“Hot to the Touch”
Adventure Time, season 4, episode 3
Storyboard: Cole Sanchez & Rebecca Sugar
Adventure Time created by Pen Ward
Human body is approximately sixty percent water. The Flame Princess is made out of fire. Her relationship with Finn the Human is therefore very complicated and filled with the frustrating and sad moments of young love, suitably multiplied by the proportion of fantastic elements in the stories. “Hot to the Touch” is the second part in a dramatic arc that begins with “Incendium” (storyboard: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar) and pays off greatly in the barn burner “Burning Low” (Sanchez & Sugar).
The Flame Princess stories are enriching because it is sort of painful to think that a terrific show such as Adventure Time would stay anchored in the cultural idea of “love at first sight, I will sit and wait for the princess of my dreams until she eventually loves me.” Finn and Princess Bubblegum’s relationship of unrequited love vs platonic friendship made for some good stories but the idea to move Finn forward from that paradigm was smart. And considering our cultural mythology of “true love, forever,” it was a bold decision.
With the Flame Princess, we have Finn the Human meet a girl who is different from Princess Bubblegum in age, maturity, temperament and physical composition. Described as “my evil daughter” by the Flame King, Flame Princess represents a more clear-headed and empathetic view of the “wounded woman” archetype.
Of course she isn’t “evil,” merely misunderstood and tired of feeling maligned. Which I’ll grant you, is a cliche in itself. But there is a persistent empathy from the storytellers that brings new life to this kind of character.
Adventure Time, season 3, episode 10
Storyboard: Sanchez & Sugar
“Burning Low” reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover.” It is probably meant to. There are lots of music references in Adventure Time.
“see the candle burning low/
is a new world rising
from the shambles of the old”
The thing about “Burning Low” that is shocking is how effortlessly the story introduces the concepts of sex as a physical bonding experience for people in love. So confident are the creators in this that they even lean heavily on a safe sex metaphor. Which is not just hilarious, it’s a needed change in our general culture. In the story, the role of “sex” is played by “hugs.” Which can be heart-stoppingly intimidating for tween/teens who are just beginning to have complex romantic feelings. What a messed up time that was!
There is also an STD angle if you’re willing to read that far into it. In the 90s, they used I say “burning” to refer to someone with an STD (likely from the sensation of burning that accompanies some STD symptoms). It’s really funny to see Jake the Dog step in and insist that Finn use some protection before hugging Flame Princess. Wrap it up, kids.
Doubling back, Princess Bubblegum discovers that if Finn and Flame Princess actually kiss then the planet would explode, which is absurd and not a sex metaphor but rather the actual plot of the episode. Goofy stuff happens and the kiss doesn’t blow everything up…
Sex (by metaphor) as a goal in itself, as an expression of intimacy as well as a deepening of a relationship. It’s something that I have been thinking about for years in the cartoon arts. Mostly comics, of course, but Adventure Time is close enough to the comics experience for my tastes.
The problem with “sex” as a subject matter is that most people think “pornography.” And while pornography has its own wonderful place in our culture, “sex” as a storytelling tool is often anchored to that concept and tossed overboard.
There is a weird thing that doesn’t happen in most of our culture’s romantic stories. It’s necessary in real romance. It’s repetition. We have been acclimated to an idea of romance as a destination, a finish line. Kiss and fade to black, the end. In reality, a kiss should be “the beginning.” The thing that is weird is watching real people’s relationships rot away because they appear to be patterning their relationships on films. Once you “get” the girl/boy, that’s that. You have won. Pat yourself on the back. In truth, while many people do find it to be a struggle to begin a romantic relationship, it is very difficult to maintain these relationships as well. Sometimes you have to fall in love with the person all over again. People affirm and reaffirm their romantic feelings for one another and through this continual reinforcement a relationship thrives.
The repetition spans from speaking regularly, going on outings together and yes, by having sex. Surprise! You thought this was a comic website. It is couple’s therapy. This is an intervention.
Anyway. This is the stuff I am into. Adventure Time is a lot about the sword and sorcery, dungeon-roaming adventures of tabletop gaming. But it’s also about the adventure of young love, the sudden onset of complexity into lives that were previously straight forward. The program has charged headlong into subjects like queer relationships, fat acceptance, death, forgiveness. The type of subjects that a show aimed at clever kids should be tackling. Art and cultural outpourings are the products of society but also part of a society’s education. You are what you eat so it is good to consume art that is about how we can better relate to one another.