Adventure Time: Islands is the second 8-part miniseries for Cartoon Network’s venerable franchise following the highly successful Stakes in the seventh season. Long-time fans will find Islands richly rewarding on many fronts. Just as Stakes offered both backstory and closure for fan-favorite character Marceline, Islands does the same for lead character Finn the Human.
Season 7 of Adventure Time ended on a somewhat severe note, with a berserk Susan Strong roughing up Finn and his friends, courtesy of implanted tech gone haywire that could only have come from a human civilization. At the onset of Islands, these chickens finally come home to roost when a roaming machine comes calling on the Candy Kingdom, pounding its “mutants” into the ground as it searches for “normal” lifeforms like Finn himself. An interested Finn wants to question its AI for answers, but his loyal pal Jake accidentally delivers a coup de grace, leaving Finn only with data salvaged by BMO and many unanswered questions. Soon enough, a quest is undertaken to find the machine’s origin and settle things to keep the land of Ooo safe, and that means a voyage to unknown waters and territory. For Finn, the mission is just as personal as it is heroic. Where did he come from, and what are other humans like? Behind the answers to these questions are the complete truth of Finn’s birth, and what became of humanity after the apocalyptic events that created Ooo’s bizarre fantasy landscape.
After the opening pair of episodes (“The Invitation” and “Whipple the Happy Dragon”) spent on setup and the embarking of the voyage, Islands turns out to be a miniseries about personal ties and the value of sanctuary and security compared to the life Finn has led and, by extension, the spirit of Adventure Time itself. “Mysterious Island” sees Finn make landfall for the first time, at first finding a sole survivor and home movies offering a sobering window into a past where most of the human population fell prey to predators or the environment. “Imaginary Resources” then proceeds to flip the script by bringing Finn and Jake to a futuristic island where folks are passing the days hooked into a virtual reality simulator, with BMO all too eager to join in when it plugs in and gets to live the fantasy of being a great hero with a sidekick. In this, there are shades of The Matrix and of Pixar Animation’s WALL-E, offering an ostensible paradise whose price is disengagement with the actual outside world.
The heart of Adventure Time: Islands really comes with the fifth episode “Hide and Seek,” which finally delves into the history of Susan Strong and also contrives her (re-)development into a sophisticated and mature character in her own right. As implied for a long time, the origins of Susan and Finn do intersect, and that history is bound up with a society that managed to keep safe with both tangible barriers and a rigid social order where conformity is king, exploration is forbidden, and questioning the way of things is taboo. For Susan, all this becomes personal when she’s brought face to face with Freida, a friend who chafed against that system while Susan could only be a bystander. Susan feels only guilt for that time, and those feelings are only made worse by Freida’s feelings of resignation at her lot in the present. Seeing these two work through those problems makes for a strong B plot to the series and is about as serious as Adventure Time ever gets, right up there the revelations of “Holly Jolly Secrets” regarding the Ice King long ago.
As for Finn, the discoveries he makes present him with problems almost opposite in nature to what he dealt with when it came to his unworthy father “Martin.” With Martin, Finn faced the crushing disappointment of being related to someone too detached and selfish to have any kind of relationship, whereas Finn’s quest for closure brings the expected chance for a fresh start at a home that is, if anything, too maternal for its (and his) own good. At heart, Finn is still our hero whose idea of a good time is a worthy dungeon crawl, and beyond all the idiosyncrasies is someone who instinctually understands that life is about facing the world with all its flaws and wonders. For all the trials, all the weird stuff, all of the things that could be better, all of the drama, was Finn’s life of adventure worth it? For him and us, Adventure Time: Islands makes the answer clear, and fans will not be disappointed.
Adventure Time: Islands will air from 7:30 PM to 8 PM from Monday, January 30th to Thursday, February 2 on Cartoon Network, and is available now on DVD.