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.
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.
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.”