‘Adventure Time: Islands’ reunites Finn with presumed-extinct humans while exploring ideas about reality, safety and freedom.
With the show’s scheduled 2018 departure, I knew Adventure Time: Islands would have to provide some of the biggest answers the show had concealed for years. Adventure Time, a postapocalyptic, surrealist Cartoon Network series, follows the adventures of Finn, a teenage boy who for most of the show believes he’s the last human on Earth, and his brother Jake, a talking dog who can stretch into any shape he wants. While the first season teetered on nonsensical plots and wrapped-in-a-bow endings, season two of Adventure Time found its niche with catchy half-songs, a complex mythology and philosophical musings often mixed with dark humor.
Even after the sixth season, when Finn stumbled upon his long-lost father, viewers still didn’t know what happened to all the other humans. Did they turn into zombies? Or were they eaten by vampires? Or worse, were they simply absorbed in the emergence of the Candy Kingdom?
In 2015 the first miniseries, Adventure Time: Stakes, showed us that a band of humans escaped the continent via boat.
Adventure Time: Islands wastes no time in addressing the questions and fan theories swirling around the fate of the other humans.
In the first installment of Adventure Time: Islands, a strange ship arrives on the shores of Ooo, addressing Finn by the coded name “Infant PG87 Mertins,” and implores him to return to Founder’s Island. “Seeking human, come to safety,” the ship says, hitting Finn with the information he’s been secretly longing to hear.
Finn has always done his best to ignore the mystery of how as an infant he ended up in the Land of Ooo. Despite the joy he found in his adoptive family and his fulfilling life as the local hero, he feels driven to follow the clues of this mysterious ship. Finn tries to downplay the impact of learning a “Founder’s” island exists and that dwellers there know him by his father’s last name. But Princess Bubblegum gives the monologue that assures us this miniseries will be the answer to the human question: “Finn, I get the sense that this trip’s more important to you than you’re letting on. I mean, if you make it to that island, you might find out some pretty heavy stuff. About the humans and where you came from, about yourself.” With each island that Finn, Jake, Susan and BMO encounter, their perspectives (and ours) are challenged and inevitably changed.
The theme of reality — what is real, what is not and who gets to decide — is threaded throughout Adventure Time: Islands. The second island is, as Finn and Jake experience it, a bleak, technology-ridden gray landscape. “Where’s all the dirt?” Jake wonders. BMO uses goggles to enter a virtual reality where she (BMO uses both gender pronouns) is free to transform her robot body into any shape she pleases. Finn and Jake put on goggles and are flung into an outer-space virtual reality, which prompts them to “CHOOSE YOUR AVATAR.” The other, more advanced bodies gather around and request the moderator: BMO with a giant, muscular, teal human body riding a surfboard. While I wondered about the implications of BMO choosing a humanoid body, the episode reveals that BMO has risen to the top of this virtual reality food chain. She is the queen of the dance party and giver of complex avatar skins that cost “15 million crypto-coins.” In this reality, BMO transforms from follower to leader and basks in the adoration of her fans. She says, “I think I need to stay here…forever?”
When Jake pulls the plug on this virtual world, the humans and BMO are thrown into chaos. Humans crawl along the ground with atrophied muscles, realizing, “Now we’re the system dump!” One pleads with BMO, “Give me one of your patented superskins made out of blip-bloop cheese or something.” To the people and to BMO, the choice seems clear between a world with unlimited individual power and one with limits, but Jake is certain he has saved the world. By the end of this episode, Jake is forced to reckon with the idea that each individual should have the power to choose which world they want to live in and, therefore, which world is real.
If home equals safety, then Finn’s discovery of his home island complicates that equation. We learn Finn’s mother, Minerva, sacrificed her human body to become an all-powerful virtual conscience in control of numerous doctor “bots.” Her decision forever changed the foundation of the remaining human population, who now rely on her technology continuing to function. When Finn meets his mother via a virtual reality screen portal, her instinct is to protect him by forcing him to remain on the island. For Minerva, control equals safety, and the resulting limited freedoms are a worthy sacrifice. Finn’s resistance is met with a chilling solution: to move his consciousness onto the “mind map” or, as Finn sees it, dying. He refuses and, through sharing his memories, is able to convince his mother that his adventurous ways are a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Finn’s rejection of his mother’s virtual reality is interesting. Even though he could still interact with and potentially help protect the island, his heart is set on protecting Ooo. His loyalties reveal where home really is for him. Existing in the physical world is important to Finn, but in this rejection, it also becomes clear that it’s important to him to exist in a way where his actions have mortal consequences to his physical body. Finn grew up in the Land of Ooo, where strange beasts and creatures who are made from candy DNA can all be fixed, revived or even cloned with a combination of magic and science. But Finn’s physical body is a relic. His mortality is something that sets him apart in Ooo. When given the opportunity to “upgrade” and remove the threat of mortality, he turns it down.
Finn can see that safety, or at least the illusion of it, has created complacent, nonadventuring humans. When the islanders opt out of his offer to return to Ooo, Finn is visibly disappointed. If adventures and hero tendencies are not at the core of all humans, then perhaps Founder’s Island would never have been the best home for him after all.
Whether created through technology, or terraformed with gum and magic like the Candy Kingdom, Adventure Time: Islands tackles one of the biggest questions underlying the worlds of Adventure Time. If any one of us had the power to create our own world, what role would we choose to play in it? Would we simplify humanity, or existence, into three neat categories, or would we rule as princess/scientist, forever bouncing between protecting our citizens and letting their evolution take its own course?
Honor, morality, ableness, creation and free will — Adventure Time will always give us something to talk about and connect us to the real, nonapocalyptic world around us. Adventure Time: Islands reveals a new piece of the strange world of Adventure Time, and while I can’t say I know how Finn’s experiences will impact the remaining episodes, I know the show will keep giving me plenty to think about until the end.