There are, in my opinion, two core elements that explain the continued success of the Adventure Time property: the wonderfully charming characters and the enigmatic nature of the Land of Ooo. Thankfully, both are on full display in the franchise’s newest mini-series, Stakes!
Falling early in season seven continuity, the eight-episode Stakes! arc focuses on Marceline forsaking and then ultimately making peace with her vampiric nature, but it also spends time looking both back into her past and forward into a presumptive future.
Early on we see a downtrodden Marceline approach Princess Bubblegum concerning the deposed monarch’s standing offer to cure her of her vampirism. Of course this, like most of the Princess’s weird science, leads to unforeseen consequences.
The dark nature Marceline, as a directionless but virtuous teenager, drained from the last of Ooo’s great vampires, coalesces into its former state–namely as resurrected villains the Fool, Empress Eyes, the Hierophant, the Moon, and the Vampire King. These creatures again wreck bloody havoc on the land, and also help explain away a nagging problem: how the half-demon Marceline became the Queen of (not to mention the last of) the vampires.
As Marceline and her friends–PB, Finn, and Jake–slice their way through these reanimated foes, she reclaims the powers originally stolen from the vampiric host: shape-shifting, invisibility, regeneration, and the like. Along the way, we get even more glimpses of her shadowed past including her abandonment by a quickly-maddening Simon/Ice King and a tender moment between Marceline and her human mother (wonderfully–if too briefly–portrayed by Rebecca Sugar).
There are also flashes of the potential future, including one where an ageless Bubblegum and a fading mortal Marceline share a tender moment. No doubt that’s enough in itself to again stir up animosity on both sides of the Marceline/Princess Bubblegum romantic entanglement debate.
But far-flung past and hypothetical future aside, Stakes! is a great story with twists and turns and, in true Adventure Time fashion, a deceptively poignant core theme. So come along with a half-demon vampire, a magic dog, the world’s last human, and a cast of candy-people as we examine the price of immortality and what it truly means to be alive.
Even those of us who have cut the cord from cable can enjoy Adventure Time: Stakes! on DVD; it was released earlier this week, on January 19th. Available for a scant $11 via Amazon, it includes all eight episodes as well as a fine selection of animatics and song demos. But mostly what it includes is a wonderfully weird story that only the Adventure Time team could tell.
Review materials provided by: Cartoon Network