A while ago, I learned that the latest incarnation of My Little Pony, known as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, had grown a rather enormous periphery fandom of adult males. This intrigued me, as I’ve generally found that other males tend to avoid young girls’ shows like the plague. What was it people saw in the show?
I was of course aware of the piles and piles of porn about it, so I thought that perhaps the fandom was simply there as yuri fans. However, there was one problem with that theory: the characters are, obviously, ponies. I had a little difficulty believing that so many people were genuinely aroused by the idea of seeing animated horses getting down and dirty.
I thought that it must be something about the characters that drew people to them. Did they have sexy-sounding voice actresses? Was there a lot of lesbian ship-teasing between them (this is, of course, a TV-Y show, which unfortunately means that its depiction of homosexuality will never get more explicit than this)? Or were the characters genuinely compelling? I didn’t know.
As a general rule, it’s my policy to not watch a show unless someone whose opinion I respect recommends it to me, so I didn’t watch it for some time. However, I eventually encountered a very vocal fan of the show who I respected, and I asked him what he saw in the show, and his response essentially boiled down to: “I don’t know. I just like it, I guess.”
This is one of the reasons I desperately want people to regularly practice their rhetorical skills; here I was, a potential fan of the show, literally asking to be converted, and because of my friend’s inability to articulate his tastes he lost that opportunity.
Nonetheless, I like to think of myself as an open-minded person. Just because it’s a show for girls doesn’t mean it’s bad, as evidenced by Beauty and the Beast, and by the same token just because it’s a show for kids also doesn’t mean it’s bad, as evidenced by Avatar: the Last Airbender. Eventually I decided that the fandom’s existence despite people’s general fears of perceived immaturity and lack of masculinity was enough of a recommendation, so I sat down and watched a couple episodes (Swarm of the Century and Bridle Gossip, in case you were wondering).
What did I think? I actually rather liked them.
I had dipped my toe in the pool and decided, “good enough,” so I dived in. I watched the show from the beginning.
This is the basic premise: the show is set in a fantasy world in which magic is commonplace and the land is inhabited by monsters and both intelligent and non-intelligent animals. The kingdom the show focuses on (though it does occasionally feature others) is Equestria, in which the primary inhabitants are ponies. There are four races of ponies: horned Unicorns, who can perform magic; winged Pegasi, who can fly and control the weather; Earth ponies, who have the strength necessary to farm; and Alicorns, which are rare, powerful, immortal combinations of the other three that make up some of the show’s pantheon of gods. All ponies have a marking on their flanks called a “cutie mark,” which appears when they discover their special talent (which usually occurs in late childhood) and represents that talent.
The ruler of Equestria is Princess Celestia, an Alicorn who moves the sun and moon through the sky. Once Celestia had a younger sister named Luna, who moved the moon and ruled the night while she moved the sun and ruled the day. However, Luna grew jealous of Celestia, as their subjects frolicked and played during Celestia’s day while they shunned and slept through Luna’s night, so Luna attempted to plunge the world into eternal night. Doing so she transformed into a creature of darkness and renamed herself “Nightmare Moon.” When Celestia begged Nightmare Moon to stop and Nightmare refused, Celestia regretfully used the Elements of Harmony, the most powerful objects in the world, to seal her corrupted sister in the moon.
A thousand years later, Celestia has taken an apprentice: a young but incredibly powerful Unicorn named Twilight Sparkle, who is studying magic (her special talent for which she has her cutie mark) under her.
The show begins on the Summer Sun Celebration, the anniversary of Nightmare Moon’s defeat, when Twilight learns that the stars will align and Nightmare Moon will be able to return. When she tries to tell Celestia, Celestia commands Twilight to oversee the festivities in the nearby town of Ponyville and make some friends there.
Twilight doesn’t have any desire to make friends, as she believes that she has no need for them, so she ignores that command and decides to just oversee the festivities. Nonetheless, she meets several other girls who all attempt to befriend her: the bubbly, energetic party planner Earth pony Pinkie Pie; the friendly, sweet Earth pony cowgirl Applejack; the exceptionally beautiful, generous fashion designer Unicorn Rarity; the boastful, athletic weather Pegasus Rainbow Dash; and the shy, kind veterinarian Pegasus Fluttershy. Though Twilight’s assistant, a baby dragon named Spike, is easily won over by them, Twilight is put off by their rather enormous personalities and avoids them.
When the time comes for Celestia to ceremoniously raise the sun in Ponyville, the citizens are distressed to find that she hasn’t turned up. This is when Nightmare Moon, who has escaped from her prison, reveals herself and declares that the night will last forever.
Knowing that the Elements of Harmony can defeat her, Twilight and her five new acquaintances travel into the dangerous Everfree Forest to go to the Princesses’ old castle, where the Elements are located. Along the way, Nightmare Moon attempts to stop them with several roadblocks, which they overcome using their various strengths; Applejack through honesty, Rarity through generosity, Fluttershy through kindness, Rainbow Dash through loyalty, and Pinkie Pie through laughter. When at last they reach the castle and find the Elements, Nightmare Moon confronts them. Though the Elements at first do nothing and Nightmare Moon believes herself to be victorious, Twilight realizes that the other girls personify the Elements and that she herself represents the last one: friendship, which as indicated by the show is literally magic.
Twilight at last accepts the other girls as her friends, and together they activate the Elements and defeat Nightmare Moon, destroying her corruption and reverting her back to Luna. Here Celestia appears and reveals to Twilight that this was why she told her to make friends; this was the only way Nightmare Moon could be defeated.
Celestia and Luna joyfully reunite and attempt to go back to Canterlot (Equestria’s capital) with Twilight, though Twilight admits she wants to stay with her new friends. In response, Celestia gives Twilight a new mission: stay in Ponyville, continue her studies of magic by studying friendship, and report any findings to her.
The rest of the show details this mission; it shows Twilight and her friends’ daily lives and regular troubles, how they solve them, and ends each episode with Twilight recording what they’ve learned and mailing their findings to Celestia. These lessons continue to prove vital, as they occasionally encounter other great threats to Equestria and must use all they’ve learned about their friendship to defeat them.
So, what do I think of this show?
I love it. I was shocked by how much I loved it. This show is incredibly good. And this is from somebody who also loves Gears of War and Batman Begins.
The animation is gorgeous. It’s some of the best I’ve ever seen on a television show. The attention to detail is just staggering; for instance, one monster they encounter is a giant bear that they mistake for an Ursa Major, but if you know about constellations you’ll realize before the show’s characters reveal it that it’s actually an Ursa Minor, as the constellation in question is accurately displayed by the stars on its tail.
This show is quite multilayered and subtle. For instance, Pinkie Pie is one of the most cartoonish characters on the show, able to do things such things as inflate like a balloon or teleport or produce a cannon out of thin air. Of course, as this is an animated show, you’d probably not take these abilities very seriously, or even make the effort to think of them as literally happening within the universe of the show; she’s comic relief, and comic relief characters tend to be able to do such things without much effect on the plot. However, as it turns out Pinkie’s powers are not only very real, but very much not to be taken lightly; Discord, one of the show’s most major and recurring villains, has all the same powers Pinkie has and more, and though in Pinkie’s hands they are played for laughs in Discord’s they are very serious business and have very real consequences within the show.
His ability to bend reality as he pleases causes enormous havoc within the show’s world; though he has the persona and humor of the Disney incarnation of Aladdin‘s Genie, he is a full-fledged Eldritch Abomination. So great a threat is he that only with the power of the Elements are they able to defeat him.
And in case you still doubt a connection between his powers and Pinkie’s, notice that Pinkie has a “Pinkie twitch” that allows her to predict the future based on several bodily tics she displays. Now watch Twilight’s Kingdom; Discord has the same power. And not only that, it has a HUGE effect on the plot; he “twitches” when the Princesses give Twilight their power, and with this information he proceeds to direct Tirek (another villain) right to her. Never before have I seen such a long-foreshadowed use of Chekhov’s Gag to such profound effect (as a side note, I find it interesting how other fans don’t seem to have noticed that Discord has the “Pinkie twitch,” as they tend to overanalyze everything).
Another display of the show’s subtlety is that after another major villain is exiled, she is shown in later episodes as a background character watching Twilight, obviously planning her next move.
The lesson I’ve learned from all this is: you must pay attention to every detail in this show.
But the absolute crowning glory of this show is the characters. These are some of the best characters I’ve ever seen. I consider this show to be one of the all-time best bases for fan fiction largely because of this; like Transformers, another Hasbro franchise, MLP: FiM has created an entire cast of extremely memorable, fully fleshed out, fantastic characters, each with a very unique and compelling personality. Regarding precisely how amazing these characters are, I will now butcher a Pirates of Penzance quote: “Oh, how awesome! How surpassingly awesome is the lamest of them!”
All of these characters are bright, resourceful, and strong, yet flawed and complex. Though extremely intelligent, Twilight is devoted to her mentor to the point it borders on madness, and this coupled with her obsessive desire for order initiate a small disaster within Ponyville in one episode. Applejack is deeply repressed and internalizes her personal woes rather than depending on her friends, which in one episode causes her to run away without explanation. Rarity is obsessed with maintaining her image to the point that it threatens to damage her well-being and her friendships. Fluttershy’s tremendous fear makes it difficult for her to overcome intimidating obstacles. Rainbow Dash has an ego almost as big as mine, and obviously she does some rashly dangerous things because of it. And as for Pinkie Pie… well, I’ll get back to her on another post.
But the thing is, despite the fact that each of these characters is deeply troubled in their own unique ways, they do gradually overcome their weaknesses and become better, braver, wiser people. That’s where the show’s strength lies, I think; it’s all about the inherent good in everyone. I would even say that’s the show’s core message: no one is beyond redemption.
From episode one, we see this idea demonstrated; Twilight and Celestia are able to save Luna from her own jealousy and have her return to her normal life. In the first Equestria Girls movie, they are able to befriend the film’s villain and have her change her ways, as well. Even Discord, the aforementioned god of chaos is eventually reformed through stubborn showings of kindness towards him despite his general jerkish behavior.
And for you more cynical viewers, this isn’t a message the show makes lightheartedly. You might contend that this show is set in a happy little sugary paradise where of course there would be hope for the redemption of everyone. However, this is not the case. Once again, this is a show that rewards those who carefully observe and analyze it. For the vigilant viewer, it becomes clear that the show is far, far darker than it first appears, to the point that I would even call the world a crapsaccharine one.
Regarding the darkness of this show, I will go into a more in-depth discussion of it in another post, as I don’t want you all to go into angst aversion against it before you’ve seen it because of me (I’d also like to give anyone who doesn’t want to hear about it at all the chance to not accidentally read it) because, seriously, this show is excellent. My only real criticism of it is that I think that being a children’s show under Hasbro‘s thumb limits its potential. I wish it could be more explicit about the adult and mature things it deals with. I wish the animators had more freedom, as its limited budget means that we get few adventure episodes (which are usually the best ones) which usually have the villains defeated via deus ex machina rather than having actual cool battles (and even the handful of cool battles we got ended with the signature deus ex machina anyway). Most importantly, it doesn’t quite respect its audience enough to assume they got the message of any given episode and instead has Sonic Sez-style segments at the end of each one, explicitly stating what lesson they’re supposed have learned (despite the fact that the unsaid messages, such as the “good in everyone” one I discussed earlier, tend to be more potent and ring more true).
But even despite these weaknesses, this show is still amazing. It has some of the best characters you’ve ever seen, and the show shines its brightest when they show huge amounts of powerful emotion (which is why I consider A Canterlot Wedding and Keep Calm and Flutter On to be the best episodes). It’s a gem of a show that hasn’t yet had its polishing finished; it has enormous potential, and there are a good many parts where that potential shines through; several episodes are excellent, and a few are even masterful. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do. You’re free to not like it, but at least read the book before you judge it by its cover. I think (and hope) you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as I was.
This is an excellent show that I adore.