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Credit: Cartoon Network

The awesome (and unexpected) queering of Adventure Time

Contributed by
Jun 17, 2019

Just last year, Adventure Time finally confirmed the relationship between characters Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum in the series finale “Come Along with Me.” The two had been shown to have a fraught relationship over the 10 seasons of the series, but thanks to the groundwork of Rebecca Sugar (creator of Steven Universe) and storyboard editor Hanna K. Nyströmthe, Bubbline (the ship name for the two characters) became canon.

In the finale, the many factions of the Land of Ooo, the magical home of Adventure Time, come together to fight the chaos god GOLB. Bubblegum uses her candy powers to shoot at one of GOLB’s monsters, but the monster is so huge, so unstoppable, that it seems to crush her when it slams its paw down. Marceline cries out and then transforms into one of her giant demonic forms that kind of looks like an angry sheep. Filled with rage, she beats the monster to a pulp. After transforming back into her humanoid form, she huffs, exhausted from her battle.

When Marceline sees that Bubblegum is OK, having been protected by her armor, she wraps her in an embrace and they kiss.

It’s a simple moment, but their kiss actually wasn’t intended to appear in the finale. The original script called for them to “have a moment.” As series showrunner Adam Muto told TV Line, "When Hanna boarded that, there was a little note in the margin that said 'Come on!' with a big exclamation point. That was the only note. I can't argue with that."

That interaction is indicative of a wider trend in Adventure Time and much of television in general, wherein queerness is not intentional and, in some cases, is actively elided. Muto hadn’t planned for there to be a queer storyline in the show and credits Sugar for taking the relationship between Marceline and Bubblegum further.

A note on terminology: In this essay, I will be using bisexuality, bisexual, and bisexual+ at various points, and I mean all in their most inclusive definition. To that end, bisexual or bisexual+ folks are those who are attracted to more than one gender. The term bisexual+ is a political term used to encapsulate all of the sexual identities that are not mono-sexual (i.e. gay, lesbian, straight). By using this term, I reject the notion that bisexual, pansexual, fluid, and queer folks and our identities should be in opposition to one another.

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Credit: Cartoon Network

Adventure Time follows Finn the Human and Jake the (not-so-much) Dog as they gallivant through the Land of Ooo. Being the last human, Finn learns to become a better person due to his relationships with the people around him, including Jake, Marceline, Bubblegum, and we could never forget BMO. There’s also the Ice King (we don’t have time to get into that ball of WTF), Flame Princess, Huntress Wizard, and many more fantastic characters.

Finn and Jake are essentially freelance knights who explore dungeons, assist princesses, and save the world multiple times. Finn even finds the rest of the humans and welcomes them home to Ooo. The series addresses adoption, nuclear war, reincarnation, human ingenuity, human hubris, climate crisis, and—though it may not be intentional—gender and sexuality.

If you read fan sites and Reddit threads, you’ll see that some fans view the Land of Ooo as being devoid of concerns of gender and sexuality. They say that this is the case in part because Adventure Time takes place after the end of human civilization on earth. How then, the argument goes, could they be bound by our societal norms? It’s a tempting reading that allows the series to be beyond labels and listen, honey, I want to be beyond labels.

Finn’s attractions to and romances with various characters, who are all seemingly women, play a huge role in the series. In fact, his crush on Bubblegum and relationship with Flame Princess are two of the experiences that shape Finn as a person. He learns to accept rejection and make amends because of how the two relate to him and how he sees his impact on their lives. Jake and Lady Rainicorn (a big effing rainbow slash unicorn, which … queer) also have a very solid and seemingly sexual relationship throughout the series. Jake thinks he’s a dog, though he cannot explain his stretchy powers. He later learns that he’s part shapeshifting alien, part dog. When Jake prepares to meet Lady Rainicorn’s family, he’s very nervous about how they will feel about a dog and a Rainicorn being together. Their relationship, then, becomes a cipher for how societal norms impact relationships—in this case, a cross-species one.

So, attraction is not only present in the series, but an integral part of how people form connections within the world of Adventure Time. With that, Adventure Time becomes an incredibly—and unexpectedly—queer show over its eight-year run.

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Credit: Cartoon Network

If you’ve seen the entire series then you’ve seen and maybe registered a number of queer moments. While it would be impractical to address them all here, I’d be remiss not to mention a few of my favorites, including: Ice King’s newly-brought-to-life lamp who refuses to be defined by their gender or sex; the queer pairings of gladiators we see leaving the Fight King’s Colosseum at the end of Season 3’s “Morituri Te Salutamus”; how the Huntress Wizard is hype to compete for a kiss from Princess Bubblegum (but also has a thing with Finn); and how when Finn is cursed with “eyes that see the truth,” he sees Bubblegum as a dude. While each of these moments may be insignificant or easily disregarded, when it comes to examining gender and sexuality in Adventure Time, each represents another color in the rainbow.

Of course, the most familiar and obvious instances of queerness are those of Marceline and Bubblegum.

Credit: Cartoon Network

Marceline is a half-human, half-demon, 100% vampire, with incredible powers, massive daddy issues, and a gift for creating music. She and Bubblegum have known each other for nearly a thousand years, and during that time they have been friends, enemies, lovers, and exes. She has also dated the immortal wizard Ash, a total dirtbag.

While there are numerous moments that lead up to the aforementioned kiss, my personal favorite is when Marceline helps Finn, Jake, and Bubblegum try to open a magical door. The door can only be opened by a song, and Marceline has just the melody. That is until she’s interrupted and judged by Bubblegum. Then she breaks into a different song about how she feels about Bubblegum and about how much she wants to be close to her again. This moment, though not explicit, does seem to make it pretty clear that Marceline is bisexual and attracted to Bubblegum.

Meanwhile, Bubblegum is a Gum Golem, a humanoid being who was produced through asexual reproduction, having sprung from the Mother Gum. Basically, she’s a living, breathing piece of mutated gum and, essentially, a god. She creates the people who thrive in the Candy Kingdom and is their caretaker, despot, and deity.

Though the moment they get back together is unclear, Simon, a friend of Marceline’s, asks her if she has a boyfriend yet and Marceline sputters a bit. Bubblegum smiles slyly, having arrived to see Simon with Marceline. Again, that may not seem like much, but I have brought a bisexual girlfriend to events and been asked about my boyfriend. We always shared the same discrete “Oh honey” smile.

Furthermore, can someone explain to me how an asexually produced gum is assigned a gender at birth? I’m not saying Bubblegum can’t be a woman, but I am saying that if she is, she doesn’t ascribe to the binary—and probably isn’t cisgender. And, even if she uses she/her pronouns, that doesn’t mean that she identifies as a woman. So let’s go ahead and be real and give Bubblegum the bisexual, queer, nonbinary cred she deserves.

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Credit: Cartoon Network

Another significant character in regard to gender and sexuality is BMO. Throughout the series, BMO plays with various roles and identities, seeming to be either genderfluid or agender. BMO is comfortable with people using multiple pronouns for them and has an alter ego named Football who uses she/her pronouns. Regardless of the exact nonbinary descriptor, BMO is a fixture in the lives of Finn and Jake and even later becomes the King of Ooo. They’re an adorable, hilarious MO, a type of sentient robot created to help humanity.

And, though there are moments where it is implied that they are attracted to a couple of characters, namely Lorraine the chicken and Ice King, those moments are play-pretend. They do, however, become very close with Air.

When they meet, BMO is lost and Air, in a different form, helps them find their way home, falling in love along the way. Once they reach the treehouse where BMO lives with Finn and Jake, Air proposes and BMO accepts. Suddenly, Jake bursts in and pops the bubble Air was held in. BMO is devastated, but then they hear Air’s voice say, “Now we can be together forever, BMO, every minute of every day. No more privacy, no more quiet, no more alone. Every room you ever go in, I'll already be there ... waiting ... forever and ever, until the end of time." Air has transitioned from being in a bubble to being all around, and the love between the two persists.

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Credit: Cartoon Network

Let’s recap. Marceline is a bisexual vampire-demon-human who falls in love with a mutated piece of gum, aka Princess Bubblegum. BMO is an asexual, nonbinary robot engaged to Air, a clearly transgender character. Add to that whatever is going on with Ice King’s lamp, the queer pairings of gladiator ghosts, Huntress Wizard’s thang for Bubblegum, Finn’s mental gender-swapping of Bubblegum, and the shape-shifty goodness of Jake, and you’ve got one hell of a queer show.

In the end, it isn’t any one relationship that makes Adventure Time so queer. Even if the series hadn’t shown the Bubbline kiss in the finale, the evidence is irrefutable. Furthermore, when you consider that Finn doesn’t have a family of origin—not really—but lives and thrives with his chosen family, it’s hard to see the series as anything but gloriously queer.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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