It's been a long, uphill battle, but we've almost reached the point where I no longer have "Adventure Time"-related home video complaints! After last-year's release of The Complete First Season on DVD, Cartoon Network has finally decided to take the show high-def by upgrading that season to Blu-Ray (check out Adam Tyner's review of that release here) and offering The Complete Second Season on both formats. Although I'd like Seasons Three and Four on Blu-Ray sooner rather than later (hopefully we'll be talking about those before 2014), this is sincerely mathematical.
If the first season surreptitiously felt out a format and style for the show while establishing the Land of Ooo and the cast of characters, the second season has a ton of fun exploring and expanding on everything that they've set up. Most of these 26 new episodes use the same places and people in the show's universe that have already been established, yet somehow these episodes don't lose an ounce of the creativity and invention that makes "Adventure Time" special. At the very end of the season, the writers even dip their toes into their first bit of long-form storytelling, adding yet another weapon to the show's already extensive arsenal of tricks.
Several of these episodes appeared on previous collection DVDs, but taken as a whole, this batch ranks among the show's best. "Power Animal", in which shapeshifting Jake the Dog (John DiMaggio) is forced to overcome his short attention span to rescue his eternal pal, 11-year-old Finn the Human (Jeremy Shada), is a pretty perfect example of the show's sharp timing and invention, leaping from ground level to a cloud party to an underground gnome cave within 12 hilarious minutes. "Death in Bloom" features Miguel Ferrer as Death, who Finn and Jake must confront in order to rescue the soul of a plant they've been assigned to take care of. The show's vision of the underworld is hilarious in and of itself, but if "Miguel Ferrer as Death" isn't a perfect four-word tease pitch for the show's genius, I don't know what is. "Crystals Have Power" veers into the show's weirder territory (it's hard to describe, other than to say the episode has some of the show's all-time funniest Jake animation), whereas "The Pods" has one of the show's cutest antagonists. Although there are only a couple of episodes that are exclusive to this new season set, there's at least one classic among them, as well. "Her Parents" finds Jake stressing about his lunch with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn (Niki Yang) and her parents (Henry Rollins and Laura Silverman). To try and break the ice, he sets up a pre-lunch hang-out session without Lady, but his plan involves a series of lies that Finn isn't thrilled with.
There are plenty of shows that take the same kitchen-sink approach to comedy as "Adventure Time", but few fuse all the elements together as well as Ward and his team manage to, episode after episode. Although the show could be conservatively called "hyperactive," the writers and animators know when simplicity will do more than exaggeration, scoring huge laughs with something as simple as eyes opening ("The Silent King") or an extra beat of silence. Plus, most episodes offer simple, sweet messages mixed in with the wild comedy, about being yourself ("Slow Love"), dealing with frustrating parents ("It Came From the Nightosphere"), fighting with your friends ("Videomakers") -- all sorts of great lessons for the younger audiences who love the show. It almost seems too much to think that a show this visually dazzling, infectiously funny, and generally charming (the songs, often written by creator Pendleton Ward himself, are always a highlight) could be educational as well, but "Adventure Time" hits all the bases with energy to spare. So many of these Season Two episodes fire on all cylinders that it's hard to believe the show actually continues to get even more inspired and creative in future seasons, but "Mortal Folly" and "Mortal Recoil" only represent the beginning of the show's journey into direct serialization -- a tantalizing taste of what's to come.
Episodes included in this release are as follows: "Loyalty to the King", "Blood Under the Skin", "It Came From the Nightosphere", "The Eyes", "Storytelling", "Slow Love", "Power Animal", "Crystals Have Power", "Her Parents", "To Cut a Woman's Hair", "The Chamber of Frozen Blades", "The Other Tarts", "The Pods", "The Silent King", "The Real You", "Guardians of Sunshine", "Death in Bloom", "Susan Strong", "Mystery Train", "Go With Me", "Belly of the Beast", "The Limit", "Videomakers", "Heat Signature", "Mortal Folly", and "Mortal Recoil".
"Adventure Time": The Complete Second Season picks up right where the first one left off, packaging-wise. On the top level, a line-less graphic design image of the Ice King graces a cardboard slipcover, which has the summary and a list of bonuses printed on the back. Removing it reveals an image of the Nice King, and when the user cracks open the case, there's a picture of the Ice King's muscles on the episode insert, and his spinal cord on the disc. Aside from the aforementioned episode insert, there's a sheet with a digital copy code.
The Video and Audio
If you've read any of my other "Adventure Time" reviews for DVDTalk, you know there are few people banging the drum for Blu-Ray seasons of the show louder than I am. Now that I've got what I said I wanted, it almost feels rude to nitpick over the presentation, but that's what I gotta do. Warner Bros. offers "Adventure Time" with a 1.78:1 1080p VC-1 encode that certainly blows DVD out of the water but still leaves a little to be desired. The ugly haloing that plagues the DVD releases is gone, and the colors are gorgeous, but there's apparent aliasing throughout these episodes. It's not prominent -- casual viewers sitting the recommended distance from their TVs probably won't see it -- but it is there. The real complaint about this disc is that the show is presented with the same Dolby Digital 2.0 audio as the DVDs. It's not a bad mix: it's punchy, chrisp, and bold, supplying the colorful picture with an equally cartoony mix. However, viewers may long for more dynamic directionality and depth, which standard stereo can't provide. Uncompressed HD audio would be the best, but hopefully future "Adventure Time" seasons at least offer full surround sound. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
I appreciated the effort in the extras for The Complete First Season, which were pretty weird. However, I also appreciate the traditional approach on this second season, with Pendleton Ward and an extensive roster of crew members piling into his bedroom to record an audio commentary for all 26 episodes. Ward also provides "musical interludes" to cover up any edits on the track. His cuts are clearly due for legal or content concerns -- one long unedited section has the whole group laughing about trying to remain family friendly, before devising the code word "orange juice," not to mention the fact that his ukulele frequently cuts off commentators in mid-sentence. Although the tracks can sometimes feel a bit piecemeal, thanks to some awkward silences and the constant editing (it's always frustrating to hear a participant starting a story and getting cut off, only for the track to return to a burst of laughter), there are still chunks of gold whenever discussion turns to questions about the show's mythology or talk of animation and writing decisions.
There is also one video extra: "The Crew of 'Adventure Time', Interviewed By Pendleton Ward" (6:16, HD). This low-fi extra is shot in Pendleton Ward's office. Fans will appreciate the chance to connect a few names from the commentary tracks to faces, enjoy some unreasonably funny caption humor, and watch pretty much the entire staff look at some unseen, punishingly loud fart comedy video on Ward's computer (this takes up roughly half of the extra).
Promos for "Adventure Time": The Complete First Season, "Adventure Time" (new episodes), "Regular Show": The Best DVD in the World* *At This Moment in Time, "The Amazing World of Gumball": The Mystery play before the main menu.
It's tough to say some things about "Adventure Time" that haven't already been said (including by myself), but the show is legitimately wonderful, and this second season proves it in spades. Highly recommended.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.