Tag Archive | BMO

“Be More” Review

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One of my favorite title cards in the series. So beautifully atmospheric as BMO begins his search for meaning.

Original Airdate: July 22, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Tom Herpich

Any episodes focusing on BMO up to this point have revolved around his wildly vivid imagination, while also emphasizing the tragedy of his character. While cute and filled with creativity, BMO is also notorious for his desire to feel human emotions like anyone else, and “be more” than just a robot. It’s fitting then that Be More doesn’t focus on the tragic or darker elements of the character, but rather ties BMO to a heartwarmingly sweet origin story.

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It starts out, however, with a brief bit of innuendo that comes across as a somewhat somber portrayal of BMO’s character. He’s deleting files, or in this case, “deleting brain cells” which is a pretty obvious euphemism for drug use. Not sure why BMO would want to do something detrimental like this, but my guess is that it’s likely for experimentation and a possible surge of entertainment. Afterall, we never see him doing something like this following the episode, so it seems pretty obvious that BMO did learn his lesson.

But the rest of the episode is exceedingly less dark. It’s mainly a fun and light Finn, Jake, and BMO adventure, but a pretty good one at that. It’s one of those episodes that is just really likable in how nice the characters act around each other. The dynamic of Finn and Jake being BMO’s caretakers has been existent for a while, but I think this is perhaps one of the sweetest examples. I love how they willingly would rather put themselves into a potentially dangerous situation than to have BMO’s memory wiped completely, as expected. Most heartwarming is their intricate (albeit hilariously poor) ideas to disguise themselves as MOs, even if they have no idea what an actual MO aside from BMO looks like. I also love the brief glimpse of Finn’s chubbiness. Love how they give him some curvy edges; it makes sense that he wouldn’t be especially physically fit, because I’m sure he doesn’t really exercise outside of the typical adventure.

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Love the MO factory! First, I enjoy how it is apart of the Bad Lands; I like it whenever AT acknowledges some form of consistency with its geographical settings, so continuously adding new locations within designated landmarks (as Xergiok’s house was in The Great Bird Man) is pretty nifty to me. The MO Factory itself gives off some rad dystopian vibes. There’s broken glass, rustic growths, and just some generally off-putting shades of gray and blue that help add to its somber surroundings. The actual MOs themselves are a lot of fun. DMO (voiced by Aziz Ansari) is an enjoyably sassy and stuck up adversary for the boys, as are the quite bumbling SMOs. I originally viewed them as carbon copies of the Banana Guards, but I actually think they’re funnier than the average Banana Guard appearance. I enjoy their mundane work oriented conversations and their frequent use of the term “goof.” Also, the concept of robots trying to eat and drink on this show will never not be funny to me.

This one also has some moments of genuine excitement. The cart ride through the MO factory is just as funny as it is riveting; Finn memorizing the map right down to its corkscrew, is both wildly funny and absurd. A lot of it is boarded by Steve Wolfhard, who typically has nice drawings, though they don’t always translate terrifically when it comes to the animation process, but this sequence actually looks quite nice. There’s also a few cool Easter eggs, like the addition of AMO’s room, who would eventually play a bigger part two seasons later. Wolfhard is a stickler for including tiny bits of lore and information that could or could not come back in the future depending on what he or the other story editors wanted to do with it.

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The cream of the crop of this one is the ending, where we’re introduced to Moe, another semi-human who created BMO. Moe is a character I’ve always wished that we got to see a little more of, but I do enjoy the mystery surrounding him and his connections to creating modernized, as well as futuristic, technology after the apocalypse. The idea behind BMO’s creation is as sad as it is cute; sad because BMO was never used for what he was intended for, as Moe was never able to have children, but cute because BMO was essentially able to fulfill his purpose by meeting Finn. I don’t think we’re ever going to get a flashback story on how BMO, Finn and Jake met, nor do I think it’s necessary, but I assume that Finn did come across the little console when he was somewhere between 9-12, allowing BMO to make the connection he was intended to, and to “be more” than that. It really is the most adorable way to give BMO an identity beyond him just being a video game console. Though BMO was most likely never told his purpose, he likely knows his purpose regardless. He is there to be more than just a robot, and he constantly acknowledges it by not “feeling” like a robot. Despite his constant struggle with his identity and morality, BMO is simply going through the phases of what it means to be a living being, whether he knows it or not.

So yeah, I like it! It isn’t as dark or as analytical as some of the other BMO episodes we’ve gotten in the past, which I tend to get into more, but this one is just a fun, heartfelt journey that gives BMO an appropriately fitting origin. Tom Herpich’s promo art was almost as good as the title card itself, so I’ll share with you here.

There was also an original ending in the storyboard where Moe asked Finn, Jake, and BMO to leave so he could use the bathroom, and I’m really glad they took it out. Would’ve totally killed any warm feelings Be More left me with.

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Favorite line: “How’s your goofy wife?” “Pretty goofy!”

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“Shh!” Review

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Original Airdate: May 13, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Graham Falk

Shh! is storyboard artist Graham Falk’s debut on Adventure Time. Wasn’t familiar with Falk before he joined the AT staff, but his roots in more cartoony and expressive material, like The Untalkative Bunny, have allowed for some really interesting looking drawings on Adventure Time. Aside from season one, we’re not used to seeing cartoonish and squishy looking poses and expressions from the show, so Falk’s methods always add a bit more charm and likability to the sillier episodes. And I think it was well fitting that his first episode is one that partially pays tribute to silent cartoons of the past.

I think the stronger parts of this one do come from the first half, when Finn and Jake commit to their use of title cards to communicate with each other. There’s a lot of really funny visual gags during this portion, especially the fact that nearly every single card that Finn wrote is supporting Jake somehow. My favorite being “I love you, Jake” which Finn angrily uses to respond to his speed-writing brother. It’s both adorable and hilarious. There’s also the funny bit of build-up to BMO believing Finn and Jake are aliens where they both try to communicate with him using “the juice?” and “me too.” Real smooth.

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BMO freaks out and flees the area, which puts his get together with his bikini babes on hold. The song that BMO plays is by Lake, the band that sings the outro for AT, and No Wonder I is a really great tune! Next to Rebecca Sugar, Lake provides some of the best tunes for the series, including this one, the ending theme, and two songs that we’ll visit later on. You can listen to No Wonder I on YouTube here.

The second of the portion of the episode definitely slows down a bit, just because I did enjoy all of the jokes that came out of Jake and Finn communicating through signs, but I guess there wasn’t a ton they could do with them that would span out an entire episode. Instead, we do get some nice bits, like the Spider with gloves on his hands and the mice using the running wheel, which are all moderately cute, and provide some cool designs equivalent to old Mickey Mouse cartoons and Warner Bros. shorts pre-WWII. There’s also that sad dude who lives in the wall, and it’s a longshot, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a full episode based around that dude. His existence and depression intrigue me.

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After Jake tries to reason with BMO and fails (which features a pretty great shot of Jake shrunken down to be smaller than BMO; have they done something like this before? I think it’s the first time they’ve attempted something like it) the two boys proceed to axe up their wall for some reason – maybe they are possessed by aliens afterall – to get BMO out. Cue the bikini babes, and in an episode full of great visual pieces and character designs, these girls really freak me out a little bit. Their really detailed humanoid bodies and their simplistic eyes and mouth just don’t complement each other very well, and this is an instance where I wouldn’t have minded the addition of eye whites and nose features. Afterall, the guy inside the wall had them! I do like their inexplicable ability to fly, however. 

The climax is decently fun; I like the way Finn and Jake are just emotionless throughout the entire battle, because the bikini babes aren’t exactly formidable opponents. I like the way the babes face of with the boys, using pinches, dancing, and volleyball techniques to inflict damage. Also, love the one shaking maracas with the title card “the jam”. It provides for a funny ending once Finn and Jake surrender their and explain their day to BMO, and BMO just says “fuck it!” followed by a dance party. Even the Party God showed up for this one, which always provides for a stellar get together!

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Overall, this one’s light fun. I don’t find myself getting into it that much, but it has its fair share of funny and enjoyable moments. Again, the overall designs and drawings in this one are interesting enough to carry the episode, along with some good bits of writing along the way. Not anything remarkable, but a nice entry regardless.

Shh! was dedicated to Armen Mirzaian, who tragically passed away in a car accident months prior to the airing of this episode. Mirzaian wrote and boarded for three episodes in the first season: What is Life?Business Time, and The Jiggler.

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Favorite line: (passive aggressively) “Oh dang, the toast?”

 

 

 

 

“James Baxter the Horse” Review

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Original Airdate: May 6, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward & Somvilay Xayaphone

During his time at CalArts, Pen Ward had a special guest lecture by James Baxter, an animator who worked with both Disney and DreamWorks. Someone in the lecture asked James Baxter to draw a horse on top of a beach ball, to which James Baxter declined, but the idea of a horse on a ball stuck with Ward regardless. Which is why James Baxter the Horse stars Ward in a rare position at the storyboarding helm, because it turns out to be a pretty personal story in regards to being inspired by someone else’s work, but trying to make your own unique content out of it. And for the most part, I think it works.

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The beginning starts off pretty great with BMO’s pregnant song. Again, this is right after Rebecca Sugar left, so most of the songs following her departure aren’t exactly catchy or memorable, but this one is at least funny. While Finn and Jake try to cheer up BMO she breaks her egg, James Baxter appears and makes everything better with his beach ball routine. The real life James Baxter actually assisted with some of the animation in this episode, mainly the bits where James Baxter rolls on the beach ball, and man, is it a fluid breath of fresh air! Not that AT animation typically looks bad, per se, but you never really expect anything particularly smooth or fluid in terms of character movement. Baxter himself voices his horse counterpart as well, and it provides for a really enjoyably silly running gag throughout the course of the episode.

I think that’s how you can describe the entirety of the episode for the most part: enjoyably silly. I mentioned in my last review that Princess Potluck felt like an episode that was meandered by a plot that seemed as insignificant as an episode from season one, but I think this episode is able to also capture the spirit of the first season in a pretty solid way. Ward is far from my favorite boarder on the show; I have oodles of respect for the guy, but I think he’s more of a storyteller than an actually great writer. And his drawings, while perfectly serviceable, are very simplistic depictions of our main heroes that we’re used to seeing everywhere in AT media. But that being said, I think most of it works with the actual episode. There are moments of stilted dialogue and awkwardness, but it calls for some surrealistic laughs at times. Like the bit where Jake propels Finn into the air to kick the ghost as Finn and Jake randomly get coated in milk. Also, there’s just inexplicably no background music during this sequence. Ward has always been on the more random and silly side, and it’s a style that doesn’t really call for some of the funnier or more memorable pieces from the series, but it’s a style that’s definitely charming and likable regardless. It’s just like Rainy Day Daydream, another episode boarded by Ward that I don’t really think is downright hilarious or terrific or anything, but there’s something so delightful about it regardless.

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Pairing Ward with Somvilay was actually a pretty good choice in my mind. I think it’s fucking redundant at this point to keep bringing up issues with Somvilay’s drawings, because let’s face it, I literally feel that way about every single episode he has boarded thus far. From now on, I’m only going to bring it up if it poses a large issue with the episode itself, which there are some of down the line. Actual drawings aside, I think Somvilay’s simplistic character depictions and focus on wacky non-sequiturs actually really match well with what Ward was going for (there’s a ton of w’s in that last sentence, woah). I like the little added Somvilayisms, like Finn handing Jake his clipboard just to carry across an animated line of dialogue and then retrieving it back. Also, moments such as Finn and Jake disturbing the funeral and making noises towards the little girl are more direct methods of comedy, but two that play off pretty well and do make me laugh.

A good portion of the episode is watching Finn and Jake embark on this journey to create something as great as James Baxter has, and it’s pretty cool to connect the dots with Pen Ward in Finn and Jake’s position. It seems pretty clear that Ward has a ton of respect for Baxter himself, so he probably wanted to create something as great as he was able to, but always felt inferior and that he was never able to match Baxter’s standards. Ward instead tried to create something different that also appeared to people’s interests and what they like to see, which worked out for him, but his work still probably wasn’t looked at as quite as good as James Baxter’s. What this episode sets to point out is that, even if your work isn’t technically superior to another’s, you should still try and make other people happy with your talents. You shouldn’t try endlessly to recreate the magic that another person has invented, but instead try and create your own unique spin on already existing properties. I don’t know how many of the kiddies picked up on this one, but it’s a neat little message to carry across, and one that is particularly sweet.

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The backgrounds in this one are great! Again, a lot of nice skies and scenery to chew on. This is an episode that is featured pretty heavily in the Art of Ooo book, for good reasons. I like the simplicity of some of the Grassland scenes, as well as the dope-looking factory with its many colors and layers. Also, this is a really design-heavy episode. There’s James Baxter, the hitchhiker ghost, the furry people in the forest, the grieving family, and so on. It’s always nice to have a group of new background characters, a feat that is still unmatched by Ocarina, but one that makes the episode feel more inventive and that more time was put into the smaller details.

I don’t really have much more to say besides the fact that, well, it’s fun! Nothing particularly special, but it’s a sweet little episode that takes the time to channel a more personal story over the increasingly wild Land of Ooo. It’s always very special to get an episode boarded by Ward, which only happens every once in a blue moon. I’m glad he had a crucial part on this one, and I’m glad he took the time to share his story with the viewers of AT. All I know is that I could watch that scene of James Baxter riding into the sunset all day long if I wanted to.

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Favorite line: “Jaaaaaaames Baaaxter!”

“BMO Lost” Review

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Original Airdate: April 15, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Tom Herpich

The way I see it, there’s two different methods I take to reviewing these episodes: by their quality, and by personal delight. For example, Puhoy is an episode that I think does everything exceedingly well and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t really hit anywhere on a personal level. That doesn’t diminish its quality at all, but a different episode, like Gotcha! is a perfectly serviceable episode on the surface, but one I plain just don’t like because I don’t really care for Lumpy Space Princess that much. Quality and personable connections don’t really have to coincide entirely, but usually if I’m not looking at one of those traits, I’ll look to the other. And in this episode, BMO Lost, it’s one that isn’t really technically anything special in terms of quality, but I’m a stickler for anything BMO, so I like this one quite a bit. In fact, it’s one of my favorites of the first half of the season. Though I do acknowledge that I think one person’s feelings towards BMO could make or break the episode for them.

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For the most part, BMO Lost really is just a celebration of the titular character. Most of the humor, charm, and entertainment derive strictly from the tiny console in this, and it’s one I find myself constantly snickering at by just how “in his own world” BMO actually is. And I can also see chunks of this episode as BMO being unlikable to some, like BMO completely tuning out Bubble’s story, or how he covers up baby Ricky’s hand because he sees it as an imperfection. To me, that only drives home the naivety of his character. I love how innocent and brutally honest he can be at times, and if you ask me, there’s no better team that carries across that blend of charm and unintentional jerkiness than Herpich and Wolfhard. It’s no wonder the two of them have so many BMO centered episodes under their belt; they do exceedingly well at contributing depth and bluntness into BMO’s character that is so irresistible. Almost every line that BMO utters in this one hits home for me, it’s almost like watching a gallery of terrific line deliveries and quirky nonsense, mostly as a result of Niki Yang’s terrific voice acting, per usual.

The other star character of this one is Bubble, voiced by LeVar Burton, who you might otherwise know as the host of Reading Rainbow. Burton’s voicework in this one can easily be described as endearingly bland. There’s nothing special or particularly hilarious in regards to his deliveries, yet he carries across such an honest charm and genuine tone that I can’t help but find it exceedingly likable. In addition to that, I also like the simplicity of his design. It’s just a circle with two dots and a smile, but the transparency of his body allows for some pretty cool visual touches at times, and allow for the woodland backgrounds to really shine through. There’s also a decent amount of visual gags they accomplish with this, namely in the scene where he has to save BMO and baby Ricky from the waterfall, but doesn’t have anything physical strength to do so. While we’re on the subject, holy shit! That dead hunter with a gun is just chillin’ out in the open right in front of our eyes. I know we’ve seen plenty of dead people and apocalyptic Easter eggs in the past, but I can’t recall one in the recent future that’s been this explicit and out there.

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And then there’s baby Ricky, or should I say, Sparkle, who doesn’t do much in terms of having any funny moments or driving the plot further that much, though it does provide for an interesting connection made with BMO. I think BMO’s feelings towards him can easily be described as any child who has been around a baby, and BMO’s maternal (I know I keep referring to BMO as “he” in this one, but truth be told, I can make up my mind which pronoun is most fitting in this one) instincts come out in full force. There are a lot of cute and funny ways BMO interacts with Sparkle, but it also provides for the most dramatic moment in the episode: when Sparkle’s mother finds her baby. BMO quite selfishly tries to take Sparkle away from his mother, and when he loses, Sparkle’s mother simply utters that BMO should be ashamed of himself. Cue a fade to black, where BMO reflects sadly on himself, and the realization that he doesn’t have his life and reality in his grasp as much as he once thought. The entire day was one big game to him that was soiled by the realization that he took his game too far, and now he’s more lost physically and mentally than ever.

However, Bubble does bring up an optimistic solution when BMO realizes he’s closer to his home than he once thought, and, upon returning home, Bubble reveals his inner most thoughts to BMO. It’s a very lovely and heartwarming scene that, believe it or not, is actually pretty convincing. I do really believe that Bubble loves BMO and that BMO helped show him the way, and none of it feels too mushy or melodramatic. I genuinely enjoy the connection this bubble has with this video console.

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And I’m not lying guys, that scene where Jake enters the scene and pops Bubble fucking killed me. There’s three times I’ve cried/gotten misty eyed at this show: the ending of I Remember You, the ending of The Light Cloud, and the climax of this fucking episode. I don’t know if it was because I was still a sensitive, angsty teenager when this first aired, but by God, seeing one of BMO’s close friends get virtually “killed” was heartbreaking. And it made me despise Finn and Jake for at least the next 5 or 6 episodes. I’ve simmered down now and the popping scene strikes me as more shockingly funny than depressing, but still, that shit is burning me somewhere deep down inside. But of course, it’s made lighter by the fact that Bubble is now free as “Air,” and he’s able to watch over BMO for the rest of eternity, to which BMO happily responds. It’s a really unsettling “what the fuck” ending that is only made better by BMO’s reaction to all of it. I love that, despite being promised a lifetime of never being alone for a second, BMO instead is excited that he doesn’t have to deal with loneliness and can instead enjoy the company of a playmate forever. It’s a really cute and funny ending that really captures the magic of BMO.

So again, if you’re not a BMO fan, I’m not sure how much you’ll actually get out of this one, but for my money, I really enjoyed it. It’s a cute spotlight moment for BMO, with some legitimately heartwarming moments, as well as plenty of silly and laughable moments. It’s one that I definitely hold dear to me, and focuses on all of the best aspects of BMO’s personality in the most respectful and passionate way.

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Favorite line: “Thanks to us he’s going to grow up and be anything he wants to be: a strapping horse whisperer or a sexy hitman or whatever.”

“BMO Noire” Review

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Original Airdate: August 6, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Skyler Page

BMO Noire is the first true BMO-centric episode of the series, and it quite delightfully blends experimental themes of black and white crime films with a hint of BMO development added in. This episode is essentially working off of everything we’ve learned about BMO so far; despite his childlike wonder, BMO wishes only one thing: to have normal “living” emotions like Jake and Finn. And while BMO does experience feelings deep down similar to his close friends, he still is a robot on the outside, which has kickstarted a lot of inner turmoil that has caused him to be almost borderline sociopathic at times. No matter how cute BMO is, there’s not denying that a lot that goes through his head and his everyday actions are generally fucked up. BMO Noire is essentially the best kind of episode to showcase this aspect of his character; it’s a fun and sweet adventure on the surface, but underneath is a layer of BMO’s dark and tortured imagination.

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It’s probably appropriate to start off this review by mentioning that BMO was totally playing with himself at the beginning of this episode. There is just simply no other way around it. The episode wastes no time, however, by immediately setting up the somewhat trivial conflict that is taken completely seriously by our robot friend. The episode pulls off many noir-themed references and homages very humorously as well as effectively. The episode, of course, is completely in black-and-white (something that Pendleton Ward was really psyched about doing), there’s the bit where BMO steps on his controller cord as if it were a cigarette bud, and the dialogue between the characters (or, in this case, the characters BMO has created) is all very 1950’s. A lot of the exchanges between BMO and his imaginary friends, though very amusing, can also be taken completely straight as well. This episode is full of its funny moments, but honestly, I found myself laughing a lot less after watching it this time around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. I just think anything noir-themed is pretty fucking cool, so I mostly enjoy this one out of admiration for its tone and style rather than believing it’s a straight-up hilarious parody of crime films, and I think that’s how most people feel as well. You can laugh at the fact that BMO is legitimately having a serious discussion about his past relationship with a chicken named Lorraine, but it’s played so dramatically by BMO that it still amazingly kind of works as a somewhat somber tale.

Of course, I also enjoy this one for the aforementioned development of BMO’s character. Throughout the episode, it’s filled with a lot of silly conversations between Ronnie the rat, Lorraine the chicken, Lieutenant Whiskers, and others that exist as talking figures in BMO’s imagination. They start out harmless and playful enough, but BMO’s dream sequence really sheds light to the questionable and histrionic elements of his actions. BMO concocted the entire scheme, meaning he stole from his friend, supposedly “killed” Bebe, put lipstick on F&J’s pet chicken, and knew the entire sequence was all in his imagination.

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It makes me question what exactly BMO’s motivation behind this elaborate plan was; was it to get attention from Finn and Jake and appear as a hero like the two of them do? Was it strictly for the cause of going on his own enjoyable investigation? Or, going off of the last reason, was it to ultimately feel more “human”? The dream sequence also suggests this aspect (boarded by Tom Herpich, who always does a standout job with dreams or hallucinations, but this is definitely an exceptional one) as BMO is briefly seen with a human face, the same human face seen in the title card for this episode. I think it once again stresses the fact at how BMO feels like a living creature and desires to be like any living creature, but simply cannot be one with the body he was given and the function he was, supposedly up to this point, made for. BMO will always be Finn and Jake’s cute, baby robot, but with any child, there are layers of hidden trauma and turmoil that I’m sure BMO himself isn’t completely cognizant about. The only thing he is aware of is that he has a conscious desire, without soundly too cliche, to “be more”. This is hinted during his exchange with NEPTR, leading to one of the funniest and most poignant lines of the episode, “no NEPTR, I am not like you.” It’s works as a laugh-worthy “fuck you” to Adventure Time’s most in-universally ignored character, but also as a glimpse into what BMO believes he truly is, and that’s something more than just a robot.

This heaviness is blended nicely with the fact that, once again, it is all in BMO’s imagination. I like all of his interactions with these characters, and how he’s able to effectively converse with Lorraine or Ronnie without them ever responding back. There’s a really great moment where Lieutenant Whiskers hands BMO a confession from Ronnie, and there’s just no way in the fucking world someone actually handed it to him. It just kinda sticks up out of nowhere, which harms the authenticity that all of this episode is just in BMO’s head, but it’s so hilarious that I don’t even really mind. There’s also moments reminding us that BMO is indeed still a robot, like the controller stomping I had mentioned and the bit where BMO splashes his face in water, only for his circuits to smoke a bit. I’m actually really glad Herpich got to work on this one. Not even for a writing reason, but I just feel like his really chunky and squishy drawings of the characters blend nicely with the black-and-white and old-timey feel of the episode. It was a nice stylized choice. Also, huge kudos to Niki Yang in this one. Ako Castuera refers to this one as a “Niki Yang voice acting extravaganza” in the commentary, and that’s pretty much the best way of putting it. Yang does an excellent job of pulling of different, distinct and silly voices for each of the newly introduced characters. 

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And after all the psychological issues he goes through, BMO is able to have a moment of victory and lightheartedness as Finn and Jake return home from Glob knows where. The staff would oddly elaborate on this subplot later in season five, but we’ll get to that when the time comes. The ending does hint that BMO does want to be more like Finn and Jake and go on adventures like the two of them, so it’s endearing that he’s able to have a brief moment of triumph at the fact that he saved the day, though it was secretly instigated by himself. We do get one final very small, yet effective scene at the end where BMO blushes at the thought at Lorraine, once again showing that he’s much more “human” than we were lead on to believe. Though he’s still a robot at the end of the day, BMO will always have his attributes that make him equivalent to any other lovable, yet troubled little boy.

I dig this one a ton. Like I said, it’s not one that I find particularly hilarious, but it’s filled with great atmosphere and interesting peeks into BMO’s character that I don’t mind at all. It’s silly, yet intense, and a perfect start to BMO’s descent into his own personal issues.

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Favorite line: “I feel like I got hit with a Dracula by King Kong.”

“Holly Jolly Secrets (Part I & II)” Review

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Original Airdate: December 5, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Kent Osborne

Ice King has certainly gone through some major developmental stages during the past season. He’s almost completely transitioned from a villain to Finn and Jake’s creepy, annoying neighbor, and while that characterization has proven to be successful all season, it does risk a chance of being repetitive over time. Unless Ice King was at some point going to transform into a complete hero, it’d be awfully boring to just watch him attempt to capture princesses over and over again, or just endlessly try to be Finn and Jake’s best buddy. Holly Jolly Secrets is the one that changes everything. Everything we thought we knew about the Ice King up to this point was ultimately rendered moot, and an onslaught of new questions and mysteries arose. This introduction to Ice King’s backstory is also pretty much a turning point for the entire show: Adventure Time generally has become darker, more ambitious in its storytelling, and persistent in adding continuing bits of lore and mysticism in its ever-growing world.

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I guess I’ll kick-off this review by talking about its most crucial aspect: the videotape revealing the past life of Simon Petrikov. This portion of the episode is absolutely brilliant. It’s one of my top five favorite moments in the entire show, period, and I often forget how chillingly solemn and ominous it really is. There are so many nice little details, between the progression of time throughout each video journal to the brief existence of pre-Mushroom War propaganda. There’s a plane that flies by, which can honestly be taken as a sign of impending warfare (a later scene leads me to lean more towards this theory) and even the existence of a (presumably) Catholic Church. It really shows humanity and early society in the most explicit, uncut way that adds a bit of subtle lore to the existence of the post-apocalyptic world and how some aspects were generally lost in translation. I love all the subtle changes as Simon slowly becomes the Ice King; one aspect I really enjoy is how Simon’s first appearance in the video seems generally unaltered, yet his eyes are actually white and rounded much like the IK’s, rather than dotted and black like most human beings are shown to possess. It’s a nice bit that shows you just how doomed Simon was from the start, and how even before he lost his sanity, the crown had already claimed its victim. The exploration is fascinating; Simon’s transformation is often compared to Alzheimer’s, and while that correlation is quite accurate, it almost feels like a drug addiction in these video entries. Despite the way it’s destroying his life and pushing away the one he loves most, Simon continues to put on the crown, simply because of his failure to resist the feeling of power and strength it gives him. It’s some really tough stuff to get through, and the connection between his fiancee Betty and the Ice King’s desire to capture princesses is absolutely heartbreaking.

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Somvilay added this banner in to keep the viewer’s attention. A strange bit of meta-humor that AT typically strays away from.

The monologue was provided by Patrick McHale, who came up with the idea of Ice King’s tragic backstory. It really feels like a one-man play, but Pendleton Ward himself has compared it to the likes of a radio drama. The speech really shows what a fantastic voice actor Tom Kenny is; he’s so well-known for his portrayals of zany cartoon characters, but the dude can really pull off a legitimately serious and poignant role, and I think that’s a part of his abilities as an actor that’s sadly overlooked. The straight-forward fashion in which he reads these lines, without even slightly sounding phony or forced, is really impressive. It’s a very strong and powerful read through that really adds to this sequence being one of my favorite moments in the entire series. The monotone dialogue is surprisingly what keeps you so drawn to the screen.

However, with all that said, I honestly think the rest of the episode is just okay. The entirety of the episode is padded with quirky video diaries of the Ice King, and truthfully, they don’t do it for me. Like, at all. There’s a few funny lines readings, such as “good morning, you’re watching the evening news,” and IK’s hilarious rendition of Marceline’s Fry Song, (FORESHADOWING) but none of the other tapes do it for me in the slightest. I get it, the episode needed to be stretched out for the purpose of building up to the massive drama bomb, but I wish those tapes and time used at least incorporated more humor and entertainment. The tapes are purposefully boring, but end up slowing down the entire episode to the point where it feels like it takes an eternity to get to the actual meat. There’s an extended scene of BMO fastforwarding one of Ice King’s tapes, and it goes on for like, a solid minute. It’s another one of those episodes that showcases Somvilay’s odd approaches at anti-humor that just simply makes the experience a relatively dull one.

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The original pitch for this episode called for Finn and Jake to watch old Christmas specials, but Pen thought that the idea was awful in hindsight because it destroyed the fabric of the universe that the crew worked so hard at creating. While I can’t say that idea would’ve been better, I do think that the first 18 minutes of this two-parter should’ve been padded with something a little easier to chew on. I feel like it’s incredibly hard for me to think of anything noteworthy about Holly Jolly Secrets that isn’t the big reveal. The characterization of Finn and Jake isn’t that strong; they’re just sort of there to blankly observe until the ending. Even the Ice King isn’t that funny throughout this episode, and coming off the heals of great episodes like Still and Hitman, that’s no excuse.

After the video sequence does end, we do get some legitimately good moments as well. I love the IK’s delusional belief that the most significant thing about the tapes is the fact that he used to wear glasses. It’s a tonally appropriate moment to cap-off one of the heaviest scenes yet with a completely tasteful joke. Finn and Jake’s empathy for the IK is really great, too. It’s a nice moment for Finn to simply just give the Ice King back his tapes; I know people are always a bit annoyed that F&J don’t do more to help out Ice King, but really, what can they do? It’s completely out of their control and knowledge to be able to fix a pretty much unsolvable problem, so even showing him a bit of compassion and sincere appreciation is really sweet. Even though Ice King’s attempts at humor were considerably weak in these episodes, his characterization does come in strong when you realize that he actually hasn’t done anything wrong throughout. All he wanted to do was hang out with Finn and Jake, and when he completely forgets the fact that the two boys even watched his tapes, he rewards them with unusual gifts. It’s such a delightful view of his character that only makes the videos more effective and tragic. The second part ends on a perfect note, as all of the major and minor characters, including a booger and excluding Marceline (FORESHADOWING) sit together by a fire and essentially celebrate Ooo’s first Christmas.

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So yeah, I’m a bit half-and-half on this one. There’s some moments that are absolutely incredibly, yet others that are bafflingly mediocre. It’s safe to say that Simon’s backstory is more than enough to justify Holly Jolly Secrets’ existence, and that it still stands as a very crucial two-parter in the general expansion of the series. The Ice King only gets increasingly more interesting from this point on, and any story arc that was adapted from his backstory can be drawn back directly from this first episode. Holly Jolly Secrets isn’t a two-parter I happen to revisit as a whole a lot, but you can rest assured that I’ll continue coming back to Simon Petrikov’s story for years to come. It’s an emotionally scarring holiday special for the whole family!

Favorite line: “My alarm says it’s time for Finn’s bath. Finn, get naked.”

 

“The Creeps” Review

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Original Airdate: October 17, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

From the premise alone, you’d think The Creeps was a cheap imitation of the season two episode Mystery Train. However, The Creeps cleverly acknowledges its recycling and even pays homage to Mystery Train, in an execution that makes this episode stand out on top in my book. It’s much more diverse in its cast of characters, and even leaves us wanting a bit more by the end.

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The atmosphere in general in this one is much more desolate. Whereas Mystery Train was pretty much straightforward comedy, The Creeps adds a bit of a horror element to it, increasing the tension behind the murder mystery and the gang’s surroundings. There’s generally a lot of nightmare fuel within this episode as well, with PB melting, BMO’s face being ripped off, Cinnamon Bun’s eye drooping into BMO’s body… it’s all pretty nasty. It makes me really wonder why Jake goes through great lengths to potentially traumatize his younger brother. But hey, he’s thirteen. The kid can handle it.

I also like how the culprit of this episode isn’t really clear. The conductor of the mystery train was pretty obviously Jake to me, but here, I was kinda second guessing myself a lot. It bounces back from Finn, to Jake, to Finn, to some sort of outside force. It’s a twist that I really didn’t see coming, and the fast, thrilling pace of the episode leave little time for you to even have time to think about it. Jake puts on a damn good front as well. His blatant acknowledgement of the fact that they had already done a murder mystery before, his ability to get everyone else in on it, and even small details, like the fact that he was disappointed with his nickname “Randy Butternubs”. He was totally the one who picked out those names!

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In addition, I really love the cast of characters they chose for this episode. It’s an interesting choice of people, but they all work off of each other really well. Some great exchanges in this one, from CB trying to flirt with Lumpy Space Princess, LSP’s melodramatic monologue regarding her ex-boyfriend Brad, Finn’s infatuation for PB allowing him to remember something as insignificant as what he wrote on her birthday card two years prior, and the constant distrust Jake shares towards Finn a majority of the episode. It’s rare we ever get to see a group of characters like these interact with each other, and I really think that adds to the episode tremendously. This could’ve been a completely self-contained murder mystery, but the way each character attributes their own unique presence makes the entire experience much more enjoyable. There’s also one of my favorite BMO lines:

When bad things happen, I know you want to believe they are a joke. But sometimes, life is scary, and dark. That is why we must find the light.

The fun part about it is that it isn’t even supposed to be taken completely seriously based on the circumstances, as BMO was just looking around for a light switch. It works entirely as a beautifully out-of-nowhere bit of poignancy that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a mostly comedic episode. I do have one gripe with this scene in general though: isn’t BMO in on Jake’s plan? Why would the two of them be talking about something scary and dangerous happening if they know exactly what’s going on? Perhaps BMO wasn’t in on the plan till later on? I dunno, it’s pretty much just an afterthought.

This episode also introduces the ghost from the mansion, which will later have a much bigger role later on. For now, she’s simply locked in Finn’s vault, where he hides all of the traumatizing material he experiences. Maybe it makes sense that Finn’s so unaffected by his friends dying grotesquely around him. He can just simply lock it away anytime he wishes. I do really love the way they carry out the ghost scene by treating it as one little glimpse of information to chew on while the conclusion sets in. Finn’s experience of almost dying via train the last time Jake pulled this stunt was a scary thought, but even scarier for Finn is something he can’t entirely understand or even believe before his own eyes.

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A very minor thing, but I also really love the attention to detail with the outfits in this episode. Ako designed a majority of the masks and costumes, and it treats the characters like visual candy (as I frequently say on this blog, no pun intended) by diverting from the standard models. It’s rare we ever get to see Jake, LSP, or Cinnamon Bun fully clothes, and even more interesting is the fact that when Jake stretches, his clothes stretch with him. Not sure if I should consider that an error or a fun visual gag. It can be two things.

Overall, I like this one a lot. It really does a lot with the murder mystery story and uses it to its greatest advantage, something it’s predecessor, Mystery Train, did not. It’s jam packed full of fun jokes, including the false personas of each character (Duchess Gummybuns and Guy Farting being two of my favorites) and its creepy atmosphere keeps me coming back for more. This is certainly one that isn’t getting locked up in the vault anytime soon.

Favorite line: “난 제이크랑 항상 한 몸이 되는데. (Jake and I merge our bodies all the time.)”