Season 6 of Adventure Time carries things forward from its eventful and experimental fifth season, and no good show gets this far without being very comfortable with itself and what it’s all about. With its world and characters all thoroughly established and a well-honed creative sense for weirdness, with this set fans get more of the same – plus some narrative threads lasting throughout, to an extent beyond the series’ prior tradition.
While that’s a shift from what had worked so well for this show before, on balance it’s not a bad thing and ultimately for the best since it takes Finn through and beyond the period of teenage angst that plagued him in the fifth season. Following the fifth season finale episode “Billy’s Bucket List,” Finn begins this season acting on the revelation his biological father is still alive and out there, resulting in a bold and risky and costly quest beyond Ooo to basically find him at space jail – and everything from then on is disappointment for him. Finn pursues this quest in search of family and finds only a man defined by aloofness and narcissism and disinterested in family ties, only going by “Martin” to avoid even the implication of meaningful family ties to keep him down. Martin vanishes and reappears in unexpected fashion right up until the season’s end, never thinking of much beyond his own needs. This is a deadbeat dad overtly existing in children’s television, with his actions (and lack of them) telling us everything we need to know. The emotional and physical damage from this experience persists through the episodes to follow the season’s opening, most notably in “The Tower”, where a dejected Finn finds himself working through his issues by building an absurdly tall and precarious structure with all the material he can find. The episode takes an interesting tack by having Jake and Princess Bubblegum try helping Finn with divergent methods, both arguably important in their way: Jake by giving Finn his space, Bubblegum by getting Finn to ultimately face what’s really bothering him head on.
With Finn’s depression effectively resolved by the sixth episode, Adventure Time gets back into familiar territory for the rest of the season, although a major storyline manifests in the background as the threat of a deadly comet approaching Ooo, where its meaning slowly but steadily escalates as the season progresses. The ultimate outcome is biggest challenge and threat since the Lich, manifesting in the most unlikely and hilarious of places. Also, like the deeds of the Lich and Martin’s discovery, they are events with real impact that shape what happens in future episodes. Even if matters do settle back into a status quo afterward, it’s never in quite the same way, nor are characters left unaffected by the experience. Adventure Time is hardly defined by serialization and plot, but this is a season that demonstrates better than anywhere that this show isn’t one to stay in stasis.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Adventure Time if there weren’t plenty of episodes effectively standing on their own by virtue of some quirky idea or another. “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe!” is an unusual episode in that it almost entirely eschews Finn and Jake in favor of a road trip involving the Ice King and a scattered assortment of not-so-impressive magicians, who live a comedy of errors right up until they bungle their way into an unplanned but fulfilling ending. The seasonal tradition of the gender-bending “Fionna and Cake” episode returns, this time centering around the imagined adventures of the “Lumpy Space Prince” as the vehicle of Lumpy Space Princess’ ego and immature persecution complex in regard to her parents. LSP herself takes center stage with Marceline in “Princess Day,” as the oddball pair bond over playing prank-playing renegades during a stuffy royal gathering at the Breakfast Kingdom.
The ladies also feature prominently in the back-to-back episodes “The Cooler” and “The Pajama War,” which sees Princess Bubblegum interacting with the Flame Princess and Finn, respectively. “The Cooler” arguably offers a look at Bubblegum at her worst, engaging in manipulation and deception in the hopes of disarming what she thinks is a serious threat within Flame Princess’ kingdom. Ultimately Bubblegum is discovered, shamed and encouraged into trying honesty and trust by a vexed Flame Princess, who for her part shines for standing up to Bubblegum without succumbing to the volatile and immature temper she showed in earlier seasons. “The Pajama War” is a far less serious affair and revisits the friendship between Finn and Bubblegum as seen much earlier in the show, as the pair ditch a slumber party to relax outside together while the dim-witted Candy Kingdom citizens develop unhinged fantasies about what happened to them in front of a very amused Jake.
Finn’s loyal friend Jake also features in a number of excellent episodes, most notably “Ocarina”, where Finn and Jake’s treehouse is bought out and rented to numerous tenants by Jake’s business-minded son Kim Kil Whan. Kim is twice the adult his father is and hopes to pressure Jake into moving out and moving on, but ultimately the episode is a study in what viewers already know: Jake is Finn’s partner first and foremost, and nothing can make them even entertain quitting adventure. On other fronts “Joshua & Margaret Investigations” offer a deeper look at what Jake’s parents were like, as well as explaining the circumstances of his birth and the source of his shapeshifting powers. One of the most bizarre episodes of the season is most definitely “Everything’s Jake”, where Magic Man’s shenanigans allow Jake to explore an entire miniature society that exists within his own body! Just relax and go with it.
Adventure Time also continues its tradition of genuine experimentation, the two most notable examples here being the episodes “Food Chain” and “Jake the Brick.” “Food Chain” is about as close as you get mixing Adventure Time with Japanese anime, being written and storyboarded entirely by Masaaki Yuasa (Kick-Heart, Ping Pong the Animation). The episode spends nearly all its time in near-impressionistic style as Finn and Jake are made to literally experience and appreciate the Food Chain from all perspectives courtesy of the mischievous Magic Man, striking a blow for science and education as something more than a dry lecture. “Jake the Brick” is perhaps the most interesting episode in terms of narrative, as the entire thing relies on narration as a stationary Jake finds himself narrating the lives and trials of the wildlife surrounding him on a walkie-talkie as he roleplays being part of a wall. It’s a bold idea for an episode, effectively rendering Jake an authoritative radio announcer with a captive audience to generations raised on television and media tailored to the individual. To see it is to feel at least some of the allure of having a common and shared experience with your loved ones and community.
This sixth set for Adventure Time takes after the fifth season release in regard to bonus material. Regrettably, there is once again no audio commentary with creative staff to be found here, although a respectable amount of supplementary material exists. Unfortunately, the advertised featurette on “Food Chain” is just a morsel of a video, bereft of anything insightful or particularly interesting. But the included galleries are another story, being crammed full of illustrations and concept artwork from that episode and many others. Everything from characters to creatures to landscapes is well represented. For those who enjoy the music of the show the release also includes original song demos done for the season’s special tunes, while animation fans will appreciate a healthy serving of animatics. Rather than settling for excerpts the animatic extras run through an entire episode from start to finish, making a complete and detailed study possible.
All in all, the sixth season of Adventure Time is a fulling experience for those that enjoy the series’ idiosyncratic ways and doubly so for fans that were growing weary of Finn as an awkward preteen getting mired down in his own mistakes. A boy living growing pains transitions toward a young man just a bit older and wiser yet still the same fun-loving adventurer at heart, and all children at heart will be happy to follow along to see what he does next.