Archive | January 2019

“Min and Marty” Review

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Original Airdate: February 1, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Sam Alden

Much like the previous episode Hide and SeekMin and Marty is primarily one big exposition bomb about the backstory of Finn’s parents, his inception, and his eventual abandonment. While I always expected the events of Finn’s past to be somewhat traumatic and sad, I don’t think the writers could’ve picked a more (satisfyingly) somber way to portray his early childhood. Min and Marty is brilliant in tying together pretty much everything we’ve learned so far and everything we’ve wanted to know, while narrowing the story down to the very intriguing lives of Finn’s mother and father. Much like the previous entry, this is one of the most down-to-earth stories the series has ever told. Aside from AT‘s typically desired goofy sense of humor and some fantasy elements (the tiger owned by the female hider was a necessity, after all) it’s a very straightforward plot that merely explores the lives and characters of two humans. And it’s surprisingly compelling at doing just that.

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Continuing right on after the events of the last episode, Kara’s memory is now fully restored after revisiting her old stomping grounds. I don’t know much about neuroscience, so I can’t really confirm if her sudden ability to retain the English language makes complete sense, but I’m willing to go along with it for the sake of my own ignorance. Finn is largely out of focus in this episode, to its strengths. The sudden info bomb that his mother is still alive and (presumably) well is A LOT to take in. With the almost non-answer that Martin gave him in Min and Marty, I assume that Finn just accepted the inevitability that he would never meet his mother because there was no chance that he’d ever receive the truth in the process. As the backstory of his mother and father plays out, Finn tirelessly looks out the window of Susan’s pod, and God only know what’s going through his head during this period of time. Finn’s anxiety is apparent, and it’s likely that he’s not even sure he wants to meet his mom. While Finn certainly matured and became a better person through his experience with Martin, those were painful moments that he’d likely never want to revisit. When being faced with the idea of his mother, Finn probably fears going through the exact same series of events that he did with Martin, or possibly uncertain in not knowing how or what to even say to his mom. It’s a great background element that isn’t explored especially in depth, to add to Finn’s introspective nature.

We briefly met Minerva and Young Martin in the previous episode, though it was mostly to set up the events that led to their convening. We get a much more focused look at their characters in this one, and I’ll go ahead and discuss them individually. Let’s discuss Minerva first: the long-awaited identity of Finn’s mother. Prior to this miniseries, I had already known about Minerva’s character, and it’s all thanks to the God damned Adventure Time Cookbook of all things that spoiled her existence for me. I was initially not all that enthused by the idea of her reveal; Minerva is the name of the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategy, and I really thought for a second that the staff was going to make Finn’s mom some unbelievable cosmic goddess to explain his heroic and legendary nature. Thank GOD that’s not what happened, as we get to see a more simple and realistic character in return. While I mentioned in my review of Hide and Seek that Kara and Frieda weren’t especially strong characters due to their simplicity, I think Minerva is actually stronger because of her simplicity. It’s easy to gather a lot from her personality in just the first few minutes alone: she’s a kind, intelligent, and helping person who wants to benefit her community and mankind through her own actions. She’s hardworking, to the point where the stress lines on her face indicate that she often puts the care of others and her work before the needs of her own self, but she seems relatively confident in her own abilities regardless. There’s something just so likable about her general demeanor and nature; the role of the hardworking, intelligent, caregiver easily reminds me of the likes of my own mother, and Minerva is a super-condensed version of that.

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Martin, on the other hand, is the opposite of such. Once more, I was a bit nervous seeing more of Martin, because I didn’t want his behavior to be retconned by an entirely virtuous past, but I think he’s handled exceptionally well here. He still is a complete swindler, using his abilities to con people into giving him devices and their trust all for practically nothing. I do wonder if he at least helped a couple people escape from Founder’s Island, because how would he get a reputation for helping hiders escape in the first place? His tactic is pretty conniving, however: playing both sides so he takes on the role of a seeker, but is secretly helping hiders in the process. Min and Marty also highlights perhaps the strongest aspect of Martin’s alluring. He’s selfish, manipulative, and an overall mess, but Martin’s ability to get what he wants always relies on one undeniable factor: he’s legitimately charming. I don’t blame Minerva for falling for him, because his attitude of flattery works on even the most intelligent of people. There is one difference that sets Minerva apart from the rest of Martin’s victims, however – Martin genuinely cares for Minnie. Even at his worst, Martin still possesses elements of humanity and isn’t a complete villain. Martin obviously is who he is because of circumstantial issues in his life, and the aforementioned psychological issues that Minerva diagnosed him with, but with all of his issues aside, good people can change shitty people. As we see from their connection, Marty easily begins to wise up in his actions after being around Minerva for a period of time, as he continues to support her and even gets a real job in the process. It’s safe to say that Martin was at his best around Minerva, and her kindness and strength is what shaped him into a more mature human being.

The sequence showcasing this growth is just great. I love whenever Ashley Eriksson lends her talents to the series, but man, every single song of hers has gotten a full release EXCEPT for this one, and it’s my favorite! I guarantee that there is a full version out there somewhere, and that the AT crew just enjoys watching me suffer in my endless search to find it somewhere on the internet. Regardless, it’s a sweet, calming melody that carries the montage through successfully, to which is entirely sweet on its own. Adventure Time can pack so much into a mere 11 minutes, but I’m so thankful and glad that even in this condensed form of exposition, every moment still feels impactful and told successfully through its storytelling. Min and Marty could have easily shown us an entire scene surrounded around Finn’s birth, but I can’t think of a single moment in the series more heartwarming and chilling than Martin snuggling up to Minnie with a baby Finn in her hands. That image alone melts my entire existence, you guys. If there was ever an Adventure Time instant that I went full-on fanboy over, it would be this one.

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If that sweetness wasn’t enough, we actually get to see Martin spending time with Finn – by choice, nonetheless! Sam Alden is typically terrific at using past scenes and storyboards for symbolism, and here we get to see Martin sitting with Finn in the same exact fashion he performed in The Visitor. It’s a terrific callback that adds a bit of melancholy to a relatively saccharine sequence. The nice moments quickly come to a halt when the deceived hiders come back to seek revenge upon Martin, as his past quickly catches up to him.

Of the sad truths presented in the Islands miniseries, I don’t think there’s anything more heartbreaking than the idea that nobody will ever know about the most selfless action that Martin carried out except for himself, but even that’s a bit hazy. To Minerva, he was a hider that used her to get closer to his goal of escaping. To Finn, he was a neglectful father that never once cared for anyone aside from himself. But, the truth is, Martin was improving on his behavior and becoming a better person, he just sadly could not separate himself from his troubled past, of which is a common issue for many people trying to better themselves. Martin was a misguided person who often chose his own selfishness above everything, but with the right influences, he could actually be a genuine guy. I thought this was the most realistic and tragic approach to covering his backstory. The surprisingly graphic promo art for this episode seems to imply brain injury had a part in Martin’s sudden turn in behavior, though I think it’d be especially lame to blame it entirely on that aspect. I’m sure the injuries to his brain affected Martin’s ability to properly remember how things went down exactly, but I also believe that Martin’s decision to go back to his old ways was a conscious decision on his part. After losing literally everything in the course of minutes without having a way back to his former life, Martin likely chose to protect himself by never looking back and to continue on with the selfish, aimless path that he started. The only time he ever opened himself up to give for others ended up as one big disaster, and who knows what ended up happening in his childhood that led him to take on such a path to begin with. This, of course, doesn’t justify his behavior towards Finn in any way, but it at least makes things more interesting and real.

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This episode doesn’t just add humanity to Martin on one level, however. Min and Marty also proves that the events that Martin had described in The Visitor were, for the most part, true. It really helps to make his previous line of “that’s… true” even more profound, showing that he was trying to be completely genuine and honest with his son for once in their relationship. Steve Wolfhard has stated before that none of the elements he included in The Visitor were pre-planned and that he just simply threw stuff out there for other storyboard artists to pick up along the way. “The Minnie,” Martin’s ship, could have been Finn’s mom’s name, or it could not have been. It’s no secret now that the AT crew essentially make stuff up as they go along, and while that may be disappointing to some, it really comes off as ingenuous when they succeed. This episode is evidence enough that the staff writers truly work hard to tie up those loose ends in the neatest, most logical, and most satisfying way possible.

The ending sequence, which features Minvera looking helplessly to the ocean, is utterly tragic. Minnie doesn’t cry, scream, or panic in any way. She simply just sits there, empty, as she fails to comprehend the series of events that have unfolded around her. Grieving is often a confusing period; while it’s most often associated with outward sadness, I think there’s something much more solemn about emptiness. You can really tell that Minerva just cannot believe what’s happening, and how could she? The day prior, she had all of the love and affection she could ever ask for, and the following day, she’s essentially left with nothing. Finn and Minerva share more than one quality, but it’s very clear that they share the same sadness as well: the turmoil over being abandoned. Before even meeting his mom, the audience is given the chance to look at her history and realize that those eyes of confusion and heartache are ones we’ve seen frequently before on our main hero himself. Luckily, however, Finn still has Jake to support him going forward, even if he isn’t saying much to begin with.

Min & Marty is exposition at its finest, offering up everything I’ve ever wanted to know about Finn’s backstory, but also nothing that I could have predicted or expected beforehand. This is a unique, tragic lovestory that utilizes the essence of humanity to its best abilities, giving us a very real story about the trials and tribulations of moving on from one’s past and the nature of relationships in general. There are so many beautifully profound moments in this episode that it’s hard to count them, and this entire entry does its damnedest to either fill my heart completely, or rip it to shreds in the process. It’s my favorite Islands episode to date, and likely one of my favorite episodes in general.

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Favorite line: “I think someone died.” “Oh, that’s great!”

“Hide and Seek” Review

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Original Airdate: February 1, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Hanna K. Nyström & Aleks Sennwald

Hide and Seek really kicks Islands into high gear by diving deep into Susan – er, Kara’s backstory and pretty much showing us everything we’ve ever needed to know about her character. This episode is pretty much one big exposition bomb regarding the policies and nature of Founder’s Island, but one that is tied to a truly tense and somber story in reference to how much freedom the humans actually have when dealing with the long term aftermath of the war. It’s interesting to see that, even among a world of totally civilized and very self-aware mutants, the humans still shelter themselves off in fear that they simply cannot survive. It’s a potentially overly cautious notion, but from the instinctively panicked eyes of a human, I feel like it totally makes sense. In the midst of all of the violence and terror within our own society, extensive security measures are pretty much a norm by this point in time. Not to say that extra attempts at safety are necessarily counterproductive, but the way Hide and Seek executes the dystopian policy feels very real and logical from a humanistic perspective. Of course, what Hide and Seek also plays around with is questioning “how much is too much?” as certain humans battle between safety and free will.

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Returning to the series once more is Dr. Gross, which was to be expected from her initial appearance in Preboot. I wasn’t entirely into Gross’s character in her debut, and thought that her descent into villainy felt somewhat confused at times, but here, she really gets a chance to shine. Dr. Gross is straight up wicked in this one, using manipulation and her own ideology of how humanity should be to strike against anyone that defies her. I truthfully like the way she’s designed here better than her design in Preboot , and I think her general appearance is interestingly symbolic when compared to the other humans who surround her. While she’s stated that she desires to bring the humans into a new golden age, she’s likely the least human person on Founder’s Island, both figuratively and literally. She wants everyone to preserve what remains of the human species, but in the process, everyone is becoming considerably less human themselves. The Founder’s Song not only paints a great picture of how humanity got to this point, but is also really, really catchy. This is one of my favorite post-Sugar songs without a doubt, and Lennon Parham’s voice quite tremendously carries it through. There are also plenty of other nice tidbits within the song sequence, such as how one of the blimps is clearly labeled “MoCo” and how it appears the gaping crater within the Earth is actually referenced to be a result of human error rather than the war itself. At least that’s what I’ve gathered, from Dr. Gross’s musical cues.

Kara’s backstory gives us a lot insight into her character, and it’s admittedly pretty sad. Throughout her entire life, Kara has never truly been able to choose a path for herself. While we’re all conditioned to think about and perceive the world in certain ways, most end up choosing whether they want to carry these values with them into their adulthood. Kara has been influenced to regard her surroundings as an absolute utopia, and before she even has a chance to question her own belief system, it’s too late. Dr. Gross already has complete control over her mind and actions, once more both literally and figuratively. After she eventually leaves Founder’s Island, she ends up in a completely primitive state where she must start over and only has the teachings of others to go off of. It really adds a sense of tragedy to her character, as she carries on through her life in a state of constant naivety. Her upbringing is very reminiscent of a cult, to where you can’t really help but feel bad for her, considering that she’s constantly faced with uncertainty on a morally conscious level. And this level of morality and fairness comes into question the most when she’s faced with the individual uncertainty of her best friend Frieda.

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The connection between Frieda and Kara is quite poignant. I don’t really think either of them are particularly strong characters (no pun intended), per se, but their interactions can best be described as entirely human. This a miniseries designed around the lives of humans, and even in the crazy, messed up world of Adventure Time, it’s really nice to watch a simple, down-to-earth friendship with some (relatively) down-to-earth drama. They play the part of friendly opposites quite well: Kara is a rule-abiding citizen that wants to do what’s right for her community, as well as others, while Frieda is the free-spirited wild child who is more interested in something beyond her own comprehension than what she’s dealt with at hand.

The conflict of the episode is very believable and empathetic, with neither side coming across as particularly unlikable. Kara is concerned for her friend and does not want her to be hurt by what lies beyond Founder’s Island, while Frieda wants to seek out a new life outside of the sanitation of her own community. As she states, “Maybe [I’ll get hurt], but maybe getting hurt isn’t the worst thing there is.” It’s a surprisingly mature and kind of heavy sentiment that emphasizes just how controlled Founder’s Island truly is; it doesn’t seem like its inhabitants are really able to grow and flourish, as they never actually experience pain or suffering outside of their little bubble. Not to say that they should suffer, but again, to be human is to suffer. A lot of the interactions between Frieda and Kara as the episode goes along are pretty heart-wrenching, especially Kara’s non-answer of “It’s gonna be okay!” after Frieda questions her loyalty. Again, Kara isn’t particularly wrong or unlikable in this situation – she cares about her friend, but she also cares about what is morally right to do.

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That cult aspect I mentioned before continues to play a part in Kara’s discussion with Dr. Gross. Anyone who has a different point-of-view from Gross or the knowledge of the Founders themselves is automatically seen as misguided and needs to be properly dealt with and “educated.” It’s a very controlling method of thinking, and only makes me wonder how many other innocents were harmed by their refusal towards the system. It’s made even more horrifying when we get to see how these “rebels” are dealt with, as Dr. Gross effectively manipulates Kara’s brain-chip to carry out her own bidding. I never could figure out if Dr. Gross just effectively picked up on Kara’s context clues, or if Kara herself had flat-out told her, but regardless, it’s pretty heartbreaking either way. There’s already a long, intellectual video that analyzes the meaning behind the slow motion shot of Frieda’s hat being removed, but I have my own two cents. I think Kara removing Frieda’s hat symbolically represents the hypocrisy of the Dr. Gross’s methods. She wants to follow the advice carried out by the Founders, which is to keep everyone unconditionally safe, yet the animal hats were used initially as the only “protection” for humanity during the aftermath of the war. Thus, Dr. Gross is effectively eliminating Frieda’s safety by trying to preserve it, and has become exactly what she sought out to fix. Whatever way people do see it, it’s an impactful moment that really helps to show the errors of humanity even beyond their own safe haven, and one that carries through the remainder of the miniseries even in Gross’s absence.

Hide and Seek features a sad story that succeeds entirely for its compelling story at the helm. That, and it’s also pretty visually stunning. Islands has really been hitting it out of the park with beautiful scenery and terrific landscapes. I have a couple minor nitpicks for this one: I’m not really into the super big heads they gave the children during Dr. Gross’s seminar – it felt more like chibified AT fanart than what I actually imagined human children would look like. There were a couple moments where I felt like Frieda’s VA could’ve done better during her emotional breakdown, but she did pretty well for the most part of the episode. The only other complaint I have is that I wish we saw more of Gross after this episode, but hey, can’t blame the series for that! I guarantee that if it continued, Gross would’ve had a bigger role down the line. Otherwise, it’s a lore-heavy entry that is packed with drama and sadness, and one that keeps me fully invested from beginning to end. The next episode is my favorite of the Islands miniseries, and I cannot wait to discuss it in more detail.

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Favorite line: “I think she’s, uh, getting ready to sleepwalk-sleep.”

“Imaginary Resources” Review

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Original Airdate: January 31, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward & Graham Falk

Schedule’s a little wonky currently, but I’ll have enough time to churn out at least two of these a week, for now. Expect Hide and Seek by the end of this week.

Imaginary Resources is definitely the weirdest episode of the Islands bunch. Aside from being one big, trippy journey through virtual reality, the humor within this one is absurd from beginning to end, possibly even more so than the previous High Strangeness. That should come as no surprise, considering that Pendleton Ward returned once again for his final storyboard in the series. It’s sad to see that Ward didn’t offer his talents to any of the final entries that the series put out, though he at least stays on the development team to contribute whatever he can. As is, Ward and Graham Falk’s successful dynamic (I truly think this pairing was a match made in heaven) makes for a pretty fun episode, albeit not as strong as most of its sister episodes. It’s probably the least consequential of the bunch, but it’s still memorable in its visuals and general antics.

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Finn and Jake’s shenanigans in the beginning are purely delightful. Again, it really is Ward’s sense of humor at its purest and most unfiltered. What I love about Ward’s writing style is that, even at its worst, it’s at the very least still likable. I’ve gone on about how Somvilay’s slow paced humor and often less than complimentary drawings can really weigh down an episode, but even with a beginning that plods a bit in its leisurely pacing like Imaginary Resources, it’s still charming and sweet, mostly because Finn and Jake are just so darn enjoyable. With everything going on in their lives, it’s been a while since the two boys have been able to be goofballs with one another, and even in their somewhat stressful state, Finn and Jake still seek to have some fun together. I love Jake’s method of communicating through “mouth pops” rather than just telling Finn, felt very unique to the boys and a lot less cheap and groan-worthy than their previous attempts at morse code in Checkmate. I similarly love Finn’s silly way of switching the first letter of BMO and Susan’s name, along with his desire to work his legs into a split every time he lands on the ground. Jake playing with the bird’s egg within his stretchiness was also delightful. You can really tell that Ward simply wants to have as much fun as possible when working on each storyboard, to the point where he doesn’t really care if each moment makes sense in execution. As long as he’s having fun with it, he expects to audience to do so as well, and it mostly works out.

The first few minutes are just filled to the brim with funny moments; Jake smashing through the window of the store, even though Finn just simply walked inside, and Finn’s high-pitched scream when calling out BMO’s name gets a big laugh out of me. See, was it that hard to have Jeremy record a new, high-pitched shriek for the show? What makes this episode so memorable, however, is when Finn and Jake do travel to the virtual reality realm. The backgrounds, which were designed entirely by Jesse Balmer, look awesome! Each landscape is filled with nebulous silhouettes and unknown doohickeys, which really sets it apart from the typical cyberspace subgenre. Where cyberspace is usually limited to shades of green and black, this episode stands out with subdued purple and blue colors that make it “objectively interesting” as Finn so eloquently states. In addition to that aspect, the lines of each piece of the background are hardly uniform, and feel sketchier, almost in the same way Beyond the Grotto was executed. It looks as if they were outlined with a pencil rather than pen, to really help carry across the uncanny nature of the “Better Reality.”

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In addition to that, the designs of the VR users are GREAT. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many different and bizarre character designs within one episode of AT. I really dig them all, especially the ant with a transparent face, the farting rainbow baby that emits from a wand, and of course, the buff, mannish body that BMO possesses, along with his creepily pitched down voice. Finn and Jake’s designs are similarly charming, in a “purposely ugly” kind of way. Even the designs that aren’t that unique are kind of endearing; I really like the simple attributes that the staff gave Vinny. Vinny is a gag character I really enjoy – he’s so God damn annoying, but in a very humorous way that I can’t truly describe why. It’s somewhat similar to Lemongrab, where even though he’s obnoxious, you kind of admire how much effort and emphasis the voice actor added to his character to make him that obnoxious. The behavior among the virtual reality users is quite enjoyable. I feel like an old man when processing gamer lingo, so I might not be completely picking up on everything, but the parts that I did, I enjoyed. Even with that aside, there’s just something quite funny about the one user repeatedly pelting Finn over and over with cups for no apparent reason.

What makes this episode really interesting is how it treats the difference between reality and virtual reality, and how it doesn’t really say which is necessarily better. Well, it certainly leans a bit more on the virtual reality side, but in general, that is refreshing considering how many people are somewhat shamed into thinking that their way of life is wrong. I kind of see both sides of the situation; on the one hand, I understand Finn and Jake’s point-of-view. The zombie-like, lazy remains of humanity live entirely within this fantasy world, never needing to worry about material possessions or anything stressful. This behavior, by nature, is inhuman. But, on the other hand, the humans themselves are happy and content, and the beings that take care of them are similarly happy with their roles. Before the VR experience, these humans were likely still struggling to gather actual resources in the late aftermath of the war and were constantly faced with adversity each and everyday. I’m not sure how “Better Reality” came about, but it’s obvious that its namesake is quite accurate in how humans perceive it. It gives them the chance to essentially be anything they want to be, while never worrying about war, turmoil, surviving, or anything related.

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The same could be said for the way BMO treats the VR world. While he always played the part of second banana within Finn and Jake’s adventures, he finally has an opportunity where everybody can listen to and respect him equally. He usually has to pry for the attention of others, but here, everybody is automatically inclined to respect him because of his mod status. BMO also has a point when he goes into his lengthy monologue about how the sky is actually black. When looking at it from that perspective, what is real? People often emphasize the importance of real connections over the ones that are strictly virtual, but what truly makes an authentic connection? I’ve heard from tons of people who personally value their online connections better because they were surrounded by ingenuous people in reality. From my own perspective, I think there’s always a sweet spot between balancing reality and non-reality, but I do commend this episode for playing around with and respecting the idea that escapist activities aren’t inherently damaging.

The episode does defend reality a bit, as BMO realizes that he cannot truly replace his friends of whom he cares for so deeply (even if he attempted so by making horrifying duplicates). The ending of Imaginary Resources is sweet, as Jake apologizes to BMO for his own hastiness and BMO cries into his arms. I always love when Finn and Jake get onto BMO’s level and go along with whatever he’s feeling. Even if they know they can easily convince him to come back with them, Finn and Jake still treat BMO’s turmoil as if it were real and care for him appropriately. The little guy really has become like a son to Finn and Jake, and their relationship has become especially strong because of it.

Imaginary Resources is good fun! It doesn’t necessarily match the dramatic tone of some of the other Islands episodes, nor does it try to. It’s simply a very funny episode with a cool environment, interesting story, and a big heart at the center regarding BMO’s connection to Finn and Jake. Here’s to you, Mr. Ward! The 10 episodes that you did storyboard were mostly awesome, and allowed for myself, and AT‘s audience in general, to get a glimpse at how you view these characters and their environment on a personal level. It’s certainly wacky, to say the least, but in a way that only the creator of Adventure Time could truly pull off.

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Favorite line: “You want me to lie to him?” “Yes! He’s our son!” 

“Mysterious Island” Review

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Original Airdate: January 31, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard

While The Invitation was mostly focused on its story and Whipple the Happy Dragon was focused on telling jokes and having fun, Mysterious Island is driven in creating an atmosphere, to which it succeeds at. We’re finally treated to our first island of the miniseries, and unlike the others that we eventually come across, this episode doesn’t really seek to make us understand what this island is about. We’re simply presented to a unique and unusual location that isn’t exactly rich with answers regarding its state of being, but are asked to enjoy it and get sucked into it regardless. And that’s exactly what happens.

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Mysterious Island features a lot more subdued, quieter moments than most of the other Islands episodes. While the other entries put exposition and emotion at the center (which by no means is an issue) this one takes its time and allows Finn to figure things out for himself. In a similar fashion to The Hall of Egress, the first half of the episode features Finn making observations out loud in reference to his surroundings. It feels even more like Egress considering that Tom Herpich boarded the first part of this episode, and he really excels with writing for Finn in his complete lonesome. I think it’s really nice, and is somewhat of a coping mechanism for Finn personally. He could allow himself to be completely stressed out about his friends being missing, but he instead chooses to allow the company of his own self to assist him through calmly looking for solutions. His observations are pretty humorous as well, along with his consistent comparisons to “everyday Susans.” In fact, Finn is kind of fucking harsh about Susan’s scent throughout the entirety of the episode, and it’s actually pretty funny. Our little guy is known to be judgmental at times, and let’s be honest, Susan probably NEVER bathes. And there’s the factor that he is looking for her, so it’s probably best that he describes her as in depth as possible. He even added in little stench marks when he drew her – THAT’S hilarious.

I really like the nature of the island in general. I’m always really into these concepts of areas that have a rapidly changing climate, as it feels like there’s so much ground to cover with different backgrounds, landscapes, etc. Upon being captured, I truly love Finn’s attitude towards being faced by a bear. As he mentions, he’s fought the Lich to space and back and has beaten plenty of other space gods… a bear is practically nothing by this point in time. He doesn’t even really antagonize the bear, which is great. Finn simply warns the animal that if he tries to mess with him, he’ll fight back, and that’s exactly what he does. Before the fight escalates, we’re introduced to Alva, the first human of the Islands bunch, and one of my favorites.

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Alva doesn’t boast an especially strong personality, but her mysterious behavior, cute Yoda-ish design, and sweet demeanor is really what draws me into her character. Alva is also Swedish, and I always think it’s a ton of fun when AT utilizes characters of other nationalities and languages. Alva isn’t really a character you need to be constantly translating; unlike Lady, where occasionally she’ll drop a really cryptic line of dialogue, all of Alva’s lines can be easily explained through her behavior and attitude, or through Finn’s interpretations. Alva’s voice actor is Swedish herself, and I know I’m getting way off topic here, but holy shit, her VA is a straight-up babe! Aside from her looks (please read my blog and call me sometime), Helena Mattsson also does a splendid job at capturing the charm and mannerisms of an old lady while only being 34 herself. I enjoy the lengths that Mysterious Island takes to show how foreign this area is – the way Alva pokes holes into each one of her eggsack snacks before they begin to emit steam felt so real to this desolate, quiet land that Herpich and Wolfhard have created. It also felt very Miyazaki-like of the show to give Alva a giant bear as an animal partner. Albert’s pretty neat from his design alone, along with his goofy, cartoon-y facial features and clothing accessories. Come to think of it, every single animal on this island sports boots or shoes of some sort, and it’s another great element that adds to the bizarre mystery of the island. It’s kind of awesome to think that this little old lady is presumably the sole survivor of her entire species within this area of land, and it does seem reasonable enough, as we eventually discover her past history with technology and get to see how she’s on constant look out for trespassers to begin with.

The other aspect that makes this episode so great is Alva and Finn’s relationship. Again, they never even talk to each other, but I love how Finn uses it as an opportunity to observe this land and himself in the process. He even mentions previously identified aspects of his character, like how he isn’t really good at drawing aside from the occasional doodle. His drawing of Alva was legitimately terrible, but in a charming and sympathetic way, because you know the little guy at least put his heart into it. I also enjoy how Alva is very sweet, loving, and curious around Finn. She squeezes his face, reprimands him for playing with a sword, and snuggles up to him when watching the film of her fellow colleagues and humans. Finn is equally as curious around her, and I really appreciate how open he is to just going along with whatever weird endeavors she embarks on. Even after trapping him and squeezing his face, all Finn does is utter a “hi!” which I find to be adorable. I also like how, even after he realizes that she can’t understand him, he still continues to project out loud simply because there’s a lot going on in his mind and he enjoys her general company. Even if those thoughts are about crabs being a form of robot… oh Finn, you special boy.

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The film itself is really well-executed; another somber, silent scene that is pretty effective in showing one of the darker demises of humanity, even for this show’s standards. I know it’s silly that we’re watching a giant parrot wearing boots, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t just a bit chilling that the same exact parrot is shown to have killed someone in the film. This is emotional stuff, but Mysterious Island doesn’t really play it off in a big, dramatic way, to its strengths. I think there’s something much more haunting in the silence and darkness we’re offered. Additionally, it’s sweet that, even after having lost everyone, Alva still isn’t selfish when being face-to-face with the first human she has seen in a long time – she still wants to help him find en hund. If that wasn’t adorable enough, Alva and Finn end up swapping hats, which just charms the hell out of me. Their search pays off, as they do end up running into Jake, who’s less than enthused about the newcomers. Again, it’s nice to see that Jake just wants to keep Finn safe and could give less of a fuck about anyone else involved. He certainly isn’t going to share his portions with just anyone. The end of the episode ends as quietly as it starts, not with a giant conclusion to Alva’s story, but with a transition into the very next episode.

Mysterious Island never seeks to be big or groundbreaking, but just to be a quiet trip to showcase a portion of humanity. It’s cool and realistic to see that humanity is not limited to one segregated island, and, just like within Ooo, there are other humans still alive and roaming about the Earth, just in scarcity. Alva is the perfect specimen for this type of story, allowing us to spend time with her and to unravel her own tragic past along the way. But Alva’s draw isn’t that she’s a tragic character (though she is), but rather a curious, subdued figure that allows Finn to observe and draw conclusions for himself. Mysterious Island is just that: a mostly hushed expedition that put Finn at center stage, as he explores, inquires, and educates himself along the way. The only downside to Mysterious Island, in my humble opinion, is that not every joke works. The humor in Herpich and Wolfhard’s episodes can often be hit-or-miss, and I think there were one or two misses within this entry. I didn’t really find the repeated shots of Albert picking his nose and scratching his butt to be that funny, or the waaay played out use of Finn’s stock scream. Otherwise, Mysterious Island is pretty great in its atmospheric journey through one of the many mysteries of humanity’s demise.

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Favorite line: “Now I can look like an idiot while I freeze to death.”

“Whipple the Happy Dragon” Review

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Original Airdate: January 30, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

Whipple the Happy Dragon is easily the weakest of the Islands bunch, but that isn’t really saying much considering that I pretty much enjoy every entry from this miniseries for individual reasons. Whipple suffers a bit from feeling directionless at times and focusing on a pretty uninteresting side character, but it still has a lot of fun along the way, along with its fair share of poignant moments, which is to be expected from Islands.

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This episode has a lot of nice, small moments that aren’t particularly hilarious, but are just so likable that I can’t really resist. Love Jake’s method of turning super small to figure out directions, the shared “woo” between boat members, Jake’s spidey-like stretch powers that help him form a hammock, and so much more. I like how, even when headed into the unknown where possible dangers lie ahead, the miniseries still takes its time by showing Finn, Jake, and Susan take advantage of the nice experience at hand. I honestly don’t think I’d like this miniseries as much if it was completely dramatic and devoid of these little moments, because that’s not what Adventure Time is. AT is a show that’s filled with drama and devastating scenarios, but masked by the cute and colorful characters at the helm. And that’s really what makes this one a nice breath of fresh air.

I similarly enjoy how Finn is willing to put his important trip aside to save the life of a dragon that he’s never met, even though Susan and Jake are technically right that the pirates aren’t really immoral for hunting the sea creature, unless there’s some sort of Ooo/worldwide law forbidding it. Still, I love how the excursion is more important in Finn’s eyes. This is where the gang meets up with Whipple, a somewhat good-natured, but entirely obnoxious dragon. Whipple’s an alright character, albeit not very interesting. I do like how he’s written in such a way where he’s annoying to the main cast, but not to audience. His main flaw comes from the fact that, aside from being “annoying”, he’s not really that funny or interesting and the episode doesn’t really end up doing much with his character. Granted, the humor surrounding Whipple’s character is funny enough to carry his story through. Whipple’s biggest strength is his relatability, at least from my perspective; I think we all have that one friend that isn’t necessarily mean or toxic but just so God damn annoying that you need the opportunity to tune them out before reaching potential insanity. This is exactly what Finn, Susan, and Jake do, until BMO finally reveals himself and tells Whipple to fuck off. Part of what I love about BMO’s character is that he can be as big of an asshole as possible without it ever coming across as unlikable. He essentially embodies a child, and children in general are pretty outspoken, so it often comes off as more naive than anything. I really crack up at his freakout scene, that promptly leads to the destruction of their boat at the hands of Whipple. Though, I do find it odd that Finn and Jake are completely cool with BMO after this goes down. Feel like the little guy should have been reprimanded just a bit.

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Whipple takes a slight detour, as Jake begins to get possessed by hallucinogenic jellyfish that make him envision Joshua and Margaret in distress. I didn’t really think it added a ton to this episode, but upon simultaneous viewings, I feel like it may possess more meaning than I gave it credit. When Susan is possessed, she briefly envisions Frieda, of whom we meet later. Frieda was someone that Susan had the chance to help, but ended up destroying their friendship in the process. I wonder if Jake somehow is under the impression that he could have helped Joshua and Margaret before they died. The circumstances of their death is still unknown, but I wonder if Jake subconsciously feels responsible for whatever way it actually went down. His fear of letting Joshua down could also relate to the responsibilities that were foisted upon him after his father’s death, and Jake desires to make his poppa as proud as possible, even after his passing. But, this is all stuff Jake doesn’t like dealing with, which promptly makes him want to turn back. Jake’s rather defensive towards Finn in this episode, but I think it’s understandable. Finn hasn’t really been honest about his feelings and why this trip is so important to him to begin with, so it’s no wonder that Jake kind of dismisses it as a waste of time. The safety and well-being of himself and his brother likely matters more to Jake than a “cool trip” that Finn can have part in. And, to be honest, I don’t think Jake really gives a fuck if he gets Susan there or not. He’s cool with her, but her own soul-searchy journey isn’t really his responsibility. Finally, after all this pressure, Finn cracks.

Look, I’m really happy in Ooo. I love our mom and dad. But I don’t know squat about humans. If I don’t see this through, part of me will always be stuck to that boom-boom leaf where mom and dad found me. Still alone.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one where Finn quite eloquently states his place in the world. He is happy, but there are questions and uncertainty surrounding him. He likely could continue to live a normal life, slaying monsters and kicking back with his bro, but there are unresolved conflicts living inside of him that will never truly go away. This is his one possible chance for a resolution: to learn about himself and his culture, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice that for another day of being a minority. I get how the concern  of Jake and others is that Finn simply wants to find people more like him in place of his friends and family, but this makes it quite obvious that Finn has no intention of doing so. He simply wants to put his wildly inquisitive mind at ease.

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Whipple returns to the scene, as Finn responds to him with the brilliant line of, “sorry we said you were annoying… or, sorry for not telling you that you were annoying earlier?” Kinda brings up a humorously interesting point: is it our job to tell annoying people that they are annoying? Regardless, Whipple does decide to help out the gang, though it only further leads them into the unknown.

Couple other things I dig about Whipple: Susan’s addition to the main cast feels kind of nice. We rarely get to see this chick, so it’s cool to have her bonding and working off of Finn and Jake for an extended period of time. Also, it’s a small moment, but I love how Jake refers to himself as “the bad boy” when introducing himself to Whipple. I guess Jake would be the rebel of his friend group, if there ever was one. Otherwise, Whipple the Happy Dragon is an enjoyable entry. It certainly has the weakest story of its sister episodes, but it’s thoroughly funny and entertaining throughout, and Finn’s introspective moment is easily enough to justify Whipple‘s existence.

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Favorite line: “Whipple, you suck so much.”

“The Invitation” Review

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Original Airdate: January 30, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Polly Guo & Sam Alden

We’re finally at Islands, folks! These next bunch of episodes are big ones, and answer some of the most sought-after AT questions from the past few years. Without a doubt, this was the miniseries I was the most excited for. While I could get behind the hype of Stakes, I’m much more invested in Finn’s character than I am with Marceline at this point in the series (though I still do love Marcy), and couldn’t wait to unravel some of the deeper mysteries surrounding Finn’s character, including where he came from, the status of his people, and how his abandonment came into play. But, I’m getting ahead of myself… my full length overview of the Islands miniseries will be released once we get through all eight episodes. For now, we have the episode that started it all, The Invitation! While I’ve been fairly critical of “setup” episodes in the past, such as Finn the Human and Marceline the Vampire QueenThe Invitation is pretty much the perfect example of a setup episode. Not only is it rifled with an array of various different major and minor characters and terrific interactions between them, but in general, The Invitation feels big. Finn, Susan, Jake, and (possibly) BMO embark on a grand adventure full of huge possibilities, and the episode doesn’t once stray way from showing how crucial and potentially risky this whole expedition really is.

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The beginning of the episode doesn’t hesitate to jump right into things, as we get a bit of a prelude to the story of the miniseries as a whole through the interactions of a girl and her doll. The setting for these first few minutes is a little odd to me… the Beach has never been shown to be an attraction for residents, as I always just assumed the Candy People didn’t have a reason to sit out, tan, and soak around in the water for any reason. It’s still a little weird to me, but I’m alright with it, just because it does seem like a perfect place for Mr. Cupcake to relax and flex his muscles. His sequence at the beginning is quite humorous, and hey, apparently his name is Todd? I always assumed that his first name was “mister.” Does this mean that Old Mr. Creampuff has a real name as well? (Edit: I just noticed that this is a reference to A Glitch is a Glitch, where he is referred to as Todd. What a callback!)

The silliness continues when we cut back to our main boys, who are shopping in preparation for an upcoming funeral. For anyone who hasn’t seen an episode of Adventure Time before, I feel like Jake’s line of “we’re gonna look awesome for this funeral!” sums up perfectly the balance of wackiness and darkness within the world of AT. The scenes in which Finn, Jake, and various other guardians of the Candy Kingdom protect against the emissary from Founder’s Island are high-energy fun. It’s pretty apparent by the presentation that the Founder’s Aircraft is quite powerful, though not entirely from my perspective, because by this point in time, the Gumball Guardians being defeated by anyone and everyone is nothing new. It’s essentially their birthright. This episode also debuts Finn’s new sword, which is unarguably his lamest sword to date. Not even entirely sure where it came from – it looks nearly identical to Rattleballs’, which was seen previously used by Finn in Do No Harm, but I do wonder how it was acquired by Finn himself. Perhaps Rattleballs chose to retire from swordsmanship after the events of Reboot and gave his sword to Finn? Not that it really matters, but it does interest me.

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I mentioned some really great character interactions within this episode, and yeah, it’s chock full of ’em. I love Jake immediately smashing the aircraft right before Finn is able to retrieve answers, as Finn presumably tries so hard to lash out at his best friend in frustration and simply accepts the results of what happened. I feel like this sequence could be used to represent the relationship between the series and its viewers quite accurately. I do enjoy how Finn has let go of some of the guilt he has held against himself so critically in reference to what happened with Susan. He simply apologizes briefly once more, and let’s things go from there. There’s really nothing more he can do to change what has already happened, after all. Similarly, I love how cold-hearted PB is in this episode. She’s not particularly close with Susan, and likely holds her accountable for harming Finn and Jake so brutally. She does a really great job of playing the part of the protective momma bear in this episode, even cuddling BMO as if she were her baby. That was straight-up adorable! I do think Finn’s reasoning for joining Susan is quite appropriate given that he likely doesn’t want the people around him to worry about what’s truly going on inside of his head. He’s old enough at this point and feels as though he doesn’t want people to go out of their way to worry about him, but of course, he isn’t really fooling anyone. Jake is there to support him, like always, but isn’t always assertive in trying to make Finn react emotionally to any given situation. Momma-Bear PB, on the other hand, knows something else is up. Also, there are some really nice storyboard moments within this episode. Love the way Alden made Finn play with and stretch out his bottom lip when scanning over the map of the Islands.

The scenes to follow are shot beautifully, and filled with some great interactive moments. I loved Finn’s heart-to-heart with Fern upon the top of the Tree Fort. I truly did not expect to see Fern again so soon, but I really love that, of all characters, this episode took the time to have Finn bid farewell to him as well. This is especially sweet on Finn’s part; Fern’s self-esteem is likely in a bit of a pit after realizing that he truly isn’t who he believed himself to be as he sits in the shadows of his former self. With Finn’s proposal, Fern finally gets the chance to claim his own identity, and also to get some attention as the designated hero of Ooo. Their bonding is really nice, especially with Fern’s “thanks for trusting me.” I love that sweet grass boy. Not to mention, their completely awkward handshake. Even with all of the nice interactions they do have, it’s totally unsurprising that they’re still awkward around each other. How could they not be? It was real nice to see Charlie again, and it’s also cool to see once more how the pups deal with their own insecurities in relation to their father. Charlie’s not really living the most glamorous life, and probably feels ashamed that Jake is (apparently) seeing her this way. It’s always cool to see the unique, differing perspectives that each pup has toward their dad. And of course, Jake’s goodbye to Lady really melts me. I love Jake’s expression during this scene, it really emphasizes just how much he cares for her. The icing on the cake is what Lady’s response translates to: “Don’t worry too much about me and just go be a good big brother.” D’aww. Even NEPTR gets to give a little goodbye to his creator, without the company of Shelby, who I can only imagine was unconscious from a long night of partying.

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PB’s cold-hearted, motherly nature does go a bit to the extreme when she almost seems angry at Finn for leaving on this journey in general, but again, you can totally sense where her overprotective attitude is coming from. It’s a really well-drawn sequence: I love how, during the lecture, Finn barely makes eye-contact with PB at all. Again, he’s likely trying to put off feeling emotional about the series of events in general, and doesn’t want to make a big deal about anything, despite his true intentions that PB can easily see through. Luckily Fern intervenes before things can get too heavy between them, as Finn says his goodbyes and the four set off on their journey. I do like Marceline being there, though I wish she did interact with Finn a bit more before his departure. Her shutting PB the fuck up was funny, however, and it got a little kick out of me to see her overtly flirting with Susan.

Overall, The Invitation is pretty great, and I’d even call it a potential strong-point of the miniseries. Like I mentioned, this episode is just so great at showing how important this trip really is, how tough some of these goodbyes are, and how much fun the writers can have while covering all of it. It perfectly captures the excitement I was feeling for the miniseries in general, and does not disappoint with hyping up that excitement even further. Marceline the Vampire Queen, the premiere of the Stakes miniseries, felt like it was more focused on executing really over-the-top and forced bits of humor, while The Invitation focuses on just the right amount of humor within its interactions and also reminds us why we should care about this story to begin with. Even in its first entry, The Invitation gives me enough of a reason to care about each individual goodbye that sets these characters further on their journey into the unknown.

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Favorite line: “You got this, Finn Mertens. You’re a buff, little, bionic baby!”

“Jelly Beans Have Power” Review

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Original Airdate: January 27, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Aleks Sennwald & Hanna K. Nyström

I dunno why but, before I had revisited this one, I almost completely forgot what had happened in it. Maybe it’s because I was heavily intoxicated inside of a college dorm bathroom when I first watched this one (new Adventure Time waits for NOTHING), but aside from the main plot, I struggled to remember key elements about this episode’s contents. My incoherence may have had something to do with it, but truth be told, I think this one’s a bit scattershot when handling PB’s character arc, at least in my eyes. Even having seen it 4-5 times by now, I still kind of scratch my head wondering, “what was Prubs upset about again?”

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Her pain stems from so many different corners that it never feels entirely cohesive what she’s going through, which is usually AT‘s strong point, but it kind of works against this episode because it seems like the writers are seeking to put her problems out in the open. First, it appears PB is jealous of Slime Princess for unlocking her skills in elemental prowess prior to herself, which leads PB into attempting to unlock her own abilities. When finally unlocked, PB utilizes her abilities to show-off in front of Slime Princess, and to show that they’re both on equal levels. At first, it seemed like this was an obvious representation of Princess Bubblegum wanting to be the alpha-princess in Ooo. PB has been previously worried about her own Kingdom’s state of power and ability to survive in episodes like The Cooler and High Strangeness, so I kind of figured that PB’s jealousy stemmed from her own fears of being inferior within her own kingdom. That’s… kind of what it is, but also not really. Upon speaking with Pepbut, PB tells him that she’s simply distressed over the fact that she ignored a crucial part of her existence when she should have recognized the ability to begin with. Ooookay, but how does that connect with her attitudes prior toward Slime Princess? SP only knew she possessed said power when speaking to Patience St. Pim – it’s something that NOBODY knew about until the eventual revelation. So I’m not really sure I understand how PB’s anxiety actually meshes with her feelings of envy. Hell, it doesn’t even seem like it should really matter. Bubblegum has created her own massive kingdom and defense system, as well as a reliance on her own physical strength and technology, so I’m not really sure why she feels so forced to channel this power in the first place. Again, it could tie in with her own desires to be on the same pedestal as other powerful princesses, but looking “deeper into” her stressors kind of retconned that for unnecessary reasons.

While battling off the “crystal” device, PB once again laments about her inability to understand her newfangled powers over her own understanding of science, but again, nobody is really forcing her to do so. When she finally combines her knowledge of science with her own elemental abilities, it results in a giant explosion, in which PB is looked upon as a “monster” of the sorts. Once more, I thought this was a bit unnecessary. Regardless of whether her powers impacted the blow or not, a giant, weaponized crystal is going to cause damage regardless of how PB attempts to stop it. And given that the episode puts her character in a more sympathetic perspective about halfway through, it never really feels like PB has any reason to be at blame for her actions. Had she continued with her somewhat arrogant and one-uppy behavior, this ending would have ultimately felt more powerful and impactful. There’s also the notion that it’s only Candy People who were hurt, which sounds kind of fucked up, but they can easily be put back together, as shown numerous times. I’m sure they didn’t wanna go too dark with this ending, but c’mon, if you want me to actually believe that Bubblegum is a overpowered zealot, realistic approaches to psychological or physical damage are necessary. I overall thought her arc over the course of this episode was pretty sloppy, as it struggled to find a true focus for her character, and it doesn’t even really come into play later on. Bit of a spoiler, but Bubblegum’s struggle with her elemental abilities only worsens when Patience St. Pim takes over, and really has nothing to do with PB’s own character or choices. It feels like a bit of wasted character exploration.

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With all of that criticism aside, I actually do like this episode. I think it’s unfocused from a character perspective, but it has a lot of really fun and enjoyable stuff going on. Most of that fun stems from the fact that Peppermint Butler has a major role in this one, and man, the staff really never fucks up when writing for him. Pepbut is a character that so easily could’ve been turned into a full-on villain about halfway through the show’s run, but here we are, eight seasons later, and even after knowing all of his dark and sinister deeds, he still appears to be a genuinely nice, supportive, likable guy. I really love his undying devotion to Princess Bubblegum, even going so far as to appear as a parental figure to her (“let me see your hand, young lady!”). The interactions between Pepbut and PB were truly delightful, and really helped to carry this one through. Also really dig the supporting characters in this episode; Maria Bamford is back as Slime Princess and just as hilarious as ever. Bamford never fails to carry out SP’s voice in the most sensual, and the most hysterical fashion possible.

Jelly Beans Have Power also see’s the return of Chatsberry! I do think it’s a bit odd that he is the one to chat with PB… maybe I’m just stuck with the Avatar mindset of believing that the last incarnation of said elemental always appears as the spirit guide, but I think I have my own separate skepticism. It’s revealed in Elemental that Chatsberry, Evergreen, Slimy D, and Balthus were not the original elementals, so why is Chatsberry randomly the one elemental who does end up guiding the princess (also, including Evergreen, who appears on Pim’s board at the end)? The obvious answer is that he’s the only other candy elemental in the series that we actually know of, but I can’t help but feel it’s slightly contrived. Granted, I do really like Chatsberry through his design and voice, so I honestly can’t complain. And my gripes with PB’s messy arc aside, I don’t think there were any portions of it that were bad; I truly do like how PB uses her own chemical properties to channel the elemental powers within her, thus never compromising her own desires and interests in the process. This is also the second appearance of Patience St. Pim, who unfortunately doesn’t get to do much aside from subtly unlocking Bubblegum’s powers in her actions. I do enjoy how the end very much builds up the eventual culmination of the elemental story, which is surprisingly getting a lot of attention, given AT‘s usual method of pushing arcs aside for later. Big things are coming shortly!

Only other thing to note about this one is that I feel like the episode’s title is somewhat uninspired. Yes, there’s what is believed to be a crystal in this episode, and jelly beans are in fact shown to be powerful, but Jelly Beans Have Power has absolutely no other correlation to Crystals Have Power story-wise. I’m really not certain as to why this connection was made. But, as is, I enjoy this one. It has its problems, but it’s still a lot of fun in its execution, mainly due to the character interactions and humor (love whenever Pepbut pressures PB to shoot out a candy product that she clearly cannot). This is the final “normal” episode before heading straight into two eight-part miniseries(s). Strap in, y’all, we’re in for one hell of a ride!

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Favorite line: “HEY, WOULD YOU KEEP IT DOWN DOWN THERE? SOME OF US HAVE TO WORK TOMORROW!”

 

“Horse and Ball” Review

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Whereas the title card of James Baxter the Horse portrayed Baxter drawing at his desk, Horse and Ball depicts the actual sketches themselves. Really nice detail that ties in with this episode’s main theme.

Original Airdate: January 26, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

James Baxter the Horse is an episode I never really expected/wanted a sequel from. If you recall what I thought about that episode, I found it to be decent. Not one of the more memorable or funnier season five episodes, but a light and silly romp with sequences of stellar animation and a lot of heart in its subtext. While James Baxter the Horse was largely about the creative process, as well as the importance and drawbacks of inspiration, Horse and Ball is cleverly mostly about the life and journey of the creator themselves. And honestly, I think I like Horse and Ball a little bit better! The humor is sharper and more cohesive, and I actually find it to be an even more interesting exploration of the creative process than its prequel episode.

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It’s really nice that the real James Baxter was able to return to animate portions of this episode. Not only does it help add a rare bit of fluidity and zest to the animation, but it’s really what helps to make this character’s presence feel alive and entertaining to begin with. Without the talent of Baxter himself, I don’t think the character would be nearly as memorable, if at all. James Baxter, the character, has a pretty interesting role in this episode. I enjoy how he’s essentially motionless and dead inside after his ball pops, which is pretty obviously depicted as an existential crisis. Baxter is left with a horrifying dilemma: he’s an artist who isn’t able to create art. Given the circumstances of his past, of which are revealed in this episode, he also wasn’t coming from the most glamorous position. He had left his old life, and corporate America (or, in this case, corporate Ooo), and chose to start anew. Almost immediately in that process, he had unintentionally become an entertainer through the mere process of trying to cheer up a tearful bat, of which essentially becomes his entire life. So, Baxter’s left with quite the debilitating question: is his ability to cheer people up and to entertain others his main, or even his only, purpose in life? How is he supposed to go on if he can’t do the one thing he found that he’s good at?

There’s two subplots of this one, of which both provide their own individual aspects of entertainment. One involves Finn and his desires to care for James Baxter, while also exhibiting nervousness just being in his presence. These scenes are particularly hilarious, with some really great acting on Jeremy Shada’s part. Finn’s deepened voice as he tries to connect with Baxter is hysterically relatable. Any time I meet a somewhat decently prominent celebrity or artist at Comic Con, I’m an uncomfortably awkward dork the entire experience, so I feel you, pal. Another one of my favorite bits in this portion is the way that Shelby assists Finn through his anxiety. Shelby’s usually around to either be snarky or a know-it-all (in the best way possible), so it’s a surprising change of pace to have him so earnestly help his housemate on trying to relax. It’s an irresistibly sweet and fun time watching these two work off of each other, and really pays off when Finn does give his empowering speech regarding the importance of self-care and appeasing one’s self. Finn does a great job here, but let’s face it, Shelby’s the true hero who helps him pull through!

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The second subplot involves Jake and BMO as they seek out to find a new beach ball for James Baxter in Ooo’s Junkyard. It was also a pleasant surprise to have Raggedy Princess join the crew, and it even kind of continues her development as a character that was set up in Frog Seasons: Autumn. Totally didn’t expect for any of the Frog Seasons shorts to further impact the series, but here we are again with Raggedy Princess’s sad feelings of isolation. I do like how the show acknowledges that she isn’t without talent or beauty – BMO is so saddened by her poetry that he starts to cry, which he mentions isn’t bad, but just sad in general. I guess that’s what makes Raggedy Princess’s character even more tragic, because even though she is skilled, it’s hard for her to gather an audience because of the negative effect her poetry has on people, whereas James Baxter gains attention for leaving people with a feeling of positivity. Not sure how much I agree with this motif, as I think we live in a society where people are just as willing to consume content that makes them sad as well as content that makes them happy (just look at the popularity surrounding BoJack Horseman) but I suppose I can understand the desire of happiness more than I can understand the desire of sadness. The only aspect of this subplot that I don’t really like is that I feel Raggedy’s position as the antagonist is a bit unwarranted. I mean, what does she have to gain from keeping the beach ball in the first place? I suppose it gives her a legitimately captive audience, but aside from that, I don’t think it really adds anything to the episode aside from a contrived feeling of conflict. I do like Raggedy’s turnaround towards the end, however, as she decides to help a fellow artist, even if it means sacrificing her own audience.

The best handled scenes in this episode, however, are easily James Baxter’s backstory. A lot of it is really quiet and nuanced, with the addition of Tim Kiefer’s ambient score that really carries these portions nicely. I also adore the interactions between James Baxter and the bat. The way Baxter cheers her up (and also ends up gaining his alias by mispronouncing “games” and “bookstore”… priceless) is truly charming and well-animated, just as much as it is heartbreaking when we see how things progress. Really is sad to see how the bat essentially just became another audience member as Baxter’s fame rose. It does seem that, as one celebrity becomes bigger and bigger, those that initially surrounded themselves with said talent begin to shrink in prominence. Of course, I don’t think it’s James Baxter’s fault. He simply decided to share his talent with the world, while the bat saw it as something intimate and personal, and the fact that he chose to widen the popularity of his talent meant that the act essentially lost meaning and significance. It’s just a really sad misunderstanding between two friends.

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I know I’ve included this kind of analysis like, five other times, but I really can’t help but think of Pendleton Ward in Horse and Ball. Given that James Baxter the Horse seemed to be about the creation of Adventure Time, or just creative entertainment in general, this really feels like a look at Ward’s life without AT. Again, I’ve already compared this moment in Ward’s life to the events of Chips & Ice Cream, so maybe I’m just really invested in the life of Ward in general and insert subtext where it’s clearly not. Regardless, I do see the ending as a message that can easily apply to his journey with Adventure Time. His time as a creator has ended, and though people may want him to continue doing what he was best at, it’s important that he finds himself an area of happiness and prosperity in his own life. That goes for creatives and celebrities in general; those we look up to, no matter how much we enjoy their work, deserve to be happy doing whatever they want to be doing. It often comes off as somewhat of a betrayal when influencers step back from doing exactly what we want them to be doing, but truth be told, creatives can only offer so much to the point where the greatest gift they can receive is the patience and understanding of their audience. Though James Baxter won’t be dancing on a beach ball any longer, he’s at least left doing what he wants to do (through an impromptu dance sequence) and he can be happy that, for once, he’s defying society’s expectations of him and truly starting out on his own.

Horse and Ball is pretty good! It appropriately continues the motif from its predecessor episode, while also being a hilarious and heartfelt entry in general. Like I mentioned earlier, if I had to choose between James Baxter the Horse and Horse and Ball, I’d probably choose the latter. It has better jokes, more guest-animated sequences, and a more enthralling story overall.

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Favorite line: “Stab him… with a giant syringe… of respect.”