I haven't really been keeping up with My Little Pony; not after Season 6 first aired. Last week I decided to check out the first episode of Season 6, and... it was kind of okay. All that really stuck out in my head was how this show doesn't really grab me anymore. It took a while for me to piece it together, but I think I know where this show falls short. I may come off terse, but that's only because I'm going to treat this show as though it was aiming to be this revolutionary game-changer in its field. It kinda was... and isn't.
A lot of my criticisms will focus in on the writing. It's not bad, but there are times where the show has written itself into a weird corner. Let me preface this by giving you the template of every story:
"Man wants coconut. Man climbs up tree. Man gets rocks thrown at him. Man climbs down with coconut."
Keep this in mind; I'll be referring to it a lot in italics. These bits will be useful in case a 3000+ word analysis on My Little Pony is too much. I know I wouldn't read all of that.
TWILIGHT'S CORONATION IS AN AWFUL STORY
Man magically levitates up tree. Nobody throws rocks at him because he casts an anti-rock shield in front of him. Man finds bananas, but casts an alteration spell to turn them into coconuts. Man levitates down to the ground with the coconuts no trouble. Another man in a suit walks in and gives him a million dollars for his effortless efforts. The end.
Remember when the community got upset that Twilight got her wings too early? I used to dismiss those claims. It was a 13-episode season; they had to finish it off with a bang. I've changed my mind since then, and here's why.
Twilight Sparkle didn't really seem to struggle with her problem in the Season 3 finale. Nobody saw those those rocks being thrown at her. The fact that she figured out the problem 150 seconds (one day in-show) after discovering this is Starswirl's unfinished spell. I counted; from the mention of Starswirl to Twilight's eureka moment is about 150 seconds. As a result it seems weird that that incident was the tipping point where Princess Celestia picks her up and crowns her as royalty.
The problem with magic in a storyline is that there's no context to the challenge. How does magic work? What made this problem so complicated? When Twilight gets her eureka moment in the episode, how on earth would she be able to explain her genius? She literally starts glowing and goes to solve everything. That's it. It's nice that the show focuses less on person vs person conflict, but this storyline was a stone's throw away from being good. Pun intended.
BAD FIGHTING IS WORSE THAN NO FIGHTING
Man wants coconut. Man climbs up tree. Man gets rainbow-coloured rocks thrown at him through the power of friendship. Man no longer hungry because he has the magic of friendship.
Despite sending out a strong message against violence in its marketing campaign early on, My Little Pony sure has its fair share of combat encounters. Sometimes they end up being interesting. Fluttershy and the Manticore was a decent example. The Manticore was fighting the mane six, but Fluttershy was the only one who never fought him. Granted you never want your characters to get out of trouble with a stroke of luck because it looks like the writers didn't know how to smoothly get the characters out of the pickle, but it was a well-written encounter except for that.
Other times combat encounters in the show flop on their face. A scuffle here and there is fine, but there are rules that must be followed to have the fight support a good story.
Man climbs up tree. Man grabs coconut. Man climbs down. The chief walks up to the man, and says he cannot enjoy his coconut because he did not earn the magic of friendship. Man doesn't even know anymore.
For starters you need to establish win conditions, and STICK TO THEM. The first My Little Pony: Equestria Girls movie is a perfect example of doing it wrong. Sunset Shimmer wanted the Elements of Harmony. She gets them. Why did she need to earn the crown to activate it instead of putting it on herself? Couldn't say; because she's not purple, probably. Why did the McGuffin backfire on her when she acquires it and wears it? Don't know. Sunset Shimmer filled out the win conditions. She had the crown, yet was awarded a loss anyway. This makes her entire pursuit pointless to begin with. Now everyone in the audience feels cheated. The movie spent all this time setting up the one win condition as earning the crown. Then the movie cheats its own rules at the end because the antagonist was winning. Win conditions set the expectations of what makes a worthwhile victory, and you have to make those clear before any fight takes place. The show nullifies the rules in the name of friendship, and for that the story suffers.
Man walks up tree. Like, his feet flat on the trunk, walking upwards. Man gets up top. Man walks up tree again. Tree explodes. Coconuts throw rocks at man. Man walks up tree again. Man walks on coconut. You're giggling now, but if I told you to finish this story in a way that makes sense you'd just give up. I know I'd give up.
The other important ingredient is context. Ever movie stylizes their fight scenes to a degree. They may look mechanically non-continuous in several areas, yet only the best fight sequences hide the strings well. These fights are stylized around things that look cool, but an authentic fight is either very short or can land into deadlock often. Yes, that guy is still breathing after a boulder slammed him in the chest so hard it broke in half. Yes, that guy just got up and walked away after being flung into a mountain at mach 3. That's what Dragon Ball Z did and did well. If My Little Pony wants to shoot rainbows at the baddies, it's really just sending out the least-effort form of spectacle fighting it can manage. To give the show credit it has been improving, but when dealing with magic the show can forget that nobody understands how hard magic use is or can be. If anything the magic of friendship seems awfully easy to use for a magic that's highly potent.
More to the point, how the heck do the Elements of Harmony work? If envy drove Princess Luna into becoming Nightmare Moon, what are the Elements of Harmony going to do? Drug her into submission? It feels like there's a lot of repressed emotions and potential for good storytelling that have been completely glossed over here. Something a good fanfic could cover, but the show will never live up to. I'm not sure why nobody has ever gone back.
Friendship is magic, but My Little Pony's strongest story-telling moments are with friendship and not magic.
I thought Trixie's second episode (Season 3, Episode 5 - Magic Duel) was especially well made. Twilight Sparkle was outmatched by Trixie's magical prowess, so she works around it and gets her friends into fooling her that she has a better amulet. By the time Trixie gave in Twilight pulls the curtains and shows how her ingenuity played out in her favour. Had this episode been a season finale the two would have fought each other bitterly, Trixie would eventually force Twilight to submit, Twilight would submit, and then the ending could not have possibly ended well thereafter. Dragon Ball Z gets away with it because it does that every episode. My Little Pony's writing can be a lot smarter than that.
THE ENDING THAT DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS
Super evil man wants coconut. Super evil man climbs up tree. Super evil man gets styrofoam thrown at him by another man. Super evil man laughs, throws stones at man and wins, but immediately gets destroyed after man mutters something about friendship.
Tirek is exactly what would have happened if Trixie decided to fight Twilight Sparkle as the season finale. A villain can always get away with looking like an untouchable badass in their uprising, but Tirek never had any form of discernible weakness in the end. Twilight gave up her alicorn magic. Boom. She should lose. She doesn't lose. She invokes the power of friendship... and that somehow is more powerful than all the alicorn magic in the world? It could be then argued that Tirek's only weakness was friendship, but that's a weakness a lot of the villains seem to have.
Friendship itself is magic. When the story leans in too much on friendship being a power source for magic, it falls apart.
Because there was no expectation of knowing how Tirek was supposed to be defeated, it kind of comes off as cheesy and cheap when they fight, they tie, Tirek is given all the power, but then Twilight wins through a loophole. What could have been done if Tirek was never defeated by the magic of friendship? I dunno. He was all-powerful and unstoppable. That's great up until a given point, but it makes for an uninteresting story. Tirek has many elements of an interesting villain, but being unstoppable except by deus ex sororitas is not among them.
And I know there's going to be a counter-argument posted everywhere. It's been long-established that friendship is the one true power of this world. Every villain must be defeated through friendship or else the show loses its moral fiber or whatever. If I could have dealt with my childhood problems by shooting rainbows at everything, I would think this show teaches amazing things. But it doesn't. So I'm going to say this show needs to go back to where it got creative with its lessons.
THE LEAST DEVELOPED VILLAINS
"Who's the Big, Bad Evil Guy in GI Joe?" "Yeahhh Cobra Commander!"
"Who's the arch nemesis of the Ninja Turtles?" "Watch out for SHREDDER!!!"
"Who's the villain in Transformers?" "Megatron and good ol' Starscream!"
"Who's the villain in My Little Pony?" "I uh... I think it's... wait, she's a protagonist now."
It was interesting the first time... back in the pilot episode. Now it's been done so many times it's almost a running joke. The show is so hellbent on churning out so many villains they have to start from square one introducing every villain each and every time. Aside from maybe one or two early villains it's hard to invest in a new villain. Starlight Glimmer is a start, but after Trixie and Sunset Shimmer lasting for two appearances there's no telling if anyone has learned their lesson. Given current trends it's not unreasonable to say Starlight Glimmer is never going to get air time again. I'm guessing Moondancer might decides to deicide.
The quality of villains fluctuates wildly in this show. It's almost like a case of having too many chefs spoiling the broth. On one hand you have characters like King Sombra, who are probably less developed than a classic 90s cartoon villain. Of course, that's an insult to 90s cartoons. Arch-villains like Skeletor were cheesy on purpose because he was able to fit in a show that was cheesy as a whole. As a result they were even more memorable and compelling in that sense. King Sombra is neither memorable, and very far from compelling in a show that has had well-made villains. This guy is just evil, angry, black and... evil. There's a simple fix to turn all of this around, but takes time. Time the show will always use to create a new character.
And I do mean it when I say the show has good villains, and Discord is easily one of them. Discord is interesting- so interesting I'm convinced this character has to have been stolen from somewhere. He's a compelling character- villain or otherwise. Chaos? You don't need motives when you're ultimately motivated by chaos. Great! He hogs the spotlight every time he's on screen because of it. That's the key to being a good character; you need to be interesting. Not powerful, not complex, not likable, not different, but they're all nice things to have. The character just needs to be interesting. Granted not every character need to be a flavour bomb like Discord, but his example exaggerates how the rule of cool is all you need to build a character with.
Key word; ultimately motivated. Lord Tirek is proximately motivated to see Equestria burn to ash, ultimately he's just doing it because bad guy things. Why is he like this? Why does he hate Equestria to begin with? Answer that and Lord Tirek is suddenly a much better villain.
If we knew why King Sombra wanted the Crystal Ponies enslaved so badly we'd have something to work with. King Sombra would have an ultimate motivation. We don't get that, so there's nothing to judge him by. Meanwhile Cobra Commander could want to turn the ocean into soup and nobody would question him. Because GI Joe was a cheesy cartoon done right; nobody really has ultimate motivations. MLP did that with some of its characters and not all, therefore when an undeveloped character is put up against a well-developed character it looks rushed. JESUS CHRIST, BUILD YOUR CHARACTERS.
TOO MANY CHARACTERS
Man wants coconut. Man climbs up tree. Another man that looks like that man climbs up with him to get into that tree. A third man that looks just like that man climbs up the tree with him. They all want a coconut. They all get rocks thrown at them. All three climb down with their coconuts eventually. Why did we need three men instead of one? One knows a little alchemy, one knows how to sing, and the last guy knows how to ride a tiger. We need all three men because chief said we needed three men in the tree.
And that's why I think the CMC are awful. The show keeps doing this. They add characters. They keep adding characters. There are characters who could be merged together for being too similar. Why do we need Sunset Shimmer or Starlight Glimmer? We had Trixie. Why not just have one or two cutie mark crusaders? Why do the cutie mark crusaders even exist? Why does every episode need at least one new character? I don't know. We may never know.
Oh wait, I think I know. Whenever I read a critique on the show back in 2012 the articles would glance over the toy line. There would be this undertone implying something along the lines of: "Oh no, the show is offering merchandise! How terrible! I hate it. Don't you guys hate it when people trade goods for services? Yech."
I brushed it off, but eventually it dawned on me why I felt like the show was introducing too many characters too quickly. It was the merchandising model all along that influences this.
Add new character. Make them lovable enough. Sell as a toy. Never show them in the show again.
Add new character, Make them lovable enough. Sell as a toy. Never show them in the show again.
Add new character, Make them lovable enough. Sell as a toy...
It's genius and subtle, except with limited screen time someone's eventually going to get fed up that their favourite characters aren't getting any screen time. I'm not sure if I should giggle or be mortified at what happens next.
Dog wants coconut. Dog climbs up tree to get coconut. Dog gets rocks thrown at it. Dog gets coconut. Some were watching and laugh from the novelty. Some observers jokingly feed their dogs coconuts. Tree-climbing dog's owner sees and spreads message that their dogs should be eating coconuts. Everyone else in the village who didn't see the dog only remember tribesmen attempting to force-feed coconuts to their dogs for months.
My Little Pony is okay. Too many unnecessary characters. Way too many. Make no mistake- there will be more.
In the context that its demographic is young girls- it does its job. However, for anyone else I'm willing to bet MLP:FiM is one of those shows that will be remembered more for its community rather than the show itself, but that's another topic I don't think I really want to get into.
There is a strong suit to this show, and it's the show's visuals. It's very polished for an animated show, and it wouldn't surprise me if the budget for this show was huge. There are a lot of familiar names behind this show, and given the show's unique animation style it's easy to recognize. You know, in case you were confused the other high-production show where almost every character is a multicoloured pony. There's nothing to complain about in the visuals, at least if you don't plan on being extra picky.
You still like this show? How?!
Between Season 1 and 6 I'd say a lot of lessons have been learned, but considering how things peaked in season 4 and never recovered in terms of viewership I'd say the creative direction to bunker down and invest more in the long term and what's familiar. According to Wikipedia the last time My Little Pony reached more than 500k concurrence on a live airing was back in S5E8 - The Lost Treasure of Griffinstone.
It's not a good time for gimmicky characters like Flurry Heart. I should like Flurry Heart. I used to be the guy in the brony community who drew nothing but baby ponies back in the day. I should be ecstatic about Flurry, but everything she represents is a constant reminder of my bugbear with this show. The over-sized wings in particular aren't helping. Why do those need to be so big? It doesn't even make sense.
Until then I think I've made my point. I'll show myself out.