Written & Storyboarded by: Hanna K. Nyström, Anna Syvertsson, Maya Petersen, Aleks Sennwald & Haewon Lee
Wizard City was the one special that fans seemed somewhat indifferent to when it was announced. I can see why, as Peppermint Butler is perhaps the most obscure choice for the main focus out of the four. I was, however, cautiously optimistic, firstly because Pepbut is my favorite secondary character in the series and I’m a sucker for anything relating to AT‘s wiz-biz. So I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately, Wizard City ended up being the weakest of the Distant Lands specials.
A lot of the issues within Wizard City stem from the fact that a good portion of it is just tackling hackneyed tropes and plot points we’ve seen hundreds of times in other media with little to no distinction of that AT goodness. If you’ve seen any magical school or secret society story prior, there’s really nothing here that makes an effort to standout beyond that. Even Adventure Time‘s sister show OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes did this exact story only a few years earlier that played on the exact twists and turns that Wizard City tackles. Part of the fun of Adventure Time is watching it take on relatively common plot devices at times with an added sense of uniqueness. Is That You? is essentially an Adventure Time clip show, but incorporates this element into the actual story of the episode which makes for both a trip and fun endeavor. All the Little People takes the average “king for a day” story and connects it to Finn’s budding sexuality and his hidden desires to manipulate others. And even Fern’s entire arc, which can be boiled down to the traditional evil clone and “there can only be one” story takes a psychological horror turn and showcases Finn if everything went wrong for him. Many of the Distant Lands episodes have featured characters or situations that have had obvious beats from the very beginning: I think we all knew what the purpose of Y-5 and Glassboy’s characters were from the first five seconds they were on-screen. Wizard City is exactly the same with its story and characters, feeling like it’s simply going through the motions of its plot without offering anything remotely challenging.
I don’t mean to act pretentious in this either, though I’m probably coming off that way. Wizard City isn’t devoid of surprises – there is the twist at the end with all of the Wizard School teachers turning out the be evil, but again, in my personal experience absorbing these stories, I feel as if this type of twist could be seen from a mile away. I think especially in the era where twist villains are so commonplace in animation, especially in Disney films, I could see through the Caledonius façade pretty quickly. And even if it was surprising, I think that’s fine, but I really just don’t see how this episode works outside of a surface level beyond that. Aside from the cool allusions to the Second Age of Terror that was first referenced in The Mountain and Coconteppi taking the appearance of one of the ancient monsters from Gold Stars, there’s really nothing compelling or analytical lore-wise.
As for general entertainment, I find the special equally meandering. There are some humorous moments sprinkled throughout, such as the various gags done with Larry’s rock form and a lot of decent visual gags with Cadebra in particular. But I find them to be few and far in between, with many gags lacking the usual Adventure Time spunk that the other Distant Lands specials similarly struggled with. A lot of the special is mainly just focused on Pep navigating through the struggles of Wizard School and regaining his magical prowess, along with dealing with bullies and his frustrations towards Cadebra, which again, feel incredibly formulaic. I’ve been seeing a lot of people obsess over the bully trio from Wizard City, but outside of Blaine’s undying obsession with Spader, I also found them pretty run-of-the-mill. It was also cool to see Blaine being referred to as “they” so casually – probably the first time I’ve seen LGBTQA+ representation in a series where I really didn’t actively think about it on a first watch.
So I’ve dunked on this one a lot, but there are quite a few things I do like about it. Even though Pep’s journey leaves me quite uninterested, I do think there are parts of it that I admire. I think the idea of Peppermint Butler coming back to haunt Pep is certainly an aspect that puts him in a negative light, but I don’t think its main purpose is to demonize Peppermint Butler himself. The curse was merely a representation of everything that Pepbut wanted to accomplish as a dark lord, and operated more as internal pressure rather than an actual venue for Peppermint Butler to act antagonistic. The pressure Pep puts on himself is something that I can personally identify with – I think it’s easy to look at a past version of yourself and resent where you are in the present. Hell, there was a point where I was writing reviews for this blog four days a week, and now I torment myself on why I can’t even churn out a written post once a month. So Pep coming the conclusion that he still wants to succeed, but doesn’t want to let his past dictate his entire journey, is a resolution I find quite satisfying. Even if the story beats that he goes through are quite predictable, as I had mentioned. I don’t really love Pep as a character that much, but I think he has his moments outside of story purposes, mostly in the area of humor. I think his whininess over wanting to be a dark lord can certainly be funny at times, along with his goofy shrug when Cadebra discovers his true nature. Cadebra is another character I enjoy. Again, her journey is mostly uninteresting to me because of how cookie cutter it is, as well as the fact that you know what the special is trying to communicate with her character very, very early on, but she has her share of cute/funny moments, mostly because of the way she is illustrated along with her exaggerated expressions.
Other highlights were seeing some of the classic wizards from the original series (Bill Hader as Bufo was a nice touch), some of the background characters were cool, and the incredibly dark joke that Spader was killed in such a merciless way was kind of wild. I’ve seen a lot of people who were pissed off by this, but I dunno, I actually kind of respect the commitment. Yes, Spader was a character that didn’t really deserve this morbid fate, but in a series where characters so rarely die permanently, it’s kind of hilarious that the writing staff decided to just straight up murder a relatively smug character and not bring him back at the end. Kudos for that.
But still, Wizard City leaves me pretty underwhelmed. This honestly might be one of the AT entries that has the least rewatch value for me personally. Yes, there are far worse Adventure Time episodes out there, but most are only 11 minutes and barely make a dent in my day. Wizard City is a whopping 44 minutes that mostly leaves me just bored – and the humor certainly isn’t strong enough to have me coming back frequently. A lot of people wish that Together Again was the special that concluded Distant Lands, and while I had my own issues with that special, it definitely would’ve ended the series with a bang, whereas Wizard City ends with a whimper. But, as the post credits scene with a dark Choose Goose proves, there’s probably going to be a dozen more AT projects in the next 10 years regardless. For better or for worse.
Written & Storyboard by: Hanna K. Nyström, Anna Syvertsson, Iggy Craig, Maya Petersen & Serena Wu
Together Again was easily the most anticipated Distant Lands special for me personally. Come Alone With Me still stands as a decent cap for the original series, but it left me a bit unsatisfied with how Finn and Jake, the core of Adventure Time, were mainly sidelined for story purposes. That being said, I may have went into this one a little too hyped. The story that I thought I was going to get in Together Again was very different from what actually happened, and I couldn’t help leaving this episode a bit disappointed. I was mainly expecting it to be about Finn’s life during the timeline of Obsidian, his grief over the loss of his brother, and his eventual acceptance of his passing after a shared epiphany. That being said, I’ve watched this special several times since my first viewing with a different perspective – it’s unfair to view it through the eyes of my own personal bias, so I wanted to give myself a chance to appreciate it for what it is. And, lo-and-behold, I got that chance. Together Again really is the solid conclusion to Finn and Jake’s brotherhood that I was still truly craving even after all was said and done. That being said, I think some of the initial criticisms I left with after a first viewing haven’t completely dissipated, but I’m still feeling mostly optimistic.
I know it’s only been like, two years, but seeing that classic Adventure Time opening, along with the traditional title cards, was a bit too nostalgic to resist. I think it’s all the more fitting that the remainder of the opening is set up like a classic Finn and Jake entry. I will say that the entire beginning of the episode is a little underwhelming for me in terms of capturing that classic AT spirit. I know that it’s all just a hallucination, but I felt as if there wasn’t enough dedication to truly making it feel like Season One Adventure Time. It’s a little bit too low energy and the characterization of Finn and Ice King just doesn’t really seem on par with what you would expect from the time period it’s supposed to take place in. Ice King’s a little overly sinister and Finn doesn’t really capture his youthful energy. I feel as though it would’ve been a stronger tribute if some of these beginning elements have been fine-tuned. That being said, it’s a fine opening that makes it pretty clear early on that it isn’t actually from that time period; there are snowmen that look very similar to Gumbald and Peacemaster, and Finn’s voice is very clearly… pubescent. What it boils down to is Finn’s continuous attempts to keep the light adventuring going so that Jake doesn’t have to leave. Probably the biggest emotional takeaway from Together Again comes when Finn has to once again deal with the idea of Jake “dying” in a very disturbing way. The panic that Finn begins to experience is genuinely heartbreaking, and as much as I emphasized that I originally wanted this episode to be about Finn accepting Jake’s passing, the episode makes it very clear early on that Finn really never did. Or if he accepted it, it still tore him up a lot. And honestly, I do feel like that’s much more appropriate than what I wanted. As sad as it is, the idea that Finn was really never the same after Jake passed away just feels… right. It would make me personally more comfortable to see Finn acknowledge and accept his brother’s passing because I want to believe the lil guy would be okay even after such a tragic event. But this special emphasizes again and again and again – it fucking hurts, and even if he lived a life where he had things that brought him fulfillment, he still never was able to feel full after Jake passed. Damn, man.
The longer I think about it, the sadder I get, so let’s keep this sucker goin’. Seeing Finn as a withered old man is a decision that I really didn’t expect the team to take, but because his scenes are left so vague, it really doesn’t give much info into Finn’s life. It’s both a blessing and a curse, because while this episode continues AT‘s trend of keeping things mysterious, it also slightly hurts the realism of the episode in the process. Or confuses it, at the very least. For the entirety of the episode, Finn is actually an elderly man, but takes the appearance of his 17-year-old self. It’s weird in that sense because, in his 70+ years of living, we don’t really see anything indicative of major changes in Finn’s behavior or what he’s been up to, so his developmental state comfortably sticks with what is recognizable for viewers. Finn even alludes to this when choosing his appearance. You could argue that Finn being reconnected to Jake brought back his youthful sense of self, but I dunno, it’s super difficult to keep this mystery up when literal decades have passed by and outside of a few throwaway lines, Finn doesn’t exhibit any signs of growth outside of what we are already familiar with. I don’t necessarily see this as a major flaw – I don’t really think it would be particularly fun to see Finn acting like an old, whimsical coot for the entirety of the episode. I still can’t help but feel like it’s slightly gimmicky in its presentation regardless.
As much as Together Again presents itself as a climax of Finn and Jake’s journeys together, it also weirdly offers closure for some very random Ooo inhabitants. Mr. Fox and Tiffany are both given conclusions to their individual “arcs,” per se, and it’s kind of awesome, actually. I peruse through old reviews sometimes to see how my perception has changed overtime, and I kind of have no idea why I was so passive to Tiffany in the past. At this point, I think it’s hilarious that this intended one-off character became a fully realized, Shakespearean anti-hero who only ever wanted the love of a momma and poppa. I was a bit miffed that all of these other characters were coming in to mooch off of Finn and Jake’s time, but I really think these additions, such as Tiffany’s arc as mentioned above, help add a layer of fun to the special in general. He’s finally gets to be blood-brothers with Finn and Jake! As I also mentioned, Mr. Fox gets his big day in the limelight. I especially like how far Mr. Fox has come, because he’s pretty much the least notable side character in the series for any casual viewer. But here he is in Together Again, in all his glory, as he’s now the official ruler of the Land of the Dead, even after all he wanted was a cushion-y pillow. As always, M.F. would be nothing without Tom Herpich’s terrific performance. Something that never quite gets old to me is how it feels like Herpich isn’t really even voice acting, but just stumbled into the booth and started reading a script. That sounds incredibly harsh, but I promise you all that I mean it in the most flattering way necessary. Because there are too many to mention in their entirety, here’s my personal favorite callbacks and cameos throughout the special:
Jake’s clap from James Baxter the Horse! Kinda wish they didn’t call extra attention to it, because I feel like it was instantly recognizable otherwise.
I like that Mr. Fox, after all these years, is seemingly still carrying a torch for Boobafina. It’s time to move on, man.
I believe this is the first time in the series/any form of AT media where Jake is confirmed to be a reincarnation of Shoko’s tiger. Always was assumed, but cool to have that additional confirmation.
It was super sweet to see Finn interact with Joshua and Margaret as his adult self, but I think the icing on the cake is that he could care less about seeing Jermaine. Nobody cares about poor Jerm.
Peppermint Butler being the new princess is both very interesting and cryptic. I doubt this implies Princess Bubblegum’s death, assuming that the disguised figure in Come Along With Me‘s opening was her. It is interesting to see all of the additions to the castle in general, adopting many elements of wizardry and dark magic. Wondering if this will be touched on at all in Wizard City, though I’d think likely not.
Choose Goose appearing AGAIN! Considering that the trailer for the next special also includes his voice, it’s amazing to me that nearly half his appearances in the entire series will derive from Distant Lands. Is this spin-off bait just waiting to happen?
Clarence and Ghost Princess living it up big time in 50th Dead World.
Tree Trunks living it up big time with all of her man slaves in 30th Dead World. Also featuring Polly Lou Livingston’s last performance before her death. Rest in peace, you lovely gem.
Wyatt NOT living it up in 1st Dead World. He really is the worst.
In general, the exploration of the Dead Worlds is super gnarly to me. This worldbuilding in general feels like something that Adventure Time has wanted to do for years but for whatever reason it never got past the conceptual stage. A portion of this story was actually adapted from an outline Jesse Moynihan worked on back in season three that was initially going to be Ghost Princess, but it was revised to have a smaller story. I really thought the gorgeous backgrounds in Together Again were works of ghostshrimp, but it was actually two other designers that did a fantastic job: Udo Jung and Julian De Perio, who both worked on BMO. I really love how each Dead World, even the unnamed realms, have a unique and abstract feel to them that you really can’t decipher if it’s peaceful or threatening. It also kind of makes you wonder how each works on an ethical standpoint – clearly the 1st Dead World is equivalent to Hell and the 50th is comparative to Heaven, but is there any true “ranking” that goes into the other Dead Worlds? If I had to guess, I’d say placement in a prospective Dead World connects to the values of the deceased. 37th Dead World feels like Tree Trunks’ meadow residence with added luxuries, while 45th Dead World appears to just be a very Homeworld-esque suburbia for loving families. Or, at least in this case, the Dog family. That being said, it kind of makes you wonder how some folks ended up where they did. You can’t tell me that my boy Choose Goose deserves to be rotting with Maja.
We’re introduced to the offspring of Life and Death in this episode, simply named New Death. New Death is a bit of a pain in the ass throughout the run of this one. His rebellious teenager personality is amusing at first, but quickly tires out after a period of time. He really doesn’t take up a ton of time in the special itself, but any time he shows up, his presence really doesn’t add much, outside of a killer design by Iggy Craig. The one bit I did find genuinely intriguing from him was the moment at his demise when he solemnly mentions his mother’s name. Feel like it was surprisingly a bit ballsy to give him one moment of humanity before he is legitimately destroyed. Of course, the late Miguel Ferrer sadly could not reprise his role as Death, but it is cool seeing more into Life’s perspective. Life is another aspect of the special that feels like she was always meant to have a larger role in the series, but it just never was able to come into fruition. Her realm is similarly gorgeous, with lush ocean colors permeating throughout. I find Life’s personality as a sweet but relentless ruler that you do not want to mess with a lot of fun – it gives you a pretty good idea of why she had married Death in the first place.
I’ve been batting around with a lot of the less major stuff up to this point, so let’s get into the meat of this episode: Finn and Jake’s connection. I do feel like everything that is portrayed with Finn and Jake’s relationship in this episode gets the emotions right, but not always the characterization. Let me elaborate: nothing in this episode feels out of character or unlikable for the boys, but it also feels like there’s something slightly off or different about their individual roles. I think I could honestly just say this about Distant Lands in general, however. Considering that the writing staff is completely different, with the exception of Hanna K. Nyström, it’s really no wonder that this feeling arises, though I can’t entirely put my finger on it. There’s something a bit less goofy about it and slightly more straightforward when it comes to the humor and dialogue of Distant Lands that just feels lacking of a certain spunk and identity the original series had. Even certain lines, such as Finn’s “because it’s no jerks allowed!” felt especially corny for him to exclaim. It still captures the heart of Adventure Time, but I think any media franchise that runs for a period of time and changes teams majorly is going to run into this problem. Hell, comparing season 8 of Adventure Time with season 1 is literally comparing two radically different shows with radically different teams. Even the lack of Tim Kiefer is very apparent. Amanda Jones does an okay job at composing the score for the special, but there’s really nothing about it that connects to the essence of what Kiefer was doing. I really hate to complain, because nothing Distant Lands has done so far has been anywhere close to bad or disrespectful to the original series, but I think it’s one step at showing how much one team over the course of a few years really defined the series (Jesse, Tom, Pen, Steve, Ako, Rebecca, Somvilay, Seo, Adam, Graham, etc.) and how, as more spin-offs and reboots come into fruition down the line, it’s likely that the magic of the original will never truly be replicated.
But my bullshitting aside, I do think that the team behind Together Again did their damnedest to really paint a beautiful story among AT‘s baby boys. This is probably the most emotional we ever see Finn in the series, and I think it pays off super well. Finn and Jake’s brotherhood has always been the heart of the show, but Together Again really stresses how much Finn was never able to fully live the same again after Jake’s passing, and I think it makes total sense. Finn probably wasn’t that old when Joshua and Margaret passed, so Jake essentially doubled as both a brother and parent to Finn for so many years. That grief of losing someone is something that really never fades, and Together Again is genuinely relentless in showing that. It was especially devastating to see that Jake doesn’t initially recognize Finn, as he continues to fall into breakdown category. That poor boy just needs a squoze from his brother. Despite it being quite difficult to stomach, I do think that it ultimately makes sense that Jake would let go of all earthly possessions, as alluded to throughout the years in his desires to fulfill his croak dream. I’m sure it wasn’t something that he was consciously okay with from the start, but he let go as a means to find his inner peace and allow for his destiny to truly unfold. Finn, however, has never really been the destiny or holistic type; his true meaning in life comes from his dedication to others. It does make me wonder what Finn’s connection to the 37th Dead World is, considering that it was left mainly ambiguous in Sons of Mars. Since Jake initially ended up there, I wonder if it has something to do with selflessness. Jake chose to stay alive rather than fulfill his destiny on Mars because Finn needed him, and Finn likewise died on some sort of rescue mission it seems. That, or it’s where original Death would send people that he was tight with.
Although only about half the special focuses on their brotherly bond, there are tons of highlights throughout: Jake letting loose a toot while they try to be incognito, Jake offering caring advice when Finn feels at fault for New Death’s scheming, Finn’s admiration for Jake’s mermaid bod, the reunion of the Jakesuit, and many more. Even their overly aggressive fight is super endearing in their continued desire to protect and aide each other. And of course, one of their most cherished, shared activities is a good old-fashioned Lich fight! I gotta be honest y’all, I went from really not liking this shoe-horned inclusion to kind of digging it. I was pretty done with the Lich after his appearance in Whispers, where he was no longer intimidating and felt like he was about effective as any other villain in the series. Here… he’s still not very intimidating, but Ron Perlman’s voice acting is almost impossible to not be impressed by at all times. The Lich gets a few solid lines, namely “the spawn of life and death is a creature without purpose, fit only to be a pawn in my eternal quest to end all life.” Even though he is quickly disposed of, it seems apparent at this point that, like Life and Death, the Lich will always be around as an entity of destruction and death. And truthfully, I feel like the only appropriate way to cap off Finn and Jake’s role in the series is to have the Lich as the final big bad. The Lich was the first true trial in their journey as adventurers, and it feels appropriate that he would be their last as well. The ending is probably the highlight of the entire special. Once again emphasizing Finn’s need for Jake in his life, it’s super touching that Jake would give up a lifetime of enlightenment just to live with his bro again. Even before he joins, the tight hug Finn gives Jake shows that he’s probably not fully committed to letting go of his reincarnation dreams with Jake, and Jake has his own epiphany that the strength of his brotherhood outranks any type of Glob destiny that awaited him.
Together Again isn’t a perfect AT episode for me personally. Some of the character dialogue feels a little clunky, there’s maybe a bit toomuch fanservice, and it lacks that certain spunk of the original series that I had mentioned. But it’s so committed to being a love letter to everyone that cared so dearly about Finn and Jake that I really can’t have too much of an issue with it. Come Along With Me felt like a big jumbled mess that wanted to tie up any loose ends that it could in the span of an hour, while Together Again is very much committed to the heart of AT itself that it feels much more akin to a finale than the prior entry. So far, I think it’s probably the strongest of the DL specials, and a wonderful way to cap off the spin-off series as a whole.
… Oh yeah, we still have Wizard City. Huh.
Favorite line: “All I ask is for permission to use your bones…for a spell.“