Original Airdate: July 10, 2014
Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Madeleine Flores
Little Brother is, perhaps, Adventure Time at its absolute sweetest. Never would I expect such a heartwarming endeavor revolving around the snarky and wise-cracking Shelby, though it really, really works. What sounds like a completely silly idea on paper actually makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, showing how limitless AT can be with obscurely satisfying stories.
The episode begins in a fun way, as Shelby throws a bug party within the space of Jake’s viola. This is the first time we actually get to see what Shelby’s living space looks like, and it’s a pretty rad setting. Colorful characters like the dancing bug and Simon from Power Animal return, and the only thing that would’ve made this party even cooler is if the snail was invited. How sweet would it be if Shelby and the snail were secretly bros? Anywho, the festivities take a turn when Shelby accidentally slices his body in half and mutters “I’m so dumb” which is actually based on a real life experience that Pendleton Ward and storyboard artist Madeleine Flores experienced at a party, where a man sliced off the tip of his finger and uttered the same expression. This is Flores first and only storyboarding role in the series; I never quite understood why some storyboard artists are only brought on for the sake of one or two episodes (unless the was at the artist’s request) but regardless, I think it’s always nice to have these guest spots to offer a bit of fresh air, and season six certainly brings aboard a ton of different guest opportunities. Among other work Flores has involved herself in is Star Vs. the Forces of Evil and the Help Us! Great Warrior comic series.
Upon awakening, Shelby is greeted by his new brother “Butty Butterson,” or “Kent” for short (likely a homage to Kent Osborne), a humorous take on the urban legend that separating a worm will bring life to its other half. Kent is voiced by Thurop Van Orman, the creator of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and the voice of the Sky Witch from To Cut a Woman’s Hair. Kent is a charming little critter, and I think Van Orman’s sped-up Flapjack voice adds a lot to his character. The relationship between Shelby and Kent is cute, and I like how Shelby doesn’t really know anything about being a big brother, so he turns to Jake for advice. Of course, Jake means well, but doesn’t really understand brotherhood outside of his own connection to Finn. I mean, how many other brothers in Ooo are there? The Lemongrabs? The Flying Lettuce Brothers? Doesn’t seem like there’s many other positive role models in that category, so Jake simply goes with what has worked best for Finn and himself, which actually kind of works out for Kent.
Shelby gives Kent a little martini sword and sends him on his way, and the rest of the episode is basically just the adventures of Kent in the bowels of the Tree Fort and his endeavors in Drewpia. Drewpia actually derives from the scrapped season one episode Brothers in Insomnia, and Kent’s journey generally follows the plot for that episode as well. Drewpia is a pretty awesome setting, as is the entire tree village in this episode. They really went for this unique, fantasy surrounding that feels equivalent to something out of The Secret of Nimh. Maybe it’s just the villainous rats that makes that connection feel so viable, but I digress. Part of what makes Kent so likable is that he’s also really funny; his interactions with Leaf Beard (great name, by the way) and the blacksmith are hysterical. This episode manages to make pretty juvenile humor quite amusing, like Kent’s mentioning that he was born from his brother’s butt, or Leaf Beard’s insistent connection that Kent’s sword is in “butts” condition. All got a guilty giggle out of me.
As Kent moves onward, he’s faced with several different challenges, all presented by Tom Kenny voiced rats. It’s yet another example of just how versatile Kenny is; obviously you know it’s him, but he gives such a distinct performance to each foe that any common viewer wouldn’t even guess that they’re played by the same person. Also endearing is just how little Kent cares about the propositions offered to himself. Even Finn, a noble and good-hearted hero, would either be somewhat intrigued by the offers, or at least realize that he’s being tricked. Kent doesn’t recognize that the offers are merely schemes to trick him into a false sense of comfort, he simply is not interested in them because he wants to fight bad guys and be a hero. Also humorous is his rebuttal about eternal life: he was just born earlier that day so he doesn’t really have to be concerned about his own mortality. Kent’s naivete and one-note desires are what make him so gosh darn likable. He doesn’t give a shit about his legacy or his stance as an absolute hero, he just wants to punch bad guys in the face! What kid doesn’t?
As Kent gains materials for his sword (named “Punch Party”) he then is ready to face off with the Rat King, a devious creature voiced by James Urbaniak (who also voices Leaf Beard). The Rat King is an awesomely designed villain, and appropriately named, as a “rat king” refers to a pack of rats connected together. The Rat King is both menacing and seductive in his tone, and again offers Kent a promising role as a co-king of the rats, though Kent once again declines in his determined journey to simply defeat all that is evil and save the people that he loves. His naive exterior shows up once again as he admits “I’m making this up as I go along!” when responding to the Rat King’s skepticism.
The battle climaxes, and we return to a saddened Shelby back at the Tree Fort. The song that follows, “Little Brothers,” isn’t particularly strong in its lyrics or medley, but by God is it just adorable. I love how the depressed Shelby admits that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing and that he’s not sure if he made the right decision to send Kent on his way. Shelby isn’t exactly the most emotion driven character, though he has a good heart, and cared for Kent regardless of their short time span together. Shelby’s enlightened, however, when Kent returns from the tree to share a duet with his bro. The bits with Kent and Shelby singing together are too damn cute; I love how much this episode was able to make me care for this brotherly connection in the course of minutes, and it’s one that I still think is strong even though Kent never appears again following this episode. It’s just simply well presented, and I love how much genuine affection was put into their relationship. This episode could have so easily been about Shelby’s frustrations with having a new annoying little brother around, though Adventure Time is much more genuine and telling of its characters to pull such a move. Shelby and Kent loved each other despite how unorthodox their meeting came about, and still love and support each other till the very end.
The final bit with Shelby narrating Kent’s tale is just great. It’s quite poignant in its visuals and its music, and I enjoy how vague Kent’s story is left. We don’t really know why Kent returned to Dewpia, whether it be for infinite riches, or simply to live out a more laidback lifestyle, but regardless, it’s cool to imagine where his journeys took him from there. Though Kent’s heroic efforts weren’t meaningless; the Rat King’s defeat meant that the willow tree on the Tree Fort would bloom for the first time in many years. D’aw.
Little Brother is one of those episodes that could’ve so easily been passed off as casual filler, but it’s one that is just so good in everything it does. It stars a cute and hilarious one-off character, is filled with terrific backgrounds and settings, has a straightforward, yet compelling adventurous plot, some truly well-crafted designs, a killer song, and has a huge, undeniable heart at the center. I would have never guessed that an episode starring Shelby would have been about his rear end gaining sentience, but a show as unique as Adventure Time works with that manic story in the best possible way and creates something that feels genuine and telling. It’s a fine example of what this series is best at, and that is telling compelling stories centered around sincere characters.