To the inevitable trolls, there is nothing you can say that will actually make me angry, so save yourself the effort. I will love and tolerate the shit out of you, and you can't possibly stop me.
Obvious disclaimer, this contains spoilers for the whole show, dont read it if you don't want to know.
Why I love MLP:FIM
So, lets talk ponies. Why exactly do I love these brightly colored bouncy things? Well, explaining that is not easy. In fact, I'm not even sure I'll be able to verbalize it, because hell, people are complicated, and not everything can be explained. Let me try anyway.
Lets dive right into it.
MLP is a work of art
Hardworking Applejack understands what goes into this kind of production
This is a topic I could go on and on about, so I'm going to try to keep it concise. Ah, who the hell am I kidding, there is no way that what I am about to write will be called "concise" even by the broadest definition of the word. First of all, let me say this, I am a sucker for a good story. As a huge fan of epic fantasy and the like I would like to think that I am capable of identifying a good story when I see it. So, what is it that makes My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic stand out over, say, pound puppies, or any of the other mindlessly horrible cartoons that air on the hub? Well, first of all let us talk about the superficial features that make the show good, and then we can talk about the deeper elements.
1.) The artwork is freaking amazing. Yes, its animated in flash, yes, there is the occasional animation error, but frag, its gorgeous. Now I'm not a graphic designer, far from it, (in fact I am photoshop challenged, much less able to edit videos) but the animation style is unlike anything I have seen before, just look at the basic color design, notice how there is a preponderance of extremely bright colors, as well as fluid dynamic animation. When compared to the animation of something like K-ON (or any other anime really) the fluidity of the animation and brightness of the colors really stand out. This originality and distinctiveness, combined with the obvious amount of effort it took to animate, means that even if the show had no sound, it would still be possible to enjoy it. Looking at the vectors its clear that all that is present in a single shot is not necessarily apparent at first sight, especially in some of the more cluttered scenes, like the weather factory from sonic rainboom, its possible to pause a scene and look around, and find 3-4 details that you would have probably missed. This is also the reason why there is so much fandom built around background ponies, because they exist and reappear consistently. Watch for example this chase sequence from Season 1 Episode 20, A bird in hoof
Notice how despite not having any dialogue or anything of the sort it is still a highly enjoyable scene. Is it deep? No, but its amusing and well done. Most of this whole sequence even has hidden gems, like phillomena fleeing in the background at the 16:30 mark. You can even watch it muted and still enjoy it. This brings me to point 2
2.) The music is incredible. I'm not even talking about the songs here, I'll do that later. I'm talking about the background music in the scenes. The team of people who compose the background music are an extremely talented bunch. They manage the key component of successful background music, that is to convey the emotions of the events that are taking place, while at the same time not overshadowing the dialogue or plot points. Watch this vocal free version of episode 10
even without listening to the dialogue the emotions are still transmuted by the music itself. Take note of how you can know exactly when pinkie is talking, for example, simply by the bubbly, jumpy background music. This is a key component of a successful production, fully using *all* your resources to engage your audience. The musical work in these episodes is easy to miss if you aren't playing attention, but its a subtle and powerful element.
3.) The voice acting. The voice acting is exceptional, with the voices fitting the character, and subtle nuisances of proper dialogue voicing being present through. Of particular note is how, with relatively few voice actors they manage to fill out a surprising number of characters. Lets take a quick look at a very solid and well done bit of dialogue, just from a voice acting perspective.
First of all, notice the juxtposition between the tone of rainbow dash and pinkie pie, rainbow sounds mildly annoyed at points while pinkie is happy and bubbly. Its impressive how naturally the VA's manage to deliver these lines, as it sounds exactly like the kind of conversation you might have among friends, and that is a credit to script writer, but the delivery of the lines is what clinches it. For example fluttershy's tone of mild bemusement carries the "huffy the magic dragon" line, and makes it both more amusing and incredibly cute. This is a level of voice acting that is wonderfully done, simply because its neither mechanical nor overdone (like it is in many, many kids shows) its simply at the correct level. Things like Rainbow Dashes' voice cracking often add to the traits of the characters, once again in an underhanded manner. This high level of voice acting is present through the entire series
4.) The songs. Yes, the songs. These show a level of execution that rivals that seen in some Disney movies, and they are frankly amazing. Most of them are catchy to the point where you find yourself humming them to yourself as you drive, or listening to them again and again. The songs bring the other three outstanding "superficial" elements together in a flash of brilliance. Testament to how ridiculously good they are is the number of remixes based on them, because I'm a sucker for analysis, lets break down one of the most popular songs in the series, although hardly my favorite: lets look at winter wrap up.
Lets look at the first 22 seconds. What do we notice? The first thing that should be obvious is the animation. Notice how beautifully the contrast is done, you have the dark background and the spotlight, contrasting with the brightly colored pony that is talking. Just this contrast should immediatly make you pay attention to whatever pony is singing. The fact that the spotlight lingers, showing you the pony that just finished speaking not only provides a backdrop, it also gives you a good idea of the timing and, frankly, looks good. The poses themselves are even reflective of what is going on. The second (or for most of you, the first) thing you probably noticed was the singing. Obviously there is no doubt that the singers are good, they fit melodiously with each other. The voices mesh, and having four separate singers in the first few seconds of the song serves to both garner our interest and introduce the different singers who will be singing.The music itself is paced to what is being said, as we will notice this song starts slow and picks up the pace. The music (soft strings with a *plink* *plink* noise) fits with the dark/white background contrast, and meshes.
The next 21 seconds are basically a twilight solo. The first thing to note here is how the music has accelerated, notice in particular the bouncy tone of the transition at the 22 second mark, right before twilight sings "the time has come". The music is still slow, but picking up speed, it actually contrasts with the pace of twilight singing. The singing itself is well done, its relatively slow, compared to the segment that follows it right after, actually serving to portray the dichotomy between the frenzy of activity that is warping up winter, and twilight's feelings. The animation follows the same theme as the pace of the music, growing more complex from scene to scene, and being relatively simple in parts where twilight is present. Here we can see a clear step up in complexity from the previous scene , but there is still little else on the screen other than twilight. The stark white of the snow servers to highlight twilight as the focus of this part, as should be.
The next almost two minutes are dedicated to portraying the frenzy of winter wrap up, starting slightly slow and growing to a frantic pace. Here is where the chorus kicks in, at first starting as only three or four ponies singing bur rapidly growing in size, as the background music grows faster, and the animation grows more cluttered, with more and more ponies appearing and more things moving around. You really see the fact that this is a bunch of ponies doing a lot of work as fast as possible, and this idea is transmitted very elegantly, especially by the quick transitions between singers. Also see how whenever twilight appears she does so alone, so that the focus is on her reactions and what she is seeing.
The final part is of course, twilights solo. Notice the extremely sharp contrast between twilight's singing and the quick bursts of "winter wrap up, winter wrap up" that precede and, at times, accompany the solo. The long, drawn out vocals are almost the opposite of these bursts of mirth. The tone is also clearly in opposition, sounding almost sad, and certainly doubtful, almost the exact opposite of the downright joy that the ponies singing about wrapping up winter exhibit. The spotlight and clearly illusory imagery at the 2:30 mark is in fitting with this theme of contrast. The animation goes from stark contrast and color in a cluttered setting to a much less contrasting setting (brown background, with a cream spotlight, and earth tone vests), showing us as well as letting us hear the transition. The recurring theme of Twilight being the focus when she is singing is maintained through this solo. The song then brings everything together, by having twilight "fit in" by breaking the mold of her singing/visual patterns through the song, having her sing the happy and catchy winter wrap up while the rest of the ponies are on screen with her. However this only serves to reinforce the difference, and seed doubts in the viewer's mind, when the spotlight focuses on twilight and everything around her fades out.
Well, that was complicated, no? And this was just a three minute song, yet the construction is masterful and deliberate and the execution is damn near flawless. This is better quality and production than I have seen in any show, and hell its better executed than some musicals manage. The best part? Each and every one of the "main" songs in this show have this level of depth.
Ok, so we've covered that the show is actually well made, and I've hinted in my analysis of winter wrap up that the plot may actually exist at some kind of level. We've just scratched the surfaces, ladies and gentlemen. Let us now take a look at why the plot and character development is awesome.
MLP has complex characters and plot
Twilight Sparkle reading is best Twilight Sparkle
So, I've pretty much indubitably proven that the exterior of this show, the presentation, is beyond good, but now comes the hard part, demonstrating that these fancy wrappings actually hold something of value inside, rather than a whole lot of air. So, lets start by talking about the small picture, episode plot lines, character interactions and generally episodic level issues, and then move into the big picture, continuity and character development across the show.
Lets start by talking about specific episode to judge what the key points are. Yes, there are weaker and stronger episodes, but by picking just one I am able to talk about what the show does well and why, rest assured that I will not pick an outlier. . So, lets start discussing a strong episode, in this case, Episode #7, dragonshy. A quick summary of what happens plot wise: Fluttershy and the mane 6 must travel up a mountain to defeat a fearsome dragon that threatens Equestria, it turns out that Fluttershy is terrified of dragons and would rather do anything else in fact she refuses to even approach the dragon, it is only when her friends are in danger that Futtershy finds the inner strength to take action and save equestria.
Now at first this plot may seem cheesy. In fact, its the generic "hero" plot, a great evil threatens the world, the hero quests with his friends but when he confronts the great evil he must overcome his inner deamons to defeat it, and only does this thanks to the help of his friends. Still it's a versatile plot and ,frankly, much better than you would expect in a kids show. It has a goddamn dragon threatening equestria for one, granted he is threatening to sleep and cover the place in smog, rather than ripping a terrifying swathe of destruction, but still, *dragon*. Also, while the plot is a little cliche, its a common theme of may good fantasy novels, and can make for an exciting story. Its all in the execution. Furthermore it involves something that many kids shows, or even adult shows miss, that is actual character development. That is the fluttershy we know at the beginning of the conflict is different from the one at the end of the episode. Character growth is the essential to any story that seeks to be more than just blase action, its the bread and butter of all good story telling. Most shows revolve around a character reacting to a situation, and not really growing from it, for example in NCIS you rarely see a character have any growth, rather they react to situations and solve them with already existing talents and traits. Its an externally driven resolution, rather than an internally driven one, while that can make for exciting episodes, it never makes for *deep* episodes.
"Fine", I can hear the skeptics nod "so the cliche plot is watchable, but how about the execution? I bet this fails miserably". Well lets look at how the plot is executed. A key factor of plot execution is the pacing. This requires that first the problem be explained, then that there be sufficient build up of tension before hitting the climax and then a speedy resolution, with the action dropping off right before the credits roll. Does Dragonshy achieve this? I think that watching the episode no one can complain about the pacing. The simplicity of the plot means that portraying the problem is not difficult, since the event is clearly visible and having twilight explain it, means that not too much time is spent explaining what the main issue is. Specifically Fluttershy's fear is clearly portrayed while not going outright and saying it, its as subtle as getting hit with a pile of bricks, but still amusing and well done. The rising tension is also perfectly executed thanks to the journey, climbing the mountain gives us plenty of chances see fluttershy getting more and more nervous and terrified, and the magnitude of the threat that the dragon poses is enhanced by the "danger" of the mountain.
Mount Dragon! A dangerous and worrisome locale, at least to fluttershy
Vitally important is the interactions of the other characters with each other, without spending too much time in dialogue or anything like that, you can clearly see the friendship between the mane 6 by the way they talk to each other and the off hand comments and jokes that they crack. That is a subtle portrayal of friendship, without having them say "I love you all, best buds forever!" you still get an accurate and realistic portrayal of a friendship. This part, from the moment they set out, to the moment they arrive to the top of the mountain is a good chunk of the episode, and basically all consists of rising tension. By the time we reach the top we know that the dragon is formidable and that Fluttershy is terrified out of her mind. Watching the other ponies try to cajole fluttershy into helping not only gives us valuable insight into fluttershy's outright terror, but it strengthens our view of their friendship and overall personalities. The dialogue where applejack tries to soothe fluttershy's fears by saying "we are all scared too" and rainbows reaction to it is just one example of how well the dynamic is shown. Having each of the characters in turn try to persuade the dragon also tells us more about them, and further highlights the threat that the dragon represents, as it clearly cannot be reasoned with.
Then we hit the climax, rainbow dash has managed to provoke the dragon into a rage, and fluttershy must make a choice between loyalty and fear. Yes this is cliche, but I think its something each and every one of us can identify with. I'm almost certain that all of us have been in a situation before where we could either wipe our hands and watch our friends suffer, or jump into hot water with them and at the very least suffer together. This is why the moment when fluttershy renounces all the fear she has expressed through the episode, the mindnumbing terror that chills to the bone, and makes you unable to take a step, and instead lands on the dragons snout and confronts it sends chills down my spine. Because we've all had to make a choice like that before and can understand how dauntingly impossible it can be. This is a climax resolution if there ever was one, the hero has confronted her fears and vanquished them, and in the process, grown. This ladies and gentelmen is how you develop a character, how you solve an issue, not through some deus ex machina, like having Celestia swoop in and vanquish the dragon, like some kids shows might do, but by having the protagonist seize the reigns and change himself to save the world.
I cannot watch this without getting chills.
After that the post resolution dropping action is almost an afterthought. The characters interactions display how their friendship has grown as a result of fluttershy's character growth, and shows that despite the character growth, the core of fluttershy remains the same. I would say that this episode does at least "well" in terms of pacing and resolution, as well as overall character portrayal. This episode is freaking amazing and a clear portrayal of why MLP is much, much more than just a bunch of fancy animations and well put together sound. In fact this episode displays the key characteristics of the majority of the episodes of the series, that is, a rather simple plot problem, handled in a complex and mature manner, with generally solid pacing and character driven resolutions, in which the character exhibits growth. Remember folks, this is not an outlier, this is the level of quality present in practically every episode. Is it any wonder I love this show? I still haven't even gotten to the overall show continuity and growth, so lets talk about that.
In fact, lets not just talk about it, lets do a case study. Lets talk about a pony that grows through the series and breaks the mold of the stereotype she is cast in. Lets talk about my favorite pony, the fabulous Rarity!
Rarity is one of the characters that I would argue exhibits the most visible growth through the show, or at least one of the ones where it is more noticeable. When we fist meet Miss Rarirty in episode one we get the very cliched idea that she is the normal appearance focused, fashion conscious diva of stereotype. What we would expect of her is to be extremely greedy, arrogant and rather insufferable, perhaps with a few redeeming traits like the ability to mediate social problems or something. Basically a caricature. Well those expectations are first challenged in episode 2, where she sacrifices fashion for the sake of others and we learn that she is the element of generosity. This is however something to be skeptical of, as many shows before have done the whole "give a trait that doesn't seem to fit" thing before and just never brought it up again, leaving the character exactly as the caricature we first assumed. Rest assured that MLP shatters this concept.
The next episode where we get a defining view of rarity is Episode 8, look before you sleep, although her giving up the ticket in Ticketmaster is a clue that this character is more than she appears at first glance. However this is a pretty defining episode for rarity in terms of growth, Rarity starts this episode as insufferable and impractical, but by the end of it she is willing to get her hooves dirty for her friends. This lesson that rarity learns, that sometimes the big picture is more important than the details, and that sometimes you have to get dirty, is a lesson she learns as is proven by her willingness to get down and dirty in episode 5 of season 6, sisterhooves social. Not only this, but her new found closeness with Applejack is also recurring. This shows character growth that spans the entire show. This is something very rare to find in any show, but most especially in a kids show of this nature.
Testament to lessons learned
Lets continue to see how rarity has grown. The next major landmark episode for Rarity is episode 14 suited for success. I won't talk too much in depth about it, and I won't go over the song, other than to mention that its absolutely fantastic. This episode is about rarity learning about being too generous and too much of a pushover. This is actually a really unexpected angle for the show to take, and it teaches us a lot about rarity, about how she appreciates her friends more than her craft. This is actually of deep significance, it shows that Rarity is much more than a fashion diva/ The way she is torn about making the dresses and even sacrifices her own dress to make sure they are finished in time. This shows that Rarity is not as one dimensional as one would assume after seeing episode one, in fact she has strong competing character traits. This makes her deeper and more interesting than 90% of characters I have seen. The lessons learned here are not directly shown later, but from the inter-character interactions we can pretty much conclude that they have been learned. This episode is also important to rarities character because it not only showcases her personality and the clear internal dichotomy, but because it also shows how the friendship between rarity and the other five protagonists is growing. The fact that the friendship is not static, but a growing, organic thing is part of what adds believably to the show.
The next episode that is crucial to us learning about Rarity is actually one that showcases a major fault in her personality, her vanity. I am of course talking about Episode 16 the Sonic Rainboom. This episode shows rairty first being generous, by volunteering to be the first to try twilights spell and by pushing them to attend the event, and then her vanity almost being her downfall. This is a key episode in the sense that it lets us know that for all her generosity Rarity is still failable, she can let her prideful side get the better of her. Still this episode is important because it shows not only the bad side of Rairty's personality, but because it shows she learns from her mistakes.While a lot of people dislike Rarity this episode, I feel like its an important milestone in learning her character. The most interesting characters are those who are not perfect, and this episode drives home the point that Rarity is not perfect.
Not perfect? What?
This brings us to episode 19, a dog an pony show. "What!" I hear the critics declaim, "More?!". Yes more. As I was saying, a dog and pony show. This is the episode where the diamond dogs kidnap rarity and she, through using her feminine wiles outwits them. This is not so much a "development" episode as a "showcase" episode. In this case the episode is teaching us that even though rarity may be ladylike she is also clever and rather manipulative when the situation calls for it. This adds a whole 'nother dimension to her character. Now we not only have a character that is torn between generosity and vanity, that is easily swayed by her friends, but she is also clever and socially aware. Comparing this to our expectations in episode one, we can feel literary blown away. We actually have a highly developed and sophisticated character, which brings us to episode 20, green isn't your color. Yes, we have *more* we are taking an *already* highly developed character and piling more on! In this case its further pushing the idea presented in episode 14, that rarity cares a lot for her friends, presented with Rarities competing vanity. The episode fully fleshes out the friendship between Rarity and Fluttershy, further proving that the writers belive in the dynamism of friendship, and that relationships develop, exactly like characters do. This is an incredibly deep and interesting subtext, not apparent at first glance, and episode 26, at the gala, solidifies this idea, cementing the friendship between the characters even more.
I think that pretty definitively proves that, whatever quibbles one may have with the brightly colored ponies, they absolutely show the key features necessary to tell a deep, character driven, consistent and powerful story. It goes deeper than that though, My Little Pony teaches us lessons that apply to life.
Ponies teach life lessons
She generously teaches us life lessons
Yes, it may be hard to believe, but like all pieces of real art, my little pony enhances our life, not only by the joy it brings, but by actively giving us rolemodels and lessons. It may sound stupid, or downright silly to think that you can use a pony as a role model, but it is in fact both practical and extremely helpful. For example, when I am stressed out or suffering from lack of sleep I think that I have to be like applejack. When I need to sit down to study I think of twilight. It helps.
I know I am not the only person who uses ponys as reminders of the virtues we wish to achieve, and watching their friendship should also serve to help us guide our relationships. Often friendships run into problems such as jealousy, or distrust. Guess what? There are MLP episodes about that. By looking at the simple examples provided and copying the behavior, even in situations that are much more complex, it is easier to make the hard decisions that may haunt you at night. Often we find that those who do wrong are rewarded, and that doing the right thing is a lot harder than it seems. It is
times like that that we have to ask ourselves "what would a brave pony like rainbow dash do?" These lessons are not obvious at first sight, for example the song giggle at the ghosty seems moronic. You try laughing at terrifying thing, like the realization you are going to die. However if you actually examine the song the subtext is that you should face your fears. Not necessary laugh at them, but confront them, and by taking action end them. Its actually a brilliant message, if you can get over the pink pony and look at the idea behind the song.
I understand that some people may find this strange, or may scoff at the idea of using ponies to inspire one, but what the skeptics need to realize is that these ponies are standing in for virtues, they are the personification of traits that are highly desirable and downright, legitimately good. You could argue that smarts is not a necessarily good trait, but if you argue that friendship, or generosity or loyalty are not traits to aspire to, I'm not sure I want to know you.
So yes, not only does MLP:FIM have incredibly well done art, astounding music, ridiculous plot and character development, it also has a positive effects on peoples lives. The power of this show cannot be understated. Its no real wonder that a powerfully positive community has formed around MLP:FIM.
Every new bronie's favorite pony
This is one of the unexpected and incredibly important aspects of MLP, the ridiculously dedicated fanbase. I know its been talked to death, and we love talking about how great we are, but this is seriously the most educated, friendly and dedicated community that exists. In the words of Cane we are awesome. I like to think I have legitimately made friends here,and I have met mad nerd ballers. People who have as much passion as I do. Anything that can rally the amount of passion My Little Pony does, must have something behind it. 200+ fans on a website dedicated to starcraft? A massively growing thread? Thousands of pieces of fan art? Meetups and mareathons? People giving away prizes?
This is litteraly the only community I have seen where this level of selfless involvement exists. Where a troll can walk into the thread and we can treat him nicely. Where I can walk into irc at 4 am because I've had a nightmare of epic proportions and find someone to talk to. We've staged operations like flutter and the mareathon that could simply not happen if we didn't have this level of insane passion. As day aptly put it in his daily #100, if you have passion, you need to chase it. There is never any shame in being passionate whatever others may think.
So yes, I could write about the hundreds of websites, thousands of pages of fan fiction, millions of words of discussion, about the late nights and early morning to watch episodes, about the incredible people I've met, and the ones I have yet to meet, but that is all more valuable if the reader discovers them for himself. From the ask futtersy and pinkie pie tumblr to equestria daily, all this is fueled not by greed, but by love and passion. That by itself would be a good enough reason to love the community, even if you hated the show. Because one cannot hate true, just, passion.
That is why I love this show, because it has helped light a flame of passion and creativity.
MLP and GMarshal: A Personal story.
An icon worth striving for
This is going to be necessarily brief, because frankly, I suck about talking about myself, but I think that its important that anyone who is judging if the show is worth watching have at least my account of how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, has made my life better. So, let me lead on with talking a little about myself
In 2010, I graduated from a prestigious catholic private school, and was set to attend the college of my choice, with a full scholarship, and generally the perfect life, I was rocking and ready to rule the world. My life was ideal. What comes after that is a story of slow decay. I begun attending college in September, and rapidly found that my "work ethic" existed as long as I didn't have access to the internet. In fact my GPA hit an awesome 2.1 that semester, throwing me into academic probation and putting my scholarship at extreme risk. From there my life continued a rapidly declining downward spiral, even though my grades picked up, had health issues, and family issues, I was spending too much time in the internet trying to find some kind of solace. Finally I hit rockbottom at the end of the school year, I was depressed, sad, and couldn't care less about my life. My family was going through tough times and I was slowly losing the will to live. All this was worsened when I got a letter from my college telling me that my scholarship had been rescinded, despite the fact that I had just managed to save my grades. At this point I was seriously considering dropping my life and joining the army or the presithood, and renouncing to all my dreams. Life didn't seem worth living.
Then someone linked me to a PMV. I cannot remember which it was, or who linked me, but whoever it was, I owe that person a debt I can never repay. You see, this show about brightly colored ponies being happy and fighting for their friendships, about the deeply personal struggles one can experience, this show rekindled a flame I had long forgotten existed. I had neglected what was important, my friends, my family and my happiness. All the recriminations in the world were not enough. Because of this show I decided that I would seize my happiness, because life is what you make of it. Watching fluttershy stare down a dragon, twilight venture into the everfree to save a friend, all the other epic moments of the show. This all struck a cord in me. It reminded me to dream, and to fight for those dreams, because dreams are worth fighting for, because goddamnit, if a show about ponies could bring me such joy, then there is nothing that cannot be done by sheer force of will.
Now, my life is still hell, but I have remembered to fight, I have rekindled a dream I forgot. I have made it my life goal to bring joy and solace to others, because if a production team working on ponies can do it, I can do it with the strength of my convictions. I will seize happiness, not just for myself, but to share it with my friends, with strangers, with my enemies. Because if ponies have taught me anything, if this community has shown me anything at all, is that to give others happiness is to give yourself happiness.
That is all
I am GMarshal, and I love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.