Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Week(s) in Pony

This is in the manner of a "clearance" article, reviewing some recent doings on the animated and print-centric My Little Pony scenes.  I normally dislike doing "sack articles" like this, but I had to put a lot of things on the back burner during the snow-choked run-up to spring break, which begins this weekend.  Those waiting for my new DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE have nothing to fear (see what I did there?); I should be able to take care of the remaining chapters of "Super DuckTales" during break.  It only seems as if I've been working on the Bubba and Fenton debut stories for months...

** ALL KINDS OF SPOILERS **

You know, there are certain advantages to a creative product's having a small and intensely devoted fan base, as opposed to a large and somewhat diffuse one.  I don't recall having many irrationally negative reactions to any of the post-first-season DT episodes.  Sure, some episodes were disappointing and some downright rotten, but never once did I complain that the new eps were "betraying the spirit of the show" or threaten to turn in my "fanbership card."  My primary emotion was gratitude at the fact that we were getting new episodes of ANY sort.  Judging by the wildly mixed reactions to the last four new MLP:FIM eps, that sort of "steady-as-she-goes-and-we'll-ride-out-any-storms-together" attitude seems to have become somewhat passe.  Now, each new offering is either an opportunity to crow over the "justification" of one's view of the series or to bitch about the subversion of same.

Most people really liked "Filli Vanilli," in which the perpetually-crowd-shy Fluttershy helps out Ponyville's a cappella group, the Ponytones, by surreptitiously filling in for its bass, Applejack's brother Big Macintosh, who has lost his voice.  (No, Fluttershy can't naturally sing bass.  In order to understand how she could possibly go so low, you'd have to watch the episode "Bridle Gossip" first.)  The singing is great (with leader Rarity displaying another one of her myriad talents -- again, is there ANYTHING that mare can't do?), and the ep displays a refreshing sense of realism in that Fluttershy eventually does manage to conquer her stage fright... but only up to a certain point.  Perhaps they are holding her big professional bust-out in abeyance for some future adventure.  However, even amongst the plaudits for this generally successful endeavor, there was controversy a-hoof over the characterization of Pinkie Pie, who, to be frank, acted like an oblivious douche here, thoughtlessly bringing her friend Fluttershy to tears not once but twice.  So, was this a natural extension of Pinkie's over-the-top character, or was this a case of a writer "Flanderizing" Pinkie beyond all reason?  Cue the (virtual) brickbats.  Myself, I made the point that Pinkie was the one thing that kept this ep from being truly great and then, Fluttershy-like, slipped quietly off the stage.

"Twilight Time" saw the Cutie Mark Crusaders attempt to use their friendship with Princess Twilight Sparkle to gain popularity with their schoolmates, a gambit that works about as long, and about as well, as you might expect.  I found the effort fairly dull and somewhat questionable in that all of the youngsters in Ponyville seem to have just recently learned that Twilight had become an alicorn, a transformation that occurred some time ago.  The one meme that seems to have been carried forward from the episode is that Twilight likes to eat -- messily -- in Ponyville's equivalent of a fast-food joint.  Suffice it to say that no one was rushing to the barricades to attack or defend that particular position.

But, oh, how the howls did ascend to the rafters when the Breezies, characters created for MLP's generally despised "third generation," were retooled and re-trotted out for the episode "It Ain't Easy Being Breezies."  This is the rare case in which I wound up liking an episode more than a number of the series' well-established critics did.  To many of them, the tiny, spindly-legged flying characters were pure "toy bait" mandated by Hasbro, and their complaints do have a point, especially considering that the "Mane 6" themselves are turned into Breezies near the climax of the story.  The bigger problem, in my view, is that the details given about the Breezies' lives and habits (many of which are dispensed by Fluttershy in a convenient "info dump" during the opening credits) quite literally don't make sense.  For example, we're told that they carry pollen, but to what end?  We never do find out.

As rickety (as in: "highly liable to topple over with the next Breeze") as the setup is in this ep, the moral and the payoff are first-rate.  Despite the fact that Fluttershy's name isn't in the title, this turns out to be Fluttershy's "key episode."  She teaches the crabby lead Breezie a useful lesson about the difference between aggressive and assertive leadership, while she, herself, learns that "kindness" sometimes means doling out "tough love" (in this case, ordering the pack of indolent Breezies to leave her home and get back to their own home before they lose the chance to do so).  The "key" turns out to be a flower (a perishable item, unlike the other "keys" that we have seen -- hopefully Fluttershy keeps it safe in a book, or something) and so now, we have only Applejack and Twilight's "keys" to go.  I have already made a guess as to when the former's will make its appearance, while the latter's will probably be "kept back" until the Equestria Games story arc that is expected to conclude the season.

Today, we got another salmagundi of an offering in "Somepony to Watch Over Me," which goes the route of taking a character trait (Applejack's strong sense of responsibility to her family, in this case) and stretching it to, and possibly beyond, its limits.  As in, Applejack becomes so concerned that Apple Bloom can't take care of herself that she makes her little sister wear a crash helmet, covers the edges of pieces of furniture with plastic wrap, etc.  Seeing as how Apple Bloom and the other Cutie Mark Crusaders are clearly starting to age before our eyes (not to mention in our ears), this sudden attack of overprotectiveness comes off as forced... yet not entirely out of the realm of possibility, since AJ has shown similar concern for AB's well-being before.  Hopefully, there will be no threats sent to the writer of "Somepony" because of this slightly sticky characterization, as there were to the writer of "Fill Vanilli" over the portrayal of Pinkie.  (You think I'm kidding... Nope.)  I liked the episode, on balance, but primarily because I like the character of Apple Bloom so much.

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Now, with apologies to Joe Torcivia, "let's crack those covers" and look at the latest MLP comics offerings from IDW.

I don't actually have very much to say about the latest two-issue arc in the MLP flagship title (issues #15 and #16), primarily because I must confess that I don't entirely understand the narrative.  The thing isn't even given a formal title, which certainly doesn't help.  It concerns a bookworm that begins eating Twilight's library, and mysterious pods that start raining down on Ponyville, and Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie's plunge into "The World of Books" to piece the ingested tales back together, and characters from the consumed stories popping up in Ponyville, and... at some point, I figuratively threw my hooves up.  The pirate arc in MLP #13-#14 was crystal clear compared to this muddled mess.  At least Amy Mebberson's artwork is nice to look at, as always.  Storywise, though, Katie Cook can't return soon enough for me.  Thankfully, she and Andy Price will be back with a promising-looking four-issue arc starting in MLP #17.

On the positive side, MLP: FRIENDS FOREVER #2 was a decided improvement on #1.  I had some concerns about how well Discord would translate to the printed page, given his predilection for quick transformations, the creation of chaos, and so forth.  Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Tony Fleecs provide the snarky draconequus with a solid vehicle for his printed bow-in, and even have a little fun at the goofy guy's expense; the "off-the-wall" ideas that he creates to help the Cutie Mark Crusaders discover their "hidden talents" turn out to include more than a few notions that the ever-imaginative CMC have already tried in the past.  The story manages to match the "tweener" approach that the TV series has taken with Discord ever since his "reformation"; you're never quite certain whether he's really trying to help the girls or setting them up for some kind of major fall.  Fleecs' artwork is clunky in places (what's with drawing character with detachable mouths there, buddy?) but is still a considerable improvement on his work for the MICRO-SERIES comics.  Hopefully, this fine effort will represent the "new normal" (if such a term can be used when Discord is involved) for future issues of the team-up book.

3 comments:

Pan Miluś said...

I found "Filli Vanilli" to be my favorite episode of the season so far, even if I have to agree - I just wanted to smakc Pinkie Pie near the end.
There is a "girly part" of my personality that just freak out with joy whie watching this episode, especialy during the final music number.


As I stated in comment section few posts ago - I HATED "Twilight Time" and I found whole plot to frustrating to watch.


The "Breezies" thing was also pretty bad. I HATED the "Breezies" desing. If this episode was created to promote a new toy line I must say, that would explain a lot... I have hard time imaging RainbowDash acting all "WOW! HOW COOL!" when she ge'ts turn in to a Breezie...


As for the comics - which I haven't read yet... As I mentions somewhere in comments on your blog - Discord has exact same powers and nature as Superman's villian Mr. Mxyzptlk (in fact I woudn't be supprise if Mxy was one of the inspirations for the character) so I can imagine him working in a comic book form pretty well.

Pan Miluś said...

I like the newst episode BTW.
Applejakc fight with the Chimera was Epic!!!! :D

Chris Barat said...

Pan,

I definitely seem to have cut "Breezies" a few more breaks than most people have. Perhaps because I liked the way the moral was punched across. The show HAS done better world-building, though.

"Somepony to Watch Over Me" was OK, not a particular favorite of mine, but watchable. It does contain one of my favorite lines of the entire series, the one about Apple Bloom sleeping the way she does everything else... "with sass!". I can imagine adopting that as a regular reference, much like "20% cooler" and "The fun has been doubled."

Chris