“Blenanas” Review

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Original Airdate: March 18, 2018

Written & Storyboarded by: Pat McHale & Sam Alden

I talked a bit about the episodes that were generally regarded as “fan favorites” for season nine. While I enjoyed The Wild Hunt and The First Investigation, they surprisingly aren’t my personal picks for peak season nine material. Blenanas is an episode that seems to bring about polarizing thoughts and feelings. Judging by its placement in the season, I can see why people were a bit pissy with being dealt an episode that’s almost entirely filler right before the finale. Looking back, it makes sense, seeing as how there was no indication that Adventure Time‘s conclusion was a result of the network deciding to can the show, so Blenanas felt more like a poor choice from the writing staff at such a delicate time. But, looking at it for what it is, Blenanas is nothing short of top tier filler. It makes the most of a simple story by being humorous, character driven, and above all, charming.

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Part of where that charm comes from is the return of former creative director Pat McHale! McHale had been away from the series for five whole years, and he only ever worked as a storyboard writer and artist on The Enchiridion!. Yet, McHale really seems like the type of guy that AT comes naturally to. After all, he was Pen’s right hand man throughout Adventure Time‘s inception and had a key part in developing a handful of stories from season 1 through 5. Even with his time apart from the series in mind, his deep understanding of the characters and their individual dynamics has not faded. The episode starts out strong with a really nice back-and-forth between Finn and BMO. What I love about their interactions is that they’re primarily hostile, but that element of charisma is still very much alive. Finn disagrees with BMO about his joke, but mentions that he “loves” his little robot friend regardless. Finn storms off to prove BMO wrong, but the two playfully wave at each other before parting. This bit of sweetness is so irresistible in its lack of cynicism, which really ties into the nature of the show and its characters as a whole. Not to discount the enjoyable nature of Finn and BMO bickering, however. I love BMO’s blunt sassiness in accusing Finn of not being funny, and I always appreciate some aggressive dialogue for Jeremy Shada to put his all into. Also, the implication that Jake leaves BMO scandalous valentines is almost too bizarre to not find funny, or the brief moment where BMO makes a banana and Jake’s “B.R.B.” note passionately kiss. This is subtle AT weirdness that I’ve been longing for.

I get the feeling that Finn’s quest for validation is much more of a diversionary tactic than he puts on. I think in light of recent events with Fern, Finn may have numbed himself to the possibility of any other tragic occurrences in his life, and doesn’t want to humor the idea of his brother possibly being in danger. This is represented in a pretty obvious visual gag on the back of Ble magazine, which reads, “I miss my dog.” Finn has gotten better and better at finding different things to do during times of stress to get his mind off of the things that are worrying him, but that may have worked too well to the point where Finn is suppressing his worries by finding any little thing that can distract him. He may also be a bit scarred from the last time he lost Jake during Elements and resist falling into despair nonetheless.

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Regardless, I don’t think the boy’s confidence has been entirely in tact in a post-Fern world, and he’s focusing towards little things such as his sense of humor in an attempt to feel more confident and happy in his own skin. Only problem is that the people he asks aren’t much help either. I love McHale’s simple facial expressions for each character, but man, is it weird to see PB with nontraditional jagged teeth. Aside from McHale’s board, is this a feature that pops up every now and then? I feel like it’s equivalent to Finn being drawn with eye whites – it’s something that was done early on in the series, but then ditched for consistency. If any of y’all reading have more recent examples of this design feature, feel free to let me know! That visual analysis aside, I enjoy the continued goofiness that carries on through PB’s section. Her failure to understand the basic concept of humor reminded me a lot of something Pearl would say on Steven Universe, but it feels completely fitting with PB’s character regardless, especially in the midst of a detailed lockdown procedure. Even then, she still finds it appropriate to break into the library window with a bat instead of just simply walking in and grabbing the book she needed. In fact, why even was the exact book she was looking for just coincidentally sitting propped in the window? It’s another moment that’s so ridiculous that I can’t help but get into it. Speaking of things that I can’t help but get into, PB’s outfit is just adorable in this episode. It’s making me think more and more about what a missed opportunity it was for Cartoon Network to release a line of Marceline and PB dolls and figures with changeable outfits. It’d be a solid marketing decision for the female demographic, and for weird older guys like myself!

I’ve already praised him above, but Jeremy Shada puts on a terrific performance in this episode. The sections where Finn is chatting with himself have the potential to be awkward, but Shada brings on a very genuine charm that makes Finn’s conversation feel natural. I really hate the cliched analytic note of mentioning that a certain episode of Adventure Time “feels like season one,” because it’s such a broad analogy on its own and usually doesn’t particularly add any type of positive or negative connotation to the moments being described themselves. Yet, I really do feel like Finn having a conversation with himself regarding the fundamentals of humor really feels like AT at its most classic routes, even if the energy or zaniness isn’t all there. Throwing it back as well is the delightful reintroduction of Finn and Ice King’s dynamic.

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Now, Finn and Ice King have interacted plenty of times in the past few seasons, with Elements being the major example. But it’s been a long while since we’ve gotten to see these two characters interact without anyone else involved, and it’s delightful. I love how open-minded Finn has become to seeing Ice King as a legitimate comrade, even if his judgment of him hasn’t faded completely. Not that it really matters, because Finn’s exactly right – even if he does see Ice King as an equal, it doesn’t make him any less desperate for approval and love than he already is. This is also just kind of a really nice aspect of Ice King’s character in general, because as much as the show has proved time and time again that he is a sympathetic being, they really haven’t watered him down all that much. He’s certainly less aggressive and creepy than he was during his conception, but he’s every bit as crazy, desperate, and lacking of common sense. I like how they never went all out with forming this totally lovable, competent dude, and added in just enough to make it appear as progress has passed without really changing any of what made Ice King so enjoyable to begin with. And those elements alone are shown by his total disregard of understanding the intention of Finn’s joke and simply being drawn to the idea of “a cat with big teeth.” Yet, he still is able to come up with a subjectively funnier joke than Finn is! The complexities of Ice King’s character are just splendid.

But that progress that I mentioned prior is certainly welcomed, and I get a sweet kick out of Finn being so enthused by Ice King’s presence. Their combined interest in something creative is too nice, and you really do believe that this is something they’d be able to connect on without a problem. The lore built onto the Demonic Wishing Eye is also welcomed, especially the implication that such a hellish device would have such a cute, colorful host location. Though, I’m not sure how much Ice King actually has to worry about losing pieces of his soul. I’m sure the crown is doing most of the functioning anyway. The Pudding Troll that is introduced in Blenanas is another one of those crazily designed Adventure Time characters with a pretty standard personality, but I do enjoy his presence. I love his obscure design, with a speechless belly that shoots “ammo,” and his general lack of understanding of the purpose of his job. I like to imagine he just sits there for days on end without saying a single word or even moving.

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The Ble factory is certainly bleak, with dozens of skeletons inhabiting the vicinity. It’s interesting, because the skeletons appear to imply that the workers may have been human, but the Pudding Troll mentions having guarded the place for 500 years, and I don’t really know if contact between humans and mutants was ever mainstream during the fallout of the war. It’s also difficult to completely understand the implied disaster – what happened here that left a handful of workers dead without the Pudding Troll even noticing? Unless his application process was truly that he just submitted something a showed up one day, and that the humans working inside of Ble were killed by radiation fallout, or something. It’s food for thought, either way.

The production montage is tons of fun. It’s actually one of those sequences that I feel could be longer! Some of my favorite episodes of television are the ones that deal with behind-the-scenes production, particularly when it comes to animated series (Stimpy’s Cartoon Show from The Ren & Stimpy Show or Wacky Delly from Rocko’s Modern Life) and I’d love to see Adventure Time take on strenuous labor when working with Ble. Regardless, the finished product is funny, considering that Ice King, Finn, and the Pudding Troll aren’t exactly the most ideal content creators. But, Finn’s goals and desires are clearly spelled out in the last few minutes – he isn’t really looking to be funny, he’s simply looking for validation. It really makes sense why Ice King and Finn get along so well in this one, because they’re essentially both after the same sense of approval. Maybe Finn relies on Jake a bit too much to feel empowered. After all, Jake is pretty confident in himself and his own abilities, and the people we spend the most time with often shape our personalities. Without Jake, Finn may be susceptible to more feelings of inferiority and a lack of self-confidence. But, in the end, he does get what he was looking for, through an elaborately staged slapstick routine that’s right up BMO and NEPTR’s alley. Maybe Finn isn’t particularly funny, but he’s still able to feel good about himself through the affirmation of those he cares about most.

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I love Blenanas! It’s a light, silly romp with a decent amount of depth under the hood. This really is the show at it’s most simple, and it proves how much a simple idea can go a long way. Blenanas works as a competent story with added enjoyment in the smaller details; even the random inclusion of unusual transitions between scenes got a big smile out of me. It’s an episode that hits hard on the charm, and shows how crucial these characters are when it comes to the series succeeding. This last season may have picked up heftily on continuity, but at the end of the day, it’s the lovable, silly characters that carry Adventure Time through.

Favorite line: “I should show this to normal people, the common folk. The busy woman on the go. The regular Joe or Josephine.”

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