A Eulogy for Regular Show

The final in the trilogy, in which I bid a fond farewell to Regular Show

That’s it, it’s over. Last Monday the very last episode of Regular show aired (although I confess parts of this will have been written before that due to the magic of forewarning) With 8 seasons and 1 movie how do you even sum up a cartoon that’s lasted since 2010. Well you don’t. It’s beyond the scope of anything I could really do in a single blog post. So I turn to what I can do, and that is celebrate it. Thank it for its achievements and draw attention to its greatness. And just to differentiate my piece, from god knows how many others there won’t be a countdown of the best episodes, the best moments or anything like that. I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to ramble. Then I’m going to edit it into something mostly legible, and ship it out. Because, in hindsight, this cartoon meant a lot more to me than any other I’ve ever watched and it’s only now I’m realising that.

So what is Regular Show? Well I have the Wikipedia synopsis staring me in the face right now,

“The series revolves around the lives of two working class friends, mordecai and rigby, both employed as groundskeepers at a local park. Their regular attempts to slack off usually lead to surreal, extreme and often supernatural misadventures”

And as with anything you condense down into a single sentence, it sounds normal, dull, run of the mill and with a name like regular show, you wouldn’t be amiss to think that.

I do admit to not beginning to watch it until roughly its 3rd season, only going back to watch it all the way through once it hit its 4th because at that point I was at the height of my Adventure Time fandom and once I started to watch it, it was the cartoon I most often put down and would always find myself binge watching to catch up. Whole season would be viewed in a day and then forgotten. Because to me, Regular Show was always the cartoon that quietly chugged along, overshadowed by the media giant of Adventure Time and the fan loved Steven Universe. Always there, but never centre stage.

And that is a complete crime because it is hands down the best cartoon of this decade. I alluded to this last week, with it being my favourite cartoon ever. And frankly it is, the more I think about it the more it seems funnier than Adventure Time and more emotional than Steven Universe. Out classing both with ease and after a little bit of thought, I can trace it back to one thing. Regular Show knew exactly what it was all the time, it never tried to be more, or less. It was just Regular Show. Whilst Adventure Time was displaying the bright happy surrealist comedy and Steven Universe was pushing social boundaries further and further Regular Show was being profoundly human.

It was a show that featured a Blue Jay and a Racoon as main characters, their boss was a Gumball machine, and their co-workers included an immortal yeti, a ghost with an arm sticking out its head, a goat that was a spy for the KGB. And all of this was normal to the narrative, somehow this show had managed to take the surreal and make it real. Nothing felt out of left field in this show, no matter how objectively odd it got, it still seemed perfectly, well, regular (I’m sorry that’s the only time I’ll use that joke) The characters never stopped to question why these things were happening, or how it was even possible, they just took it in their stride. Through the medium of just having characters never draw attention to the weird, the writers made possibly the most beliveable world of oddities in cartoon history.

And now I find myself struggling to touch all the points I want to, not knowing where to start. There’s too much I want to say about this cartoon I will keep returning too it, hell I’m already starting to watch it through again from start to finish (now that’s actually doable) I think instead of discussing plots, character arcs or reviewing the final episode I will save that for another time. So goodbye Regular Show, you were the scrappy underdog of the Cartoon Renissance, and with you now gone, it seems like that age is at an end.

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The Problems With Adventure Time

The second in a trilogy, in which I bring some heavy criticsm to a favourite show of mine

Okay, so now I’ve proved to myself I do like Adventure Time it’s time to tear it a new one. Or at least put into words a few obvious problems it has that plague its most recent seasons which should serve as a primer for further discussions. It should be noted, that Adventure Time is not the only one guilty of these problems, it’s just that it set such a high standard and did kick off that wonderful cartoon renaissance I talked about a while back. Adventure Time is so far the cartoon of the decade. And if it’s to keep that title all its warts should be given just as much scrutiny as its best parts.

Characters are not punished:
Jake is a god awful Father and Princess Bubblegum is a cruel dictator. To name the two most obvious issues here. So starting with the latter, Princess Bubblegum constantly experiments, abuses and belittles her people. Once they finally wise up to the fact they can depose her, it doesn’t last long and she returns declaring them idiots. There is no change there, she hasn’t learnt a lesson, it’s framed as if the candy people have. That lesson being you shouldn’t self-govern and leave it all to Bubblegum. Which from an outside perspective is frightening but she gets away with it.

Now Jake being an awful father. He ignores his children until he is forced to interact with them or when they appear in his life. He effectively runs away from that responsibility and it never comes back to bite him. His partner welcomes him with open arms whenever he appears, only one of his children ever calls him out on it, and that’s resolved within that episode with the child being put at fault. It’s another horrifying think that just seems to be pushed aside to hold some form of status quo.

Both of these behaviours are normalised in the context of the show by presenting them as funny, we are expected to laugh at these characters when they do these things, but are given no narrative payoff to their actions, they simply are this way, and won’t change and other characters won’t ask them to change.

Relationships aren’t believable:
As a tangent, why are Lady Rainicorn and Jake a couple? With Jake practically ignoring her for large spans of time, ignoring their children. Leaving literally a day after they’re born. I don’t even really think they set up how they met, even in passing. And when they are together it seems a little forced and well, sterile. It’s a little depressing to think about in hindsight.

Plot points are not dealt with or expanded:
This one has a very obvious example. Remember when Finn lost his arm. And everyone was congratulating Adventure Time on the cleverness of its visual story telling as it had been implied several times before the episode that he would lose his arm due to some perverse fate. And then everyone was hypothesising about the new status quo Finn would have to adapt too, with a very obvious disability and how that wou…… or a bee could have sex with his arm 4 episodes later and void the whole thing. Adventure has this issue that it can’t sit still, or think through one specific idea, it is there for 1 or 2 episodes, if you’re lucky it’s 2 right next to each other, if you’re unlucky there was 5 episodes of filler and sometimes it just never appears again or is even recognised by the characters later down the line.

It’s a shame that after basically any large development, the show will inevitably return to a status quo with the characters vastly unchanged from the experience

The world doesn’t progress around the characters:
Everything in Adventure Time appears to happen in a small bubble, all on it’s lonesome. Events from one episode never seem to have a dripping effect on other people and often aren’t bought up again. It’s almost as if people forgot previous adventures leading to a disjointed overall narrative. I could take whole chunks of recent adventure time, reshuffle the episodes and you would never know they were out of order.

And now I think I’m out of gripes, probably because these are all fairly big gripes, and I’m loathe to spend another 1000 words just repeating what I’ve already said so to finish……

It should be noted that, yes, all of these issues raised are non-issues in various episodes, for example whilst Jake and Princess Rainicorn’s relationship is alien, Marceline’s and Ice Kings is incredibly well done.  What I’ve done here is point out that Adventure Times biggest issue is its inconsistency, one episode will be stellar, the next will fall flat and the next will be inconsequential to anything. And it’s obviously not that it can’t be done, as next week I follow up this post with, the more I think about it, my favourite cartoon, Regular Show and how it deals with all these issues.

My Favourite Adventures

The first in a triology of articles. I think back on my favourite episodes of Adventure Time.

Let us take a break from all this talk of anime and turn our attention back to the west. So lets kick off with a normal list of my 10 favourite Adventure time episodes, before next week’s post in which I tear Adventure Time apart. I thought about doing a top 10, but I felt that I only have a clear number 1 favourite episode so I’ll deliver that one with a flourish whilst the rest can live on as mostly equals. So let us get stuck in. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Holly Jolly Secrets:

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The only time adventure time did anything vaguely Christmassy and it serves as one of the few gabs in the earlier series to show that something interesting was going on with adventure time that far eclipsed what other cartoons at the time were doing. It focuses on Finn and Jake watching some VHS tapes they found whilst exploring and stumble across tapes that were made by Ice King before he became Ice King. What follows is a 22 minute special that humanizes a character that was previously used as punch line. Canonising the fact that his prince obsession stems from the desire and then regret he felt towards his fiancée Betty whilst his Ice Crown drove him slowly insane. It’s a stereotypical twist that in hindsight is seen coming, but, the fact that this episode was made after we were used to seeing the world of adventure time in Black and White, it begins Finn, Jakes and the shows Sympathetic treatment of the Ice King. From here they are quicker to talk him down than punch him down.

I Remember You AND Simon and Marcy:

I’m sticking these two together because whilst they are a season apart in air date they are best watched together. They both focus on the relationship between Ice King and Marceline, a pairing that has been hinted at for a very long time but always left a little on the side. I Remember You brings this into full view as Ice King visits her to get help with some music production, mistakenly using a letter he wrote to Marceline as lyrics she uses it as a chance to try to reconnect with him. It’s a poignant and Slow episode, Finn and Jake appear briefly but then are quickly shuffled off to some other place so all focus is placed on Marcy and Ice King. The song is one of my favourite from the show and is wonderfully incorporated into the development of two characters that have become increasingly multi-faceted over the shows long run time.

Simon and Marcy follows on from this episode and features one of the only episodes set in the post-apocalypse world that the world of OOO evolves from. Simon has taken Marcy under his protection acting as a father figure for her. Fearing the use of his crown but becoming increasingly dependent on it to help Marcy get over a cold. It is another touching entry in the show and forms more backstory for these two characters.

Stakes:

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Continuing with a focus on Marceline we have the 8 part extravaganza Stakes. Focusing upon Marceline’s loss of her vampire powers thanks to Princess Bubblegum. She then gains them again after having to defeat a set of vampires she once hunted down. The song repeated throughout the whole block of episodes “Everything Stays” is about how things can be exactly the same but a different perspective can change your perception of it. Marceline chooses to lose her powers, but then gains them again in the exact same way she had first got them, finally coming to terms with who she is. It also offers a brief glimpse at presumably Marceline’s mother, where the song “Everything Stays” comes from. As I’m pretty sure I’ve said on this blog previously, Stakes is a because microcosm of everything that made Adventure Time great and is one of my go to examples for when this show proved it could be clever.

Jake the Brick:

This episode is all about taking it easy and just watching the world go by. Jake is living out his fantasy of being a brick in a rundown shed far in the wilderness and he begins narrating what he sees to Finn via walkie talkie. The whole episode is just John DiMaggio putting his David Attenborough hat on whilst Finn places Jake on the radio for the entire candy kingdom to listen to. It’s another slow episode in which not much happens but the animators have a lot of fun with it, displaying character through action not speech. It’s just nice a calm, with a beautiful sunset wrapping up the whole package.

The Comet:

You know what children need to learn about, existentialism and cosmicism, both schools of thought focusing on pointing out the lack of meaning in life and in the wider world. The comet brings this to full front as Finn’s believe in a natural order to things is challenged by the vast emptiness and pointlessness of space. His dad represents this with his aimless appearance in a giant moth, it goes where it pleases, not driven by anything, just that it exists. Finally a god entity turns up and offers Finn an existence as a higher being. It highlights the fact that there is no good or bad choice, just that he has a choice. He declines the offer and his father accepts. At the end of the episode Finn holds onto his believe in a cosmic order because, in the empty and pointless existence, it is up to the individual to find a meaning themselves.

And that is why I love this episode, that it teaches children this lesson, that life is sometimes crap and sometimes great, it has no meaning and that’s fine.

Frost & Fire:

When looking at Adventure Time as a whole it’s clear to viewers that Finns character growth is directly linked to him going through puberty, the show is about him growing up, the ups, the downs and the very messy bits. This episode is one of the messy bits, and I’m not going to sugar coat it or try and write around the fact. Finn has a wet dream about his girlfriend Flame Princess in this episode. Due to a lack of any context for it however, he thinks that it felt nice so goes out of his way to have it again. Costing his relationship with Flame Princess as he manipulated her into fighting Ice King. This episode truly shows how immature Finn is in things of life, but it doesn’t stigmatise him for it. It shows what would happen if a young boy had no guidance on the changes his body goes through. I’ve said it time and again, Adventure Time is possibly the most accurate representation of puberty available on television. It’s kind of fascinating.

Flute Spell:

Well that puberty has to finish somewhere and at some point, Finn slowly matures into a young man at age 16. His maturity is seen in this episode “Flute Spell” in how he deals with a possible relationship with Huntress Wizard. He spends part of the episode thinking of courting her, then realises she has someone else she’s interested in, so helps her out. At the end she reveals that whilst she is interested in him, it’s impractical for them to date due to both being to adventurous. A younger Finn would go back to his routes and mope everywhere. But his newer, more mature Finn accepts her decision and just keeps going with life.

What Was Missing? :

Now we get to an episode I can say is my third favourite. There are a handful of episodes where we see the characters deal with something so low stake it is more akin to them doing nothing. They’re wonderful character pieces and this episode is no exception. A door lord has stolen personal treasures from Finn, Jake, Marceline, BMO and Princess Bubblegum and they must sing a song to unlock it. And it is hands down one of my favourite songs of the show. “What am I to You?” features Finn questioning people’s perception of him and if they are the same to how he sees himself. As well as how personal treasures are not as precious as personal memories.

Little Brother:

Another epidsode on this list that doesn’t feature Finn or Jake. It begins to focus on Shelby (the worm that lives in Jakes viola) and the brother he suddenly gains. Wanting to raise a good brother he imparts the simple binary mora of good and evil. And with that, the newley christened Kevin is off into the roots of the tree house and into an episode that is a condensed down fantasy epic, following his trials inside the tree that makes up Finn and Jake’s house.

And now, for my favourite episode of Adventure Time, and it is an odd one to choose

Card Wars:

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Yes, the simplistic episode about Finn and Jake playing some really nerdy card game. And from that simplicity it’s absolutely perfect. I’d do a more in depth explanation of the episode, but it really is the two of them sitting down and playing a game, the stakes are low, if non-existent and the only conflict in the episode is that Jake is both a sore loser and a sore winner with Finn having to try and placate him. As a guy bought up on board games it’s just nice to see two brothers sat down enjoying each other’s companies. It’s simple, it’s slow and it’s beautifully touching and is still, to me, the height of this show.

“You Gotta Appreciate the Food” – Slice of Life as a Genre

In which I lead you through my process in defining a genre

That title isn’t a weird quip or framing device for this article, it’s a point my house mate raised whilst watching Sweetness and Lightning together. “It’s a Slice of Life, you have to appreciate the food”. The weeks running up to this comment I had been mulling over the inherent problems Slice-of-Life anime faces, especially to us western viewers. The chief of which is everyone having a different opinion about what it is. Not just about whether it’s good or not but about how to classify it as we don’t have such a genre established in the west. So in this post I’m going to attempt to explain it, hopefully……. Maybe.

So, let’s try the simplest approach. Word Definitions. Slice-of-Life, can literally mean an excerpt from life. So therefore a show in the slice-of-life genre is something that follows normal life. And that definition sort of works, but it also feels like something is missing. It makes the genre sound too pedestrian, too disinteresting, too generic and most importantly too broad. Technically any show can be defined as Slice-of-life via this definition as long as it justifies it’s self as displaying a normal life, for example take any Gundam series, it shows the passage of life in a world where giant robots fight in space and everyone accepts the fact and takes it as a normal day. By this definition this is Slice-of-Life. We find ourselves with a definition to broad, too much can and will fit into it. So we need to refine it.

Let’s turn to Wikipedia for our next attempt at having this done easily. A “mundane realism depicting everyday experiences”. Okay, so that’s a little better. Realism is the crucial word there that now grounds this genre in portraying situations that seem realistic to the audience. There we go, we’re done. Except. My Neighbour Totoro is a thing. A film which is unquestionably a Slice-Of-Life and there is nothing mundane or realistic about a giant forest spirit hanging out with two young girls.

So with that to fit I have to remove realism, and I find myself at the very beginning again. It seems like there’s no easy way to find this answer other than going through what makes a Slice-Of-Life anime. And at this point we will be dipping into a big old pile of opinion and generalisations

WHAT IS SLICE OF LIFE:

  • Simple
    • Not simple in that it’s lacking in character, plot or ambition. But that’s it’s simple in scope, it’s focused on a single point, this could be a small cast of characters or a particular setting. Perhaps Focused would be a better word.
  • Slow
    • In most cases due to being a chronological run through of people’s daily lives an episode will rarely cover a large amount of plot, opting instead for a small point or two per episode.
  • Character Driven
    • Running off the two previous points of slow plot but large cast of characters, it stands to reason that a slice-of-life show will put the focus on these characters. A main character is still recognisable however, often the first shown on screen.
  • Comedy
    • They will often feature jokes as a driving factor as well, to make up for slow plot. Reasons for this can vary from anime to anime, but a large chunk of adapted slice of life have their roots in Yonkoma style manga, where each page is structured like a joke, Set up, Delivery, Punch line. Once you know it’s there it’s easy to spot.

So at the end of that I put forward that the Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama”, and I could in theory leave it there. But I think it could do with some work. Let’s start with some discussion on setting, and see where that takes us.

SETTING IN A SLICE-OF-LIFE

My mind instantly hops to high school when I think of Slice-of-Life, thanks to the prominence of shows like “Toradora!” and “K-ON!” in the genre. It’s become synonymous with the genre to thing that slice-of-life is always in a high school. However, it’s at this point I get fussy and wave my almost finished media degree around the place. The high school is definitely a genre convention of Slice-of-Life but that doesn’t mean of course that every show is in a high school or set around one. Shows like “ServentxService” and “Wagnaria!” are both set around work places. Shows like “Flying Witch” and “Non-Non Byori” Draw more attention to the rural locals they are set in than a school and that’s even before I bring up shows like “Sweetness and lightning” and “Poco’s Udon World” that places a large focus on the characters that physically can’t go to high school due to being too young.

What I’m trying to say really, is that the setting of a slice of life is always mundane. But I hate that word in relation to this, it will act like a weight on the definition, making it sound boring. So at this point I bust out a thesaurus:

I find myself quite fond of quotdian meaning “occurring every day; daily.” But because I’m trying to make something that can be understood I think I should stick with something normal. That can be applied not just to a description of the common settings of slice-of-life but also its plot threads. “Everyday” seems to fit this bill. Shows are often set in an “everyday” environment and deal with the “everyday” events of the characters. Now to just slot that into the definition and see what we have.

The Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama fixed in everyday locals”

I think we are almost there. One little piece could do with being discussed, even if I find no way of slotting it into the definition.

WHY WE WATCH SLICE-OF-LIFE

This is probably the easiest thing to answer. Slice-of-life provides an effortless medium for the viewer to live vicariously through the characters. Taking joy in the familiarity of the situations on screen and drawing a bond with the character of their choice. It’s important to note that this is not quite the same as gaining voyeuristic pleasure from watching, there are distinct differences between Slice-of-Life and Harem anime the most obvious of which being the sexual content in the latter.

To include this in a definition of the genre is probably the missing piece of the puzzle. If we state it has vicarious tendencies then it suddenly means we can skim a lot off the top. The show has to be a believable realism. Just detached from our world enough to offer some form of contrivance, like the fact that only 4 girls seem interested in playing music in the whole school (K-ON!) or that witches exist (Flying Witch) or that the people working in Waganria can get any work done (Wagnaria!). Whilst we can say we can relate to a sci-fi space captain, we still feel a detachment from him that you don’t get when looking at a school student going to class. The screen is a lot thinner in slice-of-life. (To use an analogy I should’ve at the start to cut down on word count.)

TO STOP THE RAMBLINGS

So in conclusion I define Slice-of-Life as:

“Simple, slow moving, character focused drama. Fixed in everyday locales suited to vicarious living”

I’ll probably return to this at some point, and test it out on various shows to see if it does work. But seeing as I’m nearing on 1300 words I’ll leave it here for today.

Header image: Non Non Biyori