Tag Archive | Stakes

“Stakes” Miniseries Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best to Worst Episodes

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

Final Consensus

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

“The Dark Cloud” Review

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Original Airdate: November 19, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Steve Wolfhard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite line: That dope Finn quote I mentioned above.

“Checkmate” Review

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Original Airdate: November 19, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take Her Back” Review

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Original Airdate: November 18, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Jesse Moynihan & Ako Castuera

The Moon is likely my second favorite of the vamps, behind Hierophant. She doesn’t benefit from a particularly strong personality, but her design, intimidating nature, and her unique abilities are really what help her to create a strong presence. And, like the other vampires, a lot of the success of Take Her Back comes from the atmosphere and tension built around her presence. It’s also the first episode of the miniseries that incorporates PB’s slow transition into regaining her kingdom back once more, which a lot of people weren’t a fan of, but I thought was quite nice. It’s cool how PB’s desire to stick by Marcy’s side and to put someone else before herself and her kingdom directly ties back into her development when it comes to being a more caring and courteous ruler overall. The only part I didn’t like about this transition was that we get to see less of the King of Ooo, though we at least get to enjoy some more of him in this episode before his time is up.

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The dream sequence in the beginning is pretty poignant and features a nice melody to carry it through. I think the dream itself pretty apparently focuses on what Marceline’s life would be like if there had been no Mushroom War and if the crown had never come into Simon and Betty’s lives. It is sad to think that this is likely Marceline’s idea of true bliss, even though she herself has never even experienced this type of reality. It’s a nice moment that highlights Marceline’s subconscious desires and what represents her concept of perfection. Of course, it’s all ruined by the burp bros: Finn & Jake. Take Her Back marks a sad transformation for Finn and Jake from two side characters who didn’t do much (aside from Jake’s role in the past episode) to actual annoyances within the Stakes miniseries. I’m not gonna pretentiously act as if fart and burp humor is the absolute worse thing to grace this Earth, because this is far from the first time Adventure Time would dabble in these types of gags. But the next three episode REALLY seem to emphasize that Finn and Jake are two goofy guys who love to fart and burp and to be as gross as possible. The way its incorporated in the story doesn’t even make sense. Finn and Jake burp on Marceline to help cure her because that’s what Joshua and Margaret would do when they were babies? But then Bubblegum tells them that their parents were just being assholes, so there you have it. Joshua and Margaret were shitty parents who enjoyed burping on their kids for their own benefit. Don’tcha just love these bits of lore into Finn and Jake’s backstory? The burps that emit from their body are especially gross as well. It’s pretty obvious to me that these are stock burp sound effects, but some of the audio clips that are used are especially off-putting and kind of disgusting.

So, that goes on for a bit, until PB mentions hubris to the clueless boys (even though Finn literally uses the word himself in The Other Tarts) as she begins to get emotional over the fact that her de-vamping machine ended up causing all sorts of nearly unfixable issues. The emotional moments in general don’t really hit home for me at all, but I was really amused by LSP berating the fuck out of Bubblegum. Something about LSP’s comedic timing in the past two episodes has been really on point, and once again, I enjoy how she actually wants to continue helping even after everyone separates. It’s nice to see her strive to be proactive for once, even if her help isn’t necessary to the grand scheme of things. I also liked Peppermint Butler’s mention of how he poisons himself on purpose for research, as he continues to be the best part of this miniseries, and only reinforces my belief by the end of this episode.

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It is funny to rewatch this episode and listen closely to PB’s words, which clearly can be interpreted as “stake her back,” and provides for a really amusing thematic gag throughout the episode. I enjoyed F&J a bit more as they embarked on their journey to stake The Moon, and it was really neat getting a closer look at her various powers. It did lead for some intrigue regarding how she would actually be defeated in the end, which seems like a relatively impossible feat. But, in Finn’s head, staking her different ways for several hours might just do the trick.

On the other side of things, the King of Ooo hanging Crunchy up on his mantle was hilarious. I love Crunchy’s blank, sad glance as he’s being restrained against his will. Not only does KOO get funnier, but also even more sadistic with each appearance. It’s also a pretty nice “fuck yeah” moment for PB as she kicks her adversary to the ground while shouting “monarchies are not democracies!” and it seems apparent that the Banana Guards have literally no idea what voting KOO into office actually meant. It was amusing how they asked her permission on whether they should arrest her or not, as it’s clear that they still obey her over anyone.

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The visual appeal of this miniseries returns once again with a gorgeous conversion from sunset into nighttime, as F&J deal with the worst possible scenario when finally realizing what PB actually meant. The chase scene is a lot of fun, and nice to see that even though Jake previously faced his fear of vamps in the past episode, he isn’t completely past his phobia of bloodsuckers. Again, The Moon proves to be frightening in just how ambiguous her motivation and nature is. The reveal of her demonic voice and detailed facial features only added to her uncanny state of being. The implication that she gathers power from the actual moon was a helpful sentiment in showing how she goes from a calm, non-active vamp to an absolute terror. Jake’s reactions were pretty hilarious as well, which can be attributed to John DiMaggio’s terrific inflections.

I thought Peppermint Butler’s method of healing Marceline was just a bit underwhelming, considering that Pepbut in general always has something really bizarre up his sleeve in terms of black magic, and we never get to see if this healing ritual even has any effect. So it kind of feels like padding more than anything, especially with moments like the Banana Guards’ back and forth about a yoga video (game). I did think that the moment between the Banana Guards and PB was sweet, coming back to the idea that they probably never realized that they would lose their mom all together to begin with.

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The Moon’s power of paralyzing her victims came off a bit odd to me, just because of the fact that Marceline herself has never possessed such a power, but I suppose it could be interpreted as a unique ability that The Moon is able to possess through lunar power. We’re then treated to another dream sequence which revolves around an older Marceline spending time with Bubblegum in the far future, as PB herself remains the same age, though Marcy is left as an old, nearly-deaf woman. This one represents her fears of eventually dying off before her friends, which she has yet to experience in her entire lifespan. Despite her desire to change, the thought of being outlived by her best friend likely never dawned on Marceline, until it was explored within her subconscious. Thus we have the first dream, which revolves around Marceline’s concept of what could have been, and then the second dream, which focuses on what could be in the future. Both dreams touch heavily on Marceline’s feelings of loss and desperation and are nice additions to her virtually empty role in the episode.

Probably the most energetic moment for myself in this episode is when Peppermint Butler gets his grand moment of victory by literally “staking her (The Moon’s) back.” Again, it’s so nice for Pepbut to possess such a major role in the story and be something more than just a subservient side character. Which is more than I could say for our boys, who ended up once again being on the back-burner. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

But in the end, Take Her Back is pretty good one. Like some of the other Stakes entries, the best aspect of this episode is its atmosphere surrounding the vamp of the week. The Moon is a really badass villain with a creepy voice, nice design, and equally threatening abilities. There’s more than a few flaws in this one that once again tie back into some of the overarching issues I have with Stakes in general, but the episode provides enough delightful energy in its frantically paced story and tense dilemma that I still leave Take Her Back feeling mostly positive regardless.

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Favorite line: “Don’t believe in yourself so much then, dum-dum!”

 

“May I Come In?” Review

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Original Airdate: November 18, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Luke Pearson & Emily Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Empress Eyes” Review

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Original Airdate: November 17, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Seo Kim & Somvilay Xayaphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vamps About” Review

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Original Airdate: November 17, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Steve Wolfhard & Tom Herpich

Stakes really begins to pick up in story by the time Vamps About comes. This one really establishes the overarching dilemma of the miniseries, as well as introducing the main villains to our heroic crew. As far as establishing said plotline, this episode does a pretty solid job on that part, as well as having a ton of fun along the way.

The first few minutes of the episode are mostly spent with the vampires, as we’re provided with a solid concept regarding their personalities, abilities, and character traits. And man, do I love these guys. The vamps in general are probably my favorite part of the miniseries, as so much effort was clearly put into their designs, motivations, and individuality. Each vamp is charismatic and unique in their own way, and its nice how the presentation of these characters isn’t too exposition heavy either. We’re given brief glimpses into the perspectives of each vamp, but we don’t really fully get to know them until their own star episode. Thus each vamp leaves us with a bit of anticipation until they eventually strike later on. Especially The Moon, who remains entirely speechless and virtually unacknowledged during the entire convergence. Hella creepy. I have my own list of favorites and least favorites when it comes to the vampires, but I’ll get into that list during the Stakes mega-review. Aside from their individual characteristics, the vamps also have great chemistry between each other. Love all the slapstick-y moments involving Empress and the Vampire King’s treatment of The Fool, as well as the Vampire King threateningly holding Hierophant captive and shouting, “surely? Surely? SHIRLEY J. TEMPLE!” An obscure reference to say the least, but one that always gets me regardless. It’s also cool to see that the vamps are very different in their philosophies regarding how they should go about adapting to their new environment: Empress wants to rebuild an entirely new army of vamps, Hierophant wants to stick to the old-school vampire ways, The Moon’s motivations are unknown, The Fool just wants to fuck around and have a good time, and the Vampire King wants to turn over an entirely new leaf of existence.

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The next bit regroups our main heroes, and while it isn’t as fun or enjoyable as the time we spent with the vamps, we do get some quality moments. I love Marceline toying with Jake once more as she fake-out sucks his soul, and his version of giving Marcy a “ride” to PB’s house that involves growing a bigger, more human-like torso. Only Jake would come up with something so complicated. I know this isn’t a moment that a ton of people were into, but I liked Finn putting his arms around the girls as Marceline explains the vampire situation to Bonnie. A lot of people saw it as Finn being creepy and trying to cop a feel from his female companions, but I always saw it as an attempt for Finn to be involved and incorporated into the conversation, but gets a bit too into the gals’ personal space for their own liking. I never saw this moment as being especially malicious or creepy, and more naive than anything. The scene that did bother me was the 40 second long gag that involved Peppermint Butler drawing various interpretations of Jake’s description of the vamps, as Jake consistently responds with, “nah, that’s not right.” I remember being really bored and unamused the first time I watched this bit, and I’m equally as unfazed after a third or fourth time. Adventure Time has never fared with with overly-long jokes. It’s a series that banks itself off of quick-shot gags and overt absurdity, rather than toying with the patience of the audience and seeing how long a particular joke can be stretched out. I’d be fairly more forgiving if Peppermint Butler’s sketches were at least funny, but they’re pretty straightforward and unremarkable. This at least provided us with the sweet promo art that Steve Wolfhard drew up for the episode.

The flashback sequence featuring the final battle between Marceline and the Vampire King is visually impressive. The action is staged terrifically, Vampire King’s words are dramatic and foreboding, the shot is well-lit through the use of moonlight, and the biting scene in general is really intense and somewhat disturbing. Vampirism has shared a connection with rape culture in the media since pretty much the beginning of its existence, and I definitely get those uncomfortable feelings here. That’s not necessarily a complaint though, as I think it really adds to the absolute trauma that seems to have been inflicted on Marceline. Adventure Time has flew past the radar countless times, but I was actually somewhat surprised with how aggressive this biting sequence was able to play out.

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Another one of my favorite bits in this one is Peppermint Butler unleashing his large, collective supply of vampire slaying material. It was pretty obvious from the beginning of this miniseries that PB, Finn, and Jake would all still possess prominent roles despite the fact that Stakes revolves around Marceline, but it sure is nice to see Peppermint Butler in a secondary role as well, to the point where he does have an active role in the story. I love Pepbut’s explanation of how he kept this arsenal around just in case Marceline went berserk. The little man will really do anything to protect Princess Bubblegum, even if it means slaying her former best friend in the process.

It was kind of annoying to see the boys fumble around and be incompetent, just so that there is some kind of framing device in order for Marceline to be alone. Of course, there are tons of these moments during the miniseries, and this one isn’t as bothersome as some instances are. So I can forgive this moment for now, but it certainly isn’t the last time I’ll be making this complaint.

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Marceline’s confrontation with the Vampire King (and The Fool) is nicely executed, and it does kind of paint a picture of how morally wrong the King actually is in his new lifestyle. While Marceline is rightfully close-minded in not believing the vamp after he treated her in the past, it does kind of leave an impression that sorta makes you question vampirism in general. I mean, it seems fucked up that the vampires suck the blood from animals, but in general, we as humans kill and eat animals every single day. It’s an obvious point, but one I actually didn’t think about much from the inception, to which the Vampire King brings to light. While we’re on the subject of the King, I think he has a pretty neat design in general, but it bothers me to no end that he also has bird feet, similar to Urgence Evergreen. That was a really neat and unique feature to Evergreen’s design, and I feel as though Vampire King sharing this trait makes Evergreen seems less remarkable in the process. But that quibble aside, I do enjoy his various different animalistic attributes.

Marcy quickly staking The Fool was quite amusing, as the Vampire King slickly transports from area to area. Though the battle doesn’t last long, as Marcy is left with the impending dangers that face her good pal Simon within the Ice Kingdom. And we’re left with an exciting promise of an episode-to-episode battle with each vampire.

This one is mostly solid. It has a couple jokes and gags I’m not particularly into, but this is the episode in which I really started to get invested with this miniseries as a whole. It builds a lot of anticipation for what’s ahead, while providing for some satisfying entertainment in the process.

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Favorite line: “Smell my feet, Marceline! You won’t regret it.”

“Marceline the Vampire Queen” Review

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Original Airdate: November 16, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Ako Castuera & Jesse Moynihan

Stakes time, baby! Just as a heads up for y’all, I will not be analyzing the entire miniseries as a whole until I cover each individual episode of Stakes. Though they all follow a linear story, each episode of Stakes has its own identity and purpose, and I think it’s important that they’re discussed separately. Hell, that’s one of the main reason I started up this blog; I grew very sick and tired of seeing reviews that only discussed the actual quality of the miniseries as a whole without looking at what each episode (which were all worked on by different writers and storyboard artists) had to offer. So, let’s get started with Marceline the Vampire Queen!

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This one’s mostly set-up, as one would and should expect from a series of connected episodes as such. As far as set-up goes, I think it accomplishes much of what the miniseries would later expand upon, including the nature of vampirism, how it affects Marceline, and what conflicts face our main heroes as they embark on their journey. Granted, I think this one holds up a bit less on its own than when I first watched it. Considering that the terrific Everything Stays follows it, most of my positive feelings that reflected that half-hour seem to be in regards to the latter half. That’s not to say that Marceline the Vampire Queen is without its moments. There are some especially funny moments, along with a decent portion of nicely drawn and well-animated sequences. My issue with this one is that it seems a bit tonally dissonant in some areas; one of my main critiques of the miniseries as a whole is that it can try to be a bit too jokey and quirky in some areas where it isn’t really warranted. I feel as though many of these episodes are constantly trying to throw out jokes every five seconds, and it usually results in a mixed bag of really funny moments, and a handful of unfunny bits. Marceline the Vampire Queen is very much similar, in that it wants to be taken seriously, but also wants to entertain its audience, which is a trademark of Adventure Time in general. But it partially feels a bit forced in some areas, and I’ll try to explain what I mean as much as possible.

First, I do like how the beginning of this episode plays out. Marceline struggling to reach her umbrella as she seeks refuge under a shady tree is a great way of framing Marcy’s pain and struggling in her current state. I initially thought the premise of the miniseries in general was kind of weird, considering that we never really saw Marceline struggle with any in depth, personal issues regarding her curse, but I think Marceline the Vampire Queen does a pretty decent job of explaining it. I quite enjoy Marcy’s interactions with Bubblegum, and how she describes her vampirism as a constant reminder of her messed up past and how she’s unable to completely move on from it. Though her inability to expose herself to the sun is primarily what kickstarts these feelings, it’s nice that Marcy describes an underlying and deeper source to her issues that has been plaguing her for some time. After 1,000+ years of being a vampire, the stagnation weighing down Marcy’s life seems like it would surely take a toll on her mental health, considering that no matter what she has done before, she can never move on from the disability that constantly surrounds her. While it’s hard to relate to actual vampirism, it can easily be substituted for any other mental illness in the book, and how many people feel that same bit of stagnation through the threatening mindgames they face each day.

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The interactions between PB and Marcy when it comes to the operation sequence are mildly funny in how they subvert pandering to any diehard Bubbline fans, but again, I thought PB’s apathetic nature did kind of squander the importance of the procedure. Granted, I love PB’s moments of not understanding how to interact emotionally with other characters, but this is the one time I would actually like for the two gals to have an honest and direct conversation with each other. It’s funny, because Ako Castuera returned to the writing staff for this episode, and I think her method of writing for Marceline and PB suffers from the same issues that Castuera’s previous Marcy-PB centric episode, Sky Witch, had. While Castuera seems to have no problem writing for Princess Bubblegum individually, I think the way she depicts the relationship between the two girls is especially hollow to the point where it seems like PB doesn’t given a fuck about anything going on around her. I don’t think the gals need to be lovey-dovey and kiss up to each other all the time, but I feel as though such a moment deserves for something a bit more earnest and compassionate.

While I mostly like Finn and Jake’s roles in the episode, I feel like Jake suffers from being way too over-the-top in the beginning. I don’t even hate his role as bad cop, but I think it’s somewhat squandered by the fact that Jake quickly gives up this role and ends up being just as caring and supporting as Finn in the blink of an eye. Obviously he wanted to help his friend in her time of need, but I felt the shift from “let’s go arrest Marceline right this minute because she’s obviously guilty” to “let’s help out our friend Marceline because she’s having personal problems” was way too abrupt. That being said, I did like the interactions between Marceline and Finn, and how Marcy herself isn’t even sure of what may have happened to herself or others.

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There’s a big presence with side characters in this one, mainly the fat villagers and their leader Cloud Dance. Cloud Dance has a few funny lines revolving around his cows and how they were affected by the vampire bites, though I think the character in general is slightly unremarkable in his voice, personality, and design. He’s portrayed by Kyle Kinane, who I actually had never heard of prior to this episode, though is apparently a voice actor and a comedian. While I’ve never seen Kinane’s work elsewhere, Cloud Dance isn’t really provided humorous dialogue as it is, aside from the moment I mentioned earlier. His character is pretty insignificant, and one I usually tend to forget.

The following nighttime scenes are probably my favorite bits of the episode. Though I’m not really a fan of Marceline’s “arthritis dance” (any attempt to make Marceline a quirky or silly character never really comes off as convincing) the moments Finn and Jake share are both funny and somewhat tense. I love Jake’s ignorant fear of vampires coming into fruition once more, as John DiMaggio puts absolutely all of his energy into Jake’s character. The shots within the cave are eerie and off-putting in the best way possible, with tons of different grotesque and nicely detailed animals scattered throughout. It is strange to see a whole assortment of random, non-speaking animals (has there ever been a normal dog in the series before this point?) but I’m willing to forgive it because every creature depicted looks fantastic.

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The episode comes to a pretty enticing conclusion; clearly we know Marceline isn’t going to explode, but the way it’s framed, as Finn tries to literally beat the sunrise, is really cool and builds a good amount of hype for the next episode.

Marceline the Vampire Queen does everything it should to set-up for the next handful of episodes, but I think my main problem is just with the tonal shifts and dialogue. Adventure Time has always been good at balancing out drama and comedy, but I almost feel as though this one is trying to forcibly be humorous every chance it gets, even when it means getting in the way of having genuine character moments. This is actually a problem I would end up having with the miniseries and several other episodes within it as a whole, but as is, it is a decently fun start to a mostly fun miniseries.

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Favorite line: “That’s cool, you guys, but clean this mess also, you bums!”