Archive | July 2019

“Seventeen” Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Favorite line: “You can’t tell from my face, but I am smiling triumphantly.”

Adventure Time Reviewed: Update!

Hey all! I wanted to chime in after nearly two weeks with no new posts. I’ve been open about the status of this blog many times before, and I want to reiterate that I’m still very committed to finishing these reviews in a timely matter. I’ve been going through a lot of personal changes throughout the past month that have been difficult to deal with, but I finally feel like I’m at a place where my general workflow and mental health are slowly piecing back together appropriately. That being said, I still have a ton on my plate in general and sometimes struggle to find the energy to write up a review. I never want to feel like I’m half-assing my analyses, and want to ensure that I maintain a level of quality for something that I can truly feel proud about. So, I ask all of you lovely people out there who have supported this blog for so long to keep up your patience – more reviews (and other fun plans) are in store!

I also wanted to let you all know that I am officially public on Twitter if any of you feel called to follow me. I’ll probably be making a lot of shitposts and funneling in my artwork, but I’ll also be including updates on where I’m at with my current episode reviews, with light commentary along the way. If you’re ever curious about the state of a review or if you have any questions for me personally, feel free to reach out! I’d be happy to chat.

— Eric

“Bonnibel Bubblegum” Review

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Original Airdate: September 17, 2017

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

Princess Bubblegum’s character probably gets the most dedicated exploration out of any other character in the series. Segments of Marceline’s life remain hidden, Finn and Jake’s early childhood into their adolescence are barely touched on, and Simon’s backstory is pretty limited to just before he actually came into contact with the crown. Granted, this isn’t a bad thing. I actually prefer not knowing a good amount of Marceline’s past history, among other characters. I do feel that it is warranted that we learn so much about PB’s backstory – she had a crucial role in developing the world of AT as we know it. Bonnibel Bubblegum is about just that: how the Candy Kingdom came into to fruition and how she took on the role of a leader. It also serves as a way of further fleshing out Uncle Gumbald’s character, and his past history with his essential “niece.” Bonnibel Bubblegum ends up being a decent bit of world-building, but it is one of those examples of an episode that’s probably too short to live up to its full potential.

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A chunk of the main characters hanging out at the beginning of the episode was purely delightful. I really love how this is one of those few moments in the show (at least in recent history) where the characters are able to hang out outside of a plot related scenario. I mean, yeah, the real reason Finn, Jake, and Marcy are there is to be a captive audience for Bubblegum’s story, but regardless, it’s always nice when the characters do feel like real friends outside of a writing perspective. They don’t really get to do much, but their few moments together provide for good fun. I continue to love Jake’s complete opposition to understanding the turmoil of others. He’s the only one of his friends entirely devoid of daddy issues… for now, at least. Such coaxing from her pals is what provokes PB to dive into her past, as we begin the flashback sequence with a solid minute of silence as we’re treated to visual splendor. This first minute is probably my favorite of the episode – the atmosphere is enjoyably eerie, made even better by a bizarre bit of score from Tim Kiefer that really sets the mood. I wouldn’t be the first to discuss the stellar background details within the gas station that PB explores, so I’ll briefly discuss my favorites.

  • The “Back soon! Please come back” text was probably one of the most heartbreaking easter eggs that Adventure Time has ever put out. I can only imagine the context of the words – I’d imagine this was a child writing to their guardian after said guardian walked into the remains of civilization after the war. God only knows what was even out there for humans to deal with at the time.
  • The writing “Love didn’t conquer al(l)” which could very well be from the same person who wrote out “please come back.” I’m assuming this is referring to the blief that compassion couldn’t quench the current warfare.
  • A newspaper with the headline “Time Has Come.” Again, assuming this was referring to the war.
  • A picture of the Mushroom Cloud with the words “never” written across it. I’m wondering if this is actual footage of the effects of the Mushroom War, or an image of what was presumed to result from it. Perhaps the words “never” are a denial from the inhabitants of the gas station that such a thing could ever happen.

PB’s entire design in this one is rad. I also wouldn’t be the first to say this, but it really reminds me of Rey’s get up from The Force Awakens. Honestly, that entire first scene does. It also helps that some nice visual tricks play a part in making it all the more stunning. I love AT‘s attention to detail with smaller occurrences, so I really love the way the dust particles are animated as sunlight beams through the window within the station. A similar bit of animation was included in Her Parents, and it looks great once more in here. Isabella Acres does not reprise her role as a younger PB, and is instead voiced by Livvy Stubenrauch, who previously voiced young Kara in Hide and Seek. But damn me if I even knew the difference, Stubenrauch does terrific! Every line that she carries out really feels like she is a younger version of PB. I know that’s in part thanks to the writing, but I really feel like Stubenrauch did her homework in capturing PB’s deliveries to a tee.

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The relationship between Neddy and PB is once again irresistibly sweet. I do like the fact that, while she loves her brother, PB does acknowledge that she needs people like herself to feel more whole. This is where she conjures up the idea to make a family from scratch. It’s important to remember that even though I enjoyed the first chunk of this episode, it’s a bit time consuming. By the time Gumbald, Chicle, and Aunt Lolly are all “invented”, the episode’s already five minutes in. The series of events that follow end up feeling quite rushed as a result.

I’m not really sure I follow Gumbald’s entire “arc” within this backstory. Well, let me rephrase – I understand the intention, but the execution feels incomplete. Bonnibel Bubblegum is supposed to show how PB’s micro-managing of Gumbald led him to feel restrained and held back from his own potential, thus following his rebellion. However, the pacing makes his conflict way too glanced over before he basically turns to full-on villainy and greed. In fact, his plans kind of just make him seem like a less charismatic King of Ooo. He wants to build an entire city, along with apartments, but does that really make sense given the time period this is taking place in? I mean, the beginning of the episode stresses heavily that there’s barely anyone in the surrounding area and Gumbald doesn’t understand the act of creating lifeforms until he notices the candy fish, so who did he suppose was going to actually live in this city and help him become more prosperous? Maybe the idea is purposefully nonsensical, given PB’s perplexed reaction, but I dunno, seems like a lazy way to give Gumbald a motivation beyond just wanting to be independent.

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I’ll reiterate that I don’t really dislike what this episode is going for – I get it, PB and Gumbald are similar in their ultimate desire to control others, stemming from their denial to be controlled by anyone else. But it ends up feeling so hollow because Gumbald never feels like a empathetic character with reasonable goals. This episode ends up making PB too likable to the point where Gumbald’s motivation doesn’t feel fleshed out in the slightest. It isn’t until the series finale where this idea is explored in more detail, but by that point it feels too little, too late. And I know we’re not supposed to like Gumbald, but I think we’re at least supposed to understand him, and I don’t think I left this episode feeling like I learned that much about him. It also doesn’t help that the inception of Aunt Lolly and Chicle further complaints things. They’re two characters created to be Gumbald’s cronies, but they never really get a chance to come into their own either, which makes me wonder why Gumbald wasn’t just introduced by himself.

I do think the subtleties on PB’s part are handled well, however. Like I said, she isn’t that much different from Gumbald aside from a stronger moral compass overall; one of PB’s main flaws throughout the entire series is her controlling nature, which really starts to come out once her “family” is no longer able to think for themselves. It also ties in with the implication that she likely used the dum dum juice when creating her citizens, in order to assure that nobody would ever overthrow her within her position. It’s a pretty fucked up mindset, and I really wonder if this is the motivation that drove PB forward. I do like to think that her child self was innocent enough to just believe, “hey, this juice makes people way happier and less evil, so why don’t I use it when creating new Candy People?” It does open for an interesting discussion regarding how much free will the Candy People truly have by their own nature, to which I even feel could spawn a greater discussion on this blog later on.

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Bonnibel Bubblegum is riddled with a few other treats – Mr. Cream Puff returns as PB’s “boyfriend” in reference to the long-standing gag from the beginning of the series. I still feel like the brief mention in The Vault was enough to satisfy me, but this instance works as well. I do like how The Punch Bowl, Crunchy, and Manfried end up being these really profound and important characters through the events of this episode after years of just being goofy background props. Crunchy’s identity was actually cleverly foreshadowed in the past two episodes, where a missing sign with his image was seen in the background.

Bonnibel Bubblegum works at adding context to PB’s relationship with her uncle, but I don’t think it reaches its full potential because the central conflict isn’t really fleshed out. Gumbald’s inner turmoil is rushed along at the expense of what could have been a really nice exploration of the darker aspects of PB’s character that led to some of her less than fonder moments, but as is, their portrayal ends up feeling quite black-and-white. I know we learn more about Gumbald later on and context is added to his own fears and shortcomings, but since this is the episode that essentially establishes his place within this world, it does a middling job at making me feel pretty much anything towards his character. And for a character that ends up playing such an important role in the story within this season, that’s a bit of an issue.

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Favorite line: “Dang, Chicle, thass cold.”