Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh yes, my blog just did get 20% cooler

Okay, so this entire blog post is going to be about the little girl's show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I love it. You've been warned.

To those not disgusted already, but not sure on what's going on, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (from here on out, MLP:FiM or just MLP) is a brilliant show that at the end of the day is designed to sell toys to little girls. But apparently the way they've decided to do that is to make a brilliantly animated, cleverly written and absolutely adorable show with more originality than Cartoon Network's entire line up for the past three years. The entire first season is out there on youtube, which Hasbro (who owns the show) is apparently okay with.

It's an awesome show for many reasons. First off I adore cute, and boy does it have that in spades. But it keeps your interest with original characters and plots. It clearly knows its way around tropes: the snooty high-class one is actually generous, the rebellious punk actually has a caring side! Sure it doesn't sound like much, but it really helps bring it to life. Even better is the level of differentiation between characters. Oh there is one single protagonist, but each of the six main characters stands out and is given plenty of screen time, if not exactly equal billing. And some things are a bit surprising for a little girl's show, like the sarcastic one who seems to roll her eyes at other's antics just as much as you did when you first started to read me gushing about this show. Of course I say the "sarcastic one" when really you can't sum them up too easily. Oh sure, to various extents they all fit pretty well-defined roles - the country gal, the snob, the nerd, the punk - but each have their traits that betray these roles. The pony pretty much defined as the stubborn country girl is often the first to admit she's wrong if she really is, and more than once reaches out to those unlike her. Like I said, there's a high-class fashionista, but she's a generous pony who will go far out of her way to make sure everypony looks his or her (let's be honest, her) best, while not going so far as to be imposing.

The fandom is also hilarious and awesome. Primarily male, dubbed "bronies" (see if you can guess the etymology) originated from 4chan and now have their own subreddit, several blogs, so on. The show's most popular with males 25+ apparently, though I'm certainly not the only gal over the expected age. But what's awesome about them is the sheer level of content they produce. There are several, not one or two, but several games being written and coded and in various stages of completed - and these are projects going somewhere, there's at least one 3D game with a playable demo and there's an MMO in the works somewhere. There's an incredible amount of artwork, and that includes some epic pieces. Most surprising to me is the music output. I have two full freaking albums of fan music, and not just remixes but several songs simply inspired by the show. Listen to right now. I don't care your feelings on the show, just give it a minute. Beautiful, isn't it? What you didn't watch it? No. No blog for you. Go away. The rest of you can stick around. From pins to minecraft, you can find MLP:FiM in any creative media.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to go through the six main characters and give you some of my opinions on them. Oh, there's plenty more to be said about the show, like how it regularly draws inspiration from composer Stephen Sondheim's works in its songs, or how the main writer also worked on Powerpuff girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, but I'll leave that for you all to discover ( So if you don't know the show, you've probably stopped reading, but what's ahead will be spoilerific.

Pony: Twilight Sparkle
Species: Unicorn
Coat: Purple
Mane: Dark blue, pink streak
Eyes: Violet
Represents: Element of Magic
My ranking: Tied for #1
My thoughts: Twilight Sparkle may have the most unfortunate name of our generation (believe it or not, it actually comes from previous generations of MLP) but I can't help but love her. The main protagonist of the show is an outright bookworm, much preferring her library to a birthday party she's invited to in the show's opening moments. She's serious-minded and anti-social - you can see why she's in #1 for me. It also sounds a bit odd for a kids, show, eh? Of course over the show's two-part pilot she learns the magic of friendship, but never is this considered to be her being shown the error of her ways. In fact, her bookishness is plot-critical, and continues to be an element in future episodes. Furthermore, her personality puts her as the straight man in many of the other's antics. Her often sarcastic or just flat reactions to silliness is often more amusing than the antics themselves. As for her element, Twilight stands out that her element of harmony is not a character trait - it's simply "magic". In that she is quite adept, the show deciding to make her nerdiness into an unusual level of magical talent, which makes sense since the level of technology is kept pretty minimal. If one interprets magic as friendship (it is in the title) then Twilight does very well representing her element, since she comes off as pretty reliable and patient with the aforementioned antics of her friends (to an extent). She's overall a pretty balanced character - they play up the bookishness from time to time to make her naive or socially inept, but not too much.
why she's #1: Sarcastic, smart, a balanced character with surprising depth from a kids' show. Also she's purple.

Pony: Fluttershy
Species: Pegasus Pony
Coat: Sunny yellow
Mane: Pink
Eyes: Cyan
Represents: Element of Kindness
My ranking: Tied for #1
My thoughts: Fluttershy's timid to the point that she goes mute around those she doesn't know, but will open up around her friends, if sometimes only after some gentle coaxing. Unusual for a pegasus pony, she spends nearly all her time on the ground. When upset, she seems to entirely forget her wings, or is unable to use them in her frightened state perhaps - this leaves her as possibly the only pegasus pony in existence with a fear of heights. She's soft spoken and does her best to help out her friends, often going along against her better judgement with their adventures/antics. Unfortunately this means she pretty much never speaks up for herself. She also has a unique talent with animals - while the animals interact in such a way that implies intelligence, only Fluttershy seems to be able to really understand them and communicate with them (for the most part) and can handle them like no one else. The writers just love having timid little Fluttershy be the one who stands up to whatever antagonizing force is at hand, but they do so in a way that keeps her character consistent. She doesn't just stand up to bullies as a matter of course, and will let (what passes for) harm to come for herself, but perhaps as a function of empathy she will not tolerate harm to come to others - she stands up for her friends, little kids, but not really herself. Which brings us to her element; kindness. This is pretty easy to fulfil, but let's consider something else - another element belonging to something else is the element of generosity. So let's try to separate kindness from generosity. That leaves us with her sense of empathy - she's often quick to pick up on the troubles of others and like I said before does not tolerate those she cares about being in pain. She's also slow to both argue and anger, coming across as patient and understanding. Part of it may be unwillingness to stand up for herself, but amongst friends it leaves her a bit more level than most. Of course she does apparently have a bit of a dark side - she does not handle very well the concept of not being liked. Overall though she fulfils her role well, and is absolutely adorable while doing so.

Pony: Rarity
Species: Unicorn
Coat: Off-white
Mane: Indigo
Eyes: Blue
Represents: Element of Generosity
My ranking: #3 (#2 being skipped due to the tie for first)
My thoughts: At first, I admit, Rarity made me roll my eyes. She's been given an accent that I can only describe as snobbish and I can hardly imagine her except with her nose skyward. But she's a surprisingly interesting character and grew on me as the series progressed. She's a dress maker, absolutely devoted to fashion and high society. It's a favored joke with the writers to force her into some unclean situation because, as another character puts it, "she won't touch mud unless it's imported". Except that they can put her in to those situations to begin with because she does put aside her own sensibilities for another (there's an episode revolving around teaching her this, apparently the lesson stuck). She's more than once seen going out of her way to aid another, and dislikes imposing on anyone else. She's also not as much of an elitist as one might think at first glance - while she and Applejack (see below) never see eye to eye, she's otherwise seen getting along with ponies of all sensibilities. She's a bit more short-tempered than the others, but does an admirable job of restraining herself. Finally, while not as intellectual as Twilight, she is quite witty, a lot of her dialogue peppered with slight sarcasm or quips, and there's an entire episode devoted to her running mental circles around a group of dogs who kidnapped her (watch the show already). As for her element, like Fluttershy it's a prominent part of her person. She'll sacrifice everything from her own tail to her time to her own artistic vision to make sure that her friends get by. She really grows into her own as the series progresses and has far more depth to her than you'd think.
Why she's #3: She's still sometimes a bit annoying to listen too, and at times goes a bit far with her vision and vanity, but is overall clever and kind, enjoyable to see.

Pony: Applejack
Species: Earth Pony
Coat: Orange
Main: Yellow
Eyes: Green
Represents: Element of Honesty
My ranking: #4
My thoughts: Applejack is an inexplicably southern-accented farm pony, apparently nearly entirely in charge of acres of apple trees. She's stubborn to a fault and athletic, rough around the edges. They play that up to a bit of an absurd degree, a line or two making her come off as almost anti-intellectual. She's oddly enough more loyal than Rainbow Dash. Maybe the two should have switched elements, as Rainbow Dash's bluntness serves for loyalty pretty well, especially compared to Applejack, who lies at least as much as anyone else in the series. The "honest" Applejack, upon seeing Rainbow Dash cheating in a competition, at first wants a fair-and-square rematch - but when that doesn't go well she becomes just as paranoid as the other about winning and ends up cheating just as badly. This isn't an isolated incident either. This isn't to say she's all bad news. She's kind-hearted, and a stand-out from the group, almost a second in command behind Twilight in ways. Like I said, she's loyal, and she's also much more patient than some of her friends. Narrowminded perhaps, but she does eventually admit when she needs to defer to somepony else (even if it takes the first 20 minutes of a 23 minute episode).
Why she's #4: She's a good pony, friendly and sporting, but not my kind of pony and she has some rather big drawbacks to her.

Pony: Rainbow Dash
Species: Pegasus Pony
Coat: Cyan
Mane: Rainbow
Eyes: Magenta
Represents: Element of Loyalty
My ranking: #5
My thoughts: I'm going to get a lot of flack for putting Rainbow Dash down here. The fans love her. But I've got my reasons, as you'll see. Rainbow Dash is a brash flyer and athlete, a bit of a prankster and a bit of a punk. She's fairly short tempered, as you might have already expected, and unfortunately I don't really see anything that distances herself from the same archetypes used in shows for decades. Sure she's not a bad person, but she has to be talked out of startling timid Fluttershy as a prank, and the moment she fears losing in a athletic competition she starts to cheat. Her saving grace may be her determination in fighting for her friends - she pulls off an amazing aerial stunt (called a Sonic Rainboom, it's too cool to explain) only when it's the only way to save a friend's life, and fights immediately for the rights of some buffalo upon hearing her plight. Unfortunately, this can't be declared a defining feature of her. Those buffalo she was fighting for? Yeah, she was arguing against her own friends, and while she may have had a point, it's amazing how quickly she was willing to tell her friends that they were wrong. For the element of loyalty, she's the only one of the group to have actually lost a friend - sending her old-time (as in, met before nearly anyone else) friend off when she fights with her new friends. Instead of, you know, talking it out or something. She later antagonizes Fluttershy throughout an entire freaking episode because the yellow pony is frightened by a measly old giant fire-breathing dragon. Overall, she's not at the bottom of the list because she honestly is pretty cool, and so long as she has someone to counterbalance her her positive traits begin to shine through, but I'm not impressed.
Why she's #5: Pretty typical character, needs to be constantly reminded how to be a friend. Otherwise, compelling to watch for signs of character growth, occasionally shines through as positive.

Pony: Pinkie Pie
Species: Earth Pony
Coat: Pale pink
Mane: Pink
Eyes: Take a freaking guess
Represents: Element of Laughter
My ranking: #6
My thoughts: Pinkie Pie just loves to party, making friends, partying, sugar, partying, and partying. She's often used for gags, and channels looney-toon stunts along side other cartoonish antics. Unfortunately this means she often breaks the illusion of the world, apparently teleporting without the manners to at least be magical, among other things. This is just a minor complaint though, really. Onto her. She's giggly and hyper to the point that I'm pretty sure ADD is a thing in Equestria (the pony world). The thing is there's not really a whole lot of depth to her character. She's not given a lot of focus, and the few instances I can think of just either highlight her happy-go-lucky nature or prove that she's really not that stable. It doesn't take a lot for her to mistrust those around her. Beyond that, everything she says needs to be taken with a grain of salt; she's contradicted herself from episode to episode in details concerning her past. As for her element, she technically fulfils it just fine. I would have liked to see Laughter done as Joy instead, which to me seems to get the point across while not being so oddly specific. However, her Joy/Laughter seems to be rather high maintenance, and I'd argue that the simple, stabler joy of Twilight at her books or Fluttershy in her garden was truer to the spirit of things than someone hopped up on sugar and probably antidepressants.
Why she's #6: There's nothing behind what you see, or not much. Her flaws are just a bit too glaring, and she's not given any kind of strength of character. There's plenty of potential here, if the writers decide to do more focus episodes in the future (that don't involve paranoia and psychosis).

Does this mean I love #1 and hate #6? No! Well, I love #1, but I like all of them. Even #5 and #6, who I criticized rather a lot, are still a fun part of the show. Besides, the fans do some interesting things with these characters (Dash is a lesbian by the way, according to 99% of the fandom) that make them all the better. So there you go. I could go on, this is just the tip of the unicorn horn here, but I think that's enough for now. Ponies!

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