Adventure Time is “new pulp”

I haven’t written about Adventure Time yet, have I? Dang. At first I was tempted to say “Adventure Time is pulp,” but of course that doesn’t adhere to the real, literal definition of the term.

Despite the admirable and vigorous impetus possessed by some yeomen of the nascent Pulp Revolution (that is, the collective of writers, bloggers, readers, critics, fans, et al. who have rediscovered the old greats of the original pulp stories, and now strive to bring about a revival of sorts or else an inspired new era of science fiction/fantasy), I personally do not believe in trying to redefine that which already has a very rigid and clear meaning. As Cirsova and John Smith (above) point out, “pulp” is quite actually a type of story published in a pulp magazine between 1896 and somewhere abouts in the 1950s. As Rawle (above) also pointed out, we must not redefine pulp  as “stuff we like.” That’s like saying “I love hard science fiction, ergo any scifi stories I like are hard science fiction.”

But as I was saying, Adventure Time is not pulp. It is quite pulpy, though. Whatever we’re calling that which evokes the spirit and ethos of the old pulp stories and seems to draw inspiration from the old greats – that’s what Adventure Time is. “New pulp?” Whatever.

Interestingly, this is another thing of classification “stuff that Kaiju got me into.” Before being reluctantly persuaded to watch, Adventure Time looked like a goofy kid’s show to me. Perhaps worse and quite evidently unfairly, it made me think of Hot Topic and Cat Dog.

 

Even upon my first viewing, I wasn’t initially sold. Kaiju and I were hanging out, and he says “Hey let’s watch Adventure Time.”

I was skeptical.

“Dude, shut up, you’ll like it.”

I yielded, skeptically, as is my wont.

The first episode was about a kingdom of candy people with a bubblegum princess. Ugh. But wait, then there were zombies. And though Jake the Dog was a little off-putting at first (John DiMaggio at that point was Bender the Robot in my mind), I quickly grew to like him. I mean a loyal, brave, shape-shifting mutant dog creature? That’s ok in my book. And Finn the Human was pretty cool too. Yes, he has a weird hat. But he also wields swords and sees it as his mission to defend the weak, defeat evil, and essentially just be a badass hero. Yes!

As I watched more episodes on my own time, the world of Ooo began to unfurl. And it was massive. This is a land filled with monsters, mad wizards, all manner of strange mutants and weird creatures, talking animals, aliens, robots, dungeons and magic.

Despite the easy fun of most episodes, the cartoon’s presentation and style are complex and layered. The animation is inspired by the old Max Fleischer cartoons and Felix the Cat. Inspirations for the story and the world itself are varied and impressive. Creator Pendleton Ward has described the show as a dark comedy, because he loves the feeling of being happy and scared at the same time. He works to combine a bleak kind of humor with beautiful “Miyazaki”-style moments (he’s cited My Neighbor Totoro as an inspiration for this type of beauty).

Executive producer Fred Seibert has named Dungeons and Dragons and video games as inspirations, and that shows. There are characters and settings and situations that now strike me as weird, almost Vancian imaginings.

 

Although (like a lot of anime) there are some less satisfying “filler” episodes scattered about, Adventure Time does a masterful job developing its characters and advancing its general story while at the same time capturing the spirit of serialized adventure. Some of the funnest episodes are those in which Finn and Jake just fight monsters and/or explore dungeons. “Dungeon Train” was a great episode for this, as was “The Enchiridion!

My favorite AT stories are probably the more melancholy ones, though. There are storylines in which Finn deals with being the (presumed) only human left in the world; with seeking out his father; and in dealing with young love and heartbreak. We also get to learn more (often heartbreaking tales) about ancillary characters like the Ice King, who, though on the surface is a crazed, silly, perverted old mage, actually has a sad, moving, noble past. The way this show is able to blend and transition between comedy, beauty, and gut-wrenching poignancy brings to mind Futurama at its best.

the-luck-of-the-fryrish

We are also occasionally treated to glimpses of characters at different times and places, sometimes Ooo beyond the lifetimes of our protagonists. The haunting song of Lemonhope comes to mind:

 

There’s so much to love about Adventure Time that it’s difficult to really do it justice in one simple blog post. But one more admirable element I’d like to note is the way the show glories in heroics. While plot elements can get really dark at times, Finn and Jake never waver or shy away from their roles. Even when things seem hopeless, they fight. And they’re good guys; it’s that simple. As gray and nuanced as our entertainment can be these days, it’s heartening to have a show where the good guys are just good.

So if you like genre bending (I’d probably call it post-apocalyptic scifi fantasy), action and adventure, dark comedy, fun, heroic heroes, and emotionally-layered animation…do yourself a favor and check it out.

adult finn

Oh, and just try to tell me that Ron Perlman as the Lich isn’t the greatest. “You are strong, child. But I am beyond strength.”

 

-Bushi

bushi

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Adventure Time is “new pulp”

17 thoughts on “Adventure Time is “new pulp”

  1. kaijubushi says:

    It’s hard to believe that there was a time when you didn’t watch adventure time. I remember now forcing you to watch it. You are welcome for ruining our life with pulpy zaniness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Adventure Time, but it’s more like the more loving New Wave era homages to the pulps than what you’d see in the actual pulps.

    Also, Adventure Time was better when it was all filler and became less conscious of its adult hipster fanbase.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, you’re right – “homage” is a good term for it in relation to the pulps. I was mostly trying to grab eyeballs with the title. It also doesn’t always take itself as serious as the pulps generally seemed to. Not to say that it doesn’t have serious and gravid plots, but there’s plenty of silliness and self-awareness.

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      1. Granted there are a lot of episodes and I don’t remember everything, but what struck you as catering to hipsters?

        I *do* remember some really weird crap in some episodes. Like wondering what drugs the writers were going. But man, Adventure Time really knows how to give me the feelz and get my blood pumping.

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      2. The weirdness they did trying to both keep the status quo AND give it a running story really mucked up a lot of the character dynamics between Finn, PBG, Marceline, and Flame Princess. Even though I love a lot of the comics, they’re even worse about it than the show sometimes.

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      3. Because of threading, I’ll reply to your second reply here:
        You see it a bit in season 3, but much more strongly in season 4, Adventure Time goes from a fun kids show that appeals to adults to an adult show that looks like a kids show. Season 4 went to a lot of really dark ‘not-really-appropriate-for-kids’ places. While the quality of the show picked up a lot with Season 5 (I actually stopped watching it for awhile because of how badly S4 sat with me), but it’s still obviously being directed more towards the adult fans who got into it early on when it was still a kids show than towards kids.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah I guess I didn’t really see that as hipster appeal; to me it felt like the show developing and moving on with its fans. Finn grew up somewhat (the VA’s voice changed) and so did the show!

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  3. Dan Wolfgang says:

    I’d like Adventure Time a lot better if Princess Bubblegum wasn’t such a bitch. Throughout the show, she acts like an asshole to pretty much everyone, and Finn continues to chase after her despite this. I liked Flame Princess a lot better as a love interest for Finn.

    At least, I did until the ending of her story arc, where she dumps Finn for stupid reasons and marries some guy she just met. That was around when I stopped watching the show, I think. Looking back on it now, Adventure Time seems more like a refutation of the old pulp stories, rather than a show that embodies the pulp spirit.

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    1. Yeah, PB is a bitch indeed. But I think that’s ultimately why she wasn’t right for Finn. She doesn’t really seem interested in being romanced.

      For the Flame Princess, I was also disappointed with how that ended. And it’s true – the hero getting the girl is a popular and powerful pulp trope that’s lacking here (at least so far; unclear if there’s any further romance in store for Finn before the end). I don’t really see that as contrary to the pulp spirit, though. Or maybe I should say even if it is, that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Finn is still a boy, though he’s becoming a man over the course of the show. Learning about love and heartache and heartbreak are a part of growing up. And at least through it all, Finn came out okay. He learned and matured. Romance and love are pretty big elements to a lot of pulp stories, and there is a lot of that present in Adventure Time. Unfortunately Finn hasn’t found his princess yet. But at least he didn’t go to pieces.

      Also Flame Princess isn’t married. I read that the writers don’t intend for Finn and her to get back together, but she’s not actually dating that Cinnamon Bun dude; they’re just close friends now.

      Also thankfully a lot of episodes leave Princess Bubblegum out!

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Dan!

      Like

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