Good afternoon, everypony, and welcome back to another edition of "Batbrony Reviews"! It's the penultimate episode of Season 7 folks (considering the upcoming season finale is, as we would expect, a two-parter), and given how those have gone throughout the show's tenure, I think it's safe to say that most of us were very much anticipating this one. Let's rundown how penultimate episodes in previous seasons have gone as a quick recap: in Season 1 we were graced with "Party of One," easily Pinkie Pie's best episode of that season and still one of the funniest episodes of the show in general; in Season 2 we got the awfulness that was "MMMystery on the Friendship Express," a bitter pill to swallow considering the season as a whole was so outstanding, but quickly forgotten as well given how the season finale turned out; Season 3 saw "Games Ponies Play" as the penultimate episode, a fun little romp in the Crystal Empire that saw the Mane 6 having to help Cadance and Shining Armor get the Crystal Empire to win the privilege of hosting the Equestria Games (it was also a bit odd in that it was kind of the second part of a semi-two-parter episode in that the previous episode, a Spike-centric one, was tied into the events of the following episode); Season 4 saw a follow-up to the previous season's penultimate episode in "Equestria Games," which featured, what else, but the Equestria Games themselves, an event that had been built up starting at the end of Season 3 and throughout Season 4 as well, so while the episode itself might not have featured as much content from the games as we would have liked to see, it was very interesting seeing the payoff of so much build up; Season 5 had probably the greatest penultimate episode of the show to date in "The Mane Attraction," featuring one of the greatest songs the show has ever had and a very stirring, emotional episode as well about Applejack helping her old friend, Countess Coloratura, find her way again; and Season 6 had a fairly fun slice of life episode in "Top Bolt" as its penultimate episode, which was basically just another Cutie Mark Map episode.
As we can see, penultimate episodes of the show's seasons (with the exception of the terrible "MMMystery on the Friendship Express") tend to turn out one of two ways: (1) they turn out as gems like "Party of One" or "The Mane Attraction," or (2) they're simply very fun slice-of-life episodes that may try some interesting things, like "Games Ponies Play" or "Equestria Games," but often just function as nice, quiet set up for the season finale, like "Top Bolt." So what did Season 7's "Uncommon Bond" turn out to be? Interestingly enough, it was mostly the latter, and I think some people were surprised by that. Sunburst hadn't appeared in a major role in the show since his first debut in Season 6 (not counting Starlight's flashback about him in the previous season's finale) and given their close history together, I think many of us were expecting a more, shall we say, impactful episode. Now that's not to say that the episode as is disappointed, far from it, in fact I very much enjoyed what we got. It was just a far slower and quieter episode in its execution, smaller in its scope, than I was expecting, but again, for what we got I don't believe that's a bad thing. Let's take a look at just why that is, without further ado, this is "Uncommon Bond"!
As should become quickly apparent in this review, bobthedalek had a BLAST with this episode
So the heart of this episode is definitely Starlight Glimmer, very fittingly I might add, and if there's anything in the episode that could be described as powerful, it's definitely her. Starlight has a very emotional performance, one which very much unfolds in the background of the episode, interestingly enough. She's hoping that she and Sunburst have a splendid trip together since he's visiting her in Ponyville for, more or less, the first time (at least for an extensive trip) and that they'll be able to reconnect the exact same way they used to as foals. That in particular is key here, and it's at the heart of Starlight's insecurities in the episode. As I've said before, Starlight is different from Twilight when it comes to making friends in a very big way; whereas Twilight is very comfortable with a large group of friends (and being the center that keeps it all together in the case of her and her closest friends), Starlight in contrast is someone who prizes each individual friendship for what it is for her, and each of her friends are not part of some close-knit group, but largely connected simply by their friendship to her. This is why things get awkward between her and Sunburst, because really, the last time they were truly close in their friendship with each other on a consistent basis was as foals, so most of Starlight's memories of Sunburst are from spending time together at each other's houses playing board games and dabbling a little with magic.
Now, obviously Starlight has grown immensely as a character and overcome a lot of her old insecurities when it came to making and maintaining friendships since the end of Season 5, but it makes sense that her realization as to how different she and Sunburst have become over the years as they grew apart would panic her just a bit. It's her oldest friendship, and one which so many of her greatest mistakes and decisions stemmed from after Sunburst grew apart from her and she didn't feel like she had anyone else to turn to or rely on. Seeing the very ponies she's befriended in her time in Ponyville getting along more easily with Sunburst than she was (outside of when they got to play Dragon Pit together earlier in the episode) had to be dismaying for Starlight, and probably at the least convinced her that she was a bad friend to Sunburst, or at worst, that maybe they weren't really that close any more. It's an interestingly mature lesson for such a quiet slice-of-life episode, that being that over the years, we may grow very different from our friends, especially our earliest friendships, and to some extent that can be scary because it may seem like you can no longer recapture the magic of the friendship you two shared in your younger days. The episode's solution to such a conundrum is surprisingly simple, with it being a simple, quiet reminder that just because you and an old friend may grow very different from each other over the years, that doesn't mean that you two can't still be friends with one another or very close. As long as you find ways to enjoy each other's company, even if it's different than it was when you were younger, you'll both be fine, and you may even learn to appreciate the ways in which you are different from each other now. The key is simply to find a way to make the friendship work, not simply have it be the exact same as it has always been. That can be scary because old memories of how friendships used to be can be among the best one may have, and it's tempting to want to recapture that exact same experience, but it's not very realistic, especially as friends grow older or even closer. I have friendships on this site itself that used to largely be simply about me having a fun time with other fellow bronies, but these friendships have since grown to a point where both friends, myself and others, confide in each other our fears, insecurities, worries about our lives and the future, and what we're struggling with and how we can help each other as friends. These are not always fun topics or conversations, but they are fulfilling things to share with other friends, and our willingness to confide in each other make for very meaningful moments in our friendships and are testament to just how close we have become. For Starlight to learn that here, even in a little, quiet way, with Sunburst was great to see, and even though it may not be her best episode of the season, it was definitely an invaluable lesson for her to learn and a treat getting to see her learn it. That and, let's be honest, Starlight in a dragon costume looked BUCKING ADORABLE!!!
Sunburst, for his part, was... a mixed bag, if I'm being honest. I don't think it was so much him as the type of episode he was in. While the lesson in this episode was great, we've seen this type of episode in cartoons before: the "this old friend of mine gets along better with my current friends than he does with me" episode. The difference between this episode and others like it is in the intent; other episodes like this one often paint the old friend as a douche for how they've changed, or are about the main character learning to appreciate their current friends more and moving on from their old friend, realizing they're not as close as they used to be. That was not the case here, as Sunburst was not an antagonist nor did he and Starlight end their friendship. The purpose of the episode was for them to find a way to reinforce their friendship. The problem is getting to that resolution, no matter how good it is, can be annoying, namely in that it required Sunburst to be unaware of the fact that the way he was behaving was hurting Starlight. He may have been having a great time in Ponyville, but considering it was Starlight who invited him in the first, who was the whole reason he was there in the first place, he should have been more attentive to how she was doing and realized she often didn't have much of anything to do in many of his activities. Yes, she tried to put on a good face for him, but even he asked early on if she really had enjoyed his antiquing all that much. The other problem with how easily he got along with Twilight, Trixie, AND Maud is that it came close to making him come off as Gary Stu-ish in some respects; I can buy that he and Twilight would share a hobby as dorky as antiquing, and even Sunburst being into geology isn't too unbelievable (though I'm not sure at what point he would have gotten into it considering his studies have always revolved around magic), but him being into parlor trick magic like Trixie too, that seemed a bit much. I get they needed him to befriend all three of these ponies in order to make the episode work, but it just seemed far fetched that he'd share all these interests with all three. Starlight may share connections with all three as well, but they're far more personal ones which makes them easier to believe. So overall, Sunburst's ease with finding so many things in common with so many of Starlight's friends, combined with his lack of awareness about what was troubling Starlight as the episode unfolded, made him frustrating to watch at times.
Still, on the whole it's not like he had ill intent or anything. He was on vacation after all, and even though Starlight was his host, that didn't mean he just had to do everything with her. Sunburst didn't seem to be worried about their friendship at all until he realized what she had, that they really might not have much in common these days (though why they didn't dabble more in having fun with magic I have no idea considering we know they did this as foals, they both love studying and practicing magic, and they even had fun at first when Starlight did it with him later in the episode, at least until she upset him), so for all he knew she was having fun just like he was. And the solution he came up with to make Starlight feel better about where they stood was quite cute and heartwarming, not to mention he actually had some pretty fun scenes with Twilight and Trixie especially (his scene with Maud when he befriended her was a tad annoying, but again, mostly because his interest in geology came out of bucking nowhere). He even had some rather funny scenes throughout the whole episode, such as when Starlight wakes him up wayyyyyy early in the morning and I swear it looks like he looked down at himself in embarrassment because he realized he had morning wood. I know, I know, he's just embarrassed that she walked in on him naked in bed (same as Fluttershy way back in Season 2 with Rainbow Dash), but c'mon, it's so easy to think that's what he was embarrassed about! Overall, while he was quite frustrating at many points in the episode (mostly in order to make the story work), Sunburst was on the whole quite likable, had a nice return, and, if the ending of the episode (a bit of a cliffhanger/set up for the season finale) is anything to go by, should hopefully be playing a larger role in the show going forward, which would be nice.
Our supporting cast here was essentially the rest of Starlight's closest friends, Twilight Sparkle, Trixie Lulamoon, and Maud Pie, and like Sunburst, while they were fine on the whole, because of what this episode's storyline demanded, they were frustrating at times. Twilight was probably more frustrating than the others since, if I'm being perfectly honest, she's got the most going for her in her life, and on top of that she's Starlight's mentor, so it kinda felt like she should have been most aware of any of the three as to how close Starlight feels to Sunburst and how important she would have considered spending time with him. But instead she merrily geeks out with him about antiquing which, while cute, she should have realized Starlight wasn't enjoying. Her reaction to playing Dragon Pit was, admittedly, adorable. Trixie and Maud, to their credit, had never met Sunburst before and didn't know how important Starlight considered this trip, so them making connections with him were just pleasant surprises for them that they ran with, but like I said, for Twilight to not consider that Starlight wouldn't be thrilled with her and Sunburst antiquing for hours on end while she was stuck there as basically a third wheel, bored out of her mind, was just a bit disappointing to see from her. Overall, however, all three were quite fun to watch for the most part. Twilight had her cute scene playing Dragon Pit with the two of them (seeing her geek out at her dragon falling was too adorable), Trixie and Sunburst bonding was pretty hilarious (not to mention she had some fun bits of continuity from earlier in the season, like seeing her, once again, turn something into a tea cup, and struggling to but managing to help carry Sunburst's luggage at the end of a the episode, a clear sign that her magic is improving), and Maud was, well, Maud, she's always a blast when she shows up. I quite enjoyed them all for the most part, even when they were making the conflict in the episode worse (unknowingly), and it was pretty cool seeing all of Starlight's closest friends come together for her at the end.
Trixie, I... I think you may have a teacup problem. Like, for real.
The animation, it's not really worth commenting on. I mean it wasn't bad, but there weren't any particularly ambitious set pieces. The same goes for the music seeing as there were no new songs (not surprising). The most interesting bit of world building was that spell Starlight came up with which apparently created a projection of Starlight and Sunburst's childhood homes but ALSO seemed to actually regress them in age; it was most disappointing that we didn't get to seem them as foals for a longer time because I was interested as to whether or not their emotional state was actually effected by their age. Starlight clearly had the same level of magic so it seems it didn't affect their physical capabilities (outside of how big they were, of course) but again, some of their reactions seemed a tad more adolescent, namely the way Sunburst had an outburst toward her and how Starlight teared up afterwards. That was really interesting to consider and, again, we unfortunately didn't get many answers since they weren't foals for very long.
Also, holy shit was Starlight adorable as a filly!!!
So what are we left with? Well, despite the issues I pointed out with the supporting cast to some extent, especially with Sunburst, I really wasn't that bothered by them. I mean, the most annoying thing about the behavior I had a problem with is that it was there strictly to make the plot happen, but at the same time it's not unbelievable (as we've seen in this show multiple times) that well-meaning individuals would make mistakes that, compounded, would really hurt a friend of theirs, and I always commend the show for not pretending that even its biggest characters are Mary Sues or Gary Stus. Those issues aside, this was a very quietly mature episode with a just as subdued lesson, but one which was very smart and mature as well. I appreciate when the show goes out of its way to show smaller behavior having a large impact on someone; this certainly wasn't an instance of Starlight unnecessarily "sweating the small stuff," but rather a nice highlight of just how important little things in life, like sharing a vacation with a friend and spending some quality time with them, can be, especially when things don't go the way you wanted and you're even left questioning the friendship itself. The set up for the season finale was very appreciated as well (not even the first time we've seen a book teased as a plot device for the season finale *cough cough* Season 3 *cough*), and I'm looking forward to seeing how Sunburst gets himself involved in it this week as well. All in all, for a quieter and more subdued penultimate episode, this was a very solid one and a nice, final starring appearance for Starlight Glimmer this season. Can't wait for the season finale to the most exceptional season of MLP in a long time, and I know the rest of ya'll can't either! I'll see ya'll this weekend everypony, until next time, this is Batbrony signing off. I'm off!!! *cue dramatic exit*
What's the only thing that might possibly be cuter than filly Starlight? THIS!!!