"And then... the brash, hotheaded, boastful pegasus Prism Sprint painted ALL of the Peach family's peaches as a prank along with the earth pony who eats too much sugar, Blue Brownie, costing the Peach family an incalculable amount of loss in time, labor, and product! OOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
"Why does this story sound familiar when I've never heard it before?"
"Just think about it, sugar cube, I'm sure it'll come to ya eventually."
Good afternoon everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"!! Me oh my, this show has seriously got to stop throwing so much amazing at us, for real! I have not seen track records of flat-out great episodes in this show, this consistently, since Season 2 (in my estimation, at least). We got a break last week with an episode that was very much just good, not great, but the show returned to giving us more great episodes again this week in the delightful "Campfire Tales"! This one's gonna be a pretty easy episode to review as I can simply go sequentially through the episode itself, so without further ado, let's dive right in. This is "Campfire Tales."
Alright, so this episode set out to do not one, but two things, and given that it had writers who've never written for the show before (Barry Safchik and Michael Platt, respectively), that was no easy feat. However, unlike with Becky Wangberg's atrocious debut in "Hard to Say Anything," these two clearly did their homework, and the result was a great episode. So, just what exactly did the episode aim to do? First, it needed to act as solid continuity to Season 3's amazing "Sleepless in Ponyville," which we all of course remember most for being the first episode in which Rainbow Dash decided to start acting as a surrogate older sister to Scootaloo, but was also just as enjoyable for the camping subplot in which Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo all go on a camping trip together. Now, for the most part the episode handled the continuity great; it's one minor flaw was that the dialogue at the beginning suggested that this was their first annual camping trip since the last one, suggesting only a year had passed in the show since Season 3, and I refuse to believe that given everything that has happened. But that's easy enough to ignore, so I don't need to gripe about it too much. The other thing that the episode set out to do was add some very cool canon of its own to the MLP:FiM universe canon, while still juggling it's primary plot in the present, and in this the episode splendidly succeeded as well, introducing us to characters recently introduced to the MLP comics themselves in the still ongoing "Legends of Magic" series! Let's take a closer look at just how the episode succeeds in both of these respects.
So to start things off we get an absolutely delightful opening scene setting up the camping trip itself, establishing that this is now an annual tradition of these three pairs of sisters. We see that Applejack is, as always, the grounded center of this group of six ponies (no surprise given that she's been trying to be a family matriarch since a young age due to the untimely death of her parents, especially for Apple Bloom, and she has the most experience being a dependable sibling of any of the older ponies here, so she can run a show like this no sweat); Rarity for her part has become considerably more practical for a trip like this, though delightfully still brings her own unique touch to it, just in a more reasonable manner; and Rainbow Dash for her part is mostly focused on using this time to hang out with Scootaloo, which makes sense considering (1) she's very busy as a Wonderbolt these days, so probably doesn't have much time to regularly hang out with Scoots, and (2) she has the most reason to do as much bonding with her surrogate sister as she can, seeing as she's been treating her like family for the least amount of time of all three older siblings and thus has the most developing of her relationship to do with Scoots. As for the CMC, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle seemed pretty chill in their activities, but Scootaloo's own behavior further emphasizes my point that she and Rainbow Dash's bonding is especially important to each other on this trip. While the other two pairs of sisters clearly see this as one of many things they do together, Scootaloo and Rainbow both clearly see this as an event that will always be special to them seeing as it was the foundational event of their "sisterhood." On top of that, Scootaloo also clearly is far more nervous in nature now than Apple Bloom or Sweetie Belle are; her nightmares on their previous trip clearly left a bad impression on her, and this was, for me, one of my favorite bits of continuity. In a lesser show, she'd be over these fears by now as if they didn't happen, but here the writers had fun with the idea of Scootaloo instead kinda not doing too well in nature, which added variety to the group as a whole. Some people can camp no sweat like the Apples, others do it while still needing as many comforts from home as possible, like Rarity and Sweetie (though Sweetie would probably do better without them than Rarity would), and others are either bad at survival skills, like Rainbow (given that she almost ate poisonous berries before Scootaloo told her what they were) or just do not do well in nature at all and find it to be an unsettling place they don't ever get used to, like Scootaloo.
But anyway, moving on, the trip is off to a lovely start... that is until of course it's interrupted by a fresh spawn of hell in this show's canon, FLY-DERS!!!! Yes, Fly-ders, little bastards that are apparently flies crossed with spiders and all the more terrifying for it. These bastards from the Luna Bay area way up in Northwest Equestria will bite you, web you (apparently they're even carnivorous considering AJ, who seemed to know the most about them, was doing everything in her power to stay away from them), and web up all your shit too just because they can! In other words, they are the Equestrian equivalent of the hyena: NATURE'S ASSHOLE!!!!!! So after the swarms of fly-ders appear, the group is forced to flee into a nearby cave, and the older ponies (after Rainbow quite hilariously and recklessly fetches their campfire from the fly-der swarms) decide to raise their younger sisters spirits and pass the time (hoping the fly-ders will soon leave) telling them all campfire stories, namely stories about their favorite Equestrian legends.
Applejack starts off with the legend of Rockhoof, a legendary earth pony whose sheer determination in the face of impossible odds magically unlocked his strength as he saved his village from certain destruction! The story itself was delightful, especially in seeing the Norse-type culture that Rockhoof belonged to, but the real highlight for me was in how Applejack told it. Unlock the other two pairs of sisters, this was a story that Apple Bloom had already heard many times (further highlighting how naturally close those two are as sisters, and delightfully conveyed in how excited Apple Bloom got at certain parts of the story, even squeeing in anticipation, which was too adorable). The backgrounds were especially impressive to me; while Rarity's story probably had the most artistically beautiful backgrounds, and Rainbow's even had the biggest, this somehow felt bigger, even though it was technically a more confined story than Rainbow's was. I think it has to do with how the volcano so nicely contrasted the blue sky; normally an erupting volcano would be surrounded by a sky full of ash and fire in a scene like this, but here you had this massive volcano overlooking this tiny pony village, but contrasted wonderfully by a picturesque blue sky. The lava effects as well, although hardly the first time we've seen them, were very cool, and Rockhoof was quite an awesome character. Since we know that the Season 7 finale is going to tie into the Legends of Magic somehow, I cannot wait to see more of this guy in the finale when it comes around! Aside from being an earth pony, Rockhoof didn't tie too explicitly into the Apple Family like the other two stories tie into their respective characters, but I was OK that; it's easy enough to believe this is a favorite story among earth ponies in general, so Applejack probably heard it from her parents too when she was younger, plus of course I could easily see a character like Rockhoof overcoming his smaller size to do the impossible inspiring younger earth ponies like Applejack used to be before she could do greater feats of strength.
Huh, I wonder what he's screaming at...
Oh... yeah, that makes sense
The next interlude leads into my favorite segment of the entire episode, Rarity's story. Things are set up nicely when Sweetie Belle expresses boredom at their current plight. Rarity in turn starts to do something I wish we saw in the show more often, use her generous nature and eye for aesthetic beauty to the benefit of others in creative ways most would never think of doing. First she shows Sweetie Belle that there's more to the cave they're in than meets the eye, showing how flecks of gold dot its wall (further emphasizing her eye for spotting gems and precious minerals as well), and even uses their campfire to create beautiful shadow puppets (and a pretty humorous throwback to ballerina Twilight as well). I love now knowing that Rarity can both do this, as well as the fact that she clearly used the shadow puppets to help tell her story.
While it's possible that Twilight told Rarity about what she did, for some reason I find it more likely (and amusing) that Starlight told Rarity when they were both talking about how OCD Twilight can be sometimes
Then she proceeds to tell the best story of the lot, about a unicorn by the name of Mistmane. Mistmane lived in a corner of Equestria where some type of ancient Japanese-inspired culture was prevalent, and the scenery we got to see there was too amazing to describe! So many colors, beautiful buildings, backgrounds, and clothing we've never seen in the show before, and even unicorns with curved horns, something that has only appeared, to date, in either the MLP comics or fan art! As for Mistmane herself, she was a beautiful unicorn and powerful sorceress who was forced to defeat her best friend Sable Spirit, now the empress of their region, who, after trying to magically make herself more beautiful, only made herself more ugly instead, and in her rage chose to have all of her subjects spend their days doing nothing but beautify her palace. Mistmane easily defeats Sable, but then does an even greater act of heroism; saddened by the state of her home, and simply wanting to bring back hope to her people, Mistmane puts all of her magic into restoring both her home and Sable, at the cost of her own beautiful features. While it doesn't fix everything her people have lost, their hope is restored, as is the Sable's perspective upon being shocked by how generous and selfless Mistmane was for the sake of others. Sable resolves to reflect Mistmane's generosity as best she can for the rest of her days, and the land is restored as ponies return to leading their old, happy lives. Mistmane herself spends the rest of her days wandering the countryside, assisting ponies with her magic wherever she can, and spreading beauty along the way as she does; even if there's nothing she can do or nothing for her to do to help someone, the least she can do is make their day a little brighter with something beautiful. What makes this story the highlight of the episode is not only the fact that it's a beautiful story in its own right about generosity, the value of true aesthetic beauty when used appropriately, and self-sacrifice for the good of others and how that is the highest beauty of all, but also the fact that it gives us so much insight into Rarity's own philosophy about both aesthetic beauty and generosity, and how they tie together for her so naturally. This didn't sound so much like a story she would have grown up with like Applejack did, on the contrary, this felt more like something she would have come across when she was growing older, possibly during her college days (so to speak); the story was far more refined and developed than Applejack or Rainbow Dash's were, and it clearly held dear personal meaning to Rarity. She very deliberately saw herself, or at least a pony whose example she wants to follow, in Mistmane, though unlike Rainbow she did not flat out state it either. For her, in this moment, it was most meaningful sharing something so personal and beautiful with her friends and her beloved sister, further illustrating how, even in telling this story, Rarity's generous nature was on display, and also went hoof in hoof with her love of spreading beauty to others as well. Hands down the best segment of this episode for me, it just might also be Rarity's highlight moment of Season 7 thus far, making "Campfire Tales," oddly enough, Rarity's best appearance in Season 7 to date, which is incredibly odd given that she was not the primary focus of the episode itself.
I cannot even begin to imagine how complicated and technically difficult some of the animation and backgrounds were in this story... I mean... JUST LOOK AT ALL OF THIS!!! Easily some of the best, complex, and most beautiful animation we've seen in all of Season 7, or the entire show for that matter, so far!
Finally, after Rainbow causes a cave in when the fly-ders (little bastards that they are) start advancing on the group again, Scootaloo has a near panic attack, and Rainbow decides it's her turn to tell a story.
Uh, Rainbow, I think ya got something on your... ya know what, nevermind, I'm sure you'll notice eventually
The best part about the set up for this one (as well as the story itself) is that Rainbow is clearly telling this to calm Scootaloo down. It fits Rainbow's demeanor and personality that she is protective to her surrogate sister, and doing something like this is about as much of a softy as she typically gets. She may have acted a bit gruff at times, acting as though she were annoyed at Scootaloo's panic, but really you could tell she was just trying to put on a brave face for her as she reassured her everything was going to be OK. The story itself wasn't particularly remarkable (especially after Rarity's), but Flash Magnus is easily the best Flash on this show (suck it, Flash Sentry), and it did feature some pretty awesome flying scenes as well as some of the best dragon action of the show (including with, presumably, Ember's father, the former Dragon Lord Torch). I did find it super cool on a personal level that the commander of the pegasi in the Royal Legion was called Commander Ironhoof; I say this because I have a minor character featured in Equestrian history in my own fic-universe in my fic "Batmare Begins" whose name was Eisenhuf, that is, German for Ironhoof! Total coincidence of course, but it was pretty cool seeing the show runners decide that's a badass name for a pony just like I did some time ago. Other than that, the story featured some cool action and a cool new Equestrian hero (I'm going to presume it took place before the Sisters arrived since the pegasi seemed to be in old Pegasopolis armor), but a fairly standard lesson about one's loyalty bringing out your most heroic side. This felt more like a story Rainbow would have learned in school than from her parents, but instantly latched onto when she first heard it; being totally awesome as a result of your loyalty to your companions and friends is something she clearly prizes, so it's unsurprising this was one of her favorite stories.
OK, that is admittedly bucking awesome...
...but holy shit, that's adorable!!!
After the close of Rainbow's story, (and a failed attempt from Applejack to clear the cave in, but to her credit, she did come close; let's say she had her very own "Captain America almost lifts Mjolnir" moment and almost channeled some Pie-family magic into her strength) the sisters decide to go through the back of the cave, and follow an underground river. Their spirits have all been bolstered at this point by the stories, both young and old, and the river, fortuitously enough, leads to Winsome Falls, their destination for the camping trip. The younger sisters, emboldened by the stories they've just been told, are determined to salvage the trip here, and the older sisters are happy to oblige, glad to see their younger counterparts happy. The episode closes on a happy note, and all is well.
Woah! Check out the return of wet-mane Rarity (bonus points for a lil' wet-mane AJ too ... oh don't look at me like that, YOU KNOW YOU WERE THINKING IT TOO!!! )
If this episode has any lesson at all (besides those contained in the stories themselves) it's in the power of older siblings to impact their younger siblings lives for the better in the low moments. Older siblings, especially when their siblings are genuinely smaller than them, can do things they can't, but more importantly are figures they look up to. This doesn't mean the things older siblings do always have to be big, rather, small acts are often some of the most important that their siblings will remember years later. The little ways they went out of their way for them when they didn't have to. As an older sibling myself, I loved getting to see these sides of Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash once more, always do whenever it happens, and so I found myself very, very appreciative for everything this episode did. It's another great episode of Season 7, and me, I got no complaints on my end about that. Until next time, everypony, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit*