One is a Vampire Queen, daughter of the Nightosphere’s overlord. The other is an assistant to the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. One lives on her own in a house in the middle of a cave. The other lives at home with her husband and dog. And both are a perfect representation of the same demographic of young introverted women with a big incline for creativity and at risk of anxiety: Marceline Abadeer, from Adventure Time, and April Ludgate, from Parks and Recreation.
It comes as no surprise that both characters have attracted a big fanbase, especially on Tumblr, a website seemingly filled to the brink with similarly introverted young women who are still looking for who they are and who they want to be. And even in vastly different universes and storylines, from their inner selves to the way they present themselves outwardly, there are just too many similarities between April and Marceline not to draw attention.
First, there is the outer persona. This is actually only a side characteristic for either one. Indeed, they are both individuals with a much richer inner life than an outer one. Outwardly, both Marceline and April love to pretend they’re intimidating at first.
This is something that they both cultivate. The whole episode of “Evicted” (Adventure Time) centers around how Marceline keeps up an appearance of being vaguely creepy and mysterious to mess with Finn and Jake. The same kind of behavior also happens in further episodes, where she likes to pretend she’s tougher and creepier than she really is, often by turning into a giant bat. Similarly, April loves to put out a creepy vibe around her, dressing up as a widow, a zombie, etc., she loves Halloween, and she’s always saying creepy stuff to disturb people. In this aspect, Marceline is clearly advantaged because she actually is a vampire queen and lives in a universe with fantasy elements to it that allow her to be everything April wishes she could be.
In the same vein, just like they love to pretend to be creepier than they inherently are, April and Marceline love to prank people just to mess with them. Marceline has several episodes centered around her pranking Finn or Jake (in a show with rather few episodes centered around Marceline, it’s a huge part of her character) and April is constantly seen doing the same with everyone in the Parks Department. For both of them, it can come a bit too close to crossing the line of what’s respectful or not towards their friend. In “Heat Signature”, Marceline’s prank escalates and puts Finn and Jake’s lives in danger, and in “Fluoride”, April’s joke actually upsets Donna and she needs to make amends.
A certain inner curiosity is also present in both characters (which also explains why they crave to see how other people will react to what they say and do). One way they use it in their daily lives is through travel. As soon as we meet Marceline, she mentions all her travels around the world of Ooo, like going to the Fire Kingdom or riding giant goldfish, and likewise, in “End of the World”, we see April just up and leave on a spontaneous trip to the Grand Canyon. But the main way they put their curiosity to use is through creativity. Both April and Marceline are immensely creative people.
Okay, April is generally not defined as a musician, but I loved the parallel!
For Marceline, it’s reached a point where her art is considered a core tenant of who she is and totally inseparable from her personality. Marceline is a musician. Helped by the amazingly talented Olivia Olson who brings her character to life with her flawless voice acting, Marceline has quite the collection of incredible songs that have moved viewers and played a big part in our love for the character. April’s way of expressing her creativity is less as a form of art (although we’ve seen her draw on several occasions), but rather her creativity is a way of experiencing the moment differently through roleplay. She will take any situation and turn it into a way to express herself and find relief from boring daily routine, as she sees it.
Their art is also a way for them to express their inner thoughts that they wouldn’t deal with properly without it. Because under each of these two scary faces hides a very sensitive soul that needs an outlet.
“There’s a whole lot to me and I can’t reveal because they don’t know what it’s like” − Marceline’s Journal Song
Many introverts, in particular introverted feelers, will know what it feels like to use their art as a direct extension of your their and their ideas. Both characters represent different ways to do just that. For Marceline, it’s clear: she uses songs to express her private thoughts. Many of her songs deal with her relationship with her dad, for example, which is less than ideal. Some are about romance, some are about friendship. They’re a way to cope with what life is throwing at her. Under the right circumstances, art is also what she uses to bond with others. We know that Finn and Jake frequently join her for jam sessions, and she also used music to rebuild her relationship with Simon. April and Andy use roleplay in a similar way to further their relationship and find common grounds. We also know that April uses roleplaying as an outlet for her anxiety, as a way to express herself in a manner she doesn’t feel comfortable doing when she is not roleplaying.
Other than through art, both characters process their feelings internally and deal with their problems on their own as much as they can (examples: Marceline asking for some time on her own to process what happened to her in the Stakes mini-series, or April initially not willing to talk about the guilt that’s bothering her in “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show”) until pushed to let it out. They’re usually unwilling to talk about their personal feelings because they feel it makes them vulnerable.
“That was emotionally exhausting.” − Marceline about talking to her Dad in “It Came from the Nightosphere”
“I have to say something serious and I can’t do it if I have to look you in the eyes.” − April about talking to Leslie in “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to the Washington”
As happens with introverted feelers, this leads to a fierce desire for independence as well as some anxieties for both of them. Marceline refuses to let her father decide her future, control her, shape her like he wants to, and fights to be taken seriously. She refuses to be “just your little girl”. But in return, she also expresses that she feels she might not be enough for her father to love, that she feels she doesn’t have friends and that she feels alone. April is also a free spirit not to be reigned in that she refuses to let others sway her originality and uniqueness and remains quirky and so terribly April Ludgate despite everything. But just like Marceline, she shows surprise when people are genuinely kind to her (“Everyone is being so nice to me lately, it’s weird”), she feels isolated and she has low self-esteem.
The manner in which this way of functioning came to be for Marceline and for April is where the characters diverge. For Marceline, it’s fairly easy to find the cause of these feelings of inadequacy (despite a desire for being unique and being herself): it mostly boils down to her traumatic childhood. She was abandoned as a child by her father and later by her father figure, and there are reasons to believe her mother may have died (we didn’t hear from her once for seven seasons, then it was revealed she was a human in the Stakes mini-series, and considering Marceline is a thousand years old… I’m not betting on Mom Abadeer’s longevity). She was lonely for a very long time and learned to deal with things on her own, with all the good and the bad that it entails. Not to mention that her implied ex-girlfriend Princess Bubblegum most likely broke up with her because her kingdom was more of a priority for her than personal relationships. Over the course of the seasons, however, Marceline has learned to reconnect with people she had gotten away from; she has become an increasingly mature person and she has opened up more.
April doesn’t share that traumatic past with Marceline. It’s implied that she has a tense relationship with her family (she only ever expresses disdain towards her father, steals his car, wishes to evict him from his house), but when we actually get to see what her father is like, there is nothing that suggests he ever did anything like Hunson Abadeer. He seems to be very kindhearted and jovial. However, we don’t get the vibe that he really gets who April is like as a person either, which may be what led to tensions between them. In any case, April turned to her workplace to find parental figures of replacement, just like Marceline turned to Simon. April looks up to Ron, who considers her as his favorite protégée, and to Leslie, who treats her openly like a daughter. The show doesn’t suggest that April had a completely solitary youth like Marceline did, as we meet several of her friends from before she joined the Parks Department. Rather, her introversion and the way she functions can be traced back to her mental illness issues.
With all their similarities and their few differences, April and Marceline are both treading the same path of growing up, a theme that is as universal as it is interesting. Both of their character developments are centered around how they learn to accept their own flaws and to embrace who they are, to become more mature and to let others into their lives even if their natural reaction is to maintain distance. Both characters are important in that they represent a slice of the population of 20-something young women who are a bit lost, a bit dreamy, and who learn to find their place in the world in a way that is both fulfilling for them and meaningful for the audience.
Images courtesy of NBC and Cartoon Network