Archive | June 2019

“Son of Rap Bear” Review

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Original Airdate: September 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

Out of everyone in AT‘s main cast, I don’t think a single character’s potential has been wasted more than Flame Princess. I always like to think back to when her character was pitched as if everything was planned out to begin with; “okay, so this girl is kind of chaotic and was trapped in the Fire Kingdom by her dad. Then she starts dating Finn and they’re really happy together. Then they break up after a year and she usurps her father and becomes the ruler of the Fire Kingdom. Then she becomes a really talented rap artist.” Feels like reading from a madlib book. Flame Princess’s “rap God” status feels less like a fleshed out development from her character and more like a desperate cry for her to stay relevant within the world of the series. I was fine when it was brought in as a gag in Bun Bun and even her brief moment with NEPTR in The Music Hole, but this isn’t the type of story that feels like it’s worthy of exploring in the first place. Not to mention it’s handled in a pretty contrived way that never feels like it actually accomplishes anything by the end.

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I’m estimating, but about 4 minutes of this episode is comprised of rap tunes that are pretty damn bad. I’m not a fan of rap music in the slightest, but I still think I have a decent idea of what makes good rap and why people are into it to begin with. AT‘s concept of rap is mashing funny words together that rhyme and dishing out child-friendly burns that never actually sink as deep as the characters in-universe try to hype up. AT songs are usually either super catchy or humorous, and these tunes are neither. It kinda feels like the lyrics and rhythm were purposely glossed over for the purpose of developing the story, but if that’s the case, why are there so damn many of them?  A show like Regular Show is able to get away with child-friendly raps because they’re intended to be stupid and forced by the main characters. These raps feel like the show was trying to follow down the dumb fun route, but never committed to the actual fun route and just made them seem super lazy and uninspired as a result. It honestly borders on being legitimately cringey.

The rap songs take up a good chunk of this one, which is bad enough, but the story is pretty weak on it’s own. Toronto returns in this episode in what feels like another example of wasted potential. Toronto was a pretty average character from the start, but he truly has no purpose in this one aside from being the token shyster required for the conflict. AT is no stranger to plot contrivances, like the fact that Jake’s stretchy abilities should be able to get him and Finn out of practically any situation, but Son of Rap Bear‘s contrived story kind bugs me. Toronto is standing less than two feet away from Finn and Flame Princess when he reveals his true plans – just burn the fucking documents, Flame Princess! They don’t even try to make an excuse for it. Finn and Flame Princess just stand there in a civil manner as Toronto explains to them how he’s going to take her entire kingdom away from her. Like, what the hell? I previously got annoyed at the writing in The Cooler when Flame Princess unintentionally blew up the Fire Giants, but this instance was just beyond me.

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The more “dramatic” turn this episode takes by incorporating Flame King feels equally uninspired. Flame Princess and Flame King’s relationship in Son of Rap Bear feels like a retread of better stories that we’ve already seen in the series. AT‘s “shitty dad” motif has been effective for the most part throughout its run, but there are clear signs that this theme has run its course. Flame King’s strains with his daughter were made interesting in Earth & Water when it was revealed that he refuted her from his fear of being usurped, but the very path he chose ended up leading to his eventual demise. Here, he’s just kind of an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. This is actually a consistent issue I have with season nine as a whole – all of the “shitty dad” episodes feel tired and unoriginal, and this is no exception. The way Flame Princess uses her own turmoil with her father to fuel her creativity feels similarly unoriginal, as it’s literally the basis of a good majority of Marceline’s songs. I just thought, how cool would it be if Flame Princess and Marceline hung out in this episode and Marceline taught her to use daddy issues as a basis for a song? Can’t say if it’d actually be good or not, because it’d still involve garbo raps, but it’d at least be something different and unique.

This episode ends up having a few saving graces. There are some funny gags throughout, namely the notion that Son of Rap Bear literally rapped the legs off of his dad. There’s also this really great visual treat throughout the first few minutes of the episode where NEPTR just stares completely still and smiles right at the camera and it goes on for a long time. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it’s fucking hilarious. NEPTR can truly brighten up any stinker.

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And yeah, that’s pretty much what Son of Rap Bear is. Like I mentioned previously, the rapping aspect brings this episode down a ton to the point where it’s almost embarrassing. I watched this in my college apartment when it first aired with my friends, and after endlessly telling them how amazing Adventure Time (they had never seen it), I couldn’t help but sink into the cushion of my seat by the end of it. It also doesn’t help that this is the last solo Flame Princess episode of the series, and man, it frustrates me to no end that this is how her character arc ends. There’s so much that could have been done with Flame Princess’s arc as a ruler that sadly never came into fruition. Sad to say, but FP was likely a character strictly created for the purpose of being Finn’s romantic interest, and once their relationship was no more, the staff really never found a place for her.

Favorite line: “Rap Bear, Son of Rap Bear’s father, said his son, Son of Rap Bear, would be at tonight’s open mic.”

“Always BMO Closing” Review

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Usually not a fan of referential AT titles to begin with, but this one feels especially lazy to me.

Original Airdate: September 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Graham Falk

I’ve mentioned this plenty of times on the blog, but Season Nine’s quality is certainly divisive among the fandom. I’ve seen a lot of people defend it for being more serialized and focused on an ongoing story than the previous seasons have been. There’s really no denying this fact: Adventure Time is way more committed to a story arc in its ninth season than it ever has been before. Though, I can’t really say if that’s a good thing or not. Consistent “plot” centric episodes are something that fans have been wanting from the series as early as Season Four, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in that same boat as well. But, as time went on, I really got less focused on wanting a consistent storyline from Adventure Time and just simply wanted to focus on its individual attempts at storytelling, in addition to whether they succeeded or not. After all, a good amount of my favorite episodes are “filler”; Time SandwichLittle BrotherThe EyesJake the Brick – all excellent examples of storytelling at its finest, along with great scripts. The reason I bring this up is because I feel as if an ongoing story somewhat squanders Adventure Time‘s ability to tell really great individual tales. Always BMO Closing starts out as a silly BMO and Ice King adventure, but ends up devolving into an opportunity to continue Uncle Gumbald’s arc. It’s usually kind of cool when Adventure Time‘s “filler” episodes end up being surprisingly important, but this is one example that just kind of feels like the staff didn’t have enough confidence in the original premise to fully flesh it and let it stand alone. And to be fair, they were kind of right. It’s a middling entry that isn’t really remembered for its wacky premise, but instead for the brief instances Gumbald does have a role, without actually furthering the story a ton. Feels like a bit of a cheater entry, with that in mind.

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BMO and Ice King’s story just isn’t that fun. Outside of the seemingly ridiculous (yet sweet) premise, there isn’t a ton that’s done with this idea that makes for a humorous episode. I know I mentioned how sweet Ice King and BMO’s connection was in President Porpoise is Missing!, but it doesn’t quite offer a ton of substance here. Ice King is usually great when working off of characters that are his opposite, such as Finn, Jake, or Princess Bubblegum, but the childlike nature of both BMO and Ice King doesn’t really allow for him to have many funny moments when BMO is almost always on board with his antics. Granted, there are subtle moments of IK’s growth that I do get behind; I love that Ice King knows that selling Finn’s baby teeth is clearly a breach of privacy, which is amazing when you realize who we’re talking about. I similarly like how Finn and Jake are much more open to the idea of Ice King casually hanging out with BMO, especially Jake! This is probably the most definitive moment in the series where Jake finally accepts Ice King for who he is, and it’s great. On BMO’s side of things, I don’t really think he provides for many funny moments. Aside from his general lack of knowledge when it comes to how people actually talk (“can you believe this weather?” “how are your children?”) his adventures aren’t nearly as funny as they would seem on paper. I think the comedy just kind of falls flat – they approach Tree Trunks with a very bullshit offer and she happily acquiesces nonetheless. It obviously plays into Tree Trunks’ character, but the conflict within this story is so nonexistent that there aren’t many comedic opportunities to come from it.

Once we get to the Uncle Gumbald stuff, I’ll admit, it’s not half bad. Gumbald’s absolute hamminess as a villain is usually what bumps his character down a notch, but I think he’s kind of well-portrayed here. His foreboding nature is played off really well, especially his introduction where he just silently prepares to smash BMO’s head in with an axe. Fred Melamed also does a great job at carrying out some of the more hushed aspects of Gumbald’s dialogue, though I do feel like his motivations of harming Finn before Princess Bubblegum are… odd to say the least. Finn being built up as the sole savior of PB is something that really doesn’t hold a lot of weight anymore in the series. Maybe if this aspect was executed in Season Two, I would understand it more, but PB kind of has her shit together when it comes to her own protection at this point. In fact, this element doesn’t really play ANY part when this story culminates. Gumbald still plans to destroy the Candy Kingdom even with Finn in the picture. Also, I still have a bit of a problem with BMO selling Finn’s baby teeth. I don’t think it’s an action that’s out of character for BMO, but the episode plays it off way too sadly in how Finn reacts to everything that it just makes me feel sorry for Finn and mad at BMO. It’s kind of similar to another BMO episode, BMO Lost. Jake pops Bubble, which was totally not intended to be mean on Jake’s part, but the way BMO reacts just makes me super pissed at Jake. It’s all about how said emotions are executed. If Finn was just weirded out by BMO snooping into his personal belongings, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But because Finn’s response is so damned somber, I can’t help but be a little miffed.

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In general, Finn and Jake have some pretty solid individual moments, per usual: their warming up to Ice King, the way they encourage BMO’s imagination, Jake’s sympathy for Finn after he discovers his lost baby teeth, and their brief moments having breakfast together at the beginning. Though, the breakfast scene was slightly distracting because it reminded me of the similar, and much funnier, library scene from The Real You. The baby Finn teeth creatures provide for humorous absurdity at first, but when it gets down to it, the entire scene is kind of just awkward. The teeth show up, hurt Finn, and then are destroyed a minute later after BMO pulls out hammers from his trench coat that were never even referenced earlier on. As I mentioned, this is a pretty weak conflict that’s carried out by a seemingly even weaker conclusion. Aside from Gumbald’s chalice that later becomes important, I feel as though this episode didn’t actually further much in the story, making Gumbald’s appearance feel shoehorned at the end of the day.

Always BMO Closing is considerably weak. It doesn’t have enough confidence in its A plot that it chooses to focus more on overarching story elements that don’t really even amount to anything. Thus, both stories end up suffering as a result. This episode has its fair share of redeeming qualities, namely Ice King’s development, Gumbald’s portrayal, the cool exploration of his ziggurat, and some of Graham Falk’s drawings are particularly funny. There’s also some neat bits of foreshadowing, like Crunchy’s “Missing” poster outside of Tree Trunks house, or the missing bombs within the field that Finn and Fern explored (which, again, doesn’t really amount to anything). Regardless, Always BMO Closing is an experiment that never feels like it knows what it wants to be. Though, as the next episode will show, some entries can be entirely bad even when they know what they want to be. Woof.

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Favorite line: “Until tomorrow.” “Yeah, you’re not doing this tomorrow.”

“The Wild Hunt” Review

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Original Airdate: September 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Erik Fountain, Polly Guo & Sam Alden

Here we are, folks! The beginning of the very last season of Adventure Time. A divisive season certainly, but one that I’m especially interested in tackling. Not only because I have a lot to talk about with these next 16 entries, but also because I’m revisiting a lot of these episodes for the very first time and I’m interested in seeing how exactly they hold up, or if they don’t at all from a first expectation. I was, at the very least, happy to see that one of my favorites from season nine, The Wild Hunt, is still just as enjoyable as I remember it being.

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The episode opens in media res, which is a storytelling mechanism that I wasn’t particularly crazy about when it was used in Crossover, but one that fairs better here. I’m really not a fan of the narrative device in general, because I don’t think it adds much besides a cheap sense of early investment, but the grim and startling way that The Wild Hunt opens really carries through with the dark reality that Three Buckets set up for. It’s a much better opening for a season than Finn and PB wearing baseball uniforms would have been. Banana Guard bits are typically hit or miss, but that back-and-forth between the two at the beginning really got me. I think something about the quiet tone and lack of background score really carry it through. Usually just being dumb isn’t enough for the Banana Guards to get a laugh out of me, so the added element of fear really solidifies the execution. The entrance of the banana monster is similarly intimidating – one of the better monsters that AT has ever crafted. This quiet-but-deadly atmosphere is quickly transformed into high-stakes action when Jake and Finn (in their lovely banana disguises from The Thin Yellow Line!) revolt.

Finn’s moral dilemma and quasi-PTSD are what really carry this one through. One of the things I love about this one is how unforgiving it is with showing just how much poor Finn is suffering. Of course, it isn’t quite as bleak as some of his other ruts. He doesn’t sulk or turn to harmful behaviors, like he did in The Music Hole and Breezy, but instead chooses to distract himself with activities that he knows are likely to help or at least ease the pain, even if he knows that they aren’t likely to alleviate his issues completely. Nevertheless, the lad still struggles with internal issues that followed from his previous encounter with Fern. It’s such a shame, because there’s so many reasons as to why Finn shouldn’t feel guilty. The main reason being that Fern was legitimately planning to murder him, had Finn failed to protect himself, but also that Finn probably never intended to straight up kill Fern. It was PB’s voice command that unintentionally perceived Finn’s words as an order, and what caused Fern’s ultimate demise. Regardless, Finn still does feel this way and has even convinced himself that Fern is somewhat innocent. It’s easy to see why Finn empathizes with Fern so much, as Fern is just a alternate version of himself. The episode even goes through great lengths to show just how similar the two are; Finn mentions that he “dinked it” after failing to kill the Grumbo, which is terminology only used by Fern himself. And, while not a direct allusion, Finn’s own tendencies of self deprecation are apparent. Even sadder is Finn’s own choice to try and convince himself that his feelings of hesitation are completely unjust. Finn is empathetic and only ever turns to trashing his enemies when it’s absolutely necessary, so seeing him try to dismiss the fact that he doesn’t care at all about the intentions or history of his foes at all is really heartbreaking. He’s a sweet kid who unfortunately feels like he needs to suppress his core values in order to meet the expectations of others.

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Finn’s inner conflict takes up most of the episode’s run, and his interactions with others are just as enjoyable. Jake plays such a hilariously sweet role during his short amount of screentime. As sympathetic as Finn’s story is, you almost feel equally bad for Jake. I’m sure he’s been as supportive and loving as a brother can be, but seeing as how it seems Finn’s lack of decisiveness has proven to be problematic several times before the Grumbo showed up, Jake has to speak up eventually. It reminds me a lot of Ocean of Fear – Jake will do anything to help his brother, but if it means getting royally fucked up in every way possible, he has his limits. The poor old geezer can’t seem to take a beating anymore.

What’s equally as fun is Huntress Wizard’s triumphant return! I really dug HW in her fleshed out debut during Flute Spell, and I think she might be even better here. As always, her character is very slyly quirky, offering up her usual charm of being as mysterious as possible. I don’t know how popular or unpopular of an opinion this is, but I do truly love HW and Finn working off of each other! They have legitimate chemistry, and it’s fun to see how far Finn has come since his days of adolescence. There’s clear signs that he’s still a bit awkward with women – his line of, “so, how ya been?” is definitely pushing on the more goofy and flirtatious side. But, he has fun with his own shortcomings and uses them to his advantage to actually seem more confident and relaxed in the long run. In general, Huntress Wizard seems much more content with her own being in this one. She actively wants to help Finn and doesn’t care if such behavior exposes herself as being emotionally vulnerable. Plus, she likely feels indebted to Finn after all he went through to help HW achieve her own form of enlightenment and closure back in Flute Spell. She even offers a decent bit of advice to Finn about how he likely did what he had to, but again, I don’t necessarily think good advice is something that is really beneficial for Finn in this situation. Even if he finds it logical, I don’t really think his brain is reacting from a logical standpoint in the first place.

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The battle with the Grumbo is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully animated sequences in the entire series. Storyboard supervisor Erik Fountain assisted Polly and Sam with the actual storyboard for this one, and his sequences are so detailed and clean that it translates terrifically into the animation process. Not to mention the amazing camera angles, character distortions, and squash-and-stretch that the general fluidity of the animation allows for. It all looks terrific, and it really helps the scene feel so much more tense and alive than it would have otherwise. Tense is a great way to describe a majority of this episode, but it still makes room for a lot of fun along the way. Namely, Finn getting his boy parts cooked and then sporting a Mickey Mouse-esque voice for his next line reading. That really killed me. One of the smartest decisions that The Wild Hunt makes, however, is the decision to not give Finn’s issue closure. Adventure Time is typically decent with showing how emotional pain can take time to heal, and I think it especially makes sense that Finn wouldn’t be able to get over his mental issues so quickly. As someone who lives with OCD and often battles with the lack of solutions to all-consuming anxiety, I felt that Finn’s failure to fix his mind was both understandable and relatable. But, he does temporarily solve his issue in the most clever way possible, by choosing not to focus on a resolution, but instead to fool his mind into benefiting himself and others in the end. It was a really neat way of showing how more complex issues aren’t so easily wrapped up in the course of 11 minutes.

Though, even if Finn is struggling with his own personal dilemmas, it is nice that he has the care and support from a nice dame regardless. I’ll admit, I did get a little fanboyish during HW and Finn’s moments together during the end. HW’s input of, “we both know you’re totally in love with me,” is so funny and cute! The kiss the two share is really sweet, and I’ve actually seen a lot of people debate on whether it was a cheek or mouth smooch. The way it’s framed maaay leave it up for debate, but I don’t really see any other implication that it wouldn’t be a kiss on the lips. It even adds to the moment where Finn inadvertently projects Finn’s image onto HW’s face. If I had to pick one flaw, or rather, an annoyance with this episode, it’s the fact that the Banana Guards are revealed to somehow still be alive by the end of this episode. It’s like, c’monnn, why would a ferocious creature like the Grumbo merely harm the Banana Guards and not just fuck up their lives completely? It feels like a decision that was made to be safe for the kiddies, but really, what little kids are even watching the show anymore? Cartoon Network wasn’t even advertising it. We also end on an overly hammy note with the second official appearance of the mustache-twirling villain himself, Uncle Gumbald. While I don’t think he ever lived up to his initial hype in the previous episode, this ending still does leave on a bit of a haunting note, with Fern’s dismembered body being pieced together into (at the time) God knows what.

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But all-in-all, The Wild Hunt is so good! It’s fun, dramatic, and offers up some of the best visuals that the series has ever churned out. I knew we’d be getting more with Finn’s personal baggage after offing Fern, but I never expected we’d be getting it so soon after Three Buckets, considering that AT usually takes its sweet time with dealing with Finn’s emotional problems. However, Adventure Time is typically great when it does come to covering those issues, and this one is no exception. It never strays away from how tough and often hopeless mental health issues can be, but also cleverly showcases temporary solutions that can be made. Add a solid dynamic between Finn and Huntress Wizard and you’ve got yourself a truly stellar entry.

Favorite line: “I’m gonna make peace with my aging body.”