Every week, Lilian Min muses on reality + sci-fi/fantasy fiction narrative and fantastical world building in her column “Chasing the Unicorn.”
Recently in class, we were discussing an unusual phenomena: the explosion of tweets from Japan during a television screening of animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky.” To which one person in my class actually voiced aloud: “Why are adults watching an animated film?”
Uh. Hold up: the idea that animation is, as an entire medium, solely for the enjoyment for children or “nerds/geeks/the perpetually uncool” is ignorant at best, mindblowingly stupid at worst. If you’re seriously going to discredit an entire genre of artistic storytelling because of its particular medium, then you’re probably the kind of person who thinks “Tosh.0” is sooooo hilarious and groundbreaking because it uses YouTube videos!!!
Sarcasm aside, animation, even when it’s specifically aimed at children, transcends its culturally childish connotations. And while there’s literally hundreds of shows I could choose to pick apart, I’m going straight for the gold.
It can be argued that Cartoon Network’s “golden age” of children’s animation is long over, and it’s true, few of their current shows have the same pop culture relevance and resonance as classic cartoons such as “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” and my personal favorite, “Samurai Jack.” With one glaring exception.
That’s right. Let’s discuss the always perplexing, but rarely (if ever) disappointing, “Adventure Time.”
When I first watched “Adventure Time,” I was a junior in high school, and I had just gotten out of a long period of time where I watched a loooooot of Japanese animation. “Naruto,” “Bleach,” “Soul Eater,” “Reborn,” “Death Note,” “Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo,” “Shaman King,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion”… the list goes on and on, and that’s another story (which I’ll definitely be delving into at some point).
All that goes to say, I was *over* animation. So, Pendleton Ward’s original skit? Not into it.
Years passed, and I heard about the “Adventure Time” show on Cartoon Network. I still didn’t get into it, until my friend told me breathlessly:
“Dude, this show is so. Funny. I literally watched [insert absurdly large number] in a row.”
I sat down to watch one with her… which turned into two… which turned into three… and now I’m one of millions who’s swept along with Finn and Jake as they take down evil and explore the twisted timeline of a post-apocalyptic land called Ooo.
What’s particularly amazing about “Adventure Time” is that even though the film is centered around (if not definitely marketed around) a central cast of characters, it’s the ways that the show’s writers fill in the gaps around and between these characters that are providing an amazing look into both the idea of extinction and the idea of time as a continuum.
“Adventure Time” is constantly messing around with its space, whether by opening up its world to encompass everything from its incarnations of the underworld to the crossroads of the universe, or by switching between temporal arenas with the invisible ease of a calligraphist slashing ink across a virgin sheet.
In addition, the show’s 10-minute long segments naturally break up the story into absurd, but sometimes incredibly moving, vignettes. Because humanity as we know it no longer exists in this world, “Adventure Time” is free to take characterization into strange but satisfyingly absurd territory, with side characters like the Magic Man and the Party Wolf popping in and out of narratives as the writers command. But these cameos are never without reason, and have an uncanny way of wrapping themselves into the integral fabric of the show…
All of this just goes to show that it’s waaay more than just zany, mindless entertainment for the 8 and under set. Sure, Finn and Jake have a relatable rapport, and BMO is full of cute nonsensical phrases, but dig deeper under the skin of “Adventure Time” and there’s undeniably “adult” material in there too: the slow mental decay of the Ice King, the relationship between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, the PB character in general, notions of sentience and ownership and responsibility and fear, all in the face of a surreal, candy-colored world.
It’s great that kids these days can grow up with “Adventure Time,” because it’s built on and serves as an ambassador for a kind of smart, but super super weird humor, the kind that often gets stripped away as formal education and societal norms take hold. And for those of us on the other side, it’s a deliriously illustrated, unexpectedly poignant portal into unhinged, unfiltered imagination…
Come on, grab your friends.