If you have siblings like mine, chances are that they were your first buddies. They are also the people you learned to navigate around, get along with through thick and thin, and outgrow, at times, aside from your parents or guardians. Those who have hurt you the most and grew to know you the best. Who know your vulnerabilities, struggles, hopes—even if they aren’t always expressed or recognized. You’d do anything for them, even if it meant getting in trouble, even if it didn’t always mean getting along, because they’re who you can always go back to no matter what you’ve been through. Time and time again.
Pendelton Ward’s carefree animated TV series Adventure Time (2010-2018) encapsulates the lived experiences of Finn the human, a young boy growing up in the post-apocalyptic world alongside his (adoptive) older brother Jake, a magical shape-shifting dog. The narrative orbits around Finn and Jake’s adventures of danger and heroism across the Land of Ooo. The Land of Ooo, ravaged and ruined by the nuclear aftereffects of the Great Mushroom War, is home to both lost and entirely new civilizations where the remnants of the ancient and modern gather and re-form. As the series delves into the depth of its post-apocalyptic narrative and the breadth of its lore, the more you get to know almost each and every individual character that comes into focus across the entirety of the series. Throughout the series, you see the greatest successes, failures, fears, and dreams of each character that crosses paths with the righteous heroes Finn and Jake. Their indestructible bond as best friends and adventuring bros across interdimensional timelines, multiple lifetimes, and everyday boredom is what builds their relationship together—despite their differences—so genuine and sincere. Adventure Time embodies the improvization of life—the ultimate, unexplainable adventure of existence, growing up, and the connections we make with each other along the way—in all its grossness and glory.
In particular, Finn and Jake’s relationship extends beyond the conventional portrayal of sibling dynamics or buddy genre tropes as it confronts trauma, innocence, forgiveness, family, kinship, love, and hate. These very real emotions and circumstances that we find ourselves faced with, whether it be dealing with the remnants of a broken family, tracing unknown origins, confronting complicated pasts, or (literally) limitless futures ahead, are what ground the series in reality. While the existential nature of the series may not appear to be content suitable for children, it deals with the very real challenges and issues that children face growing up, as well as the lasting impact and irreparable consequences adults make in the same sphere. The series tackles life’s greatest obstacles, whatever stage of life you happen to be in.
When they aren’t out battling evil monsters in dungeons, saving princesses, and party hopping from kingdom to kingdom, Finn and Jake live comfortably together in a treehouse. Finn, the younger brother, was adopted by Jake’s parents when they found him in a forest by himself, stuck to a leaf by his own “boom-boom” (code for full diaper), and gave him a new home and life. Tracing Adventure Time lore, this is the moment where Finn swears never to leave someone alone and in trouble, as countless others had done to him in times of need. Compelled to do great things for himself and others, Finn’s dream to become a legendary hero is what gives him purpose in life, while he relies on Jake to have his back no matter what situation they are in.
Their older/younger sibling dynamic is made visible through Jake’s ‘cool guy’ act, presenting as a figure who gives great advice, protects, guides, and teaches Finn important lessons. While they don’t live with their parents, Jake has a long-term girlfriend named Lady Rainicorn (a magical rainbow unicorn), who he visits and spends time with separate from his life at the treehouse with Finn. Jake’s past is fraught with delinquent behaviour and crime and his judgement is often put to the test as he is prone to slip back into bad habits, but he is able to overcome these personal battles thanks to Finn’s supportive influence and prevails (unless his laziness or short attention span doesn’t get the best of him). However, this doesn’t mean Jake knows everything about the world—he learns just as much from Finn as Finn learns from Jake. No matter what, “Homies help homies. Always.” Finn and Jake grew up with each other, growing into very different entities because of their difference in age and life experiences, but nonetheless loving and supporting one another on their individual journeys.
Rather than playing up competitive sibling rivalries that endure outrageous age-old grudges, constant conflict and chaos, and butting personalities, the series instead focuses on the spontaneous inanities that often grip us wholly. Those nonsensical made-up words and imaginary places that you’ve only experienced together are eventually lost to time. Inside jokes, impromptu sing-alongs, jam sessions, borderline cruel pranks, and those small conversations where we talked about things we didn’t understand, like life, beliefs, and the universe… (No matter what anyone says, farts will always be funny.) Finn and Jake learn from one another and encounter each other’s faults and habits that often lead to disagreements, arguing, wall punching, hair tearing, and straight up maniacal behavior. More importantly, these moments demonstrate that it’s okay to fight sometimes, because we all make mistakes and mess up (probably more than we’d ever like to admit). We’re all flawed, but we have the potential to change through what we learn from the connections we continue to nurture with one another as we grow. Through these absolutely insufferable moments, we can still love our siblings despite everything, and more than they probably know. We learn to get along. “People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out, we just need to respect it.” This becomes especially true when we grow up and begin to know different versions of ourselves and one another as our identities develop alongside (or without the presence of) those around us. Although…that doesn’t mean personal boundaries won’t be crossed, leftover fries won’t be eaten by some jerk, or a bunch of awkward sounds and fluids won’t fall out of your face from time to time in the process.
We are part of larger narratives outside of our own understanding and comprehension that often defy our individually and collectively experienced concepts of time, memory, and history. The magical, scientific, demonic, uncanny, and weird in Adventure Time inform the basis of our reality as we first encounter the world with wonder, facing our future(s) and the universe. Adventure Time creates spaces of belonging where we can learn to relate to one another, where no one is beyond healing or helping. The series demonstrates what taking care of one another, and what giving and receiving care can look like in varying ways. There are some things that only we can do ourselves, but we can always be there to support one another in whatever ways we are able to. This is exactly what Finn and Jake’s sibling/buddy relationship accomplishes, though the very unreality or fictionality of their world may suggest otherwise to unfamiliar audiences. Finn and Jake’s bond surpasses the “trials of the hero” and the rites of passage children encounter as they grow up through intricately woven adventures that include life lessons and moral teachings. Although, they also encourage us to have fun, because that’s part of learning to get along as well—adults and children alike. But, “Hey, it’s OK. People make mistakes. It’s all part of growing up, and you never really stop growing.”
“Memories of Boom Boom Mountain.” Adventure Time, Cartoon Network, 3 May 2010.
“The Duke.” Adventure Time, Cartoon Network, 19 July 2010.
“Bonnie & Neddy.” Adventure Time, Cartoon Network, November 2, 2015.