Editor’s note: This article was originally written in December 2020. It stalled for want of the effort to screenshot the various episodes. Nearly three years later I felt like watching Adventure Time again! I found this old article and decided to clean it up a bit and finish the job.
Adventure Time! That sure did not stop being a thing! I stopped writing about it in order to chase dreams of becoming an animator myself, and many other reasons such as the global pandemic, but hey! hearing about the new Distant Lands series made me a lil nostalgic, and hence: more reviews!
Season 4 picks up right where season 3 left off.
Episode 1: Hot to the Touch
It’s easy to say early Adventure Time is just like, obsessed with the question of who Finn’s love interest will turn out to be. De-aging PB turned out to be bad, so Flame Princess appears, presumably intended to create a more Valid(TM) romance arc? Perhaps there’s some production notes we can draw on here… alas, none that I can find anyway.
Luckily, she will grow way beyond her introduction. But for now her arc is tightly bound up with Finn’s; in this case, Finn is super horny for a girl who can burn him and sets everyone nearby on fire. But he also hurts her, since when she spreads fire, it causes her injury when forcibly extinguished.
It’s a pretty on the nose metaphor huh! This episode mostly consists of Finn pursuing FP, accidentally hurting her, and hitting on her. Eventually she concludes that Finn is a water elemental and the two are essentially star-crossed lovers. This takes place while FP attacks a goblin village (goblins in Adventure Time being a go-too class of helpless villager, a cute twist on the ‘enemy cannon fodder’ default lol) and Jake attempts to suppress her arson.
Like a lot of American cartoon romances, it plays out like… almost the instant a character lays eyes on their love interest, they decide they are madly in love and must confess immediately. It’s kind of a fast-forward through a harmful relationship, Finn constantly saying or doing the wrong thing but also like… getting burned! Literally! Ultimately it still kinda left me cold but honestly? This is just setup.
Episode 2: Five Short Graybles
Now we hit on a formula that the show will continue to use to tremendous effect (in my opinion! which is not exactly universal) throughout the rest of its run. A Graybles episode features a storyteller character, a kind of weird… cyborg?, delivering five very brief vignettes (episodes are still only ten minutes long, leaving only two per short!), joined by a nonsensical theme. The presentation evokes edutatinment, but mostly as parody.
This instance features:
- a BMO short, introducing BMO’s alter-ego Football. BMO kind of LARPs being a human, to Football, presented through the device of Football being shot in the mirror. There’s a cute little joke where it’s revealed that Finn and Jake unwittingly share a toothbrush. (sight I guess)
- Finn and Jake attempting to do the ‘ultimate high five’. Finn says ‘I like the pain!’ if we missed the point with Flame Princess ¬¬ (touch)
- PB attempting a series of scientific experiments where she puts a sapient cow in a centrifuge to make cheese, teleports an octopus turning it into a tomato, and magically makes bread… all to make the ‘most perfect sandwich’ that has ever existed. the punchline is that Cinnamon Bun naturally shoves it straight into his stomach without tasting it. …man i love how fucked up the Candy Kingdom is. (taste)
- The Ice King playing with one of the penguins. he blames one for BO and exiles it, only discern it’s him. then he washes. punchline: it was Gunter farting into his armpits. yeah idk this one seems a bit eh lmao (smell)
- Lumpy Space Princess sings These Lumps at a talent show, but gets her song stolen. but she discovers an unexpected talent for audience richochet basketball. then Finn and Jake’s long distance high five steals the show. (hearing)
It’s… well it risks just being ‘lolrandom’ at worst, and that’s why people don’t always like these episodes, but I appreciate that these episodes give them a chance to potentially be more experimental and develop minor characters. Even if… they didn’t actually do that as much as I’d like this time!
Episode 3: Web Weirdos
In this one, uh, Finn and Jake are caught by a sapient spider and have to act as relationship counsellors for a spider couple that intends to eat them. So you know, het relationship dynamics. “It’s not gross when guys do it!” says the guy spider about sharting webs all over Jake.
This is a pretty simple concept so they have to come up with a lot of small jokes to fill the ep. Finn fake-eats one of the flies, and we get some of the AT ugly-detailed closeups. There’s a whole sequence where Finn is spitting birds out of the sky. Basically, visual gross-out gags zone. There’s even a fountain of tiny baby spiders at the end, based on like… certain urban legends I guess. It is true that spiders can lay up to 3000 eggs but most pictures of spiderlings I’ve found are… well they’re not seahorse level numerous let’s say. Even if it’s definitely an r-selective strategy.
Beyond some cutely gross images, and an early invocation of the ‘circle of life’ motif that would later get so well-realised by Masaaki Yuasa, and a brief bit of unnecessarily flashy scrolling background perspective animation, this episode is just… fine?
But hey, it wouldn’t be a fairly insignificant episode of Adventure Time if I didn’t try to make something more out of it. To many people, it seems like an animal producing many young is like… the grossest possible thing. It’s one of the parts of the natural world that we’re just like, eesh, none of that thanks! Something about swarms of tiny animals provokes special disgust and horror. So we get rather unlikely stories, that place the exploding baby spiders in stuff like a cactus.
I don’t know why this is exactly! Do we reach for a cultural explanation? Are there different attitudes in different societies? Notably I think if the animals are considered individually cute, a collection of them is considered much less menacing. The world of insects, on the other hand, lacks the usual mammalian features like large single-lens eyes or fur, and there’s a lot of cultural weight in painting them as disgusting.
It is certainly true that arthropods do pretty horrible things to each other; there’s a lot of unusual reproductive and feeding strategies among arthropods which aren’t remotely as prevalent anywhere else, like, well, all the parasites and mind control and stuff. But is it not the ones which do humanlike things, like ants raising aphid ‘cattle’ or making ‘war’, which are the most alarming..?
In any case, as far as reacting to horrible bugs goes, we can always turn to another classic of animation for sage advice. “Son it’s not disgusting it’s just reality, take a deep breath and appreciate life” indeed… fun fact! Kirsten Lepore, the animator on that film, directed an episode of Adventure Time much later!
Episode 4: Dream of Love
Reproduction sure seems to be a theme in this season! Introduced immediately with Tree Trunks and Mr. Pigs just being head over heels to the point where they’re too busy ‘tending to her rose garden’… so he confesses (he… hadn’t I guess? I could have sworn they were already a couple), and from that point on their extremely mild PDA is causing all kinds of discomfort. The episode conflict being like… a PG version of them grinding on each other in public. As usual with Adventure Time it’s carefully walking between ‘these characters are adorable’ and ‘this is a big ironic joke don’t take it too serious’.
I think at this point it’s probably safe to say Adventure Time isn’t primarily targeting kids anymore.
There’s a whole song and everything. Which goes on long enough that the length is the joke in itself. Upshot: now they’re Officially together. Which is in fact also setup for the Lich arc.
Episode 5-6: Return to the Nightosphere/Daddy’s Little Monster
This is a great two-episode arc, because it involves the Nightosphere, Adventure Time’s version of Hell, and that’s always a chance for the animators to absolutely let loose in a metal-album cover art vein. The first episode in the pair is mostly bureaucracy jokes, with Finn and Jake spending several weeks in a queue that somehow leaves them no worse for wear, but it has plenty of time to indulge in a lot of fantastic images—the best being the ‘bus’, which is a kind of bifurcated brick-shaped creature whose intestines are wide open to the world.
The episode’s best qualities are the sheer Imagery of the Nightosphere. Early on, there’s a wonderful implausibly-long pan over various scenes of Nightosphere chaos—‘chaos’, we soon learn, is the thing that powers the whole realm.
The metaplot of this episode is that Marceline’s dad, now named as ‘Hunson Abadeer’, has devised a scheme to draw Marceline back into running the family business: tricking her into wearing the evil amulet that gives him his floating, gooey form, which when placed on almost anyone else, causes them to play that same role.
As usual there’s a bunch of running jokes and silly skits, like the enormous emphasis on bureaucracy and queuing in the Nightosphere, or the episode-and-a-half long brick joke about bananas which turn out to something between shit and earwax.
Anyway! If we wanna get into the ~worldbuilding~ side, possibly the biggest ~implication~ is that the giant soul-sucking creature is not Hunson’s true form; he’s just a rather schlubby blue dude when not wearing the amulet. Under its influence, Marceline becomes totally overriden by a desire to do random acts of murderous caprice. Finn ends up also wearing it, but is able to resist its powers long enough to stage an escape. After the reveal it’s p predictable but, there’s some cute jokes like Finn’s terrible ‘political rap’. (That this occurs to him… honestly raises a lot more questions.)
I believe this may be the first time ‘chaotic evil’ is uttered, but I could be forgetting an earlier instance. Adventure Time doesn’t really follow D&D alignment in any significant way, but it invokes it as a joke now and again…
Episode 7: In Your Footsteps
This episode starts off a bit eh: parties, first aid on a passing bear, very much ‘we need to begin an episode and we need a generic Adventure Time premise’, but it pointedly reminds us of the Enchiridion. The overall plot: the bear (who doesn’t speak English) introduces itself into the kids’ life, and starts increasingly imitating Finn, going so far as to wear his clothes. The episode plays out from a suspicious Jake’s POV.
- the bear imitates Finn in weird ways; Jake’s suspicions are dismissed as jealousy
- the bear is caught seemingly trying to replace Finn, and they confront him…
- but oh, he just wanted to be a hero! Finn gives away the Enchiridion…
- …and it was actually a scheme of the Lich, still in snail form.
In the long run it’s a ‘moving the pieces around’ episode, setting up the impending Lich arc.
Episode 8: Hug Wolf
The palette immediately establishes this as a horror episode—I first assumed it was for Halloween, but it actually aired in May lol. Guess they were just on a horror kick.
Anyway it’s a sendup of a werewolf story. While destroying an evil tree, Finn and Jake encounter a kind of werewolf creature with big hearts for hands, who hugs Finn. This seemingly infects Finn with hugwolfism himself. So… at night he goes and aggressively hugs people and soon starts transforming into a ‘beta’ hugwolf himself. (Somehow there’s a full moon like three nights in a row). There’s some some fun POV shots which use some very distorted perspective with full background animation.
The episode’s humour mostly derives from the contrast between hugging and the usual werewolf violence, and also against the underlying rape metaphor. For example, in one scene, a dreaming Candy Kingdom girl mutters ‘Dracula’, before her dad bursts in with a shotgun-candycane, shouting at the wolf that his daughter will ‘never marry’. Ultimately Finn and the Alpha Hugwolf have
a fight crazy werewolf sex a big enough hug to break the curse.
Episode 9: Princess Monster Wife
Continuing the horror theme, this one’s a riff on Frankenstein. Most of the princesses wake up with missing chunks, though seemingly not especially biologically compromised by it. It’s pretty guro!
The Ice King (who else could it be, it’s a princess episode?) has stitched the various princess parts into a composite ‘wife’. They get a song and everything. Finn and Jake pass out every time they see her (she’d hardly be out of place in the Nightosphere, but gags are gags). The plot of this episode is the Ice King trying to convince the wife that she’s ‘normal’ and beautiful, while everyone else recognises that she’s actually so ugly as to provoke puke-take reactions. (One cute touch is that she’s voiced by the overlapping voices of the three princess that form her head: PB, Turtle Princess and LSP).
Honestly? This could be something cool: the subjectivity of a creature literally created to satisfy an objectifying gaze, constructed by means of overwhelming violations of bodily autonomy is the sort of super fucked up premise I’d really enjoy if it was framed from the POV of the ‘wife’. Buffalo Bill type metaphorical valence y’know. But that’s kind of asking a bit much lol. Our ten minute runtime is spent reiterating 1. she’s not hot 2. that’s tragic. Inevitably the ‘wife’ sacrifices herself to restore normality and this whole event is never mentioned again.
Episode 10: Goliad
PB gets some screen time again. There’s a wonderfully choreographed shot near the beginning, staging a series of wipes through the ground showing fossils inside.
Anyway the premise of the ep is a big step up. PB has created a new ‘candy sphinx’ child called Goliad, which is a kind of huge pink cat creature with a sorta belly-button-like third eye hole. Great design. Finn and Jake end up taking responsibility for Goliad’s early education. The child voice is very well chosen—it’s reminiscent of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Naturally Goliad 1. has incredible psychic powers 2. learns all the wrong lessons and inherits PB’s megalomaniacal tendencies, quickly developing a ‘might makes right’ philosophy.
This episode has so much of the deliciously fucked Imagery I hope for from Adventure Time: children invading Jake’s body to steal his brain, a psychic battle inside Finn’s mind, the third psychic eye extending on a little white stalk from its socket. Goliad’s innocent-monster voice is perfect. The resolution is p great: PB creates a second candy sphinx from Finn’s ‘heroic DNA’, Stormo, who holds Goliad in an eternal psychic battle. And we’re just left hanging on that image. Classic.
2023 edit: As a bizarre production tidbit I learned later, Goliad and Stormo are voiced by the young children of Graham Linehan—you know, the British comedian who turned into a deranged anti-trans hate mob figurehead. I don’t think Linehand had so decisively established himself as such a complete cunt back when this episode aired, and of course his kids aren’t responsible for his shit. Still. Weird thing to find out lmao.
Episode 11: Beyond This Earthly Realm
Finn and Jake find a weird llamaesque cyclops in a ‘mystery cave’ with a third-eye gem. Something about it is reminiscent of the early D&D cover.
Anyway Finn touches it and like, gets drawn into the
astral plane spirit realm. He’s surrounded by mushi the same weird spirits that the Ice King witnessed through his wizard eyes. He’s intangible but he can still stand on the floor, go figure. There’s some pretty neat spirit designs with all sorts of weird anatomy - I love this one that’s just got like, missing chunks surrounded by teeth.
Anyway the plot is, the Ice King attempts to help Finn get free. Allegedly. In practice he gets Finn to clear up the spirit infestation in his house because the King can’t touch them. As far as Ice King antics go, this episode is one of the better—there’s some fun bits where he like, just recites a rhyme for some reason. And after the King gets trapped in the spirit realm himself is a great little sequence where they’re manifesting subtle spirit effects to try and smash the lamb statue.
I liked this episode—good high concept, Ice King antics that don’t lean on abusing a Princess or something (low bar…), v inventive imagery…
Episode 12: Gotcha!
LSP episode, featuring Turtle Princess, the librarian. LSP’s boasting about whether she can ‘work her lumps’ to influence any man. LSP’s trying to play the role of a romance heroine (hired as a secretary etc.) using random garbage as props while Finn is like… an oblivious child.
In practice this means LSP (Pen Ward) and Turtle Princess (Steve Little) saying ‘lumps’ and ‘gurl’ a lot. Valley girl joke, you know.
Here's an excerpt from LSP's autobiographical herself/Finn romance novel:
realized I was the greatest Adventure Secretary that had ever passed through the junky doors of Fin & Jake Adventuring Incorporated. I had left an indelible mark for real. But that was nothing compared to my next realization. Are you ready for it. The realization? It’s coming up in the next paragraph.
I never realized it was Finn who was hot all along. Finn … was the one who was HOT. I know, right. Finn? I mean, Finn … Finn! Finn? He was pretty nice to me. And he saved me from even hotter shadow guy versions of himself.
I don’t know how it happened. Usually, I’m super observant about these kinds of things. Like that one time Melissa’s lump was all crooked when she came back from the bathroom. I observed that. I observed that all day and I didn’t say anything. She must have been so embarassed for herself. Whatever. ‘Cause that’s what you deserve when you PO LSP. Ha. Oh, she knows what she did … No, I’m not going to tell you.
After all, a girl’s got to have some mysteries.
Anyway, I’ll talk to you later, book. To recap, Finn is the one who is hot. I’ll see you in the next chapter. BUMPS.
Seems like ‘sides PB, every princess in the world apparently has a thing for Finn. This episode didn’t do a lot for me. Like a lot of eps this season, it’s about riffing on romance storylines with unconventional, ‘ugly’ characters. But that can just fall down onto the mean-spirited side of the line, especially after Princess Monster Wife.
Episode 13: Princess Cookie
Interesting episode. We open with a hostage scene featuring the useless-cop Banana Guards facing off against a cookie person. This leads to a great scene where Jake pretends to be a milkman (contra to his preference, a mailman) while Finn dresses in black and pushes himself along the floor, pretending to be his shadow. Also great: the chocolate chip cookie guy’s chocolate chips being sapient lifeforms who can pop out of his body and run around on little legs.
The cookie guy’s backstory turns out to be… he was in an orphanage, met the Princess, asked to be a Princess himself (in this case in the sense of like, a children’s entertainer/authority figure but like that is a gendered title). They continue to use he/him pronouns though so I guess this is #femboy rep for Adventure Time!!!!! ><
Anyway Jake becomes convinced of Princess Cookie’s cause and helps stage an escape, despite PB insisting on a life sentence. So it’s like… blatant shades of tragic trans story complete with actual suicide scene at the end! Though they’re definitely going for more of a crime movie/Western type of vibe.
Except candy people don’t die when they’re smashed to bits. So Princess Cookie ends up in a straitjacket, but gets given a grass crown by Jake with the backing of PB, which is enough to satisfy the like fixation on the crown as a symbol (c.f. Double King etc. etc.) Jake also gets to dress as a mailman, so apparently PB has had some sort of change of heart about self-determination for her subjects?
If they didn’t mean for this one to be read as a parody of cheap tragic trans stories, they sure didn’t make it obvious! That was some semiotic shenanigans all right.
Let us recap what we understand about Adventure Time’s political systems at this point:
- many people are divided into enclaves, typically referred to as ‘kingdoms’, each with a theme (e.g. candy). Not all people are in such groups (e.g. the goblins who temporarily appoint Finn as their sovereign)
- these are almost exclusively ruled over by ‘Princesses’, though only some of these Princesses wear a crown with a magic gem that can be used in the Enchiridion. Princesses are seemingly exclusively characterised by feminine gender cues—we basically never encounter a Prince outside of Ice King’s gender-flipped RPF.
- there are also princesses such as Ghost Princess who do not appear to have any subjects, or princesses with a bare handful of subjects such as Hot Dog Princess whose kingdom is, well, a tiny pigsty.
- the majority of ‘Princesses’ appear to be immortal—although we only really get confirmation of that with Princess Bubblegum. In PB’s case, she created basically all of her subjects herself to play a little game of monarchy.
- an exception is Flame Princess, who has a parent in the Flame King, and is the same age as Finn. The Flame Kingdom appears to be militarily powerful, proudly considers itself to be ‘evil’, and takes a relatively hostile stance towards other nations; its borders are very clearly demarcated.
- most Kingdoms do not have any lesser feudal ranks. The Candy Kingdom is again an exception, with the Earl of Lemongrab ruling a lemon-themed enclave in a desert environment somewhere far away from PB’s capital. Curiously, despite PB largely ruling by fiat, there is a legal system which grants the Earl power when the sovereign is de-aged—but we discussed that at some length before!
- a feudal economy may as well not exist. PB’s kingdom largely seems to be an elaborate larp of the pre-war world, but there is little evidence that the Candy People need to farm or manufacture anything—presumably since most of their needs are met by the sovereign’s scientific automation.
- as seen in this episode, the idea of a non-Princess subject attaining the rank of Princess, and associated deference, is seen as a laughable delusion—something to be humoured only when the subject in question has been subject to medical incarceration. (Deference to royalty may just be a quirk of PB’s creations, admittedly.)
- it is unclear whether Finn and Jake are considered subjects of PB — the same for all the random villages and such in the grasslands surrounding PB’s capital. My instinct given the other kingdoms is probably not.
- diplomatic events take place like the ‘backrubbing ceremony’, but seem largely theatrical. It will be a while before we see any actual political conflict between the kingdoms.
- there are also extradimensional polities, such as Lumpy Space and the Nightosphere. These also seem to be ruled over by individual sovereigns, although it’s not at all clear what LSP’s title actually implies in terms of power.
Given this structure, there is categorically no reason not to indulge Princess Cookie’s desire for a small principality of his own—it’s not like PB actually uses any territory outside her capital. Her desire to incarcerate him indefinitely is just like, petty spite.
Episode 14: Card Wars
This is a long parody of CCGs like Magic: The Gathering. Jake has a lot of embarassment about being a Card Wars player, but when he gets into the game, he becomes extremely competitive and a sore loser. But they really went the extra mile in thinking through a plausible set of CCG rules for this episode.
So here’s some analysis of the rules as pressented in this show!
A fake Magic-like game... just let your eyes glaze over...
- each player has a hidden hand and visible cards on the field like most CCGs. Cards on the field can be ‘flooped’, analogous to tapping in that it means rotating a card 90 degrees, which activates the game effects and corresponding holograms.
- at the beginning of the game, each player has four land cards in the front row, various other cards on the field, and a five-card hand.
- Jake’s lands are three cornfields and a useless swamp. These are associated with colours: corn-related cards are yellow. Finn has ‘empty field’, ‘plains’ and ‘wheat field’ which are associated with a blue colour scheme. When Jake creates the cerebral bloodstorm later, it’s purple. The wheat field’s text says ‘If opponent has gluten allergy, all enemy creatures cost 1 more to activate.’
- cards belong to lanes, each of which has a building associated. While lands need to be flooped, buildings don’t seem to require flooping. So instead of one ultimate target (the player’s health), there are four. The buildings each have cards attached to them, which are floopable: for example Jake has the cards Volcano (destroy all lands) and Silo of Truth (see below).
- every land/building card has a number on it, which may be the health of that object? The cards attached to buildings also have a number. For example, Cornfields have 5, Volcano has 22, Castle has +30, and Silo of Truth has 8. It may be that flooping a card removes its health total from that lane’s pool.
- Jake floops the ‘Silo of Truth’ in his second lane, which has rules text: ‘Opponent reveals hand. Move target card to your own hand.’ The use of the term ‘target’ means we are very specifically dealing with a Magic parody here!
- after that, there is the ‘Battle Phase’. Jake attacks with Huskerknights, whose stats are 6/X, where X is the number of Cornfields in play (in Jake’s case, 3). He additionally plays Cerebral Bloodstorm, which is some kind of attack spell.
- attacking creatures are not flooped, but ‘activated’. However, Finn’s Pig card is floopable, which allows the pig to bypass the Huskerknights, damaging Jake’s Cornfield and reducing the toughness of the Huskerknights. The Cerebral Bloodstorm appears to do damage to both sides - it appears Jake’s play was to use the Bloodstorm to soften up Finn’s creatures with a ‘damage both sides’ spell, knowing the Huskerknights would be tough enough to survive the turn and heal. Not sure why - in Magic terms a 6/3 would easily destroy a 2/2 without help.
- the text of the Pig: ‘-1 to all corn fields when flooped. Pig cannot be attacked when flooped.’ -1 seems to be enough to disable the cornfields altogether?
- at the beginning of each turn, you’re required to discard a card and pick up a new one. This means that players are going to be gaining no net card draw per turn, which means they’re going to empty their hands very quickly!
- Finn plays the Cave of Solitude and Spirit Tower and floops both. Cave of Solitude: ‘Remove target creature from next attack phase’. Spirit Tower: ‘Gank enemy creature.’
- Activated creatures don’t have to attack: Finn’s Ancient Scholar, when activated, ‘begins studying’. He also uses the Cave of Solitude to remove his pig from the field for the next attack phase.
- Jake’s play is ‘Field of Nightmares’, and flooping Earlings. However, this was a misplay since the Pig isn’t on the board. He tries to use Teleport, but that only works on own creatures. So in a fit of rage he floops Volcano, destroying all lands on the board, including the Cave of Solitude. Then he plays Reclaim Landscapes to ‘reconstitute’ his lands. This gets his cornfields back, and apparently the Huskerknights weren’t removed from play because they come back with the Cornfields.
- It is possible to hide a creature underneath a land card: Jake’s Immortal Maize Walker, a 15/5 which gets triple damage when a Cornfield is in play. However Finn apparently has the ability to bring his Ancient Scholar out of studying with a new power, in this case Raise the Dead. My guess is that you get to decide what the Scholar is studying when you bring them back out. By raising the pig, Finn can once again negate Jake’s cornfield build.
- ‘Gank’ turns out to be gaining control of a creature. Thus Finn takes control of the Immortal Maize Walker. I believe that with the Cornfields once again negated, the Maize Walker’s power is reduced.
- At this point, Finn attempts to deliberately throw the game because Jake is being a sore loser. Jake only has a ‘Wandering Bald Man’. Finn activates the pig, hoping to remove it from play by sending it against the bald man. We see how the battle is handled: attacker goes first, take it in turns to inflict damage. The Pig’s speed advantage lets it win.
- An unseen rule reveals that pigs can’t leave mud landscapes once they’re on them, which somehow means Jake gets control of the pig.
- Jake plays Recliaim Landscapes again, then summons Archer Dan, a kind of corn on the cop robin hood figure. This immediately destroys all of Finn’s buildings. Then he summons an unnamed grim reaper type creature which ganks all of Finn’s creatures—this appears to be the Field Reaper card, per the wiki.
Inevitably, other viewers have analysed the game further from this and other episodes. The wiki page has more details I missed and pictures of the cards. Given Adventure Time’s audience, it’s probably no surprise that they fleshed it out into an actual card game, though I think it’s now out of print. Inevitably, they’ve adjusted the game balance a bit—Archer Dan, for example, can only target his own lane, and the same is true of the Pig. (Which gains a definite article—The Pig—by virtue of featuring in an episode even though the whole joke was that the game turned on a weak creature but whatever lol.)
This episode works so well because, well, it’s a CCG parody by people who like and play CCGs, and that shows. The small character arcs work (thanks in part to some fantastically hyper-exaggerated expressions—I feel like this episode has had more than the entire season so far! Apparently these are a trademark of storyboarder Bert Youn) and it’s just a sweet, low-stakes episode.
And they do a great job of making an episode that consists of characters holding pieces of cardboard and talking within the same room be visually interesting. I feel like this would be a great episode to study for storyboarders. And a real testament to the power of going off-model for the gag. So as an idea for an episode of a TV show: fucking nailed it. Great episode.
But since they have gone to the effort of sketching an actual game, how does it look as a game? …well the show naturally is not trying to present a complete, balanced game but suggest an enormous universe of baroque card-specific rules like in Magic, and it’s hard to really emulate that. A few of the Magic mechanics it riffs on: gaining control of the other player’s cards; cards whose power depends on other cards; weird edge-case rules interactions.
One thing it lacks compared to Magic is the sense of steady escalation in options that comes from playing a land every turn—Magic has a lot to do with finding tricks to get ahead of that gradually increasing mana curve, and managing the randomness of a deck, but they (understandably) brush over the resource economy in this episode because it’s not as dramatic. The MOBA-like lanes system is an interesting idea: it replaces the choice of ‘which creature do I want to block with’ with a prediction game, trying to figure out what your opponent will send down each lane.
I ended up getting a chance to play a couple games of the defictionalised version and it’s pretty fun.
Episode 15: Sons of Mars
Just going off the title of this episode… the Martian society is something Adventure Time has only vaguely touched in on the series proper, but per the pilot, Mars has a few significant indivudals: King Abraham Lincoln and the four-faced crystalline lifeform Grob Gob Glob Grod which is, if not worshipped as a god, at least frequently invoked in expressions like ‘oh Glob!’.
We open with a meeting between Grob Gob Glob Grod and Magic Man, who uh… casually tells a passing deer he’s a ‘wandering g—y child’ because somehow our culture just thinks that word means free-spirited and not an anti-Roma slur. However, after this, there’s some nice storyboarding, including an extended run sequence on a looping perspective background.
Anyway, this episode’s premise turns out to be: Magic Man, who is in truth a Matrian expatriate, swaps appearances with Jake in order that Jake can take the fall for his crimes. Crimes which turn out to include animating the Martians’ shadows to attack them; grafting the Martians’ hands together during a ‘community song’; turning all the water into baldness-causing hair.
Lincoln himself… yeah it’s doing a riff on American civic religion right, the Martians wear tall tapering hats like the mythologised ‘pilgrims’. But Lincoln actually speaks in a rough voice with casual dialect, that’s the joke, etc. etc. Lincoln reveals Magic Man’s fall came as a result of spending a night on Olympus Mons, which sounds like it has a similar legend as the Welsh mountain Cadair Idris, on which it’s said if you spend the night you will come back either mad or a poet. (He’s said to have spent it with Margles, his girlfriend or wife…)
Despite being acclaimed as the ‘Wisest and Most Honest Superbeing’ by Finn, Lincoln and Grob Gob Glob Grod barely run a trial—just a sentencing! The supposed Magic Man’s crimes and identity are considered self-evident (despite transformation magic presumably being a Martian invention!) and his sentence is summary execution; his claim of being Jake the Dog is only further evidence of his ‘madness’. If this is the norm for how neurodivergence or indeed social deviance and mild annoyance is treated on Mars..!
Finn fails to prevent Jake’s execution, so Lincoln opts to retrieve Jake’s soul from the ‘37th Dead World’. This requires an exchange with Death: in this case, Lincoln’s immortality; he is transformed into a stone statue. This seems like quite a coup for Magic Man, but in any case.
Too much off this episode leaned on funny voices and shouting to really work for me. I think the main purpose was to reintroduce the Grob Gob Glob Grod mythology, and Lincoln, to the show (since it had only previously shown up in the pilot). Which raises so many questions!
Like, OK. For the most part, despite the nominally far-future setting, Adventure Time shies away as much as possible from real-world history history and cultures (despite being very USAmerican when you get down to it). Yet with Lincoln we have a man who’s arse-deep in history: the whole reason he’s well-known was his role in fighting a war that led to the legal abolition of slavery, an achievement then vastly inflated by his mythology later on. About this, Adventure Time mostly has to say… haha funny voice man.
Well, you know, Americans are probably tired of hearing about Lincoln, poking fun is fair enough. It’s a curious thing to watch from the outside though. It’s like all those times Oda Nobunaga shows up in games or anime as an evil wizard or something.
Episode 16: Burning Low
16 episodes into the season, it’s time to pick up the Flame Princess arc. Finn and FP are hanging out; affection is hard because fire burns people. But they’ve found some workarounds, like wrapping Finn in tinfoil (not quite sure the logic… tinfoil is highly conductive, it just reflects IR, but wrapping something in tinfoil and putting it in a fire won’t keep it cool). Finn, Jake and FP hanging out are pretty cute. As much as we’re supposed to read Finn and Jake as just buddies, bros etc., with respective hetero love interests… this is just a bisexual polycule innit.
Jake explains the like, base system of dating ‘progress’ (here framed as ‘tiers’)—only rather Rainicorn oriented (tier 4: “discover all 15 feet of her long beautiful stomach”, tier 8: “touch her horn”). Jake flinches from describing what’s at the far end of the ladder.
PB gets wind, bringing us the main plot of this episode. She’s afraid of some catastrophe happening if Finn were to kiss FP, which Jake interprets as jealousy. This leads to some silly interpersonal drama… and then the first big reveal of Serious PB Abuse Of Power, which is always a fun one. Turns out, her fear of FP’s instability blowing up the planet is the very reason the Flame King locked her up! Uh oh! (PB has quite a lot of influence over the Flame King huh… or had, he doesn’t seem to be following her demand anymore.)
In the end they solve the whole situation by using Jake to plug up the hole FP burns into the ground, depriving her of oxygen. Interestingly, they make FP blue when she’s burning cold—the cooler palette communicates the coldness effectively even though, you know, blue flames hotter.
Finn takes a number of severe burns to the face, and settles for indirect kisses only with FP from now on.
To be continued
Hello, 2023!Bryn here. That’s as far as I got with this liveblog back in 2020. I spruced up my commentary a bit during this rewatch and filled in the missing pictures, but I’m going to pick this up again in a new article, and save any commentary on the whole season until then.
I’ll see you in the next chapter. BUMPS.