Adventure Time is one of my favorite shows of all time. There, I said it.
From the outside looking in, it looks colorful, weird, & random. And while it’s certainly colorful & weird, those two things are not the crux of the show. It has ongoing, interesting story arcs with flawed characters who are constantly going through change, and through these characters the show has tackled a number of mature themes. Of course, the star of the show is main character & hero Finn, & it has especially been a treat to see him grow. He starts out as a young kid with a very black & white mentality—“I’m good, the bad guys are evil, so I’ll beat up the bad guys”—but over the course of 10 seasons he has gotten older and matured significantly.
If you haven’t heard, Adventure Time aired its season finale 2 days ago. So, I decided to analyze the score of an episode, as a tribute to a show that’s long been a favorite of mine.
With that said, I’m only going to be talking about one episode of this very long-running & worth-your-time show. That episode is Blade of Grass (with “Blade” referring to an actual sword. Yes, it’s a pun!). This is one of my favorite episodes, and upon re-watching it I discovered some fantastic things going on with the score. Seriously, re-watching this for score moments made this episode even better because it’s just great.
Before we go into that, let’s talk about Adventure Time’s score more generally.
Most of Adventure Time’s score, composed by Casey James Basichis & Tim Kiefer, is fun synth, accompanying its colorful & weird moments with a jovial flair. When the show gets more serious, though, the synths usually follow suit—you’ll often hear a calming pad, or some similarly sustained chords, accompanying the show’s more somber moments (which happen a lot).
This clip pretty much exemplifies what I’m talking about here, and you’ll only have to watch 1 minute of it. So, do that, would you? See you in 1 minute!
As you saw, Jake (the yellow guy) is accompanied by some fun, major key synths (and cheerful percussion) for the first 10 seconds. But soon after Princess Bubblegum (the pink lady) enters with some serious concerns, we get our pads, & the synth aren’t nearly as fun anymore. This kind of style is all over Adventure Time’s score.
So, given that synth is the norm, hearing instruments—choir, woodwinds, whatever—in an Adventure Time score is something unusual. It perks the ear immediately, since it’s not quite the norm.
Now, let’s talk about Blade of Grass
The score for Blade of Grass has the usual synth. But it also has woodwinds—a lot of woodwinds. They enter into the score right when Finn first buys the grass sword. Oboe & disturbingly low bassoon are especially prominent as Finn & Jake enter the shop & are convinced the sword is a good buy. These woodwinds are playing long, held notes with the occasional short glissando—definitely creepy!
After they leave the suspicious atmosphere of the shop, the woodwinds mostly leave too—until we near Tree Trunks’ house. At we do, the woodwinds fully return, playing a happy melody. But as Tree Trunks declares the sword cursed, traces of the oboe & bassoon’s previous creepiness from the shop (alongside a pad) can be heard—listen for that low bassoon the 2nd time Tree Trunks speaks.
This isn’t the last we hear of our woodwinds. That night, Finn has a very creepy dream about the sword—and look, there’s our oboe again!
It’s here that Casey James Basichis & Tim Kiefer establish a clear link between the woodwinds and the sword’s eeriness. Woodwind melodies can be heard as Finn tries to get the sword away from him, and when he finally succeeds, detaching the sword from his body, there is complete silence. The creepy sword is no longer around Finn, and so, neither are the woodwinds. This silence stays even after Finn dumps the sword in the river, returning home to sleep. But, the sword doesn’t stay away. It mysteriously returns the next morning—and so does our oboe. Thus, the link between woodwinds and the sword has been cemented by this sequence.
Of course, Finn & Jake need to find out how to remove the sword’s curse, and after doing so (which involves a fight scene with both the sword and our two main woodwinds), go to confront the man who sold it to Finn in the first place.
(skip over to 0:55)
We’ve got a lot of woodwinds throughout this whole fight sequence. Our previous stars of oboe & bassoon return, but there’s also some flute & clarinet as well—a full woodwind ensemble to accompany Finn as he fights his way up the hill to the grass wizard. When he finally makes it, & the wizard declares his intentions to not lift the curse, our oboe & bassoon accompany his speech—and Finn’s frown at this wizard’s words. But, soon enough, Finn stops frowning. As the instruments stop playing, with silence momentarily reigning, he declares that he wouldn’t mind if the curse wasn’t lifted.
Thus end our woodwinds. Beautiful synths and piano accompany the ending scene, Finn having completely accepted the curse. Before, we said the creepy sword is no longer around Finn, and so, neither are the woodwinds. But now, we can change that. The sword isn’t creepy to Finn anymore, and so, our woodwinds have left.
The way woodwinds are used in this episode is pretty darn phenomenal. If this hasn’t convinced you Adventure Time is worth your time, I don’t know what will.