If you were wondering if the new Adventure Time show Fionna and Cake is a spinoff or a sequel to the main series, the simple answer to this question is: yes <3
The more complicated answer is that Fionna and Cake is surprisingly an incredibly direct sequel to Adventure Time. At the same time, the first episode basically kicks off in a completely different universe, one where magic isn’t really a thing, and introduces a version of Fionna and Cake (the gender- and species-swapped versions of Finn the Human and Jake the Dog) that exist outside of the Ice King’s fanfiction. At first it feels a little bit like a separate thing, but then it neatly picks up right where Adventure Time left off — both in a canon sense and in regard to the core audience.
Because, sequel or spinoff questions aside, Fionna and Cake is the natural evolution of Adventure Time for the audience who grew up watching it. The show keeps the zany spirit of the original show, but follows older characters facing their own internal crises that may resonate more with adults. The episodes are longer and more plot-driven, a lot closer to where Adventure Time ended than where it picked up.
It’s Adventure Time, but for adults — and not in a hyper-edgy way, but in a way that understands what a more grown-up audience for the show might be looking for.
The first episode kicks off with a new version of Fionna, a 20-something who can’t hold down a job, and her main problems involve paying her bills. Even though she dreams of fantastical adventures, her real life is aggravatingly normal. She’s the age that many people who grew up watching Adventure Time would be, facing the same existential ennui that many of those people might be facing themselves. Adventure Time never shied away from probing deeper, more poignant themes — especially when it came to the nature of human existence in a post-apocalyptic world — and from the first two episodes, it looks like Fionna and Cake is following a similar path. Fionna’s battling her own quarter-life crisis, longing for escapism because of the frustration in her own life. But what really hammers this trajectory home is when the show returns to the fantastical world of Ooo.
In the second episode, the focus shifts to Simon Petrikov, the former Ice King. While Finn is off having more adventures (this is presumably taking place after the main show ends, but before the third Max special where everyone is, uh, dead), Simon is struggling to figure out where he belongs in this strange world, since he lost thousands of years to madness and no longer has his beloved Betty. He fits a strange place in the narrative, which has mostly ended happily for everyone else involved. The world spins on, but he’s stuck in the past and not sure who he is anymore.
And that theme of adulthood confusion continues. The magical adventures that follow are typical of Adventure Time, but the fact that the central characters are struggling with more mature problems elevates Fionna and Cake. Unlike other cartoon refreshes that came out years after their originals, like new iterations of Ben 10 or Teen Titans Go!, Fionna and Cake isn’t designed to repackage the show for a new generation. Instead, the creators took the alternative route and decided to age the show with its audience — without going to extremes and making it hardcore and dark à la Velma or the live-action Winx series.
It’s more like The Legend of Korra in that way, a sequel series that also was a spinoff that also ages the new cast up to be more in line with the original fans of the show. It just so happens that this time around the original audience had even more time to grow up alongside the show’s eight-year run, effectively transitioning from children’s animation into adult animation, but without a complete tonal change. Fionna and Cake joins the small yet rapidly growing genre of serialized adult animated shows that focus more on overarching plots than raunchy humor. Sure, there’s a little more violence, and the creative swearing euphemisms are bolder (Cake yells “Puck him up!” within five minutes of the first episode), but it’s still Adventure Time at its heart — just with a dash more existential crises and bills to worry about.
The first two episodes of Fionna and Cake are available now on Max.