Beginning in the newly introduced Glass Kingdom, we get an immediate dose of the surreal technicolor fantasy that has always made Adventure Time stand out. Miki Brewster (Steven Universe) takes supervising director duties here and, along with the rest of the team, creates another impressively layered world. Brewster was also behind the first Distant Lands entry, BMO, which showcased experimental animation and crafted a sci-fi Western epic that felt both fresh and deeply indebted to the stories which had come before. Obsidian feels far more settled in the established world of Adventure Time, which seems intentional as we’re revisiting two of the most memorable characters in Marcy (Olivia Olson) and Bubblegum (Hynden Walch).
After the massive battle at the end of the original series, the pair are living a quiet and idyllic life together far from the wars, monsters, and trauma of their former lives. Fans of the lovers will get a lot of joy from the domestic bliss they share in their new woodland cottage home. But as much as we could have enjoyed a whole sweet sitcom starring the two gal pals, their peaceful life isn’t long-lived. The Glass Kingdom has been besieged by an ancient dragon (that Marcy and PBubs once slew) due to the actions of a young Marceline super fan, Glassboy (Michaela Dietz). In order to rectify his mistake, he heads to find the Vampire Queen to help him slay the monster that he accidentally released. It’s a journey that forces the couple of romantics to look back on their own relationship ups and downs, which are encompassed in a series of new songs.
Music has long been at the heart of Adventure Time and we get a new addition to the musical majesty of the series here. But just like the rest of the tracks that mean so much to fans, this one is intrinsically connected to the story at the heart of the show. We get to hear a track that Marceline wrote about Bubblegum years before, when the pair were still an on-again off-again drama bomb, and it’s one of the first times we get an explicit recognition that Marcy’s saddest songs were all about Bubblegum. Sadly the track doesn’t defeat the dragon, but due to her newly blissful life with the candy creature she loves, Marcy can’t find the anger inside her to write a heavier track to keep the dangerous lava beast contained. It’s a heartbreaking and surprisingly resonant treatise on how growing up and settling down can sometimes make us feel distanced from our creative minds, which also offers up a shared backstory many viewers have been dying for.
Post-apocalyptic hellscapes have been done to death, but it still felt utterly radical when it was revealed the candy-hued world of Adventure Time was actually a super futuristic vision of Earth after a terrifying world-ending event. Obsidian gives us more of a glimpse of that pre-Candy Kingdom existence as Marcy returns to the place that she lost her mother in order to harness the sadness she believes that she needs to defeat the dragon. But Adventure Time has always been about hope and heart, and Marceline soon realizes that her power doesn’t come from her baggage, but from her love of Bubblegum and the relationship that they’ve built together.
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It’s the kind of message that’s especially powerful right now, and just like the best episodes of the series, Obsidian delivers it in an organic, thoughtful, and entertaining way. Not just in terms of the writing or emotional satisfaction, but also in aesthetic and visual ingenuity. The colors pop, the character designs shine, and the new, enticingly strange worlds make you wish you could stay in them for far longer than 45 minutes. The special episode ends as Marceline shares a new Olson track that will likely become just as iconic and connected to the pair as “I’m Just Your Problem” and “Everything Stays the Same.” But this time it’s a beautiful, hopeful track about the love they share, and in that way, you could say that it’s love that defeats the Dragon in Obsidian.
With only two more entries into the Distant Lands series to go, if the quality of these specials stays this strong, HBO Max will have truly added to the canon of Adventure Time in a way that feels necessary, expansive, and experimental. It’s something that pretty much every current reboot, reimagining, or reunion of a classic series could learn a lot from.