Tag Archive | Ako Castuera

“All the Little People” Review

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Original Airdate: December 3, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan & Ako Castuera

There’s a certain amount of criteria that must be met for an episode of AT to rank among my all-time favorites. It needs to:

  1. Be different from the show’s usual formula, while still retaining the charm and delightful characterization of any regular episode.
  2. Capture everything that makes the series so special, including good humor, heart, charismatic characters, and thought-provoking material.
  3. Be unique to anything else I’ve ever seen on television.

While there’s certainly plenty of episodes that meet parts of this criteria, only a select few meet all three individual points. All the Little People, with its very dark and uncomfortable approach at capturing Finn’s constantly evolving adolescence, hits on all of these points. It still takes place in the Land of Ooo and follows the latest debacle of our two main heroes, but rather than fighting a physical enemy or solving some sort of quest, Finn instead has to battle with his own identity and how much control he should be able to have over other people. It gets heavy-handed and grim, but remains bright and colorful throughout, and still captures the quirkiness, heart, and depth of our main boys. And I can’t think of a single series that captures a teenager’s fascination with relationships, combined with the the act of manipulation and the question of power so delicately and perfectly. It lands right up there with Sons of Mars, I Remember You, and Incendium on my personal group of favorites.

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Right from the title card, it’s hard not to be left with an ominous feelings of what’s ahead. The picture itself appears innocent and playful, as Magic Man designs toys (the Little People) of Finn and others. The music cue is what really makes the artwork feel significant and impactful. The entire episode’s soundtrack derives from the tune of a quarter-tone piano, and the title card itself includes a sample of it. Once the loud and hollow cue of a bass-drum goes off during this sample, you really get a feeling of “oh shit, something big is going down.” I don’t give the composers of this show, Tim Kiefer and Casey James, enough credit in these reviews, but they really did a stupendous job in particular with the score for this episode. The entire score feels unwelcoming, and really compliments the the tone and atmosphere of the actual episode.

The beginning of the episode starts off with a beautifully lit sunset, as the boys sit wistfully by a cliff and discuss relationships. I really love how the main story of this episode is set up by Finn asking simple and innocent questions about relationships and how they work. Though he’s involved in a committed relationship, Finn is only fourteen, and wildly inexperienced. He still has much time before he is able to grasp the fundamentals of a successful and healthy relationship, and still has many questions on how he will be able to achieve such a relationship. It’s interesting to see that, while he deeply cares for Flame Princess, it seems he may have some doubts about his relationship. He and FP have great chemistry, but still are wildly different in nature and interests. Jake, being someone who has tons of life experience and knows what a healthy relationship should consist of, gives Finn the most simple and surprisingly most logic answer of “just go with your heart.” It’s a sweet moment between the brothers that showcases the differences of the boys in the best ways possible, and clearly captures early on that Jake understands the matrix of relationships, while Finn may not be able to fully understand yet.

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This is where Magic Man makes his brief entrance, while he enjoys the boys’ conversation and even shares a laugh with them. Even to this day, it’s hard to understand what exactly Magic Man’s motivation is, whether to teach Finn a lesson in responsibility, or simply to fuck with his life as always. There’s tons of different angles you can take with it, but probably my favorite is just simply the idea that Magic Man wanted to show Finn what it’s like to have power over other people. Magic Man is constantly ruining the lives of others and playing god by using his magic to determine the destiny of others, so he’s now showing Finn how easy it is to take things out of control and abuse the power one does have over other living beings.  

Before Magic Man departs, he states, “I’m not coming back.”

And yeah, there’s tons of different moments I can point out to when it comes to allusions to Finn’s sexual awakening; Finn’s reaction to Jake noticing that he has something in his pants, the way Finn shakes the little people, yadda yadda. To mention it all would be somewhat redundant. It’s all there and all pretty obvious, but I think there are way more interesting bits regarding Finn’s identity as a hero and as person than just pointing to any scene that references Finn’s horny, teen urges. It’s a fun glimpse at how much they were able to get past the radar, but it’d be silly to waste a ton of time highlighting anything that y’all probably already thought about the minute you saw it.

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The most interesting aspect is really just the way Finn interacts with the Little People. I enjoy how the Little People are versions of pre-existing characters we already know. They could’ve just went full-on Sims and had these miniature versions be any random customized figurines, but the fact that they are citizens of Ooo helps us connect to them more emotionally, while still being able to disconnect them from their grown counterpart. The Peanuts adult speech patterns of the Little People are cute and endearing, and really help to separate them from appearing to be sentient beings. As Finn continuously says throughout the episode, “they’re just toys,” which shows his ignorance towards understanding that the Little People are anything besides just that: interactive figures for the pleasures of Finn and Jake. Had the Little People been speaking English as opposed to their trademark “wa wa wa’s,” I think Finn’s actions would easily be more despicable and unpleasant, but the fact that the distinction is there makes it seem more understandable that Finn would want to use them however he likes. I mean, being honest, who wouldn’t want to interact with these characters the way that Finn is? Having a tiny bag containing little versions of all the people you know would be dangerously intriguing, which makes Finn’s decision to experiment with them more empathetic and less cruel.

It is noteworthy that, the first time Finn does choose to experiment with the Little People, he first checks to see if Jake is awake.  It’s clear that Finn know that he’s doing something wrong, even if he’s not sure why. Whether he didn’t want Jake to wake up and see that he was destroying the miniature version of he and Lady’s relationship, or that he simply didn’t want Jake to know that he was experimenting with these figures at all, it’s clear that Finn’s fascination with these figures succeeds his desire to be morally correct and thoughtful in regards to his interactions. That’s why, when Jake does realize what Finn’s been doing the next morning, he’s noticeably freaked out. Probably the most shocking moment in the entire episode is Jake discovering the little Finn and little Rainicorn smooching, as Finn reacts apathetically to the entire situation. Finn acknowledges once again, “they’re just toys,” (while also reading a book by J.T. Doggzone that has the exact same quote from Jake in the beginning of the episode, hint hint) showing that, even though he’s spent an entire night seeing how the Little People would interact with each other, his desire to play with the Little People and see how their relationships with each other work out has only gotten worse.

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This is where Finn’s manipulative side comes out in full force; it will later plague his life in ways he probably could never have imagined, but one of his greatest character flaws comes from simple curiosity and desire to have people’s lives follow in the ways that he’s most interested in. Like I said, when putting it in this context, it makes Finn seem like a monstrous, immoral jerk, but his ignorance toward the situation and general fascination are hard to pinpoint as truly sociopathic for a 14-year-old boy. Most of this intrigue derives from his initial curiosity with how relationships work in the very first frame: he’s simply invested in the unusual relationships he’s created with the Little People and interested in how they are able to function in certain partnerships. This, of course, includes an obligatory inclusion of the threesome between Lollipop Girl, Choose Goose, and Abracadaniel that everyone has been requesting to see for years. It refers back to my statement earlier that this episode manages to be very unsettling while also being silly and colorful. I can’t even describe my feelings of combined disgust and enjoyment with Turtle Princess spanking Xergiok’s behind. It’s also a nice return for some characters we really never get to see or haven’t seen since the very first season, even if it isn’t actually said characters.

Following this bit is probably the most interesting piece in the episode, which is Finn experimenting with the tiny FP and tiny PB respectively. It starts out innocently enough as Finn just casually and happily watches the two figurines romanticize with each other (much to the dismay of a crying little Lady; the first big indicator that the Little People are capable of real, human emotions). Things take a turn when Finn then begins to experiment with little PB and little Finn’s interactions, which quickly take the same direction as the prior encounter. I think the particular pacing in this part is just great; just from Finn’s facial expressions, there’s a lot to read into. He looks very concerned and troubled when little PB and little him begin to interact, perhaps due to the nature of his feelings and commitment to Flame Princess, which probably brings him a great deal of shame and guilt that he is pursuing this fantasy. He quickly shakes off the guilt when he notices that no one is watching, and continues to be invested on what will happen next. When little PB and little Finn begin to kiss, Finn is surprised. This is the first time he’s experiencing a mutual “hook-up” with PB, aside from when she was briefly 13, and even though it’s not actually him experiencing it, he’s still enticed and enthralled by the turn of events. This of course, is another big indicator that Finn still isn’t really over Bubblegum. Sure, the little version of himself and little Lady (boy, am I tired of putting “little” before every character’s name in this post) hooking up doesn’t mean that Finn is also interested in Lady. That was probably just an early experiment to test out all of the interesting connections he could make between the Little People. Yet, when little Finn and little PB do connect, Finn is obviously much more interested in seeing what happens with the two, and it’s clear he is living out some sort of fantasy through the Little People. Little Finn’s glory doesn’t last long, however, when little Flame Princess releases her anger against little PB, but Finn himself couldn’t be more interested. He’s understandably turned on by the idea of his two main flames fighting over him! Again, another very uncomfortable scene that’s balanced with some really great visual humor. I love Finn’s absolutely stimulated face throughout the fight sequence, and of course, the hilarious visual of little PB squeezing little Lady’s tears to douse little Flame Princess. That was priceless. It adds another bit of foreshadowing to the mix, showing Finn’s arousal to people fighting over him and an instance where he’d rather pursue his own needs of autonomy than follow a more logical and moral standpoint.

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Finn finally does come to his senses upon Jake’s return. Finn begins to realize that these tiny people, whether toys, separate entities, or plain dark magic, are suffering, and they are suffering because of the way Finn has messed with their lives. Jake says it best:

This is messed up dude! You’ve crossed the line from weird curiosity into some dark, messed up stuff. The destruction, the depravity, the wrongness of it all!

The somberness of Jake’s words, combined with the horrifying transformative montage of a melting Peppermint Butler, a physically abusive Turtle Princess, and a mangled Goose-Abracadaniel-Lollipop threesome, really drives the point home. Jake told Finn how relationships work at the beginning of the episode: there aren’t designed perfect relationships for others, but rather the feelings people have for each other and what they choose to do with those feelings that define a healthy relationship. Finn chose to ignore that advice and play match-maker, which backfired for others as well as himself. Finn’s only choice left is to fix what he started, as he strives to do so often as a hero. Finn uses the new method he’s discovered to communicate with the Little People, and to correct the damage he’s caused.

After talking with little Finn, little PB, little Lady, and little FP, Finn simply states, “I’m not coming back.”

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It mirrors Magic Man’s line from the beginning, and shows how similar, yet different the two are in terms of their power over other people. Magic Man uses his power to destroy and harm other lifeforms, and, instead of leaving these lifeforms in a safe place of comfort, he always departs with a message of hopelessness and pessimism. Finn had also used his powers over others to mess with and harm their lives, though unintentionally, yet he corrects those actions by fixing his dilemma and leaving the Little People on a note where they’re able to carelessly enjoy their lives. But still, it’s almost a bit of a paradox, because Magic Man did teach Finn a lesson and left him to carelessly go on with his life after correcting his mistakes, so it causes the statement to draw even stronger connections between these two characters. Regardless of intention, it’s really great to be able to have this connection between these two wildly different characters, and still have it feel appropriate with the story and each of their motivations. And of course, what better way to end on a happy note than to have a Little People dance party with Ice King and BMO really hitting it off? Can’t wait for the continuation of this relationship 110 episodes from now!

If there’s one sole thing I don’t like about this episode, it’s that Goddamn “16 weeks later” title card. Yeah, yeah, it’s a gag that lasts two seconds and probably shouldn’t be taken so literally, but AT takes place in a world of realism and has certain rules to abide by, and time is definitely one of them. This is something Jesse Moynihan seems to do a lot, and while I think it worked in an episode like Return to the Nightosphere, it really, really does not work here. I have a tough time believing that Jake went without talking to Finn, who is still in his sweaty, disgusting pajamas for 112 days. Also, if it was that long, why does everything feel like it’s only been a day? Little Lady is mourning over her relationship with little Finn as if it had just ended, with little PB also holding a similar grudge. Again, I get it, it’s a brief gag that’s only supposed to emphasize how freaked out Jake was by Finn’s actions, but I just don’t buy it. It’s a cheap gag that they really could’ve just removed completely. It’s not funny or entertaining enough to even include.

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But, that minor gripe aside, boy, do I love this one! It really is such a rich character study of our main hero, taking him in places he’s really never been, and foreshadowing more awkward and intense drama that will follow in his early teen years. It’s an episode I love primarily for it’s atmosphere; everything feels very unsettling by Finn’s actions, the music, the situational pieces, and just the outlandish nature of the Little People in general. The entire episode feels like a Twilight Zone segment, in the sense that Finn is somewhat of the everyman. I mean, he typically can be seen as the everyman, but this example is probably the most notable in the viewpoint of a completely harmless activity gone terribly wrong at the hands of an normal, charismatic person. Finn does some awful, terrible things, but we still root for him because we know he’s in a situation that even the most level-headed person wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s one I never get sick of revisiting, and one that certainly has a high place on my all-time favorites list.

Hope everybody had a great holiday as well! Thankful for all of your readers out there who visit this blog every week to see me read way too far into a children’s cartoon like a giant nerd. There’s plenty of great content to come in the next few months, and I’m excited to continue on this journey through Season Five. Thanks everyone!

Favorite line: “You’ve crossed the line from weird curiosity into some dark, messed up stuff.”

 

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“Reign of Gunters” Review

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Original Airdate: October 8, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan & Ako Castuera

Gunter has continually been shown as somewhat of an enigma up to this point. There’s been hints and foreshadowing of his inner darker side, most recently in King Worm, and this episode has as much fun as possible with how fucked up, while still incredibly cute and cuddly, the wide-eyed penguin is.

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It kinda goes without saying for this one that it’s somewhat all over the place. It’s essentially three different stories combined that don’t really blend together in a completely cohesive way. One is about, as the title states, a reign of Gunters attacking the Candy Kingdom. Another is about Finn’s impressionable status as a teenage that leads him heading in the direction of douchebaggery, while the third regards Ice King discovering the secret Wizard society. So yeah, none of these really have any connection at all, besides IK’s initial motivation towards heading into Wizard City, but I have to say, they are all pretty fun on their own. The battle of the Gunters provides for a lot of fun action and laughs, the detour into Finn’s adolescence reminds us that he is still in the early stages of his teenage years, and is prone to many changes in hormones, behavior, and identity when it comes to how he regards himself and his loved ones. The Ice King B-plot, while the weakest of the three, sets up a future endeavor regarding the secretive nature of Wizard City that will eventually have a bigger effect on the IK than he could ever imagine.

I guess it’s really only appropriate to talk about these stories in sequence. The initial plot begins with practically no set up, as the immediate first frame is Ice King shouting “Where the turds is my de-mon-ic wishing eye!?” It’s a very humorous beginning to emphasize the somewhat scattershot story we’re in store for, and really showcases the hilarity behind Ice King and Gunter’s father-son relationship. And by God, do I even need to bring up Ice King’s search history? Honestly, there’s very few times I’ve laughed as hard and long as I did at these freeze frame bonuses, so I almost feel obligated to include them as visual pieces.

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My personal favorites are “wizard chick pics, skinny knees” and “wiping my bum isn’t working right.” It feels less like an opportunity to get shit through the censors and just feels like something natural that you’d find when using Ice King’s search engine. I don’t even wanna know what other dirty secrets lie on that monitor.

It’s a bit of an interesting depiction for Gunter as well. I think we’re supposed to sympathize with him, but at the same time, we don’t really know what’s up with him. Does he just want love and affection? Or something much more than that? Whatever it is, it causes him to engage in complete fits of rage and doom, which leads to an eventual invasion into the Candy Kingdom. This is home to some really great interactions between Jake, PB, and Finn. They all work off of each other so well, once again showcasing PB’s somewhat goofier side (love how she just stops caring halfway through and plans on building bottles forever, I feel like she just didn’t have the effort or energy to put her time into actually defeating an army of penguins). Some terrific playful voicework by John DiMaggio in this one, where Jake doesn’t really have many funny lines on his own, but it’s one of those episodes where just the tone of DiMaggio’s delivery is enough to get a laugh out of me. And then there’s Finn, who is so confident in his own secret plans that he doesn’t really think through whether or not they’ll work out. It really is just a terrific showcase of these three distinct personalities, allowing their goofier, as well as their more prideful sides come out in full force. It’s also just an endearing hangout experience for them. From PB’s reaction, I think she sees this as a more opportune time to hangout with her boys than immediately get up in arms and weapons-heavy in regard to the Gunter invasion. She probably knows she can handle it, but would much rather just take it easy and do something silly with her close friends, which is why she acknowledges that her plan is awful. The stakes actually do feel pretty high during this one, despite the fact that, once again, we’re dealing with an army of Gunters. The scene with Gunter nearly cracking the Gumball Guardian is definitely wince-worthy, and actually somewhat had me concerned on where it was going next. Of course, the episode does ends with Ice King giving Gunter the “squirty-squirts” so any sinister motivations from Gunter just come off as mere “teen angst”… for now, at least.

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About halfway through the episode revolves around Finn’s excerpt about how he wants to be more secretive towards women in case anything with Flame Princess ends up failing. It makes sense that Finn would want to be more educated on how to handle relationships since he’s in his first committed one with FP, and makes even more sense that he wouldn’t want to go into another spiraling depression that’s equivalent to what he went through with Bubblegum. Of course, it makes Finn look more like a jackass that he’s subtly manipulating people for his own gain, but it’s a terrific segue into his eventual fuck-ups that are based off of hormonal needs and the teenage male perspective. I was never bothered by this side of Finn because I felt it was an honest, realistic, and interesting portrayal of his character that went beyond just simply portraying him as a stand-up kid with no moral issues. It’s an intriguing step up from what we’ve already seen from the innocent little guy, and even more interesting that he looks to outside media for advice regarding how to handle girls, something I think most teenage boys are also guilty of. This, in return, introduces us to Jay T. Doggzone, and I swear to God, if we don’t find out who the identity of this author is before the end of the series, I’m gonna be hella pissed. Jay T. Doggzone was a recurring element added in that continued appearing through the end of Season Four towards the end of Season Five, and it’s constantly implied that he’s Jake, yet never openly revealed. I feel as though the staff may have just scrapped following up on this idea, which I don’t really mind not knowing, but I feel like they added so much God damn build-up already towards the identity behind this character that it keeps me up at night wondering who this guy is. Is it Jake’s secret alter-ego? Why does Jake write “trash books” in secret? Who are you Jay T. Doggzone!? Honestly, the finale could leave me with as many open questions as possible, as long as I find out who this fucking author is, I can die in peace.

Ice King’s B-plot isn’t especially lengthy, but it does introduce us to Wizard City for the first time: a totally rad landscape where some choice wizards hangout. It’s also the first speaking appearance of Huntress Wizard, that I know Jesse Moynihan in particular was probably really, really hype about. Moynihan had already tried to incorporate Huntress Wizard into his AT episodes a couple of times, and this was the first successful pitch (aside from her non-speaking cameo in Wizard Battle). She’s good fun to watch; snarky, mysterious, and well-designed, her presence is always welcomed, especially when her personality battles Ice King’s. But IK doesn’t mind, since his Jay T. motherfucking Doggzone book told him otherwise. The secret society of wizards kickstarts that cool recurring story arc, and is definitely the biggest and most interesting takeaway from this episode. I didn’t really know what to expect from this combination of unique wizards, and felt that there were a ton of possibilities that could come from it, especially in regards to the division from Wizard-culture and Ooo-culture. And it’s a small moment towards the end, but I really enjoy Finn’s notable sympathy for Ice King and his physical injuries. They could’ve easily just pinned the entire Gunter incident on the IK, but I enjoy how Finn especially is more concerned with his well-being than why he wasn’t keeping a better eye on his pet penguin.

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I kinda went into this one feeling divided because of its scattershot nature, but I actually have to say that I do enjoy this one. Sure, the set pieces never really flow well together, but I still think it’s thoroughly enjoyable and fun all the way through, no matter what its focus is. It never feels so incoherent that it’s distracting, and still keeps my attention regardless. You could definitely argue that it’s unfocused, but take an episode like Ignition Point that’s a complete snore-fest, despite it’s solid main story. Reign of Gunters may not be the most cohesive episode, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Great character interactions, jokes, lore, and a wildly silly conflict, everything that Adventure Time does right in one, flimsy package.

Favorite line: “Bubb, your plan… bunks.”

“Who Would Win” Review

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Original Airdate: September 3, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Many moons ago, I reviewed Video Makers and was pretty vocal about my general distaste for the type of story they were going for. Jake and Finn fighting with each other, in most cases, just isn’t very fun to watch. They’re best friends and brothers, and that doesn’t mean that they need to be kissing each other’s asses all the time, but anytime their bickering and disdain for each other is used as a focal point in the main conflict, it just doesn’t work for me. It kind of feels forced and melodramatic if we’re supposed to believe their main issue is with each other, rather than the main opponents who typically face them. It is, however, realistic to portray them having differing desires and wanting different things from each other, which Video Makers did do, but again, not in an entirely enjoyable way. Here, I think it’s much more fun to watch. Where this episode doesn’t have an especially strong story, it makes up for with some pretty great slapstick and a very enjoyable physical battle between the two boys.

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I love, love, LOVE the beginning of this one. Finn and Jake just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, and allowing some time to themselves. Finn acknowledges that it’s nice to have bro-time for once, and after a long season of exhausting drama regarding Hunson Abadeer, Ricardio, Princess Bubblegum, and Flame Princess, it is nice that the two take the time to get away from it all. The music, the visuals, and the dialogue between the two just really make this an entirely adorable scene. Also, on a more personal note, rewatching these episodes and taking note of who boarded what is really making my brain hypersensitive to detail. Like, I actually noticed that the first five or so drawings were done by Herpich, despite not being credited for the storyboard overall. These reviews are doing things to me, man.

The scenes that follow are pretty fun, as a bunch of different warriors (who look very similar to the Marauders; wonder why they didn’t just bring them back) face off against “The Farm.” The Farm is a delightfully designed anti-hero, with droopy limbs, a blank facial expression, and great voicework from Tom Gammill. There’s also “The Train” voiced by Dana Snyder. The design of The Train is just so ludicrous I can’t help but not enjoy it, especially how his mouth scrunches up every time he forms an “o” sound. There’s also a bit of unintentional subtle lore here, as The Train mentions his “friend” who can give him a new pair of bionic legs. In addition to all the warriors who have bionic limbs and attachments, I would guarantee that he’s speaking of Dr. Gross, which totally wasn’t intended as I mentioned, but it works as a bit of nuanced foreshadowing for the eventual reveal. Always fun to piece together bits and chunks of this show.

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Some pretty apparent nods to Gross’s work.

I like the dynamic they put Finn and Jake in especially in this one. Both are being rather selfish, though for justified reasons. Finn only wants Jake to do what he wants to do, but it’s only because Jake offered to so in the first place, presumably because Jake didn’t want to let his brother down. Yet, Jake shouldn’t have agreed to do something he didn’t want to do, and should’ve emphasized his affinity for Kompy’s Kastle. This is where the battle ensues, and it’s very much my favorite part of the episode. The line that starts it off is actually particularly sweet: “I’m gonna break every bone in your body, then heal you later with that magical goo we got from the Cyclops’ eye!” suggesting that, while Jake is clearly pissed off at Finn, he would never actually want to put his best friend through any lasting harm. The way the fight is portrayed, I think it can be clear that this has all happened before to some extent. Jake’s exclaiming, “no bities!” leaves me to believe this did happened at least a couple of times when they were children, though as Jake got older, as well as Finn, it really hasn’t happened in recent years. What we’re treated to is some delicious slapstick from this point on: Jake growing dozens of legs just to repeatedly kick Finn in the face, Finn spitting an entire fucking dollop of saliva into Jake’s face, and Jake repeatedly hitting his own face and rump by accident. It takes up a large chunk of the remainder of the episode, but stays thoroughly entertaining and humorous throughout. I always die laughing whenever The Farm abruptly squats on both Finn and Jake and then disposes barn animals all over them. That’s always pretty priceless to me.

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Once we’re introduced to the Dream Warrior, however,  I think the episode kind of reaches a bit of a halt. I think it’s all pretty obvious from hereon in: the advice that the Dream Warrior gave was all nonsensical, yet subtle advice that Finn and Jake had to use to defeat the farm, and Finn and Jake would finally team up and be able to work together. None of it’s done badly, of course, but it’s quite dissonant from the first half and never quite lives up to what it started out with. I also don’t know why Jake comes out as the one on the bottom by the end; sure, he compromises and enjoys the victory with Finn, but I wanna see Jake kicking ass in some Kompy’s Kastle too! Didn’t seem fair to the little yellow guy. In addition to this, the Dream Warrior himself isn’t that remarkable or noteworthy, besides the fact that he’s voiced by Matthew Broderick (what an unusual role for a guest celebrity) and I just don’t feel like there’s anything that unique or funny about the sensei-type advice he gives the boys. It’s just somewhat of a simplistic resolution for an episode that’s already pretty lowkey on its own.

I do enjoy this one, though. I don’t think it’s anything great, but it does handle the conflicting side of Finn and Jake’s relationship a lot better than an episode like Video Makers did. It uses the appropriate differences between the brothers and turns it into a fun, fight-filled romp. It’s not especially strong in story, but after coming off the heels of the past three or four episodes, it doesn’t need to be. A smaller, lighter episode after some heavy inner and outer drama is always warranted. Always nice to see an episode focusing on the relationship between our two main boiz.

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Favorite line: “Don’t you always call sweatpants ‘give-up-on-life pants,’ Jake?”

“Sons of Mars” Review

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Original Airdate: July 23, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

The official planned release date for reviews will be Fridays from now on. The only exception may be next Friday, only because I’ll be pretty damn busy. And I know one review a week might seem slim, but I’m going to try my best to increase that amount through time and see how much I’m able to juggle at once. Again, thank you all for being patient!

So, to end this summer of daily reviews, we have Sons of Mars! A personal favorite of mine that I may have seen one too many times (the luster has faded a bit because of how many rewatches I’ve sat through) but one that signifies how all-around awesome it is. It’s loaded with world-building and mythology, and delves into the lives and stories of its central characters.

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First and foremost, this episode reintroduces Magic Man, and he enters in the most sadistic and jarring way possible by turning that fucking creepy deer from No One Can Hear You into a telescope. This is still when it was fairly uncommon for AT one-off characters to return, so it was very surprising to see the nihilistic wizard who lacks empathy back once again, but surely rewarding. Magic Man is one of my favorite characters in the series, simply because I enjoy how little of a fuck he gives for other people, yet still manages to retain an unusually sympathetic side. This is the first episode to showcase this, as we get a look into some of his inner turmoil. Speaking of firsts, this episode is a pretty prominent point in Jesse Moynihan’s writing tendencies, as he began to get much more personal and surreal in his boarding efforts. Much of Magic Man’s story in Sons of Mars revolves around Moynihan’s own experiences with his girlfriend Margaret, who he called “Margles.” Jesse used this pet name to portray Magic’s lost love interest, and did his damndest to channel all of the negative emotion he had been feeling into this character and particular episode. In the words of Moynihan himself, “Magic Man had gone insane because I had gone insane.” This kind of self-insertion doesn’t seem to appeal to AT’s audience much, and would only receive even more negative attention as Jesse turned it into a regular practice. I dunno, for me personally, I think it’s one of the most interesting and ambitious aspects of Jesse’s writing in general. There’s no one on the staff quite as heady as Moynihan, and while I’ve criticized specific styles of the writers and storyboard artists on the show somewhat often, Moynihan’s is one I’ve never really had a clear problem with. It’s something I completely understand as to why people find it pretentious, but it also makes for some of the most imaginative and poignant stories and character arcs in the entire series. Moynihan’s ability to connect with Magic Man so closely and make one of the biggest assholes in Ooo seem more human is a really impressive task and one that I think was exceedingly well done. Moynihan believes he may have went a bit overboard with just how much of his own self he inserted into this episode, but I think it was handled with a great deal of subtlety. She’s only even mentioned twice briefly, but the most powerful moment comes from Magic Man discovering her photo after Finn tosses it aside. In a rare moment of Magic Man acting completely straightforward and honest, he quietly acknowledges the location of his Martian transporter. It’s a moment that feels so real and genuine, and doesn’t at all feel like it’s forcing me to care about a relationship that we barely know anything about. All we know by this encounter is that Magic Man had a significant other, who he tragically lost. But it’s how it personally affects Magic Man that makes it so much more interesting. The heartwrenching promo art sets up this unseen relationship, and amazes me at just how vaguely emotion is conveyed in this one without going into too much detail about what happened in the past.

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We also get a bit of history with the introduction of Grob Gob Glob Grod and the King of Mars, two very important characters in regards to the overall lore of the series. These two characters have their fair share of goofy and fun moments (including the hilarious run-through of all of Magic Man’s terrible crimes, which they don’t have footage of, so it’s a good thing Grod is good at drawing), but I do really enjoy how the episode still treats them as very crucial beings in the world of AT. Grob Gob Glob Grod (blending the many humorous variations of “glob” mentioned throughout the past few seasons, though has anyone actually said “oh my Grob” before or even mentioned Grob? Poor dude doesn’t get enough praise) is essentially the religious figurehead of this universe, while King of Mars isn’t necessarily a religious figure but instead an all-knowing ruler of entire galaxies, who is represented by Abraham Lincoln himself. Pen Ward obviously incorporated Lincoln in the pilot of Adventure Time as a silly gag that was never intended to be utilized again, but this episode is very clever in never mentioning the 16th president of the U.S. by name, and is only ever referred to by his stance as king. It’s open for a good deal of interpretation as well; I think the whole story behind the King of Mars himself is that he is a magical entity and possesses the power to travel time and the multiverse. Him sacrificing his immortality meant that he would allow himself to be as human and vulnerable as the rest of society, causing him to take his place as a legend of the past, present, and future. A soul who traveled Earth as a human being thousands of years ago, an entity who ruled over the cosmos as the King of Mars, and a spirit who will continue to embark throughout the many lands of Dead World. Honestly, it just makes me think that the actual Abraham Lincoln was a lot more fucking cool than what high school history classes taught me. Props to you, Jesse and Ako. Of course, there are plenty of connections to the King of Mars and Abe Lincoln as well. The notion that he’s the “most honest being in all the land”, the penny he carries with him at all times, and his sad remark about his lack of peers that references his longterm depression. His exchange with Death is one of my all-time favorite moments in the series, and feels like a classic negotiation between two friendly rivals as opposed to good facing off with evil.

And at the center of this heady venture is the relationship between Finn and Jake. It’s funny because, looking deeper into Finn’s mission to get Jake back, he could honestly give less of a shit of the events going on around him. He has one goal: to get his best friend back and save him from certain death. He doesn’t care about the trial Magic Man was put through or the sacrifice of Mars’ thousand year ruler. He just wants his buddy back by his side, and it’s both really endearing and quite funny when you acknowledge that he just does not care that he practically initiated the King’s sacrifice. I mean, it’s pretty clear that ol’ Abe probably would’ve let Jake go when he discovered that Magic Man may have been experiencing real emotions, but Finn just pops the fuck out of nowhere and hits GGGG with a chair that ends up striking Jake with the wand. Finn inadvertently set a prophecy into motion, whether it resulted in positive or negative consequences, though he was correct in citing that nothing would have escalated had Abe and Glob believed in his brother’s statements. It definitely could’ve made Finn come off as a dick, but again, he’s doing everything for the sake of his brother, and he doesn’t care what powerful entities he has to cross to do so.

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Jake’s role in this episode is interesting as well. He doesn’t do a ton, but we’re once again reintroduced to his desire to go out with a bang when it comes to death and destiny, though Jake acknowledges for the first time that, though he’d love to accept the afterlife with open arms, he’d be leaving his best friend behind, and he just can’t do that to Finn. It’s very heartwarming and thoughtful of Jake to put Finn before himself in this situation, and really shows how far he has come from his original stance. Knowing that Finn would do anything to save him and have him by his side, Jake will simply have to put off his own prophetic desires for the person he cares about most, and that’s what is really at the core of this trippy episode: the connection between Finn and Jake. Through all of the drama Magic Man experiences with his own personal problems and the collapsing of Mars’ government, Finn and Jake simply want to be with each other, and in the toughest of life’s problems, the relationship between two best friends can often bring light to some of the darkest of moments. Even the releasing of Tiny Manticore, who wrongfully dissed Finn and Jake, but will regret doing so to the two most caring guys in Ooo for presumably the rest of his life. His new prison is shame, if you haven’t heard.

The entire Martian space system looks amazing. Ghostshrimp once again designed a bunch of the scenery for this one, and I love everything from the design of the numerous domes and silos that populate Mars, as well as the terrific red, purple, and pink color scheme that makes the entire land feel foreign and unique. I think the designs of the martians who view the trial are kind of lame, however, though characters strictly in the background of AT episodes never look superb or detailed. I guess it’s just weird that they decided to include these random Martian civilians in the background at all because wouldn’t they like, be freaking out about what’s going on? They’re kinda just there to be there, so I feel like they could’ve just be excluded completely unless they were in-sync with the tragedies occurring in front of them. The design of GGGG is awesome though, one of my favorite character designs in the series. Love his/her rotating heads and the groovy headgear they wear to cover their baldness.

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Sons of Mars embodies some of the greatest elements of any AT episode up to this point: the honesty of our two main characters, the ambition and headiness of the world surrounding them, the ability to humanize even the most abysmal characters, the intrigue of wanting to see even more of what this world has to offer, and the deep connection between writer and character. It’s one of my personal all-time favorites, and even though I’ve seen it a million times, it just has so much to offer every time I do watch. One of the biggest steps towards more surreal and intoxicating mythology that would grace the series much later on.

Favorite line: “How long have you had this house?” “Yes, that is true!”

 

“Beyond this Earthly Realm

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Original Airdate: June 11, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Beyond this Earthly Realm isn’t as heady as the last one, but it’s pretty freakin’ cool. It’s a simple story equipped with an even more simplistic B-plot: Finn and Ice King have to team up after Finn enters some sort of spirit realm, and Jake just misses his buddy while he’s gone. These two stories are pretty basic and nothing new, but they’re carried largely by just how enjoyable it is to watch Ice King and Finn’s budding friendship, as well as the awesome visuals that support the plot.

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The entire episode is coated in an orange-red filter that looks really artistically pleasing and interesting, while dozens of awesomely designed creatures roam the spirit world. They’re certainly not as funny or unique as some of the demons of the Nightosphere, but every creature has its own individual design that ranges from creative to inherently gross. I really love how a lot of the side monsters or creatures in AT look like they were developed from a notebook doodle, as a good chunk of them were. It really adds that bit of likability to them, even the one that diarrheas and vomits at the same time. Yuck.

Finn’s connection to the Ice King in this episode makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. He obviously doesn’t like that he has to deal with Simon (yes, I did love that name drop), but I do appreciate the level of patience and acceptance he has with the old coot. Instead of being angry or inflicting violence on the Ice King when he realizes he’s been lied to, Finn simply states “I’m gonna re-open the hole.” It’s a great “fuck this” reaction, but also pretty telling that Finn simply just wants to punish the IK for his behavior rather than necessarily hurt him. It makes the connection between the two seem much stronger, and shows us how far they have come. It’s just really sweet to see them working together once again, which we legitimately don’t get to see again for another three seasons or so. I suppose if we got these types of episodes a lot they wouldn’t be as special, but their dynamic, especially when it comes to common goals, is just a ton of fun.

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There’s great moments between the two, such as the implication that Ice King regularly lies to Gunther and claims that him and Finn are hanging out, which is both hilarious and somewhat heartbreaking. Ice King trying to be cool by deeming them “turbro…turbo-bros” is a nice overly long gag as well. There’s also some nice individual moments, including Ice King’s description of the spirits that ends with a solemn, “… I hate them.” This story stemmed from Ice King’s brief mention of wizard eyes in Mortal Recoil, and both episodes emphasized what a taxing issue it is for ol’ Simon to be experiencing hallucinations 24/7. It’s very amusingly tragic, and it really helps you emphasize with the circumstances of his condition that he himself isn’t even comfortable with. Finn’s reaction to the contents of the portal is a funny callback to the beginning, where instead of being treated to anything too expository, we just simply get Finn’s utter confusion with his surroundings to help inform us of what’s going on.

I especially like Jake’s subplot as well. It isn’t heavily focused on, but man, there’s some legitimate melancholy when it comes to Jake’s behavior. It’s sad seeing the guy so torn up over losing his friend, along with his efforts to bring him back which Jake probably knows won’t work. I really sympathize a lot with him in these bits, and even though we obviously know Finn’s going to return by the end of the episode, it’s still sad to see Jake so torn up over the disappearance of his brother, and the in-universe reality that he may not be able to get him back.

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The conclusion involves a pretty trippy breaking-the-fourth-wall moment that definitely has me believing that Ice King still has aspects of Simon deeply embedded in his subconscious, though this is likely no surprise. Finn symbolically refers to him by name a bit earlier on, and his long, open-ended speech about the basis of television have me thinking that Simon’s existential and scholarly personality still play a part in Ice King’s everyday life, whether he knows it or not.

There’s a couple of inconsistencies in this one, mainly the idea about what the spirits can touch and whether they can be touched or not. Like, there’s bits where Finn is able to sit on the couch or a tree branch, but he isn’t able to feel BMO or Jake? And then there’s the scene where Ice King says he isn’t able to touch the spirits, but immediately swats one off  of him afterwards. It’s brief moments like this that make me kinda question how the Spirit World works and what limitations it has, but ultimately don’t tarnish the experience as a whole.

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And I truly do enjoy this one. Like I said, there’s nothing mind blowing or especially hilarious about it, it just does what it set out to do so well that it ultimately ended up being a great one for me. Lots of nice visuals, character interactions, an entertaining adventure, a pretty dope musical score, and the compassionate connection between our main characters. What more could ya ask for in an episode of Adventure Time?

And holy shit, have you guys ever seen the lyrics of BMO’s spider song?

Three baby spiders, three bitty baby spiders,
Were playing in the sun.
The rain came down and it was no fun.

Cry cry cry cry goo ga goo.
Oh me, oh my, eyes are raining too.
The first spider drowned, he was never found.

The second spider cried till he died,
But the babiest of all splashed and had a ball.

He grew up very tall and lived inside a wall.
Sometimes the sun shines even on baby spiders and you!

A pretty God damn dark version of Itsy Bitsy Spider, if ya ask me!

Favorite line: “Now you’re trapped, and only I can see you. So if you want friends, this is it, pal!”

 

“Return to the Nightosphere” Review

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Original Airdate: April 30, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

After three stories involving romance and one experimental episode, it’s nice that season four has its first true adventurous episode. Season four didn’t really have the best start, but this is one that feels like a breath of fresh air. It introduces us to the realm of the Nightosphere, and what a terrifically designed place it is! The episode is pretty much carried by the intrigue of this foreign underworld, and also because it’s just simply freakin’ hilarious.

The episode doesn’t waste any time by immediately throwing our two main characters into their main conflict right away, making the audience equally as interested in figuring out their dilemma as Finn and Jake are. There’s a ton of intrigue surrounding this one, from the way Hunson Abadeer is regarded amongst the citizens (the name “Hunson Abadeer” actually comes from Jesse Moynihan’s car, which was given the name by his brother) and just what the hell the meaning of bananas is.

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Part of the fun of this episode just comes from the surroundings. The civilians and environment of the Nightosphere are just spectacular. I love the random demons who hang around Finn and Jake at the beginning and just roll around and wave their arms. Then there’s the longshot a couple minutes in, which Jesse Moynihan has a pretty big self-indulged boner for, but can you blame him? It looks fantastic! Jesse’s been known for his long pans, especially in an episode like Death in Bloom, and this one really takes the cake. It’s funny, fast-moving, and builds a lot of atmosphere within the Dark World. There’s so much to take in that it’s impossible to notice everything on a first viewing; dozens of different areas on fire and surrounded by lava, wacky beasts, laser fights, a stock woman scream in the background, hooded groups of people walking into a building and (presumably) committing suicide as a tall demon watches, and so on. It’s something you can tell Moynihan really went all out with, and his pride in it really makes it all the more admirable to me.

There’s also other cool designs, such as the transportation demon, the teller, the guy on the boat, and many others. The thing about the demons is that they’re so obscure and oddly designed, and there’s actually a pretty big animation error with one of these characters that it’s hardly even noticeable because of it. Yeah, one of the demon’s ears were recognized as hands during the animation process, and it’s a bit of a confusing sequence once you realize those aren’t his hands, but it still kind of works to me in a silly way. Even if it was an error, it almost entirely makes sense with the world of these demons that moving their ears around like arms is just something that’s a social norm. And even though these demons are so obscure and unique, I love how their dialogue is so mundane and casual. Some of their exchanges are great, especially the one with the anxiety ridden demon waiting in line who can’t make brown (as someone who suffers from chronic IBS, this dude really hit home for me).

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Finn and Jake’s incorporation into the episode is just superb as well. I love any plotline that puts the characters into an increasingly boring or painstaking situation, and the “waiting in line” scenario often works a charm. Finn and Jake’s general deterioration throughout this one is great, from their sobbing and transition into insanity while waiting in line to their relentlessness to eventually meet with Abadeer, it’s fun watching these guys really try to stick it out together. Jake even utters the Japanese phrase “jouzu de Ganbatte ne (have faith and go forth)” to keep up Finn’s spirits: something Jesse’s mother would tell him when he was a young lad. D’awww.

It all leads to a pretty dope climax when Finn and Jake battle off with the beast they assume to be Abadeer. There’s a lot of cool details in Hunson’s domain, with some neat frames hung on his wall, including pictures with Peppermint Butler and the King of Mars. We all know Peppermint Butler has close connections to dark lords, but I wonder what the connection is between Hunson and ol’ Abe. Perhaps they’re just on friendly terms, like Abe and Death are. Besides that point, it all leads to a full-on battle in a bright and colorful warp hole, where it’s revealed that the beast was none other than Marceline! Draaaama bomb! Of course, that cliffhanger won’t be addressed till next episode, so we’ll talk about it more then.

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This one is just terrific though. Jam packed with jokes, gags, atmosphere, and placed in an awesome setting. The next one is really more emotion and writing based, so I’m glad we did have this first parter that gave us time to explore the Nightosphere a bit more before getting right into the meat. It’s always fun to check out different lands in the AT world, and the Nightosphere is one of my favorite in that regard. Just an all around good time. Onto Daddy’s Little Monster!

Favorite line: “Charlie, don’t socialize with the smaller demons! They’re dirty and stupid!”

“Web Weirdos” Review

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Original Airdate: April 16, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

It’s pretty clear that season four has somewhat of a running theme of dealing with relationships. We’ve already seen Finn’s first encounter with Flame Princess and the development of his romantic feelings, and now in this episode, we focus more on the circumstances of a long-term partnership. It’s very fitting that Finn is beginning to observe relationships around him considering he’s now involved in one, and it’s made even more important by showcasing that relationships by nature aren’t always fun and games.

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The plot revolves around spider love interests Ed and Barb (voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait and Susie Essman respectively) and they’re alright I suppose, though the episode is filled with Finn and Jake moments that really round it out and make it much more enjoyable to sit through. I love the beginning with Jake performing some totally gnarly stunts, while Finn pulls off some pretty lame parkour. It’s a thoroughly charming and endearing entrance, followed by some hilarious bits, such as the interestingly utilized cutaway gag of Finn’s uncut fingernails and the introduction of the bug and fly who also got caught in the spiderweb. I really friggin’ love those guys, and they’re pretty great with relationship advice as well.

Speaking of relationship advice, it’s really interesting to watch Finn share a bit of wisdom with Ed regarding his connection with his wife. Obviously, it’s likely that Finn is just humoring Ed to buy him and Jake some time to escape, but it still feels very genuine and telling, and that Finn legitimately wants to help the guy out. Finn’s obviously inexperienced, but I think his bit of advice comes more from conscientious place of being righteous in any kind of relationship. And in the last few minutes, he chooses the heroic path by deciding to stay and help Ed out, even if it means he can’t escape and that he could possibly even die. Always gotta go with Glob!

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As for Ed and Barb, as I said, they’re alright. I think Ed’s pretty interesting in his own right; he wants to do things properly, but his egocentric behavior and combination of self-loathing make it impossible for him to fully commit and love his wife like he arguably did in the past. Barb just kinda seems like a bitch from what we’ve seen. The one part of the episode I really disliked was the bit where Barb was mercilessly punching Ed. This is pretty blatant domestic abuse, and it’s somewhat uncomfortable to me. It’s not even like Ed’s able to protect himself, he looks like he’s in legitimate pain (imagine if this was the other way around). It’s not a huge problem, but we’re supposed to kind of be rooting for these guys to work out there differences, and that scene just made me want Ed to get as far away from Barb as possible. Though the ending was an interesting conclusion, as many couples do stick with the concept that having children can usher in a new beginning for their marriage. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For Ed and Barb, it doesn’t look like it can get any worse, so hopefully having hundreds of babies ended up working out for them.

I like a good chunk of this one. There’s plenty of great Finn and Jake moments like the ones I listed above, and then there’s other great visual gags, such as Finn spitting out the bug, only for him to land directly back onto the spider web or Finn’s spitting down the bird (a lot of these involve spit, as you may have noticed) and the longshot of the many birds who suffered at the hands of this tactic. The Ed and Barb parts can lead to some pretty unlikable sequences, but I do think their dysfunctional marriage is a pretty interesting relationship that the series hasn’t really covered up until this point. Very frankly, it’s the type of relationship that most animated series typically don’t cover. Glad we could count on AT to tackle it head on with humor and potency.

Also, I don’t think I’ll ever be more grossed out by anything in the series than the way Ed produces string. That dripping was fucking vile.

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Favorite line: “It’s hard to step outside of yourself when you’re enmeshed with another being!”