Tag Archive | Marceline

“Come Along With Me” (Part 4) Review

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Original Airdate: September 3, 2018

Written & Storyboarded by: Sam Alden & Graham Falk

Before we start, I want to let y’all know that there will be another giving campaign for this blog as I’m wrapping up the first wave of reviews. Some good reasons (I think) to give are:

  • Supporting future reviews for Distant Lands buy helping me acquire a subscription to HBO Max, complete with high qual screengrabs.
  • Supporting for reviews in the past.

I always feel super guilty asking for money from you guys – it’s not like I need it to put food on the table or anything. But this gig is, and has been, a lot of work, and I’ve never really figured out a good way to monetize it despite the decent traffic it brings in. Considering that there is still work to do, with more content on the way, it does feel more like a juggling act in my work and personal life which is already super jam-packed. If y’all are feeling generous and that you got $1’s worth of entertainment or enjoyment from this blog in the past, feel free to support me using the link below (the goal is listed as $1, though I mostly just put that as a placeholder because I didn’t have a specific goal in mind). This is in no way determining the future of the blog, I still plan on reviewing Distant Lands regardless. If you don’t donate, it doesn’t make you any less of a fan of the series or this site. If you feel as if there’s anything deceitful about me asking for donations, or if you just don’t feel like the blog itself is worth any monetary value, there is no pressure on you either. This is simply for anyone out there that is interested in supporting the past and future of Adventure Time Reviewed, and to help assist in motivating me forward.

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I’m partially filled with a warm bittersweet sensation as I tackle my final episode review. I say partial, because it turns out we have waaay more content coming along with Distant Lands, so there’s no use in really getting wishy-washy here. I’ll probably save these warm feelings for my reviews of Distant Lands, only to hold off once again because there will probably be a billion more reboots and revivals in the future. I’m gonna be 80-years-old trying to achieve closure for this series that obviously is never going to die. But still, it took a long way to get here and it’s surreal that I’ve finally gotten to the end of the original run. The final act of Come Along With Me has a lot to jumble, essentially trying to wrap up nearly every loose end up to this point, and from the finale alone. These last 11 minutes feel super rushed, and I really didn’t expect any less. With all of the mysteries that Adventure Time has held onto overtime, it didn’t seem realistic in the slightest that everything would be pulled off in the most satisfying way. But still, even with that in mind, there’s plenty of sweet moments that help this final chunk to land.

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During Adventure Time‘s finale panel at 2018’s San Diego Comic Con, John DiMaggio shed more than just a couple of tears at the idea of the show’s conclusion. That being said, you can really tell how much passion he’s putting into his performance as Jake. That beginning scene where Jake laments the destruction of his sanctuary is both super saddening and humorous in just how over-the-top it is. I mentioned this in my last review, but the idea of the Tree Fort being destroyed in general is immensely depressing. That’s not to say that its demise was necessarily a bad choice – I think it works as a unique tie-in with the theme that this episode revolves around, that being that some things end, but they also don’t really. I could’ve been cliche and said “everything stays, but it still changes,” but I held myself back. While the Tree Fort is no longer standing, the memories and what it represents (family) are still very much in tact. Or, at least, somewhat. That initial shot of BMO’s face is probably as sad as this finale gets; obviously we know the little guy isn’t going to die or anything, but his simple silence, as he stares down sadly at his caretaker, speaks so much louder than words. Adventure Time has always tried to emphasize the importance of silence as opposed to outward emotions, and I think this is a really great example of how well it can work. No tears, no outbursts, just the sad acceptance of what is already done. It’s amazing what AT manages to do with two dots and a line when it comes to reading visual emotions.

And even through all of that sadness, BMO manages to comfort Jake for all that he’s done to protect the members of his household. I’ll admit, I was a bit taken back when BMO ended up being the one singing “Time Adventure.” When Rebecca Sugar debuted the song months before the finale’s release, I assumed it would feature Finn and Jake singing it to each other, or some variation. It initially felt a little too silly for my liking, especially given that the scene essentially shows everyone in Ooo accepting that they’re probably going to die. But I’ve warmed up to the idea, and “Time Adventure” has become one of my favorite songs in the series. I will say that the officially released soundtrack version is waaay better than what we got in the actual episode. I cannot begin to express how bummed I am that Jake’s ending solo got cut out. It’s so beautifully chilling and touching that I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to put Simon and Betty banter over top of it. Still, I think both versions have their perks. The soundtrack version really feels like the harmony it was made out to be, where each character involved (Flame Princess, Magic Man, Slime Princess) can clearly be heard vocalizing. On the other hand, the episode’s version actually really emphasizes on Pendleton Ward’s voice, which I thought was super sweet. I do wonder – did other members of the staff join in? Can Muto’s voice be heard somewhere in this collaboration? I have no clue, but I thought it was nice that Pen had such a strong role in singing his creation off.

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Another strong moment from this section of the finale comes from Simon and Finn’s brief exchange as they anticipate decimation in the pits of GOLB. Simon’s delivery of, “no one gets to choose how it happens,” is genuinely impactful, especially so coming from him. Honestly, Simon’s been through so much at this point that I’m sure he just wants to die and get it over with – hell, that’s exactly what he wanted to do in Betty. I’m slightly more disappointed with Finn’s role, because again, I really feel like he’s a bystander to everything that’s going on around him. His line, “I always thought I’d go out saving someone,” just made me wonder, “why isn’t Finn saving someone right this second? Why was he written to be such a spec on the wall while everyone is included in all of this cool shit going on around them?” I’ve seen the argument that, since Finn has saved everyone countless times, this is an opportunity for everyone to save him, buuuut I don’t really buy into that. One, because it just doesn’t feel like it was written to be played out in such a way – the episode seems convinced that Finn effectively put a stop to the Great Gum War when that’s not really what happened at all. Second, there’s a way of carrying out the “now it’s our turn to save you,” story without making the hero ineffective or sidelined. I overall think that pairing Finn with Betty and Simon was a poor decision. He doesn’t really add anything to their dynamic, and is easily overshadowed by their arc.

I personally do think that Simon and Betty’s arc is wrapped up in a pretty satisfying way, as well as tragic. I like how Betty’s codependence never really dissolved, and it’s ultimately what ended up consuming her in her very last moments. Even when trying to move past her ultimate hidden desires, they resurface when she realizes that sacrificing herself is the only way for Simon to truly be free. It’s probably the least happy ending that occurs during this finale, but one that feels fittingly somber. As time went on, Simon and Betty’s relationship was being portrayed as more and more unhealthy from both parties, and I think the end result being that, no matter how much they love each other, they’ll never be able to be happy together, leading to the culmination of the general unhappiness that has consumed them for so long. A quick “fuck you” to the Simon & Marcy comic series for effectively undoing every sacrifice that occurred in this finale by giving Simon and Betty a totally normal, happy ending. This is much more potent.

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Pretty much every Cartoon Network finale in the past 5 years or so allows for like, 20 seconds of an animation boost of some sort. Regular Show and Steven Universe recruited the likes of James Baxter for a brief segment of animation; it’s a shame he couldn’t come back once more to assist with AT‘s finale, but we do get a cool, sketchy sequence ala Take On Me when GOLB unhinges. I always love these big “fabric of the universe disintegrating” moments in animation, and this one does not disappoint. Though, I am so unnecessarily bothered by the fact that the crew neglected to pitch-shift Shelby’s voice. Come on, guys! This could have been a great final appearance of the little guy if one of his key features wasn’t removed entirely. Now it’s just super distracting.

I dunno what the general consensus is on the GOLBetty design, but I think it’s pretty rad. Steve Wolfhard did the initial concept design, and while aspects of his take on the deity remained, the overall anatomy shifted and I think it looks way better as is. Props to Tom Kenny for obviously being one of the most versatile voice actors out there, as Simon’s disbelief at the sight of Betty feels so real and raw. Then we get to Gunther, who effectively brings Ice King back through the power of the crown. I dunno, man. I guess I’m fine with this? There’s the somewhat uncanny aspect of it all; this transformation was written in such a way that makes it seem like Ice King is back and nobody should worry about it… but like, is it really Ice King? The goofy, stilted dialogue that Gunther utters once he shifts feels like a pet’s perspective of their human owner, but everyone reacts like it’s okay and they shouldn’t think twice about it. It’s tough because I like the idea of Simon being saved by Betty, only for her to end up in a mind prison for all of eternity, but I really don’t like how easily Ice King gets the shaft in the process. This was clearly a timing issue, as there was only five minutes left in the finale by this point in time and the crew probably just decided it was something that could be handled quickly in the quirky manner. But I’ll reiterate once more, the Ice King-Simon story had gotten way too complex and intricate for it to ever have a fully satisfying conclusion. Personally, I think I would have been more happy with the idea that Ice King remains, while Simon is gone forever. I think more people would have been upset with this concept, and it would have been another example of Adventure Time being afraid to shatter the status quo, but man, I can’t help but feel Ice King got did something dirty. I like him so much more than that nerd, Simon. It’s disappointing that, no matter how much effort Ice King put into his own personal growth, it essentially didn’t matter because he’s reduced to a facsimile of his former self.

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One character death certainly isn’t taken for granted, however. Fern’s withering away is not only a poignant farewell for his character, but a nice way to tie-in to Finn saying goodbye to his childhood and a part of him in the process. The idea that he plants it where the Tree Fort once stood represents the idea that a piece of him will always be there, and the growing tree emphasizes the legacy that Finn has built and left behind in the process. Farewell, Fern! Truly one of my favorite secondary characters and probably my favorite aspect of these last two seasons. It’s just a shame that your redemption arc couldn’t have been much stronger than it was.

My gripes with the overuse of Finn’s girlish scream in later seasons aside, I do find the joke that he’s outgrown as his voice has deepened to be quite funny. I’d enjoy the sight gag of Finn being taller to be more enjoyable, had their been some consistency with his character model throughout the episode. I don’t really mind its inconsistency during the course of the series, but it feels just a bit too cheap only being included for this one moment.

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I like the notion that BMO’s story to Shermy and Beth was kind of an allusion to the crew telling the tale of the “end of Ooo” to AT‘s audience. I think many people were expecting this finale to be the end of all things, essentially. Hell, I think you could even argue that half of the fanbase was expecting Jake to be dead by the end of this episode. But that’s really not the story that the staff wanted to tell, and I don’t think that’s the story I necessarily wanted to see either. Don’t get me wrong, I find a good chunk of the finale to be somewhat underwhelming. However, I do appreciate the staff’s commitment to the idea that these characters don’t really have an “end” in mind. Just as Adventure Time has had plenty of moments throughout its run that have signified closure for its characters, such as Mortal Recoil or The Comet, there have also been plenty of new challenges and moments of growth since those instances that have further elaborated on the sinuous nature of our heroes. Even though Finn and Jake are dead by the time BMO is narrating this story, their spirit still lives on in the hearts of Shermy and Beth. Heroes die, but others arise. Even in Sweet P.’s case, an eternity of evil can become an eternity of righteousness. I keep writing myself into a corner that forces me to say “everything stays, but it still changes.” But it does! Adventure Time‘s central theme carries all the way into its final moments, hitting on the specific note that the opening theme reminds us each and every episode: the fun will never end. Even when we’re rotting in the ground!

Another great way to tie that theme together is bringing back Music Hole, a character who has lived through countless centuries, and has watched countless endings and beginnings at that. Even sweeter is the inclusion of Ashley Erikkson as Music Hole, who has very quietly been with the series through the very beginning. She sings the titular song we had all been waiting for, and it makes for a really nice epilogue.

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The montage aims at either wrapping up specific character arcs or just works as a way of showing what their lives held for them in the future. Discussing this speedy wrap-up in cohesive paragraphs seems somewhat impossible, so for your consider, I’m going to go ahead and bullet point each clip in chronological order:

  • The snail can be seen for the final time on the growing Fern tree. I’m not especially invested in this Easter egg, but I think it would have been more fitting if the snail appeared in the final scene with Shermy and Beth, waving goodbye. It’s a sweet and suitable idea that would possess the deepest lore of the snail’s immortal nature.
  • Jake and Lady flying together was nice, but it’s a bit of a shame that Lady’s “closure” is just that she kept dating Jake. Lady’s always been somewhat of the black sheep of the main characters that really doesn’t have a particular arc outside of her relationship with Jake, but I still think the staff could’ve came up with something a bit stronger. Hell, it could even be related to her connection to Jake. Have those lovebirds get married! (Every time I suggest this, some guy on the subreddit yells at me.) Even seeing Lady and Jake snuggling up in the Crystal Dimension would’ve been a nicer sentiment.
  • LSP becoming LSQ was super sweet. Even through all of her vanity, it feels genuinely rewarding to see her have a moment of triumph and receive actual respect from the other princesses of Ooo. Even Breakfast Princess, for crying out loud! I guess this is solid proof that the hierarchy of princesses only applies to Ooo, as queen seems to obviously be the highest position of royalty in Lumpy Space.
  • Haha, Ice Gunther marrying Turtle Princess was too bizarre to resist. It is funny that all Ice King had to do to claim a bride was find someone in Ooo as lonely as he is, as Turtle P is the perfect fill-in for that role. Also nice was the addition of a small, reconstructed King of Ooo in the background of their wedding. They actually managed to make the coniving shyster look adorable.
  • It was sweet to see that the reconstructed Rattleballs is finally able to hang out with other Candy Kingdom personnel in public. Though, his cameo in Jake the Brick ended up being an entire waste. I always thought that Rattleballs rebuilding his bros meant we were in store for a huge army of RBs to help seize the day in the finale. Unfortunately, it amounted to nothing. Seeing a war-starved and depressed Colonel Candy Corn was quite amusing.
  • Possibly the most obscure and easy to miss cameos during the montage is Carroll, who is back to her liquid form and content at that! I really just assumed this was a new model for a Water Nymph that the staff decided to draw up upon initial viewing. Such a thoughtful and nice addition, even including her interest of drawing elves that was mentioned in Winter Light.
  • T.V. moving into Margaret and Joshua’s old office feels a bit cheap to me. Before the series got canned, artist George Mager was commissioned to storyboard for a noir themed episode featuring T.V. in an investigative role. This was scrapped before it was finished, but it would have added a little bit more context to this moment that seems unwarranted to anyone not in-the-know. T.V.’s last appearance in Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension had him acting as selfishly as possible, and now he gets this gnarly character development out of no where? It would have been more revealing than necessary, but Finn and Jake running their parents’ old office would have been much, much more fitting than what we got.
  • Sweet P.’s graduation was nice. It would have been cool too if other known child characters were featured in the ceremony as well, such as the Pup Gang or the Marshmallow Kids.
  • Bubblegum and Lolly serenading Neddy is nice, I suppose. So, did Lolly ever bring up the fact that she tried to essentially kill her niece one day prior? We just gonna go ahead ignore that fact? Alright.
  • One of my favorite clips in the montage is Prismo’s inability to bring Betty back, only possessing the ability to whip up the waste basket that was previously seen in You Forgot Your Floaties. I like that Come Along With Me takes the time to show that not everyone receives an inherently happy ending. Despite Simon regaining consciousness, he still loses out on the one person he cares about most, continuing the codependence of their relationship by Simon dedicating his life to bringing her back.
  • Jermaine painting a new, more simplistic mural for Lemongrab was sweet, but the icing on the cake is actually see Lemongrab with a genuine smile on his face. The neurotic lemon-man has finally achieved his moment of peace.
  • I became pretty misty-eyed at BMO sending Moe’s memories into space, per his request in The More You Moe, The Moe You Know. That episode in particular is one of my very favorites and has a special place in my heart, so seeing BMO fulfill his loving creator’s final wish was just splendid.
  • Flame Princess and NEPTR rapping together is just sad to me. Like, this is what Flame Princess’s character amounted to? That she’s good at rapping? Not anything relating to her elemental nature being inherently chaotic and learning to become a positive force to those around her despite it all? What would have been a fine solo NEPTR moment is weighed down by the fact that Flame Princess’s “conclusion” is inherently meaningless. What a lame climax for a character who started off with such intrigue.
  • Cyber Tiffany 2.0! I get the feeling that the staff was super bummed out that they never got to follow up with the Dr. Gross arc. I do wonder if this will somehow factor into the Distant Lands specials, considering that it is one of the major loose ends that never really was followed up on.
  • The fully grown up Jiggler is probably the funniest cameo of all. It’s the kind of absurdist return that I’d want to see from such a rarely seen character.
  • The Jiggler’s scene is followed by the equally absurd return of the Crabbit from Something Big. It’s cute (Donny is also seen in the audience) but it doesn’t really grab me and feels like a stretch for cameos that felt absolutely necessary in the sequence. It’s like, did anyone really care about the Crabbit enough for him to get his own dedicated moment in the show’s final montage? I’m harping too much on a small moment, but when you consider that other major players, such as Shelby, Cinnamon Bun, Hunson, and Flame King don’t even get a designated appearance in this montage, it feels a bit like wasted space.
  • It was super cool to see Kara and Frieda again, with a Lemonhope cameo smushed in between. Again, similar to what I said about Simon, it’s kind of interesting to see that Lemonhope seems completely lost in life in this one small appearance. His initial appearance kind of set out to prove that he really had no idea what he was doing, and his sad expression here shows that he probably still doesn’t have a clue. Poor little Lemonhope.
  • The Candy citizens clinking their glasses just frustrates me. Again, it’s kind of unfortunate that Chicle isn’t even permitted a second chance, even though his demise was Gumbald’s fault and not his own. Even Gumbald staying in Punchy’s body feels super offensive. It would have been a way nicer sentiment if Gumbald had reverted back to himself by the end of it, showing that PB did learn a lesson in empathy along the way. Something as simple as Gumbald waking up alone by Butterscotch lake, discovering a fishing pole in front of him, and choosing to solemnly relax instead of scheme while PB is seen confident in her decision from afar. Or Gumbald being locked up and PB choosing to stand by outside his cell in an attempt to connect. Anything that doesn’t paint PB out to be somewhat heartless.
  • Tree Trunks is still bangin’ aliens. Niiice.
  • Magic Man’s mission to save Margles never really ends up coming into play in Come Along With Me, and the montage sweetly shows that he’s accepted her passing on, but will always hold memories of her dearly. I especially love that this scene occurs at the verse, “I’ll be here for you always.”
  • The shot of the princesses (and Marceline) in their fashionable wardrobes is actually a reference to a the cover of Adventure Time #51 by Mia Schwartz, whose art you can check out here! Though it wasn’t included on the original cover, I think Flame Princess’s getup is my favorite. Her bangs are too cute.
  • Huntress Wizard meditating is whatever, I suppose. It’s a shame that her character only truly started developing this season, only for her inclusion to be cut short. It really wouldn’t have made sense if she had a bigger role in this finale – there was already so much going on.
  • I do like the next scene a lot, mainly because it shows that, even if Simon is back in the picture, Marcy and PB still chose to actively hangout with him and continue being his friend. It’s super sweet. Though young Pepbut is cute, I DON’T GET WHY PB LEFT HIM LIKE THIS. WHAT THE HELL, MAN? I guess the implication with both Peppermint Butler and Gumbald is that there was no cure, but like, that hasn’t been implied until up to this point. PB’s reasoning for not bringing Gumbald and friends back in Seventeen was that, “[they] were happier this way,” not that there was no known cure. I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit in terms of continuity.
  • Perhaps the sweetest sentiment of all is the closing scene, in which a now homeless Finn and Jake are greeted by the final arrival of the humans from Founders Island. The staff actively wanted to avoid “wrapping up” Finn and Jake’s characters by showing where they ended up in the far future, so instead they offer a bit of a glimmer of hope among big changes occurring in their lives. It’s a really nice note to end on for our heroes, even if the next chapter is right around the corner.

Adventure Time as a series ends exactly how it began – with two heroes standing triumphantly at the forefront, showing that even 1,000 years in the future, some things never change. The Ooo that we knew is no longer intact, but the spirit and the foundation of what it was continue on regardless.

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So that’s it, everyone! All 284 episodes of Adventure Time reviewed! I won’t waste my time getting sentimental here – there’s a couple more weeks of stuff I want to get out, and then the eventual release of Distant Lands, presumably around mid-summer. Here’s a quick glimpse at what’s coming the next few weeks:

  • Come Along With Me consensus.
  • Season Nine review.
  • The Best and Worst Episodes of Adventure Time.
  • Adventure Time Character Analysis.
  • Series Overview and (Kind of) Final Words.
  • Top 10 Adventure Time Moments.

There will likely be more to come from there before Distant Lands, but I do want to focus on these six above, as they’re the ones I’ve been most excited to tackle/chat about. As I mentioned above, if you’re feeling generous, feel free to send a dollar bill my way. Otherwise, stay tuned for more AT content!

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Favorite line: “I wrote this for my son, Jake!”

“Come Along With Me” (Part 3) Review

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Original Airdate: September 3, 2019

Written & Storyboarded by: Aleks Sennwald & Hanna K. Nyström

Enter GOLB. GOLB has been an element of curiosity ever since he debuted back in Puhoy, and for good reasons. Besides a bizarrely unique design, his true nature and role in the world of Adventure Time has only ever been alluded to – GOLB himself has never truly been put into action. Come Along With Me finally brings the enigmatic deity to centerstage in Act III, as a result of Magic Man, Betty, and Maja’s combined magic going haywire. As an antagonist, GOLB really isn’t all that unique or intriguing. He’s just kind of there as an ultimate beast to cause destruction throughout the Land of Ooo, but unlike a character such as the Lich, there really isn’t anything particularly intimidating about him beyond his gnarly design, as previously mentioned. He’s more of a plot device than anything. That being said, Part 3 of the finale is arguably the most entertaining. It’s a high-stakes, wild battle that never really takes a second to breathe. Every moment is filled to the brim with fights, carnage, and powerful character moments. It’s not necessarily that meaty or thought-provoking (though it has its moments) but it does provide enough excitement to take the bitter taste of the previous segment out of my mouth.

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Despite his failure to be a legitimately intimidating force on the Land of Ooo, I do enjoy the humor that encapsulates this first part, as everyone has their own unique perception on his arrival. Jake’s theory of GOLB being this big celebratory baby is another great example of him making the best out of a bad situation. Though this comedic instance alone does come with its own subtext – Jake mentions that they’re being congratulated because “they saved the day,” but again, the way the story actually played out doesn’t suggest that Finn and Jake were the ultimate saviors of the situation. Aunt Lolly just decided out of nowhere that she wanted to be on the side of the Candy Kingdom, and that’s what inevitably saved the day. I love my boys dearly, but it slightly angers me that this was written in such a way to glorify them instead of analyzing the actual events that went down prior. The following scenes do provide for less problematic entertainment, such as Fern’s little exchange with Flame Princess or Lumpy Space Princess’s selfie as the literal apocalypse occurs behind her. There’s even a nice little flashback that ties back into Simon’s fascination with ancient deities and the unknown. The more we learn about these interests of Simon’s, the more it shows how kind of unhealthy his obsessions truly were. His connection to the crown was initially played off as kind of an instant lack of control, but the passion he feels when talking about such subject material kind of suggests that he was partially willing to give up his sanity for the sake of exploration and discovery. The flashback is also hilarious as well. Betty full on chucks a glass jar at him. I can’t think of any normal person that would have done that. Those two are all kinds of crazy.

I mentioned the cool design and features of GOLB, and the other beasts that are featured in this episode are pretty neat in their own right. Backgrounder designer Jesse Balmer did most of the concept designs for the GOLB-fused beasts, and it really shows in how much raw detail their is in their designs. It is weird in the sense that I don’t really see GOLB as this beast who causes mayhem and ruin by the act of releasing beasts onto the world, more so in just erasing everything from existence. Buuut, in the same sense that it would be kind of boring if that was the case, so a few gnarly beasts along the way doesn’t really bother me much. This is actually the first time the Candy Kingdom Haters are seen on the battlefield and, as I harped on in Gumbaldia, they’re almost entirely useless. Not even a single one of them is given a designated voice role, but again, I’ve repeated myself a million times in saying that Gumbaldia‘s ending intended for more and that I can’t really blame the staff for excluding such an inconsequential subplot.

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As much of a shame that it is that Finn doesn’t really get any kind of ultimate heroic moment in the finale, it is nice that this part in the story shifts gears to focus more on Ice King’s role in the world. He’s pretty much the only major player that hasn’t gotten to do anything up to this point, and it’s both rewarding and kind of funny that the fate of the entire world rests in his hands. Whereas the first chunk of Act III mostly focuses on establishing the conflict with GOLB’s inclusion, the remaining half is chock full of a lot of stellar character moments that really make it feel like the grand finale it was hyped up to be. Some of the callbacks in Come Along With Me feel a bit too fanservice-y and contrived for my liking, but one of my favorites in this 44 minute chunk is Ice King singing “Oh Fionna” in order to get Betty’s attention. These last two seasons have really been knocking it out of the park when it comes to portraying Betty’s codependence. I love the day-and-night feel to Ice King singing this soft tune to lure Betty back into a state of comfort, only for that comfort to be swiftly pulled from under her as IK’s shrill vocals soil a genuinely touching moment. My favorite callback is also followed by one of, if not my ultimate favorite moment in the entire finale: Maja fucking exploding only seconds after she gains consciousness. I know there was a good chunk of people that were pissed about this, because this is Maja’s only actual appearance after the huge build up of Something Big, but it’s a grievance that I can ignore completely just because of how funny, absurd, and well-timed it is. It isn’t even acknowledged after the fact. I’m gonna be totally basic and reiterate what literally everyone has already said when referring to this moment, but – how’s that for poetic justice?

There’s plenty of other terrific callbacks on the battlefield – PB using her elemental abilities one final time (to no avail), Marceline channeling the power of the Vampire King that she gained in The Dark Cloud, and Jake’s eventual unleashing of his alien form. More characters do end up joining the battle, which feels… confusing? After Jake lands in an attempt to restrain the owls from the possessed Gumball Guardian, NEPTR is just suddenly on the battlefield out of scenic nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love NEPTR as much as the next guy, but how in the hell did he get involved in the battle? The episode cuts to him tossing pies not long after and it doesn’t even look like much is being done. I’m still not sure if it’s a continuity error that is bothersome or just surreally amusing. Like I said, though, it is nice to see the little guy getting a piece of the action. Everyone gets a chance to be in full hero mode – even Fern, with his badass line reading of, “I’ll defend Ooo down to my last blade.”

Buuuut, I’m just wasting time at this point. You all know what you’re waiting to hear me talk about. I’m sure half of you are hear specifically for this discussion. The kiss that took the world by storm…

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Lemongrab and Lumpy Space Princess! I love this hysterical callback to something that was clearly set up as a one-off joke in Normal Man. It’s awesome to finally see Lemongrab open to getting some with a girl who’s actually (?) into him. Hell, good for LSP too! Her love life hasn’t exactly been the most rewarding either. This feels like the only true satisfying conclusion for these dorks. This is truly a moment that fans have been waiting to see for years and years, and I’m glad the episode finally set things straight by showing their true feelings for each other. I hope you guys enjoyed that gag twist as much as I did in my head. 

But forreals, let’s get to the big shit. Come Along With Me finally comes out with (literally) the fact that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum are in a romantic relationship with each other. It’s been alluded to a million times, often in the most obnoxious of ways, but Come Along With Me throws all ambiguity out the window by having them full-on canoodle on screen. I’m gonna be 100% frank and say, with all of the cynical things I’ve said about their relationship in the past, I think this moment was handled in a really solid way. I even fanboyed a little the first time I watched, and I’m not even a Bubbline fan! As much as I get annoyed with how Marceline’s character has become dependent on her connection to Bubblegum, I do feel as though her transformation into the dark cloud following PB’s supposed “death” was quite touching. I do like how Marceline’s emotional outburst doesn’t only have to do with the fact that she lost PB, but that she’s always afraid of losing PB. Even after making up, they never truly resolved those underlying anxieties and fears that came with separating. The moments between Marceline and Bubblegum that I do enjoy are the ones that deal with their tumultuous past in an honest and convincing way, and don’t just boil them down to the lovey dovey duo. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about Bubbline essentially being “queer-bait,” though I don’t really think that’s essentially a fair judgement. We’re STILL in somewhat of a climate about kids’ entertainment tackling LGBTQ relationships, though it’s gotten considerably better, and I feel like the staff was simply doing what they could at the time while still forming a legitimate relationship between two characters. The past generation of animation was sooo involved in building up relationships between two friends that remained ambiguous for an extended period of time (Kim and Ron from Kim Possible, Danny and Sam from Danny Phantom, etc.) and this is a great subversion of the trope. So, essentially, the kiss is more build up from their long, hyped up connection, rather than it is a statement of “wokeness” (though I’m sure that played a part in it). Even if Steven Universe was making strides three years prior, I still feel like this development is somewhat of an accomplishment for LGBTQ media in children’s entertainment. There’s no longer the excuse of, “oh they’re just rocks they don’t have any gender lol,” this is flat out two female characters neckin’ each other. I don’t see it being queer-baiting as much as keeping fans on their toes for a romantic relationship that DID end up having its pay off in the end. This isn’t like The Legend of Korra, where the ending was left almost too ambiguous for it to even make sense; I do believe there is a genuine bit of satisfaction in this development. Even though I don’t consider myself a fan of Bubbline, I think the staff did a relatively solid job at helping their relationship to feel gripping and exciting for fans. Of course, I could take all of that back and complain about how Marceline’s only huge development in Come Along With Me is based around Bubblegum, and how she doesn’t really get to do anything else after this, but I’m getting ahead of myself. That is a discussion for another day in my character analysis.

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The other big development that Act III establishes is Simon finally regaining his sanity, as GOLB’s powers revert him back to his original state. This is both a huge achievement and kind of a disappointment; almost in the same vein as Bubbline, Simon regaining consciousness was a moment that needed to happen for how much it was built up over the years. But with all of the work that went into developing Ice King’s character as an individual, I can’t help but feel a bit dismissive about the fact that Ice King doesn’t really get his own moment of triumph for all that he’s accomplished over the years. This isn’t technically the end of Ice King, as we’ll discuss in the next episode, but IK, like Fern, is another character that was probably too well-written for his own good. Personally, I would’ve liked an ending where Ice King is fully accepted for who he is, as those who surround him come to terms with the idea that Simon is never coming back. But alas, I feel as though the staff felt almost obligated for this moment to happen because of how much fans wanted to see it happen. And I can’t blame ’em, I was pretty much in the same boat until Elements came along. The growth of Ice King’s identity as a character definitely complicated things for the long run, no matter how solid this growth was, and I’m not sure I can so much as criticize the choice as much as just to be disappointed by it. Though, I’m still kind of confused how GOLB works. Like, Simon is reverted to his past self, Betty just changes into to the turtleneck she wore in earlier episodes, and Finn isn’t affected at all. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here and ask, shouldn’t GOLB’s powers have reverted Finn’s arm back to normal? Now, don’t get me wrong, I would’ve gauged my eyes out if that happened a second time, but in this one instance, wouldn’t it actually make sense if it did occur? The entire nature of GOLB feels kind of janky with this in mind.

Speaking of Finn, I think the biggest flaw within Act III of Come Along With Me is the lack of Finn that I mentioned earlier on. Well, it’s not so much a lack of Finn as it is just the entire cast of characters seemingly ignoring him. He nearly gets Stakes levels of neglect here, being ineffective in almost every situation and being treated by others as somewhat of a nuisance. I know that other character arcs and stories kind of required attention here too, but damn, everyone seems to get this big heroic moment in this part specifically, whereas Finn feels like a tiny spec in the grand scheme of things. It’s even sadder to look back and see how little he gets to do in terms of heroism during the finale as a whole. The most noble thing he does is helping Fern to see the light, though that was even partially aided by Jake’s help. Come Along With Me feels like a solid wrap up for most characters, though Finn isn’t necessarily one of them, and I think that’s what’s most disappointing of all.

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Act III does end in a genuinely solid and dramatic way, as a handful of our main players are left completely pummeled at the hands of GOLB’s beast – except for Jake, who has enough energy to put up a decent fight for a bit, only to be faced with absolute devastation when the Tree Fort is destroyed. This moment hit me hard, and I think the sharp commercial break immediately after provides for added shock value. One of Adventure Time‘s biggest staples is destroyed in the blink of an eye, and it feels just as tragic as it was made out to be.

Even with its flaws in mind, I think Part 3 is definitely the most entertaining aspect of Come Along With Me. That’s not even necessarily to say it’s the best, but it definitely was the segment that engaged me the most and had me on the edge of my seat. At least, from the perspective of a first viewing. Lots of really nice character moments, a genuine sense of tension, and some solid callbacks along the way. It does everything to make Come Along With Me feel like a true finale… if only Finn was able to join in on that fun, though.

We’re on the verge of the end, my friends! The review of Act IV will be releasing next week, followed by a consensus of the finale overall, and then further updates from there. I’ve kept quiet about Distant Lands and a lot of post content so far, but stay tuned! There is a plan in effect that will allow for plenty of new reviews, analyses, and discussions throughout the end of the year and 2020!

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Favorite line: “They’ll be talking about this fight for years! And by “they,” I mean BMO and Shelby.”

“Marcy & Hunson” Review

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Original Airdate: December 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Graham Falk & Adam Muto

Alrighty guys, let me take a quick moment to break down all of the Hunson Abadeer centric episodes for you consideration:

  • It Came From the Nightosphere – Hunson Abadeer’s introduction. Marceline resents him for being a shitty guy, but comes to terms with him by the end of it when he shows that he does care.
  • Daddy’s Little Monster – Hunson controls Marceline to be more in his image, but Marceline breaks free and continues to resent him. She comes to terms with him by the end of it, however, when he shows that he does care.
  • Marcy & Hunson – Hunson returns to Ooo to visit a less-than-excited Marceline, who still resents him. However, she comes to terms with him by the end of it when he shows that he does care.

… Does… does any of this sound familiar? I get the whole point of Hunson’s character is essentially that he is a shitty person who’s trying to maintain a relationship with his morally conscious daughter, but I’m kind of just amazed at the fact that, on his third episode, after years and years of being absent, nothing new was done with his character. And this isn’t a knock at the past entries that focused on Hunson’s neglect – It Came From the Nightosphere is a largely groundbreaking entry that introduced a lot of the modern day storytelling that made Adventure Time such a success and Daddy’s Little Monster was a successful follow-up to Hunson’s battle between being intrinsically evil and just a half-decent dad. Marcy & Hunson is a reiteration of both of these stories without adding anything new, and in fact, removing a lot of what made Hunson unique in the first place.

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I do like the opening of this episode, primarily due to Peppermint Butler’s sweet inclusion. Though I find it somewhat odd – I guess I always pictured Peppermint Butler and Hunson as tight friends, but it’s treated as if PepBut more or less is just an acquaintance somehow. I’m not really sure I get a strong understanding of their connection either way. I always enjoy how fully committed and controlled Peppermint Butler is in terms of his experimenting with the dark arts. His fascination and involvement with anything less kosher almost never impedes on his ultimate good-natured self and loyalty. I’m not even lying when I say that the show has really built him up to be one of the most complex they’ve ever churned out. I know he’s primarily a side character, but I really love how arguably one of the darkest characters in the series is also one of the most genuine and caring towards our main cast. In this opening scene, we’re also introduced to Finn’s newest sword, the Nightmare Sword, which never really gets a chance to shine as the series draws closer to an ending. We also get to see Finn so shocked with Hunson Abadeer’s return, that he regenerates his right arm for a quick second! I guess being shocking and growing back an arm is potentially better than being horny and growing back an arm.

Following Gumbald’s big reveal back in Seventeen, this episode features a major role for Chicle. Chicle is probably the least “important” of the Bubblegum family, but he is probably the most entertaining, sporting some decent one-liners here and there. Though, I ultimately don’t really think his presence is particularly necessary in this episode. The events that go down probably could have still occurred even without his inclusion. And even then, he kind of just stirs the pot instead of actually seeming like a threat. Sure, he encourages the ghosts to go after Marceline and Hunson, but were they actually going to straight up kill them? Doubtful. Then he throws a peanut at Peppermint Butler, which has way more of an effect on Pepbut than it logically should. Overall though, Chicle’s goofiness tops the overly hammy repertoire of Gumbald and the perplexing nature of Aunt Lolly.

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I think it says something about the quality of Marcy & Hunson when Hunson is kind of the worst part of it. I’d even argue that his character is relatively butchered in this entry. What made Hunson so great in It Came From the Nightosphere and, to a lesser extent, Daddy’s Little Monster is that he was genuinely intimidating. He was animated humorously and had his campier moments, but he could and would snap in an instance into a cold-blooded demon. Here, he’s just a big fuckin’ goofball that likes to get up in Marceline’s business and blatantly disregards her own well-being. The whole bit where he decides he’s going to sleep in Marceline’s bed and that she can take the air mattress is a total Martin move. This entire episode feels like Graham Falk and Adam Muto want to be writing for Martin, but are writing for Hunson instead. In his first three featured episodes, and even in the Adventure Time Encyclopaedia, you get the idea that Hunson is this really dignified and classy dude, and that there’s a reason he’s head honcho in the Nightosphere. Marcy & Hunson throws all of that out the window and just chooses the easier option of making him as pathetic as possible.

But hey, if you didn’t come for the connection between Hunson and Marceline, that’s okay, because there’s a shit-ton of Bubbline moments to hold you over!!! Marceline wearing Bubblegum’s sweater from Stakes?? Finn not knowing how to answer Hunson’s question about whether Marceline is in a relationship?? Marceline singing a song called Slow Dance With You with Hyden Walch providing the background vocals?? OH MAN, THIS IS WHAT WE CAME FOR, FOLKS!

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In actuality, these moments are fine and I don’t want to sound pessimistic about a relationship that clearly means a lot to a mass of people who watch Adventure Time. BUT, it really does bum me out how Bubbline has practically become the only draw for Marceline’s character at this point. From Stakes onward, there isn’t a single episode focusing on Marceline that doesn’t somehow shoehorn in her relationship with Bubblegum for the sake of fanservice. And I’m not saying that these moments are necessarily poorly done, but Marcy just feels so hollow and reliant on other characters that I feel like I barely know who she is anymore. She used to be this really cool, fun character, but now she feels like a puppet being used solely for the purpose of giving fans what they want. Which is fine, but not when those moments completely overshadow everything else in the episode. I mean, does anyone actually talk about the connection between Marceline and her father in Marcy & Hunson? No! The only time I ever hear people discussing this episode is regarding Slow Dance With You which, I’m gonna be honest, is not very good. Of course, this all comes down to personal taste, but I think people are way more into the implication and meaning behind the tune than they are the actual rhythm and performance.

Probably gonna get a lot of flack for that rant, and if I’m being honest, the attention these Bubbline moments received is likely just because there’s very little of substance in Marcy & Hunson to begin with. Going back to my original point, this episode concludes with the same way literally every Hunson episode has – that Hunson is a shitty dude, but he cares about his daughter. I know the staff had probably no clue that the show was going to be canned before this episode, but you would think after so many years, with so much time having passed that they would consider taking a different direction with this character that probably would never appear again anyway.

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Is there anything good about Marcy & Hunson? A few moments come to mind, mainly when it comes to humor. The flashback sequence featuring Hunson’s introduction to Marceline got a big laugh out of me, and both Jake and Chicle have their fair share of funny lines. The return of the Spirit Waves stage from Ghost Princess is a welcomed treat, and I dig the spooky atmosphere overall. But, Marcy & Hunson is mostly a flop. It’s sad, because I think the pieces are all there that would make for a great episode. Hunson wanting to be a good father, but struggling with his intrinsic desire to unleash evil, is something that the series never tackled head on, and could make for both a funny a intriguing entry. However, we’re left with a relatively lazy alternative that doesn’t offer anything new or interesting in one of AT‘s longest running story arcs.

Favorite line: “I have a nice laugh.”

“Ketchup” Review

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Original Airdate: July 18, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

Here’s a lil’ bonus review for y’all! Happy Easter/Passover/Whatever you choose to celebrate… Day…!

Ketchup is a sweet treat. It’s not only cool to see Marceline and BMO interact, which almost NEVER happens, but also to welcome back Alex and Lindsay Small-Butera to the team, who previously worked on Beyond the Grotto. I mentioned in my review of Beyond the Grotto that it was visually stunning, but had a pretty lackluster story at the helm. Ketchup is quite the opposite, having a (mostly) solid recap story that is complemented by the guest animation nicely.

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Ketchup begins so brilliantly. As an episode that seeks to shed some light on the past two miniseries(s), it’s so clever that Stakes was also referenced as a result, in a way that feels totally in line with BMO’s character. I can imagine Finn and Jake bringing it up to each other and BMO, without even telling them, chooses to set out on his own vampire hunting adventure. The little guy even has stakes prepared! As I mentioned, it’s really sweet to see Marceline and BMO chatting with each other. After 250+ episodes of the series, it amazes me that the only thing Marceline has ever said to BMO is, “Come here, baby,” in What Was Missing. It’s crazy that there’s still an opportunity for new character interactions, but hey, I’m all for it! Marceline herself is a lot of fun in this one – she’s been limited to a lot of dramatic entries in the past, and while Ketchup is one to an extent, it’s still cute to see her so energetic and playful in BMO’s presence. Lovin’ those ponytails, too!

Things really pick up when the episode gets into the actual “ketching up” part, as BMO describes his Islands trip to Marceline, which has to be my favorite part of the episode. I love how even with plenty of stories under his belt, namely the fact that he was a literal god within a virtual world, BMO still chooses to tell a story completely nonsensical and untrue (though emotionally true, as he later reassures). The animation within this sequence is particularly a spectacle. Not only are the colors beautiful, but the vibrancy of the animation in general is so refreshing. There’s a lot of nice slapstick as well, like Finn’s constant falling over and knocking into his surroundings, or the brief squash-and-stretch as Jake lands onto the island. The flying animation is hilariously beautiful as well; there’s something surprisingly humorous for me about the simplistic design of the cat and how superbly it’s animated. The song itself is lots of fun, which was actually written by Pat McHale and his younger son. There’s actually a demo somewhere out there with McHale’s son singing the song himself, it’s adorable! It also helps add to BMO’s childike wonder that a child themselves worked on a song for his character. The J.G. Quintel blue jay is as close to a crossover as I’d ever want Adventure Time to go, too. It’s a silly reference on its own, and I’m glad it doesn’t go too over-the-top or reference heavy towards Regular Show in general.

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Marceline’s story doesn’t quite live up to BMO’s visual or humor wise, but I love the effort she put in to making it fun and engaging for BMO. In general, I don’t think this is a story I really needed to hear. It’s supposed to be giving us information about the events leading up to Elements… but nothing that I found particularly interesting or surprising. We learn that Marceline did all that she could to try to save PB during the elemental shift, but again, I feel as though that’s just kind of common sense given the situation. And I certainly wasn’t especially stoked that the ONE Marceline-centric episode of the season finds a way to shoehorn her relationship with PB in. I’ll reiterate that I don’t hate their relationship at all, but I find it tiring that it feels like her character can’t just exist on her own without some sort of Bubblegum reference.

That bitching aside, I do like the execution of the story, mostly on a visual level. I think the designs of lollipop and rockstar girl are really cute and lovable, and it’s so nice to have a return of Patience St. Pim’s character once more, of whom I never expected to see again! She gets a handful of funny moments, namely the fact that a migraine was what nearly led her into undoing all that she worked to accomplish (I do wonder why Patience wasn’t affected by the elementa- er, potato curse during the story sequence. Wouldn’t she have been affected the same time that PB was?). The backgrounds are similarly gorgeous. I love the soft, matching color schemes that inhabit Weekend City. It almost reminds me of the beautiful UPA-like backgrounds in The Powerpuff Girls – another one of my favorite shows. The emotional ending of the story didn’t really get me, but Marceline’s follow-up about her own lack of honesty when it comes to her emotions was actually pretty effective. Marceline’s been through a lot in the past year, including losing and gaining back her vampirism, meeting back up and having to leave her former father figure, and nearly bidding farewell to the one that she loves, only for everything to end up back to normal. She’s gone through so many whiplash-like transitions that she probably never even gets a chance to think about how she feels or how she should feel.

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It isn’t until her flashdrive finally loads through BMO’s projector that she discovers a distant memory that channels into her emotions – the image of her mother. Despite all of the numbing Marceline has had to force on herself in order to get by, such a memory is a reminder of sweet and simpler times, and a time where she was arguably more emotionally honest with herself and others. Marceline’s always had to hide her emotions for one reason or another, but such a memory is a great reminder of a person who was always there for her, through both darker and lighter times. The tale that BMO weaves is sweet and artistically pleasing. Despite the Small-Buteras animating each story segment of the episode, I love how they do bring a different flair to each portion, as the Moon Lady segment artistically looks straight out of a storybook itself. It’s a really neat and sad moment that appropriately utilizes Marcy’s mom to her best potential. I never really wanted a full explanation of why Mrs. Abadeer left or where she went to begin with, so I feel that a story that somewhat captures the essence of her past is enough to make for a satisfying emotional conclusion for her character, and a partial resolution for Marceline’s character as well.

Ketchup has its problems; for an episode about Marceline’s experiences during an sixteen episode gap, I don’t think it was as compelling as it could’ve been. But it’s an episode that’s irresistibly sweet, and one that’s visually stunning as well. Shout out to the Small-Buteras for being the only animators (aside from Science SARU with the alternate intros) to be guest talents on AT twice! I liked Beyond the Grotto fine, but Ketchup is clearly superior. It’s much more fun and coherent within its individual storylines, with a big heart to boot. I never knew I wanted an episode focusing on Marceline and BMO’s relationship, but I’m damn glad we got one regardless.

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Favorite line: “Then we floated with the boats. Not in the boats, but with the boats.”

“Broke His Crown” Review

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Original Airdate: March 26, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Hanna K. Nyström

For all of you who do not know, I will be covering the remaining episodes in the way that they were originally intended to be consumed by the show’s staff. I.E. Broke His CrownReboot will be considered season seven, Two Swords-Three Buckets will be considered season eight, and The Wild Hunt-Come Along With Me will be season nine. To avoid confusion, I will eventually be adding two separate sub-tabs under the seasonal archives tab: one for Cartoon Network’s Rebrand and one for the staff’s original production order. This is simply just to avoid confusion in the long run, and I feel as though that it’s in everyone’s best interest that I cover the remaining seasons as they were intended.

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So, with that said, let’s get to Broke His Crown! Essentially being a sequel episode to King’s Ransom, this episode revolves around the changes Betty made to Ice King’s crown and how exactly they affect him. It’s also an opportunity to further develop Bubblegum, Marceline, and Ice King’s relationships with one another, while also sliding in a heavy dose of lore on the side. Upon airing, and to this day, I feel as though opinions of this episode are very mixed. I know a lot of people who love Broke His Crown and see it as one of the strong points of season 7 (or 8. Whatever!) while other people dismiss it as  rushed with serious pacing problems. I’m a little bit in the middle, but more towards the former. I personally think some bits are a little fast-paced and downright contrived, but I actually really dig what this one set out to do. Essentially, it’s the one time in the series that Betty and Simon are permitted a happy ending together. It’s satisfying and dissatisfying in all the right ways, but feels like a truly appropriate way to wrap up their relationship without actually affecting their characters in the slightest. In general, Broke His Crown is also a great exploration of the inner-workings of the crown and what truly becomes of those who wear it. It’s visually appealing and a lot of fun, creating a unique and complex environment with some unique, yet familiar, characters.

Marceline and PB are straight up lovers in this episode. I could totally get the “oh, they’re just really close friends” argument before this episode aired, but nah, you could not convince me otherwise that this is not the direct intention of the episode. Of course, I’m sure it was frustrating for the hardcore Bubbline fans who wanted an outright confirmation from the series by this point in time, but after this episode, I just fully accepted that their romantic involvement with each other was 100% canon. They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. And, as far as their relationship goes, it’s cute! I’ve said outright before that I’m not a huge fan of Bubbline. That is to say that, while I enjoy their relationship, a lot of viewers and comic writers are under the impression that their romantic involvement with each other is the single most important aspect of the show, when it really isn’t and never was. So my opinion has soured more because of oversaturation within the fanbase and the expanded universe, but overall, I don’t dislike the way they’re presented within the series. Hanna K. Nyström has a strength in portraying the girls in a really likable way; while other writers like Jesse Moynihan and Ako Castuera have kind of struggled to make their relationship seems compassionate in the past, Nyström knows how to write their relationship with a healthy balance of charisma and snark. And hey, this is actually the last episode in the series that features Castuera as a storyboard artist, and she seems to have gotten a lot stronger when working with this dynamic as well!

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Love dem freeze-frame bonuses.

While PB and Marcy have risked being either too schmaltzy or awkward in the past, you can tell they care for each other in a very genuine and realistic way. You can sense the love between the two, but they aren’t constantly professing their feelings for one another. This is in part because the staff was probably pressured by the network to keep their relationship subtle, but also pays off in other ways. I enjoy how they spend most of the episode arguing, but it isn’t presented in an unlikable or unpleasant way. PB’s combative attitude in particular is just terrific. Not only is she hilarious to watch, but her abrasiveness actually serves a purpose. While we explored her shift in behavior towards the Banana Guards in the previous episode, we now are treated to her shifting behavior toward Ice King. The conflict between PB and Ice King is probably the most heated out of any of the main characters, as one would expect. Ice King has violated Princess Bubblegum’s privacy on several occasions, so you really don’t blame her for being so opposed to the idea of getting along with him. At the same time, however, you also understand things from Marcy’s perspective. Of course she’s going to be more forgiving towards Ice King, because 1. he represents someone she loves and cares for. 2. Ice King is probably cooler with and more respectful of Marcy than anyone else he knows. So her request to Bubblegum is honest and understandable, but so is Bonnie’s hostile behavior. And might I just say that those mamas are looking GREAT in this episode. While Marcy hasn’t gotten as much exposure to different wardrobe changes this season, season seven might just be the best collection of PB’s different outfits, to the point where I was genuinely disappointed that she returned to her standard pink dress in the very next episode.

As for Ice King, he’s his usual terrific blend of being a sweetheart, kind of a dick, and a quirky dude simultaneously, and while he’s not in this one a ton (as IK, at least) his performance really shines through in the first few minutes. I love how much he absolutely lights up when he realizes that Marcy and PB actually want to spend time with him, and how he’s so conditioned to being rejected by ladies that he thinks that he has to actually bribe people to hangout with him. That was both incredibly sweet and sad, with a touch of hilariousness when he does inevitably take the gift back for himself. While I think he provides for some of the episode’s strongest moments, I also think he offers some of the weakest, mostly because of the malfunctioning crown. I dunno, I feel like the way Ice King freaks out and behaves weirdly isn’t really that interesting… when I heard about the synopsis for this one, I expected Ice King’s “uncanny behavior” to involve flashes between himself and Simon, or just a full blown meltdown of some sorts. Ice King smashing plates over his head and rolling around on the ground just aren’t intriguing ways to hammer forward that he needs help, and it doesn’t really feel dire. I wish a little bit more was done for this aspect to make it more dramatic and/or intriguing, because the way it was executed just didn’t grip me at all. I also feel like the initial plot device of Marceline not believing Bubblegum was somewhat unneeded and a waste of time. Sure, it does provide for PB to actually grow concerned for the IK and even refer to him as “Simon,” but this episode already feels a bit tight as it is. So while I liked a good portion of the beginning, I felt that some bits could’ve been better executed, and at worst, taken out for the sake of time.

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When the girls take it upon themselves to help their icy friend, they enter the surface of the crown through virtual reality equipment. The crown’s labyrinth just looks spectacular. It’s essentially a village-type corn maze, where everything is shaded in the exact same colors as the crown, with the exception of plant life. This is exactly what I would expect the world of the crown to look like, with a heavy focus on a wildlife theme, while also keeping things technological. The labyrinth in general is interesting when I think deeply about it, and I’m not really sure how I feel about the idea overall. Granted, this entire simulation is VR, and it’s open to interpretation regarding how much of it is actually real, but I feel like it’s a little convoluted that everyone who ever wore the crown just lives in this little crown town where they’ve presumably existed for thousands or millions of years. Like, what do they even do up there? Do they need to eat? Do they socialize with one another? Do they go to the bathroom? How has Simon not lost his sanity completely? It’s generally a lot of weird concepts that never get fully explained because of time restraints, and it’s something that I have trouble wrapping my head around in a coherent way. Some of it feels like it doesn’t really make sense; Gunther’s been leaving within the crown for millions of years, and is still talking about Master Evergreen? How can he even remember who that is? I don’t fully get behind it, but it’s also something that doesn’t actively bother me because it’s genuinely awesome to visit all of the people who once were enslaved by the crown.

As I just mentioned, Gunther’s back in this one, and man, is it good to see the little guy! I loved Gunther in Evergreen, and while I was ultimately satisfied with his unfortunate demise, it is pretty nice to see him back in action in this one. I really would have never expected to have seen him ever again, so this was a true treat. It isn’t just a cameo either, he actually has a pretty active role in the story, and it’s really nice! How cool is it that we get to see the first person who ever wore the crown interact with the most recent bearer? His relationship with the girls is also really sweet, and it’s cool to see Marceline’s absolute awe at the sight of a dinosaur. Even after 1,000 years of living, it’s cool to see a species that is still relatively foreign to her. Not to mentioned the other inhabitants of the crown; let’s address the elephant in the room: Santa was the Ice King at one point. Fucking Santa Claus is canonically apart of the show’s lore. That is both hysterical and kind of fascinating in terms of a mythos. I mean, you have this legendary folklore character of whom was assumed to be magic, and it turns out that it was just some guy who ended up wearing a magical crown that consumed his sanity. That is simply wild. We also have Sven, who apparently only wore the crown once, but was still consumed by it. This kind of ties into my own headcanon that, the younger you are, the more susceptible you are to the crown’s power. We saw how easily Farmworld Finn was taken over by the crown in only a matter of minutes, and it seems the same thing happened to Sven. I’m guessing the emotional and physical maturity of the wearer really matters in terms of the crown’s influence, and it’s kind of cool that we got this bit of information that seems to imply as much.

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But of course, the real star of the show is Simon, of whom picked up on the crown’s wack behavior. It’s once again nice to see Marcy and Simon work off of each other as characters, and it’s even better to see him and Bonnie meet. Even without the crown taking him over, Simon still manages to get under PB’s skin from ignorance, though once again, can you blame the girl? She’s a scientific mastermind. While this episode is very fast-moving, it actually does make up for some of the sins of the formerly jam-packed episode Betty, in which Simon and Marcy really didn’t get a chance to interact at all. Here, Simon lovingly apologizes for not being able to spend time with her, and it doubles as both a sweet moment and somewhat of a nice “sorry ’bout that” from the staff. I also love how Simon is just a bona fide dork and is a bit socially awkward when it comes to talking to the teen-ified Marceline that he never really had a chance to meet before. The first thing he asks Marceline after he apologizes is if she has a boyfriend, and he truly feels like the most “real” character on the show. Aside from Finn, Martin, and Betty(ish), Simon is the only human character, and so I like that they make him mostly just a normal guy, but also kind of quirky. He truly is “best dad.” Of course, there’s also the great dramatic irony that Simon wishes he could go back and punch Ash, even though he already did so in Betty. Such a great running joke.

After their brief travels, they finally do run into the glitchified Betty, which mostly just makes me sad because, once again, you can tell Lena Dunham is merely there for the paycheck and could not sound less interested in what’s going on. This is her last role as the character, of which could have to do with her performance, or just other unrelated incidents, but I’m glad that this is the last we hear from her, because she really wasn’t adding anything to the character or the series by this point. Simon and Betty’s interactions with each other are actually really cute though; again, Simon and Betty’s love doesn’t feel schmaltzy and hollow and actually feels like a real relationship. Simon’s story is so mundane and simple, but truly adds to the idea that they were just two simple people who were madly in love with each other. Of course, it’s a bit different now, considering that this Betty is merely software, but it still feels authentic and ties into what I was saying earlier about how it’s a partially a satisfying conclusion to their relationship. While there’s still much, much more to be explored between Ice King and Magic Betty, this is essentially the strongest resolution they’re treated to up to this point (without giving too much away to y’all who are watching along with this blog) and nice that they’re able to have some form of a relationship while it’s out of the question. Of course, it’s all tied up a bit too quickly and neatly by the end of it, with Simon once again not being able to give Marcy a proper farewell. Regardless, it does end up with a nice wrap up of sweet moments between all of the characters involved.

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And “sweet” describes a lot of this episode by its end: Gunther met some new cool gals, Simon and Betty are able to share somewhat of a happy life together, Marceline was able to connect with Simon once more, and to really understand the relationship between him and Betty, while PB gained some empathy for Simon, and Ice King, in general. Of course, Betty isn’t truly real and Marceline won’t get to see the human version of her close friend for what seems like forever, but Broke His Crown manages to be satisfying and dissatisfying in all the right ways, as I mentioned prior. It provides from some really nice, welcomed developments, and other moments that just make sense for each character’s journey.

And Broke His Crown is just that: a thoroughly satisfying exploration of a group of characters in a really neat setting. It has its problems in pacing, logic, and execution, but manages to be really entertaining regardless to the point where I don’t really mind its problems. It’s another season seven entry that both adds to the lore of the world of Adventure Time and delves deeper into the identities of its inhabitants, of whom are continuing to grow and develop with each passing episode at this point in time.

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Favorite line: “GOODBYE, FREAKS!”

“Stakes” Miniseries Review

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Stakes is the first of the Adventure Time miniseries, and it was certainly a risky move for the series in general. While the show has been experimenting more and more with serialization as it has gone on, this was the first set of episodes that are exclusively built to have an interconnected story, and after the failure of the AT TV movie, it was hard to imagine this concept working out as an entirely coherent bundle. In addition to that, AT‘s ratings dropped somewhat dramatically with the beginning of the seventh season, so if this ended up tanking, I’m not sure if there’d actually be more miniseries to come. Granted, the show had already been renewed for an eighth season by this point, so I’m speaking entirely theoretically when discussing the commercial success of Stakes. But, working off of what really drew people into Adventure Time to begin with, and following the successful programming practice that Over the Garden Wall laid the groundwork for, Stakes ended up being a big hit and worked particularly well with the format offered to it. Personally, however, it’s my least favorite of the three Adventure Time miniseries. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, by any means necessary, but it definitely has a decent hodgepodge of lackluster moments that weigh it down in particular.

I’ll start first by talking about the custom opening for Stakes, which is all-around pretty awesome. The way Marceline jams through that classic opening tune sounds great, and the foreboding instrumental that leads up to it is perfectly fitting for this ominous miniseries. There’s also plenty of great smaller details throughout, such as the King of Ooo finally flying on a giant mushroom (wonder who got him this one?) and Toronto appropriately taking the place of Gingerbread Muto. This opening sequence was boarded by Tom Herpich, and was animated by Science SARU, Masaaki Yuasa’s animation company. While Yuasa’s work looked lovely in Food Chain, it was pretty clear to the eye that it was animated in Flash and looked just a bit distracting from what we’re typically used to in the world of Adventure Time (though, many might argue that it was the point). The animation within the Stakes intro isn’t noticeable in the slightest, and still utilizes Yuasa’s expertise skills with Flash to make every movement executed in the most fluid way possible. Stakes also comes equipped with a custom outro, which has a nice little instrumental version of “Everything Stays.”

The overarching story of Stakes was actually pretty well-executed. I felt as though it stayed compelling throughout its eight episode run, and only ever lost focus in its final episode, but still held onto its thematic tone throughout. The Dark Cloud was a pretty solid episode in its own right, but when comparing it to everything else within the miniseries, it’s pretty dumb to think that this miniseries started on as a big, tense vampire hunt that battled with the ideas of good vs. evil, and all ended with Marceline and the gang fighting a cloud monster that has virtually no role other than to be an exceedingly difficult foe to beat. Thus, I still wouldn’t say the last episode is bad, but the miniseries itself really loses steam by the time Checkmate comes around. So, the story manages to be compelling for at least six episodes, and then ends up losing me by the last two. But the convincing message and theme of “everything stays, but it still changes” is something that was properly handled in a linear pathway from beginning to end. Marceline’s desire to grow up and change her identity is a heavy focus of Marceline the Vampire Queen, while her acknowledgement of her growth and her acceptance of herself is a major part of The Dark Cloud.

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I’ve mentioned it before, but the vampires are easily my favorite part of this miniseries. With the exception of the Vampire King, of whom I thought was merely wasted potential, I thought the vampires were some of the most fun and charismatic characters we’ve been treated to in a long time, and I’d even argue that some of them would rank relatively high on my list of favorite tertiary characters. Even episodes that felt clunky in some ways, like The Empress Eyes and Take Her Back, were entirely more enjoyable with the presence of these vamps. They all had very unique designs, abilities, personalities, and motivations that made every star appearance just an absolute blast.

The only other character I felt this positive about within the miniseries was, you guessed it, Peppermint Butler. Stakes really provides for some of his best appearances to date, showing off his ability to serve and protect the gang, as well as more insight into his deep and mysterious ways. And on top of that, he’s just freakin’ hilarious, providing for some of the funniest moments that Stakes had to offer. Stakes in general utilizes AT‘s side characters really well. King of Ooo, Lumpy Space Princess, and Crunchy all get their individual moments to shine, the latter two of which are usually only ever around to be dimwitted or annoying, but they actually provide for some legitimately great character moments that do assist in progressing the overarching story.

Of course, I wish I could say the same for our major characters. I’ve gone on and on about how much I disliked Finn’s portrayal in this miniseries, and I’m gonna link those individual reviews below for anyone who hasn’t seen ’em, but if you have, you already pretty much know my feelings. It’s sad to see our main hero be so entirely pointless in the grand spectrum of things. I mean, he’s the only human after all, and his presence as a coveted target in this miniseries could’ve been emphasized a lot more than it was. The only episode that actually revolves around this idea is The Empress Eyes, but even then, it pretty much becomes an afterthought by the second half of the episode. So, even though Finn doesn’t have a specific role like the other major players, I’d forgive this aspect if he actually had an active role in helping his friends, but he’s so deeply sidelined by everything else going on that characters like Crunchy and LSP end up being more of a help than he is. He sadly ends up being carried across as goofy comic relief that usually isn’t even that funny, and a pretty embarrassing excuse for what the character is supposed to be. I’d say the same for Jake, but he at least had his nice ongoing phobia subplot that really made May I Come In? a complete success.

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Princess Bubblegum’s role in this miniseries was a nice surprise, as Stakes proves to be just as much about her as it is about Marceline. I think it was really cool how subtle her development and growth was throughout the course of eight episodes, as she continues to acknowledge her flaws and tries to correct them by looking outside of her own ego to help out her friend in her time of need. I found it quite fitting as a point in time where she could finally move back into her kingdom, continuing to develop on the concept that everything remains how PB left it, aside from her recent behavioral shifts.

And, as for Marceline herself… I can honestly say, I thought her portrayal and arc was merely “alright.” It’s something that’s difficult to completely put my finger on… it’s not that I actively disliked her role in particular, but I guess I always felt like there was something more interesting going on within the story aside from her own personal dilemmas, with the exception of Everything Stays. For example,  Vamps About had those great interactions between the vampires, The Empress Eyes had the thoroughly fun back-and-forth between Empress and Ice King, May I Come In? had a lot of great focus on Hierophant and individual character moments, and Take Her Back had the ambiguity surrounding The Moon. This is somewhat of a criticism and a compliment, as Stakes managed to find something really compelling within almost every episode, it just so happened to make me less interested in what actually happened to Marceline. It is somewhat of a shame, because this miniseries is supposed to be her big, shining moment within the series, though I’m always drawn into Stakes for different reasons, and I find that there are far better examples of great Marceline episodes outside of this miniseries. I still feel as though her statement in The Dark Cloud regarding the growth that she has experienced always feels a bit hollow and unconvincing to me, mostly because I just was never that invested in what was going on with her personally. I felt that her talks with the Vampire King in Checkmate and Ice King in The Dark Cloud were relatively insightful, though that’s the only moment where I did feel that she had learned and progressed a bit throughout the span of the miniseries, and even then, those moments felt slim.

One thing Stakes really gets right is its combination between its ominous tone and its wild sense of fun. Stakes creates a very tense feeling throughout its run, but is never afraid to execute each story with a feeling of excitement and adventure. This really felt like a nice return to the more straightforward adventures that season six was somewhat lacking of, and stayed consistently entertaining throughout. I had mentioned that the humor had suffered from often feeling forced, awkward, or too desperate to appeal to longtime and/or casual viewers. It’s still a major problem I find with the miniseries, though again, I feel like I’ve talked about this long enough in my individual reviews to where it would simply be redundant by this point.

There weren’t many consistent teams throughout this miniseries, though Ako Castuera and Jesse Moynihan somehow managed to snag the spotlight by storyboarding a whopping three episodes. This always struck me as particularly odd, because it always was somewhat apparent to me that Castuera and Moynihan struggled with writing for Marceline’s character the most. Though, that surprisingly is not their biggest downfall. Moynihan had recently gotten off of his season six high and wanted to get back to the basics, though again, it feels like he’s trying too hard to emulate classic Adventure Time to the point where it becomes a pretty pale representation of what the show strives to accomplish. Tom Herpich and Steve Wolfhard dished out their usual mix between fun and insight between two episodes, while elsewhere, new and old teams got their chance to submit their own one-shots.

Best to Worst Episodes

  1. May I Come In?
  2. Everything Stays
  3. Vamps About
  4. Take Her Back
  5. The Dark Cloud
  6. The Empress Eyes
  7. Marceline the Vampire Queen
  8. Checkmate

Final Consensus

Stakes is flawed in a plethora of different ways, but honestly, for the first time experimenting with this type of arc, the writers and board artists at least made it fun and genuinely compelling from beginning to end. As a whole, I wouldn’t say I loved Stakes – hell, sometimes I wonder how much I actually liked it – but it really shows through how much fun the staff had while working on this project, and it’s difficult not to get in on it from time to time. It’s certainly my least favorite of the three miniseries, and it actually seems to hold up less in subsequent viewings, but the atmosphere and tone of Stakes is what really carries it through. Even if I’m not really an avid supporter of it, I’d definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a thoroughly captivating adventure that doubles both as a successful Halloween special, and somewhat of an Adventure Time movie.

“The Dark Cloud” Review

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Original Airdate: November 19, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard

With the exception of Marceline’s arc, it’s interesting how The Dark Cloud ends being a story that is almost entirely distant from what the last batch of Stakes episodes aimed to accomplish. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing; it is refreshing to get a bit of a plot shift after so much of the focus in the last few episodes has been strictly on staking the various different vamps that face our heroes’ path. But does this one wrap up the Stakes miniseries in a satisfying way, and is it successful standing on its own? Well, let’s check ‘er out.

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First off, wasn’t really buying into Marcy’s ho-hum speech about how she ruined everything. Personally, I thought it was a little selfish that she goes on about how all of it was her own fault, and then decides to do nothing in the process. Her insecurity of making things worse feels real, but c’mon, if you’re going to go on spiel about how you directly caused a giant cloud monster to invade the Candy Kingdom and destroy all of your friends, you should at least lend a helping hand, chica. I’m also just kind of down on these moments in general, because we obviously know that Marceline is going turn her viewpoint around and help out in saving the day by the end. These bits are frustrating just because they don’t really add anything to the story or character overall. Marceline’s belief that she’s the cause of all of the problems currently occurring in Ooo doesn’t really help her to come to a big revelation or even an ongoing solution to that insecurity. Unless, of course, you count her connection with Simon.

Marcy and Ice King hanging out together and having a rational discussion was really nice. I’m not a big fan of Marcy’s song in this episode, but Ice King singing the final line and acknowledging that it was a tune that he actually taught Marceline was somewhat profound. I’m guessing it was something that Simon sang to Marceline during the Mushroom War, and a morsel of it was lodged deep within Ice King’s cranium. Such a sweet moment. It was also really cool to have Ice King talk about how he and Marceline are “survivors,” likely referencing that they have existed in Ooo practically longer than anyone, and that he believes that’s the destiny they were meant to fit for the rest of eternity. Of course, this somewhat ties back into the Vampire King’s method in the very last episode, where he ultimately decided to choose a new path for himself, as well as the world around him. Ice King’s speech partially reminds Marceline of that possibility: that she can watch the world fall to shreds for the umpteenth time in her lifespan, or that she can actively have a role in creating a new path for herself, and the people around her. Ice King also refers to her as a “cockroach,” pretty much implying that she’s a being who continues to get squashed over and over again, but never dies or gives up on her mission regardless. Again, it doesn’t really connect to her turmoil earlier in the episode, but it makes for a really nice interaction that hits home with the overarching theme of the past few episodes, as well as appropriately characterizing Marceline’s identity as a whole.

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Probably my favorite part from this episode was the usurping of King of Ooo. It’s so sad to see the demise of the lovable moneygrubbing jerk, but it provides for a pretty epic sequence featuring every citizen of the Candy Kingdom standing up to their so-called princess, as well as the return of Princess Crunchy, the unforgiving. Crunchy has really worked his way into my heart after the entirety of this miniseries.

A good portion of the episode does revolve around the people of the Candy Kingdom attempting to vanquish the cloud beast in general, and it’s mostly good fun. I actually think it’s a somewhat hilarious subversion of how the “everyone gangs up against one big bad” trope is used, and it fails miserably in every way possible. The cameos were pretty terrific; Flambo returns after an 112 episode absence to let Flame Princess and Cinnamon Bun know of the the dangers lurking in the Candy Kingdom, to which the two lend a helping hand, showing that they remain as allies to Princess Bubblegum. The Hot Dog knights also get a triumphant return, only to show that haven’t gotten anymore competent over the course of a couple years.

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But even with everything going against them, things changes when Marceline slides into battle (with a priceless delayed reaction from Jake) and really takes charge. While I think it’s well-animated and presented, I’m not really a huge fan of Marceline’s demon heart opening up and sucking in the essence of the cloud for a few different reasons. First off, this is like, the third or fourth Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequence in the series, so I think the presentation, while cool, is somewhat of an overly done concept by this point in time. Second, I’m not really sure I understand how Marceline is able to do this? I guess it ties into her soul-sucking abilities as a demon, and is a power she doesn’t really have the chance to channel very often, but it just came off as something that felt a lot more like a random deus ex machina than an actual fitting solution to the issue. And if Marceline had this ability all along, then why didn’t she just do it from the beginning?? I mean, I guess she couldn’t have known what results it would bring, and she was also being pouty, but regardless, it felt like a pretty silly conclusion to the battle.

This is strictly a personal preference, but I actually do like Marceline being converted back into a vampire. Yeah, I get that it seems like another desperate attempt to hang onto the status quo, but I felt that it was a sad, yet equally uplifting reminder of what this miniseries as a whole set out to accomplish: that everything stays, but it still changes. It’s a terrific representation of the series in general, and Marceline’s arc as a character. For the series, no matter how things are restricted to staying exactly the same, the characters and environments still grow and mature every-so-slightly with each passing episode. As with Marceline, a character who has been around for a thousand years, is still able to grow and evolve, despite being inclined to feeling like the same person she was 1,000 years ago. Even though she’s left with those feelings, she’s still growing, learning, and understanding. And even in her long-winded lifespan, it’s cool to see that it’s still very possible. Take Bubblegum as well, who goes back to ruling over the Candy Kingdom, but this time with a more relaxed and caring demeanor. Though her situation remains the same, she chooses to go about her role in a new light that will positively benefit herself and the sanctity of her kingdom.

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The last few scenes are nice, as Finn, Jake, and PB welcome Marcy back in her home. I’ve given Finn a lot of shit throughout this miniseries, but he does manage to provide my all-time favorite line from Stakes: “Are you, uh… Do you feel bad? I don’t want to say, like, ‘I’m sorry about who you are’ or anything if you’re feeling okay, but I don’t know how bad news all of this is… Right?” Such an eloquently put and mature sentiment from our little buddy. It really emphasizes Finn’s absolute desire to empathize with anyone he comes across, especially when it comes to his friends, and knowing exactly how to phrase things even when he’s struck with complete confusion. Finn understands that this form of apology is hollow and potentially inappropriate, so it’s sweet to get such an outward sentiment of how he truly feels, and how he truly cares about what Marceline is feeling. Marceline’s half-and-half reassurance is nice, as we’re left with the ambiguous notion that the Vampire King now lies within Marceline’s psyche. I don’t think this is ever going to be something that’s resolved or addressed in the finale (though it may surprise me), but it is interesting to assess the implications surrounding it. No matter how much pain the VK put Marcy through, she’ll always have a part of him within her (both figuratively and literally) and the reminder that she has her own destiny to shape. The episode caps off in a nice, heartfelt fashion, as Marceline strums on her guitar, the lion finds a new home, PB rebuilds her butler buddy, Toronto runs off with the Candy Kingdom’s entire stock of gold, and Stakes comes to a quiet conclusion.

This episode was certainly not the big ending to Stakes I was expecting, but it’s mostly nice. It takes a bit of a turn by focusing more on thematic elements, rather than story, which I think is both satisfying and unsatisfying, depending on how you look at it. It’s unsatisfying in a way that, to most, likely feels like not much was actually accomplished on Marceline’s side of things within the actual Stakes arc. Though, to me, it’s satisfying in a way that connects to what the miniseries has been trying to establish since the beginning, and this episode encapsulates that in a relatively successful way. Definitely has its pros and cons, but I left this one feeling mostly good about the closure that was offered.

And that’s Stakes, gang! I’m a bit burned out by discussing the miniseries in general, so I’m glad to be moving on to other episodes, but there will be one mega-review regarding my assessment on Stakes as a whole tomorrow, so stay tuned for that! Otherwise, I’ll be digging into The More You Moe, The Moe You Know on Sunday.

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Favorite line: That dope Finn quote I mentioned above.

“Checkmate” Review

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Original Airdate: November 19, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Checkmate is likely my least favorite episode of the Stakes miniseries. I don’t think the story behind it is completely awful; I actually like the Vampire King’s decision to de-vamp himself because he strictly wants to change up the status quo of the world and alter the destiny that has been predetermined for him. He even gives a neat little speech about it, which reeks of Moynihan headiness. But by God, so much of Checkmate feels like mere plodding. About 3/4ths of the episode revolves around the main characters deciding on whether or not they should stake the Vampire King, even though he is clearly surrendering himself and does not want to fight. It would be alright if this was presented as an actual thought-provoking dilemma: whether or not a person can change, or if they should even be allowed to change. But Checkmate would rather focus on the gang being as goofy and comically useless as possible.

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My criticisms and compliments towards each episode in this miniseries are becoming a bit redundant by this point, so I’ll sum up what I’ve already talked about in the past couple reviews relatively quickly and then get into the newer stuff:

Peppermint Butler continues to be the best aspect of these episodes, as his absolute adoration for the Vampire King is both kind of cute and also hilariously disturbing. I love his little back-and-forth with himself on whether or not he should actually be so excited to see a person of the Vampire King’s nature, and his absolute psychological freakout when he finally does encounter the VK is priceless. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I will never get tired of Steve Little’s up-pitched voice.

Finn and Jake continue to be useless in this episode, and this is probably the worst example thus far. Finn getting in the middle of Marceline and Vampire King’s fight was more random and goofy than anything. Because, ya know, that book that Finn mentions that he never even read must have come in handy for advice a good three years after it was demolished completely. Also, this is likely the boys at their most incompetent. I enjoyed Finn thinking that his grass thorn would activate by a simple battle cry (though, the thorn senses that he isn’t actually in any danger), but him really thinking that lightly kicking VK in the groin would hurt him and shouting “stake you!” makes him seem like he’s not even really trying. You had the past two episodes, where the threats felt legitimate and taxing on the main characters involved, and here it feels like there aren’t any stakes at all. No pun intended. In addition to that, we had the painfully unfunny “fart code” sequence which once again feels like a half-assed attempt at understanding the silliness between Finn and Jake’s relationship between each other, but fails pretty badly. Moynihan went from writing Finn at his most mature to being the writer that portrays him at his absolute most childish. And hey, since you kids at home loved the “bacon pancakes” song so much a few years back, Finn sings his own version “makin’ stake-a’s” in this episode!! Seriously, I hate any instances that feel as though the show is directly pandering to the AT audience of whom only know or care about “bacon pancakes”, the buff baby song, or Bubbline.

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Going back to my earlier complaints, I think the VK’s issue could have been way more well-represented if he wasn’t interrupted by people trying to stake him every five seconds. Nearly every attempt at humor in this episode is just the various wacky ways the characters are trying to stake the VK while he remains completely unwilling to fight. It gets old really fast and puts me in a mood where I just want everyone to shut the fuck up and to hear the guy out. He has legitimately insightful stuff to throw down, but he’s only able to get a word in after everyone around him stops trying to attack or stake him. I mean, PB’s technology was able to resist Empress from moving in the previous episode, couldn’t she have just restrained the VK and then interrogated him that way? I don’t think the characters are necessarily wrong for not trusting him, but it gets frustrating when it’s pretty obvious to the audience that he’s being truthful, while the typically rational characters that we love come off as bigger annoyances than the guy who is supposed to be the villain. And even then, VK suffers from his own quirky moments that seem completely out of place. I was really getting into his speech, and then he loses entirely me when he’s portrayed to be a complete baby who pouts in his underwear, and is left to be nothing but a comedic foil for the rest of the episode. It’s a shame, because I feel like the Vampire King ends up being my least favorite of the vampires, simply because he ends up being the most complex, yet the most shallow vamp at the same time. This episode elaborates on his desire to change the world around him and the pathway that is presented to him… but that’s kind of it. He’s supposed to be presented as this big important figure, but they kind of neglected to give me a reason to actually be interested or invested in him as a person. All of the other vamps are equipped with strong personalities and charisma, while Vampire King exhibits practically none of that in his one star episode.

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Annnd, after everything that happens with the Vampire King, we’re left with a mere transition into the next episode, as the “vamp juice” explodes into epic proportions and forms into a cloud monster seeking destruction. VK turning into a lion was… interesting, I suppose? It’s an idea that I still kind of struggle to wrap my head around completely… like, how did the vampire essence within him cause himself to mutate and become humanized so intensely? It doesn’t really make sense to me, but I usually just end up brushing it off.

But yeah, Checkmate is a pretty low point for me in this miniseries. It really emphasizes a lot of overarching issues, and introduces some new ones as well. A concept and character that should have been really interesting and significant ends up feeling like an unfunny slump. It isn’t entirely without its moments; I liked Jake’s brief exchange with Pepbut at the beginning and Marcy’s first meal in forever was a nice little bit. And, as I said, parts of Vampire King’s speech were really neat. But other than that, Checkmate is mostly just frustrating.

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Favorite line: “I am a king, not a hamster. My path runs straight into the void, on a sick, flaming chariot!”

“May I Come In?” Review

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Original Airdate: November 18, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Luke Pearson & Emily Partridge

May I Come In? might just be my favorite episode of Stakes, and it seems apparent that I’m not alone in that opinion. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve watched this episode, so I expected to revisit this one and get treated to a fun romp, but I kind of undermined just how well this one gets the atmosphere just right. I somewhat forgot why Hierophant was my favorite vamp to begin with: not only is he enjoyably hammy, but he’s also the most threatening out of the vampire crew. As a result, May I Come In? is possibly the most foreboding and tense episode from Stakes.

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The beginning starts out nicely, as another reminder that Jake really, really does not fuck with vampires. This is somewhat of his big breakout in the miniseries, as he finally overcomes his own personal issues to help out his friends and actually have a part in saving the day. It is kind of a shame that Jake virtually has much more of a role in this miniseries than Finn. I feel as though Jake’s little story arc is meaningful and has an effect on the story, where I could truthfully say that you can pretty much eliminate Finn completely from Stakes and not much would be missed. But that’s an argument for another day. I also like how May I Come In? handles the linear pacing of the miniseries. Stakes never feels sequential in the sense that every episode features our protagonists going from one vamp to the other. Here, it appears they’re going after The Moon, but they end up fighting against Hierophant instead. Feels as though the story is flowing very naturally, and subverts the audience’s, as well as the characters’, expectations.

The bit with the King of Ooo was absolutely delightful. KOO seriously gets funnier with each appearance, and his bit here is no exception. I also love the return of Crunchy, of whom I grew really fond of during this miniseries as well. Hierophant swarming the boys was relatively tense, even in his Koala-like state, which quickly turns amusing as he threatens the princess to tell him everything, to which KOO literally tells him everything. His tragic backstory cracks me up; I can totally picture a shyster like KOO growing up dirt poor and wanting nothing more but to cheat and swindle his way to prosperity as he grew older. The way KOO and Crunchy team-up to please Hierophant in a panic is really enjoyable, as we’re treated to a threatening transition into the next scene.

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Again, the atmosphere remains unnerving as we cut over to Peppermint Butler quietly cooking within Gumbald’s cabin. While probably not its main intention, Stakes partially doubles as a Halloween special, and no episode from the miniseries feels like a better contribution to that theme than this one. The scene within the cabin is lit really well, providing a bit of light and color through utter darkness. Save for a bit of humor, where Pepbut shakes his butt and taunts Hierophant for being a “sad old relic.” I really never get tired of hearing Steve Little’s expressive, high-pitched voice, and Pepbut’s texts to PB were equally as hilarious. One thing I appreciate about Hierophant’s character, besides the nice balance between being comedic and threatening, is the show’s ability to treat him completely seriously. So many Adventure Time villains end up just being passed off as “regular dudes” like Kee-Oth or Orgalorg, but Hierophant is treated as a legitimately intimidating guy who operates by his own rules, but could easily suck the blood out of you or rip you to shreds any second. He isn’t a villain that is entirely evil like the Lich, but he’s intimidating because he isn’t impacted by the own personal flaws that face him. Even if he isn’t invited in by the host of a house, he’ll still find an alternative way to act upon his prey.

LSP joining the gang for a brief period of time was good fun and nice for her to actually have somewhat of a role in their master scheme, even if she does fail miserably. The bit where Finn tempts Hierophant into biting him is another purposely uncomfortable sequence that ties back to vampires and rape culture, and I can only imagine the massive amounts of teenage girls who swooned over Finn when he lets down his long, flowing hair. Though I once again was a bit disappointed by how Finn actually contributed to fighting off Hierophant, I do really like his total “fuck this” attitude to almost getting bitten. Even in a situation when he is totally dominated by Hierophant, Finn is still mocking and snarky in his behavior. At least he came in with a fearless attitude.

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The sequence of everyone failing to constructively put together an attack plan was good fun. Loved LSP’s pride over “helping” as she just aimlessly throws stakes left and right without actually acknowledging where they’re going. Hierophant tampering with the garlic bomb was certainly tense. Once again, this could’ve easily played off as overly-long joke, but it works as a legitimately anxiety provoking bit that left me on the edge of my seat upon first viewing it. But of course, it fails and enrages Hierophant, as he morphs into an entire hodgepodge of different animals and creatures, providing for one of the coolest vamp designs thus far. Luke Pearson and Emily Partridge really helped this episode to succeed on a visual level. It’s a darn shame that this was the last episode that they boarded together (and Pearson’s last episode overall) because they managed to be one of my favorite teams from this season, even if they only worked on two episodes.

As you likely guessed, I adored Jake’s smart contribution by creating a house for his friends and possibly putting himself in danger in the process. This miniseries could have so easily played the joke of Jake being afraid of vampires throughout its entirety, but I’m glad we actually have him face his fears to help prevent Marceline, and others, from getting hurt. Following that sequence, we get an intriguing negotiation between Marcy and Hierophant. Hierophant also benefits from having a competent VA at the helm, being voiced by Paul Williams (other credits include him voicing The Penguin in Batman: TAS and being the composer of the God damn “Rainbow Connection.” My favorite song!) His connection to the Vampire King is equally as intriguing, and I wouldn’t mind even seeing a series of spin-off comics involving their chemistry back in the day. But of course, Hierophant’s shortcomings derive from the fact that he is indeed a relic of his time period, and unable to change because he simply cannot adapt to the times. Which provides his hilarious demise, when Crunchy pushes him into the Jake house and actually kills him. Who knew Crunchy would be the true hero of Stakes? PB’s absolute death stare at King of Ooo was just as appreciated, as he once more takes credit for being the “savior” that only exists within his head. The episode leaves for one final cliffhanger, as Marceline is infected by Hierophant’s poison, and Jake is feeling a bit nauseous from his vamp-filled dinner.

This episode’s gambit is simple, but truly effective: it’s very tense and atmospheric throughout its first half, followed by an exciting and energetic second act. It’s also a lot of fun, not only in its efforts towards humor, but also in its ability to incorporate a bunch of different characters at once. Every character proves to be enjoyable in their own right, either providing for humorous moments or their own interesting character development. And of course, this one truly soars from Hierophant’s star role. Definitely the best of the vamps, and one I seem to enjoy even more every time I view this episode.

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Favorite line: “I grew up poor, dirt poor. The other kids called me “little bubbles,” because we couldn’t afford a bathtub.”

“The Empress Eyes” Review

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Original Airdate: November 17, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

Empress is definitely one of the lesser vamps in my opinion, but considering my opinion of the vampires as it is, that doesn’t at all diminish Empress’s likability or on-screen charisma. And while this episode isn’t as particularly funny or thought-provoking as some of the other Stakes episodes, it still provides for some decent entertainment deriving from its star vamp and the still slightly fucked up relationship between Marceline and Simon.

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First off, I hate the opening joke that involves Ice King screaming about lemons in his sleep. Another thing that bugs me about the humor within Stakes is that it is waaaay too referential; I don’t mind little winks to past moments from the show, but bits like these seem entirely too smug or out of place. I get that this is sort of an Adventure Time movie, so the writers and artists likely wanted to include as much as possible for longtime fans, but from a personal perspective, I’d rather celebrate the series by enjoying what new and creative stories/jokes they can provide for me, rather than merely trying to relive the gags that really aren’t even funny anymore by this point.

Buuuut, that’s about as negative as I can get about the episode. I think the interactions between Empress and Ice King are pretty neat. I like how Empress actually has some sort of long-term connection with Simon that is never actually explained in full detail, or likely will ever be, but is an interesting concept to chew on. I’d assume that the Empress is likely the first vampire that Marceline had ever encountered, and that Simon convened with her either out of his inability to control the power she held over him, or out of pure desperation to somehow save Marcy. I think the latter idea is actually more interesting but it could very well be the former. Regardless, Empress and the IK provide for some truly fun exchanges. I love how sadistic and cruel Empress is to Ice King, and just how much enjoyment she gets from reading his pathetic diary entries. Ice King is also his usual fun self, not acknowledging the obvious threat that Empress is to him and the people around her. Simon has some great one-liners here; I love him mentioning Shelby’s barbecue, as if to imply that Shelby has literally cooked decent sized food for mass amounts of people. I also like his genuine “aw, thanks” response to Empress’s allusion to his state of being. The man really does not understand socializing in the least bit.

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The scene capitalizing on Jake’s paranoia is played pretty straight without many gags (besides the bit with PB’s “outdoor clock”) and I think it’s nice to see that this is a consistent bit of his character throughout the miniseries until he finally overcomes said fear in the next episode. While it’s been mostly presented as humorous throughout the past couple episodes, it’s cool to see that this is something that legitimately stresses Jake out beyond belief. From someone who never likes to show his inner fears or stressors in any given situation, it’s pretty clear that vampires are a legitimate phobia for Jake and something he resents beyond comprehension. Perhaps it relates to a subconscious fear of Jake outliving his children, girlfriend, and his brother? Or maybe vampires are just flippin’ scary. For Jake, it could really be either.

This episode reinforces, once again, that Ice King is still a force to be reckoned with, even if he’s not a straight-up villain anymore. I’m so glad that the series has never, at any point, made Ice King “too soft” or empathetic. He’s certainly straightened out in his behavior and does care for his friends deeply, but as long as the crown is controlling him, he will never not be crazy or primarily selfish. So, him kidnapping Finn for some broad that he just met seems refreshing, though it is weird to me that he was able to do so simply by wrapping Finn in his robe. It doesn’t even look like Finn’s trying to fight it. Granted, Finn may have somehow figured out that Ice King was bringing him to Empress, and wanted to attempt to stake her in the process, which is exactly what he tries to do. While Finn certainly isn’t entirely precise in his efforts, this is at least one of his less incompetent appearances, as he does come close to staking a vampire. Though, granted, you could always consider him easily being captured by Ice King as a measure of his inability to protect himself and others.

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The following scenes between Marcy and Ice King are nice, as again, Ice King is unable to look past his own selfish desires to help his two friends out in a much more dire situation. I’m not a big fan of Marcy’s spoken word, as it’s a bit more awkward and somewhat unmemorable in its dialogue, but it isn’t without its moments. Love the various piles of debris and toxic containers surrounding Marceline; whenever we get mid-Mushroom War flashbacks, it’s always cool to see how unnerving and protective society can be portrayed as. And the method of echoing Marcy’s dialogue is a neat addition to what otherwise would have been just a standard performance from Olivia Olsen.

But once more, Ice King proves his unflattering nature by freezing his two friends to provide for his lady. It is nice, however, to see that Ice King does have restraints. Even with his uncanny nature, he’s notably distraught at the idea of having to kill one of his close friends. Ice King really doesn’t take anything that seriously, and probably sees Marcy and Finn’s conflict with Empress as a game more than anything. When it comes to actually hurting another person that he’s close with, Ice King cannot bring himself to do so, because even though he’s very much conflicted in his motivations, he still has a big heart. It’s thoroughly funny to see his arguments with Empress, and the revealing twist that he wasn’t under Empress’s spell to begin with. The crown likely has more of a possession over him than anything else possibly could, and it’s hilarious to think that Ice King would obey Empress simply because he wants the added attention. I also liked the turmoil between Marceline and Empress. Besides the possible exception of the Vampire King, Marceline likely has more beef with Empress than any other vampire, strictly because the vamp messed with the person she cares about most. So it was nice to see Marcy extra bent out of shape when trying to stake her, as PB helps her to finish the job. The episode comes to a satisfying conclusion as the crew decides to keep staking vampires as a team.

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Few other notes: this one has a real nice purple hue to it in the first few scenes. Stakes really has gotten the lighting and shading down throughout these past few episodes, and The Empress Eyes is no exception. Also like the music throughout this episode, which utilizes a mellow bass guitar in its more laidback and calm sequences. A gripe of mine that is consistent with this one is that Somvilay’s drawings look really wonky most of the time. When Marceline is pulling Finn as she flies, he literally looks as flat as a piece of paper, as he’s constantly distorted by their movement. It also looks awkward as Marceline floats and holds onto Finn, as her palm is just simply placed over his chest area. It doesn’t even look like she has a grip on him at all. I bothers me that PB just kind of shows up at the end as well. I guess it could be gathered that Jake possibly saw Ice King flying away with Finn and informed PB of their disappearance, but I felt it would have been better used as exposition, because otherwise it feels somewhat like a deus ex machina.

As is, The Empress Eyes is decent. Certainly not one of the stronger episodes of the miniseries, but one that is enough fun to carry it through, mostly because of Empress and Ice King. They provide for some delightful interactions with each other, and the other characters featured in general, even if some of it feels like padding at points. It had been a while since Ice King has had a star role at this point, so this was a nice return to his classic self, featuring an enjoyably snarky vamp on the side.

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Favorite line: “C’mon, let’s get you some ice cream.” (Loved Finn being sympathetic for Ice King.)