Tag Archive | Rebecca Sugar

“Hot to the Touch” Review

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Original Airdate: April 2, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Cole Sanchez

Here we are, kids! Season four! As I’ve mentioned a couple times prior to this review, season four is a really big turning point for the series. Things get darker, edgier, and more impactful from hereon in, folks. Fresh off the batch is Hot to the Touch, a continuation from where season three’s cliffhanger left off. When the original synopsis for this episode was released, I had much different expectations for it. I generally didn’t expect for this one to pick right up where Incendium left off, as it typically wasn’t really something AT had done before, aside from the Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil two-parter. I thought there’d be a lot more of Finn just sort of observing Flame Princess from afar, and trying to learn little tidbits about her in the process. There is a little bit of that, but what we got as a whole was a pretty satisfying episode, though not without it’s issues.

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First off, I think Flame Princess’s character is crafted perfectly in this episode. I dunno, after this one, I think they kinda jumped the gun and made her a lot less interesting than this episode set her up to be. I like her curiosity, how uneducated of the world around her she is, and how her moral code is constantly put into question. With a few exceptions (and some cool development much later on) I think her character was sorta squandered down into just a straight good guy following Hot to the Touch. Not to say Flame Princess is an awful character after this episode, but it almost feels like day and night to watch her so recklessly destroy a kingdom in this one and then be all cute and bubbly the next. I just really think they had a lot of momentum going with her ambiguity and then sorta dropped it way too quickly. It’s not an actual issue with the episode, though, and is one of my very favorite appearances of FP’s character in general. Also, she frequently mentions that she’s an elemental! It’s cool to see this mentioned so early on, and makes me wonder how Flame Princess became so familiar with this label to begin with. Perhaps Flame King educated her on this matter? It’s really up for discussion.

Finn’s interest in Flame Princess is very cute; I love his instant infatuation with FP and how he’s quickly able to profess his love for her without even really knowing her. That’s a typical thirteen-year-old for you (or is he 14 now?). I love how honest he is right off the bat, completely contradicting his prior relationship with PB. It’s rewarding to see the little guy be so open regarding his feelings and to not hold back, learning from his mistakes the first time. In addition to that, there is an interesting bit of turmoil he experiences when he has to choose between being a hero or preserving the one he cares about. The decision seems simple at first, but it all becomes more difficult when we learn that putting out FP’s flames legitimately hurt her. All of us want Finn to choose the obvious route of being heroic, but also don’t want to see Flame Princess get injured in the process. As for his ending breakdown… we’ll get to that in a bit.

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Jake is the perfect everyman in this episode: completely supportive of his hormonal brother, but being very rational when handling the situation. I love how much he goes through just for his friend, from helping him pursue his new love interest to trying to protect the Goblin Kingdom in the process. And, as a result, Jake is actually the true hero of this episode! Yeah, he helps Finn get closer to Flame Princess AND saves everyone in the Goblin Kingdom. What did you do again, Finn? You’re slippin’, buddy.

There’s a lot of enjoyable moments in this one. I love Finn’s awkwardness when it comes to pursuing FP, right down to the fact that he’s basically being a giant stalker and even acknowledges himself in the act. There’s plenty of silly side characters, from the smoking bird (who, for some reason, speaks in rhymes) and the return of the quirky goblins! And hey, speaking of characters returning, my boi NEPTR’s back!! NEPTR is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s really delightful to see the little scamp once again. I love the fact that everyone just generally disregards everything he says, including his entire existence. It just seems like such an oddly cynical and sadistic turn for such loving characters, and I really like how different it is because of that. NEPTR will always be BMO-Light to the rest of the cast. Also, that rap was fucking dope!

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My one problem with this episode, which is actually kind of a major one, is Rebecca Sugar’s part of the episode. I think Cole Sanchez’s section is just fine, but Sugar’s work feels like it’s trying too hard to be really profound and emotional to me. This is a common criticism for a ton of the season six and seven episodes, but really, I think it comes out full-fledged here. Finn’s crying just didn’t hit home for me at all; Rebecca had some big obsession with wanting Finn to cry during her time on the show, and really, I’m not sure I get it. I think some of the most impactful and poignant moments on the show are done without any crying at all (Finn discovering Susan may not be human in Susan Strong, Simon’s video diaries in Holly Jolly Secrets, Finn being abandoned by his father in Escape from the Citadel, etc.). It’s something that carries over heavily into her own show Steven Universe, but really, I just don’t think it works here. And considering the ending is left so ambiguous and poetic, you’d think there’d be room for more development on how Flame Princess and Finn are in a somewhat “forbidden” romance, but it’s rarely even touched upon in the next episode FP is in, outside of the last half, and just feels like a cheap gimmick in order for me to feel something or be left with some lasting impression, but it just doesn’t work at all. Pendleton Ward had this brief bit of wisdom on the episode’s commentary:

“[in reference to writing kid characters] … you just think that they’re gonna skin their knees and cry a bunch, when it’s not fun to watch, I don’t think.”

Though he wasn’t speaking directly about that portion of the episode, it pretty much sums up my feelings. I criticized What Was Missing slightly in the past for Sugar’s style feeling off with AT’s aesthetics, but I think this is a prominent example of her writing failing to meet the emotional complexities of the characters, at least in my eyes. I think Cole gets it right from Finn’s monologue earlier on in the treehouse, that’s meant both to be funny and somewhat profound. That’s exactly what I was looking for throughout a majority of this episode.

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That being said, I do think it’s still a pretty decent season premiere. I think there’s still a lot of enjoyable moments, from the silly jokes, to the beautiful visuals (really nice blends of orange and yellow), to the general intrigue of the main conflict. The characters are written as perfectly as they should be; as I mentioned, this is one of my favorite appearances of Flame Princess to date. Even though I’m not crazy about the ending, it still leaves a ton of ambiguity and mystery that Incendium left off with, giving me enough motivation and anticipation to keep watching forward. And as long as I live, I will never get tired of Finn stretching out Jake’s face like silly putty.

Strap in, everyone! Season four is gonna be one hell of a ride!

Favorite line: “Listen, when I look at you, my brain goes all stupid, and I just wanna hug you, and sit on the couch and play BMO with you.” (the most accurate depiction of teenage feelings of all time)

“Incendium” Review

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One of my favorite title cards. Finn’s turmoil is so wonderfully represented.

Original Airdate: February 13, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

Incendium is significant because it was the point where I became completely and utterly invested in Adventure Time. There were points prior such as Mortal Recoil, Thank You, and Holly Jolly Secrets where I grew even fonder of the series, but Incendium was the episode where I decided there was absolutely no turning back. I was in it for the long haul from this point on, and prepared for where ever the series would take me next. As you can tell, this is one of my favorites. It’s not one of the funniest or even most dramatic episodes, but this is a direct transition into a new era of AT, and one that doesn’t hold back with its raw emotion, introduction of new characters, and growth from the past three seasons. This is it people: Finn’s most notable entrance into adolescence.

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The concept of this episode came from the writers no longer being able to incorporate Finn’s love interest for PB into compelling stories. Wizard Battle was an episode that proved this relationship to be a bit burnt out in its direction, and one that I was getting dreadfully bored of myself. The beginning of this episode wastes no time by displaying the truth behind how infatuations typically tend to start out as innocent and charming and eventually transition into creepy and desperate. Finn’s behavior can surely be seen as that, though without his intention to be so, and Bubblegum’s response is equally appropriate. It’s a moment that runs so quickly and contains little dialogue, but one that I think is especially well done. It doesn’t focus on making either character unlikable for the sake of the plot, and follows a realistic direction in which the situation was likely to follow. It’s a really impactful, driving moment for Finn to be straight up turned down, something we really haven’t gotten to see yet. It’s also a bit of the least teasing PB’s behavior has ever been; it seems her intentions to show Finn her new invention were strictly out of leisure and companionship, and her personal space being briefly invaded was what turned her off from what was genuinely supposed to be a simple picnic with friends.

That being said, it’s still one of the most emotional Goddamn scenes in the series to see Finn so drastically torn up. Sure, he’s still a child, and we all know those random teenage love interests never meant anything. But they still stung, dammit! This sequence is complete with one of my favorite Sugar songs, All Gummed Up Inside. Not only are the lyrics a perfect example of a character releasing his/her feelings through song, the combination between the pacing of BMO’s video game in the background and the ukulele chords are just beautiful. It’s really one of the most creatively timed tunes in the series, and one that I constantly find myself revisiting. In addition to the song, the visuals during it are equally as heartwrenching. Sugar outdoes herself with really somber depictions of AT’s characters, and the looks of hopelessness on Finn, Jake, and BMO’s faces are really terrifically drawn. It’s a very powerful moment that fits so much emotion into such a short sequence of time. Also love the callback to Finn clutching that wad of Bubblegum’s hair (although, I gotta wonder where he got those pictures of PB. It’s not even like it’s a picture of him and Peebles hanging out, it’s like, a fucking headshot. Did she just randomly give him a bunch of those?),

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A good remainder of the episode is kept mostly light with a really enjoyable and heartfelt story of Jake trying to find a new woman for his best friend. There’s a lot of really amusing moments from this point on: the reintroduction of Flambo, who, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favorite secondary characters in the series. I don’t know what it is about him, I just love his general demeanor and random Brooklyn accent. The interactions between him and Jake are really great; love the laidback way they’re able to just shoot the shit, followed by the always hilarious flame shield incantation (“I cast flame shield on ya’s… also I spat on ya’s!”).

Outside of Thank You, this is the first major appearance of the Fire Kingdom, and it looks dope. Love the various orange, red, yellow, and browns that make up the kingdom, and the contrast of Jake’s blue that really helps him to stick out among the crowds of Fire People and their surroundings. There’s also the introduction of another one of my favorite side characters, Flame King, and the entrance of a brand new major player herself, Flame Princess. This is probably Flame King’s strongest appearance in the series. His voice, provided by Keith David, hits all the right points of intimidation and dry wit. I love the way him and Jake work off of each other, and the various tasks Jake must go through that really are very pointless in hindsight. There’s also the crowd of Fire People that honestly crack me up. The way they just mindlessly repeat everything (a very satirical homage to other TV shows and movies that involve royalty) is always worth a dumb laugh or two from me. The way Jake reprises Finn’s song is really delightful; it’s not quite as catchy or powerful, but I love the way Jake is able to take something so heavy and emotional and reboot it into something more calming and delightful, typically showcasing his best abilities.

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It’s also a bit of a sad scene to watch Jake so disappointed of his failure as he softly apologizes to Finn’s hologram. It’s a moment that also displays another emotional strength of the series: the way the characters are able to so strongly empathize with each other. You can tell that Finn’s inability to reciprocate PB’s love is affecting Jake just as much, and that he’d do anything to help out his brother during his time of need. Which leads to one of the most confusing parts of the episode: Jake’s Finn mimic choking himself. I’m not sure if this was Jake getting way too in character, or if it was an elaborate plan by himself all along, but it just feels a bit aimless to me. Not sure how he knew it would work if it was the latter, and not sure why he would do it to begin with if it was the former.

The third act closes out with some of the strongest raw material of the episode, as Finn begins his fueled rampage and unleashes all of his negative inner feelings. It only last for a brief amount of time, and he’s able to step back once he notices the injured princess, allowing for some nice symbolism with Finn using a piece of Bubblegum to save Flame Princess, and then completely leaving that piece of PB behind. Flame Princess’s character isn’t that well-developed in this one, but the ending does leave a bit of intrigue that we haven’t seen from the show before: someone who is less emotionally mature than Finn. FP is completely bonkers when it comes to controlling her inner feelings, and for the longest time, Finn has had to combat his inferiority when it comes to those more mature than him. This may be where his immediate interest in the princess comes from, and it’s an interesting realization that disregards Finn’s entire romantic past up to this point. Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

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So yeah, I love this one. It just has such an exciting feel to it, and despite it not having any big battles or giant cliffhangers like other season finales do, this one is simply an important transition into the later seasons of Adventure Time, leaving some old, worn out relationships in the past along with it. It’s a really fun exploration of Finn’s new potential love interest, and one that would forever change his life and future ahead of him. It’s a lovely bit of emotion mixed with amusing gags that I really never get tired of. Shoutout to Rebecca Sugar and Adam Muto for ending their board partnership together with a bang! Surely one of my all-time favorites.

That’s the end of season three, folks! Like always, I’d like to thank anyone who’s been keeping up with the blog and sharing your lovely thoughts with each new post. I really enjoy all the feedback I get with this blog, and it makes the entire experience more rewarding. The season three review should be out later this week, along with a bit of a surprise mini-review that I’m sure most of you weren’t expecting. But, besides that, I’ll be back with Hot to the Touch very shortly!

Favorite line: “If anyone tries to hurt Finn, I will kill them!”

“Jake vs. Me-Mow” Review

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Original Airdate: November 21, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

The title card concept originates from an actual drawing created by fourteen-year-old (at the time of its debut, that is) Gunnar Gilmore, as Pen Ward himself loved the drawing so much that he wanted an entire episode based around the character Me-Mow. It’s an ambitious concept, but the idea of Jake being pitted against some cat seems especially ludicrous and fanfiction-y for the Adventure Time world. However, the episode is taken in a much, much different direction that actually makes for a genuinely compelling plot.

The character of Me-Mow is actually what I consider to be a more engaging version of the Cute King. Me-Mow is legitimately cute, with her voice be provided by Kyla Rae Kowalewski (also the voice of Anais on The Amazing World of Gumball). In addition to being cute, Me-Mow is a very competent villain, and one that is never downplayed for her size or charm. The show doesn’t pull some manipulative trick by making Me-Mow’s cuteness her strongest weapon, but instead creates a villain that’s able to be so effective as an opponent because of her small size. The scene where she attacks Finn builds a great deal of tension and actually makes some valid points. Though her dagger isn’t able to make very effective dents, it’s pretty evident that she could pretty much just slice Finn’s eyeballs at any point and render him blind. It’s rare that you actually get to see tiny enemies in any animated series that aren’t purely comedic, so I’m glad Adam and Rebecca were so graceful not to fall into any generic cliches.

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I mentioned how sympathetic Jake’s character was in No One Can Hear You, and this one really continues the trend of gut-wrenching Jake-centric episodes. It’s incredibly hard to watch the pain he endures in this episode, from the various times he’s brutally injected with poison to all of the psychological burdens he’s probably bearing. You gotta wonder what it’s like from his perspective. There’s points where he literally considers killing Wildberry Princess, and it sounds fucked up, but wouldn’t that thought cross your mind at least once if you were in that position? It’s obviously morally wrong, but Jake simply has his hands tied and there’s not much that he can do to save himself besides the only known solution in front of him. It’s a dark road for the series to cross, but one that doesn’t make Jake seem like he’s bordering psychosis or generally unlikable in the slightest bit. Of course, it’s handled with humor as well. Jake’s “maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be killed!” gets a big laugh out of me, and all of his attempts to get Me-Mow out of his nose, in addition to anytime he tries to act completely normal around Finn and WBP, are really amusing.

Finn’s sort of an idiot in this episode, but again, I don’t think the writers go too far with his stupidity that it’s completely unbelievable or irritating. His side of the story is still handled with much humor and likability too; I’ll never understand why the hell he started shouting “meow” when Jake shushed him, but it’s something only Finn would do, and it’s just silly enough that it works for me. It’s also a sweet one for him too: not only does he share a moment of emotional turmoil towards the end when he threatens to kill Me-Mow for what she’s done and watch his best friend nearly die, but there’s the scene where he sings his mother’s lullaby (written by Rebecca, of course!) that she used to sing to Finn and Jake , and maybe even Jermaine, when they were babies. It’s a brief, out-of-nowhere bit of poignancy that really builds a connection we rarely ever see, that being between Finn and Margaret, and just adds a bit of quiet enlightenment to and otherwise suspenseful episode.

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And yes, this one really makes use of the element of suspense. It’s such a small-scale episode, but the many ways we empathize with Jake and are so concerned for his well-being, in addition to the anticipation in regards to whether or not his plans will work out, really kept me at the edge of my seat the first time I saw it. In fact, I’m still able to be fully enthralled by the events of this episode despite knowing the actual outcome of the situation. The resolution I think is really clever, and something I actually didn’t think of once during the duration of the episode. My reaction was pretty much the same as Finn and Jake’s when Jake increased the size of his liver. Biiiiig liver, YEAH!

If there’s one minor criticism I have, it’s that the title is a bit misleading. The original title for this episode was An Assassin in Jake’s Nose, which is much more fitting in my opinion. There’s very little of Jake and Me-Mow facing off, in fact, Finn actually engages in combat with her a lot more. Like I said, though, the contents of the episode are better than what the title suggests, I just wish it was slightly more fitting with the tone and plot of the episode.

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Besides that slight nitpick, I do really enjoy this one. The stakes feel really high, and even if we know that Jake isn’t going to legitimately die, it still feels like a very real conflict that’s engaging from beginning to end. There’s a couple of nice gags throughout the episode, like I really enjoy the fact that the people of Wildberry Kingdom eat meat for some reason. I guess they can’t eat berries or fruit, so they must be pretty extreme carnivores in that regard. The backgrounds from Ghostshrimp are really nice in this one; I love that it’s very similar to the setting of the Treehouse, but adds a bit of a unique spin with the many layers of tree branches and berries that gives the Wildberry Kingdom its own separate feel to it. There’s a lot of nice character moments, between Jake’s anxiety of choosing between murder and being murdered, and Finn’s obliviousness, but all-around devotion to his friend. Definitely another high-point in an already above average season.

And if you think it takes Susan Strong a long time to return, let’s just wait and see how many episodes it takes Me-Mow to come back. I’ll start counting now.

Favorite line: “Give it up, Me-Mow! You’re only making my face look cooler!”

“Beautopia” Review

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Original Airdate: November 8, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Adam Muto

Beautopia is Susan Strong’s first appearance since her debut episode, and her last episode for a very long period of time. Some general developments are made, as she obtains a wider (albeit broken) variety of vocabulary and a subtle, yet more intelligent grasp of the world around her. It’s even somewhat of a conclusive piece to her arc, even though nothing is explicitly given away and her character returns much later on to drive her story even further.

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The relationship between Susan Strong in her debut episode was driven by Finn’s growing interest in the existence of humans and his fascination with her as a member of his species. Here, it’s quite different, but even more endearing to me. Finn simply wants to help her out as a friend, despite the fact that she may not even be one of his kind, and caused great danger for the Candy Kingdom previously. Finn is still considerate enough to be by her side and never once question her motivation or beliefs. He’s written terrifically in this episode, and it really shows what an honest and caring guy he is. Even when everything Susan does seem to be completely ludicrous and unethical, with her even going so far as to almost drowning Finn, he still has her back completely, possibly due to his belief that she is still strongly connected to him despite her different appearance. His line towards the end “humans and hyoomans gotta stick together,” strongly indicates that, even though he acknowledges that Susan and her people may be different from him, he still considers them worthy of his utmost respect. It mirrors Jake’s line of “we’re all wild animals, brother,” from Susan Strong, and it’s just delightful to see his strong support of his humanoid friend.

Speaking of Jake, he can be a bit of a jerk in this one, but I feel like it’s necessary and makes sense with the plot. On one hand, he is entirely disrespectful (or as he put, “disruptive and obnoxious”) towards Susan and her people, and even mocks the hyoomans on several occasions. I dunno, isn’t that considered like, racism in the AT universe? C’mon Jake, you’re better than that. On the other hand, his reactions and behavior do seem completely rational, considering the circumstances. In a way, he’s everything that you’d expect Finn to be: distrusting of Susan, completely skeptical about her ridiculous claims, and in fear of death throughout their entire travels. It’s humorous to watch Jake act so completely smug and condescending, and his actions are almost completely understandable. Obviously he isn’t going to trust Susan, because, for one, she almost destroyed the entire Candy Kingdom. In addition to that, she almost drowned his brother, gotten the three of them killed on several different occasions, and has paranoia that seems to be entirely irrational.

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For that reason, it’s really nice to have a blend of both Finn and Jake’s opposing viewpoints in this episode. It’s really refreshing to see the boys on two completely different sides and not have it be intolerable to watch, but instead actually strengthens the episode. It’s a perfect perspective aspect that shows us exactly what we’d want to see from each character.

Susan herself is enjoyable to watch; she’s more used as a plot point than anything. She’s still enjoyable to watch, but not necessarily as amusingly wide-eyed as she was in Susan Strong. That being said, I do like her progression from a character who was completely shut off from the outside world to someone who’s gained a basic understanding of society and the actual dangers within it. It feels like an appropriate growth of her character, and it would’ve been so uninteresting if this episode picked up exactly where the last one left off and just followed Finn teaching Susan new information that she hasn’t learned yet. That’s the fun part about the amount of time it takes for characters to return in AT; time passes within the show somewhat naturally, and progression is happening in real-time, whether we get to see it or not. So characters are allowed to grow and develop without us necessarily getting to see every bit and piece of it. I do really love the brief moment where Finn pulls his hat off and Susan quietly says “you no gills!” It’s a very subtle and downplayed moment, but very crucial in the sense that it’s a moment where Susan comes to a realization about Finn that she hadn’t even known: he isn’t a fish person, he’s a full-fledged human boy, and it wasn’t until this point where she actually began to understand that.

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The design of Beautopia is really, really cool. Michael DeForge worked on a lot of the backgrounds in this episode, and they range from very eerie and dark to something of a post-apocalyptic beauty. I love how Beautopia is actually just some sort of shopping mall as well, as it really adds to the notion of vast worlds and lands just simply being everyday parts of society that we recognize today. In addition, the Lub Glubs are really well-designed too. The way their teeth are practically ingrained in their body in a 2-D fashion is so freakin’ cool to me, and the lack of eyes and gas-like body are both chilling and pretty grotesque as well. The idea that Jake recognizes that one of them reminds him of his mother (and a drawing early on reminded him of his father) is surely more than just his mind going insane and an in depth observation of a part himself that he may subconsciously recognize. It’s a bit of a stretch, as the Lub Glubs don’t exactly resemble what is later revealed to be Jake’s true form, but it’s still an interesting point from Jake’s perspective, and something he probably had a better understanding of than he even consciously knew.

However, those lines are pretty funny on this own, and so is the rest of this episode. Jake plays a major part when it comes to comedy in Beautopia, from his long, panned out attempt at throwing the lantern into the City Heart to his attitude toward everything going on around him throughout the episode, I just really love watching him react to his surroundings in this fashion. His I’m On a Boat song gets a kick out of me every time I watch this episode, it’s so amusing yet so annoying at the same time.

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The last act ends on a perfect note as well, with Finn receiving a private revelation through Susan Strong that we can only assume is positive. It’s a bit more teasing for the audience, but it is entirely satisfactory that one of the characters at least has an idea who Susan Strong is, and Finn’s content, friendly wave to her at the end leaves him feeling closer than ever to Susan, and without any further questions of her identity… for now, that is.

Anyway, I like this one. It’s not one of my favorites of the third season, but it has some really great characterization among the main cast, as well as some further developments in one of AT’s most mysterious story arcs. It’s also one that leaves me feeling completely fuzzy inside, and one that really can’t make Finn any more lovable if it tried. It’s a perfect wrap to Susan’s character for the time being, and left me entirely content until her later reappearance in the sixth season.

Favorite line: “C’mon, Finn, let’s go! I grabbed, like, 100 soft pretzels!”

“What Was Missing” Review

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Original Airdate: September 26, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

I’ve felt iffy about What Was Missing for a very, very long time. It’s arguably one of the most popular episodes to date, and while I’ve always thought that the episode was well crafted, I also sensed a feeling of tonal difference from the rest of the series. What I love about AT is that the characters’ feelings, motivations, and life paths are left most ambiguous and up for debate, and that notion has only increased throughout the run of the show. Rebecca Sugar, on the other hand, has her own specific style that is very different from everyone other staff member on the show, mostly because she has her own vision for the characters and precise ways of writing for them. Sugar’s style is evident on a show like Steven Universe, where all of the characters are very honest and genuine about their emotions and feelings, and almost every episode works towards some sort of conflict resolution or developmental change. AT, as I said, is very different in its approach. It’s more about drawing your own conclusions about what the characters are feeling, and continuously opening new doors (no pun intended) within the Land of Ooo. These are two very different mediums that collide especially in later seasons when Sugar’s style becomes more evident, this episode included. I could even see this working as an SU episode, with Steven, Pearl, and Amethyst filling the shoes of Finn, PB, and Marceline respectively.

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So what point am I trying to make by this? Well, frankly, for a while I was less enthusiastic about What Was Missing than everyone else was. I really just thought it was too big of a tonal shift for the show to take on, and the characters acting this open and honest with each other felt a bit… out of place. However, after rewatching this episode and the commentary for it specifically for the review, I do have a bit more of an appreciation of it. I realize that this is just a very big passion project that involved Sugar pouring every little bit of her heart into it (not ignoring the fact that it’s also Adam’s episode, but let’s face it, this is pretty much Rebecca’s baby).

The songs she wrote for this episode, I’m Not Your Problem and What Am I to You? are some of the best written songs in the entire series, and derive from very personal place in Sugar’s heart. I’m Not Your Problem not only addresses the subtle, long term conflict between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, but channels an experience Rebecca had while trying to impress a roommate she once had, but failing in that regard. Some of the strongest songs in the series come from personal experiences that help the tune feel more raw and passionate (All Gummed Up Inside, Lost in the Darkness) and this is another great example. It’s an aggressive and intense experience, and pretty much gives us everything we need to know about Marceline and PB’s past history without ever giving us any flashbacks or long bits of exposition. It shows the flaws between both characters: Bubblegum’s unintentional ego and Marceline’s feeling of inadequacy. It’s a very well done conflict that I think a lot of people can identify with, and it’s done in such a unique and entertaining way.

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What Am I to You? is in the same vein. Dealing with Finn’s inferiority complex towards Bubblegum and Marceline is something that feels a bit overlooked and undermined through time, but it’s done in such a catchy and sweet way that it’s hard not to instantly be able to empathize with Finn as a viewer and immediately see things through his perspective. The inspiration behind this song is actually something that admittedly had me tearing up a bit while listening to the commentary (or someone in my house was just coincidentally chopping onions. I like to think the latter). Sugar wrote this song based on her experience with the Adventure Time crew, and how she finally felt accepted in her position and no longer saw her job as work, but rather something she genuinely enjoyed doing with people she loved. It’s a very endearing, loving message that honestly makes the episode itself even more heartwarming, and for that reason, it’s really hard for me not to get drawn into this episode. It puts every bit of care and compassion into it from the crew who love working on this show so much.

Besides that bit, I like the little in-between bits as well. Jake pretending to be the jerk of the band is funny enough, and even gets better when he alters his entire appearance. Finn’s little song about pasta is cute, and I just really love seeing all of these characters together at once. It’s rare that we even get to see Finn, Jake, and Marceline hangout from this point on, so it’s very nice to see Bubblegum and BMO included on this friendship train. It highlights some of the most important flaws of each character and focuses on them in great detail: Finn’s awkward and sometimes creepy interest in Bubblegum, Marceline’s inferiority towards her old friend, PB’s intelligence that can often come off as condescending, and Jake’s inability to take anything seriously. I even like the Door Lord as well, voiced by Steve Agee. His design leads me to believe he’s some sort of relative or distant cousin of Key-per, and it honestly cracks me up everytime he speaks in his hummed speech. Apparently the storyboard has legitimate translations for what he’s saying, but you can pretty much gather the gist of it without even needing to know.

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In the end, it actually is an episode that warrants the characters being so open about their feelings. In fact, it’s basically the whole point. Though I do like the ambiguity that each character possesses in their emotions and personal struggles later on, it’s nice to watch them finally get what is bothering them off their chest, and it’s a pretty good message to show that the truth will set you free a majority of the time. Finn got to open up about his feelings towards Bubblegum to Jake recently in Wizard Battle, and while he isn’t that explicit this time, it’s nice to see that he does acknowledge how he feels about her in a way, and that he’s able to earn a newfound respect in return. In addition, Marceline’s able to do so by accepting the way that she feels towards her ex-BFF. By not getting angry at herself for wanting to reconnect with Bonnie, Marceline allows a possible chance for forgiveness and new beginnings, something she couldn’t envision with her bitterness blinding her beforehand. It also shows PB’s side of things by showing her brief admiration for Marcy by having deep sentimental value in the shirt that she gave her, which was really just icing on the cake. My only problem with this episode is most likely your only problem with this episode: why the hell wasn’t BMO mentioned in the song?! She’s sitting right there, Finn! How couldja forget her like that?

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And I guess I should acknowledge the brief controversy surrounding this episode. On an AT oriented YouTube channel called Mathematical, which was started up by Frederator Studios, there was a video that gave a brief recap of What Was Missing and analyzed it further by addressing the implied homosexual relationship between PB and Marceline, equipped with fanart of the two in a romantic scenario. The entire channel was shut down, and the mastermind behind it, Dan Rickmers, was fired. To be honest, this is just some dumb bullshit that went down. I get that a couple of years have passed since then and animation and television in general have become considerably more LGBTQ positive recently, but c’mon, PB and Marceline are basically openly lesbian at this point in the series. Whether you interpret them as best friends or an actual couple, the show and the staff seem to be doing everything they can to stress the pairing of them in a romantic sense, so really, was there any point in making such a big deal over allegations if said allegations would later just become practically true without anyone even batting an eye? It was a dumb bit of controversy from the start and only seems more absurd with the current state the show is in.

Getting back to the actual episode, I definitely have grown more positive towards What Was Missing as time goes on. I still don’t know if I’d call it one of my personal favorites, but it’s just so charming and likable that it’s hard for me not to get sucked into what many people consider one of the all time best episodes. It just goes to show that whenever you want the show to be as sweet as can be, ya just add a little Sugar!

Favorite line: “I’ll get your kid back, toy!”

“Fionna and Cake” Review

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Original Airdate: September 5, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar

A bit of background for this episode: the characters of Fionna and Cake were created by storyboard revisionist Natasha Allegri (as I’m writing this, it’s actually her birthday. Happy birthday, Natasha!). Allegri put the characters in several different humorous comic strips, and Pendleton Ward liked ‘em so much he said, “fuck it, why not make a whole episode around these two characters?”

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That’s where Fionna and Cake comes in, the show’s first big experimental challenge. The thing about Fionna and Cake as characters is that it would’ve been so easy to just make them carbon copies of Finn and Jake. Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar took it one step beyond that. Fionna and Cake become fully defined characters in the course of 11 minutes, and the Land of Aaa feels like its own entirely realized world, despite it being fictitious. That’s what works so greatly about Fionna and Cake; it is just like fanfiction, and can take characters, relationships, areas, and so on wherever it pleases. This episode is pure, illuminating enticement, from brilliantly using characters we all know and love and slightly altering them to giving us a legitimately well devised plot that would work entirely in a standard episode of the show.

As I mentioned, Fionna and Cake themselves are gender swaps of Finn and Jake that take on almost entirely different roles, but still retain attributes of the boys that inspired their creation. Fionna is very independent and even more mature than Finn, but maintains her love of adventure and excitement. This also works with her gender swap as well: she’s much less interested in what society stereotypes in terms of how women should be portrayed and more interested in what she loves to do, that being swinging swords and fighting bad guys. In addition, Cake’s possibly the most defined of the Fionna and Cake cast, and the most different from her male counterpart. Cake’s loyalty to Fionna and her relationship advice pose similarities to Jake, but she’s much more outspoken, sassy, and spunky. When it comes to others, there are minor differences, Gumball’s very proper demeanor and Ice Queen’s downright villainous persona, but part of the fun is just the way the two main leads work off of these characters. This episode captures pretty much all the AT typicalities: Fionna’s crush on Gumball, Ice Queen’s desire to marry Gumball, Cake and Lord Monochromicorn’s interest in each other (there’s an exclusive vinyl of the two that I’d give anything to have, but alas, I am a broke college student), and so on.

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What really works beyond anything else in this episode is just how naturally it flows. A lot of the time with experimental episodes of television, I find myself in a brief moment of disbelief, no matter how good said episode might be, of whether it connects to the world of the series enough or has a chance of succeeding by pushing the boundaries so drastically. Right off the bat, Fionna and Cake takes you right into the action. It doesn’t take the time to introduce individually to everyone because, as I continuously mention, we already know these characters in a way. The idea that we’re able to so easily adjust to something that’s so wildly different, yet exactly the same, from the standard episode of Adventure Time is so delightfully pleasurable and only helps the viewer enjoy every bit of the journey a little bit more.

Aside from that, it’s just generally a really fun episode. There’s plenty of great jokes, primarily from Cake (love the bit with her and Monochromicorn out of breath). The song Gumball sings to Fionna is a catchy and sweet homage to Aladdin that gives the entire episode a big, sweeping cinematic feel. And, as I mentioned, just the general interactions between the characters. I really love the honesty of Fionna during her time with Gumball (“dude, that was like, the stupidest thing ever”) and just the fun of seeing all of the various gender swaps. A character like Marshall Lee, who became so popular off of less than five seconds of screen time, shows how enjoyable it is to be able to see pre-existing characters who you still don’t know a single thing about. They can be anything you want them to be in that sense, and you’re able to allow the mind to create whatever canon you please. Although, I think Lady Cinnamon Bun deserves more love. Was her inaudible dialogue with Gumball simply not enough? Also fitting is the addition of Gingerbread Rebecca taking Gingerbread Muto’s spot in the opening theme, especially considering the two worked together on the episode. Even little things, like the lack of change for BMO and Ice Queen’s penguins, are really nice touches that are so subtle that they may be overlooked.

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The scene when faux Gumball brings her to his room is straight out of a horror movie, even dealing with the uncertainty of Fionna when it comes to intimacy. Finn is awkward and hesitant when it comes to his relationship with the Princess, but I always believe his reaction would be slightly different in this scenario. Maybe I’m just reading way too much into a brief moment, but I really think that Finn would look at this instance with shyness, but acceptance, whereas Fionna expresses briefly that she’s most likely uncomfortable.

Of course, she’s made even more uncomfortable when Gumball is revealed to be the Ice Queen. This whole sequence is some of the best animation in the entire series. It’s a thrilling battle between good and evil, equipped with just the right balance between the two that Ice Queen actually comes across as a threatening villain. It’s slick, smooth, and flowing, right down to the moment when Fionna smashes Ice Queen’s head in with her frozen hands. Once defeated, the scene when Cake runs in and attacks Gumball when she see’s Fionna’s ripped dress is another moment of significance. I could totally see Jake walking in and acting like Finn’s weird uncle and just giving him a simple thumbs up or a wink, but the gender swap allows for some interesting views of cultural differences that apply to our real world as well.

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Finally, the ending reveal that the entire episode was a mere story from Ice King’s fanfiction. This pissed a lot of people off, but honestly, that makes it all the more interesting to me. Not only that Ice King wrote a surprisingly coherent piece of work outside of the ending, but it’s just really fascinating to view the entire story from Ice King’s perspective. His depictions of the characters are especially intriguing, right down to the fact that he wrote Ice Queen as a straight up villain. It almost makes you wonder if he believes this of himself, and Fionna’s line of “be careful! You might catch her crazy!” makes me question if deep down, Ice King subconsciously does know truths about himself that he wouldn’t consciously realize otherwise. There’s also the really creepy notion that Fionna is kissing Ice King in the cover, so I don’t know what to make of that, besides the more endearing version that Ice King simply likes the idea of Finn and Jake worshiping himself, rather than resenting him. That’s the fun part with future Fionna and Cake episodes. They are all told from a certain person’s perception (albeit the most recent one) and it leaves more room for analysis and allows us to unintentionally explore the author’s psyche.

All in all, I really love this one. It takes full advantage of the opportunity at hand, and goes one step beyond by giving us one of the most beautifully crafted episodes to date. This is truly my favorite of the Fionna and Cake saga. There are a couple of other goodies, but I think this one particularly crafted so much from so little. It’s an episode I never truly get tired of watching. Terrific character explorations, nice animation, terrific writing, lovely music (all thanks to a sweet hammered dulcimer), and genuine fun: it’s simply Adventure Time in its truest, most passionate format.

Favorite line: “Why are y’all breathless if we’re the ones running?”

“Morituri Te Salutamus” Review

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This title card was actually a bit lost in translation during the inking process. Jake was supposed to appear as a shapeshifted gladiator, rather than as a ghost. It took me forever to realize that was supposed Jake.

Original Airdate: July 18, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Adam Muto

Whenever the question of an underrated episode of Adventure Time arises, Morituri Te Salutamus is usually the first thing that comes to my mind. I really like this one. The plot is pretty standard when observed on a surface level; Finn and Jake enter a battle arena and fight some gladiator ghosts while Jake fails to follow through with his buddy’s plans. On the whole though, the episode has a lot of nice, small details going on in the background, while also including some of the darker and grittier battles we’ve seen on the show to date.

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The main conflict between Finn and Jake is kept very subtle, and relatively sweet. Jake’s lack of focus has been harped on several times before (prominently in Power Animal) and it’s somewhat endearing that Finn has enough of an understanding of that to not bicker with his brother over following a very simple strategy. Of course, it results in Finn nearly scarring Jake for life, but hey, lava hula hoops just aren’t a good alternative for battling ghosts. They’re both written so well that neither of them comes off unlikable for their relatively questionable actions. Jake is still a ton of fun despite the lack of attention he gives his best friend, and Finn is still enjoyably bonkers even if he takes it one step too far. Also, props to Rebecca Sugar for writing one of my all-time favorite songs in the series. Tropical Island works not only as a catchy song, but also to undercut some of the more intense moments in the episode.

The Fight King’s arena is awesome. The colors surrounding it really help emphasize the darker feel to the underlying subject at hand by subduing the bright and colorfulness most people are accustomed to in a typical AT. In addition, the underground has a couple cool details as well. For instance, it’s practically a gladiator graveyard for anyone who ended up dying in the battle arena, which is a pretty grim and quietly placed bit considering it’s never explicitly mentioned. The Fight King (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who does a pretty good job delivery-wise, per usual) himself is well-designed. He has many bandages, a missing limb, and several weapons attached to him to help create the sense that this dude’s been around forever. He doesn’t seem like a powerful villain in terms of strength or abilities, but he’s certainly one that seems to have mastered the art of manipulation.

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The real gem in this episode, however, is the ghosts. First off, all of them are really inventive and unique. It would’ve been so easy to have every gladiator look the same, but the artists took it one step beyond and gave each gladiator a very specific looking mutation or accessory. Second, it’s a very subtle element of tragedy that all of these ghosts were once loved ones that were pitted against each other, and the remorse that they feel is certainly heavy-handed and powerful. Without even knowing who these people are, you almost get a sense of their backstory and their connection to one and other, as they were likely similar to Finn and Jake in their motivations. Two friends, companions, or siblings who took on a challenge for the fun of it, as one was tragically manipulated into killing the other, carrying with them a deep feeling of regret as a result. It’s clear that no one has ever managed to actually succeed in the battle arena, and I’d theorize that after one of the soldiers killed the other, they later ended up killing themselves as a response to their guilt. It’s a lot of little, but crucial moments that make this episode have a real emotional core to it.

And that emotion carries willingly to the very last third. Again, it’s a moment where we know that Finn isn’t actually going to kill his brother, but at the same time, it’s easy to just feel so scared for Jake. He’s hurt and terrified that someone he simply wanted to retrieve a lava hula hoop for has suddenly turned on him so dramatically. It’s a really intensely packed remainder of the episode that truly kept me on the edge of my seat the first time I watched it, and even still kind of does to this day.

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This episode goes back and forth a lot with Adam Muto and Rebecca Sugar’s drawings, but Muto choreographed a good chunk of the fight sequences, and man did they turn out well. Not only is there some decent slapstick, like Jake using his stretched out thighs to crush a gladiator, or one of the ghosts landing crotch first onto his shield, but it really packs a punch! It’s somewhat hard to pull off the idea of Finn and Jake fighting ghosts, because, well, they’re ghosts, and as Jake states, “ghosts don’t got meat.” Still, the show manages to pull off some pretty effective feeling fight scenes despite the insinuation that Finn’s opponents are already dead. The swords Finn uses in this episode aren’t really as visually interesting as most of his other swords, but man, the way Finn slings them left and right is just so terrifically animated and carried out that I don’t mind. They’re used for some fast-paced stabs and shanks, which really assists in improving the final product.

Also, there’s a heavy use of Latin in this episode. The title itself, Morituri Te Salutamus translates to “we who are about to die, salute you.” In addition, Finn utters such phrases as abet (be gone) and eludere (evasion), while one of the gladiators shouts “non pugnant, Flamma!” (be not repugnant to him). It’s a nice example of dialogue that really assists in making the scope of the world of AT feel bigger, and the different cultures throughout. If I got any of those translations wrong, let me know. I totally Google translated all of ‘em.

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So yeah, this is one I really like a lot. It’s one that I don’t see a lot people mentioning often, but it’s certainly an episode that deserves more publicity. Great atmosphere, intense battles, an emotional core, and our two lovable main boys. The episode ends thankfully on a light note, as the gladiators descend to another realm, presumably one of the Dead Worlds. Jake and Finn are the perfect duo to set an example of what true companionship means, and how disagreements are trifling in the long run of lifelong friendship. I only wish that Jake one day does reach that tropical island. What a way to end the series that would be!

Favorite line: “That’s an entirely different plan… than my plan.”