Archive | August 2018

“Vamps About” Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Favorite line: “Smell my feet, Marceline! You won’t regret it.”

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“Everything Stays” Review

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Original Airdate: November 16, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Hanna K. Nyström

I was a bit nervous that Stakes would be limited to merely laying out the backstory of Marceline over the course of 8 episodes, and boy am I glad that it isn’t. While I’m always interested in finding out new details within Marceline’s past, I can’t think of anything more boring than having her entire past history explored and leaving nothing up to interpretation. Thankfully, the deepest dive we get into Marceline’s backstory is within Everything Stays, and it provides the audience with bits and pieces relating to Marceline’s past, without putting all of the pieces together. Thus, we’re provided with new information, but our imagination is still capable of doing a lot of the work. It’s also really nice to get an episode that’s devoted to exploring Earth after the Mushroom War, and how it affected the psyche and wellbeing of our fellow humans, as well as that of Marceline.

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Pretty basic to say, but I really adore that beginning scene between Marceline and her mother. Of course, I had already seen this bit about 50 times before the episode aired because it was shown at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, but regardless, it makes for one of the most poignant moments in the series. While we haven’t received any actual information regarding Marceline’s mother up until this point, it’s so nice that her only appearance in the series features her being as loving and caring as possible. I myself haven’t come up with a completely solid and well-thought out theory regarding what happened to Marcy’s mom, or even how she ended up getting married to a shyster like Hunson, but regardless, I’m very interested in creating those answers after seeing how close the two were. Rebecca Sugar does a splendid job in her first role as a voice actor. I somewhat thought this casting choice was odd at first, because it was hard for me to separate the voice actor from the voice, but I gradually grew fond of her performance. Sugar has this really passionate, genuine, caring voice and attitude that captures Marcy’s mom perfectly. And of course, the song is perfect as well, which was also written by Sugar. A terrific representation of youth, growing, and the series itself that never seems to wear on me. It was great to see Sugar actually sing outside of a demo version, and the visuals that go along with the tune really tug at the heart strings. Marceline gently gripping her mom tighter as the song goes along is a small detail that gets me every time.

Cutting to something as equally sad, we’re treated to an actual revelation of how Ice King ended up leaving Marceline. I mentioned in the last review about how this miniseries could tend to be riddled with awkward funny moments that often tarnish the emotional weight of the individual moments it presents, but Ice King is typically the type of character to subvert that method. I think Ice King filming the tape (that Finn and Jake watch in Holly Jolly Secrets – Part II) and then immediately shouting, “okay, bye!!” is pretty hilarious, while still remaining tragic. Part of Simon is still very much there and functioning as he mutters all that he can remember about his own life and Betty, though Ice King pretty much reigns supreme at this point. We don’t know what drove Simon overboard to the point where he decided to leave, but if anything is certain, the general gist of his decision is in clear eye: he’s a danger to Marceline. I think this scene is nicely executed, but it’s probably the only bit in the episode that I feel as though I could have gone without seeing. All of the information dished out is stuff that we already kind of knew about or could have gathered from the context clues in I Remember You. I guess I always pictured Marceline and Simon departing each other as especially devastating, while this bit just came across as mildly sad. That was probably the fault of my own headcanon at the time, but as I mentioned, this bit is handled fine and I don’t really have any big gripes with it. It just mostly feels like I’m reliving my feelings towards Simon & Marcy once more.

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Cutting to the next flashback is some new information that the series, or even any spin-off material, hasn’t really touched on up until this point: Marceline’s teen years. I wanna reiterate how cool it is that the writing staff chose to explore a story regarding Marceline’s character that has never been explored before. While I’m sure a ton of people (including myself) were wondering how exactly Marceline became a vampire, I don’t think many people were especially curious about her teen years, given that there was sooo much established within her childhood, and her later years of which she spent with Princess Bubblegum. But, Everything Stays takes a much more challenging route, by dishing out some really nice new information regarding Marcy’s character and her past. I’m not really into Marceline’s Mohawk-mullet combo, but I think it totally suits her teen-angsty self. I also love The Fool’s small role in this episode; I don’t know if I’d really call The Fool my favorite of the vampires, just because they’re all so unique and interesting in their own individual ways, but The Fool is certainly the funniest of the bunch, with some terrific voice acting from Ron Funches. Adventure Time‘s tendency towards juvenile humor is typically met with decent results, but Funches excels with it. He really gets me with even the dumbest of lines, such as, “I look like a buuuutt.” And how neat is it that Marceline actually utilizes the soul sucking abilities that she does possess? Even if she rarely acknowledges the fact that she is half-demon, it is cool to see that it isn’t just a random attribute of her character and that it actually does come into play in regards to how she obtains her various different abilities.

Moving forward, I really enjoy how paranoid the humans are portrayed to be in reference to any possible threat that faces them. After the literal apocalypse that led to dozens of different creatures being unleashed into the world, it makes sense as to why human beings would have such little trust or the ability to understand anyone outside of their species. You feel bad for Marcy, because it seems like she’s the only outsider in this world that actually wants to preserve the greater good for humans, but also understand why these humans want to avoid potential dangers as it is. The return of the animal hats was a nice touch, and it’s cool to see that they actually have a purpose and method of safety beyond just looking silly and/or hiding gils. The established human characters are fun; I think it’s especially sweet that Two Bread Tom is voiced by Tom Kenny, as it seems like a nice tribute to the talented VA whether it was intentional or not. I also think that the Bunny Girl (who is later named Jo in the Islands graphic novel) is a nice additional as well, and provides for some genuinely cute moments. Kind of cool how the Bunny Girl is voiced by Ava Acres, who also voices young Marcy. I get the feeling that Marceline sees a lot of her younger self within the little girl, which is alluded to especially with the voice acting. The way that the Mr. Belvedere theme song is clearly not as tragic as the Cheers theme song’s usage in Simon & Marcy, nor does it try to be, but it’s still enjoyable regardless. Pretty funny that Two Bread Tom wants to keep the stories of olden times relevant by singing the theme song of a corny sitcom from the 80’s. Also loved Schwabl’s small role in this one, just because that dog doesn’t get enough damn attention in this show.

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One thing that’s really been consistently great about Stakes so far is its visual flare, and this episode is no exception. The backgrounds are especially nice and never stagnant, as almost every scene within Everything Stays has some sort of shift in the color scheme in one way or another. Something as simple as changing how the sky reflects the shading of the characters is a really nice touch that keeps the episode feeling fresh throughout its entire course. The animation also picks up during Marceline’s fight sequence with the vampires who oppose her, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thought Marceline and Two Bread Tom’s exchanges on the boat felt truly bittersweet, as the episode sought to accomplish. TBT’s fear of all the threats that face humanity (including “hungry-looking rainbows”; very nice touch/callback!) on this continent kind of puts into perspective on how massive the Earth is beyond Ooo. While I have no doubt that the entire Earth was forever changed by the Mushroom War, it is cool to think that there are possibilities for places within the world of Adventure Time where magic and crazy characters aren’t especially prominent. Of course, this would be elaborated on more in the next miniseries, but this is a great starting point. It is sad to think that Marceline could’ve been offered a home of comfort and solace away from all of the troubles of her past if she had chosen to go with Two Bread Tom and the other crew of humans before the vampires attacked. Though, since the island is later proven to be an area that is relatively close-minded among its population, things may have not fared well for Marceline in her path to acceptance.

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The eventual fight between Marceline and Hierophant (another one of my favorite vamps) is very enticing, and provides for some really fun banter in between. I mentioned in my review of Marceline the Vampire Queen that Marcy’s quirkier moments come off a little more awkwardly than any other character in the series, but man, Olivia Olsen’s reading of, “blaaaah, I don’t care!” was truly hilarious. Marceline’s humorous side benefits almost entirely from her passion towards mockery. It’s also cool to explore what exactly Hierophant’s powers provide for him; I almost disregarded Marceline’s usage of shapeshifting in Varmints as a continuity error, though I feel like this episode justifies it from seeing how many opportunities that Hierophant has in that department.

The episode leaves off on a great note, as the flashback sequence comes to an end, while building tension and anticipation regarding the identity of the Vampire King. I was excited to see what would happen in the next entry, as Marceline is left with the fact that her vampirism seems to be cured, and that the vampires she once faced are revived as a result. Jake’s face at the end really sums it all up.

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Everything Stays is great. It’s a lore-heavy episode that focuses entirely on dishing out new information, rather than leaning too heavily on what we already know about Marceline. This one also has a pretty solid atmosphere; there’s a real feeling of longing and melancholy throughout, as we explore Marceline’s confusing teen years and what’s left of humanity as we know it. It’s storytelling at it’s absolute finest, focusing on entertainment and what is important for the audience to know, without feeling too cluttered by exposition. It’s also a great debut for Swedish storyboard artist Hanna K. Nyström, who would go on to work on some truly great episodes (and some not so great ones) along the way.

Everything Stays resulted in a lot of great opportunities regarding spin-off material. The life of Jo (the bunny girl), Two Bread Tom, and the other humans is expanded upon in the Islands graphic novel (which I may eventually review on this blog) and the 2015 Adventure Time Spoooktacular elaborates on Marceline’s battle with The Moon. The 2015 Spoooktacular was also illustrated and written by Nyström. Check ’em both out if you haven’t, they’re great!

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Favorite line: “Ah, so good! I had a hoagie for lunch!”

“Marceline the Vampire Queen” Review

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Original Airdate: November 16, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Stakes time, baby! Just as a heads up for y’all, I will not be analyzing the entire miniseries as a whole until I cover each individual episode of Stakes. Though they all follow a linear story, each episode of Stakes has its own identity and purpose, and I think it’s important that they’re discussed separately. Hell, that’s one of the main reason I started up this blog; I grew very sick and tired of seeing reviews that only discussed the actual quality of the miniseries as a whole without looking at what each episode (which were all worked on by different writers and storyboard artists) had to offer. So, let’s get started with Marceline the Vampire Queen!

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This one’s mostly set-up, as one would and should expect from a series of connected episodes as such. As far as set-up goes, I think it accomplishes much of what the miniseries would later expand upon, including the nature of vampirism, how it affects Marceline, and what conflicts face our main heroes as they embark on their journey. Granted, I think this one holds up a bit less on its own than when I first watched it. Considering that the terrific Everything Stays follows it, most of my positive feelings that reflected that half-hour seem to be in regards to the latter half. That’s not to say that Marceline the Vampire Queen is without its moments. There are some especially funny moments, along with a decent portion of nicely drawn and well-animated sequences. My issue with this one is that it seems a bit tonally dissonant in some areas; one of my main critiques of the miniseries as a whole is that it can try to be a bit too jokey and quirky in some areas where it isn’t really warranted. I feel as though many of these episodes are constantly trying to throw out jokes every five seconds, and it usually results in a mixed bag of really funny moments, and a handful of unfunny bits. Marceline the Vampire Queen is very much similar, in that it wants to be taken seriously, but also wants to entertain its audience, which is a trademark of Adventure Time in general. But it partially feels a bit forced in some areas, and I’ll try to explain what I mean as much as possible.

First, I do like how the beginning of this episode plays out. Marceline struggling to reach her umbrella as she seeks refuge under a shady tree is a great way of framing Marcy’s pain and struggling in her current state. I initially thought the premise of the miniseries in general was kind of weird, considering that we never really saw Marceline struggle with any in depth, personal issues regarding her curse, but I think Marceline the Vampire Queen does a pretty decent job of explaining it. I quite enjoy Marcy’s interactions with Bubblegum, and how she describes her vampirism as a constant reminder of her messed up past and how she’s unable to completely move on from it. Though her inability to expose herself to the sun is primarily what kickstarts these feelings, it’s nice that Marcy describes an underlying and deeper source to her issues that has been plaguing her for some time. After 1,000+ years of being a vampire, the stagnation weighing down Marcy’s life seems like it would surely take a toll on her mental health, considering that no matter what she has done before, she can never move on from the disability that constantly surrounds her. While it’s hard to relate to actual vampirism, it can easily be substituted for any other mental illness in the book, and how many people feel that same bit of stagnation through the threatening mindgames they face each day.

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The interactions between PB and Marcy when it comes to the operation sequence are mildly funny in how they subvert pandering to any diehard Bubbline fans, but again, I thought PB’s apathetic nature did kind of squander the importance of the procedure. Granted, I love PB’s moments of not understanding how to interact emotionally with other characters, but this is the one time I would actually like for the two gals to have an honest and direct conversation with each other. It’s funny, because Ako Castuera returned to the writing staff for this episode, and I think her method of writing for Marceline and PB suffers from the same issues that Castuera’s previous Marcy-PB centric episode, Sky Witch, had. While Castuera seems to have no problem writing for Princess Bubblegum individually, I think the way she depicts the relationship between the two girls is especially hollow to the point where it seems like PB doesn’t given a fuck about anything going on around her. I don’t think the gals need to be lovey-dovey and kiss up to each other all the time, but I feel as though such a moment deserves for something a bit more earnest and compassionate.

While I mostly like Finn and Jake’s roles in the episode, I feel like Jake suffers from being way too over-the-top in the beginning. I don’t even hate his role as bad cop, but I think it’s somewhat squandered by the fact that Jake quickly gives up this role and ends up being just as caring and supporting as Finn in the blink of an eye. Obviously he wanted to help his friend in her time of need, but I felt the shift from “let’s go arrest Marceline right this minute because she’s obviously guilty” to “let’s help out our friend Marceline because she’s having personal problems” was way too abrupt. That being said, I did like the interactions between Marceline and Finn, and how Marcy herself isn’t even sure of what may have happened to herself or others.

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There’s a big presence with side characters in this one, mainly the fat villagers and their leader Cloud Dance. Cloud Dance has a few funny lines revolving around his cows and how they were affected by the vampire bites, though I think the character in general is slightly unremarkable in his voice, personality, and design. He’s portrayed by Kyle Kinane, who I actually had never heard of prior to this episode, though is apparently a voice actor and a comedian. While I’ve never seen Kinane’s work elsewhere, Cloud Dance isn’t really provided humorous dialogue as it is, aside from the moment I mentioned earlier. His character is pretty insignificant, and one I usually tend to forget.

The following nighttime scenes are probably my favorite bits of the episode. Though I’m not really a fan of Marceline’s “arthritis dance” (any attempt to make Marceline a quirky or silly character never really comes off as convincing) the moments Finn and Jake share are both funny and somewhat tense. I love Jake’s ignorant fear of vampires coming into fruition once more, as John DiMaggio puts absolutely all of his energy into Jake’s character. The shots within the cave are eerie and off-putting in the best way possible, with tons of different grotesque and nicely detailed animals scattered throughout. It is strange to see a whole assortment of random, non-speaking animals (has there ever been a normal dog in the series before this point?) but I’m willing to forgive it because every creature depicted looks fantastic.

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The episode comes to a pretty enticing conclusion; clearly we know Marceline isn’t going to explode, but the way it’s framed, as Finn tries to literally beat the sunrise, is really cool and builds a good amount of hype for the next episode.

Marceline the Vampire Queen does everything it should to set-up for the next handful of episodes, but I think my main problem is just with the tonal shifts and dialogue. Adventure Time has always been good at balancing out drama and comedy, but I almost feel as though this one is trying to forcibly be humorous every chance it gets, even when it means getting in the way of having genuine character moments. This is actually a problem I would end up having with the miniseries and several other episodes within it as a whole, but as is, it is a decently fun start to a mostly fun miniseries.

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Favorite line: “That’s cool, you guys, but clean this mess also, you bums!”

“Football” Review

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Original Airdate: November 6, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Emily Partridge & Luke Pearson

I never thought that BMO would have as big of a psychotic breakdown than the one he had in BMO Noire, but Football gives that episode a run for its money. In a way, both episodes are quite similar; BMO Noire and Football feature BMO suffering from somewhat of an identity crisis, that is masked behind what seems to be nothing more than a silly game. The episodes also operate primarily in BMO’s perspective, leaving a lot up for interpretation regarding how much of what we’re seeing is actually real and how much is a product of BMO’s imagination. While these episodes share the same gist, Football manages to stand alone as its own thing by telling an equally unique and intense story.

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I always figured that Football would eventually end up starring in an episode of her own; I thought the exchanges between BMO and his imaginary friend in the first two Graybles episodes were relatively cute, but I always saw this concept as something that could be fleshed out into a scenario where BMO’s imagination once again goes haywire. And that’s exactly what happens here. The little interactions with BMO and Football at the beginning were funny and cute. Adventure Time has really mastered making BMO behave exactly like a child at this point in the series. Granted, it’s a fair stretch from the type of character that BMO started out as, but the commitment that went into this archetype the past three or four seasons has really made such a development seem convincing otherwise. When I think of BMO’s character as a whole, I think of childlike whimsy, and not the snarky accomplice we spent time with in an episode like Guardians of Sunshine. I enjoy both interpretations of BMO’s character, but I’ve grown to be more accustomed to the toddler-esque portrayal that has formed his character most recently, and appreciate the dedication that has reflected on it.

As I mentioned, both BMO Noire and Football focus on a game that has essentially gone too far. Though here, I think BMO’s feelings and attitudes are even more vague and difficult to understand. I don’t know exactly why he would want this, or even if he can control it. The episode does a great job with raising curiosity in terms of just how much of BMO’s “game” is supposed to play out, and how much of it is without BMO’s intention. In addition to that, Football really makes you question whether it is entirely within BMO’s imagination or has some kind of basis in reality. I mean, obviously I think it’s all just a mind game from the bot’s perspective, but in the Adventure Time world, and especially with BMO, you really never know. Football really could be some version of BMO from a parallel dimension, and while that’s highly unlikely, the episode still plays with those conflicting view points for an factor of entertainment.

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The visuals are really clever in never showing both BMO and Football talking at the same time. Every sentence is framed in a certain sense of ambiguity. I especially like when “Football” is staring at BMO’s reflection through the mirror, as BMO continuously makes various animated movements, all while Football remains still because the shot only shows the top left half of his body. That was a really smart move; the episode could’ve so easily just gone with the lazy and sloppy route and just had BMO sit still while talking to his reflection, but Adventure Time is much more innovative than that. Emily Partridge and Luke Pearson did a great job on this one from a boarding perspective. Even after being away from the storyboarding phase for quite a bit of time (Pearson left after Frost & Fire and Partridge debuted with The Prince Who Wanted Everything) the two still manage to have a deep understanding of the AT characters and how to properly work with the show’s environment. Similar to Mukai’s work on the past few episodes, it’s nice once again to get treated to the style of guest artists, and both Pearson and Partridge dish out some wacky and unique expressions for each character.

This episode differs from BMO Noire by having Finn and Jake incorporated into the main story. I feel mixed about F&J’s roles overall, as they provide for some really strong moments, and some instances that just stick out to me as kind of weird. First off, I love their willingness to go along with BMO’s game unconditionally. Even when it’s clear that BMO is struggling, Jake still does not break character or attempt to squash BMO’s imagination. The two act as terrific caretakers to the little guy, in both humoring him and trying to ensure that he is physically and mentally sound. Jake’s little speech about having “soul noise” and how it’s perfectly okay to not feel your best at all times was splendid. Though we rarely ever see Jake getting to be a parent to his kids, it’s so lovely that we get these little moments between him and BMO that show what an swell father he would be, if he still had the chance to actually raise his kids. Some of the more unusual instances come from the fact that I felt like the boys were a little too chill at moments. BMO wrecks up the whole Tree Fort and smashes the absolute FUCK outta NEPTR, and Finn and Jake seem totally indifferent to his actions. I mean, I get that the Tree Fort gets demolished on a regular basis, but it seems as though the two were a bit too unfazed by their little buddy’s emotional troubles. And the term “unfazed” could easily be applied to their behavior on the roof, where they just kind of watch as BMO falls off into the river. They aren’t even shown to react to such an instance, nor does Jake attempt to grab him (which he could easily do by stretching out). It’s sort of weird to watch F&J be terrific parental figures in parts of the episode, and then just kind of end up sidelined when BMO’s issues really start to pick up.

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BMO’s complete breakdown is delightfully intense. Again, while it’s clearly framed as a figment of his imagination, BMO’s distress still feels very real, and his emotional turmoil is quite compelling. You never really know where the episode is going to go with it, and keeps building and building until the very end, when BMO falls into the lake a cleverly “switches places” with Football. The ending is a simple, but nice resolution, that ties back into the fact that, under all of this baggage, BMO really is just a cute, playful child on the surface. Even with everything going against him within his mind, he’s still able to create a happy ending within the realm of his own imagination.

Other little things I enjoyed in this episode is the fact that NEPTR and Shelby are now considered part of the Tree Fort family, and it’s especially sweet, seeing as how they gradually start appearing more as secondary characters throughout this season. I still cannot believe how absolutely harsh it was for NEPTR to get beat down like that. I mean, the show usually shits all over him, but God damn. Also, I liked the silly addition of the dozens of grapefruits scattered around the Fort. It was quite absurd, and fun to imagine what kind of offbeat adventure brought that plethora of fruit in.

This one is pretty rad, though. It’s genuinely compelling, using its visuals and intense tone to its strongest abilities. BMO is an interesting gem who presumably has the most confusing issues in the entire series, and it’s always nice to see what kind of stories can lend themselves to his wild imagination, as well as his troubled psyche.

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Favorite line: “Why you gotta be so destructive today, BMO? You doin’ robot puberty or something?”

“Mama Said” Review

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Original Airdate: November 5, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Kris Mukai

Despite the fact that it continues to focus on King of Ooo’s reign in the Candy Kingdom, Mama Said feels classic. It’s a light and silly Finn and Jake adventure episode, and a refreshing one at that. Granted, I don’t think this episode completely emulates the energy of a classic Adventure Time episode, but it makes up for it by being extremely pleasant and laidback in its tone.

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KOO’s antics in this one are humorous, per usual, as he proves to be all levels of extra by making Finn and Jake sit on stools, only to further his desire of having his own mobile mushroom. It was also fun to see him have such a unique and comical aspiration; I had mentioned that I thought his tendencies toward greed in Bonnie & Neddy were a bit too predictable and uninteresting, while his desires in this one are so absurdly specific that I can’t help but get behind it.

This episode is really nice on an expressive level. Kris Mukai is back once again to lend her distinctive boarding efforts to the series which provides for some truly appealing drawings of both Finn and Jake. It’s cool how her style can work for a more dramatic outing, like Varmints, but also translates to the zany atmosphere that this episode works off of. Kent Osborne also provides his likably malleable designs of Finn and Jake once more, that only seem to get rounder and cuter as his time on the series progresses.

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Speaking of Osborne, a lot of the nice, quieter moments that he included in Jake the Brick also end up in Mama Said, which is really what contributes to the calmer tone overall. I always like moments when Finn and Jake practically talk about nothing; Finn’s line of, “actually, I’m kinda glad we’re walking in this direction. We never walk in this direction,” is so mundane and not complex in the slightest, but there’s something so genuine and natural about it that it just comes off as nice piece of random dialogue. The episode is chock full of little moments like this, both humorous and somewhat bland, but all in the best possible way.

And keeping in the spirit of calm and cool, we’re reintroduced to Canyon! I had a feeling that Billy’s Bucket List wouldn’t be the last that we saw of her (especially because she mentions this) and it’s a true delight to have her, as well as Ako Castuera, back once again. I also really dig her redesign, as she still feels mystical, though more relaxed and casual in her everyday environment. Similar to her last appearance, Canyon isn’t especially interesting or complex, but she provides a certain tranquil aura that makes her welcomed regardless. I was somewhat confused at first as to why a silly episode like this would be the episode they brought Canyon back for, but it actually feels quite fitting, given the ambiance that the episode seeks to accomplish.

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Aside from being chill, this episode also features the most bizarre Adventure Time villain I’ve seen in a long time: the Mother Mushroom. The Mother Mushroom is a well-designed, slightly terrifying, and also hilarious antagonist. The fact that it merely utters what sounds like a Wikipedia entry of mushrooms was also insanely amusing. We’re even treated to a fun and decently animated fight sequence that utilizes Finn’s persistence to kick butt, Jake’s stretchiness, and Canyon’s rad attitude to their fullest abilities.

While I love the conclusion that features KOO kicking Finn and Jake the fuck out for not directly following his orders, I think the Banana Guards singing “Mama Said” is easily the weakest part of the episode. It’s relatively humorous that this episode’s name derives strictly from a minuscule gag that isn’t even related to the story, but the song sequence itself was just a bit too random and out of no where for my liking. In addition to that, I’m not really a fan of somewhat modern songs being used within the world of AT. It works in an episode like Simon & Marcy, that is specifically set in the past, but a tune such as “Mama Said” would strike me as something that should have been lost in translation in this world. It also just kind of feels like padding rather than a legitimate conclusion to the episode.

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One other minor quibble I had with this one is that it feels like it’s trying to have some kind of an underlying theme with Finn and Jake choosing to have fun and ignore their responsibilities, but it never fully comes into fruition. Canyon’s line, “if you don’t like your job, maybe it’s time to find a new one,” is framed in a way that seems like it’s going to have some kind of effect on how Finn views his position within the Candy Kingdom, but all of that is ultimately scrapped when KOO immediately fires the two boys. I’m reaching a bit, considering that it ultimately has very little focus in the episode, but it is something that always felt lacking in how it was elaborated on.

But overall, Mama Said is nice and fun. Certainly not as funny or intriguing as some of the other breather episodes are, but it really is just that, a breather. It’s relaxing, mildly amusing, and carries with it Adventure Time‘s brand of weird.

As an added bonus, here’s one of my favorite stories (by K.L. Ricks) from the Adventure Time Comics series, featuring Finn and Canyon.

Favorite Line: “Did you notice he was wearing Princess Bubblegum’s clothes?” “Yeah, that was sort of cool.”

“Cherry Cream Soda” Review

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Original Airdate: November 4, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Graham Falk

As far as I’m concerned, the only thing more offensive than Root Beer Guy’s death is his revival in Cherry Cream Soda. I wasn’t particularly mad at the fact that the show initially killed off Root Beer Guy back in Something Big, as I never thought that RBG’s character needed any subsequent appearances outside of his debut. He was a lot of fun in Root Beer Guy, and it was nice to see him in brief cameo shots afterwards, but he doesn’t have the type of personality that truly leaves me wanting more. My main gripe with his death was that I thought it was presented a bit tastelessly, and I would have preferred just never seeing RBG again than to have him kicked off in such a mean-spirited way. But of course, a ton of people were upset with his death, and I’m sure that was part of the reason the writing staff decided to resurrect his character once more. It’s not even like Prismo, whose revival at least provides for an important episode down the line. RBG was simply brought back for the sake of this one episode, and instead of being the fun reunion that Is That You? was, Cherry Cream Soda mostly has me scratching my head and asking “why?” At this point in the series, it’s quite frustrating that Adventure Time cannot simply just commit to killing off a character. This isn’t even an instance that provides for a juicy or interesting story, like with Prismo, and later with Glob and Fern. Cherry Cream Soda genuinely feels like a waste of my time.

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The strongest part of this episode is definitely the beginning, and I don’t even mean in comparison to everything else. Cherry Cream Soda going about her day, unable to move past the grief that surrounds her with each waking morning, was legitimately good stuff. The atmosphere is sad and ominous, and carried a lot by the backgrounds, music, and terrific voice work from Anne Heche. Heche is definitely the best part of this episode, devoting her full energy to every single line presented to her. Of course, I don’t know at all what it’s like to be a struggling widow, but the situation is presented so well that CCS still has my fullest sympathy. There’s many poignant exchanges, mainly between CCS and her newly wedded husband Starchy: “I love you, baby, but isn’t there an expiration date to this grieving thing?” “I don’t think it works that way.” It’s quite frankly a melancholic sentiment that reinforces how the pain of losing a loved one never truly disappears, especially early on. There’s also that depressing opening statement from CCS of, “one day at a time,” which is an optimistic viewpoint in its own right, but typically translates to struggling.

The flashback reveal that CCS and RBG were literally “made for each other” is also an interesting concept that really sheds to light on how the Candy People operate. While it doesn’t seem ill-intentioned, PB’s behavior once again comes into question on whether or not the methods of creating her people were actually orthodox or not. On one hand, it is nice that PB created two beings and automatically paired the two with one another – it’s almost like character constructing, in a way! But on the other hand, she never gave Cherry Cream Soda or Root Beer Guy the option to be alone or even to get to know each other. This may relate to PB’s failure to understand just how much humanity that her people do possess, and that not everyone can be as dumb and half-witted as Cinnamon Bun.

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That’s pretty much where the good stuff ends, as Cherry Cream Soda bids a final farewell to her late husband. Might I also note that RBG being revived by lightening is the single most uncreative revival this series has ever pulled. In a world full of magic, the episode uses a method that is absolutely banal.

What follows this lightening strike is just… weird. I know that’s a vague statement on its own, because AT as a whole is an inherently obscure series, but Cherry Cream Soda is unusual in all the wrong ways. It feels like the episode is trying to be really quirky and jokey with the way that Root Beer Guy and Starchy interact with Cherry Cream Soda, but after the already established macabre tone from the first act, it’s kind of tough to get behind this story taking somewhat of a goofy turn. It’s also just really… uncomfortable. I get why Cherry Cream Soda is pissed at RBG and think the pain that she conveys is legitimate, but I also think it’s unnecessary for Root Beer Guy to get shit all over. I mean, he literally sacrificed himself so that he could potentially save all of the Candy Kingdom (and possibly Ooo) in the process, and now he’s suddenly alive out of nowhere. Did Cherry Cream Soda expect him to NOT come back and feel like everything is normal? I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling or even who I’m supposed to be rooting for. This feels like the exact wrong episode to put Graham Falk behind the helm. Granted, Falk storyboarded the original Root Beer Guy episode, so it only makes sense that he would also board its successor, but his style is way too zany and comical for a complex scenario such as this one. But it’s not only that it’s complex, it’s also that I just don’t really… care. I cared about Root Beer Guy and Cherry Cream Soda’s relationship in Root Beer Guy mainly because of the comically melodramatic tone that episode took on, but here, it really just does not work. It’s not fun in the slightest, and that’s fine that the episode wanted to take a more dramatic turn, but my investment in the withstanding of Cherry Cream Soda and Root Beer Guy’s relationship is little to none. The humanity that both characters showcased in both Root Beer Guy and the beginning of Cherry Cream Soda are what make their characters legitimately poignant, but when you take out that humanity and substitute it with a bizarre, unlikely situation, it kind of kills what made their characters interesting to begin with.

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I’ll give Cherry Cream Soda this, I do like the scene with (the newly christened) Dirt Beer Guy within the Candy Tavern, mainly because I had missed seeing Lady and Jake together after such a long time. But, that scene ends as quickly as it starts, and we’re treated to a truly off-putting squabble between Starchy and DBG. I’m typically impartial to Starchy, but he’s painfully unfunny and unlikable in this scenario. The bits towards the end where Starchy attempts to get rid of DBG are paced so awkwardly and unremarkable that I honestly remember thinking to myself, “if this is what season seven has to offer this early on, AT might be in trouble.” Luckily, that statement was soon retracted, but the bad taste of this one still remains. The ending scene where CCS chooses to dump Starchy, and then get to know Dirt Beer Guy, somewhat makes for a nice ending, but it’s also slightly confusing. I mean, the main thing that is different about CCS’s husband is his physical appearance, but it seems like he’s pretty much the same person that he always was. And, even though they never got a chance to “take it slow” before, didn’t years of being married give CCS and RBG a chance to really get to know each other? So, I get what the ending is trying to accomplish, but I feel like it’s somewhat squandered in its execution. I do like Cherry Cream Soda’s line of “one date at a time,” that mimics her first statement in the episode, but I also feel as though Cherry Cream Soda ends pretty much out of nowhere. Again, this is a series that usually features abrupt endings, but this one felt especially unceremonious.

Cherry Cream Soda is just simply a shit show of tonal confusion, and one that really, really makes me wish that Root Beer Guy just stayed dead. I’m usually fairly forgiving with plot points and story arcs that I don’t particularly like because I grow to appreciate how they affected the series in the long run, but I can honestly say that Root Beer Guy’s revival may be one of the most POINTLESS stories that Adventure Time has ever told. There’s that bit of lore regarding the creation of the Candy People, but that’s about it. I feel as though I have gained nothing from this episode and his subsequent appearances. I really would have liked if Cherry Cream Soda just committed to the “CCS is a sad widow who is trying to get by each day” story, because that was most certainly the most well done aspect of this episode, but even those bits are made absolutely pointless by the fact that everything ends up alright in the end. We’re instead treated with an uncomfortably harsh story that’s nowhere near as poignant or interesting, and one that is most definitely among my least favorites.

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Favorite line: “Honey, I’m fairly upset that you remarried.”

“Varmints” Review

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Original Airdate: November 3, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Kris Mukai

After an episode like The Comet, which successfully wrapped up Finn’s character arc for the time being, it’s quite fitting that, right off the bat, we’re able to dive deeper into Princess Bubblegum’s demotion dilemma in season seven. Bonnie & Neddy was a decent character exploration on its own, but I’m glad that we’re actually treated with an episode that deals with PB’s stress regarding her “throne-jacking” almost immediately after. It’s also really nice to see Marceline once more after her long-term absence in the previous season, in what makes for not only a great in depth look at Bubblegum’s turmoil regarding her status, but also her falling out with Marceline that has never been addressed in great detail up until this point.

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The beginning is just splendid. Any hesitation I felt about enjoying King of Ooo’s character in the last episode was immediately squashed after his brief scene in Varmints, which is purely hilarious. It’s also unique to this episode that Marceline and KOO actually interact with each other, and while their relationship is never explored in full detail (nor does it need to be) it’s cool to see that Marceline is familiar with him. I’m sure he caused tons of different issues for the two gals back in the day.

The feelings of anger that Marceline feels towards PB are totally warranted, especially after finding out that it’s been two whole months since KOO took over the Candy Kingdom. Granted, it’s been two months on KOO’s “Torontian” calendar, which could easily translate to two, maybe three weeks, tops. After working at rekindling their relationship in episodes like Sky Witch and Princess Day (and likely off-screen) Marcy probably feels hurt by the fact that Bonnibel still isn’t being honest with her even after they came to an understanding with each other, and even then, Bonnie isn’t really being honest with herself either. A lot of y’all replied to my review of Hot Diggity Doom and mentioned that PB didn’t technically get voted out of her kingdom, as she decided to quit instead, but I personally always figured that it was a mask for the benefit of her own pride. Though it was barely legal, the election depicted in Hot Diggity Doom clearly did show that the Candy People no longer wanted Bubblegum to run their kingdom, and while PB likely acknowledges that, she also has a failure to accept it. Hence why she once again mentions that she wasn’t kicked out and that she simply “quit.” Her breakdown later on shows that she likely doesn’t believe this as much as she tries to.

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A good amount of the first act is dedicated to Marceline and PB shooting the breeze by a pumpkin patch, and it provides for some really nice, laidback moments. A lot of what this episode accomplishes is similar to The Pajama War, where two characters were able to catch up and strengthen their relationship after a period of awkwardness. It’s nice to just watch PB and Marceline breathe and discuss whatever comes to mind with each other. Whether you ship Bubbline or not, this episode is able to be enjoyed on two different levels: those who personally view the two girls as old friends, and those who view them as past lovers. The episode makes it just vague enough that you’re able to gather as much as you truly want to from their interactions, and it doesn’t tease or pander in one way or another to distract viewers from the true meat of their relationship at hand.

The design of the varmints is really neat, and isn’t at all what I would expect these creatures to look like, though in a rewarding way. Their main facial design itself isn’t particularly unique, but the extra detail that is contributed to their limbs, caterpillar like tails, and many teeth makes them very versatile when it comes to their movements and their attacks. Speaking of nice, detailed designs, the beast form that Marceline transforms into is AWESOME! Said design is actually courtesy of Kris Mukai, who joined the staff for  a brief bit period of time this season. Mukai’s style is very distinctive, with the especially rounded and wider heads that each character sports, and her contribution of creating Marceline’s wolf design is exactly the kind of innovative move I like to see from guest board artists. Don’t even get me started on PB’s gun either, because I freakin’ love it. The fact that she can turn creatures into literal batteries, and magically create another weapon by simply setting the device to “two gun,” is hysterical. What a brilliantly convoluted mechanic. The crystal cave setting is also a pretty delightful, and it’s made more endearing and realistic by the fact that Marcy and Peebs have an actual history within the cave.

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Speaking of which, a large portion of this one focuses on Marcy and PB recapping their glory days, as well as what exactly went wrong and caused their falling out. This is as overtly emotional as the series has been in a long time, but it is welcomed and feels appropriate given that PB rarely ever expresses her feelings, and only does so because she’s lost practically everything. And man, does PB’s breakdown hit me hard. I totally sympathize with her situation; Bonnie put her blood, sweat, and tears into making her kingdom and the Candy People flourish to their fullest potential, and as a result, she lost practically everything that she had worked so hard to accomplish. She took on a nearly impossible task that practically no one else could achieve, but it also meant shutting off her humanity and pushing everyone away. It’s a sad fact of life and never easy to find that balance one way or another, and PB is learning the hard truth of what it means to be all work and no play.  After all that she’s been through, it’s no wonder that she would arrive at her lowest point here, but also at a point where she can regain that humanity once more. PB not only acknowledges all that she has lost, but starts to realize what she can gain from those losses, as she passionately vents to Marceline, who is nothing but understanding through the process. With this newly found respect, the two can rekindle their relationship that neither of them ever truly wanted to lose, and can also beat down some dern varmints in the process.

The episode ends on a perfect note, as an understandably tired PB rests her head on the arm of a close companion under the stars. All while a misinformed Peppermint Butler hides out at his boss’s request. Varmints is good fun with an emotional center. It’s packed with lots of enjoyable action, designs, backgrounds, and a genuinely compelling dynamic between Marceline and Bonnibel. The relationship between the two would only continue to develop as the series progresses, but this is certainly a great starting point for the two, and dare I say the best Marceline and Bubblegum episode to date.

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Favorite line: “Tell Bubblegum I wear her nightgown. Tell everyooooone!”