Sunday, 23 October 2016

Season 6 reflections.

In case you haven't gotten the hint, I actually liked season 6 a fair bit. Although it doesn't quite fix all of the show's problems, it does go some way towards fixing a lot of them, and especially compared to season 5 it's a much more entertaining season. Most of the main characters have personal flaws again, the status quo is occasionally mucked around with, a surprising number of episodes break from formula, and most importantly, a good majority of episodes are just plain entertaining. There are still plenty of improvements to be made, but this was never a perfect show, and for the first time since season 3, I'm not just being strung along by potential and hope that the show will improve. Just tighten up what we were given here and I'll be happy.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Episode review: "To Where and Back Again"

I'm probably too critical of this show's adherence to formula. Unique plotting isn't the reason why My Little Pony won me over, and as standard as some recent episode plots have been, it's always been the characters that make this show great, and great characters in a fun scenario are easily enough to make up for a generic plot. The point is, "To Where and Back Again" doesn't have a particularly revelatory plot, and it's arguably slightly on the shallow side, but by putting delightful characters in a fun scenario, it manages to be a total blast, and through its exclusive use of new characters, it also manages to feel more fresh than the similarly entertaining season 5 finale was. It's not the show's tightest narrative, and it's still a bit on the silly side, but for the first time in a while, a two-parter isn't really caught up in its own self-importance - and as it turns out, that makes all the difference.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Episode review: "Top Bolt"

One of the biggest challenges facing My Little Pony at the moment is how to best approach its desired angle of turning the mane six into mentors of friendship. While I'm no fan of this direction, I can see the potential, as it can bring to mind just how far these characters have come from the start of the series. Season 6 has made the very wise decision to isolate this sort of episode mostly to three episodes based around the Cutie Map, leaving the six's other appearances to focus on character growth. "Top Bolt" in some ways loses the balance achieved by "Viva Las Pegasus," but it makes up for that with the most charming set of new characters yet, legitimate emotional weight, and one of the best character/setting combinations the map has offered yet. If this particular formula can get any better than this, I will be surprised. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Episode review: "Where the Apple Lies"

Applejack is a difficult character to write. As a relatively grounded character compared to the rest of the cast, it's easy to view her as someone without many flaws to derive conflict from. However, season 6 has actually done a pretty good job with that, consistently depicting her as a stubborn traditionalist who tends to get stuck in her ways and is hard to dissuade once she sets her mind to something. While the show hasn't done much with these ideas, their presence at least gives Applejack a little bit of much-needed depth. This makes it frustrating that "Where the Apple Lies" decides to dig into Applejack's past instead of developing her in the present, but even in this past incarnation the show manages to put a new spin on these same faults, while also providing a legitimately interesting look at characters before a lot of unseen growth. Unfortunately, this can't save the episode, which is lacking in decent humour and ultimately devolves into the same tiresome cliches that so many My Little Pony episodes rely on. I've yet to find any episode this season wholly unbearable, but "Where the Apple Lies" is the closest it's come thus far. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Episode review: "Pony Point of View"

What happened to this season? Its first half was so consistently strong, where even its modest episodes had at least the feeling that the show was moving forward. And yet, after the hiatus, it's as if every other episode has to be simple, unadventurous, and lightly bend the characters to fit its morals. Since last week's episode was complex and risky, it's of course time for perhaps the most irritatingly stale episode yet. You know the drill: take an extremely predictable premise and follow it through without deviation, leading up to a moral which is slightly different from expected but no more adventurous. Only, this one has the unique benefit of making its main characters look bad without even trying to justify it, and tacks a particularly terrible ending on. Would it kill this show to finally get some quality control?

Friday, 30 September 2016

"Equestria Girls: Legend of the Everfree" movie review

The Equestria Girls subseries is easy to dismiss. The first film, while better than it had any right to be, was nothing special, the high school setting is inherently less interesting than the fantasy world of Equestria, the movies are intentionally kept separate from the main show, and they only come out once a year. To dismiss them, however, would be to ignore the excellent Rainbow Rocks, as well as the messy-but-entertaining Friendship Games and a world of potential in the characters and world of the films. However, every piece of promotional material for Legend of Everfree had me worried. Sunset Shimmer, the series' best character, was often relegated to the back, the premise of the film suggested it wouldn't be developing any of the things I find interesting in this subseries, and there weren't even any preceding shorts. And yet, when clips surfaced on YouTube earlier this year, it showed a lot of charm. Even with my reservations, I was still excited for the film. Unfortunately, that makes it all the worse that Legend of Everfree is such a crushing disappointment.  

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Episode review: "Every Little Thing She Does"

Earlier this season, "Newbie Dash" caused a lot of controversy for a number of reasons. I myself was disappointed by it, and yet, I have been completely unable to stop thinking about it since. I predict the same will be true of "Every Little Thing She Does," an interesting episode with a lot going on beneath the surface. It confirms Starlight Glimmer as an interesting character - but, unfortunately, it struggles with making her likeable, and despite a satisfying ending, has pacing issues that prevent the episode from being nearly as enjoyable to watch as it is to think about. But then, I'm still processing it even as I write, so perhaps a week from now it will have gone up in my opinion, much like the aforementioned "Newbie Dash."

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Episode review: "Viva Las Pegasus"

Despite appearances, season 6 has radically changed the way that these cutie map episodes play out. For one, season 6 has introduced the unprecedented notion that these episodes could be fun, and even - gasp! - light-hearted and energetic. It's a positive development, but not one without negative side effects. As these adventure-driven episodes become more and more entertaining, they become less and less adventurous, to the extent that this latest entry, "Viva Las Pegasus," comes packed with almost no surprises whatsoever. That's not to say that the episode has nothing interesting going on - its villain (because of course there's a villain) isn't quite like anything we've seen in the show before, and this is likely the most outright polished episode the season has had - but it's hard to be impressed when the show is working so comfortably within its own boundaries, and when there's little here unexpected or even all that important. Still, polish and humour go a long way!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Episode review: "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks"

One of the most promising changes made in season 5 was the Cutie Mark Crusaders finally acquiring their cutie marks. Although the trio had already been shifting towards more varied episodes after two seasons of grating repetition, gaining these cutie marks not only put an end to their most significant character arcs, the exact nature of these marks also paved the way for new stories, as the trio consecutively gained cutie marks which showcased how they applied their passion for cutie marks into helping others find and understand theirs. This season hasn't dwelled too much on this, however, and this is for the best, because it could easily have been overly focused on new characters like season 5 was. Instead, "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks" is only the second Crusaders club episode this season, and not only does it find a unique and novel approach to cutie marks, it's also a poignant, charming, adorable and uplifting episode which is up there with the best the show has to offer.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Episode review: "Buckball Season"

In my scoring system, two of the four elements which contribute to the episode's rating are theme and characterization. These are both essential elements of a great episode, but they're meaningless if the episode can't entertain all the way through. "Buckball Season" is a strong example of this, as it boasts fully-formed themes, a relatively strong moral, and some of the strongest characterization we've seen in this show, but none of that can compensate for its eventual descent into tedium which is only slightly mitigated by a strong ending. Add on some particularly weak storytelling, and those stronger elements are only barely enough to save the episode from being outright terrible.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Episode review: "Dungeons & Discords"

Season 6 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has often been criticized for an abundance of slice-of-life episodes, but the simple fact of the matter is that slice-of-life is the format which best complements this show's brand of humour and storytelling. "Dungeons & Discords," an episode which is somehow even better than last week's, is very close to the ideal FiM episode, using a relatively simple story to deliver not only some of the show's funniest scenes yet, but also to deliver organic and significant character development, and it does all of that while stretching modestly out of its own comfort zone. Why is this season so unpopular again?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Episode review: "The Times They Are a Changeling"

My Little Pony, as a fantasy setting, is prone to depicting some of its races as consistently evil, or at least consistently unpleasant. While the griffons and dragons aren't necessarily evil, they are stereotyped with negative traits, and the changelings - one of the most fascinating and enigmatic of the show's races - is distinctly shown as almost exclusively villainous. "The Times They Are a Changeling" is the show's third - and, to date, most successful - attempt to give one of its "evil" races a deeper and more human element, and while it retains the main issues of "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone" and "Gauntlet of Fire," the episode is so packed with depth and profundity that it rises above those issues as one of the show's most impressive achievements.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Episode review: "28 Pranks Later"

"28 Pranks Later" was a particularly worrisome synopsis. It promised to repeat the worst crimes of "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" and continue to have Rainbow Dash re-learn already-known lessons. Thankfully, the episode itself is surprisingly good-natured and entertaining, even though it still feels like a repetition of earlier character development. It's just too bad that this is the show at its most thuddingly predictable and simplistic, repeating all of the previous episode's mistake with better characterization and humour. For an episode so close to being legitimately solid to simply not go the extra mile suggests that this show is simply not willing to do what it needs to do to reach its former quality, and that's the most disappointing thing this show has done since "Newbie Dash."

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Episode review: "The Cart Before the Ponies"

Usually, I'm not all that bothered by My Little Pony incorporating predictable plots, as long as it can put some unique spin on it. Take my favourite episode of season 5, "Rarity Investigates!," which by all means offers a deeply predictable detective mystery. That episode stands out for everything around the central mystery. It has a lovely noir style, a previously uncommon character dynamic, relevance to a major character arc, and a modest degree of continuity. However, episodes like "The Cart Before the Ponies" show why predictability is used as a major point of criticism. With only a small degree of hidden depth, and with a message indicated before the halfway point, this episode feels safe, and although not without its moments, wears out its welcome long before the end. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Episode review: "Stranger Than Fan Fiction"

"Stranger Than Fan Fiction" is yet another example of season 6's endless deluge of good ideas, featuring an analytical fan taken from a Daring Do convention into a literal Daring Do adventure. The setting of a convention had been a popular idea in the fandom for a while, especially given the prominence of conventions in the MLP fandom, and it's a great fit for a new Daring Do episode, considering how the Daring Do books have been revealed to be autobiographical. With season 6, the episode premises have never been the issue so much as execution, and thankfully, "Stranger Than Fan Fiction" isn't just a particularly strong example of an episode following through on its promise, but it's also the great Rainbow Dash showcase that the show has sorely needed. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Season 6 midway reflections

After this week's episode, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic will go on hiatus. When the show went on mid-season hiatus last year, I published my thoughts on the season so far. For season 5, these thoughts were mixed, but I largely felt frustrated and disappointed by the season, which continued right to the season finale. Thankfully, season 6 is a marked improvement, and while it's still far from perfect, it's the first time since at least early season 4 that I have been happy with this show's direction.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Episode review: "Spice Up Your Life"

The map is back.

I thought it was over. Season 5's pitiful excuse for a running storyline, the cutie map is nothing more than a poor excuse to get specific pairs of ponies in certain locations. The show has never questioned it, never explained it, and never explored it in any detail, and worse, it brings with it a deeply predictable formula which rarely provides any development for the main characters or delves into its settings beyond mere regional flavours. I hated it, and the fact that it has been brought back for another season of its horrors fills me with nothing short of dread.

And yet, even though the map is a plague on this show, each of its episodes is better than the last. "Spice Up Your Life," while even more formulaic than season 5's map episodes, is also much more charming than any of them, and lovely in its own right.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Episode review: "Flutter Brutter"

As early as season 5, news abounded about an episode where we learn about Fluttershy's layabout brother. Considering the increased prominence of Pinkie Pie's family since then, curiosity has been high about the families of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, the only members of the mane six whose families we haven't seen. Now "Flutter Brutter" has finally arrived, months after news of it first surfaced, and it turned out about how I expected it to: a solid Fluttershy showcase with an entertainingly loathsome new character and a solid moral. Perhaps next we can see Rainbow Dash's family! 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Episode review: "Applejack's 'Day' Off"

I don't like the Applejack/Rarity dynamic. When these characters are put together, too often their personalities clash in ways that simply aren't enjoyable to watch, and the main conflict between the two has gotten incredibly rote. Thankfully, "Applejack's 'Day' Off" completely eschews the traditional form of this dynamic for something that feels far more friendly, but unfortunately trades any real distinguishing qualities with it, leaving a glacially paced episode without a whole lot entertaining going on. It's probably the season's weakest episode.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Episode review: "The Saddle Row Review"

One of the strongest points of My Little Pony's sixth season is its willingness to experiment and evolve. Season 5, for example, had Rarity finally follow through with her high ambitions, officially entering the Canterlot fashion scene by opening a boutique. This season, she did the same with Manehattan, although that opening was largely in the background, as "The Gift of the Maud Pie" was focused more on the family dynamic between Pinkie and Maud Pie. In "The Saddle Row Review," alternatively titled "Saddle Row & Rec," we see more about the opening of her Manehattan store, in an episode focused on comedy with strong stylistic deviations from the rest of the series.

I have to say, I never expected My Little Pony to become The Office.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Episode review: "A Hearth's Warming Tail"

Just from the lame horse pun in the title, it's immediately obvious what "A Hearth's Warming Tail" will be. At the very least, it's a Christmas episode in May, which makes season 6 the second season in a row to have such an episode, after season 5's "Hearthbreakers." More specifically, the episode is an adaptation of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and as that might suggest, this is a step away from the attempts at character development and nuance which defined the rest of the season. Although that might seem disappointing at first, however, "A Hearth's Warming Tail" boasts some of the how's purest delights in a while. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Episode review: "Newbie Dash"

One of the earliest subplots of My Little Pony is Rainbow Dash's desire to become one of the Wonderbolts. The past few seasons have pushed her ever closer to that goal, especially by having her sign on as a reserve flyer. "Newbie Dash" brings this subplot to a conclusion, as the Wonderbolts finally have an open spot which they excitedly induct Rainbow into. This is a particularly significant event in the series, and many would have expected the episode to be top tier. It's especially disappointing, then, that most of the episode's potential has been wasted, but thankfully it's not entirely worthless. 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Episode review: "No Second Prances"

One of my least favourite aspects of the show recently has been the increasingly dull characterization of Twilight Sparkle. Now that she's a princess, the writers have struggled to figure out what to do with her, and although she's my favourite character at her best, the past few seasons have more often than not depicted her blandly. However, parts of season 5 were starting to play on her increasing anxiety about her responsibilities as a princess, and giving her a pupil in the form of Starlight Glimmer appeared to be a way to streamline and focus on those anxieties. By completely redefining Twilight's role in the series, there was considerable promise for this character to be taken in a new direction.

So it's greatly concerning that the second episode to address this is so redundant and blandly delivered.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Episode review: "Gauntlet of Fire"

Although he's been around since the pilot, Spike is often neglected in the show proper. While a handful of episodes give him solid character development, and while he is an enjoyable and interesting character in his own right, there is less attention given to him than the main six and arguably even the Cutie Mark Crusaders. After a particular dry spell in season 5, where the only Spike episode was the rather uninteresting "Princess Spike," we get an episode that doesn't particularly develop him or any other main characters, but which provides a somewhat interesting glance at the culture and society of Equestria's dragons and possibly causes major changes to the status quo.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Episode review: "On Your Marks"

Among other things, season 5 was defined by its big events, which were easily among the biggest the show has ever seen. Many of these events directly contributed to the altered status quo of season six, and in a season of big changes, easily the biggest was in "Crusaders of the Lost Mark," which featured Cutie Mark Crusaders obtaining their cutie marks. With that long-running story arc out of the way, the question opened of what would be done with those characters next. "On Your Marks" attempts to answer that question, picking up the new story arc for the Crusaders which was set up in "Crusaders" while attempting to focus on the individual characters' development. The results are decidedly imperfect, and yet, "On Your Marks" is perhaps the most purely enjoyable episode of season 6 yet.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Episode review: "The Gift of Maud Pie"

In season 5, one of the stand-out episodes was "Rarity Investigates!," which set the under-used pair of Rarity and Rainbow Dash against the mutual achievement of their dreams. Although it was a thoroughly entertaining episode on its own, there was also a subtle level of pathos in the two's mutual respect for each other, especially with Rarity demonstrating how much she cares about her friend. "The Gift of Maud Pie" takes what worked in "Rarity Investigates" and rebuilds it around Rarity and Pinkie Pie, while injecting it with the new confidence and vitality that was demonstrated in the season 6 premiere, "The Crystalling." In other words, season 6 continues to impress.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Episode review: "The Crystalling"

These past few seasons, I've been very frustrated with My Little Pony. I felt that the show wasn't living up to its potential, and worse, its quality had grown increasingly uneven. Season 5, which ended in November, was a step in the right direction, with a huge spike in ambition that, unfortunately, was accompanied by even more inconsistent quality than before. While season 5 had some of the show's best moments, it also suffered from a variety of issues, which made for a very frustrating season to sit through in spite of its many pleasures. However, one of the better things season 5 did was make significant changes to the status quo, setting up a strong foundation for season 6 to build on. Now that it's here, it's easy to see how the events of season 5 have paid off: "The Crystalling" is the revitalization that the show desperately needed.