Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reviewing is Magic: Episode 1

Blogs have transformed journalism.  What used to require travel, editing, and a lengthy printing process now reaches the masses in the blink of an eye.  Updates from major news moments occur in real time, and having a blog becomes a privilege for those willing to put themselves out there, but also a responsibility to make sure it is used in a manner that serves not just the writer, but also the reader.

So, on that note: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.  

This series first crossed my radar when I listened to an episode of Talkin' Toons, a podcast done by voice actor (and overall great human being) Rob Paulsen.  His guest that week was the incredibly talented (and ridiculously good looking) Tara Strong.  From that interview I learned of the Bronys, a term I had previously heard as something akin to a derogatory word.  Time passed, and the idea of men watching the show passed as nothing more than a cultural curiosity, albeit it one I could never judge too harshly on, having grown up sitting through episodes of Jem and the Holograms and She-Ra: Princess of Power in order to get to other programs.  The less said about my brief stint watching Totally Spies while unemployed is a topic for another day (It's Clueless meets James Bond, and one is voiced by Commander Shepard!  What's not to like?)

The series crossed my radar again with several articles written by blogger, humorist, and Batmanologist Chris Sims of the Comics Alliance.  His description of some of the themes and challenges intrigued me, and phrases such as "a bear made out of outer space" only whet an appetite I was, up to now, unaware I had.  Flashbacks to when I first attempted to eat a fried banana at an Indonesian restaurant or when a friend showed me a television show devoted entirely to myths and debunking them with high explosives flooded back to me.

And so, in the spirit of "I <insert verb here> so you don't have to (but in some cases you totally should)," I present my new series reviewing episodes of a television show that first came out in 2010.  Because everybody deserves to know about a show this absolutely insane interesting.

So, because the first two episodes are a two-parter, I'm breaking this post into two parts.  Normally I'd just summarize a bit more, but this encourages me to post more show deserves an insightful look.  I'll do my best to stick to initial opinions, but some hints/spoilers from future episodes will surface.

So, episode one, "Mare In The Moon" begins with a history of the kingdom of Equestria.  And I'm going to say this right now, I love when a show plays with a theme, and MLP milks the "pony" theme for all it's worth.  "Anybody" becomes "anypony."  "Everybody" is "everypony."  Their kingdom is named Equestria because of course it is.  What else would they call it?

So the nation used to be ruled by two sisters, one who used her magical control over the sun (!) to force it to rise every morning, and the other wou'd control the night and make the moon rise.  The younger sister feels jealous because nights aren't as appreciated as days, she goes bitter, and her attempts to plunge the world into darkness causes her to be banished inside the moon.  For a thousand years.  Ponys don't shank.

This also means that the other royal pony has to be on charge of the sun and the moon from that day forward.  This is important, but doesn't really affect the plot in any significant way except to point out that damn, there are some potent magical abilities going on in this show.

I'll be honest, though, it took me until later to realize that the evil sister's new name, "Nightmare Moon" has the word "mare" built right in.  Well played, ponys.

The first real character we meet is Twilight Sparkle.  That's a real name, and not the description of what vampires are now famous for. She's a student to the ruler of Equestria, a total bookworm, and has a pet baby dragon named Spike because I don't know how pets really work in this world.

I'll be honest, in this episode the only thing, animation-wise, that really bothers me is Spike.  I always just get the feeling his eyes are floating an inch in front of his face, and his movements aren't as clean.  But that's nitpicking, because I'll be absolutely honest here...the animation on this show is superb.  The characters are expressive, the mouths move with the voices, the backgrounds have ridiculous detail to them, and there are little throwaway moments during scenes that are clean and easy to pick out.

Twilight's the only pony who seems to realize that a prophecy claiming the "Mare of the Moon" will be freed is about to come true during a major celebration, and the only thing that can stop her from banishing the sun forever are the "elements of harmony."  But her attempts to warn others are thwarted by a royal edict declaring "get your nose out of those books, go check in on the preparations for the ceremony, and make some friends you recluse."  That's not the exact wording, but the spirit's there.

Twilight Sparkle is sent to Ponyville (because of course) where she meets the five other major members of the cast.  First is Applejack, and if I'm being completely honest, I'll admit that she is one of my favorite characters on this show, and in the short running for "favorite new character of 2012."  I'll do more extensive character reviews later, but it's just awesome that, in this world, the most effective way to harvest apples is to kick the crap out of trees until they give up their bounty.
And if that doesn't work, she'll just lasso them straight off the branch. And she wears an awesome hat.  Hats always get bonus points.

 The next pony met is Rainbow Dash, a winged pony whose job is to control the weather by kicking and punching clouds so hard they explode.  I promise you, I'm not making any of this up.  Such precise weather control allows for pushing clouds across the sky, causing miniature rainstorms, and even generating lightning with a swift hoof to the cumulus solar plexus.  She's also extremely proud of the fact that she's one of the most accomplished fliers in the land, reaching rather ridiculous speeds for a winged equine.

No, I don't know how weather works in Equestria, either.  But a later episodes shows us the factories where weather's "built."  Go figure.

We next meet Rarity (no last name), another unicorn like Twilight Sparkle, and thus also able to use magic.  I'll admit, I've always hated characters like Rarity.  Prissy, afraid of getting "dirty" and completely into fashion and little else, it took me a loooooong time to warm up to this character.  She was squarely in the same camp I put Baby Piggy in Muppet Babies, Daphne in Scooby-Doo, and Michelle in the comic strip "Curtis." 

The next pony is another pegasus, Fluttershy, and this is where I get stripped of my "Man Card."  I am totally Fluttershy.  I'm not just saying that because of the "What Pony Are You?" quiz I took during a recent bout of insomnia, but because I see so much of myself in that character when I was growing up.  Fluttershy is kind and caring, but has a small problem with being social with strangers.  Her attempts to say her name to Twilight Sparkle come out as a mumble and only get worse with repeated attempts.  She freezes up and gets uncomfortable in large social groups,   Granted, I'm not quite to this extreme (I don't squeak when trying to talk, for instance), but man.  If Applejack is my character find of 2012, this is my "they must be reading my diary thoughts when they write for this character" moment.

The last new pony we meet is Pinkie Pie, and I'll admit, I've never been fond of the zany, crazy, talkssofastyouhavetolistenthreetimestounderstandwhattheysay characters, but this show, it works.  It takes a few episodes for me to accept it works, but since the character holds to the same "type" of crazy with only a few moments of going more extreme, it at least shows a consistant character, and one whose craziness never overrides the basic ideas of the show, namely "friends come first."  Plus, the other ponies do enough talking about how insane Pinkie is to let me feel confident that it's not just me.  Again, we'll get deeper in the character later, but for now trust me that Pinkie Pie is to MLP what Deadpool is to comic books.

Anyway, after meeting all the ponies and having each of them, in their own way, claim her as their newest best friend (and Twilight Sparkle essentially sigh with disgust at the idea of meeting new people), we come to the big celebration where Princess Celestia (again, what else do you call a pony who forces the sun and moon to do what she wants out of sheer willpower?) is supposed to show up and make the sun rise...but instead, she disappears, and the Mare of the Moon appears, lording it over all the ponies with her magical power and bragging how the sun will never rise again.  But first she has to take out the pony "royal guard" with lightning bolts to the face.  Nice to know that being stuck in the moon for a thousand years hasn't softened her up any.

At this point, it jumps to a "To Be Continued!"  So let's break it down:

The Good:

I've said it before, but the animation for the most part is top-notch.  The story does a superb job of introducing the characters and giving us everything we need to know about their personalities, and nothing really feels like filler.  The plot itself would fit in pretty much any setting trying to tell an epic story, and if you can get over the fact that these are talking ponys, it becomes pretty fun.

Again, another shout out for Applejack, who I did not expect to find in a series like this.  She reminds me a lot of Rogue from the 90s X-Men cartoon, except I don't hate her so intensely that it puts me off southern accents for several years.  Also, another nod to Fluttershy for being the pony who makes me sigh and go "man, I've so been there" when I watch her try to interact with her peers.

The voice work is superb, and the voice staff have enough experience to be able to fully flesh out the previously mentioned personalities without going completely over the top.

The Bad:

Well, nothing's perfect.  Spike's animations bug me somewhat, but just because it isn't as clean or as deep as the rest of the animation (even background characters do a better job of looking complete).  Rarity is given the least personality outside of "I decorate, like to do makeovers, and totally want to get out of this dump and both hob and nob with the elites." Plus, the scene where Twilight Sparkle was delivered to Ponyville in a chariot drawn by two winged horses just felt somewhat uncomfortable, since the only response they give her thanks is a mix between a grunt and a whinny.


As I said before, this show really didn't have to be this good.  Al I really remember of the original cartoon was it was essentally "Care Bears, but with horses, and nobody shoots rainbows out of their stomach to make bad guys explode."  Overall you can look past any gender issues in the show (Rarity excluded, of course) and simply enjoy a well-built story that happens to have an almost entirely female cast.  It's easy to understand how the "Brony" culture came around, and in today's world it really nice to have a show to bring up that goes "Hey, wouldn't it be great if people could just be nice to each other to solve their problems?"

For its purpose, I give the episode a solid B+, docked from A status only for a few minor quibbles.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to watch the Expendables to see if I can get my "Man Card" back.  

1 comment:

thesh00ter said...

what episode was that when Pinkie was stuck in a wall? i don't remember