Tag Archive | Somvilay Xayaphone

“Come Along With Me” Consensus

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Before checking out this review, be sure you read the segmented analyses of each part of Come Along With Me.

It’s been a while, friends! Hope everyone had a terrific holiday season and a great start to their new year! Following the release of the final Come Along With Me individual review, I was definitely feeling burnt out and needed space from the series and this blog for a bit to rekindle my energy. My enthusiasm for discussing AT has happily renewed, and I’ll be wrapping up the first wave of this blog throughout the next few weeks with some bonus content. Since I’m just getting back into the swing of things, I don’t want to promise any form of heavily stressed deadlines, though this is the order of content you can expect for the next few weeks:

  • Season 9 Review.
  • The Best and Worst of Adventure Time Episodes.
  • Top 10 Adventure Time Moments.
  • Adventure Time Character Analysis.

I’ve batted around a few more ideas for bonus content before, and those ideas are still on the table, but I’d like to focus on the stuff I really want to tackle before possibly over-promising anything too elaborate.

A reminder that my giving campaign is still up and running! If you feel like you got one dollar’s worth of entertainment reading this blog in the past or present, or if you want to support the future of this blog, feel free to throw some cashola my way in you have the extra money!

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With that said, let’s take a look at Come Along With Me as a whole! Ever since the release of the finale, I’ve seen nothing but overwhelmingly positive responses about Come Along With Me. Review sites like The A.V. Club and IGN awarded the finale with an absolute perfect score, while several longtime fans and fans who jumped back on board to see how the series ended were pretty amazed. I was pretty much in the same boat, but as time has passed, and I’ve looked at the finale with clear eyes not clouded by hype of everything…

It’s a’ight.

I think there’s a lot to like about Come Along With Me. In many respects, it is a completely inoffensive, loving, and dedicated finale. This certainly isn’t a Game of Thrones situation where the finale is so bad that it hurts both rewatch value and the overall quality of the series, but it is a finale that I find somewhat underwhelming. On a thematic level, Come Along With Me succeeds in following the main mission statement of the series that “the fun will never end,” by portraying the optimistic viewpoint that life and existence still continue regardless of impending doom that so often afflicts humanity (and Ooo-manity, of course). But, when looking at it from a surface or story level, I think there’s still a good amount to be desired.

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Let’s start with the good stuff. The expansion of the 1000+ world that was introduced in Graybles 1000+ is quite impressive. I was initially a bit miffed that this futuristic element was being crammed in, seeing as how the finale was already so jam-packed as is, but I think it really adds a lot to what the episode sets out to say. Shermy and Beth are quite likable, albeit not particularly remarkable. I think they fill the shoes of “two wide-eyed scamps set out to do good,” really nicely. BMO’s presence in the future is also similarly endearing. I think he’s really the only character from the main cast that I would actually like to see this far into the future. Every other character is tied to some form of baggage that would probably devolve them into a gritty, worn-out version of their old self, but BMO is just BMO. His stagnant personality is a perfect fit 1000+ years later. The general layout of the 1000+ world is pretty gnarly. It does a great job at setting itself apart from the past version of Ooo, while still retaining its likable nature. I’ve seen a lot of comments about future Ooo being depressing, though I can’t really can’t behind that. There’s a definitely a more muted color scheme, but its spirit still feels light and playful. And considering that there’s a giant heroic Sweet P. traveling the land, it also still retains its large sense of heroism. After all, the whole point of the finale, as well as BMO’s story, is that there really is no end to anything. Ooo is different from what it once was, and Finn and Jake are no longer roaming around, but their spirit and energy lives on in other brave souls and environments. Like I said, the thematic elements of the episode are quite strong.

Come Along With Me feels very dedicated in its fanservice. Some moments feel like a little bit of a stretch for me, (Shermy singing “On a Tropical Island” was a bit too on-the-nose for my liking) but I think it is quite enjoyable for that reason. BMO’s treasure trove of items from the show’s history is so wide that I’m sure there are some elements that haven’t even been discovered yet. There’s plenty of cool character callbacks, some of which return just for the sense of wrapping up their individual arcs, like Maja and APTWE. The ending montage, in particular, is chock full of characters from the show’s history, as well as important character moments. I’ll throw in the entire montage as one of the great elements of this finale, partly because I never get sick of hearing “Come Along With Me,” and because there’s a couple bits that even got me misty-eyed. BMO sending Moe’s memories into space was a perfect epilogue to Moe’s story that ended in The More You Moe, The Moe You Know, Prismo not being able to bring back Betty was a super clever way of turning the tables on Simon’s tale, and Magic Man coming to terms with Margles’ absence was undeniably sweet. I also really can’t think of a better note to leave Finn’s character on than his mother and the humans finally arriving in Ooo. I still hold close that it would’ve been cool to see Finn and Jake take on their parents’ old job as a way to fulfill their desires of adventuring in a more stable environment, but I think this was a solid way to leave off his story in a relatively ambiguous, yet hopeful, way.

The finale also does have moments that legitimately do grab me in terms of excitement. The third part of Come Along With Me is probably my favorite, mainly because it is this fun, fast-paced, action-packed battle that never really takes a second to breathe or think. This is kind of what I was expecting for most of the finale, and I’m glad it delivered on some level. It gives you an idea of how tense and real the stakes are, even if everything ends up okay, for the most part. I think there’s three moments in the finale that really echo that somewhat hopeless feeling: Jake realizing the destruction after he arises before battling GOLB’s beasts, BMO’s face being smashed up, and the animals watching on as GOLB sucks up everything. There’s a true sense of finality that I do think boosts Come Along With Me into feeling like this big, grand entry. The song “Time Adventure” assists with that, which is a song that I love, though not particularly in how it’s executed within that actual episode. The studio recording of “Time Adventure” is a tune that I genuinely love and one that truly does make me feel something, but the way it’s included in the episode feels a little hollow. I still like everyone joining together in harmony in an attempt to defeat GOLB, but I would’ve like it if we got to hear the song the way it was intended (i.e. with Jake singing the final line to Finn).

There’s also Marceline and Bubblegum’s scene, which explicitly shows that they are involved romantically. Thought this was a super nice treat for people who had been invested in their relationship for so long, and somewhat of a big step forward in LGBTQ+ representation within children’s media. Like I said prior, Steven Universe had beaten AT to the punch YEARS before they had pulled this off forreal, but I think it still feels impactful. Steven Universe always kind of had the excuse that the gems were “genderless” in order to fly by the censors. This is an instance where two female characters are quite clearly portrayed as sexual counterparts, and I don’t think there’s really explanation around it either way.

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Now onto the bad/mediocre material. Surprisingly, I think Come Along With Me is really weak from a character standpoint. All of the main characters, in my opinion, are weighed down either by a story element, or the fact that there’s just too much going on at once, with the exception of BMO. Finn gets severely shafted in the third and fourth parts, being essentially a fly on the wall while all of this cool shit goes on around him, and his main character motivation in the first half is handled poorly. Bubblegum’s story of empathy has a pretty lousy payoff, considering that she really doesn’t end up changing the behavior that got her into such a circumstance to begin with. Jake’s presence is fun, but a bit too distracting in terms of tone at points, and he really isn’t given any kind of overarching role aside from being a bystander. Marceline is once again weighed down by her character only revolving around Bubblegum and Simon and not really getting a chance to do anything independently. As for Ice King, I think it works in everyone’s best interest (or at least a majority of the fan base) that he got the resolution that has been built up for so long, but I still have a couple qualms about how Simon’s return essentially means the end of Ice King, even if Gunter’s role attempts at subverting that.

A lot of these issues tie into the fact that there really is just too much going on in Come Along With Me, as to be expected with a series that’s been on this long and that has so many lingering mysteries. Even the elements that are given a good bit of attention, such as Fern’s redemption, feel all too rushed along for myself to truly get behind. Couple that with the fact that the story, or stories, themselves are not very strong.

The first half hour of the special is dedicated to the Great Gum War. This storyline had already felt kind of clunky throughout the course of season nine, but it really ends up going nowhere in its climax. While the dream sequence is interesting in some aspects, namely the scenes where PB and Gumbald experience life inside each other’s shoes, it feels wasted with the conclusion we get. I’m not even sure what the takeaway of Gumbald’s entire story was. It was originally supposed to tie in to PB’s overall insecurity of being a corrupt ruler, and it seemed like that’s where this episode wanted to take it, but it basically just ends up exactly where she started, trapping her family members in a barren vessel because she doesn’t want to deal with the real issue at hand. Except for Aunt Lolly, who apparently is super sympathetic towards PB for… some reason? Even though the last episode clearly showed that it was all a ruse? Her character is painted with little to no depth and it really shows. Not to mention that her role in the episode makes the entire first chunk of the finale moot, since Finn’s choice to Nightmare Juice PB and Gumbald had no effect on Aunt Lolly’s decision. Yet, the episode acts like Finn was the holy savior even after the fact when his choice only benefited Fern and not the overall war. I don’t get it, man. I could go on and on about how the way Gumbald’s betrayal at the end of Part 2 is written in a very sloppy way, but I think I could forgive the conclusion itself if we actually got something interesting from the war element. Since the development between Gumbald and PB ended up being scrapped, I would’ve at least liked to see some of the excitement that the past two episodes have so desperately built up to. I know its in typical AT fashion to subvert expectations, but c’mon, it’s the series finale. Go big with it! I wanna see Pete Sassafras murder someone.

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The GOLB twist provides for that surface level excitement I had been longing for, but I don’t think it’s especially strong either, which mostly has to do with GOLB as a character. The build up to GOLB’s presence was super mysterious and kind of suspenseful, but when he actually shows up, he’s kind of lame. He mainly just acts as a plot device for absolute destruction. The thing is, I’m not really sure how to make GOLB more interesting. I think it’d be silly if he had a speaking voice or some kind of evil plan, but I feel like another element should’ve been added to make him appear more intimidating. The animation shift to a more sketchy style during his demise was rad as hell, I wouldn’t mind if his entire appear called for some kind of animation shift. Or even just in shading – Come Along With Me is also plagued by really dull colors.

Simon’s story is wrapped up within the last chunk, and ehhh. I can’t really put blame on the staff for deciding that the only decision that made sense was curing Simon after years of build up, and to be fair, the way it’s executed isn’t bad by any means. I just think that Ice King’s character became way too elaborate for its own good to the point where I really didn’t want Simon to come back at all. Ice King is a character that has been shown to grow and develop on his own, so why should he get the shaft? I know that he technically still lives on through Gunter’s wish, but I dunno, it seems like a more complicated issue that was glossed over all too fast for the purpose of a quick conclusion. I do think Betty’s sacrifice was genuinely quite potent, and made for a nice role reversal in Simon and Betty’s never-ending saga.

Fern’s arc also gets a grand conclusion, which is bumpy, but still relatively satisfying. I think Part 2’s redemption story for Fern is way too obvious and unchallenged in how it handles his quick decision to cooperate with Finn, but I ultimately find his death to be quite poignant and a nice sentiment of Finn bidding farewell to his childhood and a part of himself.

Parts Ranked

  1. Part 3 – Just a ton of fun, and the one chunk of the finale that actually had me super invested in everything going on.
  2. Part 1 – A nice exploration of the 1000+ world, and a genuinely suspenseful build in to the faux war that never actually comes into fruition.
  3. Part 4 – A little clunky and awkward in how it tries to quickly wrap everything up as fast a possible, but still provides for a nice ending.
  4. Part 2 – The only part of the finale that I’d say is just straight up bad. Makes the entire storyline of the season feel partially wasted and it just isn’t all that interesting either.

Final Consensus

Come Along With Me is a safe, inoffensive finale, and that’s not necessarily a huge downfall. I think, in its core, it is a finale that had a lot of passion and love put into it. Like I said, there’s really nothing in here that could ruin the series for anyone or is even that deplorable, but I don’t really think that makes it especially good either. It still is very underwhelming in parts, and clearly comes from a staff that really had no idea how they were going to tie everything together. In my eyes, the series has already churned out some episodes that could make for great finales. Faults aside, The Comet did feel like a culmination of everything that Finn had learned up to that point, and a nice conclusion of himself finally finding peace. Islands also wrapped up a lot of long-standing questions, and offered fans an essential answer to who Finn truly is. Not necessarily saying that these episodes should have been finales – I think it would probably drive people insane if The Comet was the series finale. But those are both examples of episodes that set out to tell interesting stories first without the pressure of having every lingering detail figured out. Come Along With Me feels like a hodgepodge of ideas that want to offer ultimate satisfaction, but never really just focus on being entertaining first. Overall, I think it does get a pass for trying its damnedest to make everyone as satisfied as they possibly can be. But for me personally, it’s far from one of AT‘s strongest entries.

“Come Along With Me” (Part 2) Review

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Original Airdate: September 3, 2018

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

The dream realm has always been a big part of Adventure Time, and it only makes sense that the grand finale would also pay tribute to the show’s most notorious fetish. Part 2, boarded by Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim, is possibly the most visually interesting of its sister pieces. Aside from a stellar array of Ghostshrimp backgrounds, this section of the episode also cleverly plays around with its imagery to stress the similarities between Gumbald and PB and also Finn and Fern. This is definitely the kind of trippiness I did want to see from the finale, and on some aspects, it does succeed. In its execution, however, I think it drives a problematic cause into the main story of this conclusion.

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I don’t know if the beginning of this section is subject to criticism or just legitimate questions, but how did Finn know what would happen after igniting the nightmare juice? There’s no way Nightmare Princess was of any help describing it, and it doesn’t look as if there was a description of any sorts. For all Finn knew, it could have nuked the fucking planet. I guess it played into the surprise element of not knowing what was coming next, buuut, a little bit of context would’ve made this feel a little less like a deus ex machina.

Though not primarily associated with dream themes, it is fitting that Somvilay’s last co-board revolves around the unconscious realm, seeing as how he had such a large part in Adventure Time‘s first full-length nightmare, King Worm. There are some fun, trippy bits right off the bat, like the singing poodle that helps to take weight off of the situation at hand or the chimney containing a presumably dead Jake, with a sign that reads, “laff it off!” There’s also quite a few awkwardly executed moments that don’t really work either. The exploding poodle that blinds everyone except Gumbald isn’t presented in a visual way that it actually feels blinding. The color and light stays stagnant and contained at the center of the screen, and it doesn’t convincing feel like it’s as bright as the characters react. I know this seems like a really small, insignificant aspect to harp on, but it is yet another example of the lack of direction that seems to be a staple of Somvilay’s boarding. Similar to the lifeless way Finn’s friends bang on a force field containing him in Seventeen, the gang covers their eyes for the purpose of Gumbald running away, and as he’s about to escape, they all cease covering their eyes, only to blankly stare at him while he delivers a speech about how he’s going to get the upper hand. I’m certainly being overly critical towards a moment like this, but in the finale of the series, and the final board of one of Adventure Time‘s longest-running storyboard artists, I’d also expect more.

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Fern being ditched by Uncle G. is definitely his own way of experiencing first hand how Finn felt when being ditched by his own maker, though I don’t really think it’s played off as the emotional moment it truly could’ve been. Fern’s pretty much lost everything by this point, and you think instead of comically transforming into a pterodactyl (which was admittedly awesome, thematic aspects aside), it would be built into some genuine turmoil. Though, the sweet grass boy does get a handful of nice one-liners here and there, such as, “I’m gonna fly around and wreck things until I feel better! Or at least until I tire myself out.” He really is just the emo equivalent of his counterpart, because that could also come straight out of Finn’s mouth as well.

Jake’s role in the episode is both funny, and somewhat frustrating. It’s frustrating because he exhibits Jake the Dog levels of neglect for his brother. Jake spends a large portion of the first half of the episode dicking around while his bro is in peril. What happened to the Jake a mere episode earlier that curb-stomped the fuck out of Fern for messing with his bro? It is made up for in that Jake helps deliver the solution to Finn’s problems, but the overly cheerful dog with Jermaine at the beginning of the episode goes a bit too far in demonstrating his clueless bliss. It is also justified partially from a humor perspective, I do really get a laugh out of Jake’s concern about getting fired from his imaginary job as Finn asks for help. Seeing as how PB and Gumbald later end up being altered by the dream realm, I suppose it could be argued that it had an effect on Jake’s psyche as well.

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In fact, we actually do get the most “deep” look into Jake’s inner fears with his nightmare-fueled children. The scenes with the pups denouncing Jake’s farts are mostly played for laughs, but I think there is something of substance under the gag itself. Jake values the respect of his children more than anything, and has many underlying anxieties about his role as a father. It’s silly, but also understandable why this triggers such a sensitive part of him. Along with the fact that his children are literally being cooked before him. Best visual gag of the episode officially goes to baby Kim Kil Whan in a hot dog bun. I should note that Jermaine does take on a secondary role in this section, though it’s pretty unremarkable. Not that it’s really even supposed to be the real Jermaine anyway, but a mere reflection of Jake’s subconscious. His presence did serve for one sweet moment – the revelation that balloon animals used to cheer Finn up when he was a child. It’s a small moment, but really adorable to dwell on, especially with Jake’s added look of nostalgia following the exchange.

Perhaps the most well-executed part of the episode is the most surprising: I thought the scenes featuring the swap between Gumbald and Bubblegum’s roles were really well done. I don’t necessarily think that these few minutes alone reconcile for an onslaught of really boring and unremarkable Gumbald moments, but they certainly provide for something to chew on in terms of his ultimate motivations. Bonnibel Bubblegum painted him to be this super uninteresting schemer whose main drive was greed above all, but Come Along With Me takes the previous episode’s intentions further and continues to drive home the underlying similarities between Gumbald and his niece. Although his initial motivation of building apartment buildings in the aftermath of a literal apocalypse was inconceivably stupid, it really is just one part of his vision, of which PB ultimately didn’t have right off the bat either. Gumbald wanted to create his own slice of home where he, and those around him, could live prosperously, which is exactly what Princess Bubblegum sought out for. His motivations to get what he wanted, while questionable, were in desperation to preserve his art and what he saw for the future. PB is no stranger to this practice either – she nearly destroyed an entire kingdom in The Cooler because of her own paranoia. PB also had the chance to properly contain Gumbald even after he was transformed into Punchy, but she chose for him to stay that way because, again, she didn’t want him to stand in the way of her vision. As the vision in the nightmare shows, Gumbald as “princess” could have resulted in an almost identical outcome to Bubblegum’s path, dealing with an ingenuous, yet morally corrupt ruler who is essentially the god amongst his people. Though, like PB once experienced, Gumbald’s role may have not been able to last forever, and it was a time when she surely needed others to depend on. But her O.G. family couldn’t truly support her in their current states, as demonstrated by the tiny Candy Person representation of PB, who can only smile and act goofy even with the pain occurring beneath her. It’s a delightfully fucked up sequence that really shows the equal amount of shittiness on PB’s part, even far beyond her metamorphosis.

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Finn and Fern end up going through a similar understanding of their shared torment, though I think it is a bit on the obvious side. The idea of the boys’ having shared traumas comes as a surprise to Fern, buuuut Fern’s whole deal is that he’s partly Finn. Should this really come as such a revelation to him? That the two have shared experiences that they can both relate to? I feel as if there should have been a bit more of an emotional confrontation. As self-destructive as he is, Fern does have legitimate reasons for going so far off of the deep end. His whole life was turned upside down and everyone that he has ever loved doesn’t really want to associate with him. I would have liked if his turmoil resulted in more of an eruption of pain which would lead to his eventual epiphany, but the resolution between him and Finn feels all too quick. There’s also the conclusion to the curse that lives within Fern, as he and Finn confront it head-on, which is just alright for me. I like the idea that Fern choosing to confront his issues is ultimately what set him free, but if nothing in the Nightmare Realm is actually real, I’m not sure how Finn and Fern were able to affect a real-life situation as a result. I also think Fern was written too well throughout season eight for his own good. Like I said, Fern has legitimate reasons to be ridden with anxiety and turmoil, and I feel as the idea that all of his sorrows being connected to some cursed squid demon is a lot less interesting than the turmoil itself. Though, it does provide for a relatively neat concept that Fern isn’t physically able to exist without issues – the part of himself that he eliminated in order to make him feel more human is ultimately what made his humanity fall to shreds. I’m probably putting too much thought into it, but it is a neat idea. The shared traumas between Finn and Fern are all pretty apparent – the death of their hero at the hands of the Lich, the guilt that comes with hurting friends such as Susan, and the sensitivity of abandonment and fear of being connected to one’s roots as seen with Martin. Though, I feel like it’s up for debate what PB’s role in the vault holds. I get the feeling that Finn is somewhat haunted by his feeling for Bubblegum, never being able to fully move past them and fearing that he may be controlled by his love for her forever, which results in him pushing his feelings way down where they can’t affect him. At least, from a surface level.

The conclusion to this segment of the episode is kind of where my main issues lie. While PB gains her own empathy for Gumbald, he apparently did not, as he was planning on juicing her, demonstrated by Aunt Lolly’s sabotage. I have problems with almost every aspect of this bit. The bigger, more encompassing reason is that I feel like you could deem a good chunk of the first 22 minutes of the finale, and Finn’s plan for peace, relatively pointless. Aside from Fern’s personal growth, nothing that occurred within the dream sequence between PB and Gumbald actually had an effect on anything. The conflict was ultimately resolved by Aunt Lolly, who had no idea what actually went on within their shared nightmare and doesn’t have a strong enough character arc for it to even make sense on her own. She appears to be convincingly against Gumbald’s plans in the previous episode, then we’re taken down a complete 180 as it shows that it was all an elaborate ruse all along. Now… she’s apparently good again? I don’t even understand what we’re supposed to gather from her character – why does she WANT to side with Princess Bubblegum? One might just argue that it boils down to the simplicity of morality, but the staff didn’t even take those simple steps to make her seem like a fully fleshed out character, or even relatively fleshed out at that. You could also argue that, while Gumbald didn’t learn anything in the nightmare world, PB did gain a higher sense of empathy, but does she really? The finale ends with both Gumbald and Chicle trapped inside empty-headed Candy People where they don’t really get any form of free will, and Chicle didn’t even get a second chance at that. Not saying Gumbald should just be free to roam around the Candy Kingdom, because he’s clearly dangerous, but he should be given SOME kind of freedom regardless. I can’t believe the nightmare sequences would highlight how fucked up it was for a somewhat conscious person to be trapped in the goofiness of a candy body, and then just leave them that way by the end of it. Empathy doesn’t really work if you only empathize with someone when do they exactly what you want them to do. The framing of Aunt Lolly tripping Gumbald doesn’t make a lick of sense either. Chances are he might have already had the juice on him when he actually walked down to confront PB, as there wasn’t a single moment after that he would have time to retrieve it. When he trips onto it, he’s not even holding the bottle, it’s just tucked within his robe. The episode plays it off like he was going to juice PB, but the way it’s executed makes it feel like it was just a freak accident. The Gumbald arc started in a way that I felt was relatively mediocre, and it ends in such a way where I feel like I’ve gained almost nothing at all.

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So, Part 2 had its moments on both a visual and story level, but I think it may ultimately be the finale’s biggest flop in terms of story execution. The way Gumbald’s arc was resolved was truly poor, showing hints of interest in the actual dream sequence, but squandering them in the grand conclusion of it all. I feel like Finn was treated as the savior of the situation by the end of it, but ultimately his plans for peace failed (almost) entirely without the episode actually acknowledging this factor. Fern had some decent moments, and I do like that saving him also resulted in sacrificing him later on, but I think his resolution itself was somewhat boring. Add this with some wonky visuals, confusing character moments, instances of stilted animation, and you have yourself a pretty lackluster second act. That being said, I do want to congratulate Seo Kim and Somvilay Xayaphone for managing to be the second longest running team in the show’s history. A lot of their episodes together are far from my favorites, but they always did seem like they had a genuine chemistry going on as collaborators. Hopefully Summer Camp Island is treating you both well.

Favorite line: “Why don’t you just fight me like a real butterfly!?”

“Seventeen” Review

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Original Airdate: December 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

Finn’s aging is an interesting aspect of the series. The exploration of Finn’s growth is one of the most heavily focused on elements of the series, but the actual ages he experiences are pretty subservient from a writing standpoint. He was established as twelve at the beginning of the series and turned 13 in Mystery Train, but his years as a 14 and 15-year-old went largely unmentioned. After years of not having an established age, Finn was revealed to be 16 in The Comet and remained that age for the next two years within the show’s timeline. It was interesting, because the staff was veeery specific when it came to revealing any extra details about Finn’s growth. Adam Muto would get asked frequently if Finn was 17 yet on his ask.fm, to which Muto would reply with “no, not yet,” or “very soon.” This was all building up to the eventual release of Seventeen, the first episode in over six years to focus on Finn’s birthday. With all of the build up centered around this specific milestone in Finn’s life, along with the notion that the show was actually acknowledging Finn’s aging in the first place, I was really interested in what direction the staff had in mind for such a development. I, along with many others, was disappointed with its execution. I’ve mentioned my qualms with Adventure Time taking on an ongoing story back in my review of Always BMO Closing, and I think a similar argument can be raised here – the staff seems to think that incorporating lore and continuity elements can carry an episode, but it ends up sinking this one further.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like what this episode accomplishes story wise. The way Gumbald’s return is connected to the climax of Elements is brilliantly executed. While a good amount of AT‘s writing process involves making things up as the show goes along, this arc was clearly pre-meditated and its dedication really shows. This was even picked up on by fans way before this episode aired, and I couldn’t believe such a detail was so carefully placed even back then. Fern’s return is also welcomed, as previously foreshadowed in The Wild Hunt. But the episode relies on these factors far too heavily, and I don’t think they really hold up outside of a first viewing, if that. The connections to Elements were cool, but I had already bought into the theories that had predicted them in the first place, so I wasn’t too blown away. Even Fern’s return is so obvious from the second he enters as the Green Knight. And once his reveal actually does come into fruition, he doesn’t really even get to do much. But the obviousness of the surprises isn’t really their main fault, more so that they can’t hold an episode on their own. With many Adventure Time entries where lore and story elements are at the forefront, they typically have something else to back them up. Evergreen is amazing not only in its mythos, but its beautiful backgrounds and stellar storytelling. Min & Marty or I Remember You are great because they reveal elements of the past, but are as equally concerned with character exploration as a selling point. There’s even some instances where the lore is bad but the actual episode is good. I still don’t care for Gunter’s brief stint as a space deity, but Orgalorg at least was filled with truly obscure and psychedelic sequences to help it stick out. Take the lore and story elements out of Seventeen and you’re not left with much.

A lot of this episode can be summed up with one word: boring. Boring animation, boring location, boring dialogue. This is primarily a bottle episode that takes place in PB’s castle, and the setting just feels particularly lazy and uninteresting. It’s like one of the SpongeBob episodes that takes place entirely in the Krusty Krab, you quickly grow pretty tiresome of one of the most established locations in any given series, especially when it’s the focus. The castle isn’t even explored, as the entirety of Seventeen takes place in the foyer and doesn’t move beyond there. The animation feels similarly uninspired. There’s some shots that looks especially awkward, like when the Green Knight bursts in and the entire cast is spread haphazardly across the steps. They never look like they’re actually laying across the steps, so it almost looks like their character model was just flipped upside down and pasted on the screen. It at least provides for an unintentionally funny error. Other characters will simply just stand around with blank expressions and barely react to the shit going on around them. Or when the gang bangs on the invisible shield to get Finn’s attention while being expressionless and saying nothing. Everything feels so… lifeless. There’s also a pretty big lack of diversity in camera movements. Aside from the games that Fern and Finn enroll in, this episode is filled with so many medium shots of characters just talking without actually moving that it almost feels like I’m watching anime at times.  Somvilay and Seo have really never been the best visual storytellers outside of a handful of sight gags, and nothing emphasizes that shortcoming more than this one.

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This is also one that is pretty lacking on humor. Along with those boring shots that I mentioned, the dialogue is equally uninspired. A lot of it involves characters just simply explaining what’s going on directly in front of them without the incorporation of humor or wit. It almost feels like plodding, in a way, and Seventeen is full of just that. The competition between the Green Knight and Finn doesn’t start until about 6 minutes in and it doesn’t actually feel like any useful information was included within those first five and a half. I’m not even really sure I get Fern’s methods of fucking with Finn in this one – he has Finn convinced that he’s Jake until the real Jake shows up, so he then participates in a series of games with Finn until the last one where he essentially reveals that he was much stronger than Finn the entire time and can overpower him at any moment. What… what was his edge here? It was partially to test Gumbald’s superior technology, but what did Fern participating in these games actually accomplish? He even chooses to lose one of the rounds for no real reason aside from keeping the competition going. Why doesn’t he just fuck up Finn’s shit, have his cronies enter, and then leave? Wouldn’t that prove that he’s superior? The whole thing feels kind of contrived.

There are a few standout moments I dig from Seventeen. Finn’s portrayed pretty well, and I love his insistent gloating over being one year older. Another nice addition to this was Jake’s line of, “he’s got this. He’s 17,” which is a great callback to Tree Trunks. For all of this episodes shortcomings, (I think) seeing Ice King burst out of Finn’s cake in his ex-girlfriend’s dress was worth every second. Could Finn’s day really get any worse? Brad Neely’s performance as the Green Knight is similarly enjoyable, though I’m glad they didn’t ditch Hayden Ezzy completely.

But otherwise, Seventeen is a thoroughly underwhelming experience. I could see this working in one way or another, if maybe Finn and Fern’s birthdays were explored separately, showing how Finn has a genuinely caring family more so than his counterpart. Fern’s arc in general is pretty underdeveloped throughout this season, so I really would’ve liked seeing his turmoil come into fruition in a better way. This is Seo and Somvilay’s last episode outside of the finale, and it’s really disappointing to see that they ended so poorly this season after having so many good entries in the past couple of seasons. I don’t know if the lack of visual flare comes from a chopped budget or just their general approach to storyboarding but, disheartening to say, my middling first impressions of their team during the second half of season five has remained practically the same by the end of their run together.

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Favorite line: “You can’t tell from my face, but I am smiling triumphantly.”

“Son of Rap Bear” Review

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Original Airdate: September 17, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

Out of everyone in AT‘s main cast, I don’t think a single character’s potential has been wasted more than Flame Princess. I always like to think back to when her character was pitched as if everything was planned out to begin with; “okay, so this girl is kind of chaotic and was trapped in the Fire Kingdom by her dad. Then she starts dating Finn and they’re really happy together. Then they break up after a year and she usurps her father and becomes the ruler of the Fire Kingdom. Then she becomes a really talented rap artist.” Feels like reading from a madlib book. Flame Princess’s “rap God” status feels less like a fleshed out development from her character and more like a desperate cry for her to stay relevant within the world of the series. I was fine when it was brought in as a gag in Bun Bun and even her brief moment with NEPTR in The Music Hole, but this isn’t the type of story that feels like it’s worthy of exploring in the first place. Not to mention it’s handled in a pretty contrived way that never feels like it actually accomplishes anything by the end.

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I’m estimating, but about 4 minutes of this episode is comprised of rap tunes that are pretty damn bad. I’m not a fan of rap music in the slightest, but I still think I have a decent idea of what makes good rap and why people are into it to begin with. AT‘s concept of rap is mashing funny words together that rhyme and dishing out child-friendly burns that never actually sink as deep as the characters in-universe try to hype up. AT songs are usually either super catchy or humorous, and these tunes are neither. It kinda feels like the lyrics and rhythm were purposely glossed over for the purpose of developing the story, but if that’s the case, why are there so damn many of them?  A show like Regular Show is able to get away with child-friendly raps because they’re intended to be stupid and forced by the main characters. These raps feel like the show was trying to follow down the dumb fun route, but never committed to the actual fun route and just made them seem super lazy and uninspired as a result. It honestly borders on being legitimately cringey.

The rap songs take up a good chunk of this one, which is bad enough, but the story is pretty weak on it’s own. Toronto returns in this episode in what feels like another example of wasted potential. Toronto was a pretty average character from the start, but he truly has no purpose in this one aside from being the token shyster required for the conflict. AT is no stranger to plot contrivances, like the fact that Jake’s stretchy abilities should be able to get him and Finn out of practically any situation, but Son of Rap Bear‘s contrived story kind bugs me. Toronto is standing less than two feet away from Finn and Flame Princess when he reveals his true plans – just burn the fucking documents, Flame Princess! They don’t even try to make an excuse for it. Finn and Flame Princess just stand there in a civil manner as Toronto explains to them how he’s going to take her entire kingdom away from her. Like, what the hell? I previously got annoyed at the writing in The Cooler when Flame Princess unintentionally blew up the Fire Giants, but this instance was just beyond me.

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The more “dramatic” turn this episode takes by incorporating Flame King feels equally uninspired. Flame Princess and Flame King’s relationship in Son of Rap Bear feels like a retread of better stories that we’ve already seen in the series. AT‘s “shitty dad” motif has been effective for the most part throughout its run, but there are clear signs that this theme has run its course. Flame King’s strains with his daughter were made interesting in Earth & Water when it was revealed that he refuted her from his fear of being usurped, but the very path he chose ended up leading to his eventual demise. Here, he’s just kind of an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. This is actually a consistent issue I have with season nine as a whole – all of the “shitty dad” episodes feel tired and unoriginal, and this is no exception. The way Flame Princess uses her own turmoil with her father to fuel her creativity feels similarly unoriginal, as it’s literally the basis of a good majority of Marceline’s songs. I just thought, how cool would it be if Flame Princess and Marceline hung out in this episode and Marceline taught her to use daddy issues as a basis for a song? Can’t say if it’d actually be good or not, because it’d still involve garbo raps, but it’d at least be something different and unique.

This episode ends up having a few saving graces. There are some funny gags throughout, namely the notion that Son of Rap Bear literally rapped the legs off of his dad. There’s also this really great visual treat throughout the first few minutes of the episode where NEPTR just stares completely still and smiles right at the camera and it goes on for a long time. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it’s fucking hilarious. NEPTR can truly brighten up any stinker.

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And yeah, that’s pretty much what Son of Rap Bear is. Like I mentioned previously, the rapping aspect brings this episode down a ton to the point where it’s almost embarrassing. I watched this in my college apartment when it first aired with my friends, and after endlessly telling them how amazing Adventure Time (they had never seen it), I couldn’t help but sink into the cushion of my seat by the end of it. It also doesn’t help that this is the last solo Flame Princess episode of the series, and man, it frustrates me to no end that this is how her character arc ends. There’s so much that could have been done with Flame Princess’s arc as a ruler that sadly never came into fruition. Sad to say, but FP was likely a character strictly created for the purpose of being Finn’s romantic interest, and once their relationship was no more, the staff really never found a place for her.

Favorite line: “Rap Bear, Son of Rap Bear’s father, said his son, Son of Rap Bear, would be at tonight’s open mic.”

“Ketchup” Review

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Original Airdate: July 18, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hero Heart” Review

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Original Airdate: April 27, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

Hero Heart is pretty base-level story stuff. Similar to Slime Central, it’s a perfectly enjoyable entry, but it doesn’t really stand out for a ton of different reasons like its predecessors. The summary for this one promises and all-out war between the Fire Kingdom and Candy Kingdom, but it’s a lot more small-scale in its execution and a bit middling at that. But, like the rest of Elements, it has its standout moments that range between thought-provoking and hilarious.

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Similar to its predecessors, Lumpy Space Princess is probably at her most likable. It’s funny to mean how little of her vanity comes out within this episode; Happy Warrior was all about showing how her self-absorbed nature in the brink of destruction can be really hilarious, while Hero Heart goes for a more poignant approach. I’ve said before that I think Seo Kim has a hidden talent for writing LSP at her absolute most sympathetic, and it really shines through in this entry. I found her line of “will I be the last witness to the glory of this world that I chose above all others?” pretty profound and lamentable. This line is made even more impactful when we realize that LSP’s happy place that keeps her grounded is her own home. LSP chose Ooo because it’s where she’s able to have freedom above everything else, but I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily been good to her. She’s been rejected, hurt, and now her entire world is falling apart around her. Her regrets are clear, but LSP is far too prideful to ever admit that she needs the support from her parents and her past home to get her by. But, regardless, this is where LSP spent her best days. She has the memories of simpler times to help her get through the worst of situations, and after years of her seemingly unnecessary resent towards her home world, this feels particularly satisfying.

In the same sense, it’s even sweeter that Finn’s “happy place” centers around his relationship with Bubblegum. I think there’s clear implications within this sequence that can easily lean on the more romantic side, but also in a more platonic sense. I get the feeling that Finn will always love PB no matter what, even if he’s not vying for her. He still has a deep affection for her, and even though he’s more than happy to continue through life without her as a partner, he’ll always be reminded of the soft, nostalgic memories of the innocent feelings he once felt for her. Similarly, it’s also easy to see how this happy place revolves around his shift from no longer burning for her and instead being able to connect with her in the most compromising way possible (the Pajama War clip easily infers this). I sort of lean towards the former as the more interesting option, but I think either is a really sweet reminder about how much Bubblegum truly means to Finn.

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There aren’t a ton of new character cameos in this one, but I’m perfectly fine with the returning players we got in return. It was fun to see Lemonpink and the Tree Fort gang again, and man, Tim Kiefer’s score is freakin’ stellar during their travels in the lemonade cart. I remember there was a ton of fans gushing over Marceline and Flame Princess interacting within this episode, but honestly, it just kind of distracted me by making me realize that we’ve never seen Marceline interact with Finn’s only girlfriend. Man, we missed an opportunity for some really cool wingman stuff, didn’t we? There’s other cool interactions going on throughout this one, like the return of Lumpy Space Princess and Marcy’s friendship that always seems to turn back up in Seo and Somvy entries. Ice King and Betty’s relationship is still really charming, even if Betty’s true desires arise by the end of the episode. Like I’ve said before, Elements really is a spectacle for Ice King at his most charismatic. He’s genuinely competent and likely the strongest survivor currently in Ooo. Coupled with the fact that he’s still the hilarious goof he’s always been… that brief shrug during Betty’s maniacal laugh was absolutely hilarious and definitely the biggest chuckle of the miniseries thus far.

Otherwise, Hero Heart mainly works as an opportunity to move the miniseries forward in several different ways: Lumpy Space Princess’s resistance to elemental powers, Betty’s betrayal towards Finn, and the inevitability of the Candy Kingdom’s rule over everything. It’s all enjoyable, but I don’t think it’s really worth talking about until the actual final chapter of Elements. We’re provided tons of hints, in typical AT fashion, but nothing that I can really dig into or analyze beyond their obvious implications. Hero Heart does leave us off on a horrifying and unsettling note, as the now transformed Candy People creep in to an unprotected Finn singing “Let Me Call You Sweet Heart.” It’s a terrifically terrifying close that transitions us into the grand finale of Elements, which surely feels like a grand culmination (and one big cliffhanger) off of everything we’ve gotten thus far.

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Favorite line: “I got, like, the morals and the charisma and the good looks, but I lack field experience!”

“Bespoken For” Review

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Original Airdate: April 24, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

Bespoken For could easily land itself on a list of best Ice King entries. It’s an episode that almost feels like it’s deliberately trolling the part of the fanbase that wanted to experience strictly lore (which they kind of still got) throughout its entirety. Even Finn and Jake are included for the sole purpose of representing all of us who are seeking out answers. But, even though Bespoken For doesn’t weave us an intricate backstory on the formulation of Patience St. Pim’s plans for elementifying Ooo, it does give us a hilarious and thoroughly entertaining exploration of Ice King and Betty’s complicated relationship. While most great Ice King episodes typically bank themselves off of how insane the Ice King truly is, Bespoken For portrays him in a pretty charismatic light, as he comes across as the true hero of the story.

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I always wondered why Finn and Jake never told Ice King that they were leaving for an unprecedented amount of time, but it was probably a decision for the best. IK could have very well pulled a desperate move by freezing the boys so they wouldn’t be able to leave their BFF. It is cute that Ice King is beyond filling his hobby list with something as notorious as princess-napping, and instead chooses something light and harmless, such as bird-watching, even if it means just doing what he always does. As always, the inconsistencies with Ice King’s intelligence are always quite funny, like the fact that he can spell “pterodactyl” but not “Choose Goose.”

It isn’t long before Betty shows up at his window, and she certainly sounds… different than usual. This marks the first episode Felicia Day portrays Betty, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing primarily because Day is a waaay better voice actress than Lena Dunham ever was. Dunham has her own fair share of experience, but it was clear from the start that she didn’t really have any interest in this world or its story. It’s a curse because, at least in my eyes, it’s really hard to replace a character’s voice actor successfully. No matter how much energy and talent Day brings to the table, the sad truth is that I’m always going to associate Dunham’s voice with Betty. This is why celebrity voices should never portray characters that have the potential to be important. Just look at Sugilite – she hasn’t spoken in four years!

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That bit of venting aside, Betty does bring a lot to the table in this one. Heck, Bespoken For feels like the first time she has any sort of semblance of a character, and it’s awfully refreshing. Betty’s one of the strongest additions to the miniseries in terms of the mystery surrounding her character; her madness and sadness often allow for her to make complex and often heinous decisions, most of which are never entirely explored until the climax of the miniseries. She certainly keeps things interesting, and her interactions with the Ice King are irresistibly tragic, and hilariously relatable. I love how Betty essentially is to Ice King what the mad, crazed squirrel is to Jake – an utterly forgettable face. His efforts to try to reassure her doubts are as awfully improvised as possible, concluded with the always humorous running gag of IK possessing an actual banana as a cell phone. I always wonder in the back of my head if the banana actually is a phone after all, and the show has been conning its audience after all these years.

Of course, the episode only gets progressively funnier as Ice King continues to get further and further into a detour that has practically nothing to do with what Finn and Jake want to hear. The suit fitting sequence is tons of fun (with the added bonus of Life Giving Magus) and Ice King lookin’ absolutely sharp was surely the highlight of this one. I’m reiterating myself, but I truly love how committed he is to actually going on a real date with a woman. It isn’t often he ever gets the opportunity to, but Ice King is genuinely confident, dressed to impressed, and even gets flowers for his lady! It would’ve been so easy for Ice King to give Betty some kind of meaningless or gross gift, but I’m glad that Seo and Somvilay knew when to add in these rare moments of earnestness. In general, there’s quite a few during the dinner scene.

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The date in general is a recipe for disaster, but more at the fault of Betty’s high expectations than anything. Ice King clearly does not remember his past self, and no attempts at jogging his memory have ever proved successful in the past. As for Ice King himself, he’s surprisingly not terribly awkward. Granted, he does make the suggestion to go dutch on their very first date, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable. I mean, Betty is the one who asked him out, after all. And his method of trying to bail by pretending a roll of bread is a phone was hilariously less than smooth, but I’m truthfully just baffled at how Ice King actually recognized a red flag in someone and chose to back out because of it. That’s shockingly admirable.

Betty’s tale is a sad one, no doubt about it. Despite her forcefulness, her rage and frustration is understandable beyond just her state of lunacy. Much like Marcy and Simon’s relationship, Betty tries to be understanding and calm about getting to know her former fiance as he is, but can’t seem to accept the changes before her and resents him because of it. Even without the transferal of magic energy that occurred, it’s very clear that Betty’s descent into madness equally stems from her inability to recover something that clearly doesn’t exist anymore. It’s where everyone’s favorite life coach comes in, Tiny Manticore, and sets Betty’s perspective into place. I will say that this section of the episode is perhaps the most unbelievable; the entire episode is supposed to be told from Ice King’s point-of-view, yet he couldn’t possibly know about this exchange between Betty and TM. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the rest of the episode didn’t seem so committed to the framing device. It isn’t like Joshua & Margaret Investigations, where the entire backstory is supposed to be separate from the perspective of the storyteller.

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Patience St. Pim shows up in a couple of scenes throughout the course of this episode, and is expectedly fun, per usual. I love the random addition of a propeller cap that somehow gives her the ability to fly… couldn’t she just do that with her ice magic anyway? It’s great that her and Ice King are on such cordial terms that they casually refer to each other as “roomie” now – she even brings him a donut, even though he specifically asked for a surprise in doing so. Her inclusion also boils down to the big conclusion, in which Betty is used for her ultimate power source that elementifies Ooo as a whole. For those who sought out deep and rich lore within Bespoken For, they did end up getting it… all with a little bit of patience. Yeah, that pun is exceptionally awful.

But Bespoken For is great! A classic Ice King entry that both builds on his character and works off of what already worked  so well to begin with. This is the really the first episode that deals with Betty interacting with the Ice King, which luckily continues throughout the course of Elements and builds to the ultimate climax of their relationship all together.

Favorite line: “I grabbed as many penguins as I could… one.”

“Whipple the Happy Dragon” Review

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Original Airdate: January 30, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

Whipple the Happy Dragon is easily the weakest of the Islands bunch, but that isn’t really saying much considering that I pretty much enjoy every entry from this miniseries for individual reasons. Whipple suffers a bit from feeling directionless at times and focusing on a pretty uninteresting side character, but it still has a lot of fun along the way, along with its fair share of poignant moments, which is to be expected from Islands.

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This episode has a lot of nice, small moments that aren’t particularly hilarious, but are just so likable that I can’t really resist. Love Jake’s method of turning super small to figure out directions, the shared “woo” between boat members, Jake’s spidey-like stretch powers that help him form a hammock, and so much more. I like how, even when headed into the unknown where possible dangers lie ahead, the miniseries still takes its time by showing Finn, Jake, and Susan take advantage of the nice experience at hand. I honestly don’t think I’d like this miniseries as much if it was completely dramatic and devoid of these little moments, because that’s not what Adventure Time is. AT is a show that’s filled with drama and devastating scenarios, but masked by the cute and colorful characters at the helm. And that’s really what makes this one a nice breath of fresh air.

I similarly enjoy how Finn is willing to put his important trip aside to save the life of a dragon that he’s never met, even though Susan and Jake are technically right that the pirates aren’t really immoral for hunting the sea creature, unless there’s some sort of Ooo/worldwide law forbidding it. Still, I love how the excursion is more important in Finn’s eyes. This is where the gang meets up with Whipple, a somewhat good-natured, but entirely obnoxious dragon. Whipple’s an alright character, albeit not very interesting. I do like how he’s written in such a way where he’s annoying to the main cast, but not to audience. His main flaw comes from the fact that, aside from being “annoying”, he’s not really that funny or interesting and the episode doesn’t really end up doing much with his character. Granted, the humor surrounding Whipple’s character is funny enough to carry his story through. Whipple’s biggest strength is his relatability, at least from my perspective; I think we all have that one friend that isn’t necessarily mean or toxic but just so God damn annoying that you need the opportunity to tune them out before reaching potential insanity. This is exactly what Finn, Susan, and Jake do, until BMO finally reveals himself and tells Whipple to fuck off. Part of what I love about BMO’s character is that he can be as big of an asshole as possible without it ever coming across as unlikable. He essentially embodies a child, and children in general are pretty outspoken, so it often comes off as more naive than anything. I really crack up at his freakout scene, that promptly leads to the destruction of their boat at the hands of Whipple. Though, I do find it odd that Finn and Jake are completely cool with BMO after this goes down. Feel like the little guy should have been reprimanded just a bit.

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Whipple takes a slight detour, as Jake begins to get possessed by hallucinogenic jellyfish that make him envision Joshua and Margaret in distress. I didn’t really think it added a ton to this episode, but upon simultaneous viewings, I feel like it may possess more meaning than I gave it credit. When Susan is possessed, she briefly envisions Frieda, of whom we meet later. Frieda was someone that Susan had the chance to help, but ended up destroying their friendship in the process. I wonder if Jake somehow is under the impression that he could have helped Joshua and Margaret before they died. The circumstances of their death is still unknown, but I wonder if Jake subconsciously feels responsible for whatever way it actually went down. His fear of letting Joshua down could also relate to the responsibilities that were foisted upon him after his father’s death, and Jake desires to make his poppa as proud as possible, even after his passing. But, this is all stuff Jake doesn’t like dealing with, which promptly makes him want to turn back. Jake’s rather defensive towards Finn in this episode, but I think it’s understandable. Finn hasn’t really been honest about his feelings and why this trip is so important to him to begin with, so it’s no wonder that Jake kind of dismisses it as a waste of time. The safety and well-being of himself and his brother likely matters more to Jake than a “cool trip” that Finn can have part in. And, to be honest, I don’t think Jake really gives a fuck if he gets Susan there or not. He’s cool with her, but her own soul-searchy journey isn’t really his responsibility. Finally, after all this pressure, Finn cracks.

Look, I’m really happy in Ooo. I love our mom and dad. But I don’t know squat about humans. If I don’t see this through, part of me will always be stuck to that boom-boom leaf where mom and dad found me. Still alone.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one where Finn quite eloquently states his place in the world. He is happy, but there are questions and uncertainty surrounding him. He likely could continue to live a normal life, slaying monsters and kicking back with his bro, but there are unresolved conflicts living inside of him that will never truly go away. This is his one possible chance for a resolution: to learn about himself and his culture, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice that for another day of being a minority. I get how the concern  of Jake and others is that Finn simply wants to find people more like him in place of his friends and family, but this makes it quite obvious that Finn has no intention of doing so. He simply wants to put his wildly inquisitive mind at ease.

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Whipple returns to the scene, as Finn responds to him with the brilliant line of, “sorry we said you were annoying… or, sorry for not telling you that you were annoying earlier?” Kinda brings up a humorously interesting point: is it our job to tell annoying people that they are annoying? Regardless, Whipple does decide to help out the gang, though it only further leads them into the unknown.

Couple other things I dig about Whipple: Susan’s addition to the main cast feels kind of nice. We rarely get to see this chick, so it’s cool to have her bonding and working off of Finn and Jake for an extended period of time. Also, it’s a small moment, but I love how Jake refers to himself as “the bad boy” when introducing himself to Whipple. I guess Jake would be the rebel of his friend group, if there ever was one. Otherwise, Whipple the Happy Dragon is an enjoyable entry. It certainly has the weakest story of its sister episodes, but it’s thoroughly funny and entertaining throughout, and Finn’s introspective moment is easily enough to justify Whipple‘s existence.

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Favorite line: “Whipple, you suck so much.”

“Horse and Ball” Review

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Whereas the title card of James Baxter the Horse portrayed Baxter drawing at his desk, Horse and Ball depicts the actual sketches themselves. Really nice detail that ties in with this episode’s main theme.

Original Airdate: January 26, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

James Baxter the Horse is an episode I never really expected/wanted a sequel from. If you recall what I thought about that episode, I found it to be decent. Not one of the more memorable or funnier season five episodes, but a light and silly romp with sequences of stellar animation and a lot of heart in its subtext. While James Baxter the Horse was largely about the creative process, as well as the importance and drawbacks of inspiration, Horse and Ball is cleverly mostly about the life and journey of the creator themselves. And honestly, I think I like Horse and Ball a little bit better! The humor is sharper and more cohesive, and I actually find it to be an even more interesting exploration of the creative process than its prequel episode.

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It’s really nice that the real James Baxter was able to return to animate portions of this episode. Not only does it help add a rare bit of fluidity and zest to the animation, but it’s really what helps to make this character’s presence feel alive and entertaining to begin with. Without the talent of Baxter himself, I don’t think the character would be nearly as memorable, if at all. James Baxter, the character, has a pretty interesting role in this episode. I enjoy how he’s essentially motionless and dead inside after his ball pops, which is pretty obviously depicted as an existential crisis. Baxter is left with a horrifying dilemma: he’s an artist who isn’t able to create art. Given the circumstances of his past, of which are revealed in this episode, he also wasn’t coming from the most glamorous position. He had left his old life, and corporate America (or, in this case, corporate Ooo), and chose to start anew. Almost immediately in that process, he had unintentionally become an entertainer through the mere process of trying to cheer up a tearful bat, of which essentially becomes his entire life. So, Baxter’s left with quite the debilitating question: is his ability to cheer people up and to entertain others his main, or even his only, purpose in life? How is he supposed to go on if he can’t do the one thing he found that he’s good at?

There’s two subplots of this one, of which both provide their own individual aspects of entertainment. One involves Finn and his desires to care for James Baxter, while also exhibiting nervousness just being in his presence. These scenes are particularly hilarious, with some really great acting on Jeremy Shada’s part. Finn’s deepened voice as he tries to connect with Baxter is hysterically relatable. Any time I meet a somewhat decently prominent celebrity or artist at Comic Con, I’m an uncomfortably awkward dork the entire experience, so I feel you, pal. Another one of my favorite bits in this portion is the way that Shelby assists Finn through his anxiety. Shelby’s usually around to either be snarky or a know-it-all (in the best way possible), so it’s a surprising change of pace to have him so earnestly help his housemate on trying to relax. It’s an irresistibly sweet and fun time watching these two work off of each other, and really pays off when Finn does give his empowering speech regarding the importance of self-care and appeasing one’s self. Finn does a great job here, but let’s face it, Shelby’s the true hero who helps him pull through!

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The second subplot involves Jake and BMO as they seek out to find a new beach ball for James Baxter in Ooo’s Junkyard. It was also a pleasant surprise to have Raggedy Princess join the crew, and it even kind of continues her development as a character that was set up in Frog Seasons: Autumn. Totally didn’t expect for any of the Frog Seasons shorts to further impact the series, but here we are again with Raggedy Princess’s sad feelings of isolation. I do like how the show acknowledges that she isn’t without talent or beauty – BMO is so saddened by her poetry that he starts to cry, which he mentions isn’t bad, but just sad in general. I guess that’s what makes Raggedy Princess’s character even more tragic, because even though she is skilled, it’s hard for her to gather an audience because of the negative effect her poetry has on people, whereas James Baxter gains attention for leaving people with a feeling of positivity. Not sure how much I agree with this motif, as I think we live in a society where people are just as willing to consume content that makes them sad as well as content that makes them happy (just look at the popularity surrounding BoJack Horseman) but I suppose I can understand the desire of happiness more than I can understand the desire of sadness. The only aspect of this subplot that I don’t really like is that I feel Raggedy’s position as the antagonist is a bit unwarranted. I mean, what does she have to gain from keeping the beach ball in the first place? I suppose it gives her a legitimately captive audience, but aside from that, I don’t think it really adds anything to the episode aside from a contrived feeling of conflict. I do like Raggedy’s turnaround towards the end, however, as she decides to help a fellow artist, even if it means sacrificing her own audience.

The best handled scenes in this episode, however, are easily James Baxter’s backstory. A lot of it is really quiet and nuanced, with the addition of Tim Kiefer’s ambient score that really carries these portions nicely. I also adore the interactions between James Baxter and the bat. The way Baxter cheers her up (and also ends up gaining his alias by mispronouncing “games” and “bookstore”… priceless) is truly charming and well-animated, just as much as it is heartbreaking when we see how things progress. Really is sad to see how the bat essentially just became another audience member as Baxter’s fame rose. It does seem that, as one celebrity becomes bigger and bigger, those that initially surrounded themselves with said talent begin to shrink in prominence. Of course, I don’t think it’s James Baxter’s fault. He simply decided to share his talent with the world, while the bat saw it as something intimate and personal, and the fact that he chose to widen the popularity of his talent meant that the act essentially lost meaning and significance. It’s just a really sad misunderstanding between two friends.

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I know I’ve included this kind of analysis like, five other times, but I really can’t help but think of Pendleton Ward in Horse and Ball. Given that James Baxter the Horse seemed to be about the creation of Adventure Time, or just creative entertainment in general, this really feels like a look at Ward’s life without AT. Again, I’ve already compared this moment in Ward’s life to the events of Chips & Ice Cream, so maybe I’m just really invested in the life of Ward in general and insert subtext where it’s clearly not. Regardless, I do see the ending as a message that can easily apply to his journey with Adventure Time. His time as a creator has ended, and though people may want him to continue doing what he was best at, it’s important that he finds himself an area of happiness and prosperity in his own life. That goes for creatives and celebrities in general; those we look up to, no matter how much we enjoy their work, deserve to be happy doing whatever they want to be doing. It often comes off as somewhat of a betrayal when influencers step back from doing exactly what we want them to be doing, but truth be told, creatives can only offer so much to the point where the greatest gift they can receive is the patience and understanding of their audience. Though James Baxter won’t be dancing on a beach ball any longer, he’s at least left doing what he wants to do (through an impromptu dance sequence) and he can be happy that, for once, he’s defying society’s expectations of him and truly starting out on his own.

Horse and Ball is pretty good! It appropriately continues the motif from its predecessor episode, while also being a hilarious and heartfelt entry in general. Like I mentioned earlier, if I had to choose between James Baxter the Horse and Horse and Ball, I’d probably choose the latter. It has better jokes, more guest-animated sequences, and a more enthralling story overall.

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Favorite line: “Stab him… with a giant syringe… of respect.”

“Bun Bun” Review

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Original Airdate: May 5, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

The Red Throne Apology Letter – er, I mean, Bun Bun, checks in on Flame Princess, Cinnamon Bun, and Flame King after quite some time, and appropriately focuses on the changes that have occurred since the last time we’ve seen them. The Red Throne is pretty well-known for its notoriously bad reception from the fanbase. Hell, I’d even include it on my own personal bottom ten list (though not entirely for the reasons that everyone else hates it) and I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m not the only one, as it seems that even the staff picked up on this. Bun Bun was written by Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim, of whom also boarded The Red Throne, and man, it really feels like they did everything in their power to make atonement. The best part about this atonement is that it doesn’t feel as if it only exists for the purpose of fanservice, but it’s actually a thoroughly interesting exploration of not only how much Finn has changed over the course of a year, but Cinnamon Bun of all characters! Much like his former self, I think Cinnamon Bun’s developmental arc has been half-baked at best. He started out as a prominent secondary character with little intelligence, left his star role in the Candy Kingdom to become Flame Princess’s knight, and suddenly achieved competency after becoming fully baked within the Kingdom, where his character pretty much fell off from any form of prominence afterwards. While a fitting resolution to his gag personality, I was still somewhat hungry for a story revolving around the newly intellectual CB and how much he’s truly shifted from his original state of being. This episode plays around with this in the best way, by showing how even those around Cinnamon Bun don’t truly know how to support and care for him beyond what they gathered from his personality before.

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As I mentioned, the central theme of this episode is very clearly the changing nature of relationships, as several characters try to adjust or, at the very least, accept these changes around them. Flame Princess moves past the anger and hatred she feels towards her father, as she allows him to go free on his own and to make a new life for himself, Finn shifts through the awkwardness he feels around his ex-girlfriend and finally makes an effort to mend their broken relationship, and Princess Bubblegum struggles to truly empathize with her former assistant as she tries to help him in the only way she knows how: by creating life, per usual. The PB-CB dynamic in this one is perhaps the most interesting and poignant. Both characters have gone through major shifts in the year prior, and that awkward convening they share at the beginning of the episode exemplifies that. Perspectives shift over time, but true inflections based off of past feelings typically reign through, even when time passes. Bubblegum still looks as Cinnamon Bun as her servant who needs constant attention and supervision, and CB didn’t leave on the best terms with his supervisor, as he began a new, comfortable lifestyle since ditching the CK. It’s kind of like the relationship between a child and a super overprotective mother: even when the child has become secure and independent, the mother still craves the opportunity to coddle and care for her child. While PB has a… complex relationship with Cinnamon Bun, she still deeply cares for him, as she does for all of her other citizens, and is also likely stricken with some guilt, considering how she treated CB in the past. Thus, Bun Bun comes along.

Bun Bun is a shockingly endearing character of whom should be really annoying, but is surprisingly quite adorable and hilarious. I’m not sure if it’s because of Ashly Burch’s delightful inflections, or the matter that the character herself is just given great lines, but despite causing constant problems within the story, Bun Bun never once gets on my nerves. I think Somvilay and Seo Kim did a great job of writing her in a way where she’s somewhat annoying to the characters surrounding her, but not to the audience. The charm of Bun Bun’s character comes from that fact that she’s literally just been born and is genuinely ecstatic to exist at all. I love how every small little thing amazes her and she’s learning new things literally by the second. She actually reminds me a lot of Kent, in a way. I also love how much the contrivances of her character are played around with, in the most meta way possible. Finn’s line of, “that’s funny that you don’t know that word, but you know the word ‘opposite,’” sums it up real nicely. I actually think Bun Bun is way less annoying than Cinnamon Bun was in his more incompetent days, and I’m glad that she didn’t appear a ton more after this episode, just because I wouldn’t want subsequent appearances to ruin her initial charm.

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The connection between CB and BB is equally interesting, because I feel as though their relationship once again helps to unravel the subtle insecurities within Cinnamon Bun. It’s neat to see how CB initially somewhat resents and is a bit embarrassed by Bun Bun after enduring her shenanigans, as he likely recognizes this behavior as how he once acted before he matured. Bun Bun’s actions parallel Cinnamon Bun’s to a tee, even in the instance of directly disobeying orders only seconds after they are given (a small homage to Earth & Water) as well as Bun Bun’s sweet flip. Cinnamon Bun is a dignified knight and guardian now, and no longer has time for the goofy antics that he once pursued, or so he thinks. As him and Bun Bun begin to spend more time together once the Flame King is accidentally released, CB does start to recognize Bun Bun’s special nature when watching her interact so civilly with the FK (apologies for the dozens of different acronyms in this post). CB realizes that Bun Bun is a lot like himself; CB too ditched his old methods of living to become apart of a new kingdom and to help lay down the foundation of said kingdom. Despite having part in this, CB denies his previous existence because he associates it with his own shortcomings: he wants to be seen as a serious, competent knight, and not the goofball he once was. What he doesn’t realize at first is that he only became a knight through his zany state of being, and not because he was a intelligent warrior to begin with. It’s only then that he begins to adopt his state of being: he can be silly and quirky while also being a noble person. The true brilliance of Cinnamon Bun was always his direct honesty and sweetness to other people, and had he been lacking these traits from the start, he wouldn’t be who he is today. It’s then that he acknowledges the true brilliance behind Bun Bun, and that who she is does not need to be changed or altered in any which way.

While that alone is enough content to fill an entire episode, Bun Bun ingeniously ties together Flame Princess and Finn’s resolution as a subplot. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way either. While I’m sure Seo and Somvilay could have came up with an 11 minute Finn/FP team-up story, I’m glad that they mostly just focused on giving the two a few quiet scenes in which they could bond over. From their initial introduction, it’s clear that Finn still feels deeply guilty about what happened between the two. Maybe not enough to think about it for days on end, but to the point where he respects Flame Princess’s boundaries (finally) enough to immediately depart a social situation with her after his work was complete. While it definitely shows how awkward he is due to the fact that he doesn’t even try to engage in some form of small talk with FP after delivering Bun Bun, it’s genuinely a huge step for Finn to completely choose to disengage in connecting with FP after years of absolute thirst. It’s cool to see that he is willing to back off entirely, not only for the sake of Flame Princess, but for the sake of himself. The little guy’s been through a lot in the past year, and it’s only suitable that he takes appropriate measures to ensure that he’s caring for himself and his own well-being, and that means perhaps eliminating FP from his life all together. But, FP is generally a lot more chill and less in-her-head than Finn is, and still wants to hangout with him, despite everything that happened. Time heals most wounds, and in her busy schedule, FP has likely allowed for a lot of time to move past her break-up, as well as to forgive Finn for what he’s done. Since Finn is the one who fucked up, it’s a lot more difficult for him because he isn’t really allowed to invite himself back into Flame Princess’s life unless she lets him, to which he’s even surprised is permitted to happen.

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During a lunch that they share together, Finn finally breaks the ice on what’s going through his head this entire time. It seems like it’s really tough for him to confront head on, but he does it with absolute grace in one of his most refined moments of all time.

“It’s just, when we broke up, I said sorry, but I didn’t fully understand exactly what I did wrong. I get it now. I shouldn’t have manipulated you. That was a really, really messed-up thing to do, and I’m truly sorry.”

A simplistic apology, to be certain, but one that is so successful because of its simplicity. Finn doesn’t ramble on or try to justify his behavior in one way or another; he simply acknowledges his faults in the past, empathizes with FP, and apologizes for hurting her in any way. I truly appreciate the brilliant subtleties that went into this apology as well; Finn doesn’t just simply say that he’s sorry, but he outwardly addresses the fact that his first apology was insincere because he just wanted to feel better about himself. It’s a stunningly mature moment that finally resolves any lingering drama between him and Phoebe, and I couldn’t have asked for it any other way. The cool part is that the episode also takes the time to go in a Pajama War route by simply having Flame Princess and Finn catch up with each other and have some fun. It gets the heavy bits out of the way early on to allow for these two likable characters to enjoy each other’s presence, and it’s quite sweet. I always imagined this type of episode to reunite Finn and FP as lovers, but I’m really glad that Bun Bun has them patching things up as friends, and nothing more beyond that. I feel as though for Finn to truly learn his lesson, he would have to be fine with having Flame Princess as a friend or an acquaintance, and that’s exactly what happens here.

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We’re also treated to the triumphant return of Flame King who, as always, is carried by his terrific voicework courtesy of Keith David. Flame King’s bits are likely the weakest bits of the episode, though not bad by any means, and I do like how FK’s plight parallels his daughter’s journey into independence, similar to how BB’s path correlates with Cinnamon Bun’s. While Flame King is left with nothing, he’s still able to gain change by trying something entirely new, with a surprising guest along the way. The scenes between FK and Bun Bun are short, but rather endearing. There’s just something really funny and sweet about a violent jerk like the Flame King enjoying the company of a cute, little kid like Bun Bun. Out of all the connections we’ve had in this episode, I actually really would like to see more of these two working off of each other. I feel like it opens up for a lot of funny possibilities.

Two quick issues I had with this one: like a lot of Somvilay episodes, this one was weighed down by some clunky storyboarding efforts. I get the fact that Finn’s backpack was supposed to be enlarged by the inclusion of his fire suit, but man, it just looks absolutely ridiculous in a way that’s more awkward than funny. There’s a lot of moments like this, especially at the beginning, though it’s more of a nitpick at this point than anything. The other issue I had with this one is more of a personal gripe, but I find it kind of sad that this episode is pretty much the “designated Flame Princess episode” of the season and she really doesn’t get to do much. I wouldn’t really sacrifice any parts of the episode, as I thought they were all pretty important, but it is kind of disappointing that her character feels more like an extension of Finn’s character and an afterthought by this point in time. One of the reasons I really like The Cooler was because it explored a unique relationship that we don’t see much of and helped to add to Flame Princess’s character in new and different ways. By this episode, it feels like the writers don’t really know what to do with her character, to the point where her main personality trait is that she likes to freestyle rap when she’s not ruling her kingdom, which is ultimately a poor decision, in my humble opinion. Though again, this is more an issue I have with the direction of her character, rather than the direction of the episode itself. She has her moments here; I love the initial “security check” of Bun Bun upon entering the Fire Kingdom. Even after making peace with Bubblegum, FP still doesn’t completely trust her.

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Bun Bun is pretty fantastic overall, though. I really love how seamlessly it ties together change among three unlikely characters, and packs it all into one successful 11 minute package. This is essentially the last major role Cinnamon Bun possesses in the remainder of the series, and I think it’s a pretty pitch perfect cap for his character. He perhaps goes through the biggest transition out of any character in the series, and Bun Bun explores this transition in possibly the most meaningful and interesting of ways, to the point where I’m really fond of Cinnamon Bun in his new state of being. As I’ve also mentioned, it’s another terrific example of how Finn is also changing for the better, and making up for his past mistakes as much as he can. I never would have expected an episode where CB and Finn deal with the internal changes within themselves side-by-side, but dammit Adventure Time, I’ll take it!

Favorite line: “I’m 100% evil. What’s evil?”