The thing to consider with this pilot is that when it was released, the brand's reputation was low. This was because, quality-wise, the franchise was reaching new lows in its direct-to-video animated releases. The merchandise was still popular, but it was something considered solely the realm of its target audience.
Then, they rebooted it. Hasbro franchises are often rebooted to sell new toys, and this time they hit gold. Most people reading this will know most of the backstory, but long story short, this new Friendship is Magic show became something very enjoyable.
That said, looking back at this shows just how far the show has come. This episode certainly sets up the characters, but this is before their loads of character development, and the writing has improved since. The foundations of these characters are there, and they're definitely cute and entertaining. It is true, however, that the sheer quality of many future episodes makes this just a bit harder to come back to.
Discussing the animation quality would be redundant, but even from the start it was very good. As with most things, it's improved over the course of the show, but what was built upon was good to begin with. Meanwhile, voice acting leaves a bit to be desired, particularly compared to the actors' excellent later work. Most voices deepened somewhat over the course of the show, which did prove much more effective.
One thing that stood out to me in this episode, however, is the dense mythology. The story of Nightmare Moon is something much more complex than I expected going in, and is an early example of the depth hiding under the show's unassuming surface. Starting with such a backstory got me interested.
Finally, of course, the writing. As it was just starting out, the writing hadn't hit its stride yet, but this episode certainly had its fair share of funny moments. What's most notable about these first episodes is how hard it is to stop watching them. This show is very addictive in this part, even though this is before its peak. Maybe it's not the best show around at this point, but it pulls you in and doesn't let go.
This was a very good start to the show, and even if it pales in comparison to later episodes, that's just a sign of how much the show improved. See you next week when I look at more of S1.