Wednesday, 24 September 2014

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Seasons 1-4... This is going to be a long week...

When I started this reviews site, I knew this would come up sooner or later. This is one of the reviews that I’m not sure how it’s going to be taken, not by fans of the show or by you who read this, but by people I know in real life. This is also something that I have quite a bit to say so this is one of the reviews that are going to be spread over several posts (five to be precise). I am willing to review other aspects of the franchise at a later time if I get the request for them, especially while I look to see what sticks and what doesn’t. But until then, let’s get this underway, to whatever it gets, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Seasons 1-4.

Disclaimer: No, I am not a Brony and I'm definitely not a Pegasister (though I'm hoping that last one is obvious...)

I would insert a cover here, but I couldn't find a good one so...

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. If you use the internet, then chances are you’ve seen something to do with this series; it’s that big of a phenomenon rivalling that of shows like (more recently) Adventure Time. Its everywhere online: Avatars, artwork, YouTube videos, fan remixes. The fan base is so big; it has its own dedicated section on sites like dedicated to its memes, and even then it slips out into others. I never thought I would see the day when Cloud Strife as a horse, A mock cover of Sonic Unleashed using the characters, a fusion of one of the characters and Renamon from Digimon along with some more... disturbing artwork (I would rather not look into why this exists in the first place). Hell, I’ve seen people use their models in the Steam Source engine to put them in a music video with the characters of Team Fortress 2 (I swear that I haven’t gone out of my way to find these, nor have I made these up either, I just spend some time on YouTube and Zerochan every now and then, though I will say that the a fore mentioned artwork is quite nice and that the people who drew them are quite talented). 

DISCLAIMER: I know there are people who don't like seeing stuff like this so I'm going to make a folder on my Google + (Link: ) where I'll be posting all the examples for those who are curious. I'll still be using some examples here and official shots, but that's to stop it from being a wall of text. I'm not a artist and I didn't make any of these, full credit to the original artists.

There’s also a lot of artwork that actually quite subtle in its portrayal (Unless you told me otherwise, I wouldn’t believe you if you told me before I collected material for this review that these were pieces of MLP fan art).

 People say that the MLP fan base is the worst fandom that exists online, rivaled only by the Sonic community, and while I would be inclined to agree, there are standouts out there (same with the sonic community). 

My first experience was at a gaming event called the Computer Games Boot Camp. In my first year I was a part of the team “My Little Brony” (I swear to god I’m not making any of this up), because I had no idea what a “Brony” was I ignored it. Latter I would be see videos like Sonic vs. Rainbow Dash along with the other videos in its miniseries (thank YouTube’s “recommended videos” algorithm for that one, though I still think Animated James, the person to which this content is made by is a great animator and I would recommend watching his content)

Phoenix Wright: Turnabout Storm (YouTube again, and a friend of mine who is a big Phoenix Wright fan who linked me to the video that brought Turnabout Storm into the algorithm, a Death Battle between Rainbow Dash and Generation 1 Starscream (I still think Starscream should have won but...). 

Hell, the Nostalgia critic uses a My Little Pony Sketch from his “Nicolas Cage month” where you have the Ghost Rider as a horse (with "Ghost Rider Pony" being used several other sketches including Blues Brothers 2000). The final push for me was a mash up of one of the songs of the series and a vocal theme from one of my favorite video games series which convinced me to look into the series and see what all the fuss was about (I'm curious by nature, what do you want from me). So with that entire back story out of the way (because I may have had this review in the backlog for a while...), it’s now time to look at the TV series: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

So what is the plot for a show targeted for young girls but also has a fan base of 18-35 year old men...don't ask yet. Aside from the first season, there isn’t a known overarching plot as most of the time an episode is brought out at a later time that’s just a continuation, never really building up to it either except for some subtle hints along the way. Some would argue that its good story writing and while I would agree, the references are extremely subtle and, as a result, it brings up the question of why, especially when a plot thread revolves around a flower and some thread at one point. The best example of this is Season 4 as along the way, most of the characters receive an item from a random character, most of which are only there for that episode. Each item gives off a random “Rainbow shine” for a few seconds and then that’s it. Their purpose isn’t explained until the second last episode of the season which is good foreshadowing, but could be to subtle for some people. Most of the plots for the episodes are self contained within 1 or 2 episodes but unlike other shows for the child target demographic, newer episodes like to reference the older ones (such as the a fore mentioned season finale), ensuring that the show still has some sort of continuity in comparison to other shows for kids-teenagers where you could mix the order up (as a lot of kids TV shows like to do here...) and it still make sense. The problem with this, however is that it works better when its referencing something that’s more important than a flower or a type of thread (I don’t sow, I don’t know what the official term is), such as a character or a song.
The show follows seven primary characters (however six of them are given most of the screen time, hence the term “Mane six”, yes lame puns are bad). Each of the characters have their own consistent and believable personalities that show a lot of time and attention to detail went into them (I’m saying this in comparison to other shows for the child-teenager demographic without naming any names. Though I’m not above clips, so here’s an example of one that I could find on Australian Free to air TV for a example, look up Life with Boys (I have a younger sibling who likes the show, that's the story behind that one). 

Twilight Sparkle who is the main character of the group: a pony who focuses on academia and loves to study. She’s a neat/ control freak and has everything planned out for any task (sadly this includes a list for making lists, I don’t know how that works because you’d be in an infinite circle but I digress...). She's intelligent, a problem solver, will look at any problem from a scientific perspective to find a solution. While she's smart, she's never boastful and will never claim she's the best, this actually makes her rival a better character at the same time (in terms of design)

Rainbow Dash: your generic tomboy of the group. Fast, athletic ect with dreams of being a famous Pegasus flyer (I’m not even going to cover the different races of horse in this series, look it up for yourself). There's only one thing that comes to mind no matter what I say about her personality as the two share similar traits.

I know I'm beating a dead (I'm not even going to finish that statement) here but the two really do share the same personality. I'm not using the games for this, I'm using the Archie comic series (which I recommend getting if you're a Sonic fan).

Fluttershy: a shy (surprise surprise...) animal lover who has a (ability???) to make animals do whatever she wants them to do by looking at them (considering the source material, some things are better left unknown...). Fluttershy has one of the more darker personalities of the group. As a case in point: 

For the full context, that image comes from "Filli Vanilli". One last thing on her personality, she's Disney's Snow White but more thought out, actually given a personality.

Applejack: A apple farmer (trust me, if you think that pun is bad, it gets worse) while she is also fit, she specializes in strength while Rainbow Dash prioritizes speed, but seeing as she is a farmer, that makes sense. I'll go into her personality more in the next section for reasons to be explained. She's also stubborn at points ("kind of like a Knuckle head I know")

Pinkie Pie: overkill of what I’ll explain latter, but she also has one of the more darker personalities, which is why that image under "Reshiram and Zekrom" exists... somehow...

Rarity: the posh, almost to the degree of stereotypical rich people in kids shows, artist of the group, in particular fashion. She tends to come of as a drama queen sometimes but never to the point where it becomes unbearable.

and finally Spike: while being the only male character of the main cast (and the only non horse character, instead a child dragon), he is also the assistant to Twilight Sparkle. Spike's also on the receiving end of several jokes in the series due to most of the comedy revolving around him is based on how he behaves and what he has to do. There are people who use him as the key example of "MLP is a feminist show", which is honestly pathetic. Its a common thread in shows for young girls to not shine boys in a positive light (normally brothers and cousins). Again, look at "Life with Boys" as proof. Spike's personality is that of a young child, willing to help, can make mistakes but acknowledges when he does and uses it as a learning experience.

I know I'm butchering their personalities as they all have deep personalities and traits. If I was going to go into more detail, this would take up more posts.

Aside from Spike, each of the main cast embody the trait of what’s called a “Element of Harmony” (the series equivalent of Chaos Emeralds from the Sonic series and have the power of nuclear weapons, using a real life example), Twilight’s being Magic (because they ran out of ideas???), Rainbow’s being Loyalty (see where I was getting at with the comparison to Sonic), Fluttershy’s being Kindness (*cough Snow White *cough), Apple Jack’s being Sincerity (which makes up the largest chunk of her personality), Pinkie’s being Laughter (now you can see what her personality is) and Rarity’s being Generosity (which is the reason why her "Drama Queen" routine never gets annoying). In the a fore mentioned season finale, they each gained a new form...

The first time I saw it, I couldn't help but think of Mega Evolution from Pokémon or a Super form from the Sonic series (closer to Mega evolution over super forms, but meh). People have made the comparison of these forms with Super Saiyan’s from Dragon Ball Z, but I haven’t watched Dragon Ball Z at all so... 

As I stated with Applejack, there are other characters with worse puns and while I won’t be going into their personalities, here’s some examples of the naming for the minor characters: Granny Smith, Filthy Rich, the “Brony” mascot and fan named Derpy Hooves and Shining Armour. I will admit though, there is one that’s actually quite clever, being Big Macintosh (though I might be going to deep with it).

While the main cast is solid, personally I think the better characters have been when “celebrity” guests show up, especially for Discord and Cheese Sandwich (try and guess the people playing them from their names here). Discord is voiced by John de Lancie and inspired by his character is Star Trek, Q. This includes similar powers, personality ect. I always enjoy seeing the Q episodes in Star Trek: Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager and because they are essentially the same character, you can see why I like Discord as a character, on top of that, the interactions with the other characters adds to Discord’s humor, more so then Q’s with the Star Trek characters. Similarly, Cheese Sandwich was inspired by his voice actor, Weird Al’ Yankovic and even has a song that you could have sworn was written by Wired Al’ as it fits all the criteria for him, including the required random reference to Mayonnaise.

Each of the episodes focuses of one or more of the main characters and have their own separate plots, sometimes with subtle overarching themes. While most of the time these involve moral dilemmas, there are a few episodes (these are the multi episode plots) that have the cast encounter some sort of villain. What took me off guard was the pilot episodes were one of these rare occurrences. While the moral episodes are done better than other shows (and are more subtle then, for example, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog’s Sonic Sez (Says...) sections) these are overall weaker then the conflict episodes as the writers have shown that they can make good villains (this includes the prior mentioned Discord) and can write the main cast in a way that when they do have arguments with each other that’s believable and doesn’t come off as forced.

I would go into the music of the show, but that's a post of itself and this is already going on long enough. Stay tuned for that part.

Finally, the art style and animation. The art style is very similar to The Power Puff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary friends (prior shows that Lauren Faust, the woman behind this series, animated), all the characters are in 2D on screen and the animaters shift the perspective of the shot to give the illusion of the characters being 3D. Unlike the afore mention animations, My Little Pony has a brighter colour palette and this helps with the redesigns of the characters in comparison to prior generations (this is a Hasbro franchise after all). Blacks dominated Power Puff girls and Foster’s and as a result, there were much grittier in comparison. By contrast, there are a lot of bright colours in My Little Pony and as a result, even the creatures in the series that are supposed to be terrifying still look almost adorable (I say this because, to me, it’s almost impossible to make a fully grown dragon and Hydra cute, did I forget to mention that there are fantasy elements in this series...). If the characters were in any other art style, I don’t think it would have the same effect. The animation is also similar to Power Puff girls and Fosters, as they are all mostly consisting of 2D animations. While I don’t recall Either Power Puff Girls (because I never really watched the show) or Foster’s (because it’s been years since I’ve seen it) trying a 3D perspective, My Little Pony sometimes has characters looking or moving towards what would be the camera. As a result, the direct on shots don’t look nearly as well as the side on shots. I can’t quite explain why, it’s just a personal issue. For a case in point, look at this clip here

The 3D shots aren’t my only issue that I have with the series. One of other issues with the show as a whole is Pinkie Pie’s personality. While I understand that she is supposed to be the embodiment of laughter, her personality is a bit of overkill in regards to that. It gets better but there are times that you go “NO ONE CAN BE THIS HAPPY ALL THE TIME!!! Finally, I have, more of a plot hole, issue with the design. HOW THE HELL CAN SOME OF THESE HORSES PLAY INSTRUMENTS? Take this shot from Raise this Barn (another of the songs)

Last time I checked, you needed fingers to play the Violin, not only to hold the bow but also make the notes for the thing. Have these horses evolved to have limited telekinesis that they use as fingers? And before I get hate messages, I know that some of them have magic and can use said magic to hold things, but this one doesn’t and is clearly using her, somehow magical, hooves to hold the Violin and play it. This, the 3D animation, Pinkie’s personality and any other issues I’ve posted are just my personal tastes however so don’t take them as “my word is law” (though I don’t know why you would, even if this is a internet review and apparently that escalates my opinion, for some reason...). 

Overall though with the series, my opinion comes down to one word, meh. I acknowledge that it’s a good show and if I had to choose between My Little Pony and other shows for the intended demographic, I would pick My Little Pony. That being said however, if I had to choose between My Little Pony and shows like Beware the Batman, Avengers Assemble, Digimon Fusion and Transformers Prime... not a chance, I’d pick one of them over My Little Pony any day of the week. Hasbro and the team behind the show did do a good job and its one of the better shows I’ve seen purely because of how different it is in comparison to other, similar shows. It’s smarter than other children’s shows and uses a style of humor that others would never even consider (instead falling back on the pathetic humor like fart jokes (but that could just be down to intended market)). The story itself is a well written Fantasy themed “adventure” with only minor, personal issues throughout it. It's not something I'd openly recommend but that doesn't mean that its not worth a watch. If you're curious, watch the first three episodes of the show as it'll give you a basic understanding of what the show's about. If you're looking for some entertainment for your daughter, I would recommend it as there is a lot of time and effort put into making it a gem when compared to other shows for the demographic. 

While I am doing five posts on the series, I'm not doing them one after another. This isn't a marathon of reviews. As such, next week, while I'm in the fantasy mood: Suburban Knights.

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