothers at the center. Masaaki Yuasa really killed it with this one, and set a bar that no guest animator before or after was able to reach. This is an experiment that pays off tremendously, and allows its guest animator to express himself freely, while still having a strong connection to the source material.

Favorite line: “Hey, have you noticed we are birds now?”

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