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In Search of Identity: Fanfics, Cosplay and Character Building in 'Adventure Time'

by Ethan Tussey

by Philippe Bedard for IN MEDIA RES

Just as we have seen Finn the Human develop from a simple-minded pre-teen to a complex and conflicted young man as the series progressed, so too has the plot of Adventure Time grown to include much more than just “mathematical” adventures. Similarly, what was at first a colourful children’s cartoon like any other has since become, for many including myself, a poignant portrayal of human struggles.

However outlandish or fantastical the people of Ooo might be, they are relatable and likeable, for the most part. Characters go through several phases as they mature and display real growth and depth. More importantly, the large variety of personalities, conflicts and relations shown in Adventure Time offers something unique and engaging to each viewer. Fans of the show can identify with the conflicts portrayed on screen, even if they are being played out by a magical dog, a lemon or a cinnamon bun.

Through cosplaying or fan-fiction, among other methods, spectators are invited to interact with these characters on a more personal level. This allows fans to either take on the traits of the characters they cosplay as, or through fan-fiction, make these characters live out scenarios that are not possible otherwise. In addition, online fandoms present participants with a (typically) welcoming community which extends the reach of Adventure Time’s potential further into the real world.

Interestingly, characters in Adventure Time also seem to partake in these processes of fandom. Fan-fiction, for instance, plays an important role throughout the series. Marceline, Ice King, and LSP each produce their own fanfics which allow them to play out relationships in a way not permitted in their own world, namely through genderswapping and shipping. By incorporating these practices into the narrative (and into their promotional materials), Adventure Time seems to acknowledge their existence and their importance.

Is it possible, then, that Adventure Time is more than just about “mathematical” adventures? How is it that this show is so different from other children's cartoon? More interestingly, why do so many adults connect with Adventure Time, either through simple spectatorship or through more active channels such as cosplaying, fan-fictions and fan art?

Adventure Time and Identity

A clip from Adventure Time

from Adventure Time (2010)
Creator: Pendleton Ward
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey