Animation Round-up: Gwen and Kevin Return to Ben 10, Droid Rage on The Clone Wars, and Adventure Time Takes Down 'Shippers?

There was no new episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this week (in the United States, anyway), so this week's round-up is a show lighter than usual. But never fear, there’s still plenty of animation goodness to go around, as old friends of Ben’s returned on Ben 10: Omniverse, droids were drafted for a secret mission on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Trixie and Twilight Sparkle squared off again on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and Finn collected all the mini-versions of the inhabitants of Ooo on Adventure Time.

Ben 10: Omniverse S01E12: “Many Happy Returns”

“Many Happy Returns” was the episode I’ve been dreading since I have absolutely no connection to Kevin and Gwen, let alone a baseline for them as characters (I don’t have the time to catch up on 150 episodes!). As a result, I urge everyone to take my opinion with more than a few grains of salt as I talk about the two characters and the episode.

I urge the healthy dose of salt grains because I found Kevin and Gwen to be kind of a pair of jerks by the end of "Many Happy Returns," when they packed into Kevin’s car—the source of all the problems in the episode in the first place!—and skedaddled. I get that Kevin was trying to avoid marrying Looma, and figured the best way to do that was to rope Ben into it instead, but then he tricked Ben into getting engaged to Looma. Not okay (and only passingly funny). And Gwen just stood by and let it happen since, well, she had reading to catch up on. Not a great first impression, though Gwen had my favorite line of the episode: “It’s probably just a misunderstanding, a cultural-relativism thing.” So college-y!

Gwen and Kevin aside, I did enjoy the big set piece in the construction yard. The Tetramands should give up the warrior culture stuff and become a pop-up wedding service, because they have really got their stuff together! The fight between Ben and Looma was entertaining (so many aliens this week!), and I enjoyed the color commentary from Rook and cheering from Kevin.

But seeing as how this was a big fan-friendly episode, I’m really eager to see how you felt about Gwen and Kevin stopping by.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars S05E10: “Secret Weapons”

One of the more visceral memories I have of The Clone Wars is Cad Bane torturing C-3PO back in the Season 3 episode “Evil Plans.” It was dark and intense, and in similar fashion to the Onderon arc from the start of this season, attempted to grapple with real-world political issues in a kid-friendly way.

My problem with “Evil Plans” was that it short-circuited any honest discussion about the ramifications of torture by having the droid duo’s memories wiped. Certainly neither of the droids experienced trauma as they don’t have emotions or senses, but the ease with which everything was wrapped up irked me. And so I was on my guard during “Secret Weapons.” Here, a squad of astromechs—including R2-D2, and a DUM-series droid—were led by the frog- and slug-like Colonel Meebur Gasscon on a mission to retrieve a CIS encryption module from a Separatist dreadnaught.

My guard was largely unnecessary, as the episode did what I was hoping it might do: It demonstrated that the droids have personality and loyalty beyond their programming and mission. I was rather worried, due to the lingering shots of the inoperable M5-BZ, that the droid was just going to be left behind. I was glad when the other droids stopped and made a point of carrying BZ back with them as they made their escape.

Beyond that, I really liked the episode overall (except for the pink droid being named QT-KT), from Gascon and WAC-47’s development over the course of the episode to the zero-g showdown at the end. It struck the right balance of humor, action, and emotion to feel well-rounded and complete.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic S03E05: "Magic Duel"

So after last week’s heavy-handed moralizing, “Magic Duel” went a little lighter as Trixie returned to seek revenge after Twilight bested her in the Season 1 episode “Boast Busters.” This time Trixie had armed herself with the Alicorn Amulet, a trinket that turns her magic from general flimflammery into actual powerful spells.

The amulet allowed Trixie to easily best Twilight in a duel, and Twilight was banished from Ponyville as a result. Trixie enslaved everyone in Ponyville and erected a magical fish bowl around the tiny village, making us assume she was actually a Stephen King character. Twilight sought out the assistance of Zecora in the Everfree Forest, and supposedly received some Dagobah-esque training, but we didn’t see a lot of it. There was another showdown, this time with Twilight outwitting Trixie thanks to some misdirection, the power of friendship (of course), and by appealing to Trixie’s thirst for power (and ruining one of Zecora’s paperweights).

The episode’s lesson was a little vague, but it didn’t matter as some bits were generally pretty funny. Pinkie Pie’s lack of a mouth and a nose continued the show’s body horror/humor with the character (it felt very Georges Franju); Fluttershy’s insistence at being heard, then ignored, and then finally drafted for the secret mission cracked me up. I also really enjoyed Trixie’s power-hungry insanity, from her mistrust of wheels to her insistence on applesauce facial cream. All in all, a perfectly fine episode.

Adventure Time S05E05: "All the Little People"

I’m eager to hear what you all thought of this episode, as I’m sort of split on it. The premise is easy enough. That mischievous Magic Man returned and looped a bag of Little-Oooians onto Finn’s pants following a discussion between Finn and Jake about how you know when you’re attracted to someone. Realizing that the Little-Oooians are sort of a live-action The Sims, even in how they talk to each other, Finn started pairing them off into couples in an effort to determine his own best course of action.

On the one hand, I adore the interactions between the Little Oooians because in many ways they mirror that toy chest analogy I’ve been using to describe the show. Here’s Finn with his own set of his friends, enemies, and “C-listers” (“They’ll get involved eventually.”) to play with and he starts pairing them off to hilarious effect, including Little Princess Bubblegum using Little Lady Rainicorn’s tears to extinguish Little Flame Princess, and then Little Princess Bubblegum turning to exercise to deal with the break-up. Everything felt sort of wonderfully fitting with the characters and their miniature versions.

But it also felt “All the Little People” was an indictment of ‘shipping culture. Finn paired off characters who had no business being together, ignoring canon (Poor Little Jake!), and the Little world devolved into chaos, with Little Finn staring off a ledge, mulling over the effects of Finn’s interference on their lives. Finn was so distraught over what he’d done that he was “staring into the shadow of [his] darkest mindhole.” It’s a weird contradiction that the episode engaged as a result: Adventure Time’s anything goes creativity is one of its biggest strengths, and ‘shipping culture is a facet of that same creativity.

I think that “All the Little People” was ultimately a cautionary tale about ‘shipping, and perhaps even fandom as a whole, since can it often be carried to painfully unnecessary extremes that can ruin a show (*cough The Vampire Diaries cough*). I can imagine that Adventure Time suffers from this as there are no doubt some people who hate Flame Princess for distracting Finn from being with Princess Bubblegum, allowing such concerns to crowd out the pleasures of the narrative itself, even as there is some pleasure to be gained from ‘shipping.

Final bit: I normally don’t watch the second episode in the half hour, but this week they attached “I Remember You” to “All the Little People” and now I am really sad. Again. Thanks, Adventure Time!

What'd you think of this week's episodes?

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