First off, if you’ve been under a rock for the last 4 years or so and need a quick rundown on Adventure Time, here goes: in the mystical land of Ooo (broadly hinted to be a post-apocalyptic far-future Earth) a 12 year-old boy called Finn the Human (there aren’t many others) lives in a tree-house with his adoptive brother, a shape-shifting dog called Jake. Finn and Jake (and large cast of friends and/or antagonists) go on various adventures inspired by creator Pendleton Ward’s love of Dungeons & Dragons, video games, comics, kids’ movies, and genre fiction. To say it is incredibly popular would be something of an understatement.
There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. The show has no real overarching plot, so you can jump in at any point and get what’s going on fairly quickly. This is balanced by the surprisingly deep and complex history of Ooo, but this is doled out sparingly as background details across a range of episodes. This means that Adventure Time rewards watching lots of episodes, but it’s not at all necessary to watch them all in order or all at once.
Ward and his team also do a really great job balancing their various influences and inspirations. Fans of D&D and the other various media they reference will get a lot out of the show, but the references are all sufficiently impressionistic and passing that they don’t feel smart-alecy or intrusive. It helps that individual episodes are fairly short (11 minutes each) so ideas are introduced, developed. and discarded before you have a chance to get tired of them.
Finally, this is a really beautiful show. Pendleton Ward has claimed to be influenced by Hayao Miyazaki to create “beautiful moments”, and the various environments that Jake, Finn, and their friends adventure in certainly have that Miyazaki quality of beauty for their own sake as well as service to the greater show.
The relationships between the various characters are also really nicely done – particularly the relationship between Finn and Jake, and the weirder more dangerous relationship between Finn and Marceline (the Vampire Queen). There’s a surprising level of depth and pathos to even the most unpleasant characters, and (refreshingly for an American animated show) there’s very little of the shallow world-weary sarcasm that young teenagers think is amazing but everyone else finds painful. Instead, everyone speaks in a sort of future-slangy patois that reminds me more than anything of Achewood.
There are two kinds of Adventure Time DVDs. There are straight-up season-by-season collections, and there are grab-bag releases of episodes from various seasons. The Suitor (Collection 6) falls in the latter camp – fortunately because of the nature of continuity across the series, this doesn’t really matter. This is as good a place as any to dive into Adventure Time if you’re new to it, and even if you’re a fan the patchy nature of DVD releases and TV screening here in New Zealand means it might well be worth your while anyway. Solidly recommended.
- “Little Did You Know” – character bios.