Adventure Time: Distant Lands
Obsidian, HBO Max.
A good sequel is a worthy successor to the original. A great sequel may even surpass the original in many ways. But what about the sequel that retroactively improves its source material or our appreciation for it? Distant Lands: Obsidian—part II in the follow-up series to Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time—is exactly this kind of sequel.
Typically, I’d give you a quick rundown on Adventure Time, the characters and the story, for the sake of the uninitiated reader. But I’m not going to do that for one key reason—Distant Lands: Obsidian isn’t self-contained. It isn’t something you can hop into without prior knowledge of the series that preceded it. It’s a companion piece in the truest sense. With that in mind, go watch Adventure Time if you haven’t already, and thank me later—it’s a real treat.
For those, who’ve already seen Adventure Time and want to know if Obsidian is worth the effort, let’s dig in. Distant Lands: Obsidian picks up several years after the events of the Adventure Time finale. While the first instalment in the Distant Lands series treated us to a stand-alone BMO prequel, here we follow Marceline and Princess Bubblegum as they’ve settled into their romance and begun sketching out a life together. When Marceline is called into action to save a city from a monster she defeated once before, the past is dug up and old wounds are re-opened. While the story takes after the Adventure Time finale, it’s preoccupied with the past.
This plot, if we can call it that, is just a catalyst to pushing these characters towards self-betterment. As we flit from present to past to present again, we are given insight into the time-tested relationship between Marcy and Bubblegum, and the cracks they’ve worked so hard to mend. Once upon a time, they were hardly the well-rounded characters they’ve grown to be—each privy to their insecurities and hubris, there was no single victim that led to their romance’s initial destruction.
Between flashbacks and flashforwards, the primary fear is that Obsidian bites off more than it can chew. On the contrary, the episode is exceptionally structured and well-paced. Perhaps its greatest achievement is that it juggles quite a lot in 42 minutes rather deftly. For example, ample time is dedicated to Marceline as an infant, struggling to survive in a brutal, post-apocalyptic world. Amidst the folds of dilapidated desolation, we finally discover what happened to her mother, and how she came to be alone. It serves as a welcome (and deeply moving) exploration of those ancient scars that set her insecurities in motion. Her fear of abandonment and the devil-may-care attitude she assumes as a defence-mechanism become grounded in something tangible. It provides us with context to Marceline’s reckless, anti-heroic attitudes, especially as she appears early on in the original series.
Obsidian‘s got all the typical hallmarks we’ve come to expect of a Pendleton Ward creation: bizarre, nonsensical humour underpinned with sincere emotion, and a fantastical setting kept grounded by its flawed and fallible inhabitants. Even the new characters are entertaining to watch—Ward excels at giving his characters unique voices that characterise them instantly through their idiolect, and without needing to linger on them too intensively to flesh out their personality. Although the dialogue can be a little ham-fisted at times, it’s never to the detriment of what amounts to a charming, emotional, and soul-affirming animated experience.
Rest assured that Obsidian is greater than mere fan-service, and provides more than just a familiar romp for us Adventure Time stans. It’s a character study of its two protagonists—how far they’ve come, how they’ve changed, and how they’ve yet to change. And for that, Distant Lands: Obsidian is well worth the watch.