After a string of episodes that weren't really objectively terrible, yet not objectively amazing, either, Rarity steps into the spotlight in Rarity Takes Manehattan. While it was referenced in Cutie Mark Chronicles, One Bad Apple, and Apple Family Reunion, it was shown only in TCMC. This marks its first appearance since then, and the scenery is spotlit more. In the first Rarity-centric episode since Sweet & Elite (and first Rarity-centric appearances in the official media since the Rarity micro comic and Nightmare Rarity chapter — each only above-average at best), Polsky delivers.
- Everyone (minus Spike) has a purpose in the story. While not everyone is brim with dialogue, they're not confined as background ponies. They belong and carry an important role in the story. It's especially the case after Rarity finds out Suri Polomare had plagiarized her dress line.
- Suri Polomare (voiced by Tabita St. Germain) is an excellent antagonist. While Rarity's generosity was pushed to the brink before in the form of Suited for Success and Green Isn't Your Color, this is the first time anyone takes advantage of it so maliciously. Suri is every artist's biggest nightmare: a lying, no-good, sleazy plagiarizer, and just about every one has had their work plagiarized before. It's no fun, and Rarity has every right to be pissed.
Suri is written as a lying, manipulative bitch. An anti-Rarity.
Unlike Rarity, whose so many facets create a great character that breaks the snobby fashionista cliché, Suri breaks it, too, by making her so evil. The Diamond Tiara of Rarity, but with extra dimension. (And way more dimension than the generic "character" called Sunset Shimmer.)
- Speaking of Suri, Coco Pommel, her protégé, is just as excellent a foil as Rarity. Unlike Rarity's vast experience, Coco is still grasping of talent and career: designing high-quality dresses within a quick schedule. Like Suri and Rarity, Coco wants to make it in Manehattan, but she's given very bad advice and is commanded all the time. Her will to grow and acknowledgement that Suri is not for her because of her vileness proves how genuinely likeable and well-developed she is, even in her youth. Cathy Weseluck did a fantastic job voice-acting her. I honestly hope she isn't a one-shot, because she has so much potential.
- As a New Yorker, Manehattan really respects the cultures of the city. New York City is a gigantic melting pot of so many cultures in and out of Manhattan. From the popular tourist attractions like Broadway to The Statue of Liberty to Grand Central.
The bridge where the train scuttles past during "Generosity" is possibly one of the following ponifications:
a. Park Avenue Viaduct (connecting both halves of Park Avenue — split by Grand Central).
b. The Manhattan Valley Viaduct (located along 12th Avenue in Manhattanville, before going underground in City College) or northern West Side El (from Inwood’s Dyckman Street to Van Cortlandt Park).
c. The old 3rd Avenue El (an old elevated subway line from the Financial District to Gun Hill in The Bronx. The Manhattan half was demolished in the 1950s (leaving the Lexington Avenue line a victim to an over crowdedness so severe today, the MTA revitalized the constantly delayed 2nd Avenue Subway project; the Bronx portion was closed and later torn down in the 1970s; it was replaced by the Bx55 Limited, which is now the Bx15 Limited).
d. The Metro-North Railroad viaduct (along Park Avenue from 97th Street to the bridge in East Harlem before the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven lines split The Bronx’s Mott Haven).]
The big bridge crossing from the mainland to Manehattan is likely a reference of the Brooklyn Bridge or Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
(None of the pics/clips are mine.)
While it's mostly fixated in Midtown/Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, and the Financial District, the multitude of cultures and classes make the city so grand, from Greenwich Village to Harlem to Flushing to Pelham Bay/Orchard Beach to Coney Island to Richmondtown to Corona to Riverdale and so on. If the team ever revisits Manehattan, I'd love to see them reference the other neighborhoods, especially from the outer boroughs and suburbs.
- Albeit referencing more of the upper-middle-class and upper class parts of Manehattan, it shows the respect and hustle of the city. As a New Yorker, I've seen a lot of people mumble and grumble over it, including the long waits for a cab.
- As a character, Rarity is significantly balanced. There are so many little facets that make her so endearing and complex. RTM takes full advantage of it, from teasing Spike to showing her generosity to the bell hopper, taxi driver, and fellow tourists. She overly dramatized, loved for her friends, wanted to one-up Suri no matter the cost, and realized her crimes in friendship.
Her best moment: the reprise and walking in Manehattan in the storm with nothing to cover her. While she covered herself with a newspaper earlier, she didn't here. That showed how much she grew over the past three-plus seasons, from being pissed off by just touching the mud to taking part in the Sisterhooves Social after being responsible for the strain she caused with Sweetie Belle to worrying more about her friends instead of her vanity. Although her vanity, selfishness, and greed aren't going to go away in a snap, her other qualities shone.
- As for "Generosity," its initial tune really captures the Mane Six's joyous, hopeful spirit. They visit the city, and they're excited and hopeful. Its tone is very upbeat and Broadway-like. With a wide vocabulary and good composition, it foreshadows Suri's plagiarism later on. Conversely, it tells Rarity's element a bit too much, and its lack of catchiness doesn't help.
This is why her reprise works better. It shows the consequences of her actions via the mood of Manehattan, somber score, Rarity's lack of care for herself, Kazumi Evans's sorrowful voice, and subtlety in the lyrics.
- While there is plenty of comedy, it isn't as zany as the other stories Polsky wrote. Even in Too Many Pinkie Pies, his darkest story, his comedy was abundant. The slapstick is much more toned down in exchange for something more serious. According to Polsky, it was a completely different direction compared to his initial concept.
Suffice it to say, RTM's is among the deepest in this series, and Polsky shows his wide talent range. If he wrote RTM similar to his other episodes, the mood would've been way too inappropriate, and all that potential would've been lost.
- One of the biggest criticisms this season — the pace — is all but nonexistent. While there are perhaps a couple of moments where the pace speeds a tad too quickly, it isn't jarring. There is plenty of material to cover, but it flows so fluently, each sequence feels organic. To make it better, unlike PTS, DD, and PoP, the episode has many moments to relax and collect itself without failure.
- While we don't actually see Suri's consequences (i.e., her reaction to being lost and Coco Pommel quitting), doing so would've sensationalized the moral and perhaps make Rarity the bad mare. Because she didn't give a damn about the fashion contest anymore and instead treated her friends to an exclusive performance of the Bridleway musical, Hinny of the Hills, she shows her worth by that alone. Coco sees this, too, and her conversation with Rarity (along with presenting the trophy and gift to Rarity and being the one to design the costumes for the next show) presents good karma. Whether Suri will ever learn her lesson or not, I don't know.
- The morals aren't shoehorned. They're reinforced with each action and consequence, along with the thorough characterizations and goals from the Mane Six, Suri, Coco, and Prim Hemline.
- As a big bonus, RTM actually feels like a community and helps complete the atmosphere. There are so many ponies, both new and reoccurring, appearing here, making Manehattan feel alive. This is something Friendship Is Magic needs: the community interacting with each moment. It's been absent for most of Season 4, leaving a very wide gap that gives the canon life. More interaction with the background ponies, the more complete the canon becomes.
BTW, kudos to the team for plugging in Sapphire Shores, Hoity Toity, Photo Finish, Fancy Pants, and Fleur de Lis!
- Spike's role as background comic relief is too old and tiring. After Power Ponies, the development he receives is tossed away. Heck, throughout Season 4, he's basically there just for the audience to laugh, and that marginalizes his character.
Like what I wrote in my Castle Mane-ia review, lay off the Spikabuse, pleeeeeeeease.
- The Grumpy Cat meme is forced and distracting; the criticisms are completely justified. Two key reasons why (one related to the story, the other not).
a. The meme is taken straight out of the Internet and plastered onto the flank as a cutie mark. No ponification. No effort to blend it into the scene. It's the actual face of the meme as a cutie mark. It sticks out way too much and is too in-your-face. It's not like Chanel, Derpy, The Big Lebowski, the Nyan Dash, or Sweetie Bot (in Equestria Girls), as they are blended into the canon.
If you're going to reference a well-known meme like the Grumpy Cat, show some effort by blending it into the canon and ponifying it. Don't rip it off and make people wonder if the artists lack the creativity to include interesting background ponies and organically blend pop culture simultaneously.
b. Instead of letting the previews and writing attract the older and computer-savvy demographics, The Hub is trying to appease them by advertising the episode via a pony with a ripped off meme. Inadvertently, The Hub left RTM with a very bad first impression and made your general audience wonder if it was actually well thought-out and written well, even if for a split second.
Hub, don't pull this stupid stunt again.
- "Generosity" (not the reprise) tells too much and hammers Rarity's element excessively. Combined with it not exactly being catchy, it hurts the song and messages Polsky and Ingram relay. It's good for other reasons (a couple being very well-scored with a strong vocabulary), yet somewhat forgettable.
It's compared to The Smile Song in one way. Like TSS, Generosity is a character exposition song. However, there are some differences.
a. While The Smile Song tells a lot, it's counterbalanced by some very catchy lyrics and a very bouncy score that gets the audience pumped and excited. When it's very catchy, it's very memorable, and The Smile Song works to its advantage partially by the bouncy, upbeat score.
Generosity, on the other hand, is actually quite tame, and that works to its disadvantage. While it also catches the urban, upbeat tune of the city, it doesn't have the giddy bounciness that The Smile Song has.
b. As far as The Smile Song's musical is concerned, you see Pinkie using smaller measures to make her friends happy, but with each lyric, Ponyville catches its happiness, and it became bigger and bigger. Soon, Pinkie Pie's song and ability to make others smile affects everyone.
Generosity, conversely, doesn't do that. While the generosity starts small and ends up with Pinkie and Applejack helping, you don't get to see the results until after it ends. Although it works from a storytelling perspective, it falls flat when self-contained.
Also, Rarity's element works much better when it's a bit more subtle or really demonstrated, as Rarity is a complex character. What she did and sung aren't out of character, but it doesn't fully work for a character whose qualities and characterization are more about showing her rewards and consequences rather than telling everyone who she is and can be, something Art of the Dress and the reprise succeed. Combined with the self-contained rewards being absent and delivery of her messages like a carpenter nailing a wall with a hammer, it doesn't give what she did as much justice in the beginning as hoped.
Generosity isn't a bad song, but it doesn't have that oomph. More show, less tell.
- Twilight is an alicorn princess (and there are only four, all royalty, discounting the animation hiccups), and in a city as big as Manehattan — with all of the tabloids, business of the city, and how the Twilicorn was gigantic news in Equestria entirely — surely Twilight will be more recognizable than Mayor Bloomberg.
While her status shouldn’t be so glorified that Rarity's focus is stolen, at least give her status some recognition (i.e., a taxi colt telling Twilight crossly, “Back of the line, Princess!”). Ignoring it ages Magical Mystery Cure more and more and disserves her growth.
- Pinkie, you left your brain at Sugarcube Corner. Please retrieve it the next time Rarity displays tickets. (Thank Luna Rarity interrupted her.)
- The timeline gets lost, demonstrating some issues with the pacing. The script constantly reminds the viewer the whole event was "Fashion Week." In other words, the contest and results should occur from one end of the week to the next. Usually, it's seven days (or five, if confined to only the weekdays). Instead, we only see the first three days and never witness the rest of the week. Whether it's because they were perceived to be irrelevant or not, I don't know. It would look much better if RTM shows more of Fashion Week beyond just the contest.
Despite the annoyances, the rest of the episode is very well written, and they don't diminish the overall quality significantly. Polsky and crew carefully researched Manhattan to make sure it replicates the real life's atmosphere organically and tastefully. Instead of it being contrived, Manehattan's overall design feels like it belongs: industrialized to a point, yet not abandoning its simplified roots.
In a fresh twist, Polsky trades his usual slapstick comedy for a more down-to-earth, slice-of-life, serious character study, giving him the opportunity to explore Rarity's actions in response to being plagiarized and shortsighted (yet extremely justified and believable) ambition to one-up Suri and claim the top prize. Combined with a solid pace, excellent writing, and fantastic characterization of Suri, Coco, and Rarity, Polsky executes easily not just his best episode to date, but also Season 4's best episode thus far. Rarity Takes Manehattan is a clear home run.