Season 3: Satisfies range of viewers while dealing with relevant subjects and humor really well
Although I enjoyed the second season of this show, I did feel that far too often it appeared to have sly jokes and references that deliberately were aimed at a more adult viewer. My issue with this was not that such things would corrupt younger viewers, but more that the thing I enjoyed most about the first season was that it was a show that adults and older children could watch together and enjoy the same thing, not different threads of the same episode. Fortunately aside from one or two things, the third season returns with a much more stable approach and one that hones in on its core audience first, but still delivers plenty for those older viewers.
So gone are the rather obvious adult references on the second season and in comes a core of juvenility which I do not mean as a criticism. So adventures are based on childlike innocence, battles are generally rough-n-tumble and anything to do with romance is treated with an awkwardness that is realistic (even for the older viewers to be honest). What I liked most about this season though is that it appears to have been written with the understanding of the sort of issues and topics that the core audience will just be starting to try and process. I know this has always been something it did regarding romance and general life-lessons but this third season impressed me by how well it did it and what it was willing to cover. In particular the subject of death being covered with Jake's "croak dream" a brave episode which entertains but introduces themes really well. Likewise the Halloween specials are good as they borrow from horror themes but tone it down enough to be accessible but not enough to be totally without impact.
The characters remain very good. Bubblegum seems a bit different once she returns to being an adult but the core characters are strong and well used. Looking again to the season's good balance, I liked that the Ice King became more nuanced and given some backstory he is allowed to be tragic but still retain his "baddie" role to an extent. Jake and Finn are great throughout. The voicework is also very good whether it be Shada's enthusiasm or Yang's awesomeness with Beemo and Lady Rainicorn. The animation remains very good throughout with creativity which is inspired by Ghibli, video games and other sources but yet never feels like it is just ripping other things off.
The second season may have very slightly veered off course for me, but this third one is right back in its sweet spot, pleasing viewers of all ages and really doing a good job of engaging the core audience on topics that they are processing in real life.
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