Tag Archive | Somvilay Xayaphone

“Frost & Fire” Review

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Original Airdate: August 5, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Luke Pearson & Somvilay Xayaphone

Frost & Fire, in my opinion, is the episode that forever changed Adventure Time. The show, from this point on, has almost an entirely different feel from the first four and a half seasons. As most people know, at some point during the second half of the fifth season, Pendleton Ward stepped down from his showrunner position. An announcement that was met with fear and sorrow for most of the fanbase, including myself, as many wondered if the show would be able to keep up its quality and continue to be as innovative and successful as before. However, Adam Muto, who was selected to take over Ward’s role as showrunner, cleverly chose not to try and emulate what made the show so successful in the past, but instead chose to take the show in a completely new direction that is unarguably pretty ballsy. Whether you like the direction the series takes from this point on completely comes down to personal preference; I personally was always on board for these darker and more uncomfortable stories, though it totally makes sense to me why a lot of people turned their back on the series. It does become somewhat of a completely different show, but whether or not you like it, it is really admirable to see the risks that the staff decided to take. Some of them worked, while others failed, but still, you can’t argue that they weren’t trying to keep the series as fresh as possible. And it all starts with Frost & Fire.

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We’ve (partially) spent the last two seasons exploring the relationship between Flame Princess and Finn. In that time, we’ve seen what types of hardships could befall the two, mainly on Flame Princess’s side. FP, while developing some form of emotional maturity overtime, has a long string of anger issues that hark back to her days in captivity in the Fire Kingdom. Her anger and inability to control her powers has caused innocents to get hurt in the process, something that highly contrasts from Finn’s motivations to help everyone. In addition to her inability to control her powers comes her instability in regards to her powers. FP is physically unstable by natural circumstances, and feelings of extreme passion, such as romance, are quite hard for her to handle. Given that she’s unable to engage in extremely romantic situations, she isn’t even able to kiss or touch Finn without potentially hurting him. And with all of that said, there’s even the fact that she’s been constantly referred to as straight-up “evil.” Though this theory was somewhat debunked over time in-universe, it’s still left with uncertainty given the past history of FP’s family tree, and how she would come to claim her own identity in the process. With all this working against her, you’d think that Finn and Flame Princess’s break-up would relate back to a number of these problems. However, Frost & Fire works as a cautionary as well as heartbreaking tale that, even with FP’s problems at hand, nothing compares to hardship of Finn simply not being honest with her.

Despite the fact that Finn’s actions in this episode are incredibly nasty to the point where it causes others to get hurt, it’s still an incredibly well written learning lesson for him, and I’d much rather watch him go through instances like this than to see him be a perfect hero throughout the run of the series. Finn is only 15 at this point. He has years of life experience before he could consider himself emotionally or sexually mature. And, as any male who once experienced hormonal urgencies during puberty would acknowledge, keeping a lid on sexual desires is an incredibly challenging and confusing process, that many still struggle with even late into adulthood. I mention this because this episode provides one of the most sexually explicit visuals that the show has ever put out: Finn blatantly receiving a “blowjob” from Flame Princess. How this concept got past the Standards and Practices department of Cartoon Network, I’ll never know, though I still think that young children are able to make the connection even without the sexual implications. They know that Finn enjoys the dream, even though they might not know why, and he wants it to continue to happen again. That’s really all there is to it for any inexperienced viewer, and I’m glad that the presentation allows from pretty much anyone to watch and enjoy, rather than being aimed specifically at adults.

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Yet, I think the implications that are included in terms of Finn’s wet dream are quite brilliant. They really show how twisted and misleading sexual desires can become if you aren’t careful, and show how a nice, considerate guy can turn into a needy, selfish man-child. Finn’s faint imagination where he’s transformed into a hairy baby helps strengthen the former comparison, and is complete with the “wah wah wah” speak utilized in All the Little People. Besides mostly being used to emphasize that nothing Finn says can fix the issue at hand, it also hints back at Finn’s manipulative side in All the Little People that led up to these circumstances. Despite Finn finding an easy solution to help the little people reach a happy conclusion back in that episode, he doesn’t quite realize that he isn’t playing with toys here. He’s playing with the emotional fragility of people, and there isn’t really a quick fix for psychological pain. His last words really emphasize that he doesn’t realize exactly what he has done wrong. “I said I was sorry,” he remarks, as if a five letter word can completely solve a completely complicated issue. This is Finn’s first really big life lesson that, despite the fact that he may feel bad for what he’s done, it doesn’t mean his actions don’t have consequences. And as he stands there defeated, all he knows is that he fucking blew it, man.

Finn is completely at fault in this one, though some would argue otherwise. The inclusion of Jake has really driven people to blame him for the way the episode escalates, and while I’m sure it wouldn’t have ended up exactly how it did without Jake’s involvement, I’m willing to believe Finn would have caused them to fight even without Jake yelling at him. Jake never knew the extent of Finn’s dream, nor did he know that Finn even had them fight in the first place. The only thing Jake knew was that the Cosmic Owl was involved, something that Jake is constantly passionate about regardless of the topic. Jake never knew the weight of the situation; for all he knew, Finn could’ve been in grave danger, or was driven to follow some sort of epic life destiny. What Jake didn’t know was that the Cosmic Owl was trying to warn him the entire time, but before Finn can realize the Cosmic Owl’s purpose, it’s too late. So while Jake does instigate the conflict a bit further, Finn had already caused them to fight once, completely at his own decision. My guess is that Finn, distraught with the second outcome of his dream, would’ve simply gone back to try and manipulate the fantasy into being pleasurable again.

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A lot of this sounds uncomfortable for Finn’s character, and it really is. A good portion of the next two seasons features some really uneasy depictions of our main heroine, and while he isn’t always entirely sympathetic, his character arc is always compelling. Again, I’d rather see him struggle with his morality and own identity than to watch him simply become a stronger and more successful hero as the show goes along. Not that the latter aspect is bad, as we do get that to a degree later on, but it’s most important to show that our hero has flaws and goes through ruts than just to watch him be a specimen of perfection throughout the show’s run.

Through all of the pain Flame Princess experiences in this one, she’s mostly somewhat of a blank slate. Not to say that’s a bad thing; the main focus of the episode is mostly through Finn’s perspective. She reacts just how we would expect her to, and while it’s not entirely strong characterization in my eyes, we do get a ton of that in Earth & Water that I think really strengthens FP’s character from that point on. Ice King, however, does get some terrific sympathetic moments in this one. Besides his initial jab at FP, IK is thoroughly portrayed as an innocent bystander that gets wrapped up in the mess of it all. We feel bad for him, and it’s nice to fully show how Finn can be cruel to IK even when he isn’t doing anything wrong. That last line where Ice King utters, “ya blew it, man!” really hits home when you realize who it’s coming from.

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But despite all the dark elements in this one, Frost & Fire also has a pretty great sense of humor. There’s actually some pretty nice Somvilayisms in this one, such as when Finn smashes his body into the oven and knocks over a bunch of pots and pans, or when Finn has like, 20 glasses of milked poured and only drinks two. Somvilay’s drawings in general actually work pretty well. There’s a couple of nice expressions Finn has throughout the episode, namely in the dream sequence where he’s experiencing pure euphoria. Finn wiggling his tongue around and taking in the moment really adds to the stimulation he’s experiencing. And Luke Pearson, as always, has some really swell drawings. Pearson disappears from storyboarding for two whole seasons after this one, and it’s sad, because I really enjoy his work. Aside from the fight sequence looking pretty sweet in general, there’s some really terrific jokes laced into his bits. Flame Princess’s “inferno…. Shot!” follows by IK’s “Ice…. King!” really cracks me up. IK in general is pretty damn hilarious in this one. The scene where he painfully requests for Finn to save Gunther and then insists, “…. I meant after you save me,” is priceless. Ice King is never written as entirely sympathetic; there’s always some added aspect to his sympathy that just makes him seem like a jerk, which I love about his character.

The backgrounds and the music in this one really add to the tone of the overall episode. When the Ice Kingdom is on fire, everything turns very gray and orange, which really makes the rest of the episode feel more somber and weighty. While the music cues are mostly recycled from past episodes, they still attribute greatly to the overall mood. One cue in particular that was introduced in this one, in the scene where Jake frantically urges Finn to force IK and FP to fight, is one of my favorites. It’s been used several times following this episode, which only shows how effectively it can be utilized in scenes of frenzy and stress.

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So yeah, I don’t know if I’d call this one a personal favorite of mine, but I think it’s a pretty fantastic transition episode regardless. It’s one of the most challenging episodes of the show up to this point, and it has evoked tons of different feelings down the line. There’s some people who love it, and some people who hate it. But that fact alone contributes to its importance; an episode that has such contradictory opinions is arguably more significant than one everybody universally likes, say, Fionna & Cake. Frost & Fire successfully captures the not-so-heroic side of Finn the Human, and opens up for some tremendous explorations of his character in the long run. My opinions of Finn’s portrayal following this episode fluctuate greatly, but the good news is I’ll have tons to talk about in the upcoming bunch. So stay tuned y’all, we’re in for one hell of a ride from this point on.

Also, these title card concepts for Frost & Fire were released in the past week on Tumblr. I think they’re pretty dope, and especially like the third one. Though my assumption was that many people thought it was “too dark” and went with a more ambiguous choice.

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Favorite line: “Why does anyone do anything?” “… Why do they?”

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“Candy Streets” Review

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Original Airdate: June 24, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Luke Pearson

From time to time, AT likes to have fun with Finn and Jake’s rank as heroes in the Land of Ooo, and this one features the two boys as officers that are trying to crack the case of who hurt LSP. For the most part, it’s a pretty fun romp that takes advantage of the idea fully, and reminds us that, for the time being, Finn and Jake should probably just stick to mindlessly slaying dragons and shit.

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For one, I do like the fact that Finn and Jake enjoy being detectives and consider doing it as a full-time occupation. I think this ties in nicely with the boys’ interest in following in their parents’ footsteps, and one that I think they followed up in further episodes exceptionally well. Though, it’s clear that they have a long way to go, because it seems like they certainly caused more damage than they did to fix the solution, but I’ll get to that later. I think it is fun how seriously they take the positions; probably my favorite gag is when Finn has the key to LSP’s room, but simply chooses to kick down the door instead. And Jake’s obsessive tendency to continuously change into cop related material was really hilarious in both a writing and visual sense. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the look of horror on Finn’s face when Jake forces him into his body seat through a rear entrance. That was delightfully morbid.

The story in this one isn’t particularly strong; I think from the very beginning, we know that LSP’s issue probably isn’t anything actually logical, so what makes this episode enjoyable is just all the fun little gags they do include. I like PB using the giant syringe to calm down LSP, I really enjoy Ann’s character (voiced by Melissa Villasenor, whose line deliveries are just perfect), the two police officers who can use their sense of taste to see if someone is actually a police officer, and, once again, all the little sight gags of Jake as different items. One of my favorites is the lawyer he creates through his stretchiness to fuck with Pete Sassafras. It allows for a really amusing performance from John DiMaggio. Oh, and that moment where Finn makes noises like he’s dialing the phone and then somehow actually calls Princess Bubblegum is fucking priceless.

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But yeah, I think my one main issue with this one is that Finn and Jake are pretty bad cops, and don’t really get any flack for it. Aside from some forgivable instances, such as breaking through doors, windows, or jumping to conclusions based on very little evidence, they wrongly arrested someone who we never see again! I could see it working if they eventually went back and let Pete Sassafras out of jail, or if Finn and Jake had to spend a few hours behind bars for it, but no, Pete is locked up and we literally never see him again. I think it’s a pretty frustrating ending and it sucks that it’s not even acknowledged in the slightest. It almost feels like Somvilay Xayaphone and Luke Pearson straight up forgot about the character rather than it being something that was intentional on the story’s part.

So yeah, that’s my main gripe, and it still bothers me every time I see this one, but I do enjoy it to a mild degree. It’s got a nice element of fun to it; lots of silly moments and some fun sight gags on top of it. It’s not particularly strong in anyway possible, especially with the Pete Sassafras aspect included, but I do enjoy looking back on this as Finn and Jake lovingly taking on an investigative position. I think it really adds to episodes like The First Investigation in hindsight.

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Favorite line: “I literally can’t stop turning into cop stuff.”

“James Baxter the Horse” Review

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Original Airdate: May 6, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward & Somvilay Xayaphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite line: “Jaaaaaaames Baaaxter!”

“Vault of Bones” Review

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Original Airdate: February 25, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Somvilay Xayaphone

This may just be my favorite episode centering around Finn and Flame Princess. FP herself has kinda gotten the shaft in all of the episodes centering around her: Incendium was mostly focused on Jake, Hot to the Touch was most focused on Finn, Burning Low centered around the connection between PB and Finn entirely, and she may as well have never appeared in Ignition PointVault of Bones brings the couple to centerstage, in a dungeon crawl that’s both a ton of fun and pretty adorable.

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Right off the bat, this episode starts off with some really funny moments. I love the two second cameo of Flame King, especially because it meant that Keith David literally came into the recording both to utter two lines and that was it. What an easy paycheck that must have been. Jake doesn’t have much of a part in the overall story, but he really adds some terrific comedic prowess in the first minute or so. I love his general intrusiveness towards the two kids and how he ignorantly misunderstands everything Flame Princess was intending to say. Love me some silly Jakey. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the beginning was that weird hyperactive sniff thing Finn was doing to FP. I’m willing to bet $1,000 that scene was included for the sole fact that it could be used as a misleading promo piece.

A good chunk of the episode is really just watching how Finn and Flame Princess interact with the surrounding dungeon, as well as with each other, and I think this is probably the best attempt to develop Flame Princess at this point in the series. I’ve never not liked her before, but I think this was the first episode I found myself acknowledging that I really do like her presence in the series! I genuinely enjoy her standoffish behavior when it comes to her not really enjoying the dungeon, and I actually found her to be even more identifiable than Finn in this one. Her behavior throughout the episode is totally justified; the method of dungeon exploration at the helm of Finn does sound unbearably boring (though it is a nice homage to the Zelda games), and you do want to see her complete the dungeon in her own way, but also the right way.

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I think the graphic novel Playing with Fire definitely stressed Flame Princess’s inner turmoil a lot more than this episode does, but I think that this episode does a decent enough job at showing her own self-consciousness and desire to be the kind of person that Finn is. The truth is that Vault of Bones isn’t some dark character study; it shows that Flame Princess knows who she is and knows who she wants to be, but is continuously reminded of her own family’s heritage. Only now, she’s learned to keep a leveled head, and not to let her anger and rage get in the way of her stride to be good. Also, she’s just plain cute in this one. I love her flabbergasted reaction to Finn asking her to burn the rope, as well as her crowning moment when she does eventually save Finn. The moment when she refers to Finn as her boyfriend really just fuckin’ melted my icy heart. And I do like how there is some intrigue at the end on whether she is completely stable or not. I mean, obviously it never really goes anywhere for clear reasons, but it is nice that this episode works as a resolution piece, as well as opening up a possible direction for Flame Princess’s identity crisis in the future. If there’s one thing I don’t like about her appearance in this episode, is well, her appearance. Yeah, I don’t really dig her design all too much, she looks waaay too young and cutesy for her age. And for some reason, this is the design that’s featured in a ton of different games, novels, and promotional art. No idea why!

Though Flame Princess is the one I found myself empathizing with more, I have to say, this really is some of the best writing for Finn I can think of in recent history. I mean, I can’t think of a time in the past where he’s written badly, but by God, he’s just portrayed as so darn likable in this one. I love how he’s a total fanboy-nerd when it comes to dungeons and how he can pretty much decipher his way through the entire quest without even questioning his surroundings. His enthusiasm is a ton of fun to watch, (“we don’t have to go back, we GET to!”) and I really just love watching him teach Flame Princess the ways of adventuring. Also really nice is how accepting he is with Flame Princess throughout the episode’s entirety. When she says she isn’t having any fun, he doesn’t get defensive or argumentative, he simply allows Flame Princess to have it her way and apologizes for taking too much of a lead. In addition, despite his concerns when Flame Princess goes absolutely berserk, he supports her no matter what, even during his periods of terror. What a good suitor that FTH is… for now, at least.

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I mentioned in Mystery Dungeon that the dungeon wasn’t particularly anything special, but man, this one is dope. Besides being riddled with nice orange and brown-ish colors that really help drive through that dungeon-y feel, it’s also riddled with really unique and diverse looking skeleton foes. I love the wimpy one in the beginning that is totally understanding about everything, including giving Finn a second to talk to his lady and simply giving into Finn because he won’t stop screaming at him. That’s the definition of a good gag character. I also love the goo skulls that face off against Flame Princess. Not only do they have an interesting and also somewhat disgusting form of ability (I don’t even wanna know what that one was doing flicking the other’s goo) they also have various forms of weapons attached to them. The one that picked up Finn had fucking chainsaws strapped to its body! Much like the ogre from The Enchiridion, it’s a detail that’s totally irrelevant and pointless, but it just really adds a factor of surrealism and intrigue to the character.

As I mentioned, the humor is really spot on in this entry. This episode reunites Kent Osborne and Somvilay together, and while they haven’t been my favorite pairing in the past, they definitely gave this one their all with some really great interactive humor. I love every single exchange from Flame Princess and Finn, some of the visual gags are nice, and just the overall tone of the episode is fun, vibrant, and exciting. And that green, hairy butt that was contained in the chest was just the bit of AT bizarreness that should’ve closed off this episode.

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So yeah, this is one I really like. It’s such an enjoyable direction to take the Flame Princess and Finn dynamic, and I finally feel like FP has gone through some significant development and is a much more rounded and versatile character because of it. It would’ve been so easy for this episode to take the obvious route of having Finn and FP fight over which way is right and which way is wrong, but I’m glad they took a fun route over the more formulaic choice. Unfortunately, this would be her last main appearance in the series before the eventual demise of her relationship. We’re almost at the turning point of the series, folks.

Favorite line: “I’ve been acting an uncouth lout, m’lady.”

“Davey” Review

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Original Airdate: January 14, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Skyler Page

I quite enjoy the concept of Davey. Finn quarreling with his identity as a hero, and wanting to just be “normal” amongst any average citizen of Ooo is a really great idea for a premise. After all, Finn certainly isn’t the kind of person to do things specifically for attention or credibility. He does it because he likes to battle bad guys and do favors for other people, that’s just who he is. When it comes down to it, however, Finn is some who enjoys his privacy, and despite his friendliness and outgoing behavior, he still is slightly introverted. So the episode largely focuses around Finn trying to go about town as a “regular person,” and does so with mildly satisfying results.

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I love the entire beginning sequence, containing a fast paced dragon slaying at the hands of Finn’s demon blood sword. The entire scene is great, poppy fun, and I love Finn and Jake’s carelessness throughout. Jake’s just chilling playing video games, and he flips Finn into mid-air without even looking up, to which Finn quite beautifully slices through a dragon’s buns. Also Jake’s advice, “don’t let the dragon drag on, dude,” probably has a ton of different interpretations for meaning behind it, but I just like to think of it as a lovely bit of nonsense. The overemotional Candy Person who really wants to have dinner with Finn is one of my favorite gag characters. This character is actually based off of someone who Pendleton Ward had previously met at Comic Con, who was insistently begging for the same request. Appropriately enough, Ward also voices this character, and the delivery of the lines is what really makes him so enjoyable. I just like picturing in my head how dinner with Finn and this dude would actually go. I imagine it’d be filled with a lot of screaming.

As Finn begins to feel that he wishes he was more normal, I do have to say that the subtlety of his issues both works for and against the actual dilemma of the episode. I appreciate the later seasons’ approaches to how characters feel and why they feel the way that they do. There’s usually no heavy exposition or characters saying “I feel x because of y;” it’s moreso just the character having an issue and dealing with it by what we would expect that character to do, without even addressing the problem in words. And this is how Finn is portrayed in this episode: he feels sad about not being able to freely go about his day, so he takes action by taking on a new identity. It’s a borderline personality crisis that I’m glad was covered with so much grace, but simultaneousy, I’m just disappointed there wasn’t more build-up or focus on Finn’s issue. I feel like it would’ve been a more effective first act if it showed Finn constantly running into situations where he felt smothered and unable to go about his daily life. I just think it’s odd that a couple of people screaming outside his house was what drove Finn over the edge into feeling as though he couldn’t go about his life calmly, and it’s one of those episodes that I think could’ve benefited from a few extra minutes, but there’s no use complaining about an 11 minute show that usually manages to fit so much important junk in that span of time. It’s another one of those situations where something isn’t done badly, I’d just like to see it in much more deeper light, because Finn having an identity crisis is, as we’ve seen really interesting.

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But the truth of the matter is, this isn’t the dark and solemn crisis Finn was experiencing two episodes earlier in All the Little People; this is a bright and silly episode full of comical ideas, and for what it is, it’s pretty fun! There’s tons of great visual gags to take from this one: Jake beating an egg into flour ($10 he wasn’t even going to actually cook anything), Finn’s gravity-defying flip from his window onto the grass, Finn eating a cocoa bird that costs money, and then just blatantly throwing the money he has into a fountain instead, and, my favorite, Finn sweeping up mini brooms with a broom. There’s tons of absurdly silly moments like that, and I found myself appreciating them a lot more on rewatch than when I first saw this episode. The character of Davey is pretty funny as well. It’s worth noting that Davey Johnson is based on the real-life Davey Johnson, who voices Xergiok, as well as the character of Davey himself. Johnson does a terrific job of voicing Davey, and giving him such a mundane, yet likable voice. Speaking of mundane, I really like how humorously boring Davey’s life is. He just builds log cabins and hangs out with some guy named Randy, who too is delightfully monotonous. That poor guy just gets shit on the entire time he’s on screen.

I’ve said this before this season with Up a Tree, but this is one that Skyler Page and Somvilay gifted with a really nice, relaxed atmosphere. There’s a good minute or so that’s just Davey walking around and checking out his surroundings, and it’s really calming and helps emphasize the type of life that Finn is capable of achieving. And, by episode’s end, I do kinda find myself siding with Finn’s debacle on whether to continue to be Davey or to return to being Finn. I mean, Davey’s life is quite boring, but there is something rewarding about a life of quietness and peace, which I think Finn has come to realize. Yet, it’s abandoning Finn’s true self, who does love a life of spontaneity and devoting his attention to helping others. Which is why he uses his alternate persona to selflessly put other people’s needs before himself by the end of it. And it’s nice to see that, as a hero, Finn is looked at as someone who isn’t capable of doing anything wrong. The Banana Guards don’t suspect a thing from him (though probably mostly due to their stupidity) and he realizes that there are people who need him in their life, like Jake. Again, I wish there was a bit more of realization in Finn to make it a stronger conclusion, but it’s a sweet ending that reunites the brothers regardless.

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So yeah, it’s a light one, but one I do enjoy. I wish there was more attention focused on Finn’s issue, but I think the humor and atmosphere are what shape this up to be a perfectly serviceable entry. Lots of quirky gags, good character moments, and a solid story. Also, adorable BMO scenes! The little guy is especially cute in this one, I felt so bad for him when Finn shaved his hair off. I feel you, Beems. Davey is an aspect of Finn’s personality that has never returned in the series, though mentioned in Issue #50 of the comics, where he was apparently one of Finn’s past lives. Whether it’s canon or not, it definitely is an interesting scenario to use the character for, so if you’re a person out there who just really, really enjoyed this episode or the title character, I’d say check it out!

Favorite line: “Oh, I thought it was Finn on account of he’s wearing Finn’s exact clothes.”

“Up a Tree” Review

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Original Airdate: November 26, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Skyler Page & Somvilay Xayaphone

I’ve done it again! I incorrectly mentioned that Season Four was the only season Skyler Page worked on, but lo and behold, he still has two episodes left. This time, paired with Somvilay, and it seems as though he adopts Somvilay’s style of writing and character design quite accurately, as, from looking at the episode and storyboard in general, I had a tough time deciphering who contributed what. It’s an interesting pairing that makes for an interesting episode, but for the most part, I think it works. Like I mentioned, even in Page’s portion, there’s a ton of Somvilay stylistic choices that usually bother me; the slow pacing, use of anti-humor, and some very wonky drawings of Finn (though this one still bothers me. I refer to my good pal Stuped over on the reddit who mentioned that Finn “looks like a refrigerator.”) While these issues seemed to plague an episode like Ignition Point, I think it actually works pretty well with the tone and laidback atmosphere that Up a Tree set out to create.

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There’s something quite… relaxing about this one, so to speak. It’s in the same vein as Jake the Brick (though, I’ll say right now, that episode is much superior in quality) in the sense that I feel as though this is an episode I can fall asleep to. It’s very low energy, and I quite enjoy watching Finn just take a simple expedition up a tree that is turned into a much bigger and more complicated matter, ala AT style.

There’s a lot of fun set-up moments, like Finn and Jake’s game of “throwing and catching disk” (this episode actually made me realize the term “Frisbee” is copyrighted by Wham-O) which has their take on the ego of “human boy” and “dog” in probably the silliest and most ignorant depictions of their olden counterparts possible. Funny enough, I’m wondering if Finn’s knowledge of dog’s only being able to bark in the olden days derives from his experience as his Farmworld counterpart. Afterall, it’s later revealed that some of Ooo’s civilians didn’t even know that dogs didn’t used to talk, so I’m wondering if Finn subconsciously picked it up, or if it was just something that Marcy spilled to him sometime prior. The pretext to this game of throwing and catching disk is a picnic with Lady, as she continually gets more and more preggers. Jake and Lady easily only continue to get cuter per episode revolving around them, as Jake takes good care of her and makes sure she isn’t straining herself too much. I can argue for days about how Jake was somewhat of a jerk to his buddy two episodes ago in Jake the Dog, but I could never argue that he doesn’t love that damn Rainicorn to death.

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Once Finn begins his journey climbing up the tree, we meet some delightfully off-putting animal characters: the Porcupine and Squirrel. I really like their heavily inspired 1930’s animal designs, and their general behavior/demeanor is really enjoyably unusual to me. Jim Cummings voices the Porcupine, as well as most of the other featured animals, and he does a great job of giving a charming, yet deeply unsettling performance for the Porcupine especially. Cummings has a pretty easily recognizable voice, but one that I really never get tired of hearing, so it’s nice to have him offer his talents to AT. The Squirrel, who later ends up becoming an ally to Finn, is actually a one-off character I’m quite fond of. I think his general indecisiveness and inflections (performed by Marc Maron) really carry his character through, and there’s always something very likable and endearing about Adventure Time’s loser characters, as well as the way they are treated. Like, I’m sure they knew that we were only going to see this character once and he probably wasn’t going to be used again, and so Somvy and Skyler could’ve taken the easy and meaner root of having the Squirrel’s flying just fail completely, but fuck it. This random Squirrel who we’ve only known for five minutes deserves a happy ending, so they gave it to ‘im!! AT’s lack of sadism towards its own characters never fails to charm me.

The animal occult strikes me as quite odd. Like, what are they about? They just lock up any trespassers who enter the tree for inexplicable reasons? What is the basis of their government and slogan of “in the tree, part of the tree?” It’s never really explained and somewhat feels like a forced conflict, but eh, I never really took it that seriously and I don’t think we’re supposed to. I think we’re just supposed to enjoy the creepy, big eyed animals and their deranged methods, and I certainly do. The Owl, also voiced by Jim Cummings, is a pretty fun antagonist for how little he’s on screen. Again, his entire character and memorability pretty much derives from his design as well as voice, because he really doesn’t have enough screentime or character for me to actually find him interesting otherwise. Also, he inexplicably wears a shirt that says “Owl” on it, just in case people don’t know what kind of animal he is? Pretty funny.

As a side note, there’s some really nice backgrounds in this one, courtesy of Santino Lascano and Derek Hunter, that I felt inclined to include them below.

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Like I mentioned, there’s a lot of breaks in silence, awkward moments, and odd jabs at humor that Somvilay’s pretty accustomed to at this point, but a lot of little moments I actually found myself laughing at this time around. Brief moments like Jake pointing at the frisbee before going to pick it up or the audio clip of Finn saying “pooooped” repeatedly being used aren’t really inherently funny ideas, but work in the way that Somvilay intended them to come off: so “not funny” that they end up being delivered as funny. Again, this is something that’s very objective, though. I’ve been a heavy critic of this style of writing in the past, so I can easily see someone finding this episode completely unfunny. It really is just the matter of somehow hitting a person’s sensibilities whether it wants to or not, which can completely fail for me in instances like Ignition Point, yet somehow work in this episode. This is really why I think Somvilay is one of the most unique and innovative writers on the show: no matter how badly his approach to humor fails, he does everything in his power to make his episodes as “unfunny” as possible, which somehow wildly pays off occasionally. It’s really quite the spectacle.

That being said, it doesn’t excuse the fact that I just really cannot get behind the way he draws Finn on occasions, and this being one of the most notorious. Besides exaggerating the tubed body to EXTREME lengths, once Finn is shrunken down, the hole for his face on his hat becomes unnaturally small. Like, I guess you could argue that it’s somehow a result of the cursed apple, but it just looks so God damn jarring a good majority of the episode, and isn’t visually interesting or funny enough to even enjoy. I just keep scratching my head on why the hole is so fucking small!

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As I mentioned earlier, the ending closes off with a pretty beautiful flight into the sunset, featuring the Squirrel and Finn. It’s simply an ending that works entirely on an emotional level and makes ya feel really warm and fuzzy: Finn retrieves his disk and the Squirrel gets to call himself a flying squirrel. We also get a cameo from the snail who is now free from the Lich’s control, and Jake, who is happily stirring up some pickles and ice cream for his significant other. All is well in the Land of Ooo!

I like this one quite a bit. Like I said, this is one I can imagine people don’t like because of the very slow approaches to humor, but I don’t even really like this one on a humorous level. I just like it because it’s easy to watch. Nice colors, nice designs, nice atmosphere, and a nice ending. Everything about it is just really… well, nice, and it’s hard to really argue against an episode that just kind of sets out to make you feel good. It accomplishes that goal quite well, and makes for a simplistic and endearing story in the ever-changing world of Adventure Time.

Favorite line: “The wind blows!”

“Ignition Point” Review

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Original Airdate: September 17, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Bert Youn & Somvilay Xayaphone

Ignition Point is once again an episode that involves Flame Princess, yet does not put her at centerstage. I think at this point, I was yearning a bit for a more of an in depth look at FP as her own character, but, like Princess Bubblegum, that’s gonna take some time down the line. As for the episode itself, I think it starts off wonderfully, in the cutest and silliest AT-style representation of a young couple. The music is great as well, stripped from the You Made Me score. It’s somewhat disappointingly my favorite part of the episode, and while the main story contains some laughs, it never really delivers what could’ve been a pretty interesting journey that both Finn and FP could’ve went on.

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It’s always enjoyable to visit the Fire Kingdom and its inhabitants, and we do get a bit of new information regarding how their people, as well as their government system as a whole, work. It’s intriguing to watch the people of the Fire Kingdom interact and work off of each other, because they’re pretty much exactly like the Candy People. Dimwitted, unusual, and seemingly harmless, the Fire People don’t seem to reflect Flame King’s statement that everyone in the Fire Kingdom is inherently evil by birth. I’ve never been as into the alignment system as I know y’all are, so I won’t get into too much detail about that, but I think it’s just very interesting on a lore-level. Flame King’s statement that everyone in the Fire Kingdom is evil is not completely false or unbelievable, as what we learn down the line about elementals is their inherent nature based on their specific element. As is, fire elementals generally are born with sinister feelings and emotional dissonance, though the less they are consumed by their own elemental nature, the more they’re able to form their own destiny and choose their own path. It’s an interesting look at identity among the people of the Fire Kingdom including Flame Princess and her dad, and definitely holds a lot to interpret among who FP is herself and how she can gain control of her own identity.

Sadly, I think a lot of that is squandered by a good chunk of meandering filler. There are definitely some enjoyable jokes to be had; I love the painting joke for the main reason that the Fire People are just inexplicably walking backwards for no reason. It looks really funny, and is one that I actually didn’t even notice the first couple times I saw this episode. As usual, I do enjoy a lot of the exchanges between Finn and Jake, namely in the scene where Jake neglects to catch Finn or when Jake accidentally insults Flame Princess. Though, this scene always has confused me. Why would Jake call, who is presumably both he and Finn’s grandma, “my grandma?” Finn has never once referred to Joshua and Margaret as “Jake’s dad and mom,” so why would their grandma be any different? It just seems like a strange bit of wording that makes it feel like discontinuity.

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As I mentioned though, this is another one of Somvilay and Bert’s that just feels incredibly slow. There’s a lot of crawling through the vents of the Fire Kingdom and interacting with the surroundings that just don’t seem to add anything, and aren’t particularly funny either. I just feel like a lot of it is plodding through, when there’s tons of interesting turns this story could’ve taken. We honestly never really get to see Finn’s side of how he feels in regards to the information Flame King shared with him, and honestly, I really would’ve liked to see that. Later on, we only ever get to see Flame Princess’s inner turmoil with this information, but I feel like Finn, being the hero that he is, should’ve at least had a bit of contemplation in regards to this topic, instead of just glancing over it and barely interacting with the idea at all. I can’t blame this episode for Finn barely acknowledging it at all, but at the same time, I think Ignition Point could’ve benefitted from having a lot more meat. Again, not every single episode needs to be analytical and revolve around the deep inner turmoil between the characters, but the fact that the episode offers such an intriguing idea like that makes me disappointed it wasted those ideas on such subpar gags.

The Hamlet homage is certainly an interesting and fun bit (especially the “naked babies” portion), but again, I don’t feel like I’m watching anything that entertainingly satirical. AT is a series that typically doesn’t rely on pop cultural references in terms of its story or humor, so when it does, I’m not entirely into it or blown away. I think the concept of the Flame King’s nephews trying to usurp him still works as a plot device, but I don’t think the references are that significant or poetic on their own.

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This is an episode Tom Herpich originally pitched at the writer’s retreat, and I really think it could’ve benefitted from having him behind the helms. Herpich was most interested in focusing on the corrupted government aspect of this episode, and if Princess Cookie and You Made Me are evidence of anything, he’s pretty damn skilled at writing these types of stories. Somvilay and Bert are more about focusing on the sillier aspects of the series (unless we’re talking about Princess Monster Wife) and it works here to a certain degree, but not in the most beneficial way in terms of story. I’m not sure if my bitching is warranted, because I’m discussing what the episode should’ve been instead of accepting it at a surface level, but honestly, there’s just not much that draws me into this one otherwise. I come back for some of the silly jokes and the interesting ideas you could draw from the environment of the Fire Kingdom, but the story is pretty drawn out and forgettable and I don’t feel like I’ve gained much at all from watching it that couldn’t be summed up by the last minute. It is always nice to see Flame King, though. That Keith David voice never wears on me.

It’s a shame that the concept of Flame Princess being inherently evil never comes into full fruition. It’s elaborated on a good deal in an enjoyable upcoming episode, but never really goes anywhere despite that. The most interesting piece of information on this topic actually comes from AT literature, which I will be exploring once this season commences.

Get ready for a double post next week, kids! In honor of the 100th episode (even though this technically was the 100th in airing order), I’ll being posting The Hard Easy and Reign of Gunthers on the same Friday. That way we’ll get to the real meat with I Remember You even faster.

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Favorite line: “It’s just the air smells bad from your magic tricks, and now I feel sad.”