Original Airdate: December 17, 2017
Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim
Finn’s aging is an interesting aspect of the series. The exploration of Finn’s growth is one of the most heavily focused on elements of the series, but the actual ages he experiences are pretty subservient from a writing standpoint. He was established as twelve at the beginning of the series and turned 13 in Mystery Train, but his years as a 14 and 15-year-old went largely unmentioned. After years of not having an established age, Finn was revealed to be 16 in The Comet and remained that age for the next two years within the show’s timeline. It was interesting, because the staff was veeery specific when it came to revealing any extra details about Finn’s growth. Adam Muto would get asked frequently if Finn was 17 yet on his ask.fm, to which Muto would reply with “no, not yet,” or “very soon.” This was all building up to the eventual release of Seventeen, the first episode in over six years to focus on Finn’s birthday. With all of the build up centered around this specific milestone in Finn’s life, along with the notion that the show was actually acknowledging Finn’s aging in the first place, I was really interested in what direction the staff had in mind for such a development. I, along with many others, was disappointed with its execution. I’ve mentioned my qualms with Adventure Time taking on an ongoing story back in my review of Always BMO Closing, and I think a similar argument can be raised here – the staff seems to think that incorporating lore and continuity elements can carry an episode, but it ends up sinking this one further.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like what this episode accomplishes story wise. The way Gumbald’s return is connected to the climax of Elements is brilliantly executed. While a good amount of AT‘s writing process involves making things up as the show goes along, this arc was clearly pre-meditated and its dedication really shows. This was even picked up on by fans way before this episode aired, and I couldn’t believe such a detail was so carefully placed even back then. Fern’s return is also welcomed, as previously foreshadowed in The Wild Hunt. But the episode relies on these factors far too heavily, and I don’t think they really hold up outside of a first viewing, if that. The connections to Elements were cool, but I had already bought into the theories that had predicted them in the first place, so I wasn’t too blown away. Even Fern’s return is so obvious from the second he enters as the Green Knight. And once his reveal actually does come into fruition, he doesn’t really even get to do much. But the obviousness of the surprises isn’t really their main fault, more so that they can’t hold an episode on their own. With many Adventure Time entries where lore and story elements are at the forefront, they typically have something else to back them up. Evergreen is amazing not only in its mythos, but its beautiful backgrounds and stellar storytelling. Min & Marty or I Remember You are great because they reveal elements of the past, but are as equally concerned with character exploration as a selling point. There’s even some instances where the lore is bad but the actual episode is good. I still don’t care for Gunter’s brief stint as a space deity, but Orgalorg at least was filled with truly obscure and psychedelic sequences to help it stick out. Take the lore and story elements out of Seventeen and you’re not left with much.
A lot of this episode can be summed up with one word: boring. Boring animation, boring location, boring dialogue. This is primarily a bottle episode that takes place in PB’s castle, and the setting just feels particularly lazy and uninteresting. It’s like one of the SpongeBob episodes that takes place entirely in the Krusty Krab, you quickly grow pretty tiresome of one of the most established locations in any given series, especially when it’s the focus. The castle isn’t even explored, as the entirety of Seventeen takes place in the foyer and doesn’t move beyond there. The animation feels similarly uninspired. There’s some shots that looks especially awkward, like when the Green Knight bursts in and the entire cast is spread haphazardly across the steps. They never look like they’re actually laying across the steps, so it almost looks like their character model was just flipped upside down and pasted on the screen. It at least provides for an unintentionally funny error. Other characters will simply just stand around with blank expressions and barely react to the shit going on around them. Or when the gang bangs on the invisible shield to get Finn’s attention while being expressionless and saying nothing. Everything feels so… lifeless. There’s also a pretty big lack of diversity in camera movements. Aside from the games that Fern and Finn enroll in, this episode is filled with so many medium shots of characters just talking without actually moving that it almost feels like I’m watching anime at times. Somvilay and Seo have really never been the best visual storytellers outside of a handful of sight gags, and nothing emphasizes that shortcoming more than this one.
This is also one that is pretty lacking on humor. Along with those boring shots that I mentioned, the dialogue is equally uninspired. A lot of it involves characters just simply explaining what’s going on directly in front of them without the incorporation of humor or wit. It almost feels like plodding, in a way, and Seventeen is full of just that. The competition between the Green Knight and Finn doesn’t start until about 6 minutes in and it doesn’t actually feel like any useful information was included within those first five and a half. I’m not even really sure I get Fern’s methods of fucking with Finn in this one – he has Finn convinced that he’s Jake until the real Jake shows up, so he then participates in a series of games with Finn until the last one where he essentially reveals that he was much stronger than Finn the entire time and can overpower him at any moment. What… what was his edge here? It was partially to test Gumbald’s superior technology, but what did Fern participating in these games actually accomplish? He even chooses to lose one of the rounds for no real reason aside from keeping the competition going. Why doesn’t he just fuck up Finn’s shit, have his cronies enter, and then leave? Wouldn’t that prove that he’s superior? The whole thing feels kind of contrived.
There are a few standout moments I dig from Seventeen. Finn’s portrayed pretty well, and I love his insistent gloating over being one year older. Another nice addition to this was Jake’s line of, “he’s got this. He’s 17,” which is a great callback to Tree Trunks. For all of this episodes shortcomings, (I think) seeing Ice King burst out of Finn’s cake in his ex-girlfriend’s dress was worth every second. Could Finn’s day really get any worse? Brad Neely’s performance as the Green Knight is similarly enjoyable, though I’m glad they didn’t ditch Hayden Ezzy completely.
But otherwise, Seventeen is a thoroughly underwhelming experience. I could see this working in one way or another, if maybe Finn and Fern’s birthdays were explored separately, showing how Finn has a genuinely caring family more so than his counterpart. Fern’s arc in general is pretty underdeveloped throughout this season, so I really would’ve liked seeing his turmoil come into fruition in a better way. This is Seo and Somvilay’s last episode outside of the finale, and it’s really disappointing to see that they ended so poorly this season after having so many good entries in the past couple of seasons. I don’t know if the lack of visual flare comes from a chopped budget or just their general approach to storyboarding but, disheartening to say, my middling first impressions of their team during the second half of season five has remained practically the same by the end of their run together.