kris mukai

Episode Review: ‘Five Short Tables’ (S08E09)
  • Airdate: April 2, 2016
  • Story by: Ashly Burch, Adam Muto, Kent Osborne, Jack Pendarvis
  • Storyboarded by: Kris Mukai & Aleks Sennwald
  • Directed by: Elizabeth Ito (supervising), Sandra Lee (art)

The Fionna and Cake episodes have always been particularly meta. I don’t generally like using that term, due to its overuse (any time something is remotely self-reflexive, people start rambling about how ‘meta’ is it), but “Five Short Tables” certainly warrants it.

The episode opens with the Ice King reading a collection of Fionna and Cake short stories, which have been ‘edited’ by Gunter; the stories concern a situation wherein Fionna attempts to help Cake master the art of creating flapjack portraits. The two search the Candy Kingdom, and look for suitable models.

They first come upon Prince Gumball (sadly, voiced not by the usual Neil Patrick Harris, but rather by Keith Ferguson), who challenges Butterscotch Butler (i.e. the butterscotch Sottish butler, who is voiced by Ella Newlands) to a game of Go. After having previously read Gumball’s diary, Butterscotch Butler is able to use pop psychology to get the prince to sabotage himself, and effectively lose the game.

Next, Fionna and Cake go to the library, where they run into Flame Prince (voiced by Hannibal Buress). The fiery elemental thinks that, in order to use the bathroom, he has to check out a book. Due to being composed entirely of fire, Flame Prince causes damage to the aged books, much to the consternation of Turtle Prince (voiced by Crispin Freeman).

The third vignette concerns Marshall Lee (voiced by the magnificent Donald Glover) trying to make Lumpy Space Prince (once again voiced by Pen Ward) take cough syrup to overcome a cold.

The final story features Fionna and Cake perfecting their flapjack cooking game in the Ice Kingdom whilst they listen to Ice Queen recount her fan fiction about Flynn the human, Jacques the raccoon, and Ice President. While Fionna genuinely likes Ice Queen’s story, the two engage in a fight, and Fionna eventually bests the icy witch.

With that, the action cuts back to Ooo proper, and Ice King reveals that the stories are all unified by the theme of tables: Gumball and Butterscotch Butler’s Go match took place on a table, Flame Prince destroyed the table of contents in one of the books he was holding, Marshall Lee tried to get Lumpy Space Prince to take a tablespoon of medicine, and Ice Queen mentioned her desire to “table” a discussion. Ice King is amazed that he has seemingly created a new story format; he initially wants to call them “graybles”, but decides to call them “tables”. Suddenly, the screen freezes, and it is revealed that the entire episode was actually being viewed by Cuber (Emo Phillips); he sighs, noting that he’ll never be able to look at tables the same way ever again.

The various levels of abstraction and mediation in this episode are almost too numerous to count. We are watching Cuber (1), who is watching the Ice King (2), who is reading his fan fiction (3), wherein the Ice Queen is reading her fan fiction (4), wherein the Ice President is reading his fan fiction (5). To paraphrase a quote once [supposedly] uttered by Bertrand Russell, it’s “fan fiction all the way down.” 

In addition to the recursive nature of the fan fictions-within-fan fictions, “Five Short Tables” diverges significantly from the previous storytelling setup of the previous Fionna and Cake episodes; whereas the previous episodes focused largely on only one specific gender-bent character, this episode features somewhat of an ensemble cast. It’s a smart move. Season three’s “Fionna and Cake” first aired almost four and a half years ago, and since then, we’ve really only been introduced to five of Aaa’s inhabitants (viz. Fionna, Cake, Prince Gumball, Marshall Lee, and Lumpy Space Prince). "Five Short Tables” provides the show with the chance to showcase several new characters all at once.

Indeed, there’s a lot going on in this episode, and that’s, arguably, its weakest attribute. Between the four table stories, the many jokes and side-stories therein, the antics of the Ice King, and the reveal of Cuber, the episode is rather messy. Now, messy does not equate to bad—just like with cooking, sometimes the messiest meals are also the tastiest. But it does mean that the episode is not as strong, structurally, as I think it could have been.

Luckily, the episode makes up for the shakiness with its jokes. Kris Mukai has already proved herself a master at silliness (see: “Mama Said”), and Aleks Sennwald’s sections seem equally as fun. In fact, consider that this is Sennwald’s first storyboard for the show (and possibly ever), the episode is remarkably solid. I look forward to seeing what Sennwald (who was a storyboarder for the show’s eighth season) will produce in the future.

The quality of this episode’s guest voice actors is also top notch. Donald Glover returns and delivers a wonderful performance as Marshall Lee (as a side not, Marshall Lee’s storyline in this episode largely makes up for his dickish behavior in “Bad Little Boy”). The amazing Hannibal Buress voices Flame Prince; Buress is a actor who I never considered for the role, but who makes perfect sense once I heard the character speak. Crispin Freeman does double-duty, voicing both Turtle Prince and Ice President. Elle Newlands does an adorable job voicing Butterscotch Butler. Of course, Madeleine Martin, Roz Ryan, Grey DeLisle, and Emo Phillips all do justice to their characters. The only disappointment with the voice acting was the Neil Patrick Harris either declined to return to the show, or was simply unavailable (his role was filled by Keith Ferguson, who does a solid—but noticeable—NPH impression).

Mushroom War Evidence: Nothing.

Final Grade: “While a little shaky, ‘Five Short Tables’ manages to expand the world of Fionna and Cake in a fun and humorous way.”

Episode Review: ‘Varmints’ (S07E02)
  • Airdate: November 3, 2015
  • Story by: Adam Muto, Kent Osborne, Jack Pendarvis, Pendleton Ward
  • Storyboarded by: Kris Mukai & Adam Muto
  • Directed by: Elizabeth Ito (supervising), Sandra Lee (art)

Bubblegum and Marceline are in many ways the two best characters on Adventure Time. I don’t say this because they are fan favorites (although they are), but rather because they are characterized so well. Bubblegum is a terminal perfectionist who never wants to relinquish control, lest the situation at hand deteriorate rapidly. Marceline is a sad loner who puts up a front of ‘cool’ to hide the pain she carries deep within. The two characters have their strengths, but also their foibles, which makes them feel so real.

This reality transfers over to their relationship. Their friendship is nuanced, complicated, and—just like the characters themselves—genuine to life. Too often do shows depict friendship as this impermeable bond that never fades. Marceline and Bubblegum, on the other hand, have had their ups (”Sky Witch”) and their downs (”What Was Missing”). But even though their relationship is complicated, at the end of the day, the two still care quite a bit for each other, as is obvious in “Varmints”.

Marceline agrees to help Bubblegum track down a swarm of varmints (nasty pests that devour crops), and the two track several of the critters down into the long-abandoned Candy Kingdom rock-candy mines. It is here that Marceline reminisces about past adventures that her and Bubblegum had shared.

In the tunnels, however, they soon come into contact with a mother varmint, who traps them in a closed-off mine shaft. In this shaft, Bubblegum breaks down. She admits to Marceline that her job as princess got so hectic that she tried to shut out everything that didn’t revolve around her kingdom, and she laments that all she managed to do was push everyone she ever cared about—Marceline included—away. Tearfully, Bubblegum asks for Marceline’s forgiveness.

Marceline, however—in a surprising moment of emotional candor—soothes Bubblegum and tells her that she has nothing to apologize for. She then uses her demon powers to both dig her and Bubblegum out of the tunnels, as well as trap the varmint mother and her children deep underground. Later, on the porch of Bubblegum’s cabin, Marceline tells Bubblegum to get some rest. Bubblegum obliges, and falls asleep on Marceline’s shoulder.

In many ways, this episode feels like the spiritual successor to season five’s “Sky Witch”. In said episode, Marceline and Bubblegum track down Maja the Sky Witch and reclaim Marceline’s beloved teddy bear, Hambo. However, in that episode, Bubblegum and Marceline’s relationship still felt a little strained. In “Varmints”, however, the catharsis in the rock candy tunnel allows the two characters’ true feelings to come out: Bubblegum regrets pushing Marceline away, and Marceline is contrite about playfully teasing Bubblegum. At then end of this episode, the two finally—and earnestly—reaffirm their friendship.

Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is, “Were Bubblegum and Marceline romantically involved?” This is a hard question to answer. It’s obvious that Marceline and Bubblegum love each other, but whether or not that love is amorous is still largely up in the air. At this point, it could either go two ways: either Marceline and Bubblegum were/are romantically involved, or the two care for each other in a manner akin to sisters. Regardless, their relationship feels true to life, and in the end, that’s really all that matters.

This episode was storyboarded by showrunner Adam Muto and newcomer Kris Mukai. From the various sources I have collected over the past year, it seems that Mukai storyboarded several other episodes, too. If “Varmints” is any indication of the kinds of episodes that Mukai produced, then we are truly in for some greatness. As it stands, this episode reminds me of the sort of installments that Muto and the famed Rebecca Sugar used to create. All that “Varmints” needed was a cute little song!

Mushroom War Evidence: Nothing.

Final Grade: “Pitting Marceline and Bubblegum against some very nasty critters, ’Varmints’ delivers laughs along with plenty of pathos.”

Episode Review: ‘Mama Said’  (S07E04)
  • Airdate: November 5, 2015
  • Story by: Gilbert Hernandez, Adam Muto, Kent Osborne, Pendleton Ward
  • Storyboarded by: Kris Mukai & Kent Osborne
  • Directed by: Elizabeth Ito (supervising), Sandra Lee (art)

I’ll be blunt: “Mama Said” is the type of episode that the show needs to make more of.

Don’t get me wrong, seasons five and six are excellent, but for some time now, the show has delved very heavily into dark and depressing storylines. It’s almost as if the writers of Adventure Time were wanting to shake the “comedy” label from the show. But the reason I fell in love with this series is exactly because it is whimsical and wacky. You can imagine my excitement when both Jesse Moynihan and Adam Muto said that season seven would be less “heady” and focus more on fun and goofy adventures.

And “Mama Said” is a clear example of the tone they were striving for. Hilarious villain? Check! Goofy dialogue? Check! Wacky action scenes? Check! Absurd, nonsensical ending? Check!

Finn and Jake, while looking for a flying mushroom on the behest of the King of Ooo, stumble upon Canyon (voiced by storyboard artist Ako Castuera) and decide to goof off and spend time looking for her lost familiar spring. They soon incur the ire of the flying mushroom, and in the subsequent showdown, are forced to destroy it. Finn and Jake attempt to appease the King of Ooo with a mushroom pizza (which Jake claims can levitate if the King believes hard enough), but he fires them. King of Ooo does indeed try to use the pizza to fly and orders one of the banana guards to push him. This results in the King smashing into the floor. Embarressed and scared, the banana guard launches into a rendition of The Shirelles’ “Mama Said”.

Ever since her introduction in “Billy’s Bucket List”, I knew that Canyon was a character that I wanted to see again sometime. Castuera’s laid back voice acting gives the character a sense of calmness and competency that not a lot of other characters have. She’s also the last scion of a water species, and that in and of itself gives her a sense of mystery, making her that much more interesting. In “Mama Said”, Canyon also proves to be the source for many of the episode’s best gags. Perhaps the best joke is when Canyon reveals why she’s praying in the woods: she’s procrastinating.

Kent Osborne and Kirs Mukai really instill a great sense of humor in this whole outing. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me: Osborne has been one of the show’s consistently funniest writers, and Mukai has already proven her writing and comedy chops with “Varmints”. Together, the duo do wonderful things (also, Mukai worked on a season 8 episode, so we have that to look forward to).

The humor in this episode culminates with the final scene featuring the banana guards singing “Mama Said”. On one hand, this sort of absurdist, Family Guy-esque joke seems like a vacuous pop culture reference, but John DiMaggio’s voice acting sells the scene. It is wonderfully weird and a strange (but funny) way to end an episode like this.

One final thing that I feel like pointing out: this episode’s story was co-developed by Gilbert Hernandez, a noted cartoonist. If there’s one thing that Adventure Time has proven itself to be consistently good at, it’s its ability to collect talent from the indie/alternative comic book scene. Hernandez joins the likes of Tom Herpich, Sam Alden, Jillian Tamaki, and Brandon Graham (among others) who were culled from the indie comic scene and given a chance to work on this wacky and wonderful show.

Mushroom War Evidence: The forest wherein Finn, Jake, and Canyon fight the mushroom monster is filled with debris and wrecked cars. In one shot, we see a derelict overpass.

Final Grade: “A wacky and whimsical episode, ‘Mama Said’ is exactly the type of episode that Adventure Time should be making.”

Kris Mukai Interview

Originally posted by marcelinestakes

Do you all remember “Varmints” and “Mama Said”? Remember how great they were? Well, I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview Kris Mukai, a Brooklyn-based artist who helped co-storyboard both of those episodes!

GunterFan: How did you get started with art in general?
Kris Mukai: When I was a kid I saw the movie Tenchi Muyo In Love and said, “I want to make that.” Since then, I’ve been drawing comics and illustrations and now, storyboards.

GF: How did you get involved with Adventure Time?
KM: For about a year before AT hired me I was doing board tests for various shows at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. I didn’t know if any of those tests would lead to anything, but then Adam Muto emailed me and we ended up boarding “Varmints” together.

GF: I’m fascinated with the storyboard process. What was it like for you?
KM: It was so nerve wrecking, I was so scared! It’s hard to figure out a good workflow for something that’s so large, you have to produce just a ton of drawings for storyboards and it can be really daunting at first. The best trick was learning to use sticky notes. Sticky notes are kind of translucent, so if you’re drawing multiple poses you can stick a post-it over one frame to trace, and then transfer it over to the next panel. Also because sticky notes are so disposable, it makes you feel a lot less precious with the drawings.

I also was working on the boards remotely from my apartment in Brooklyn. Each week or so there’s a pitch where everyone on the show watches while you read your storyboard out loud. I would call in via video chat and my face would be on a computer screen in the LA office. What no one told me was that the screen there is HUGE! So just imagine a room full of cartoonists and then one GIANT disembodied head watching from one corner.

GF: What was the hardest part about the job? What was the easiest or most likable part?
KM: Hardest part was getting a note back saying “there could be a joke here” and then freezing up and not being able to think of anything funny and then realizing that you’re a sham etc. etc

Easiest part is when you’re drawing a scene you really like! The part in “Varmints” where Marceline is like “is that why you stopped hanging out with me??” and then the scene where PB cries were the best to draw.

GF: Who is your favorite Adventure Time character in general?
KM: I relate to Marceline the most because she has a very nostalgic nature, but the person I want to be more like is BMO.

Kris Mukai, ladies and gentlemen! Let me take this moment to reiterate that “Varmints” is one of my absolute favorite Adventure Time episodes.

Kris Mukai’s Website: http://
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Yesterday my friend Kris Mukai posted this doodle of a superhero she wanted to be as a kid and it inspired me to do one of my own. My recurring childhood power fantasy: being a fairy queen who could communicate with nature and save the environment.