As many of you know, I’m a complete Yuasa fanboy. When I learned he was guest directing an episode of Adventure Time, a show I had recently just started to appreciate, I knew I had to write about it. Though the episode polarized western Adventure Time fans, I think any fan of Yuasa was impressed with the amount of creativity and energy he was able imbue a rather short episode with.
As soon as the episode started I instantly made the connection between the food chain and the Buddhist understanding of the Bhavacakra, or as most Westerners know it as, the wheel of life. While the Bhavacakra itself is quite complicated, the general understanding is less so. Essentially it illustrates the cyclical and impermanent nature of unenlightened life. It features people rising into higher states of being and people falling into lower states of being.
Of course Jake and Finn experience this rising and falling throughout the episode.
They begin as birds, then bacteria, then caterpillars, then birds again, and the cycle completes.
What struck me most about Finn and Jake’s adventure through the food chain was the ultimate futility of it: Finn marries as a caterpillar then is eaten. Buddha’s understanding of worldly desires, even romantic ones, as fleeting is made distinctly evident.
The most striking part of the episode is the end. One thing the Bhavacakra makes clear is that enlightenment is possible (Buddha is shown outside the wheel, pointing to the moon), and that’s exactly what Finn and Jake have apparently found at the end of the episode as they pose like two Bodhisattvas reveling in their newfound Buddhahood.
Of course Yuasa has to throw us another curveball however; the episode ends exactly how it began. Perhaps Finn and Jake didn’t really escape their material desires. The Candy Kingdom is certainly quite decadent (what is more indicative of material desires than candy?).
In any case I loved the episode and it managed to bring a complicated Eastern concept to a popular Western children’s cartoon, which no one in my field of study can complain about.