Original Airdate: November 19, 2020
Written & Storyboarded by: Hanna K. Nyström, Anna Syvertsson, Iggy Craig, Mickey Quinn, Maya Petersen, James Cambell & Ashlyn Anstee
Well, this was a long time coming, huh? It’s Bubbline time, babies!!
When the Distant Lands episodes were first announced, Obsidian was the one that I was looking forward to the least. I’ve stated how I feel about Bubbline at least 30 times on this blog prior, but for the sake of sounding redundant, here we go once more: I don’t actively dislike their relationship, but was kind of bummed by how oversaturated it was in the show to the point of it being the driving force of including Marceline in stories. I had been pretty burnt out with their ship by the end of the series, and I wasn’t really craving much more between these two as a package deal. Obsidian ends up presenting their relationship in the same way that previous incarnations have – by giving the fans what they want. However, it actually feels somewhat warranted for a couple whose entire romantic history was left to implications and Easter eggs for so many years. It’s fanservice alright, but GOOD fanservice at that. It’s jam packed with all kinds of moments that AT fans can revel in… in fact, it’s jam packed in general. For better or for worse.
Obsidian brings a lot to the table: an entirely new kingdom with new characters, a conflict in said kingdom, struggles within Marceline and Bubblegum’s relationship, Marcy’s relationship with her mother, a self-esteem allegory that spans across three separate characters, Bubblegum’s inferiority complex that mirrors See-Through Princess’s… etc. It’s a lot to take in, but most of it is tied together in a relatively satisfying way. I’d say it does its job at connecting everything on a decent level, but there are definitely some bits that work better than others.
Let’s get into the good stuff first: like BMO, the best aspect of this special is our returning players. Marceline and Bubblegum’s relationship is at their most romantic, because for once, they don’t have to put up with network demands. We see them kiss, sleep in bed together, and even explore their long-alluded to break-up. What I really like watching from these two, however, aside from the schmaltz, is that it’s really clear WHY they’re together as of Obsidian. They’ve had clear chemistry before, but their dynamic was always kind of held together by their contrasting “nice girl/bad girl” dynamic. In bringing out their insecurities, it’s clear to see what they cherish about their connection – Marceline feels less “damaged” and Bubblegum doesn’t feel like she needs constant approval from third party sources.
I’ve been particularly critical about Marceline’s role in the series post Season Four, but this certainly is one of her better appearances to date. Funny enough, with that being said, it doesn’t really attempt to resolve any of the issues I’ve had with her character up to this point. My main issue with Marcy is that she started out as this super fun, energetic character and then sort of fizzled out into a story prop whenever they needed to tell an early post-Mushroom War story or appeal to the Bubbline fanatics. Here, it isn’t really a return to how her character used to be, but that’s sort of the point. She ISN’T the same person she was at the beginning of the series, and this episode deals with it by exploring her insecurities about becoming “soft.” Reminds me a lot of Bojack Horseman‘s season six episode Good Damage, where one of the main characters experiences writer’s block after beginning anti-depressants. Marceline similarly needs to be brooding and edgy for the sake of her identity, in an attempt to romanticize all of the shitty things that happened to her.
Because we’ve already seen enough of it over the years, the special wisely decides to not use Marceline’s relationship with Simon as a main vocal point of her past pain. Instead, we get a long desired story about her mother (formally named Elise!) as the two fight for survival in the post-war days. Elise is NOT voiced by Rebecca Sugar this time around, which I can only assume was probably due to scheduling conflicts or an active choice by Rebecca to not redeem the part. The latter is more likely for me. I’m sure it wasn’t anything personal; voice acting isn’t really Rebecca’s strong suit, and her role in Stakes worked mostly because it was short and sweet. I really couldn’t see Sugar delivering some of Elise’s more raw moments, such as screaming out in fear and lashing out at Marcy. Since Rebecca doesn’t reprise her role, she decided to send her Sapphire as a consolation prize. Erica Luttrell does a solid job at establishing the clear pain and fear that Marcy’s mother is experiencing. Ava Acres does not reprise her role as young Marcy either – understandably so as she’s now 15 years old. She’s instead voiced by Audrey Bennett, who’s been in a decent amount of TV shows that I’ve never seen, but she does such a good job that I honestly thought it might be Acres at first! Kudos.
The post-war scenes, per usual, are great. I really love the fact that the simple moments between Marceline and her mother are underscored with a feeling of dread. Even when she’s just watching her color, Marceline’s mom is preparing her daughter for the absolute worst of what’s to come, having her create a map to their safe haven in case she gets lost. It’s also super interesting to see Marceline’s struggle as a demon and not a vampire – both of which reinforce the negative implications of her song, “Everything Stays.” Even through overcoming the negative stigmas of being a demon, she was still left being reviled as a vampire for quite sometime. It’s no wonder these feelings are so deep-rooted for Marcy, having been influenced in her younger days and reinforced almost every step of the way. It was sad seeing her so distressed at the thought of upsetting her mom, and even sadder later on when she’s reflecting her own fears onto her imaginary friends. It’s painful to see some of the deep cuts such a young child can project, such as her comment about her dad leaving her because of who she is.
As always, the post-apocalyptic references and Easter eggs are great. Love the designs of the wuzzup dogs that fends off against Marcy and Elise, though I did feel quite bad for the wuzzup pup. There’s the typical tragic spray painting and writing in surrounding areas, such as “DON’T TRUST ANYONE,” “NO SYMPATHY,” and most interesting, “After nihilism?” I can only assume it’s referring to the presumptuous man-made errors that led to the destruction of civilization. I think one of my favorite moments in the entire special is when Marceline initially enters the secret hideout, flips the light switch, notices only skeletons, and flips the switch back off. A perfect depiction of dread and hopelessness without a single word.
I will say, I thought that the death of Elise was a moment that should’ve felt more impactful than it was. It certainly didn’t lack impact… but it wasn’t exactly as emotional an experience for me personally. Maybe it was the sudden tone shift with Glassboy barging in, but I think it kind of attributes to AT‘s past habits of showing less and implying more. It kind of reminds me of the scene in Everything Stays where Ice King leaves Marceline. This is an idea that is tragic in theory, but doesn’t feel as tragic when it’s actually shown because most fans already had their own headcanon about how it went down. That being said, I don’t think the execution is poor, it’s more so my desires for emotional ambiguity. I do think that this was one of the ballsier onscreen deaths from the series. This is actually the first time in the show’s history where I can pinpoint blood being used in a painful fashion. There were little moments, like Jake’s blood being sucked by Kee-Oth and Finn’s finger getting pricked in Helpers, but this was a bit more on the graphic side.
All of this trauma clearly connects to Marceline’s desire to be cool with being a giant edgelord. But of course, embracing her ability to not give a shit about anything leads her to hurt herself when it comes to her future relationship with Bubblegum. Well, partially at least. I’m not gonna act like Bubblegum is a saint either; she’s an egotist with mostly good intentions, but that egocentric attitude is likely what contributes to Marcy’s feelings of inferiority. It’s no wonder that Bonnie not trusting Marceline is what sends her into a spiraling journey to recover her edge. This is because Marceline believes that the only way she can truly make an impact is to be the “monster” that she once was. Of course, this doesn’t last long, because through it all, Marceline recognizes that her damage isn’t something to romanticize. It helped define who she was for a period of time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was good for her. She acknowledges that, regardless of her newfound “softness,” she is a much more well-rounded person around Bubblegum. The final nail in the coffin that drives home her emotional growth is when her bass is smashed – an item that has helped to characterize her gloomy demeanor. Instead of responding in the way that would bring out her more monstrous side, Marcy chooses to accept the outcome and focus on what truly drives her now: her feelings of love and how they round her out. It’s nice to finally get an episode about this growth that Marceline has undergone throughout the course of nine/ten seasons. I only wish that it could have somehow incorporated how Finn’s connection to Marcy also helped shape her morality. But alas, I can only wish so much.
Princess Bubblegum’s development is also clear. Throughout the entirety of the special, and seemingly from her previous experience with the Glass Kingdom, she still needs to be recognized for her contributions towards society. The aftermath of episodes like The Cooler, Hot Diggity Doom, High Strangeness, and Jelly Beans Have Power have showed how fragile PB can be when it comes to the potential of letting her people down and ultimately being a failure. One thing that keeps Marceline and PB’s relationship interesting is that both characters are still clearly very much flawed – Marceline is still weighed down by emotional baggage from her past… or, in this case, struggling because she isn’t struggling, and PB still needs to be respected and loved to achieve self-actualization. I think it’s even more fitting that these flaws are what ultimately led to the initial end to their relationship. The comics previously tried to build on this lore by stating that their drifting apart was caused by Marceline’s continued involvement with her band, the Scream Queens, buuut that’s kinda dumb. I think it’s much more fitting that this drift was caused by their largely conflicting personalities – Marcy’s edgelord phase and PB’s apathy. Things do come together in a nice way when the two are put into a dangerous position, as Marceline accepts being emotionally honest with herself and others and Princess Bubblegum accepts her own shortcomings.
One other strength that Obsidian has is its soundtrack. I think “Woke Up” is quite possibly the best Marceline song, and song in general, that the show has had in years. And it’s surprisingly to me how much I get into it! The show’s strength in tunes has always been… well… Rebecca Sugar. But AT has had some other bangers since her departure, none of which I really ever attributed to Marceline though. The post-Sugar tunes for Marceline always kind of felt like generic loner material, but the tunes introduced in Obsidian showcase a more fun, poppy punk melody akin to “I’m Just Your Problem.” Lyrically, they’re pretty intriguing as well. The opening song, “It’s Funny,” contains these lines:
Everyone’s so desperate
To feel like they’re serious
Everyone’s a scaredy cat
And I find it hilarious.
This definitely mimics Marceline’s “edgelord” attitude that I mentioned earlier. She once viewed anyone who ever took anything seriously as “desperate” or something to laugh about. This is contrasted heavily by her final song, “Monster,” which I think it probably one of the weaker songs to come out of the special. It’s not bad, by any means! It’s just really not nearly as catchy or fun to listen to as some of the others from Obsidian. That being said, I do love the sequence that goes along with it. I never would have imagined that Larvo would end up having a tragic backstory, but it actually kind of works! As silly as it seems, it’s handled well through a genuinely sad and sweet flashback sequence and these uniquely painted frames that showcase Larvo’s growth into a damaged beast throughout the years – almost looks like a Pokemon evolution chain. It even ends up concluding with a super silly but enjoyable ending for Larvo… that he had a cute kitty bat within him all along! (PB’s suggestion to immediately kill it was especially funny to me) And even though it’s not actually good by any means aside from an instrumental note, Glassboy’s purposefully off-key “Eternity With You” is a sweet closer, especially with the reveal that PB met Marceline at a concert, and that’s where she received her most valuable keepsake: Marcy’s trippy t-shirt. D’aw.
One other perk of Obsidian is all of the familiar faces we end up getting to see. Simon was particularly delightful, as it’s clear he’s still going through some major shit after he regained his sanity. I don’t really think we’ll be getting a ton more into his life at this point, but it’s good to see that even reversing him back to his original state wasn’t enough to fix everything. The dude has been through 1,000 years of not being himself and is now stuck in this world that he doesn’t even fully understand. No wonder he needs to use the freezer to cope. Also returning is Choose Goose – a character I was fully ready to never see again, but I’m so glad that isn’t the case. Especially since he’s a popular character that really doesn’t get that much screentime throughout the series. They could’ve easily used a more recurring character like Lemongrab to fill his shoes, but I’m so glad they didn’t. This is the fanservice I want!! Speaking of fanservice, easily the most interesting moment of the special is seeing a hunky adult version of Finn! It actually took me about 5 seconds to process who he was when he showed up, but flipped out when I came to the realization. Probably also should address the elephant in the room – Jake’s dead, right? People have put out more optimistic theories that Jake might just be traveling/adventuring elsewhere and Finn got a tattoo to always be with him… but if that was the turn this development was taking, I’d feel a bit disappointed. Not that I want Jake to die, but I can’t think of any other reason Finn would have this tattoo if not to commemorate his late brother. Who gets a tattoo of an alive person?? I have a feeling that Together Again is going to be much, much sadder than anticipated. But again, with all the times that Jake’s death has been alluded to over the years, I think it would be the most fitting cap for the series, and his character, if this is the direction it was going. I’m just gonna be sad as hell for several months if that’s how it goes down. Also appearing is Bronwyn, who looks cute as hell! A lot of people are going with the headcanon that Finn and Bronwyn are romantic together, which I really can’t get behind at all. I could see Finn being her guardian/traveling partner after his brother’s passing, but nothing more than that. He ain’t gonna bang his bro’s granddaughter! It is interesting to see Finn’s adult behavior – many have already noted that his lingo and attitude is pretty similar to Martin’s. I can get behind both, but I still think he’s very different from his father. He obviously takes on his lack of social cues and general laidback personality, but he’s far from ever being the careless monster that Martin is.
The elements of the special that I’m less invested in are the moments with the new characters. I don’t dislike Glassboy as much as others do, but he really didn’t do much for me either. I get that he’s supposed to parallel Marceline’s story and show how similar they are, but honestly, I thought they covered those comparisons much more efficiently with Larvo. Similarly, See-Thru Princess isn’t very compelling either. She’s essentially there to also parallel the pressures that Princess Bubblegum is feeling in her own role. Again, I feel like it also has to do with the special packing so much in it already. I was pretty invested with PB and Marcy’s arcs on their own that I didn’t really care about what happened to these characters that really don’t have the time to be properly fleshed out anyway.
Overall, I think Obsidian is good! I went from loving it to just liking it since it premiered. I do appreciate everything it is for fans who have wanted to see this for so long, but personally, it’s just not entirely for me. Thus far, these specials have been pretty straightforward and haven’t fully committed to AT‘s usual brand of quirky oddities. It’s mostly a new team, which is to be expected, and they’ve been doing a solid job at that. Honestly, just the fact that Adventure Time is able to successfully adapt to a 44 minute runtime is an achievement on its own. These just aren’t really specials that I find particularly memorable or groundbreaking up to this point. Still glad it exists and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Together Again is definitely what I’m looking forward to the most, so high hopes that it hits!
going through the writers and boarders:
the outline crew this time around is straight up just the full time crew (Adam Muto/Hanna K Nystrom/Jack Pendarvis/Kate Tsang), no extra freelancers like BMO and Together Again
for board teams:
Part 1 was Hanna K Nystrom/Anna Syvertsson
Part 2 had Iggy Craig partnered with freelancer Mickey Quinn (a former She-Ra boarder, notably having been partnered with Polly Guo on it for a bit of it’s run; the way she draws present day Marcy gives off heavy Catra vibes)
Part 3 introduces Iggy’s full time partner for the rest of the specials; Maya Petersen (board revisionist on the final season of SU and the Movie; boarder on SUF)
Part 4 was done by a pair of freelancers; James “Angry Jim” Campbell (part of the now defunct indie comic group Meathaus, whose membership involved many AT related names like Tom Herpich, Andy Ristaino, Brandon Graham, and Chris McDonnell; was a boarder on Over the Garden Wall as well as one of the main artists on the spin-off comics; did some freelance boards on Summer Camp Island and would post-Obsidian rejoin the SCI crew) and Ashlynn Anstee (storyboard artist on Harvey Beaks and Twelve Forever)
as for the Song Writers:
BMO’s song in the first special was written by Jack Pendarvis with help from Jeff Liu (who you might recognize from both boarding and songwriting for SU; as well as serving as storyboard supervisor on late OK KO); I bring this up because the same team wrote Red Light and See Through.
Aleks Sennwald (with lyrics co-written with her frequent creative collaborator Pete Toms) wrote It’s Funny
Indie rock musician Zuzu wrote Woke Up and Eternity With You (sharing composing credit with her guitarist Kurran Karbal)
Finally, Monster was written by Half Shy, who had caught Adam’s attention from having done fan music inspired by AT