On last night’s episode of Adventure Time, “Food Chain,” guest director and animator Maasaki Yuasa flings Finn (and by viewership, you) through the food chain in eleven minutes, from bird to raptor to bacteria to plant to worm, to experience all the grandeur and horror of life, enacted every second. It’s the eponymous time again!
“Jake we are good friends. so let me just say: you look awesome right now. Yeah you’re looking tasty. Hey why don’t you take a seat in my mouth? It’s okay ,it’s okay! Just give it a try. It’s a new experience, right?”
Every Adventure Time episode featuring a guest animator has been spectacular so far both in terms of art style, and also the freshness of having an outsider take the narrative reins: James Baxter’s “James Baxter the Horse” was a beautifully silly ode to hero-worship and originality, and David O’Reilly’s “Glitch is a Glitch” was a trippy odyssey towards the source code of the universe. And yet, both pale in comparison to Masaaki Yuasa’s ambitions for “Food Chain,” which aim at nothing less than an understanding of transhuman existence and consciousness extended across lifespans. For anyone with a friend doubting the artistic merit of mainstream animation, this is the episode to shut’em up.
Firstly, who is Masaaki Yuasa? He’s a Japanese anime and film director, animator, and artist, currently helming the anime-adaptation of the hit manga series Ping Pong. His trademarks include oblique angles and viewpoints, parkour pacing, and textural collages. Here’s just a sample of his idiosyncratic style:
Yuasa’s dynamism definitely found a home in “Food Chain,” which opens with a visit to the Natural History Museum of the Candy Kingdom. A line of candy children are hurtling through a tunnels-and-obstacles playground exhibit that models the esophagus of a bird, then decomposition beds in the soil, and finally the shooting leaves of a new-grown plant. Princess Bubblegum’s taken her little sugary wards on a field trip to learn about the food chain, the circle of life as so vibrantly sung in The Lion King, but it’s a lesson none of the children appreciate, least of all Finn. Say what you will of her moral peculiarities, but PB is once again the motherly educator, and while it’s undoubtedly bizarre that the Candy Kingdom has an orphanage (seen back in “Princess Cookie”) at least she takes the little tykes out and invests in their mental cultivation.
The field trip might’ve been a complete waste of Finn and Jake’s time, were it not for the uninvited attentions of Magic Man, probably my favorite character on the show. Magic Man is the force of chaos in the form of a teal-skinned asshole, a sendup of the ‘magical wizard-guide’ character trope, who uses his powers to torment others, but often teaching a vital lesson in the process; I’m talking life lessons that no moral character in their right mind would ever teach, much less to children. For starters, he gave Finn a bag of tiny replicas of all of his friends to illustrate the horror of fantasy indulgence without boundaries (basically compressing 3 months of playing The Sims into 11 minutes), and his actions cause the King of Mars to realize his own fallibility. He is everything terrifyingly unpredictable about life, and his influence brings wisdom at the cost of mind-bending torment.
So do the math: children who don’t appreciate the intricate wonder of life + a magic man who enjoys teaching through exquisite pain . . . there you go, I knew you’d get there. He turns Finn and Jake into birds, the first step in a wild ride of friend-cannibalizing, desert-wandering, and love across lifetimes.
What I love about Yuasa is basically what everyone loves about him—he just packs so much into such a small space of animation. When Finn and Jake turn into their bird forms, he shoves the novelty and miracle of the transformation through your senses with a anime theme-esque rendition of Mozart’s “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from The Magic Flute, in case the whole scenario didn’t already ooze with whimsy for you. Once they’ve gotten used to their new bodies, they immediately succumb to the urges of nature, and chow down on worms until they’ve swollen into wineskins, one blue and one purple. Why is Jake purple, by the way?