Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Perils of Fandom: A Case Study of "Adventure Time"

There are two trends that are increasing in popularity that have me worried about one of the best animated shows on TV right now. I'm talking about Adventure Time, the zany, incredibly original series from the mind of Pendleton Ward. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out one of the funniest, most unique animated shows in a long time. You'll probably want to do so sooner rather than later, because I fear that the show may be approaching the dreaded shark that many an acclaimed series have jumped.

Season three kicked off not too long ago, and I've seen some worrying trends start to occur.  The show is starting to flirt with two of the deadliest trends in popular storytelling: story arcs and fan service. There is nothing wrong with either of these devices per se, but all too often they spell doom. The Land of Ooo has not yet been fully overrun by these menaces, so hopefully my observations may nip things in the bud, or at least spread the awareness. This week I'll be discussing continuity and next week I'll conclude with catering to the fandom.

My concern here is not simply me complaining that a show I love has changed in a way that I don't like. These sorts of behaviors can lead down a slippery slope that slowly but surely turns away the casual viewer, which is the key demograhic for keeping a program on the air. My goal is to try and keep Adventure Time  on the air as long as possible, because shows like this need to stick around for a while.

Perhaps the lesser of these two evils is establishing a story arc. It works for several shows and is a startlingly effective way to keep viewers tuning in.  It's kind of an all-or-nothing game; either establish the arc early and stick with it (occasionally allowing a standalone episode is fine), or keep each episode unique. Adventure Time started out as the latter. Finn and Jake would just have random adventures involving manly minotaurs, crying mountains, and princesses of every imaginable shape and demeanor. There would be occasional flashbacks, but they were usually just a means to make a poop joke and not be taken too seriously.  

More recently, plot elements are introduced, and sometimes even retconned, to contribute to a larger story. There are cliff-hangers that create a backstory to the Land of Ooo, referred to in whispers as "The War." The Ice King, previously a ridiculous and incompetent foil/villain has become a tragic hero and popular subject of fanart.  

This shot has inspired more internet artists than that angry-looking cat.

Cartoons that are largely comic in nature don't need to worry about continuity. You don't need to know the chicken's backstory and prior relationships, all you need to know is why he's crossing the road. The argument can be made that these types of plots are aimed more towards the adult viewers, but my rebuttal is why not just enjoy the funny action and jokes without worrying about complex character relationships and why the world is the way it is?  

These are all of the ingredients of canon, the dirty word of continuity, and leads directly to...

The topic of next week's post. I'm not trying to create a cliffhanger, I just don't have the time or space to focus on both topics this week.  Stay tuned and share your thoughts!

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