Season six is likely Adventure Time’s most divisive season, and for understandable reasons. This season strayed away from the goofy, enjoyable adventures that made up the first few seasons, or the surface level excitement and emotional unambiguity that was featured more heavily in seasons three and four. After the series had reached a comfortable groove of popularity around the time when Pendleton Ward decided to step down, Adam Muto and the crew decided to try something completely different that didn’t meet the standard expectations of the common television viewer. Not to discredit the first five seasons; they were entirely unique and still utilized the characters and fantasy world to the series’ best abilities. Season six is simply just… different. It doesn’t focus entirely on our main duo, it experiments more with serialized elements, emotional ambiguity is at its highest, and the series really branches out by giving a variety of different artists and animators an opportunity to lend their creative energy to the show. While this is clearly seen as a turning point for some, it stands at to me as one of the most ambitious seasons of television out there.
I’d say there’s three main “storylines” in season six, two of which are established in Escape From the Citadel: the first being Finn’s crisis of faith in the world around him, and the second being Finn’s relationship to his father, Martin, which are relatively interconnected. The third doesn’t come until later, which revolves around the catalyst comet heading straight for Ooo. Finn’s arc ties mostly into the overarching theme of the season, which is the act of finding purpose and meaning in one’s life. The overarching theme itself was the best thing to come out of this season, giving us many episodes that provide hints towards methods of managing stressors in life, such as The Tower, Breezy, Astral Plane, The Visitor, The Mountain, The Diary, Friends Forever, Jermaine, and The Comet. While the theme remains consistent throughout the season, it’s somewhat difficult to incorporate Finn’s sadness as a major part of the series, mainly because of the fact that episodes of AT tend to shift in tone frequently. One episode can be dark and heavy-handed, while the very next episode can easily be a light and silly romp. And that’s not to say that these lighter episodes aren’t welcomed, but it is a bit of a drastic shift to see Finn devastated in Escape From the Citadel, playful and joy-filled in James II, and then back to being angry and depressed in The Tower. I think this is more so just a trademark of the series that I’ve grown to accept and not mind as much, and it is important to know that we’re never truly shown how exactly Finn is feeling in an episode like James II, so it doesn’t necessarily border on discontinuity. Martin also showed up sporadically, but it was actually a pretty insightful part of his character that he would always leave just as soon as he showed up. Martin establishes in the last episode that he continuously aims to “move forward,” and he’s shown to do as much as possible. I thought the comet subplot was the most haphazardly executed… it’s introduced in Evergreen, revealed in Astral Plane, disproved in The Visitor, and then doesn’t appear again until the final five episodes of the series, only to bring no actual lasting changes to the series aside from Martin’s final exit. Again, this one helps to close out the main theme that season six aims to execute, but it also never feels like it has a coherent role in the actual story.
Aside from the main arcs, this season is also well-known for its use of side stories featuring the lesser known participants of Ooo. This part of the season also contributes to Finn’s realization that the world around him is massive and expansive, and that the Land of Ooo certainly does not center solely around himself. We got some terrific entries through said stories, such as Little Brother, Nemesis, Evergreen, The Diary, Graybles 1000+, You Forgot Your Floaties, and so on. On occasion, this method could fail, like Sad Face, where the featured character failed to be interesting in the slightest. But, a majority of the time, these “day in the limelight” episodes were a refreshing treat and managed to have me invested in characters that I would never even expect to. It’s an AT specialty.
Overall, I think this season had the highest amount of subpar or bad episodes so far, but man, the episodes that are good and really friggin’ fantastic. When I think of really tremendous episodes of Adventure Time, I’m typically drawn to thinking of Escape From the Citadel, Breezy, You Forgot Your Floaties, and so many other goodies that managed to take my breath away upon a first viewing and still “wow” me even to this day. Every episode feels like it’s trying to do something completely different and innovative, and it really does pay off. If an outside viewer watched three episodes back-to-back – let’s say The Diary, Walnuts & Rain, and Friends Forever – it’d almost give off the impression that they were watching an entirely different show with every viewing. The Diary is a lovely episodes that exudes beauty through its top-notch scenery and some nice, poetic readings. Walnuts & Rain is a silly and laidback episode featuring the two main boys. Friends Forever is a highly tense one that focuses on Ice King’s insecurities as a person. Really don’t seem related to each other in any way, do they? And that’s what I love about this season: it felt like I was being treated to something unique and different with every single episode. Most shows tend to run out of ideas and lose steam after the course of 100 episodes, but season six is full of concepts that feel completely fresh and new, not only for the series, but television in general.
A lot of people felt that the series lost touch with its roots by this point, which I disagree with, but it is obvious that Adventure Time became a different show than what it started out as. One of the main complaints I’ve seen regarding this season is the “pretentious nature” of some of these episodes, namely Jesse Moynihan’s. While I understand why people might not like the deeper themes that encapsulate some of these episodes, I think most of these episodes DO remain interesting on a surface level as well. Even without understanding the subtext and knowing what the fuck is going on in The Mountain, it’s still a really cool episode with neat ideas, trippy visuals, and a funny main character to carry the whole story through. The same could be said for an episode like Astral Plane, with deep ideologies reflecting the futility of life, yet is still packed with AT silliness and a compelling plot. In my eyes, the only time the season truly fails at using such subtext is when a story is subjectively uninteresting, like Friends Forever, or when the moral/takeaway is misguided, like Princess Day. I don’t know how much opinions have changed regarding these episodes today, but I think it also has to do partly with the fact that this season aired right when Steven Universe started churning out some really great entries. I’ve touched on this topic before, but SU was beginning to get highly serialized, reveal new information with each episode, and was largely unambiguous in how its characters were feelings about certain situations at hand. I think this certainly made the spontaneity and ambiguity of season six seem like more of a flaw than it actually was. Animation had gone through a change within the five years that Adventure Time had been on air, and serialization was more heavily utilized by other shows like Gravity Falls and Steven Universe by this point in time, so it may have negatively affected people’s views of AT to see it handle overarching stories as somewhat of an afterthought. Though again, this is only a theory and season six may still very well be regarded as a black sheep for most people. For myself, I’ve learned to accept the series for what it was trying to accomplish, rather than what other shows were accomplishing at the time, and I don’t necessarily see the structure or tonal shift of season six as a problem overall.
The writing teams were somewhat jumbled this season, as a ton of guest writers and animators joined the crew for a small period of time to share their style with the AT world. It quickly became a game of “who is Jesse Moynihan going to board with this week?” As usual, Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard wrote some of the most intriguing stories, Moynihan produced some truly bizarre and ambitious entries, Andy Ristaino and Cole Sanchez continued to be the best comedy duo in the series, Graham Falk concocted some delightfully weird and goofy tales with fun drawings, and… Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim struggled. Seriously, it pains me to keep ripping on these two, because I really want to keep an open mind while rewatching their episodes, but I truthfully only fully liked three of the episodes they worked on this season, that being The Pajama War, On the Lam, and Be Sweet. Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe! and Chips & Ice Cream had their moments (though the latter is probably only a personal opinion) while the others were either mediocre or plain bad. I will say that they have improved (and will continue to) since the last half-season, where nearly every episode they worked on was just plain bad. They managed to improve slightly this season by at least having a couple of entertaining entries, though I’m also being a bit generous. Xayaphone still struggles to captivate audiences with his obscure style and humor, and Kim struggles to find a voice at all.
A lot of guest board artists were also pleasantly welcomed as well, like Madeleine Flores, Sam Alden, Jillian Tamaki, Derek Ballard, and Brandom Graham, who all managed to capture Adventure Time’s tone while blending it with their own unique style. Masaaki Yuasa also provided his lovely animation skills to Food Chain, and David Ferguson utilized his own design for Water Park Prank, though that one is better left erased from my memory.
Since this season was full of so many great episodes, I’m gonna extend the top 5 best to a top 10, but still leave the “worst”s as a top 5. Most of the duds in this season were just mediocre, so I’d rather focus on categorizing the ones that I thought were actually bad to some extent.
Top 10 Best Episodes
Honorable Mentions: The Mountain, The Diary, Astral Plane, and The Cooler
10. Is That You? – The most entertaining clip show to date, with a story so convoluted that only AT could pull it off successfully.
9. The Comet – An entertaining conclusion of themes that finally has Finn shifting his mindset regarding reality.
8. Joshua & Margaret Investigations – A hilarious and fun tale about Joshua and Margaret before their puppers were born.
7. Jermaine – A really interesting spotlight episode for the least prominent of the Dog family, and one that really has me more invested in Jermaine’s life than I ever thought I would be.
6. Jake the Brick – An atmospheric and scenic delight, and one of the calmest AT episodes to date.
5. Little Brother – An adorable episode capitalizing on one of my favorite one-shot characters to date, that’s filled with whimsy and a neat little adventure to boot.
4. Escape From the Citadel – A stressful, fast-paced episode that is invigorating till the very end, and one of the toughest trials that Finn has ever experienced.
3. Breezy – A harsh and realistic portrayal of depression that features our main protagonist at his absolute lowest, that is filled with allegories, interesting relationships, tough truths, and an illuminating final message.
2. Evergreen – Arguably one of the best stories that Adventure Time has ever told, this is an all-around awesome episode that plays out like a modern fable, and one with an equally startling conclusion.
1. You Forgot Your Floaties – Essentially a visual piece of Jesse Moynihan’s blood, sweat, and tears, this is a wildly unique and bizarre episode that makes for one of the most different pieces of media I’ve ever seen, all while being veiled with a heavy feeling of sadness.
Top 5 Worst Episodes
5. Dark Purple – A Susan Strong centered episode that isn’t really interesting in its story or characterization in the slightest, and merely seems to exist to move Susan’s arc further.
4. Sad Face – A bland story faced with an equally bland character.
3. Princess Day – Adventure Time at possibly it’s most mean-spirited, with a misguided message at the helm.
2. The Prince Who Wanted Everything – The primary example of why Fionna & Cake has overstayed its welcome.
1. Water Park Prank – You all saw it coming.
Season six certainly isn’t a perfect season, but it tries so many different things and new approaches to entertainment that I hold it close as a personal fave of mine. I totally understand why people dislike this one, but with every experimental episode that failed, there was always one really, really strong, experimental episode on the horizon. It’s likely the most flawed out of any season, but uniquely flawed. This was the first full season with Muto as showrunner, and while it’s better than I could have ever expected, you can somewhat tell that he is still trying to get a feel for what direction he wants the series to take. Does he want it do be fully serialized? Does he want it to be mostly funny, or really profound? Regardless, even the episodes that don’t work are still usually interesting and have some sort of redeeming quality that makes them stand out. It’s one hell of a rollercoaster, but one I certainly never mind riding for it’s unique, ambitious, and beautiful entries.