Original Airdate: November 17, 2015
Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Tom Herpich
Stakes really begins to pick up in story by the time Vamps About comes. This one really establishes the overarching dilemma of the miniseries, as well as introducing the main villains to our heroic crew. As far as establishing said plotline, this episode does a pretty solid job on that part, as well as having a ton of fun along the way.
The first few minutes of the episode are mostly spent with the vampires, as we’re provided with a solid concept regarding their personalities, abilities, and character traits. And man, do I love these guys. The vamps in general are probably my favorite part of the miniseries, as so much effort was clearly put into their designs, motivations, and individuality. Each vamp is charismatic and unique in their own way, and its nice how the presentation of these characters isn’t too exposition heavy either. We’re given brief glimpses into the perspectives of each vamp, but we don’t really fully get to know them until their own star episode. Thus each vamp leaves us with a bit of anticipation until they eventually strike later on. Especially The Moon, who remains entirely speechless and virtually unacknowledged during the entire convergence. Hella creepy. I have my own list of favorites and least favorites when it comes to the vampires, but I’ll get into that list during the Stakes mega-review. Aside from their individual characteristics, the vamps also have great chemistry between each other. Love all the slapstick-y moments involving Empress and the Vampire King’s treatment of The Fool, as well as the Vampire King threateningly holding Hierophant captive and shouting, “surely? Surely? SHIRLEY J. TEMPLE!” An obscure reference to say the least, but one that always gets me regardless. It’s also cool to see that the vamps are very different in their philosophies regarding how they should go about adapting to their new environment: Empress wants to rebuild an entirely new army of vamps, Hierophant wants to stick to the old-school vampire ways, The Moon’s motivations are unknown, The Fool just wants to fuck around and have a good time, and the Vampire King wants to turn over an entirely new leaf of existence.
The next bit regroups our main heroes, and while it isn’t as fun or enjoyable as the time we spent with the vamps, we do get some quality moments. I love Marceline toying with Jake once more as she fake-out sucks his soul, and his version of giving Marcy a “ride” to PB’s house that involves growing a bigger, more human-like torso. Only Jake would come up with something so complicated. I know this isn’t a moment that a ton of people were into, but I liked Finn putting his arms around the girls as Marceline explains the vampire situation to Bonnie. A lot of people saw it as Finn being creepy and trying to cop a feel from his female companions, but I always saw it as an attempt for Finn to be involved and incorporated into the conversation, but gets a bit too into the gals’ personal space for their own liking. I never saw this moment as being especially malicious or creepy, and more naive than anything. The scene that did bother me was the 40 second long gag that involved Peppermint Butler drawing various interpretations of Jake’s description of the vamps, as Jake consistently responds with, “nah, that’s not right.” I remember being really bored and unamused the first time I watched this bit, and I’m equally as unfazed after a third or fourth time. Adventure Time has never fared with with overly-long jokes. It’s a series that banks itself off of quick-shot gags and overt absurdity, rather than toying with the patience of the audience and seeing how long a particular joke can be stretched out. I’d be fairly more forgiving if Peppermint Butler’s sketches were at least funny, but they’re pretty straightforward and unremarkable. This at least provided us with the sweet promo art that Steve Wolfhard drew up for the episode.
The flashback sequence featuring the final battle between Marceline and the Vampire King is visually impressive. The action is staged terrifically, Vampire King’s words are dramatic and foreboding, the shot is well-lit through the use of moonlight, and the biting scene in general is really intense and somewhat disturbing. Vampirism has shared a connection with rape culture in the media since pretty much the beginning of its existence, and I definitely get those uncomfortable feelings here. That’s not necessarily a complaint though, as I think it really adds to the absolute trauma that seems to have been inflicted on Marceline. Adventure Time has flew past the radar countless times, but I was actually somewhat surprised with how aggressive this biting sequence was able to play out.
Another one of my favorite bits in this one is Peppermint Butler unleashing his large, collective supply of vampire slaying material. It was pretty obvious from the beginning of this miniseries that PB, Finn, and Jake would all still possess prominent roles despite the fact that Stakes revolves around Marceline, but it sure is nice to see Peppermint Butler in a secondary role as well, to the point where he does have an active role in the story. I love Pepbut’s explanation of how he kept this arsenal around just in case Marceline went berserk. The little man will really do anything to protect Princess Bubblegum, even if it means slaying her former best friend in the process.
It was kind of annoying to see the boys fumble around and be incompetent, just so that there is some kind of framing device in order for Marceline to be alone. Of course, there are tons of these moments during the miniseries, and this one isn’t as bothersome as some instances are. So I can forgive this moment for now, but it certainly isn’t the last time I’ll be making this complaint.
Marceline’s confrontation with the Vampire King (and The Fool) is nicely executed, and it does kind of paint a picture of how morally wrong the King actually is in his new lifestyle. While Marceline is rightfully close-minded in not believing the vamp after he treated her in the past, it does kind of leave an impression that sorta makes you question vampirism in general. I mean, it seems fucked up that the vampires suck the blood from animals, but in general, we as humans kill and eat animals every single day. It’s an obvious point, but one I actually didn’t think about much from the inception, to which the Vampire King brings to light. While we’re on the subject of the King, I think he has a pretty neat design in general, but it bothers me to no end that he also has bird feet, similar to Urgence Evergreen. That was a really neat and unique feature to Evergreen’s design, and I feel as though Vampire King sharing this trait makes Evergreen seems less remarkable in the process. But that quibble aside, I do enjoy his various different animalistic attributes.
Marcy quickly staking The Fool was quite amusing, as the Vampire King slickly transports from area to area. Though the battle doesn’t last long, as Marcy is left with the impending dangers that face her good pal Simon within the Ice Kingdom. And we’re left with an exciting promise of an episode-to-episode battle with each vampire.
This one is mostly solid. It has a couple jokes and gags I’m not particularly into, but this is the episode in which I really started to get invested with this miniseries as a whole. It builds a lot of anticipation for what’s ahead, while providing for some satisfying entertainment in the process.