“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!” 

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