A Rat King Situation

little brother

Adventure Time – “Little Brother”

Everything is connected. That’s a lesson Adventure Time has taught multiple times throughout its run, but it’s becoming a major theme in the sixth season. Every action has consequences, like beating up a Sky Witch, becoming Ooo’s newest playboy, or defeating a rat king. The citizens of Ooo are all learning, in their own ways, how they can affect the world at large.

Adventure Time‘s sixth season is also fascinated with the minute. With some exceptions, where big events are the direct result of previous events, season six is focusing in on the infinitesimal phenomena that make up the land of Ooo. “Little Brother” continues this trend, but instead of the drier minutiae of the food chain or the politics of romance, it finds a traditional adventure in the tiny, creating an episode that both feels like classic Adventure Time, but it also distinctly of this late season.

Shelby is a fantastic character who has grown in prominence as Adventure Time has gone on. Most prominently featured in “Mystery Dungeon,” Shelby first made his debut all the way back in season one, and has been popping up for one-liners and viola jams ever since. When a piece of his tail is sliced off during a wild party, it becomes its own entity. (It’s worth noting the visual similarities, as well as the near-identical title, to “Little Dude.”) Naming his former butt Kent, Shelby goes to Jake for advice on how to be a big brother, which consists of giving him a pointy weapon and telling him to fight bad guys. Of course, in Ooo this isn’t wildly off-base in terms of sibling interaction, but Shelby is apprehensive nonetheless. He acquiesces eventually, and sends Kent off with a cocktail sword to fight evil.

Its here that the scope of the episode really shifts. We’ve seen inside the walls of the Treehouse Fort before, but this is the most expansive look we’ve ever gotten, and its vast as any dungeon Finn and Jake have ever taken on. Kent quickly finds the final boss, a nefarious being known as the Rat King. (And yes, he’s actually a rat king.) Beaten and bruised, Kent is healed by leaf people who beseech him to destroy the Rat King once and for all. Kent goes through a classic quest, searching out three mystical items (each with a test of temptation, of course) in order to forge a mighty blade to take down the Rat King. Once the sword is finished, Kent confronts the Rat King head on, and a battle rages that is truly a dichotomy of the epic and the minuscule. Naturally the Rat King asks Kent to join him, but Kent resists, as any good hero should, and takes him down once and for all. Kent returns to Shelby just as Shelby realizes how much he’s missed his little brother, and how sending him off so soon may have been a mistake, but their reunion is short-lived. Every action has a consequence, and when Kent drank from the healing dew of the leaf people, he was forever bound to live within the roots of the Treehouse Fort. Though Shelby is saddened to have his little brother taken away from his again, because of Kent’s heroics, the Treehouse Fort blooms for the first time in years.

“Little Brother” feels like a vitally important episode of Adventure Time, one that shows more than any other episode how adventures and bravery can flex to fit any relative size. Over the years, as the adventures themselves have grown in scope, bringing in the multiverse and ancient evils, Adventure Time has typically used its “smaller” stories to discuss emotional realities, interpersonal conflicts, and day-to-day life in Ooo. “Little Brother” goes small, but the action is big. Compared to last week’s “Something Big,” the two stories feel almost identical in terms of scope, and both have consequences on the larger world, even if its just a tree blooming. (I’m not convinced this won’t be significant down the line, but for now we’ll observe only in the context of the current narrative.) Likewise, the animation is no slouch, making “Little Brother” another visual treat in a season that’s been full of them so far. Adventure Time continues to find new ways to live up to its title, and even when it’s observing life on a microscopic level, the big picture is never far from mind.