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  1. Ok, so this is really simple. Basically, someone posts a song. Then the next person gives it a score out of 10, briefly explains why, then posts another song for the next person to rate and so on. Example: User 1: Friday by Rebecca Black User 2: 10/10 Best song evaaar her voice is da bestest evaaaar!!!!lol Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley User 3: 5/10 meh, not my kind of music. But I do like his hair. A lot. Winter Wrap-up - My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic You get the idea. The rules are that you MUST listen to to the whole song, or at least the first 5-6 minutes if it's longer than that. Whether you like the song or not! It can be anything as long as it's labeled music. Pony music, your favorite song, the song that you and your friend composed last night, a song from your favorite opera, a song you hate, ANYTHING GOES! Also, try to include a Youtube link to the song (or any other kind of link really, as long as we can listen to the song) to make it easier for others to listen to it. Also, try to stay classy and respectful. Not everypony has the same music tastes! ^^ Ok, so I guess I should start. Octopus - Syd Barrett http-~~-//www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL36NuJJLIQ&feature=fvst
  2. Note: Credits go to I_Am_Number_6 on EQD, @Jerica, and @gingerninja666 for this review. Starlight Glimmer had one of the biggest arcs of the whole series. Debuting in The Cutie Map as Season 5’s top villain, Twilight successful convinced her to reform and change her ways. Rather than condemn her to Tartarus or exile, Twi elected to proactively teach her the Magic of Friendship. Even though she learned all the lessons academically in between To Where and Celestial Advice, she realized she wasn’t ready to lead once more. Throughout Season 7, confidence exuded out of her, showing more comfort in her opinions and ideals once again; Shadow Play and its creative genius helped Starlight show her intellectual bravery at its best, leading to her next chapter of her journey that began in Season 8. With A Horse Shoe-In, today’s chapter continues to near its final destination, and SG has (once again) a fantastic appearance. At the very beginning, viewers are reminded that she will become the next head of the School of Friendship once Twilight moves to Canterlot and replaces the Royal Sisters. However, Twilight’s reminder carries more in-verse weight than in Beginning. Spike issued Starlight’s promotion to Headmare via Royal Decree. As Princess of Friendship, she has the authority to announce it, especially to those she’s close to. More importantly, Twilight exercised this decree with a clear head. Back in BotE, Twilight was in the middle of a massive meltdown, so when she told her the news, she wasn’t prepared for what came next. Now she is. By telling her with a clear conscience, she put in a lot more thought into who’ll succeed her and (like before) trusts Starlight into making the right decisions. Ain't this heartwarming and cute?! Her trust for Starlight is reaffirmed in two other moments. In Act 1, Trixie reminded her that Twilight never did anything alone, including running the School of Friendship. As one of six teachers, they all took care of the students together. Because she had close friends helping her, Starlight told Twilight about her new idea: hiring a Vice Headmare to help alleviate the work. What does Twilight say? After blowing up in Trixie’s face, she and Twilight share a heart to heart in her classroom. During the interviewing process, Starlight really wanted someone she knew well to be Vice Headmare, but because Trixie didn’t take it so seriously the first two tries and then took it so seriously the last that she accidentally put her students in danger, she let her frustrations take over, yelled at Trixie over it, and angrily told her that she would never be VH. Twilight reminded her that, yes, she has friends to help her, but not every friend is right for the job you offer, and that she has to tell them immediately before it gets out of control. Now, is Starlight right to be upset with Trixie? Absolutely. Is Trixie a capable VH? Not at all. But Starlight isn’t fully innocent, either, as she ignored the signs from earlier, insulted her, belittled her worth, and put her friendship with Trixie at risk. Apologizing to her was the right move. As for Trixie herself, she showed aplenty to prove she wasn’t qualified beyond a blind flash beehive transfer. In Twilight’s classroom, she skipped a completely important history lecture on friendship, napped with everyone (with helpful tips from Gallus ), and didn't feel ashamed of it. Afterwards, she shouted at Grandpa Gruff and expelled him from the School of Friendship. Both of these showed extreme opposites of what she looked for. On one hand, she didn't care for the subject the students are learning. On the other, when push comes to shove, she cared maybe a little too much, rightfully defending a student’s reputation to a surrogate who gave little about him and losing her own temper rather than constructively using her anger to maintain her rep as substitute. That said, despite her neglect for studies, extreme measures, and lack of thought, Trixie's certainty she'll be hired is merited. What inspired Starlight to create this permanent position? Trixie’s reminder of Twilight’s friends helping her run the school. Rather than go away and wait for lunch, she followed Starlight, overheard the whole conversation, and assumed that Starlight will hire friends to help them like Princess Twilight. As a result, this whole interviewing process felt like a game to test her meddle, and she won't bite. Read this exchange from Act 2: In Starlight's mind, she wanted Trixie to really show she can lead a school and help the students learn, but she was way behind compared to Hooves and Octavia. However, Trixie assumes Starlight just wants to test her with one final step before letting the rest of the "competition," and the language from both of them is loose enough so you see where they come from while being unable to break through that communication barrier. And it was that barrier that caused Trixie to not take Starlight's anger seriously the first time, followed by confusion, and then hurt once she realized what Starlight wanted and after SG made her feel worthless. In addition to helping complete another chapter to the overall arc of Season 9, the episode carries a message of how nepotism can cause a system to become corrupt if left unchecked. Because she did so poorly, SG almost DQ'd her once and then told her very softly in their second interview she wouldn't hire her. But as a result of Trixie setting the expectation of being hired (and thus placing herself above Octavia, Hooves, Big Mac, and Spoiled), Starlight was caught in a major dilemma. How can she tell Trixie she's not qualified for the job? Regardless of her own temperament, how well will Trixie handle the disappointment? What if she finds out through someone else that she will lose the opportunity? Conversing with "Phyllis" (and protecting her from Trixie) and holding off the truth only added to her dilemma and increased her frustration. Fortunately, when the problems became too big to ignore, she put her foot down, and Twilight's "motherly" advice helped her even more. In addition to how your friends may not always be the best fit for a job, a nice, subtle secondary moral floated in the background, which @Jerica caught and told me about in my Discord convo with her. Out of the five interviewees, Octavia Melody was easily the most qualified. During the substitution, she easily had the most fun while taking part in Laughter class. As she instructed her students to play their instruments, Pinkie Pie suddenly played the yovidaphone loudly behind them. Did anyone get upset? Nope. They continued playing and had a blast playing their favorite instruments no matter how good they were. And, yes, they all laughed. Hard. In her one-on-one interview with Ocellus's parents, she understood her knowledge of music, praised her student for quickly improving in her work, and got along incredibly well. While in the same Bridleway Theatre as the special playing of Hinny of the Hills back in Season 4, her students sat in their seats as Octavia prepared. Initially, Gallus was bored as hell. Then the lights went out. Out came Vinyl. And they began to play an exciting remix of classical music to everycreature's delight (great callback to their remix and friendship from Slice of Life ). Octavia understands that not everyone's tastes are the same, but she knew how to loosen her hair and create joy to those who wish for it. Yet at the end, she turned down the job. Why? Fear she'll lose her time for music. Even though she's so good in those interviews, music's her passion, and she doesn't want to give it up. Sadly, you sometimes have to choose, which isn't easy. Bittersweet it may be, watching her tell Starlight she would love to accept the offer but decline would add a major gut-punch to the episode and add some real, down-to-earth weight to this episode. What would also add weight would be to see Gallus tell Trixie how much he appreciated her passionate defense of him to Grandpa Gruff. Most ponies won't have the guts to tell off the temperamental griffon like that, including Starlight. No matter how narcissistic Trixie can be, she knows her limits and cares for at least her students' psychological health. Apathy for his guardian's growth and openly belittling him while he was already down were massive signs of disrespect towards her and her students, and she showed Gruff he hasn't earned her respect in return. If there's a scene showing Gallus thanking Trixie for defending him, it'll show both some chemistry between them and how her presence matters. Containing it off-screen softens the impact, but his off-screen gratitude meant she has some a place in the school after all. With the changing of the guard approaching, the School Counselor spot needed to be filled, and Trixie more than showed she qualifies. As clichéd as this sequence can be this season, adding a montage would really help Sunburst show his credentials. In the climax, she hired him after Trixie contacted him via scroll, a passionate interview, and admission of not having to take much care of Flurry Heart anymore. If we see him have a world of fun teaching his students in one of his classes, conversing pleasantly with the students' parents, and then go on a very fun field trip together (maybe to The Crystal Empire to greet Mistmane, Cadance, and Flurry Heart), then you can really sell his passion for teaching. Having her hire him in a quick, expository flash-forward makes the resolution feel a little rushed. Nothing close to ruining it, but makes his hiring as Vice Headmare tough to sell. To end this review on a high note: This episode does a fantastic job reintroducing the Vice Headmare occupation without contradicting continuity, a point brought up by I_Am_Number_6 on EQD. Back in A Matter of Principals, she hires Discord for the same position after she lost her temper and ruined the buckball field, but he loses his job instantly after the RM6 returned from their "friendship quest." Here, she went through the process with a lot more care and thought, especially since Twilight's soon leaving for Canterlot. In addition to in-episode growth, Starlight shows continual growth, too. Back in No Second Prances (her first self-contained episode post reformation), she forces Big Mac to talk against his will. Here, she understands not everyone's so comfortable to talk and won't force him to do a job he feels he can't. Thank @gingerninja666 and his friend for pointing it out. Also… BAD idea, Whooves! What a big, pleasant surprise to see a brand-new writer take on FIM this late in its running! Ariel Shepherd-Oppenhein did a splendid job in her Pony debut and executed a very solid, very good episode, one that may be Starlight's last once it's all finished.
  3. Note: Review expanded from here, and credits to a comment by @BornAgainBrony. Back in Sonic Rainboom, Rarity showed her vanity, a big flaw to her character that hadn't been shown before. Was her behavior all that positive? Not at all. However, her position was completely believable. For the first time, we watched her gain recognition and attention outside of her comfort zone; it didn't matter if they were staring at her delicate wings or not. So it's easy to see why that vanity-dominant ego influenced her to join the competition as well. In Dragon Dropped, her envy for Gabby replaces her vanity. She enjoyed spending all her time with Spike and felt jealous of Gabby, fearing that she could lose not only it, but Spike's memories of her altogether. A combination of envy and fear of being forgotten drove her into assuming she must go to extreme lengths to retain contact with Spike. Like in SR, Rarity’s bad side here was thoroughly explored while not making her unlikeable or out of character, starting with the small and working hard as she could to retain the status quo. Several moments add up: Spike initially overhearing Rarity as he wrote his latest note to Gabby, immediately setting the tone of the entire story. The fact that he kept his newfound friendship with Gabby a secret out of fear himself. No one else doing his jobs as good as he, including collecting the gems from the cave without waking the bats. The first montage (which I'll get to in further detail later). Staring crazily at him! (Blink, and you'll miss it!) Not reacting at all after Gabby broke up with him. But Spike’s broadening horizons by becoming a close friend with Gabby meant he was growing, and his friendships around him were maturing. He spent a lot of time with her and helped her grow into a better pony. But with Gabby now in his life, he can further connect with other species. Like the Dragon Lands, Griffonstone’s reputation isn’t the best; to bring Gabby there helps him understand the decreasing prejudice against dragons and connect with someone on a deeper, more mature level. So why would Rarity feel jealous of Gabby anyway? Fearing a negative reaction, Spike kept his friendship with Gabby a secret ever since he started communicating with her and pretended it never happened. After Gallus began studying overseas in Ponyville, Gabby began to fly over to Equestria more often, which made it more difficult to keep it under wraps. Pay attention to the initial conversation, and from the visual and audio cues, it looks like it had been building for some time, but the open was the first time she grew really suspicious, because he didn't hear her and admitted to having other plans. Turning down invites was rare, but it looks like it was going to become more common. The montage contained are a few sequences: Spike tasting the best gems, carrying her bags as they leave the shop, and relaxing in the spa together. Throughout those three scenes, we see not only how much they enjoy each other's company, but help and adorn each other, too. Even though Spike carried all those bags, she rescued him as he nearly tripped over a step and waited for him until he could see. My favorite's the spa scene, as Spike enjoyed eating those cucumbers. Juxtaposing perfect scenes from the past with present-day struggles and boredom show us how much she misses Spike. Without his inherent wit and loyalty around, things weren't the same. Watching them enjoy their time while she struggled added extra salt into the wound, especially when Spike ate Gabby's maraschino cherry. In the past, there was implication that Rarity occasionally took advantage of him, and although I disagree strongly with the complaint, scenes like Rarity teasing Spike for wearing a cute, pink apron for the dragon migration witnessing meant they can't be dismissed. For most of the series, their friendship and his unrequited crush were in his point of view. For the first time, we see it in hers. By focusing their friendship on her, we connect to her beyond the surface and focus on how important his presence and friendship meant to HER. Going back on how she felt she took it for granted calls back those criticisms, and Haber very wisely and cleverly responds constructively to them, making her do things she wouldn’t do if it were someone else. Yet, their strong, series-long bond makes those decisions and actions believable, helping us understand where she’s coming from, even when when she does bad. And needless to say, she does some very selfish things. Take him along that two-day expedition that only occurs once a year, then a two-day vacation to a Power Ponies convention (Rarity, I've been to BronyCon four times; foot-aching comes with the territory ), and finally a day-long gameplay of O&O. All with complete intention to hogging all the time with Spike away from Gabby and make them forget about each other. She baited him, earned the outcome she wanted, but at the cost of a super-depressed Spike and a Gabby with enormous pain in her heart. This is why Twilight's presence in Act 3 matters. She's very close to Spike and never saw him like this before. Something was really wrong, and Rarity inadvertently outed herself as the perpetrator. Twilight's quick-thinking and stern disappointment gave her a major wake-up call, solidifying her own doubts of whether they will truly make up or not (suggested by her to start the third act), and making her realize what a massive jerk she was to them both. Friendships change, but it doesn’t mean the good times will end, and she has no business trying to put in effort to "steal" him away when he wanted to be with others. Yeah, like what @BornAgainBrony wrote, this episode is clearly playing on the love triangle plot and Rarity’s feelings for Spike without delving into the “romantic” part that loomed over the show for so long. Bringing in Gabby to the fold and establishing connections between them was a really great way to exploit how much she meant to him and vice-versa. However, unlike Tanks for the Memories’s death allegory, the stakes in this one and Rarity’s action match the predicament and tone Haber is conveying, whether it’s romanticism or friendship. Speaking of the connection, how Gabby and Spike began their friendship was a great payoff to a flaw from Fault in Our Cutie Mark. In the former, Twilight’s happy “discovery” of griffons getting cutie marks went unresolved. Haber takes advantage of it, using that hanging plot point to establish their “penpalsmanship.” In their time on screen, they show excellent chemistry. Rarity was at her most selfish here, and like Twilight in Trivial Pursuit and Fluttershy & Angel from She Talks, she needed to learn how her awful actions affected those around her. In Sonic Rainboom, her vanity nearly cost her her life, but Dash was the lead. In Sweet & Elite, her selfishness put her at risk of choosing her friends and the Canterlot Elite, only to realize what was right when she finally needed to choose. Here, she witnesses these consequences the hard way and was completely responsible for it. Now that she’s much more mature and developed, she can accept the anger from Gabby and disappointment from Twilight better. Swallowing her pride, apologizing to Gabby and Spike, and letting them go on their own after they make up shows her remorse felt genuine. Dragon Dropped is Rarity’s best episode of the show. If it’s her last, a phenomenal conclusion.
  4. Note: This review has been edited to clean up and add more content, and credits go to comments by Sloppy Steve, The Dragon Warlock, and TwilightIsMagic for it. Yes, it's true. Real-life snakes can’t eat vegan; they're obligate carnivorous, so they can't digest vegetables in real life. Wolves are also primarily carnivorous, though do eat vegetation at times. If the animals behaved they do here, then yes, having carnivores eat vegan food here would be animal abuse. However, the episode makes a very clear distinction that puts the onus on the animals there, and does so in two ways.  No animal here behaves like those in real life. They may not talk and act animalistic at times, but they can communicate with those who can talk very well, think, and act sapient. This is especially the case when she talks to Antoine the Snake (as he's very recipient to Fluttershy's words and requests), Scout the Flamingo, and Zecora's "gecko." During the predator/prey support group, Fluttershy proposes an important rule in the sanctuary that everyone (including Antoine) agreed to: no eating other animals inside. From this support group, this isn't the first time carnivores or omnivores tried to eat other animals, and FS's gathering is to get everyone to cooperate and get along. The sanctuary is a safe space for ALL animals big or small. The surrounding ecosystem doesn't have this rule. Another controversy is regarding Zecora's use in the episode. After reading posts by The Dragon Warlock and TwilightIsMagic on EQD, I posted this in the episode discussion and then a followup after doubting some of the criticism from both them and I. From the following, these criticisms still hold up. Even though Zecora had no idea at the time that both Angel and Fluttershy swapped bodies or Angel caused massive problems at the sanctuary, it still doesn't excuse her leaving Angel out to run in the dangerous Everfree Forest alone. Understanding how Zecora once caught Swamp Fever and then got nearly eaten by a roc, she should've known better than to just leave "Angel" be. At least carry him back into the heart of Ponyville before letting "him" go. Zecora should've warned them what the potion would do. Yes, she can talk in riddles at times, and when you listen to them more and more carefully, you understand them, and she warned them to take it alone and at home. But by not telling them what would happen to them if they drank them, they get caught in a massive surprise. Alerting them of the consequences would lessen that surprise, make her less of a troll, and give them some input on how to fix it. Until the middle of the second act, Flutterbunny assumed Z erred, only to realize it wasn't the case after their meeting. If her wink says anything, her potion intended to swap their bodies until they figure out they each contributed to the conflict. The rest of the criticisms I had of her plan, both of its construction and implications? Hogwash. There is another here, too. Bunny!Fluttershy's inability to alert both Twilight and Spike that her body got swapped was supposed to indicate how hopeless it is for her to solve it with help. No one knows about the swap, and without a voice, she can't tell others. However, that helplessness could've been clearer to the audience and not relied on not wondering if using The Stare (which she used successfully on Angel earlier) would get others to notice. The rest of the episode, however, is character-driven gold, and their interactions with each other and their environments as both themselves and swapped bodies contributed to the plot, particularly in the humor and drama. Back in Putting Your Hoof Down, Angel had not only his worst appearance of the show by far, but also arguably the worst appearance of any character in the whole show. Yes, Angel isn't exactly the nicest and most patient, but it really took him to the next level, making him a massive, abusive, out-of-character brat in order to get what he wants. While this episode doesn't directly connect to that episode at all, his brattiness returns. Unlike the former (and his desire for a salad made exactly the way he wanted), the episode gets the audience to understand his position in a few ways. Fluttershy focused all her time on the animal sanctuary and classes that she spends no more quality time with him at all, and it shows in the open. As she stays focused on the task at hand, he wants her to give him some level of attention, but keeps getting ignored. During this exchange, Fluttershy utters a crucial line, which I'll further get to later. After Fluttershy gives Angel a little "carrot-based" idea, he decides to get her attention by disrupting the support group and starting a massive fight, disheveling both Fluttershy and himself. During the brawl, Dr. Fauna explains to Zecora that FS is able to keep the "chaos" under control despite Angel's shenanigans. Of course, Zecora believes things are worse than they look, observes how tension's boiling over, and believes the problem must be solved quickly before it becomes worse. After spotting Fluttershy messaging the "gecko's" sore back, he asks her to message his own in an attempting to get attention, only to be rejected in favor of her responsibilities, and this rejection happens at least twice (the latter one equipped with Fluttershy snapping back and Angel hopping away, upset). Why does Angel mock her in front of Zecora? Because he's frustrated with her spending all of her time with everything else. This culminates to his hasty decision to disobey Zecora and take the potion out in the open. Just prior, Fluttershy wanted to be with him and then immediately felt self-pressured to complete her task. Notice the change in Angel's face from celebratory to concerned to fed up as she showed more and more worry. This doesn't make Fluttershy innocent, though. Recall the "crucial line": …and said with a sly smirk. Thanks to that line, Fluttershy suggests she sees his actions as spoiled only. When he tries to get her attention, she yells at him, catching the attention of Dr. Fauna. Yes, she immediately regrets it, but it only restarts inside the storage closet. When he wants to taste the carrot concentrate, she's at her wit's end, accusing him of not taking her occupation seriously and wasting her time, culminating with equal growls towards each other. Right after they switch bodies, the first thing Flutterbunny instructs Angelshy is to "do her chores" while she hops to Zecora's hut, thinking this body swap was unintentional. Yes, Angelshy acted like a brat and used his newfound physique to poke fun at the Ponyvillagers, but Fluttershy getting her under her control only added to the tension between them. Grabbing his tail, stomping the ground, and applying The Stare only fueled his belief of her being "bossy" and animosity toward the other animals at sanctuary. Why does FS's small gesture matter? Because it symbolizes her core judgment to the conflict. Up to this point, she accused Angel of not taking her responsibilities seriously; by literally handwaving, she's suggesting Angel is being spoiled and lazy because he lived with her all her life, and by asking for attention, he's only caring for himself. And, yes, that's true. He doesn't take her job seriously. However, that literal handwave also admits hypocrisy by implicating that she doesn't take him seriously. Unlike PYHD, neither side is in the right from the very beginning. Both of them have streaks of not being nice to one another. Yes, they want to get along and be family, but neither believe they're being listened to, yet only worsen matters by not listening to each other. They oversimplify the opposite's conflict and treat their own as more important. This equal unpleasantness also helped fuel the comedy, especially Angelshy's reaction to the environment and FS's other relationships. Some examples include: Getting very giddy after smelling carrots from Berry Punch's basket. Having initial trouble running to the water fountain. And eventually giving up. Angel bossing Sandra around. Never piss off Angel! The best one, of course, is this: Angel's observant around his environments, FS's extended friendships (namely with the draconequus), and is mocking her for it. And for anyone barfing at the shipteasing, it's not like Confalone hasn't done it before. So why did Zecora come up with this body-swapping potion? Because she forethought the very source of the conflict and concluded that the only way everything will truly return to normal is to make them understand their own positions and see it themselves. Given how they treated each other throughout the first half, the lesson they were going to learn was gonna be tough, and Confalone really showed it. Thanks to not having a voice in Angel's body, FS can't properly communicate with anyone beside Angel himself. Her sign language to Twilight, Spike, and later Zecora becomes untranslatable. On her way into the Everfree, her breath begins to shorten, she starts losing her bounce, and barely escaped from a hungry bald eagle. Seeing as she doesn't take him seriously, Angel takes FS's sanctuary job less seriously, too. Rather than focus on the assigned job, he uses his newfound status to gain revenge on Sandra and become as lazy as Rainbow Dash from 246G, such as letting the storage keys stay lodged in Murial's sore trunk, not reminding Scout the Flamingo to shift his legs, and giving Zecora's "gecko" Antoine's cookies. Again, the fact that Angel's jerkish behavior is to be expected along with a grain of sympathy allows us to stomach his actions. Angel's neglect over taking care of her sanctuary led to massive chaos inside, made Dr. Fauna extremely upset over "Fluttershy" for being so ignorant of the animals' wellbeing (great voice-acting, BTW), and made all the animals distrust Angel after he found out he needed to get the keys out from Murial (who was now dissolving inside Antoine's stomach). (And on an unrelated note, Sloppy Steve from EQD made a great point about the "nuanced" storytelling here. The episode could've just let the biology of the predators go after Fluttershy satisfied Antoine's hunger. Instead, his predatory instincts kicked in after Angel took his treat away for the hungry "gecko" — or shall I say, fire lizard — and swallowed his prey whole, just like a real snake.) If Fluttershy was still a pegasus, she would've been able to fly back to the sanctuary without breaking a sweat. But because she's 1/10 the size, she spends a lot of energy hopping and becomes extremely exhausted and dehydrated once she returns. At this point, Angel realizes what he had done, regretted mistreating Fluttershy, and understood how hard it was for FS to work helping the animals in the sanctuary. It took getting the prey and predators to trust him, work together, and dislodge the keys just to take the carrot concentrate out, but carrying that heavy jar without spilling it zapped a lot of strength out from him. Once Flutterbunny wakes up and feels energetic, they share a magnificent heart to heart. No matter how tough the times may be toward each other, they care for each other, and we see it through their contrition, appreciation for what they do for each other, and around them. From now on, they won't take each other for granted. Beyond the lessons Angel and Fluttershy learned, there are a lot of really interesting bits. The episode further establishes not only the responsibilities Fluttershy has in the school, but also in the sanctuary. Between teaching, taking care of Angel, and running the sanctuary, it takes a lot of willpower to get through all of it. This is the very first episode since the School opened to deal with anyone juggling through very stressful jobs and how neglecting one causes a chain reaction. Often, bodyswap episodes will have the voices change along with the bodies, like Carpet Diem from Gravity Falls. That doesn't happen here; their bodies change, but not the mind or voices. By doing this, STtA must rely on the animation and voice acting to convince the audience Angel and Fluttershy swapped. Libman, DHX, and Top Draw did an outstanding job here, and you can tell they all had a world of fun. With Angel in Fluttershy's body, she doesn't talk all that mellowly. When Angel's in her body, Libman's tone's sharper, hoarse, rude, and louder to make it sound more youthful and "masculine." Thanks to his obsession for carrots, smelling them makes him sound excited and rebellious. From the animation point of view, Fluttershy as Angel might've been a little tougher to sell, since she can't speak. But she knew him ever since he was born, so she can utilize the very same language as Angel when he's a bunny. That communication works with Angel, but not anyone else. Plus, as mentioned before, she quickly fatigued from all the jumping, a limit Angel's more aware of than her. As always, Fluttershy has a way with animals, understanding the need to nurture them and remain patient. Grown out of her timid shell, she exudes authority while simultaneously earning respect and trust from the animals and Dr. Fauna. The episode establishes how impactful the animal sanctuary has been to Fauna since opening: Thanks to all the room for them to roam and heal, her job's not so stressful anymore. Of course, she lends lots of credit to Fluttershy, saying the sanctuary would be a "zoo" without her, foreshadowing the Freaky Friday-like swap to end Act 1. Since the second season, DHX toyed with pegasi/alicorn wings becoming secondary hands. She Talks to Angel doesn't go mad about it like Parental Glideance (and the winged hands were one of the best parts of the episode), but it did one key moment: Taking care of those animals was a big deal that Angel took for granted. Her matted hair and wrinkle under her eyes proved how much Angel's attitude pushed her close to breaking. Holding her right wing out and pointing at her list — which she held with the other — reminds him she is the authority figure and desperately wants him to listen to her. There's some to dislike, but a lot to like. She Talks to Angel resolves Angel's jerkiness from PYHD, intertwines the animal sanctuary quite well, and is the second-best Fluttershy episode of the show.
  5. Note: Expanded my thoughts from here and here. Being Starlight's first episode of Season 9 and from a prior synopsis, one could guess a low-stakes episode, magic-oriented, or possible repeat of a Every Little Thing She Does. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. Magic's involved, but it wasn't central to the story. With her friends off for Spring Break, she's running the school now until they return, and she needs something to organize her time in school while also not being in office. Casting an alert curse on a bracelet was convenient and made sense: Once they need her help, she'll be right there. Unfortunately, she didn't foresee what was to come. Her schedule just before Spring Break became so hectic that she not only got many ponies lined up, but Silverstream came over several times for very small problems related to an unnamed project. And to make matters worse, Starlight was unable to help Trixie gather the right objects for Maud and Mud’s spring solstice party the next morning (with Sunburst invited, too) and Trixie had to prepare it all by herself. The episode spends a good amount of time gradually building tension, starting with the innocent(ly funny expressions by Trixie) and ending with the stressful. Some examples include: Trixie casually drinking tea and eating sandwiches as Starlight juggles between her office and the picnic. Starlight helping her students while trying (and failing ) to hide her nerves. As Trixie reminds her of the errands, Starlight stays conspicuously silent as she looks around and taps her hooves. As Ocellus deals with her identity crisis, Starlight tries to solve it while rushing through. Starlight leaving the store once her bracelet buzzes, accidentally dropping the streamers she plans to buy. After Starlight realizes she missed out on everything and failed to keep her promises, she crouched and smacked her muzzle on the ground. Suddenly, her bracelet rang again. During this first third of the story, a lot of great faces were animated to accentuate the stress building up amongst themselves and each other, like their eyes increasing size, Trixie's sneers, Smolder's smirk, and Starlight's anguish. The dialogue was also top-notch, adding to both the humor and drama. Additionally, despite being Starlight-centric, Haber doesn't write Trixie in the wrong for expecting her to keep her promise, too. Yes, Starlight was justified to not keep 'em, even though she tried her hardest to keep up. Being in charge of the school for now, she's responsible for their safety and guidance if need be. To her, rejecting any help could mean missing out on something truly important to solve and letting Twilight et al down. Nevertheless, Haber doesn't let Trxie's feelings go or feel marginalized, spending good time airing her frustrations and then confronting her after taking care of the party arrangements. So when Silverstream asked for help one more time, the moment when Starlight turned her away and took off her bracelet until the Break ends made sense and didn't feel rushed through. So when Terramar alerted her that Silverstream vanished and then called her out for turning her away (Thanks, Trixie ), could you blame her feeling terrible for the whole thing? By closing the school early, she believed she could've solved an actual problem rather than any nerve-wracking nitpick from earlier. After realizing that she was in the Everfree Forest to likely research cockatrices, the tension climbed hundredfold and added further uncertainty for Starlight. Early in the open, Starlight explained how becoming a counselor allowed her to use her "checkered past" to get to others' shoes and aid them below the surface. The guilt she felt from seasons ago disappeared. But that guilt returned and only increased as the episode and danger progressed. Even after they all realized SS was safe and sound, that guilt never went away. The communication between the rest of her friends also felt very complete with plenty of humor. Some of the best moments were as follows: The anime-like blood vessels ready to burst and SG's shock really sell the joke and immediately show how even he gets on her nerves. Trixie standing up for Starlight to Terramar and eventually accepting partial blame for her disappearance. After Terramar criticized Starlight's party for not being "perfect," everyone, including Maud, glared crossly at him, shutting him up. In acts of desperation, Starlight looked in even the most unconventional places, such as inside Pinkie's party cannon and on a crowded bookshelf. Moments like these show both the panic creeping from within and the guilt that she already possesses. This little exchange: In the final two acts alone, there was plenty of flirting between them in comparison to Maud Couple from last year. Mud's little smile after Maud's reply feels genuine and shows appreciation for each other. The lesson has some similarities with Zeppelin, but they’re not the same. In Zeppelin, it’s about how it’s not selfish to have time with yourself. Here, it’s about not getting bogged down with a very stressful job to spend quality time with others. It’s a really good lesson. There are two problems. When Starlight and the others made it inside the open ruins of the sisters’ castle, they assumed the cockatrices won’t fly in and only surround. One big problem. Cockatrices can fly high, and they got too close to a flock of migrating ones by watching them from a cliff above. What if the provoked cockatrices decide to fly over the walls or through the old windows? They were just as vulnerable inside the ruins as out, yet the episode lowers the stakes a bit here and assumes they’re safe until they walk out. It was really dumb of everyone to gather and breathe there. At the very end, Silverstream admits to Starlight that her advice didn't amount to anything in the long run. First off, the joke wasn't funny. Secondly, it all but made Starlight's stress over "not doing her job" pointless and marginalizes the moral, as SS's visits didn't factor at all into the conclusion of her Spring Break project. Had Trixie not interrupt, Starlight would've completely lost her temper and given her the riot act. That said, it’s really good, and given the fact that Starlight’s takeover of the school may be inevitable, she really needed this episode. Good work, Haber!
  6. Since the start of Season 2, Rainbow Dash traditionally has the worst episodes of the season and show at large. After a swarm of some great and excellent outings, Season 9 releases its first clunker. Smolder had one of her best outings of the season. Representing the student body who wanted the cheerleading to work, she put up with all of Dash's crap and gave her the calling-out she so rightfully deserved. After Dash gives an apology that didn't sound so contrite, she actually proved she meant it by helping her students practice. And if you look at the montage, you'll see how much effort Dash put into coaching them to be the best they can be and the students placing their trust back into her. Snips continues his capitalist streak, trying to sell as much as possible to buckball fans and goers. And he inadvertently made Dash see the errors of her ways. Celestia going all fanatical remains the episode's funniest moment. And the buckball scene as a whole (minus one moment, which I'll get to) holds up well enough. That's all the positives. The rest of this episode was just a colossal train wreck. There's one piece of dialogue, where after it all ends, that really spoils the mood. And attached with a snarky, conceited face and tone. So why is Twilight going all Trollight the worst moment of the season so far? It calls back memories of what the RM5 did in Mare Do Well and 28PL, the former one of the most infamous of the entire series. Rather than tell Dash upfront, they go behind their backs just to make her get it, and the tone attached to them is cruel and unbecoming of not only anyone who truly cares for a friend, but also the show. For those two, it took until being confronted by them at the very end with them actually telling her to her face. 28 Pranks Later has the worst atmosphere of the two, because rather than fix the problem, they exacerbated MDW's worst problems and made a worse version of that episode. Here, Dash learns her lesson well before the climax, and Twilight doesn't see the transformation taking place, but imagine if she didn’t. What if Twi told her at the end? Can you imagine just how dirtier that would feel to the audience? Just to teach Dash a contrived lesson, Twilight intentionally put the whole tournament at risk. Had Twilight decided not to make Dash the cheerleader coach beforehand, none of what happened would've existed. Dash would be at home teaching buckball and not feel demoted and deflated. She started a conflict that should never have existed in the first place. But what does making that snide, passive-aggressive line admission also mean? Twilight knew well in advance that Dash would not take this “demotion” very well, do less than minimum effort to help the students prepare for the halftime show, try to sneak away and get involved with it, potentially ruin all hope they have for it, and make them quit cheerleading practice. Like the Ponyvillagers in MDW, she used both Dash and her students as guinea pigs just to make Dash learn a lesson. This is one of her most out-of-character moments of the whole series, as it shows no trust with Dash and the student body. That final exchange is an admission of no confidence, yet the episode paints her in the right for pulling such a disgraceful stunt. Trollestia was the worst part of both Ticket Master and Bird in a Hoof, as she treated the Mane 6 (and for the latter, her sick phoenix) as a means to an end. Trollight adopting that same "quality" doesn't make it any better or more humorous. Because this episode's Mare Do Well 2.5, it's easy to see why many don't take it very well. Mare Do Well is factually terrible, and its infamy means it should've been put in the background and not to be reminded of again. This episode and the ending feel a lot like a multi-down and an admission by DHX of having continuous difficulties writing/editing her well. Those reactions also remind me of my own following Princess Spike's ending. After a mess of an episode and conflict, Spike was given a bouquet of Dragon Sneeze trees, restarting his allergies and forcing him to sneeze at the rebuilt statue. What made that moment so atrocious is how it solidifies a very sexist position within the show. Spike had been the show’s buttmonkey from the beginning, and several episodes either neglected him despite being an important part of Twi’s life (like not being at Twi’s birthday) or made him the butt of very unfunny slapstick (Owl’s Well, the Spikeabuse from Fall Weather Friends and Castle Mane-ia). Additionally to being the only non-pony of the Mane cast, he was the only male. Beating down the only male lead in a pro-feminist show is as misandrist and anti-feminist as it comes. Now, is Twilight’s line as bad as that atrocious, sorry excuse for a "joke"? Not even close. PS's "joke" made me wonder whether FIM jumped the shark, a dose of irony after Slice of Life subtly satirized it. Twilight's admission, as awful as it is, isn't nearly that low. To this day, I still don't regret my tirade over it. Thankfully, Spike had more than half a season, several more from that point forward to recover. From that day forward, he hasn’t had an episode close to this level of quality since. Unfortunately for Dash, we’re now in the last season, and if you look at the synopses of what’s to come, Also, Kaita Mpambara is one of the best new writers, so for him to write such a stinker is massively disappointing. However, just because Twilight intentionally placed Dash in an unfavorable position doesn't mean Dash is entitled to take her disappointment out on the students. With RD being the focus, we see how she feels and reacts to her surrounding. What we got here is Rainbow Dash's Honest Apple. In Honest Apple, Applejack wasn't initially sure she would be the right pony to judge on practicality, but after Apple Bloom (inexplicably) had trouble with her hat. So even though Applejack became Applejackass, it didn't start out that way. She went into this process without ill intentions. However, Rainbow Dash never got on the right foot with Ocellus, Smolder, Yona, or the two cheerleading valley mares (Shimmy Shake & Lighthoof). What was her reaction to Twi over its importance? …Nice support for your students, Ms. Cools-a-little. From the get-go, Rainbow Dash not only showed absolutely zero interest in teaching the students how to cheerlead, but made less-than-minimal effort. Let's go over her sins one by one, shall we? Shimmy Shake and Lighthoof were apparently students at the school. But Dash apparently doesn't recognize them very well and passively dissed their cheerleading routine by rolling her eyes at them. However, even if Shimmy and LH may not interest her, she could've been inspired by Ocellus's desire for respect, Smolder's subtle feminine curiosity, and Yona's eagerness to fuel her in helping all five practice. Instead, what does she do? Remain completely apathetic towards cheerleading as a whole, ignore Snips's (bit-centric) reminder that Twilight put her faith in her, and put her focus completely on the constructing buckball field over her own classroom. Their first practice in front of her was loaded with problems, including Yona's inability to not cause a classroom earthquake, Ocellus's timidity, and Smolder's poor smoke direction. But Dash pays no attention, her focus out at the window. She doesn't see one second of it. As far as she's concerned, as long as they just perform in front of her, it's all she and the buckball audience would give a shit about. As long as someone else with more passion than her can teach them, then she can watch ponies practice and build the field. Even though Snips's focus is bit-centric, he showed to be no fool these days. However, his vague wording of needing a coach so he can "make any bits" led her to her scheme, which was a disaster. … … Seriously, Dash? You really think everything will be A-OK? You think that they will rather have Snips, who's completely unqualified to teach or tutor in any form of athletics, over you? Yet, she uses that "come-up-with-something" idea to blindfold her students and try to sneak out, and would've succeeded had Yona not peaked. "Come up with something" isn't an excuse to be damn LAZY and do NOTHING under a cheap guise. After being suggested to "turn to her friends for help," she did just that and spent the rest of the first day of practice asking her friends. But she gets only the equipment. She literally is doing "what she needs" just to get stuff. No tips on how to work with them safely, arrange them properly so the practice and the dance routine improve, etc. In layman's terms: Lo and behold, they practice for the rest of the day and fuck everything up in the worst "comedy" routine of the season! What does Dash do? Completely ignore it and act like it never existed. When she turned around to see them all glum and upset, her only reaction was a disinterested "What?" Hmmmmmmmmmm… …now what does that remind me of? Oh, yeah, this little shit!! AJ's act of shaking all those feathers off Lily Lace's hat after uniquely stitching them one by one overnight is by far the cruelest act between the two episodes, but Dash's words were much worse. In HA, AJ stereotyped fashion at a boiling point (though her following words while much more composed doesn't help her at all) and at least gave it a chance. Here, Dash maintained a negative, narrow, stereotypical viewpoint of cheerleading before Twilight assigned her, maintained it throughout, and then remorselessly showed her disgust for it and those willing to perform and make it good in spite of her laziness! Even worse, despite being visibly upset, she still didn't see the big deal in how hurtful her actions were! *facehoof* Sweet Celestia! Look, I get it. Being assigned to a job you don't like sucks. No one likes it. But this isn't about you. It's them. THEY agreed to take part in the School of Friendship's cheer squad, because THEY were interested and knew Dash was the most athletic and best one to properly rally! Dash, you're a TEACHER. It's your job as a TEACHER to HELP THEM! It's one thing to be so oblivious towards their screwups. It's another to severely flanderize her ignorance, pretend they don't exist, act so disinterested when they badly mess up, directly insult them, and STILL don't care! I read one comment somewhere, and I can't find it, but that brony's right. Dash, why are you a teacher? This is the second time you were a selfish piece of shit. What you did with AJ on that boat is way, way worse than this, but that doesn't make your despicable, out-of-character actions here any better. If you truly needed help like you claimed, you coulda, I don't know, look in the library yourself and work with the students to hone their craft! Neighsay bashed the school in part because the teachers are professionally unqualified. Congratu-pony-lations for proving him right again! *AAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!* Ain't it odd that Dash suddenly bashed the idea of cheering? IIRC, she had no problem teaching someone how to cheer eight seasons ago! Sure, teaching someone how to cheer from in the stands is much more different than cheerleading, which is pre-planned and organized. That doesn't mean she can't use those lessons here, but that would've been a leeeeeeeetle too helpful for her students, wouldn't it? Needless to say, this episode sucks. Today, it's the worst of the season and yet another Dash-centric flop. However, despite bashing Dash's characterization and discontinuity, it's not close to the worst of the show or her worst appearance ever. Several episodes prior handled her way worse than this. May the Best Pet Win, Tanks for the Memories: Abusive to animals. The former by being cruel to those who want to be her pet and dismissive toward Tank. The latter for treating her company with Tank to be more important than keeping her alive. Sorry not sorry, Dash DOESN'T deserve pity over having to wait three months during the winter! Rainbow Falls: Gaining an ego and then actually thinking about abandoning the relay team representing her town in favor of the “cooler” Wonderbolts squad. Mare Do Well: No explanation required. 28 Pranks Later: Jumpstarted the MDW ripoff by scaring the daylights out of FS while knowing she hates being pranked, and then the whole town, including SCOOTALOO, decided to get her back. Newbie Dash: What supposed to be her milestone episode turned out to be the biggest torture porn of the entire show. Three years later, it remains FIM’s biggest black mark. Compete Crap Clause: Lusting to win Teacher of the Month, she and AJ focus more on winning than the Young Six’s safety, causing a Yona to nearly drown! Rather than learn their lesson, they act passive-aggressive toward each other and nearly became bite-a-cuda dinner!  When Rainbow Dash wised up, she was remorseful, apologized, and worked hard to help the students make the cheerleading become the go-to moment of the tournament. Despite her terrible behavior, she put in the effort to make up for it, a commendable act by her. Yeah, it’s the worst episode this season, but compared to almost the rest I listed, it’s not terrible. Lastly, it's understandable that some may feel DHX, particularly the crew from S6 onward, hates Rainbow Dash. But if they do, then we wouldn't have the following: Stranger Than Fan Fiction: OK, this episode isn't as good as what many say, but only due to Quibble suddenly acting like an idiot while in the jungle (thinking it's all a game). OTOH, Dash was fantastic as a fantastic foil. Top Bolt: A better climax could've really helped this episode. But Twi and Dash worked hard to help out Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail and were able to fix their friendships. Their portrayals were among the best of S6. Glideance: Dash’s Putting Your Hoof Down, and done right. Grannies Gone Wild: An episode that has no business being great, but it is. Initially wanting no part in it and trying to skip out, she immediately sees the error of her ways and works tirelessly to keep the Golden Mares safe. Despite all of the comedy at its expense, Berrow's episode reminds us to sympathize with her, not think she had it coming. She rightfully earned her way to the roller coaster. The End In Friend: NCC and Mare Do Well done right. Their argument was very believable and had every right to defend their own interests when the other didn't take theirs seriously. But they used their interests and strengths to realize how much they still mean to each other. The Washouts: An excellent sequel to Wonderbolts Academy, and Dash’s best episode. Like its predecessor, it balances her strengths and flaws very well, transitions between Dash's insecurity and worries for Scoot's safety flawlessly, and doesn't demonize her for any of it. Common Ground: An amazing followup of STFF with a personal touch, and Dash's best outing of the season. Tries her best to help Quibble learn buckball to bond with his stepdaughter, accidentally messes up, and steps back up to continue helping him until she found the right resolution. Most importantly, as disappointing as 246G is, this is Season 9's only folly. Many more episodes remain. If you wish, you can open the spoiler box beneath for brief commentary on the early-aired episodes: So, yeah, it's a bad episode, but not the worst, and whenever the show ends, she still has many good episodes.
  7. Girls, can you explain why I look like I’m getting married at the bottom of a pit? – Cheerilee Hearts and Hooves Day (the Equestrian version of Valentine’s Day) has come to Ponyville, and love is in the air. Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are busy creating a giant greeting card to give to their teacher, Miss Cheerilee. This construction involves large quantities of paper, lace, glitter and paint. Despite the rather haphazard method of its creation, the finished product looks oddly professional… and far too large to fit into the envelope. At school, Cheerilee thanks the girls for their gift. Sweetie surmises that she must have gotten an even better present from her “Very Special Somepony” but Cheerilee reveals that she is currently single, stunning the fillies. Despite their protests (and a rather put-upon expression from the teacher), Cheerilee insists she is content with her romance situation, and that the good wishes from her friends and students is enough for her. Then Sweetie got an idea. An awful idea. Sweetie got a wonderful, awful idea. (Yeah, I know: wrong holiday. What of it?) Sweetie decides the Crusaders should take it upon themselves to find a worthy stallion to be Cheerilee’s VSS, and they quickly head out into Ponyville to find the perfect match. Their search takes the form of a song, sung mostly by Sweetie herself, as they consider and ultimately reject all of Ponyville’s single stallions left and right. There are a few noteworthy images during the song. (Oh, hai, inspiration for Button Mash) Including the first outright acknowledgement of death in Equestria… yup, the “too old” pony is a priest officiating at a funeral: you can see the casket on the right of the screen. The other rather noteworthy entrant in the potential partner pageant is the stallion who is “too strangely obsessed with tubs of jelly”. Eventually, they come to Big Mac, who they find doesn’t have any plans for HnHD, and decide he will be the one. Apple Bloom points out that Big Mac is shy and probably wouldn’t make the first move on Cheerilee. They then decide to set up a picnic at the gazebo, to set the mood and get Cheerilee to make the first move instead. After the picnic is all set up, Cheerilee appears. The girls had brought her out, saying they need help with identifying a tree… an apple tree. Cheerilee is understandably confused. Just then, Big Mac also arrives, having come to fix the gazebo. The fillies then try to leave them alone, hiding in the bushes. Cheerilee looks long at Big Mac, leans in, and they think their plan is working… only for Cheerilee to point out something stuck in his teeth. “Oh, come on,” indeed, Sweetie Belle. Bonus points for the record scratch. The music sounds distorted afterwards, too. The two then head off in opposite directions, leaving the fillies flabbergasted by failure. Cue Twilight… who bumps into them while reading a book. She mentions that the holiday was started by a love potion, piquing the attention of the CMC, who borrow the book and then book it before Twilight can recommend any other reading material. She is not pleased. The CMC prepare the potion, and again call out Big Mac and Cheerilee, passing the potion off as punch they want the two to taste test. Cheerilee explains to Big Mac that she’s entirely aware that the three fillies are attempting to set them up, but they decide to humour them anyway and drink the “punch”. Punch drunk. Love. The delight of the CMC at their plan coming to fruition is quickly cut short by Cheerilee and Big Mac becoming Sickenly Sweet Sweethearts, complete with baby talk and pet names. At least Big Mac is saying more than his customary "Eeyup" and "Nope". On the other hoof, given what he is actually spouting, maybe that would have been preferable. Thoroughly weirded out by the lovebirds, as it were, the CMC retire to their club house to found out what went wrong… only to discover it went horribly right instead. It turns out the original love potion was given by a princess to a princess (interestingly, the princess in question is depicted as an alicorn) but they were so busy being in love that it ended in the destruction of their kingdom. Apple Bloom has a rather dark imagination, we find, as she imagines the results of Big Mac not being able to farm and Cheerilee not being able to teach being an epidemic of poorly educated and starving ponies. However, Sweetie explains that the spell can be broken if they can prevent the couple from seeing each other for an hour. Sounds like a plan… The fillies find Big Mac and Cheerilee at Sugarcube Corner, making even Mrs. Cake uncomfortable with their PDA as they share a milkshake… or would, if they could stop insisting the other take the first sip. When Mrs. Cake mentions wedding bells in the near future, Sweetie gets another idea… using preparations for a wedding as a pretext for keeping the sweethearts apart. AB and Scoots take Big Mac to get a diamond, and Sweetie takes Cheerilee to Carousel Boutique to get a wedding dress. Sweetie traps Cheerilee in the fitting room, while Apple Bloom stalls Big Mac by refusing all the proffered diamonds. A moment’s carelessness means that Big Mac escapes her. AB sends Scoots to inform Sweetie while she tries to stop Big Mac’s pronking progress. However, not even tying a rope to a house is enough to stop him. And this is exactly the sort of thing that drives Berry Punch to drink… At the Boutique, Sweetie is distressed to hear the news, but gets another idea on spying some nearby shovels. They quickly dig a pit trap for the suitor, and Big Mac calls out for Cheerilee just before falling in. Hearing her snookums’ voice, she busts out, veil and all, and heads for her beau. The CMC try to stand in her way, but she simply bowls them over and leaps into the pit. Fortunately, the two were kept apart long enough to end the spell, leaving a very confused Cheerilee to ask what in Equestria is going on and why she is getting married in a pit. The CMC come clean and admit that they made a big mistake trying to force the two into a relationship. Cheerilee thanks them for their concern but she and Big Mac agree the three need to be punished by doing all of Big Mac’s chores (presumably just for the rest of the day.) They also pretend to be going on a real date, just to mess with the fillies some more. And off they stride into the sunset together… Thoughts on the Episode Oh, Sweetie Belle, why do you do things? Without her bright idea to set up Cheerilee with somepony, none of the hijinks would have ensued. Although to be fair, only her first (well, and second, but that was more of a group decision) idea really backfired, the rest of her suggested courses of action actually did assist in ameliorating the first blunder. I think it would have been a little better for AB and Scootaloo to have come up with some suggestions that helped solve the crisis too, since as it is the episode is rather heavily weighted towards Sweetie. She is my favourite Cutie Mark Crusader, though, so I’m not going to object too hard to it. I thought the cringe aspect of the enforced relationship was pretty well handled… the way the two acted under the influence of the love poison was just balanced enough that it didn’t become too annoying, but still did enough to make it uncomfortable… which is as it should be, considering the CMC used literal date rape tactics on both Cheerilee and Big Mac. I’ll give Apple Bloom a point or two for being the only one to actually question whether they should be doing this. Pity she was so easily convinced to proceed. In the end, the fillies can be given a bit of a pass for overriding Cheerilee and Big Mac’s free will, since they are fillies, and such lapses of judgment due to immaturity are easier to forgive than in somepony you could reasonably expect to know better. (Looking at you, Starlight Glimmer!) The important thing is that they did learn their lesson, and they didn’t get off scot-free. Props to Cheerilee for assigning them some sort of punishment and not just letting it go. The moral is a little bit meta, since it seems to be a subtle rebuke to the habit some fans have of pairing up ponies without regard to whether it would actually make sense for them to be together. A little bit of romantic speculation is fine (I do it myself sometimes), but I disapprove of the lengths some fans will go to in shipping. See the “Die for our Ship” entry on TV Tropes for examples of the kind of things I mean. But back to the episode itself. As I mentioned above, there were a lot of stallions not usually seen around Ponyville during the song, which seems a little bit odd if you think about it, but hey, songs in the show have always needed some leeway in terms of realism. At least it gave the animators an excuse to experiment… although perhaps some experiments were not meant for ponykind to know… A very jarring image, that. Speaking of jarring images, the scene in Sugarcube Corner is possibly the most suggestive in the show to date. Dat cherry… And then there’s the shots of all three CMC fillies straddled by Twilight… That one gave me some “Hiiiiii, gurllzzz!” flashbacks. Brrr. Highlights/Quotes Watch Cheerilee’s expression when Sweetie asks about her not having a VSS… Single people everywhere can relate. The song is pretty darn funny… watch for that split second of morbidity, though! Cheerilee leans in towards Big Mac… soft romantic music plays… Cheerilee (dreamily): Big Mac…? Big Mac: Yup? Cheerilee (normal tone): …you have something stuck in your teeth… Sweetie Belle (In the distance): OH, COME ON!! When the love potion recipe calls for a Pegasus feather, Sweetie casually yanks one out of Scootaloo’s wings. Cheerilee’s Foe Tossing Charge towards Big Mac… then she leaps towards him with an expression of joy… until she realizes they’re about to collide face first… Pros: A good moral that works both in universe and out of universe. Some pretty funny things happen. Cons: Perhaps a bit too Sweetie-centric. Unsettling implications if you think about it too much. Carousel Boutique, but no Rarity? For shame! Final Rating 5 – Button’s Mom Rank: This episode has got it going on. 4 – Big Mac / Cheerilee Ship Rank: It seems like it should work, but there’s something not quite right… 3 – Button Mash Rank: Worth inserting a coin or two, but nothing super special. 2 – Hugh Jelly Rank: Once taste is enough, then put the lid on the jar. 1 – Love Poison Rank: For your own sake, don’t ignore the pony skull on the label… And once more, we get to see a familiar holiday done the pony way, and it is sweet! Not a perfect episode, but still probably one of my favourites featuring the CMC. Next we have an episode that is somewhat less romance themed, A Friend in Deed. Join me next time as we greet a new character and welcome him to Ponyville. Until then, stay sunny side up!
  8. Why does this episode make think of John Lithgow and Sylvester Stallone? Huh… Anyway, the penultimate episode of Samurai Jack is upon us! Let’s see how the lovebirds are doing... What Happens Following on from the last episode, Jack and Ashi are kissing. However, the romance is dampened by the fact that they still have slug juice in their mouths, causing them to separate and spit the taste out. Reassuring each other that it isn’t a reflection on the kiss itself, they decide to get clean. While Ashi, still wrapped in Jack’s gi, goes to find some suitable clothes, Jack heads outside the ship and luckily finds a broken pipe to use as a shower. Ashi, now clad in a green one-piece dress, appreciates the view of Jack nekkid, but leaves his now-clean gi where he can find it. The two both manage to find some bugs in the desert to cook for dinner that night, despite being chewy and rather unappetizing. Jack reminisces on the beauty of the valley where he grew up, before Aku returned, and mentions that he thinks that he will only ever have the memory, which saddens Ashi. We switch back over to Scaramouch’s journey and Scarry has coopted an octopus to serve as his body. He finally finds Aku’s spire, and despite an automated recording from Aku that he is not currently receiving visitors, proceeds inside. He convinces Aku to talk to him and tells him about the issing-May ord-Sway of ack-Jay. Aku is pleased to hear this, and restores Scaramouch’s body as reward for bringing the good-bad news. They dance. Do the Robot! In the morning, Ashi wakes to find that Jack has left her behind in secret and follows his trail again. (Note the separate beds… I guess a kiss is as far as they went… pity) Jack walks through the desert, and finds himself in a familiar place… the wreckage of giant robots all around. As he clambers over them, he comes to a destroyed time portal and sees some familiar red sun-glasses broken on the ground. It seems the Guardian and his time portal are no more. (Ah, man. I had hoped to see him again. I guess prophecy is not infallible…) Ashi arrives and soon, so do Aku and Scaramouch. Aku does his usual “fooooolish Samurai!” bit, until Jack unsheathes his sword. Scaramouch barely manages to protest before Aku blows him up… this time for good. (He just got… Scarasmooshed… ) Jack tries to attack Aku, but the Shogun of Sorrow avoids him easily, despite being distracted by something that smells like him, but isn’t. Aku then turns to Ashi… As it turns out, Aku did once visit the Cult of the Daughters, and even contributed some of his evil (from his hands, I might hasten to clarify) for the High Priestess to drink, thus impregnating her with Ashi and her sisters. (So the name “the Daughters of Aku” turned out to be literal. I must confess, I didn’t see that one coming…) Ashi is unable to control her body, attacking Jack with a purloined sword. After they trade a few blows, Aku fully releases the evil within Ashi, turning her into a black-clad clone of himself, with GREAT FLAMING EYEBROWS! The fight resumes, Akushii being much stronger and faster now. Jack still manages to graze her with the sword, releasing the good part of Ashi long enough to beg Jack to kill her before she is again subsumed. However, Jack cannot bring himself to do it, and drops his sword. A triumphant Aku holds it up as Jack collapses before Akushii and… WATCH OUT! Thoughts on the Episode You see, Friendship is Magic: that is how you do a cliffhanger! I always disliked the habit of two-parters in FiM being aired together… it leaves no time for tension to build. And for now, that is where I will leave it. Comments welcomed, and look forward to a bumper review when this whole shebang is all wrapped up. Stay sunny side up!
  9. For this being another Equestria Girls special, and a lot of the same things over and over again, it was pretty good. Lot of emotions, even through the dialogue and writing were annoying at times. There was also a major swerve in the middle of the special too, but I'll let you guys find out what it was. Overall, it was a pretty good special to keep the fans hungry for the mid-season premiere next Saturday. Grade: B
  10. Everyone's happy Masters of the electronic genre — Tycho and Madeon — drop an album and a single respectively, lifting the week for everyone around the globe. Released yesterday on July 12, Tycho's fifth album, 'Weather' is a downtempo, chill experience featuring the classic reverberant and mellow 'Tycho sound' of layered synthesisers but with a twist: he's introduced vocals. The voice of Hannah Cottrell (AKA Saint Sinner) is present on most of the album to spice up the usual airy atmosphere of the San Francisco artist's style. French musician, Madeon, also released a single yesterday, his latest addition to his upcoming LP, 'Good Faith'. The dreamy, sing-song single is called 'Dream Dream Dream' and follows the release of 'All My Friends' from last month. Tycho and Saint Sinner combine to create something more than chill Ambient virtuoso Tycho shows off some new tricks with 'Weather'. The tracklist is as follows: Easy Pink & Blue (ft. Saint Sinner) Japan (ft. Saint Sinner) Into the Woods Skate (ft. Saint Sinner) For How Long (ft. Saint Sinner) No Stress (ft. Saint Sinner) Weather He's not usually known for his inclusion of vocals. Any previous voice samples from other albums such as 'Dive' and 'Awake' were used more so as a layer of texture rather than for any lyrical purpose. Instead, this latest album extensively and exclusively features the saintly voice of fellow Californian, Saint Sinner, with clear and meaningful lyrics designed to tell a story. But of course, despite this new vocal experiment, Tycho maintains his classic ambient sound. This time however, it's been amplified by — as Tycho himself says — "the most organic instrument of all, the human voice." 'Easy' is easy on the ears. It's more upbeat than most of the other songs on the tracklist, but it's energy is perceivable as pure relaxation. It's not the type of song to get your heart racing, but it'll get you immediately engaged with the album as the opening track. Tycho states that 'Easy' is all about "taking it easy" and enjoying the ride. As one of the three songs to not feature Cottrell's voice, it feels different to the rest of the album, but easily familiar to fans of Tycho. It presents itself like a segway between his last album 'Epoch' (2016) and this one; it combines elements of both. Pink representing a girl and blue representing a boy. 'Pink & Blue' is Cottrell's expression of sexual fluidity. Its lyrical content matches the fluidity of its instrumental. As she sings of the complications of romance, Tycho's signature synthesisers are droning away in the background, with a deep bass rhythm underlying it all. As the first song with Saint Sinner, it's an excellent introduction to her airy voice, allowing the 'Tycho purists' to find themselves comfortable with the alien presence of leading vocals. "Came home from Japan." 'Japan' was written after Tycho's visit to the country. The lyrics, written by Cottrell, emphasise the struggles of a long distance relationship. Two versions of this song were released, one with Saint Sinner and the other without. 'Japan', in my opinion, stands as testimony to the power of the "most organic instrument" being able to amplify the emotion of a song. The instrumental version is fine, but the vocal version takes the cake. Cottrell's voice is dreamy and rhythmic, coasting the listener along for the duration of the track. As the second instrumental track of the album, 'Into the Woods' is interesting. It almost reminds me of 'Past is Prologue', Tycho's 2006 debut album. Its washy guitar and upbeat patterns cause the listener to feel as though they are embarking on a journey "into the woods," but it's all a fantasy. It's kind of nostalgic in a way. 'Skate', 'For How Long' and 'No Stress' all portray the angelic nature of Cottrell's voice. Each is similar to each other; they are the culminations of a master of downtempo ambient music utilising the human voice as the primary instrument. 'Skate' is my favourite song on the album. 'Weather' finishes off and titles the LP. With the classic Tycho-style melodic synths cascading in the foreground and the wide, airy chords moving the song up and down, 'Weather' feels like any other Tycho song. It's his bread and butter signature sound that caps off the album with a pretty, stunning finish. Madeon's upcoming LP and world tour, 'Good Faith' and its opening track 'Dream Dream Dream' "I feel the weight of my dreams." Always fresh and original, Madeon releases what he states to be the opening track to his upcoming album, 'Good Faith'. Expect more songs like this, because apparently this is what he wants 'Good Faith' to "feel like." Powerful, magical chords meet emotional, melodised lyrics to create something new from the French EDM artist. Madeon will be touring worldwide to launch his sophomore album. Dates: Sep 25 | London UK - Heaven Sep 26 | Amsterdam NL - Melkweg Old Hall Sep 27 | Paris FR - Élysée Montmartre Oct 30 | Vancouver BC - Commodore Ballroom Oct 31 | Seattle WA - Showbox SoDo Nov 01 | Spokane WA - Knitting Factory Nov 02 | Portland OR - Roseland Theater Nov 03 | Boise ID - Knitting Factory Nov 05 | Salt Lake City UT - The Complex Nov 07 | Phoenix AZ - The Van Buren Nov 08 | Albuquerque NM - El Rey Theater Nov 09 | Denver CO - Fillmore Auditorium Nov 14 | San Francisco CA - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Nov 15 | Los Angeles CA - Shrine Expo Hall Nov 20 | St. Paul MN - Myth Live Nov 22 | Grand Rapids MI - The Intersection Nov 23 | Detroit MI - Majestic Theatre Nov 24 | Toronto ON - Danforth Music Hall Nov 26 | Columbus OH - The Bluestone Nov 29 | Brooklyn NY - Brooklyn Steel Nov 30 | Montreal QC - MTELUS Dec 03 | Boston MA - House of Blues Dec 04 | Philadelphia PA - Franklin Music Hall Dec 05 | Washington DC - 9 30 Club Dec 06 | Atlanta GA - The Tabernacle Dec 07 | Orlando FL - The Plaza Live Dec 10 | New Orleans - The Joy Theater Dec 12 | Dallas TX - House of Blues Dec 13 | Houston TX - Warehouse Live Dec 14 | Austin TX - Emo's Summary I was so excited to see Tycho release a new album this week and then I saw a new single from Madeon and now I'm just overflowing with happiness. I don't want to wait any longer for Madeon's next album, I want it now! Sucks that he won't be touring in Australia though. But I'll definitely be saving 'Weather' and 'Dream Dream Dream' into my favourites playlist.
  11. If ever there was an artist to start this blog with, it's Poppy. What is Choke? Cult leader and popstar, Poppy, released her latest EP, Choke, last month on June 28th, 2019. Featuring the rapmetal band Fever 333, Choke further develops Poppy's spiral into eerie, sonically-perplexing and experimental pop-influenced songwriting. The EP features five songs, each varying in style and demonstrating the breadth of her artistic capabilities. The tracklist is as follows: Choke Voicemail Scary Mask (feat. Fever 333) Meat The Holy Mountain Some history on Poppy It's amazing to think that back in 2016 and 2017, Poppy appeared as nothing more than an interesting internet personality who happened to produce characteristically 'poppy' songs. Her first EP, Bubblebath (2016) and first full-length album, Poppy.Computer (2017), presented a girl delving into social commentary and catchy but meaningful lyrics. With the addition of Am I A Girl? (2018) to her discography last year, fans noted a sudden shift in her tone. Gone was the cute and technologically-influenced aesthetic of Poppy.Computer and in was the more exotic and varied sound of Am I A Girl? However, despite this drastic change in sound, Poppy has always maintained some fundamentals: her music is exactly as her named would describe; her lyrics are either tongue-in-cheek or introspective of society or herself; and, she remains to be a mysterious cult leader amassing an army of loyal fans to achieve some sort of objective. Choke does not stray from these fundamentals. Let's talk about the songs Choke continues that shift in tone and presents a new vision. Most of the EP, especially in the first, second and fourth songs (Choke, Voicemail and Meat), can be described as a dirty and industrial sound. Low synth frequencies dominate most of the soundscape of these tracks, juxtaposed by Poppy's unnervingly cute and high-pitch vocals. These songs stand in stark contrast to the artist's previous releases, particularly those of pre-2018. The real stars of the EP, however, are Scary Mask and The Holy Mountain. The former sees Poppy once again presenting something that's entirely metal and grungy, not dissimilar to her previous metalcore tracks, X and Play Destroy (2018). However, in accordance with her namesake, Scary Mask is fundamentally poppy and catchy: she's perfectly fused the metal sound with that of a charming, enjoyable-for-all-ages one. (Think BABYMETAL). The latter, The Holy Mountain, is something entirely different that we've never seen from Poppy. The bizarre piano-instrumental song, decorated with a trap-like beat during the chorus, features Christian god-worshipping lyrics. Again, this is just another one of Poppy's weird, eerie releases. Choke and Voicemail We'll discuss these ones side-by-side since they're extremely similar. Deep and grungy is the best way to describe the opening track. The distorted bassline accentuated by a low bassdrum and the singer's breathy voice emanates a 'suffocating' feeling. This is emphasised by the despairing lyrics, making existence seem so difficult. Voicemail follows up on this 'suffocating' feeling and bolsters it by adding a somewhat nauseating and perplexing emotion with its discordant, flickering melodies and ostensibly nonsensical lyrics. Above all else though, it maintains Poppy's creepy artificial image with lyrics such as, "Poppy is your mommy," almost harking back to the chorus of her previous 2017 song, My Style, with lines such as, "Poppy is your best friend" and "Poppy is an object." Poppy is reminding us that she is whoever you want her to be, she's Poppy. Scary Mask God, I love this song so much. Scary Mask can be referred to as the sister of X (2018), my favourite song from Am I A Girl? Poppy revealed in an interview with Gigwise that the two predominantly metal-focused songs were recorded just a week apart from each other. The similarity is uncanny. This song, like X, features dreamy and melodic verses which are continuously destroyed by roughly screamed metal choruses. I think it's this constant, repetitive juxtaposition between harsh and soft that sets something right for me and many others who have been praising this new artistic route that Poppy has been venturing. Poppy states in the same interview that this alternative path to pop music that she's taken was "borne out of frustration." Well, it's definitely frustration that's sonically emitted from this track. Meat As previously stated, Meat fits well with Choke and Voicemail in terms of its grungy, low sound, however, this one features somewhat friendlier and more upbeat verses. I say somewhat because the content of its lyrics are still nothing short of creepy. You'd think though that maybe Meat is a normal, regular pop song right? Kind of. Any normalcy is immediately dispelled by its harrowing, whispered and breathy choruses. I'd rank Meat lowest on this EP, however, that isn't to say it's a terrible song. Just not what I usually expect from Poppy. The Holy Mountain Surprisingly, Holy Mountain comes out of nowhere on this EP as a very enjoyable but bizarre religious-themed song. The track is primarily a piano-instrumental, featuring an electronic trap-like beat during the chorus. Poppy has never featured lyrics quite this direct about religion, especially not Christianity. The preachy ballad features an acceptance of God into one's life. In fact, the length of the song is 3:33, which may refer to John 3:33 which speaks of accepting John's testimony that Jesus was the son of God from Heaven, and that by accepting this, one can see "eternal life." In her Gigwise interview, Poppy stated that with The Holy Mountain, she hopes to inspire people to seek "the higher consciousness" so that they may achieve an open mind. This track stands as one of Poppy's latest experiments with new genres, demonstrating once again that she's not afraid to use her lyric-writing pen in any way she wants. Summary Hopefully Poppy continues to amaze or shock us in the future with her tenacity to take the pop music genre and craft it into something that's entirely different and sonically interesting. With the large difference between this EP and her previous EP, Bubblebath, we can only imagine what's in store next. If you like the occasional synthpop and/or experimental pop coupled with a bit of weirdness, this EP, including most of Poppy's work should be right up your alley. I'm in love with it and have it on repeat.
  12. This won't be like my typical reviews to be honest. Rainbow Roadtrip was a pretty good special for the show. Loved that they used the artstyle of the movie (Supposedly, this was supposed to be the sequel of the MLP movie from 2 years ago). I really enjoyed the build up, and the romance storyline. It was overall a good way to send us fans off into the US summer haitus (unless you watch the chinese airing of the next episode).
  13. Note: Credits to We Are Borg, MarikAzemus, and @Truffles for this review. After Sweet and Smoky, I won't be surprised if Season 8 was planned as equally as the 9th. The way she teased her off-screen bro after his horrid molt shows her edge, yet still cares for him. Combine this with Spike's feud with Garble still hanging in the air, what perfect time to address it than an episode about dragon-breeding. This episode mingles three plots: figure out how to hatch the eggs, get Garble to show his more sensitive side, and end his feud with Spike. While Sweet & Smoky started by using the first two, it expanded once Spike discovered who Smolder's brother is. Sure, no in-show word said he's her older brother, but given the context of past episodes and how Smolder's younger, higher pitched, and originally a little less mature than him, yeah, she's younger. Throughout, Smolder's more "feminine" side becomes more and more open. While at the School of Friendship, she's more introverted in her likening for tea parties, but while around Garble, she's more self-secure in openly having tea parties with Garble and Spike, expressing her feelings, showing emotion beyond archetypal "masculinity," and not being afraid to go against the grain of dragon culture she grew up learning from. Even more, her friendship with Spike grew closer to more of a surrogate sister, as she's more open around Spike, defends his passions, and stands up for him. Unlike Spike from Dragon Quest, Smolder rejects the long-time "culture" of bullying others to show "toughness," because she learned ways to be strong beyond the shallow "being-with-older-groupies" type, but not her identity. Thanks to Ember and Twilight, she learned how there's more than one right way to be a dragon, and as Garble tries to hide his insecurities, she tries to open them up so he and Spike bond. Speaking of Spike, he's the main lead, and he shows off his growth as a character in subtle ways. Even though he and Garble have a rough history, he trusted Smolder's words. Early on, she referred to his bro as being like a squishy marshmallow on the inside. Taking her words into account, he works with her to get him to reveal his more sensitive side with a promise of not making fun of him. His trust with Smolder goes back to Molt Down (their first real onscreen conversation), Rockhoof (their fire-breathing competition), and Father Knows Beast (working with her to out Sludge). Despite being the subject of constant abuse by Garble, Spike sucks it up. Why? Firstly, to promise himself to being a dragon without going out of character. Secondly, because that's what Smolder wants. If he (understandably) decides to cook Garble's snout, who can blame him? One can take so much punishment before going over their limit. He openly embraces "Spikey-Wikey." Back in Dragon Quest's beginning, he rejected Rarity's nickname, thinking it made him look too cute in front of ponies. (And from my perspective, her nickname for him then was sooooo patronizing. ) From that point forward, whenever Rarity calls him that, it's endearing. Calling himself that to Garble calls back to that background evolution of acceptance for it. This episode had plenty of Spike abuse, specifically Act 2 when he and Smolder try to get Garble to crawl out of his shell. However, I don't have much of an issue with this for a key reason. His mistreatment of Spike, both past and present, was integral to the conflict. How did he react once finding out she and GarGar were siblings? Not so well. Notice Smolder's raise of the eyebrow in the first link, implying suspicions towards her brother. Soon after, she warned Garble after he tried to be a passive-aggressive douchebag in front of her. From the get-go, she establishes she won't tolerate anyone bullying her good friend. Thanks to chickening Clump (one of the three stereotypical bullies) out after accusing her of being "soft," Beyer-Johnson shows she means business. But that doesn't mean Garble can't give him the short end of the stick by accident or abuse him behind her back. Unlike examples from other episodes, the Spikeabuse isn't a joke (something @Truffles points out in his review; link to it near the bottom). We as an audience are supposed to sympathize for him and root for him to overcome it all and prove to be better than him. But no matter how much he tried, Garble’s mistreatment of him understandably discouraged him. Additionally, his disappointment led him to accidentally discovering that the ground underneath the nests was too cold, immediately leading S&S into a darker turn. The eggs shook not from fright, but from dragons freezing inside. Thanks to his discovery, Ember unleashes Clump, Fume, and "Billy" some deserved karma. Back to the A-plot, with Spike being bullied, Fluttershy (representing the motherly support, while Smolder's the "sister") delivered two of the episode's most rewarding moments. After showing control over Spike since returning to the Dragon Lands, it was only a matter of time before someone called them out for their bad behavior. Fluttershy's anger was raw and real; when she ordered them to quit throwing lava at him, she meant it. Like a good mother, she keeps him accountable. At no point does she scold him and then pretend it's all okay. When she found out he played bongo drums and wrote poetry with Smolder, she embraced his hobby, but was quick to point out his hypocrisy in multiple ways: scapegoating her for being "sneaky" when he was the one doing the sneaking and using his status as a bully to hypocritically pick on Spike. After Garble's flimsy excuse, she gave him this: Her riot act to him was some well-needed tough love. He treated Spike like crap for not being a "real dragon" in order to hide his insecurities, and Fluttershy gave him some pointers of what makes him a "real dragon," narrowed to this: not being afraid to be himself and being with those who'll really appreciate his creativity. Granted, S&S's reveal could've been handled better. Nowhere the episode foreshadows his love for poetry. Now, the atmosphere early in Act 1 (thanks, We Are Borg, for catching this) foreshadows the upcoming stakes and differences between pony and dragon cultures, and Smolder refers to him as a lovable guy who likes to be with those who appreciate talents like Spike's, but what would do better is a hint or two that isn't so vague so his reveal of being a beatnik poet can be connected more with the rest of the plot, such as being with someone who can exchange points in creativity. Additionally, the episode told a lot about Garble's sadness, which he hid through a bad temper and embarrassment. Showing sadness, scaling back a little bit of the abuse (i.e., second-guessing before doing it anyway), and collecting lava to cool it down and turn it into the cylinder would help round it more. Conversely, the episode does a really good job showing us what he does to make us understand him without telling us to forgive him, which MarikAzemus points out. If you want to forgive him, that's up to you. Yes, Garble being sensitive is a cliché in storytelling, but it's one for ringing true. However, while One Bad Apple explains Babs's history of being bullied to make us forgive her for bullying others, Fluttershy and Smolder call him out every time he gets caught. Neither the story nor them downplay the bad things Garble did, emphasized earlier by how Spike would rather help hatch the eggs than be around him. The fact that Garble himself fears being picked on is not an excuse for picking on Spike in return. The fact that he defied Smolder's warning from earlier more than justified her to angrily call him out for picking on him. Small for her, sure, but important on the whole. Why? Because she keeps her promise to both him and Spike and shows she's taking both her professors' classes to heart and Spike's wellbeing seriously. However, rather than get defensive, everyone had to go to the nesting grounds, as the eggs were shaking from the baby dragons from inside feeling too cold. They've been inside for days, but they're newborns, and they're dependent on warmth from the underneath lava to keep them warm as they hatch. Ember called upon "every dragon" (or if the episode was more specific, every dragon she could find) to hatch them, but the fire was too cool. There, as Garble's "friends" laugh at him so hard that their fire becomes hotter, Garble notices a break. See the fumes? The eggshells were heating up. But how to do it better? At that point, Garble takes advantage. Earlier, he worried about others making fun of him for his creativity. Here, if he can get them to laugh at him, they can shoot fire onto the eggs. Will they make fun of him for it? Of course, and he knows it! But he soon stopped caring about what they think and agreed to trade embarrassment for the baby dragons' health. After briefly wallowing, he takes her lessons to heart, starting with this. Like Rarity years ago, he calls him "Spikey-Wikey" sincerely. As he beats the drums and recites the poems, Spike supports him all the way, snapping his own claws to stay into the tune. The more he recited and banged the drums, the more confident he became. When he recited his first poem, he exchanged eye contact with Spike, knowing that he'll embrace his creativity and back him when needed. Afterwards, he said nothing for a good few seconds. As he banged his drums, he became one with the music and his writings. The lack of confidence from before dissipated. Ironically, the more they laughed at his poetry, the more confident he became. By laughing at him, they're falling into his trick, which helps the babies hatch. Pay attention to the last three poems: All of them have a double meaning. In addition to telling the eggs to break free from the eggs, he was also telling himself and everyone else he wasn't hiding his talents anymore. He was proud to write poems, be a poet, and show it off. If they mock him, so what? That's their problem, not his. His self-confidence rose exponentially, and he singlehandedly saved a generation of dragons from freezing to death. The fact that Dragon Lord Ember defended him instantly after they hatched proves to everyone that their talents matter and should be celebrated. She loves the Dragon Lands and her culture, but she has a history of being looked down for being smaller in stature (and thus "weaker" than other candidates three seasons ago), so them mocking him was personal. If they continued to bully others for not being "real" dragons, then those eggs don't hatch. Thanks to Garble and Ember's and Smolder's fervent defenses of him, the dragons learn an important lesson of how they can improve relations with each other. If there's one thing here to comment, though, the fact that Garble's three friends had a change of heart seconds after Ember announced a massive change in its culture makes their change of heart feel less like an organic want to learn and more of "follow the leader." That said, the others agreed after realizing what he accomplished, implicating they're sincere. And @Truffles points out a really interesting, subtle secondary message. By unknowingly "hogging" the lava from the lake, they accidentally changed the landscape and put the lives of baby dragons (that she promised to take care of) in serious jeopardy. They count on her to protect their children at all costs; Ember's rightfully upset at them and treated the situation with the urgency it deserves. They were lucky to prevent the problem from getting worse, but if they're not careful next time, they might not be. This episode has rough edges. There were areas that could've definitely been improved on, one of them making Billy, Fume, and Clump less half-dimensional. Yes, seeing them angrily called out was satisfying, but it's like eating a Mickie D's burger with fries: It's filling for now, but it won't fill you for long. The dialogue's serviceable. And Garble's reformation could've been more natural. However, compared to Complete Crap Clause, this was much better in comparison. Characters remained in character. Beyer-Johnson expands dragon lore more. Garble's bullying and excuses weren't tolerated. And by taking his lessons to heart, he saves hundreds of vulnerable baby dragons and evolves one crucial component of dragon culture. Spike's the lead, but he, Fluttershy, and Smolder share great moments, and Garble reforms, ending their series-long rivalry. Sweet and Smoky overcomes its flaws and is executed effectively, resulting in a good episode.
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRQwCOYsogQ Your favorite frenemy, back to review your favorite Frenemies!
  15. Note: Credits to The Dragon Warlock, @Sepul-Coloratura, and @TheAnimationFanatic for this review. Villains are often some of the more interesting characters in animation. Often they vary in personality, from grounded to eccentric. But the cartoon medium also gives writers an extra incentive by how amoral they can be and showing no remorse for their actions. Some of Disney's best villains like Jafar, Gaston, Honest John, Mother Gothel, and Scar are super expressive. When there's a song, they're almost always the best of the film. *points at Hellfire, Be Prepared, My Lullaby, and Poor Unfortunate Souls* Observe FIM's villains. Initially among the weaker characters, DHX began introducing better ones in Season 5. Starlight Glimmer was the most realistic of the series, adopting a warped philosophy of friendship and brainwashing any subject who dared to question her authority. Stygian's tragic backstory and relationship with the cunning Pony of Shadows added multiple layers in a really complex season finale. FIM's villain crown belongs to Cozy, whose manipulation of everyone cleverly hid her ability to doubt friendships, cause friction, and sway ponies. What do Cozy, Tirek, and Chrysalis have in common? They're all fallen. Cozy's manipulation abilities are greatly weakened, thanks to Grogar's lack of trust for everyone there (and Tirek and Chryssie outing her for lying about being in command). Although much healthier now, Tirek has to rely on his sanity and weightlifting instead of magic for strength and interest. Queen Chrysalis lost her hive, leadership, and pride; look no further than this outstanding callback from The Mean 6: Chrysalis feels so powerless and out of her league that she talks to what remains of Snarkle to keep her composure. Oh, how the mighty fell, indeed. (BTW, The Dragon Warlock suggested calling this trio the Fallen Three, and that's such a great name that until at least the finale, I'll call them that.) Now, put them all together in one room, and what do you get? Extreme variances of eccentric personalities. From the opening shot, we as a people saw firsthand they had trouble cooperating. Cozy got Tirek in trouble for something so petty, Tirek accused her of lying, Chryssie was bored as shit. Back to this in a bit. Grogar, the calming force of the four, is opposite all of them on the Character Wheel, mustering all he could to maintain patience and hoping his accomplices can work together with him to beat Twilight and friends. Thanks to his necklace and horns, he can intimidate them with merely a flicker of magic to keep them in line, but he understands beating them all requires teamwork and that bell he so yearns to repossess. Does he trust them? Not one bit. But he must rely on them and hope somehow their egos won't ruin everything. That's why he came up with a clever test: to test their wills and patience with each other. If they can at least try to work together, then perhaps they can scale Mount Everhoof, pierce through Gusty's powerful force field, and retrieve his Bewitching Bell. With his test brings forth his bell's history and backstory. Beyond just his tale of what happened to it, the graphics are magnificent. Its rough edges in the first shot, parchment-colored pattern in the background, lower framerate, and flat (yet sharp) contrasts of shadow and light (with a strong exception), there's an ancient, sometimes stone-like quality in the graphics. Showing us his story, his defeat by Gusty, the Bell's near-invincibility, and Gusty's incredible wizardry authenticates his tale, which increases the show's already-rich lore even more. Transitioning styles, spending a good amount of time explaining the Bell's lore demonstrates perfectly how important that object means to him. If he ever gets it back, they're literally one step closer from re-conquering Equestria. Returning to the Fallen Three, like I wrote before, their first appearances showed friction between them. Their appearances following the intro further expand their dynamic. Sweet, sour, and manipulative, she easily gets under Tirek's skin through her ego, high opinion of herself, and baby talking him. Patting him on his forehead like a little kitty cat and bribing her with cupcakes baits them into joining her meeting. In one minute, she pushes all the right buttons to folks more powerful than her without crossing lines. Even as they push back her lies, she immediately casts doubts and takes themselves under her miniature wings, leading to the season's best song to date. A Better Way to Be Bad is polar opposite of Our Town. While the latter was more grounded and inspired by WWII propaganda, this is over the top and primarily comedic. With the meeting a (doubly gross! ) disaster, Cozy immediately regroups with a better plan to get everyone together (with her in charge), and the strings are a great way to introduce her intellect and sass into the song while keeping Chryssie and Tirek in check. Of course, when Tirek starts singing, the tempo increases and the comedy focuses on both him and QC trying to own each other with hilarious insults, him by claiming he's strong enough to overthrow Equestrian royalty, and her by laughing at him for getting his ass whooped. They all have one thing in common: weaken and beat the Mane 8! But they have to get by their egos first, and this song really shows how not only how large their egos are, but also how they can use them to mock others. Tirek was so tired of Cozy's repetition that he agreed to work with her, but later competed with her and co-mocked Cozy by overtaking her song. In three minutes, her plan fails, and we're all back to square one. That said, the lyrics are phenomenal with excellent comedic timing and great music in the background to accentuate the tone. Favorite moment here's this: And all of Cozy's faces here are really hysterical, especially when Tirek shakes her in anger! The slapstick's also fantastic. Thanks to its light tone, they take some really nasty bumps, yet bruising only their tempers instead of their bodies. Neither Tirek nor Chrysalis stand each other, proving it by Tirek intentionally not catching her (forcing her to hit the ground hard) and QC shoving Tirek down a flight of stairs, both times with the opposite blindfolded. XD Watch it and observe all the energy. You'll notice how much fun Vogel, Ingram, and Nashville Scoring Orchestra had in making this piece, and the same can be said with Sunni Westbrook (Cozy's VA), Kathleen Barr (QC's), and Mark Acheson (Tirek's) when singin' it. But this song also foreshadows what they'll do at the trial. As they can't cooperate, they'd rather scale Mount Everhoof by themselves. Immediately, Vogel exposes critical weaknesses of each character and their poor planning. Cozy attempts to butter up Rusty Bucket, who guards Mount Everhoof so no one hurts themselves climbing up. But as soon as he objects, she (hilariously) loses her temper and tries to (unsuccessfully) sneak around his house, concluding with getting caught in a massive snowball that catapults her back to camp. On an unrelated note, Rusty refers to his copy of Twi's Friendship Journal *twitches eye* and uses a lesson written in it to emphasize why he won't let her do something so dangerous. That lesson — not to force someone to do something against their morale — is a nice, little callback to Bats's. Originally, Queen Chrysalis would order her hive to do her bidding. Now she must scale it alone. But try as she might, the strong gusts almost injured her. Quickly Tirek comprehended how Gusty's magic's too strong for him. So as they climb to the summit, he sits back, keeps the campfire roaring like a steam engine, and waits for them to fail. XD Why is this important? Because he's no team player, calling back to how he double-crossed Discord midway into Twilight's Kingdom, Part 2. Another great strength of this episode, and has been for several dating back to Shadow Play, is the tight dialogue. Not only was Grogar on point in his commanding presence in his voice, but everyone else. The best example of this dialogue takes place at the campfire, both before and after Chryssie knocked out that lamia (and no, I don't care if he's technically an Ophiotaurus! He's a lamia to me!). Cozy and Tirek's escalating argument is extremely plausible. Not only do the words and scripted actions feel bitter. Listen to them argue, too. Venom drips in every line. Cozy's at her wit's end, thanks to Tirek outwitting her and letting her be miserable as shit trying to climb Mount Everhoof. The more she devolves into a temper tantrum, the prouder he becomes, knowing he got under her skin and she can't do anything to stop him. (That little anime-like vein throbbing between her eyebrows subtly adds into her immense anger. ) On the other hand, she easily pushes a very sensitive button by talking ill of his grandma, who he still loves, as he dreams. Thank God these people are villains: Had she not be evil, her insult towards his family would be considered a low point of the show. *cough* FS bashing Rarity's and Pinkie's lives *cough* Now, recall Better Way to Be Bad. Great song, ain't it? It also foreshadows what comes following their brief argument, which is a shared desire. Sharing stories, they show some of the best chemistry between characters in the entire series. Their hatred for the Mane Eight, Discord, and anything else good is extremely plausible; not one line feels poorly constructed or out of place. By sharing their hatred, they let their guard down just a bit to have some downtime during their quest for conquest and misery. Chrysalis's mocking of Twilight is one of the funniest moments of the season for this reason, and those whimpered lips sell the joke perfectly. But as a massive and proud Fake and Misfuckton hater, my loudest laughs occurred when Chryssie buried Rusty's house with snow. Hopefully, that avalanche destroys the copy of that "Friendship" Journal. *AHEM!* OK, back to the review! With the Fallen Three finally a team, they help each other climb Everhoof, showing the natural progression of their alliance that began in the first act. With each step, they accurately prove Grogar's point: By working as a team and setting their egos aside, they can conquer seemingly impossible obstacles. Gusty's wind magic was supposed to be so strong that no one could come close to his Bewitching Bell! By learning from their mistakes, they figure out how to not only use the magic to their advantage, but exploit its weaknesses. Earlier, Chrysalis failed to fly to the other side by becoming a Roc, who was too big and too heavy. Cozy's smaller and lighter, thus can penetrate through the gust much easier. By connecting the vine from both sides of the cliff, they can climb across instead of fly or glide and successfully defend themselves from Gusty's magic. From the climax onward's one of the greatest sequences of the series. Gusty's force field's stronger than her gust magic. So strong that Tirek's hand nearly singed. But now more powerful than when he first met Grogar, he remains one step away from possibly penetrating it. Cozy's suggestion — borrowing QC's magic to open it — marks the perfect conclusion to Grogar's test and why he instructed them to go up there. For all we know, he could go up there himself. After all, he just rediscovered it and has already recovered enough to be stronger than the Fallen Three combined. But by placing the responsibilities on them, he forces them to have faith in each other when it's still so thin. And with her quit intellect, Cozy's not only the perfect vessel for this idea, but also making Tirek keep his promise. Tirek's humongous form is a magnificent detail in one key way. By getting that lamia to become lustful with her, she was able to eat all that love. Recall this line. That was no accident. By eating all of his love magic, she regenerates and becomes stronger. By absorbing her magic, he borrows the same strength she obtained from last night. So it makes sense for him to level up so easily. By being small, she can fly through a small opening and steal back Grogar's bell with limited time. Will Anderson's score adds to the stakes the scene places. Chrysalis trusts Tirek in breaking through the force field. Tirek trusts Cozy in stealing the bell. Cozy trusts Tirek in keeping it open long enough for her to escape before Gusty's magic heals the force field. Even after all that, Chryssie's strong enough for one more burn. XD After everything they went through, Tirek keeps his promise and returns her magic. While I currently disagree with @Sepul-Coloratura in calling it the most powerful moment of the show in the last few years (though that may change someday, so we'll see), he's right about how powerful AND important it is. No matter how evil villains can be, they're still characters with emotion and conflict. All episode long, the Fallen Three fought with each other, then progressively became a team, and showed genuine trust with one another. Even with their evil goals, they face similar challenges like the protagonists. Teamwork was their main goal, and they not only achieved it, but also felt happy doing it. I don't care if they're villains; one can't help but root for them. For the first time all series, they showed genuine pride for doing something good instead of bad and were *places two finger millimeters away from each other* this close to believing the true Magic of Friendship…only to hilariously relapse at the end and turn it into, perhaps, the first moral-less episode of the series. Nevertheless, thanks to this unpredictable yet powerful moment, we must ask ourselves this question. Since the Fallen Three briefly believed the power of friendship exists, can it help them become possibly redeemable? Since Beginning of the End, they were very uneasy around Grogar. Cozy, Chrysalis, and Tirek are the top baddies of the whole series, yet sharing that humanity within difficult times makes it all the more possible for them to eventually believe the Magic of Friendship and prove they deserve a second chance. To put this into a theory, what if Chrysalis starts to feel love as an actual emotion to obtain and share instead of steal? What if Tirek uses his brute strength and intelligence to overpower Grogar and be a matching force with Discord? What if Cozy uses her natural leadership abilities to lead everycreature out of danger or help solve a puzzle to defeat Grogar? Prior to this season, reformation made no sense. This episode changed all that instantly. That said, there's a question mark. Grogar apparently bought into the Fallen Three's lie of failing their mission. Yea, he's happy they bonded, but unhappy that he can't get his bell back. However, he seems to be unaware that it's nearby. I mean, sure, he only rediscovered it, as written before, so the orb isn't as all-knowing as it seems. And Grogar not only told them he didn't trust them to begin the episode, but showed it, too. Had his patience not remain so strong, he'd destroy them instantaneously. On the other hand, DHX established Grogar as calculating, smart, and wise enough to not fall for anyone's tricks; it's possible he knows they plan to betray him, but will wait until the time is right. When will that be? I don't know. How will he carry out his outing of them, if possible? Ditto. We'll see. Regardless of the circumstances, Frenemies is a major risk-taker. As the first all-villain episode of the show, it's also one of Pony's best. Fantastic humor, a lot of snappy dialogue. For the first time since Re-Mark, villains received character development; this episode developed them far beyond my imagination, incorporating a clever conflict and masterfully resolving it while maintaining their statuses. It's easy to see why the masses within the fandom adore it, and I do, too. Echoing @TheAnimationFanatic, that feeling when a villain episode teaches the qualities of teamwork objectively better than one with long-established protagonists like Complete Crap Clause… Altogether, this is one of Vogel's finest episodes and a masterclass of villainy craft. Bravo!
  16. Sometimes you just not look forward to an episode. Whether it’s the synopsis, unimpressive preview, or whatever, something didn’t click. Personally, I looked forward to it, although I understand why some didn’t. It had the makings to being the worst episode of the season at this point. Fortunately, it’s not. In fact, it’s a sneaky great one. For one, there’s a whole lot of really good comedy. Like every other episode this season, there’s a huge array of facial expressions, and they sell the jokes really well. My favorites are: Rarity looking very cross after Yona burped munched Brussel sprout on her muzzle. Gallus and Smolder teasing each other, the latter including a wink. Rarity’s smiles, such as asking Yona what she wanted at the Boutique and pronouncing sophisticatedly. Silverstream’s sass as she gobbled potato chips first and a really nervous grin the next. Yona romantically blinking at Sandbar, triggering giggles from her friends. And there’s also all of Yona’s antics as she tried to “fit right in.” When she tried the first time, she caused either a little commotion or chaos, ala damaging Rainbow’s classroom by accident. Then after she succeeded, she pretended to be Rarity in hilarious fashion, all the way down to her accent, dress choice, and mannerisms. Observe the title. It references the 90’s cult hit, She’s All That, which in turn was inspired by Oscar-winning musical My Fair Lady. I'm not familiar with the former (never watched it), but I am with the latter, and you can find similar tropes used for My Fair Lady in at least three other Disney films: Aladdin, Pocahontas 2 (the one best compared to All Yak), and Mulan. As such, there’s no denying how cliché this type of story is, and this episode’s formula (despite a wide variety of emotion carrying it, and I put not much focus on total clichés nowadays) may be a little too on the nose with it and could do more by straying away. But there’s no denying the emotion that drives this episode. Yona, being the least ladylike of the Young 6, is justified to be uncertain of Twilight's Amity Ball. The Amity Ball trophy's taken from Ponyville's annual Fetlock Fête, a dancing competition with an award going to the winner, and the poster features two ponies, no other creature. Additionally, pay attention to the language: To be fair to the teachers, it's not wrong for them to teach non-ponies Ponyville traditions. Twilight also changed the name so non-ponies can feel more invited. But there are problems. Today, Ponyville remains a homogeneous society, and the School's next door to Twilight's castle. She's supposed to teach a more inclusive Magic of Friendship, yet so far hasn't taught traditions from other cultures. Despite their efforts, it shouldn't surprise anyone why the unfortunate implication pressured Yona to assume she'd have to be a pony to qualify for the Pony Pal trophy. The event also showed how those same implications impacted the rest of the Young Six. Observe their faces. Ocellus's is blank. Smolder rolled her eyes. Gallus looked cross, implying he felt tokenized by ponykind. While everypony and Spike danced, they sat out and played cards. Outside of expression, Gallus expressed his concern, too. Prior, when ponies went to a faraway land to teach the Magic of Friendship, they risk very imperialistic implications, suggesting that those creatures are inferior. Two episodes that fell into this trap were Dragon Quest (stereotyping dragondom thanks to misogynistic teens) and Lost Treasure (treating friendship as the go-to method to fix a desolate, corrupt country). Thankfully, they've been more cautious lately, but this type of episode opened itself up to it. So how did they bypass those implications? Instead of coming to her and telling her she had to change, Yona came to them. She understandably assumed that she had to change into a completely different character. Therefore, by seeing all those dresses, she also assumed that she had to dress like a pony in order to "fit right in" with the rest. That little, innocent accident produced further doubt and fear into Best Yak's childlike psyche. But at no point does the episode look down on her or see her as stupid. Throughout, it listened to those fears and let airing her doubts whenever without interruption. When she tried to persuade Rarity to design the right dress for her, Rarity reluctantly agreed. When she struggled, everyone — and by extension, the episode — encouraged her to improve. On the other end, when her friends saw how she was speaking and behaving, their first impressions were worry. They wondered what was going on with her, and all giggling aside, they were concerned the entire time. Sandbar, who asked her out, was also getting increasingly worried after she nearly spilled punch all over her dress. Rarity's reluctance plays another key. Why does Yona's visit take her aback? Because she doesn't expect anyone to dress. Yes, the Fetlock Fête's a more formal tradition, but the Amity Ball isn't, and Twilight didn't announce dresses as a requirement. Thanks to peer pressure, Yona thought she had to. Rather than say no, Rarity agreed to her demand. After all, she's her client, and objecting may only worsen things. One little line subtly adds to this doubt: Rarity suggested she stand out for Sandbar. Yona corrected her. Instead of thrusting her beliefs onto her, she listened and, despite being opposite her morale, obliged. Everyone else actively wanted to help her improve. At first, Yona struggled mightily. The Pony Catillion chart really confused her, 'cause all of the colors and hooves overlapped each other, and Yona (hilariously) smashed up Dash's classroom when trying to learn the Pony Prance. Meanwhile, Pinkie's quick organization of the ingredients comes second nature to her, but Yona was overwhelmed. Seeing how she needed help, they started from scratch, modified their instructions, and slowly worked upward as Yona improved. Another big improvement here in comparison to other episodes is how they remained in character the whole time. Nopony looked down upon her the entire time. Instead of forcing her to agree, Yona came to them for help, and they worked the best they could to her demand. Did they get flustered, insult her, or treat her or her culture as inferior? Nope. They genuinely believed they were helping her accomplish what she wanted. Come the end of the montage, everything was according to plan. Unfortunately, they had no idea that, despite the best of intentions, they unknowingly perpetuated the same imperialistic "out-of-pony" stereotypes. What they intended was to help Yona impress Sandbar, have fun, and win Best Pony Pal. But their coaching accidentally suppressed Yona, who was beginning to treat her own identity as a yak as a weakness and took their lessons as means to become more self-conscious. This line further implicates this: Pay attention to the last two words. "Well spoken" is a microaggression. It may "sound" nice on the surface (and sometimes not intended to be offensive at all), but when a Caucasian calls an African-American "well-spoken," they say he's better not talking like "other" blacks, a.k.a., anyone who speaks Ebonics. Regardless of intent, it's racist and not a compliment whatsoever. In FS's POV, she's complimenting her, and Yona accepts it without a second thought. Albeit very on the nose, Fluttershy's supposedly innocuous line further backs up the episode's anti-assimilation theme and, along with the rest of the coaching, made her really vulnerable to shame and distressed if she messes up. And boy, did she mess up. Surprise surprise, Yona became very ashamed and depressed, hiding in the Palace of Solace. Recall what the Tree told them four episodes ago: Within the Everfree Forest's castle ruins, this treehouse provides a safe space for anyone who needed it. After the biggest humiliation of her life, Yona needed to air her despair, and this was the best place. Her song to begin Act 3 ranks up there with The Pony I Wanna Be, Moondancer's rant, Sunset losing her memories, and Grand Pear's apology as one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire series. However, what happened during the lowest moment of her entire life resulted in one of Pony's most heartwarming moments. Sandbar's a fine addition to the Young Six, but he's the most mellow, so he doesn't have plenty of oomph. Thankfully, he more than makes up for that by listening to her, treating her as an equal, and showing that he won't trade anything away that made her the way she was. His unconditional support for her and empathy cheered her up and reignited her self-confidence, demonstrating what helped make this show so successful: not only teaching us the Magic of Friendship, but proving it. Just to balance the perspectives more, I would've liked to see Sandbar sit inside the Palace just after the intro. That way, we get to see his insecurities a little more. But this is a nitpick, so carry on! Let's go back to Fluttershy's "well-spoken" line. Again, it's supposed to mean well, but has unintended consequences, staying true to the episode's critique of assimilation. The RM6 had absolutely no intention of leaving any non-pony out, but someday, someone was going to take these unfortunate implications to heart. Being the most emotional and vulnerable of the Y6, Yona was the perfect vessel. Even though they believed they did the right thing by trying to teach her the Fetlock Fête's traditions, they inadvertently cleansed her psychologically and culturally. They wanted nothing more than to make her happy, but not by taking away what made her so special. Apologizing to her and reassuring they love her for who she is is the right call. As for the sporadic critique of Yona and Sandbar winning the Pony Pal trophy, think about this. Once more, as Yona suffered the deepest humiliation of her life, Sandbar offered his ears, patience, and a proverbial shoulder for comfort. His actions embody the School of Friendship's values; they more than deserved that award. In addition, cleaning up meant they had plenty of time to rethink the Amity Ball's purpose. Why did they change the award's name and dress one of the pony statues up as a yak? To symbolize how friendship crosses boundaries and cultures. Thanks to their own mistakes, they can improve the Amity Ball to include everyone much better. Look at how everyone joined in her Yakyakistan Stomp. They show how much she means to them. For the ponies, this will be a lesson in working with non-ponies to make the School of Friendship and its activities feel more welcoming. Given the show's flaw of ponies sometimes acting as the savior to non-ponies, it's a long-time coming for the show to not only address this problem, but flip it to make the ponies learn this lesson. Also, if you believe this episode's moral is "be yourself" and a near-copycat of past episodes, such as Common Ground, you're overlooking the nuances. Common Ground's are to not use bitterness to isolate someone from being part of a family and to not pretend you have to follow a passion to bond with someone. The primary lesson from She's All Yak is not to feel like you have to erase your own identity to belong. They're not the same. Pony's on a hot streak. Since Matter of Principals, they haven't released one mediocre or bad episode, and aside from a rare fine one, they're all good to really good. So far, every season 9 episode is really good at least, and this is the fourth great one in a row. I'm unsure how well it'll age over time, but today, all I need to say is that She's All Yak is sneakily great and could (hopefully) land near the top of S9's best episodes
  17. NOTE: Copied and pasted my review from here and contains some extra edits. Trixie and Starlight's chant and dance were total cringe. Looking for me to dish another negative? You ain't gonna find it here. (On the) Road to Friendship's story's incredibly simple, its focus driven 100% by Starlight, Trixie, and their incredible chemistry. Just like Spike, Big Mac, and Discord from Break Down, they only became friends two seasons ago, yet thanks to Haber's clever writing, you'd think their friendship goes back to childhood. Until Season 6, Trixie only stood center stage for Boast Busters, Magic Duel, and Rainbow Rocks as a tertiary character. But Haber brought her into becoming a reoccurring character and has become a vehicle for storytelling around Starlight. Their magnificent chemistry is thanks to Haber's incredibly tight dialogue, a continuous improvement of the show started by Shadow Play. With everything they say to and about each other, you buy into it, whether it's their praise, banter, jokes, passive-aggressive insults, and full-blown arguing. Their exchanges were snappy and completely believable; each moment and line flowed so well, even when the vocabulary repeats, with no hitch at all. Thanks to their chemistry, Haber takes advantage of as many comedic opportunities as possible. Virtually all of them land. Some of my favorites include: Starlight teleporting back to the school in a hurry, only to briefly return to say goodbye in between. Starlight throwing a little meta joke about how Twilight and friends would sing a song to commemorate their voyage, only for them both to start a song themselves. Blowing open the inflatable raft causes Starlight to get pinned to the window. During their descent into fighting, Starlight and Trixie share passive-aggressive barbs at each other during the Somnambula magic show. While sleeping in the caravan in Somnambula, Trixie talks and rehearses in her sleep, while Starlight snores noisily, each a callback to previous episodes. Kudos to Haber for using a combined pun of the village's name. The elder pony peaks out of the chest, sees nothing happening, and returns to sleep. Cue credits. But the best comedy comes during We're Friendship-Bound. Aside from being the season's best song up to this point, it's incredibly upbeat with catchy lyrics and just-as-catchy jazzy beat. Like Apples to the Core four seasons ago, its jovial tone reverberates through each scene, which ranged in activity, danger, and atmosphere. I don't recall the last time Pinkie broke the fourth wall, but Trixie and Starlight shattered it everywhere, especially this line(!): But like the rest of the season, Haber progressively tests their friendship. While Starlight's preoccupied at the school, Hoo'Far asks if he can trade his bigger caravan for hers. She says no, because it's her home. Her smaller, cramped wagon comes into play twice, including as they relaxed the first time. Trixie closes the door, causing SG to accidentally drop a smoke bomb. Starlight wasting bits on street food over essentials. Trixie waiting a long time in line for a particular street vendor over shopping at another empty vendor that orders the same thing. After all the hotels are booked, they get really testy with each other. Despite apologizing with each other… …they get really cramped inside her wagon. Starlight can't move, so she moves the smoke bombs, squashing Trixie. They couldn't sleep in the same room! Trixie wrapped a bandana around her muzzle to stop her snoring. Next morning, thy passive-aggressively take the last of each others' food, the haycake by SG, the juice by Trixie. This passive aggression continued into the failed magic show, one of Road to Friendship's funniest scenes. The water boils that night when they traded sleep- and meal-related insults and accusations, culminating with Starlight ejecting Trixie's supplies and: But the boiling foamed the next morning when Starlight traded away her wagon for his behind her back. You think that her impulsiveness would let her think twice about trading it away. Despite her decent alibi of traveling with a roomier wagon, Starlight has two major problems here: Her timing. Neither of them got along and fought the night before. Those feelings pass over here. Starlight traded it while Trixie slept. It doesn't matter if your intentions are good. This is her property, and she decides what to do with it, not SG. It ain't no surprise why Trixie's so upset; her anger's completely justified. Starlight comes off as a major plothole here, why she's primarily written to be in the wrong in Act 3, and becomes the episode's primary apologizer. This is a reversal of No Second Prances, but done way better. In the former, Trixie used Starlight, and she had to make it up to her. Here, Starlight screwed up badly and has to make it up. Some are a little disappointed we see nothing of Saddle Arabia beyond just Hoo'Far (who, BTW, had really excellent and witty dialect), but like Chrysalis in The Mean Six, those who do miss the point. This episode's about experiencing the ups and downs of friendship, having their friendship tested, overcoming it, and becoming closer. In the grand scope, Saddle Arabia isn't necessary, and the story in between more than makes up for it. All in all, it's an excellent episode — one of the best of not just the season, but the show, too.
  18. Note: Credit goes to @Cwanky for this review. For the first time, FIM brings back a celebrity guest: Patton Oswalt. When I first watched Stranger Than Fan Fiction, I panned the character he voiced (Quibble Pants), calling him a stereotype of superfans and for being so dumb to think he's still near the Daring Do convention despite being in a radically different climate. Upon reflection, he's nowhere nearly as bad as I claimed. Holding onto the idiot ball in Act 2 is a big flaw in the episode, but he's no stereotype. Yes, he can be obnoxious, but he cares for the product. (Thank Fame & Misfuckton for helping me change my mind.) Common Ground pushes forward new ground (pun unintentional ) for Quibble Pants in my favorite role of him so far. From the get-go, he fails to hide a inferiority complex, screwing up basic buckball knowledge and sports puns. But the second Clear Sky and Wind Sprint arrive, he shows a side from him we never see before: a devotion to his girlfriend and her daughter. For the first time all series, FIM tackles stepparenting, specifically the development of one. Haber marvelously intertwines his façade and desire to make the relationship work, notably to impress Wind Sprint and get her to like and appreciate him. And it's in their introductory scene do we see how important Quibble is to their dynamic, notably when Wind tries to sneak into the buckball stadium. Quibble planned the trip, both to the museum and stadium. Regardless of his knowledge, he knows Wind like sports and to play them. The Hall of Fame in Appleoosa is a mark of excellence for Equestria's growing sport and foreshadows both her talent in athletic competition and love for her biological father (back to this point later). He researches his material and tries to apply the resources he has to make her happy, which becomes more evident by buying that humongous buckball almanac for her. Unfortunately, his effort ends up deflating her and further exposes him as a try-too-hard to Wind. By pleading for help, Q shows that he's at his wit's end. He wants WS to like him, but no matter how much he tries, she only ends up detesting him more. Self-confidence from STFF was replaced with desperation and a cry for help. In a brief eye-to-eye, Clear Sky reminds him how he doesn't have to try too hard to get her to like him, further alluding the idea that he tried to impress her many times before. Planning this trip was likely his final shot. Luckily, Dash was there, and she's one of Equestria's most athletic ponies, so it can't be all bad…can it? Ummmmm… All of this leads to the episode's biggest flaw: the pitch scene. Wind Sprint's extremely skilled in buckball, perhaps better than Flutters, Pinkie, and Snails. Unfortunately, Quibble isn't, so there's a huge difference, even though Team Ponyville eased their skills to make things more fair. Seeing him so lost on the pitch means he fails so easily, and that sometimes makes it rather hard to watch. That said, it's a billion times tamer than Spike being forced to sing the Cloudesdale Anthem, which makes him out to be both Spike and SA dumb enough to assume Cloudesdale lost and let him take the mic, respectively. And Quibble actually not only tried to be better, but successfully bucks into his own net (and calls out a vaguely-written rule in the almanac, so he may suck on the field, but understands some of the game's basics from the outside). But we can't talk about Quibble without Dash, Wind, and Clear. Outside of Complete Crap Clause, Rainbow Dash has been on fire, and CG's no exception. After a poor start three seasons ago, they're now friends, and it shows through their exchanges early. When Q stumbled or screwed up sports phrases, she got confused or corrected him. But when he pleaded for help, she immediately accepted the offer. Why is she outstanding? Because it balances her flaws with her strengths. To describe what I mean: She believed everypony has a sporty side in some way. Through Operation: Sportify, she worked tirelessly with him (once with Snips's help). Sadly, not everyone is so athletic. But when she couldn't find it immediately, she planned to have him and family work together as a team so he can work with WS. However, shoving him under the spotlight in front of tens of thousands of passionate fans wasn't the wisest decision, albeit with good intentions. Her speed, athleticism, and agility come naturally for her. So when she shows off how well she can turn the corners while flying, she quips: A little conceited? Perhaps. Then again, she's so skilled that what she does is normal, so when others can't, it's a surprise. But the episode cleverly juxtaposes this, displaying an understanding that he can't do all, so she starts small with plans to train him once he improves. All day, what does she do? Help train him. She wants him to improve, even by the lightest amount, and help him unite with Wind. But her biggest testament to her character comes after Wind rejects his efforts and runs away from the pitch. As he disappointingly rummages through her present, she tries to regain his confidence by assuring him of other sporty ideas to help his athleticism. After finally letting his frustrations out and (on assumption) getting ready to quit his relationship with Clear, she offers him her best advice so far: Short, sweet, and to the point. Wind Spirit, the little filly in the episode, adds so much to the episode. When she doesn't say much, she shows her disappointment and disdain for him. Take a look at the first few seconds. On first impressions, she looks like a little brat who's spoiled and with very specific tastes. The Hall of Fame museum bores her due to lack of action, preferring the tournament instead. But Clear Sky calls her out for misbehaving, only to eventually have Dash agree with her (cutting herself off after Q glared at her). Once inside the museum, the episode raises the stakes instantaneously, beginning with Q's confusion of sports and ending with this: From this point forward, the episode has a very clear goal: get Wind to like him. But take a look at Q's first line, which says her biological dad was athletic. Two things come out of it: With her father being athletic and really into sports like her, Quibble is left out of the loop. She sees him as a stranger, because he isn't what her dad was like and that he tries too hard to be like her dad that he comes off as phony. Hence her glares and sarcastic "thanks." Her dad isn't there anymore. Usually, when someone's referred to in past tense, they're telling us they passed away or sometimes divorced. From the way he speaks of her, she's not happy that he's the opposite of who her dad was and doesn't appreciate him. Later moments, including her disappointment of him when he got stuck in a buckball basket, learning he bought her a book, and Quibble trying to impress her, add more into the conflict. Compared to Pear Butter and Bright Mac, we don't know his fate, and Patton Oswalt said on "Conan" prior that Clear and her husband (likely) divorced. But aside from past tense, two points hint his passing: Wind reminiscing of him while talking to Dash and Clear showing how much she still loves him. But when Q's not nearby, Wind's attitude changes. After Dash meets her, she gets so excited and loves how well she can fly. Throughout the day, she's really happy to just be with Clear and watch the matches from the stands…only to scowl the second he returns from training. Despite exciting her with an offer, she doesn't hide her feelings for him before turning to Pinkie and FS glowingly: Recall what this episode is about: He's trying to get her to like him by making her believe there's more to them than what she truly sees. He doesn't understands sport or look sporty, but he can be and will prove it. But the harder he tries to hide his insecurities, the more she'll repel from him. By hiding behind an obvious façade, he's disrespecting her. Consequently, she justifiably insults him for being phony. Her limit's finally pushed after Quibble scores an own goal and tries to argue otherwise so they keep playing: Thanks to his plan and screwing up so poorly, it's not fun playing on the field with him or Snips. If playing it wasn't fun, then what's the point of going to it in the first place? This leads me to the episode's glue, Clear Sky. With Quibble Pants and Wind Sprint eccentric and rather cartoony, a mellow head like her's necessary to balance the cast, and Haber handles her so well. Clear Sky adores Quibble Pants for being kind, smart, selfless, and hard-working. When they show disagreement, she keeps them all in check, such as Clear reminding Wind to appreciate his efforts to bring them all to the HoF. Instead of one-dimensionalizing her role, Common Ground rounds her by reassuring Quibble when he's down and unconditionally supporting Wind. Her best moment occurs near the end after Wind and Q's relationship all but fell apart permanently. Wind's spirit was at her lowest all episode, her dislike towards him devolving towards bitterness. She wasn't simply disappointed in having him as a stepdad, but embarrassed, too. She's proud to be the daughter of an athletic dad, but he isn't around anymore, and now her new "dad" is an un-sporty pretender. The dialogue underlined my me, though, is the key to not only the exchange, but the evolution of her and Quibble's relationship. To echo @Cwanky, Wind misses her dad, wishes to have him around, and the episode doesn't look her down for it at all. Fear She fears Quibble will not only replace his dad physically, but in memory, too. Those memories of him hold dearly to her, and the prospect of Clear's new relationship with Q forcing her to throw them all away kills her. She doesn't want that. Neither does Clear. From her motherly reply, she still loves him just as much as Wind Sprint and would never trade that away at all. After all, her relationship with him led her to mother Wind, who her husband resembles a lot of in her eyes. But that doesn't mean she can't love another stallion, even if he and Wind's dad share nothing in common. She loves him because he loves those around her and wants to make things right for her and her daughter. At no point does she want Wind to assume Q will treat her or her memories of Dad as an afterthought, and she doesn't want Wind to believe her fears are silly. They're not. By treating her fears seriously, the episode treats those who relate to her dilemma the same. Wind's experiences and feelings parallel those in real life, and Clear's words of comfort allow her to heed her own fears, grieve, and potentially welcome a really sweet stallion who deserves another chance. This episode also mirrors plenty from what happened to the Oswalts, too. In 2016, Patton's first wife Michelle McNamara died in her sleep, leaving him and her daughter Alice (Wind's voice) behind. One year later, he married Michelle Salenger (Clear's voice), who posted this little tear-jerking recording of herself and Alice for this episode. Reading and watching what happened behind the scenes (including this chain from Big Jim) really helps me appreciate this new classic. On the surface, it's a "be yourself" moral, but in reality, it's more than that. Besides not letting your own fears create a barrier from welcoming people to your family, don't pretend to know a passion in order to feel like you're a part of one. Dash was the Mane 8 featured, but she didn't have to learn the lesson. This was Quibble's episode, and his actions worsened the divide and threatened his relationship with Clear. To fix it, he had to own up to it to WS and work together to resolve their tense conflict. Bittersweet it is, leaving the ending more open than traditional's the right call. Wind's wounds ran deep, so her bitterness won't disappear immediately. That almanac (a great callback to his love for Daring Do) foreshadowed that slow mending of their relationship. He may not physically play buckball, but became unknowingly knowledgeable of it from reading it and absorbing the analytics. As a result, Wind read it for herself, understood Team Ponyville's patterns, and realizes that by reading together, they can learn from each other and bond off the field. Now, do they have more to go? 100%. But with Clear supporting them, they're on the right track. ^ If this ending doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, I don't know what will. I can write more about it, but I'll leave it here. Common Ground's a fantastic episode and will go down as one of FIM's best.
  19. This was a very typical Twilight freaks out about something episode (aka twilighting), pairing with Spike, and her going crazy trying to find answers. It was an episode that had a good pace, good writing, and an overall a good episode. My grade: B
  20. First of all, it was a brilliant move to have the voice actors pitch ideas for this episode. I loved much of the episode, and twilight twilighting like she always does. It was overall a great episode for the 200th episode, and at the same time very funny. I loved every second of it. My grade: A+
  21. Note: Credit to @CloudMistDragon, @Justin_Case001, Kaperon TSB, and Applegeek for this review. Today Sparkle's Seven is Season 9's greatest episode. Everything fell into place and was written so, so well. But writing just this much only really undercuts the mastery of its storytelling and humor. Rather than doing simply a breakdown of the episode in a strength/weakness structure or a long essay, I'll break down specific points, ala my Movie review and Zeppelin analysis. Setting the Tone. Within the first minute, Haber and Dubuc establish the episode's whimsical tone, beginning with this little whammy. Spike's so excited to receive Shining Armor's letter that he burst in Twilight's office, accidentally spooked Starlight enough to cause her to drop a stack of papers on the floor, and unroll his scroll with extreme glee. All punctuated by a very happy trumpet score in the background. Ten seconds in, the audience begins to have a quick impression of what its tone, atmosphere, and overall direction could be: casual, fun, and possibly exciting. The crown may be a toy, but Spike's face and Twilight's subsequently surprised reaction reveal how important it is to them: It establishes a friendly sibling rivalry between her and older bro Shining Armor, which the montage shows they had a huge amount of fun to earn it. That toy crown's nostalgic, a will to be impressive during the week, and improve if you miss it. Being a bro himself, Spike's excited to see SA revive it, even if for one more time. Before the open ends, Sparkle's Seven alerts us of the stakes: Whoever wins the crown this time officially wins Sibling Supreme. Forever. It effectively delivers on the episode's direction and tone without wasting one precious millisecond. Speaking of tone… Twilight: "For…ev…errrr…" What do Best Night Ever, Lesson Zero, Pinkie Pride, Slice of Life, Saddle Row Review, and Break Down each have in common? They're filled to the brim with comedy and among the best episodes in part of or because of it. Sparkle's Seven ups the ante hundredfold. Everywhere it goes, it's ripe with humor. To go over a few early examples: Starlight's last, quizzical line. Celestia's beat after Princess Luna takes a verbal shot at her (along with a small stare at her as SA gloated). This face… Suddenly, I'm hungry for pudding… Princess Luna whinnying like a horse. Recall his fans giving that poor robin having trouble flying near the Royal Sisters's castle? Here's the next scene! Eeyup! Same robin, dazed from crash-landing, walking near the castle instead! Going a little dark there, eh, story?! Pinkie cutting off Rarity and Dash's film noir scene (a very clever callback to Rarity Investigates!) and breaking the fourth wall during the cartoony space scene. Her small whine sells it quite well. Spike imagining himself as a spy teaming up with Fluttershy to steal his crown. From the start, Sparkle's Seven doesn't let up on any comedic opportunities. If they find a spot, they were going for it, be they succeed or fail. Varying the humor — rather than relying on one type — by equally including sound effects, the score, little Easter Eggs caught on repeated rewatches, different camera/animation techniques, and dialogue catches the audience by surprise, a crucial ingredient to good-quality comedy, and increases its replayability. The cartoony medium also helped accentuate their faces, going extreme without becoming uncanny. One will be covered in more detail right now. The Many Faces of Equestria! Despite the boatload of comedic variety, their faces drive most of it. Haber, Dubuc, and the animators successfully take advantage of the animation medium and exaggerate them without becoming gross, uncanny, or out of place. The only question: When's the right time? Thanks to its absurd tone, whenever they surprise us. Act 1's full of them, but some of my favorites occur during the second. Here are just a few. Earlier, AJ claimed to possess an alter ego named Apple Chord and would use it to distract the Canterlot guards while the others snooped inside. But after telling her story, Dash realized she wasn't telling the truth, leading to this awkward mouth. Does a face like THAT tell you she wants to be Apple Chord? Nope! Onstage, one uncomfy dudette forces herself to live a lie long enough for her friends to get inside. This one is sequential: Twilight and Shining Armor's exchange outside the castle. Suspected she was up to something, he questioned her. How did she respond? By sniffing a nearby flower with a cunning grin. Shining scooted away, peeking as she innocently waved to him. What makes this so interesting? Because it adds to the friendly yet passionate rivalry between them. Silly, yet serious in showing a tight, competitive relationship. Twilight realizing Rarity's scheme fell apart. If that doesn't accurately describe her sinking loss of hope… Poor Twilie. Yeah way! Uh huh! But my favorite moment, until the end, is the Dash and Rarity scene. Realizing in shock that the café was closed during the afternoon catalyzed their moment to spy on the episode's first truly suspicious event: Luna replacing two Canterlot guards with Zephyr Breeze. At first, one might wonder why she'd hire someone like him to take part, but then you become reminded of SA's words from earlier: ponies guard every door, so it makes sense for ponies to replace them while they're out to lunch. That said, it's Zephyr we're talking about here…! But we'll talk about that later. The true gift of this scene is how they react to him. Including, well, how shall I say it? Uh…eeyep? Oh, eeyup! When I first watched Sparkle's Seven, I laughed. The second time around, I nearly fell to the floor from laughing so hard. Sneaky sneaky, DHX! XD Ironically, they also made Zephyr, one of the worst characters of the series, actually pleasant to watch. Sure, he's still a diva, but he's much more self-confident now (clever subtlety). His ego's no longer patronizing; only Dash finds him annoying. Why does the way they present him matter here? Ashleigh Ball wanted Rainbow Dash to interact more with Ryan Beil (Zeph's VA). They showed great chemistry in FB, and Dash helped get his life back on track. SS's the first Pony ep we see him in since then, so the question is will his development stay or not? Sparkle's Seven answers that question with nuance. Oh, and do I need to post a couple of more faces? I'm the Youngest One(s) Like past episodes such as HW Club, Best Night Ever, Lost Mark, and TT123, the third act really elevates it. The first pivotal moment occurs just following the commercial break, when Spike tells Fluttershy he sometimes feels forgotten and uses their rivalry to back up his point. Immediately, two innocent moments from the cold open impact the story: baby Spike drawing gold stars below their chart and his wish to take part in it right after Twi's flashback. But there's more than that, as well. For most of the series, Spike's family presence with Twilight's more like an afterthought. In Season 1, Spike's primary occupation was assisting her in her studies. At one point, Twi wanted to wake Spike up from his sleep and request him to retrieve her quill, implicating he's a slave. Thanks to the ending, Princess Spike sent misandric messages in a pro-feminist show. Have we come a long way since then? Yes. But his arc felt incomplete, and episodes like Zeppelin (Iron Will believed Spike wasn't family enough to reward him a ticket!) and Father Knows Beast only created more Q's than A's. Long-time continuity backs up his doubts. FS, recalling her strained sibling relationship with Zephyr, understands his feelings. Twilight — so determined to win the Hard-Won Helm — accidentally ignores Spike's "little brothers" line minutes later. Thanks for proving his point, everypony. Fortunately, this scene was an extra cog to one of two big reveals in the climax: Under everyone's noses, Spike stole the crown, shocking everyone. But he wasn't alone. AIN'T THAT TWIST SO…GLOOO—RIOUS?! So how does this make any sense? Recall the first bit of foreshadowing mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Celestia and Luna share very strong differences of opinions of Shining Armor's security. Celly really liked it, but Luna was unsure and, as stated in Act 1, wanted to test it with her, but she chose to summon Twilight instead. Everyone was so caught up that they overlooked its fatal flaw: They're so focused on outside threats they overlook inside ones. Spike quickly realized it, and observing how Luna and Celly couldn't stop nonverbal arguments with each other, he concocted an inside plan with Luna to prove it to everyone. And boy, did they take serious advantage! Knowing his vanity would distract him from doing his job, Luna replaced two experienced guards with Zephyr for the afternoon shift. Spike tore Pinkie's hot-air balloon with his claws, not only further sabotaging Rarity's plan, but also providing enough of a distraction for AJ to steal a Royal Guard medal (which Rarity later used). Luna keeping Celestia and SA out of the Throne Room long enough for Spike and Fluttershy to explore the catacombs, escape, and invade. At one point, they got lost, and Dash pulled down every wall sconce to try to escape, so he mapped out the catacombs and noted all the traps and secret passageways. Spike's wits are essential to his character. Sparkle's Seven explores 'em in a completely new way: strong forethought. He not only rightfully predicted Rarity's plan will fail, but also Twilight's and SA's. All they needed to do was play it out, let SA catch Twi off-guard, and then *snaps fingers* capitalize. He won the Hard-Won Helm of the Sibling Supreme fair and square. Kudos to both SA and Twilight for acknowledging them as their little bro all along. But give credit to Luna, too. From a storytelling perspective, her little disagreement with Celestia fueled the spy parody that Tabitha St. Germain suggested. Her tiny shots and glares at her sister foreshadowed the climax and smoothly tied into both Twilight's rivalry and Spike's plight. Celestia's decision to ignore her justified her reasons to behave sourly made sense and gave her a solid alibi to help corrupt their flawed security system. By one-upping her older sister, she won well-earned bragging rights herself. The Miscellaneous Typically great episodes offer more than simply the story. Little details, smaller jokes, and intentional subtexts increase layers and replay value, giving viewers a reason to rewatch it either now or in the future. Beyond the dazed bird example… This whole episode is a parody of spy film, mostly inspired Ocean's 11, a classic film remade twice. According to Applegeek, Kaperon TSB, and @Justin_Case001, there are several references to not only Ocean's 11, but other spy and action films at large. Rarity's "unexpected" speech parodies George Clooney's "The house always wins" speech from the 2001 remake. Credit to Justin Case for finding this. DHX recreated this classic Ocean's 11 poster. After Shining tells his sis of all the security measure, Twilight uses mathematics to figure out how to break through, parodying a moment from the blackjack scene during The Hangover. Credit to Kaperon for discovering that. Luna stroking the goose satires the Bond-villain-strokes-the-cat cliché, and like Applegeek himself, I have a good hunch the goose (with his pink, skin-toned feathers) is supposed to resemble Dr. Evil's sphinx from Austin Powers (another Bond parody). This episode is also one subtle, yet gigantic, parody of itself, a great catch by @CloudMistDragon. FIM doesn't shy away from admitting how predictable their stories are sometimes. Whether your enjoyment of the product is determined by that is up to you. (Nowadays I rarely ding it for this, as the journey factors more.) Shining Armor accurately predicts her whole plan, is prepared for any other unpredictable folly by them, expects them to put their plan into action, and lures them into the Throne Room until the last minute. This self-deprecation is easily the smartest showcase of Shining's experience with security and wits. Simultaneously, it winks at those in the fandom who use the "predictability" card through Rarity's and Twilight's plans without being condescending. Was her plan unpredictable, yet in character of everyone? 100%. But Plan B had many major problems, notably inexperience and lack of cooperation. OTOH, Twilight's plan, while predictable, was well thought-out and highly tailored to their talents, cleverly commentating how a well-crafted, predictable story is more valuable than an unpredictable one. Ironically, this allegory subtly foreshadowed the unpredictable plot twist. Nice swerve, DHX. Very clever use of time is shown through the flashback. Back then, the family's Hard-Won Helm was shiny and new. Today, it's cracked, dented, and busted. Listen very carefully when Spike dons it; there's a small ruffling sound to further indicate its worn-out condition. Methinks SA enjoyed it a little too much, eh? During her heated argument with RD, Rarity stopped briefly to say "hi" to Spike and continued her diatribe, stopping after completely realizing who's there. (BTW, I haven't watched any of the Ocean's 11 films, Hangover series, or Mission: Impossible series. So I had to get the references from elsewhere. Nevertheless, ain't that tantamount to its high quality: not fully getting the references, yet finding it all funny, nonetheless?) Conclusion. So much describes this new classic. The characters are perfectly in character, including Zephyr (who's actually funny). Every joke lands perfectly, and is sometimes funnier on rewatches, with my favorite being Dash begrudgingly dressing in style. It got serious at times, rounding its story without becoming melodramatic and maintaining its lightheartedness. Several stories are simultaneously intertwined flawlessly, including its satire of spy films, itself, and allegory. On top of it all, its moral on listening to your loved ones and making sure they don't feel left out is executed so well. How awesome it really is to see Spike treated with so much dignity once again. Regardless of all of Season 6's well-earned criticism, Spike's writing was top-notch. Thank Haber for partially why. Whenever he's the editor or writer, this small dragon gets the respect he deserves. Thanks to Weseluck, Sparkle's Seven addresses a series-long concern related to his family and provides a solid alibi to craft a devious deed to win the game. If it doesn't prove how far he's come since Princess Spike, I don't know what will. He gets Spike, period. But don't leave Dubuc hanging, either. She co-wrote the ingenious Shadow Play with him. Sparkle's Seven continues to show how well they work as a team, and the former's inspirations clue us all. Its top-notch dialogue, successfully multi-layered stories, and brilliant executions from top on down are all found here. And finally, thank you to all the voice actors who stayed with this show for so long. You all dedicated so much of your time to building FIM's success, and your voices are iconic to the very same characters. It's so fitting to have the 200th episode dedicated to you, and watching it was a huge honor. Thank you, all, for contributing to this all-time great and show that commenced western animation's renaissance.
  22. Note: Credit to @Zestanor and @Truffles for this review. Since School Daze, the Young Six have been some of the best characters. Eccentric and childlike, yet diverse in personality, gender, and race, their friendship is linked by caring for each other. After Cozy thrust doubts subconsciously, the Tree's spirit reminds them of their powerful friendship. Uprooted is their second (unplanned) test: The Tree's detroyed to their massive shock, and they concluded to memorialize it. So how well was is written? Not all that bad. In only a couple of minutes, the opener effectively establishes what their personalities, goals, and weaknesses are (often intertwining them through jokes, whether they’re brand new or called back from previous episodes, e.g., Smolder’s closeted femininity). Then when Twilight tells them the news of the Tree’s destruction, it’s easy to see why they’re devastated. The Tree not only solidified the harmony between them, but Equestria’s as a whole. Additionally, Dubuc addresses to continuity from What Lies Beneath and School Raze while keeping it self-contained so newcomers mustn’t watch earlier episodes to understand. At the same time, it gets clumsy at points. Their commemoration for the Tree sometimes gets repetitive, referring to it by name quite often. Altogether, dialogue's serviceable. Sometimes it can get quite preachy, treating the Tree, the Elements, and their messages of friendship as religious relics. Granted, that’s the point. No one can agree on how to honor it without desecrating its legacy, and their solutions range from complacent (the statue) to one-dimensionalizing (the friendship forum) to selling out (Gallus lying about the Tree to make the cave a tourist attraction). But personally, they can make the subtext a little bit more subtle. Gallus’s money-making scheme is cringeworthy. I laughed at Yona’s reaction, but not his embellished plan. Dude, you ain't no Flim and Flam! Sandbar revealing to stashing the Tree's broken parts in a wagon out in the open is the episode's worst moment. The whole dilemma throughout Act 2 is bound by Sandbar's decision to clean up the cave in favor of his little plant, and there's no second exit. For Yona to find it really easily (especially after Gallus asked him where it is beforehand) and nearby one of Silverstream's murals makes the remaining five look incompetent throughout their argument. However, Uprooted has several bright spots. The whole montage is fantastically set up and executed. Early, the students departed for the School earlier than what their families and tribe leaders permitted. Unlike the others, Thorax balances out severity with worry and understanding the most naturally. The Changeling Kingdom altogether's one big family and successfully adapted to his fight-less vision, and the last thing his kingdom wants to do is get into another war, which almost happened last season. However, he'll agree to a suggestion beneficial for everyone. Thorax and Twilight agree to the Y6's plan, leading to one of their best montages (and to echo @Zestanor, "one of the more significant parts"). In addition to establishing a very strong reason why everycreature returned to school so soon, their cultures are presented authentically. Some of it, like Smolder winning an arm wrestling match, is silly (and Gallus's was dark humor), but none are shown to shoot them or their homelands down. They all back up their personalities, subtly expand their lore, and affirms their care for each other and their homes. My favorite's Yona: If you didn't awe from clearing the snow for her dad and this, then y'have no soul. Speaking of Yona, she's fantastic, as usual. This time in a voice-of-reason role. When everyone's superficial tributes didn't capture the Tree's heart, Yona stayed on the sidelines, waiting for everyone to listen to each other, only to finally speak up and remind them what the Magic of Friendship. Sure, the Tree may be gone, but not its memory. BTW, her explanation for the yak's love for smashing cleverly develops more into her culture and really shows there's more into their lives than just aggression. Not a bad evolution after Party Popped wrote them as savage and primitive. Spike and Twilight are written well, retaining their complementary relationship while helping the Y6. This episode climaxes with The Place Where We Belong, S9's and the Y6's first song. Sentimental yet hopeful, its tone and message are wonderful. While things and lives come and go, their memories don't as long as we remember them and use them to self-improve. It feels a lot like an allegory about death, but rather than replace it for hibernation, there's a true sense of finality with Sombra destroying the Tree and Elements and the unknown of how to properly tribute it. Their decision to build a small treehouse solves that problem wonderfully. Yes, it's not the best built, using broken trunks, branches, and spare parts, but it centralizes who the Young 6 are: a diverse cast who represents the best of each kingdom and each other. The following lines punctuate it: But then, a miracle. By representing the Magic of Friendship at its purest, they rebuilt harmony within each other and applied their close friendship to rebuild it in its memory. Consquently, the Tree of Harmony turned to this: The Treehouse of Harmony's beautiful! Its crystalline pastel colors of blue, pink, and yellow invite the eyes, and it's breathtakingly composed. Compared to the Castle of Friendship, you'd want to actually go there. The Tree's spirit says they'll be safe within the house's walls, and optically, you believe her. Also, the ruins of Castle of the Two Sisters is collapsing (credit to @Truffles for pointing this out), so the Treehouse now takes its rightful place, replacing it for something more useful. As far as the elephant of the room's concerned, sure, the inspirations to Castle Sweet Castle are obvious, thanks to its similar structure and ideas, but the plots aren't the same. In fact, there's one gigantic difference between them: In CSC, the RM5 want to make Twilight's castle feel more like home. Twilight stayed away from it because she found it to not feel as homey as the Golden Oak Library, and no one found a cohesive solution for vral hours. So what do thy do to? Use the Golden Oak Library's roots as a tribute to her old home to connect her old home with her new one. Here, the episode's about memorializing the Tree only, but none of the Y6 could come up with a proper solution without desecrating its legacy. Until Yona reminded them of how they became friends and became closer as a result of the Tree's test. So they used the Tree's old branches, trunk, and Elements to build a treehouse, and the Tree used its powers to create a temple. Coming into Uprooted, I predicted the Y6 will become the new Bearers of Harmony, for the Tree tested them, saved them, each on sharing similar qualities with the ReMane Six (while still being themselves), and the Tree encasing them with the Elements' glows encased them in Raze. But with the auras being trading interchangeably (compare this to this), the Elements and Tree evolve into the Treehouse, and the spirit wants the Magic of Friendship wanting a safe space for friendship, it's becoming more and more possible that the Tree's spirit and magic used when the Pillars planted the seed want to pass down the MoF, perhaps to everyone, not just six masters. The fact that we also see no cutie marks may foreshadow more of what's to come. Altogether, a really good episode.
  23. This was the season debut of the Student 6. I really enjoyed this one. It showed the difference of ideas that each of the 6 had, with Yona yet again being the big player in this episode. We also had the first new song of the season. I won't give anything away here, but it was a good episode that showed the differences that friends can have. But, when you get through those differences, friendship can create something beautiful. My grade: B+
  24. Pre-Sequel has always been treated as the black sheep of the Borderlands series by many fans, and I'll agree with them on that. I avoided this game until recently because I couldn't initially get into it, but I had a change of heart. I played it. Today, I'll be answering these questions: Are the flaws with this game really that massive, or are they really not that big of a deal? Is this game actually bad? That's what's up for discussion here. Before I get into it though, the format of this will be a lot like a series done by a favorite YouTuber of mine named Fawful's Minion called "Blessed or Messed." If you aren't familiar, I'll be placing a point value on positive and negative traits of the game (except I'll use a different points system) and I'll make a judgment from which number ends up greater and by how much. I'll just start with the good. This game, mechanically speaking, actually retains most of what makes the Borderlands games great (Yes, most, and that will come up later). The loot system (although the more flawed one from Borderlands 2) remained completely intact, the gun variety is still there, it kept it's sense of humor, and the gameplay still feels like you're playing Borderlands. It's the fast-paced, first person shooter and RPG hybrid that we know and love still and that in itself is quite great. I mean it is expected, but the gameplay is still quite solid. +10 The platforming in Zero-Gravity, although a little easy even by Borderlands standards (hey it isn't a platformer!), feels absolutely AWESOME. You can utilize the lack of gravity to your advantage in navigating levels with an amount of speed and thoroughness that's absent in other games (although bunny hopping and grenade hopping are rather fast ways to move around in Borderlands 2 and 1 respectively). Also, it feels like it was executed in such a way that it almost feels natural after a while. +3 (Two plus one more because of the Slam mechanic) I really like the premise of the story. It's always refreshing to see a game from the villain's perspective, and see how they justify their own actions. It brings a level of depth to the plot that makes for a lot of interest on my end. It's really helpful in the case of Handsome Jack to have this because he made feeble attempts in trying to justify himself and demonize you in the original game. +2 Am I the only one who wishes that there were a character like Athena in another game? I think her kit has easily the best design of everyone's in this game. You can either play around elemental damage, your action skill, or massively painful melee attacks. She also complements the addition of Cryo perfectly. +2 Oh I forgot. A point for the addition of Cryo. Although it's way too powerful, I really like the crowd control mechanic, and it was executed fairly well. +1 The characters you play as ACTUALLY TALK NOW. Seriously, they respond to NPCs in certain conversations. It's a nice touch of polish. +1 This game added a dimension to Lilith specifically that I can appreciate. This game actually makes her look really bad, and I like it. +1 Some of the side quests are actually pretty entertaining. Nothing quite like Face McShooty's quest from Borderlands 2, but I found some humor in them. Especially the Torgue quest, because anyone who can't find Mr. Torgue amusing doesn't have a soul... +1 The game does a decent job of further building on the Borderlands universe. Yeah, just decent. +1 (Total: +21) Now moving onto the bad... I said the PREMISE of the story was good. The story itself though? It is the WEAKEST of the series. BY AND FAR. It did almost nothing to justify Jack's actions during the game or Borderlands 2. The plot had several holes, and didn't really mesh well with the rest of the series, either. Why exactly would the vault hunters ALIGN THEMSELVES WITH THE PERSON THAT TOOK ALL THE CREDIT FOR OPENING THE FREAKING VAULT? It's convenient enough ANYWAYS that they're even ON Elpis (they're there on... VACATION?)... It seems more like it should have been DLC than an actual game in this regard. -4 The O2 meter was an ASTOUNDINGLY dumb design choice. I understand Elpis has no atmosphere, and you couldn't breathe without oxygen, but that cannot and WILL NOT justify a mechanic that punishes you for trying to get around, or FORCES you into standing around doing nothing for an amount of time that adds up QUITE quickly. Not even to mention that the only reason they'd add this isn't consistent with the blatant lack of realism the series has. -3 They kept Badass Ranks. I can't believe that they'd keep literally the WORST thing about Borderlands 2... -3 Why exactly do the laser weapons of this game feel totally redundant to me? Is it because they could have been replaced by Sniper Rifles or SMGs with similar effects? Oh why am I asking this question, when the answer is quite obviously yes. This weapon category contributed next to NOTHING to this game, and I hope they replace it with similar weapons of different types in Borderlands 3, or maybe make their effects apply to a specific manufacturer. -2 Moxxi being blatantly out of character is downright inexcusable. The attempt to brush it off really didn't work on me. Not even to mention that attempt wasn't even referring to the ACTUAL PROBLEM! It was referring to... her make-up being different and her covered up southern accent? Seriously? -2 The boss fights in this game are so badly designed... None of these fights was remotely interesting or compelling to me at all... -2 NO. FREAKING. SLAG. I don't care if it doesn't precisely line up with the game canonically. I MISS MY SLAG. -1 Nurse Nina is literally a walking "strong, Russian-sounding woman" stereotype that reminds me WAY too much of Zarya from Overwatch for some reason. Zed was an amazing character, who probably had some of the funniest lines in the entire series, and they replace him... with that? Not acceptable. Just not acceptable. -1 Congratulations for butchering Mordecai's character even MORE. You make him look like a bumbling drunk has-been who can't stop stealing second winds and annoying you with a bad impression of his old voicing, and then you make him look like a complete moron? He was totally badass in the first game... What went wrong? -1 Aside from Athena's kit, I didn't really like the design of the other characters. None of them have quite the appeal of the playable characters from the other games. -1 (Total: -20) This game may be the black sheep of the series for good reason, but it's not really a bad game. It still retains what makes Borderlands great, and puts in interesting twists. Sure, it proved that Gearbox and 2K Games should never trust 2K Australia to make a Borderlands game EVER AGAIN, but it's still going to get a solid 7/10 from me. I can still see a degree of enjoyment here, and a unique experience that is worth playing, though I'd recommend not doing so not too many times more than once. The first two games are much more worth playing over and over with every character, and I'd even recommend doing so. But here, all I could recommend is maybe two saves... Past that point, you have to have better things to do with your time than playing this.
  25. I have a present for you this Christmas evening: A little glimpse on how MLP:FiM is promoted in China. Preface As its many knock-offs show, MLP:FiM is very popular in China, with small shops selling everything from off-color clay figurines of Princesses Celestia and Luna to almost official-looking play sets of tea parties with Rainbow Dash and Rarity. This fandom does not hesitate to share the knock-offs of the toy line, and to wonder why Hasbro does not crack down on the peddlers more. I have taken many photos of the merchandise on my trip, but very likely others have found these a hundred times over. Surprisingly, I have found that comparatively little of MLP:FiM merchandise other than toys from China gets shared, especially the books. (This seems to be true of other countries and languages too, but of course, this is an American/Canadian (and therefore English) production.) For a show that emphasizes values and therefore a concept of culture, the lack of analysis of books in other languages is rather surprising. Many of us love the show for both the morals and the way it presents the morals, and while the values it presents are very universal, it is still informed by a Western philosophical tradition (and perhaps even an Anglo-Saxon one, as language does shape thought). To see how the East (or China more specifically) treats the morals of the show and their presentations would be quite enlightening. I first bought the second book in the series “MLP: Presenting You 18 Good Habits” to help me learn Chinese using stories I was already familiar with, but soon became interested in the way it presented the stories in themselves. I eventually got the whole series. Introduction The covers are elegant and simple: A floral pattern dominated by one color, based off the member of the Mane Six that graces the center. The series is published by the Tongqu (lit. “childlike”) Publishing Company Ltd., a joint venture of the People’s Post and Telecommunications Publishing House and the Danish publisher Egmont, and apparently only has offices in Beijing. So far as I can tell, this company only has a Chinese distribution. It specializes in children’s books, with IP licenses not only for MLP:FiM but Thomas and Friends, Astro Boy, and various Disney properties, as well as publishing their own original material. Each book is 120 pages long, containing adaptations of three episodes from the show with a common theme of a class of good habits. The first one, “Good Habits of Learning,” which appropriately shows Twilight Sparkle in thought, contains “Read It and Weep” (loving to read ardently), “Rarity Investigates!” (observing and reflecting), and “Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3” (having right study methods). Second has Pinkie Pie delivering “Good Habits of Living,” and features “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” (eating a healthy diet), “Hurricane Fluttershy” (exercising), and “Flutter Brutter” (taking care of oneself). The third one, with Rainbow Dash reclining casually on a cloud, is (rather ironically) titled “Good Habits of Working,” and comprises “Somepony to Watch Over Me” (working independently), “Sonic Rainboom” (being earnest and down-to-earth), and “Newbie Dash” (developing team awareness). Fourth has the soft-spoken Fluttershy presenting “Good Habits of Speaking,” through the stories of “Luna Eclipsed” (speaking politely), “Putting Your Hoof Down” (learning to say no), and “Crusaders of the Lost Mark” (not taunting others). In the fifth, Rarity dresses three episodes as “Good Habits of Relationships”—“Amending Fences” (valuing friends), “Make New Friends But Keep Discord” (not monopolizing friendship), and “The Gift of the Maud Pie” (empathizing with others). Finally, Applejack brings us “Good Habits of Safety,” gathering “Appleloosa’s Most Wanted” (staying away from dangerous places), “Viva Las Pegasus” (not falling for sweet talk), and “A Friend in Deed” (not doing dangerous games). The books start with a preface, “Good Habits for Achieving a Good Future,” written by Xue Lei, a National Psychological Consultant, Learning Competency Instructor, and Early Childhood Education Instructor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Psychological Institute (among other things). (I have not been able to find her listed on the CAS website, perhaps because of her status as an instructor.) She is associated with the Faber and Mazlich series of parenting lectures and workshops based on “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk,” which both explains quite a few features about these books and gives it somewhat less of a Chinese slant than I hoped. In the preface, Xue notes that the key to good behavior for “the long prop-up” is not changing bad habits but developing good habits, and that stern lectures tend to backfire. She then goes on to explain the set-up of the book, and concludes with two quotes about cultivating good habits, one from the American psychologist William James, and the other from the Chinese journalist and author of children’s books Ye Shengtao. Curiously, though she describes the stories that follow as “vivid and interesting,” she doesn’t give any explanation of why she chose the stories from MLP:FiM in particular as her vehicle of cultivating good habits. So far as I can tell, however, she has not drawn from other franchises for similar series of books. The Stories Each story, after a title page, begins with an introduction of the major characters in the story. Remarkably, the series often varies the description for the same character, highlighting facts about the character that are relevant for the story that follows. For example, in “Read it and Weep,” Twilight Sparkle is noted as often encouraging other ponies to read more books, because “she knows most ponies do not know the historical legends.” For “Amending Fences,” however, her introduction focuses on her not caring much about friendship before coming to Ponyville, and even “Hurricane Fluttershy” describes her as “able to make all sorts of precision instruments.” At times, especially if it involves one-shot characters like Zephyr Breeze or Gladmane, the introductions end up giving away the story that follows, but not enough to completely spoil it. The stories are written in a colloquial, brisk style, using plenty of common Chinese idioms to add spice and informality. (They editors are particularly fond of using the phrase “bugan-shiruo,” meaning “not to be outdone.”) As one might expect, the stories follow the events in the episodes, but there are some exceptions. These likely are to keep each book at their 120-page limits, but perhaps also is a matter of style. Notably, the cold open from “Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3” is mostly omitted, despite its great characterization of Twilight and RD, instead going straight into reading the Wonderbolts history book. The reader does not really understand the significance of the test until RD fails Twilight’s pop quiz. In the adaptation of “Sonic Rainboom,” Twilight does not warn Rarity about the fragility of her wings, and their melting in the sun comes as a genuine surprise to the reader. Foreshadowing and other hints at possible futures thus do not appear to be favored devices. The hyperbole gets toned down too: A few of AJ’s protective measures from “Somepony to Watch Over Me” are skipped, as is Fluttershy’s encounter with the tourist in “Putting Your Hoof Down.” At times, the stories assume the reader is familiar with the show, despite the character descriptions at the beginnings of each—“Viva Las Pegasus” begins with “The Map once again called out…” even though it is the only Map episode to be featured in this series. The changes are not just limited to omissions. In “Read it and Weep,” Rainbow Dash actually invites Fluttershy and Twilight in when they come to visit her at the hospital, instead of the two knocking and entering themselves. This of course softens the interruption, so the reader is not as attached to RD’s annoyance at being stopped from reading the Daring Do book. The changes and additions are particularly common when necessary to fit the intended good habit. Sometimes these additions and changes are fairly creative and fitting: When, in “Crusaders of the Lost Mark,” Diamond Tiara announces her about-face and gets her father to pay for the playground, she explains that her cutie mark talent is not only about getting other ponies to do what she wants, but even makes a point of the fact that it is a tiara, that she thought it meant she could “dictate to everyone without regard to [their] feelings, even speaking meanly.” This rendition thus emphasizes the flaw of arrogance because of social status more than the actual episode does. (I almost suspect, because it is published by People’s Post and Telecommunications, that it’s Communist Party meddling.) Others are completely shoehorned: For “A Friend in Deed,” the lesson that Pinkie Pie takes from her antics with Cranky is not that everyone has their own way of expressing friendship, but “[to] never do a dangerous game again!” which she even swears on a Pinkie Promise. Earlier, the editors even interpret the Smile Song at the beginning of the episode as not just that she likes seeing everypony smile, but that as long as she can make everypony smile, her friends will let her do whatever she wants, framing her as more careless than the episode would suggest. One shoehorned, but still fun, addition is in “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000,” where, to make the episode better fit the “healthy eating” theme, the editors add a pony getting a stomachache from drinking the Flim-Flam Brothers’ cider. The Pictures The pictures, as expected, come from screenshots of the show, one (sometimes two) per page. More than occasionally, the pictures do not perfectly correspond with the actual text per page, sometimes even omitting key information. Again in “Read it and Weep,” the page where RD starts reading Daring Do in fact has a picture of RD trying to resist reading the book. A picture of RD wearily starting to read does appear on the next page, although the text describes RD’s reactions to be far more exciting. For “Putting Your Hoof Down,” the text mentions Angel Bunny several times, but only one screenshot with him appears, and there the corresponding text doesn’t mention him. Even more puzzling is the omission of Applejack from any screenshot from “Flutter Brutter,” even though she is listed as one of the described characters at the beginning. It seems as though the editors were less concerned about matching the text with the picture and more content to just remind the reader of what she (or he) had seen in the show. The pictures are largely unedited, but there is at least once instance where something is added: Princess Luna in front of the spider target game in “Luna Eclipsed," using an obvious vector to make clear that she was the one making the spiders real. With the exception of “Rarity Investigates,” each story has at least one line that summarizes the moral of the story, highlighted in colored text, a direct commentary to the reader put in a heart-shaped blurb in a screenshot, or both. The blurb commentaries do not always serve the same functions. Some summarize the moral, others make a tangential point, and yet others give direct advice. Some are self-aware that the ponies are not perfect role models: For “Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3,” in the scene where RD blows spitballs at Twilight during her flashcard lesson, the editors give this warning: “Throwing spitballs [lit. marbles] at other people is very dangerous, kids, you cannot imitate it!” One unusual case, from “The Gift of the Maud Pie,” describes the characters’ own thoughts when Maud retrieves the party cannon. A few are even addressed to the parents rather than the children, such as in “Somepony to Watch Over Me," where, as a caption to Apple Bloom taking care of the chores before Applejack returns, the editors say “Kids are more capable than we imagine. Give kids a free hand to do what they can for the housework.” The Follow-Ups From the stories themselves we turn to the more unique aspects of the books. One of the most interesting is a section called “Pony Voices from the Heart" which summarizes in four frames the story from the perspective of one of the characters, often, but not always, from the one who had to learn something from the events. For a show that emphasizes character development, this approach is quite fitting, to further help the reader empathize with the characters and therefore better internalize the message. Next is the section called “Pony Classroom," which further explains the good habit that the story is supposed to inspire, with three “tricks” each providing a way to develop the habit, and some lines for the child to write down any additional tricks that she can think of. Here the editors are freer to use screenshots out of context, which is usually not a problem but can result in some awkward deliveries. One of the stranger ones, shown to the left, is in the healthy eating tricks after “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000,” where the second one takes a screenshot from “Spice Up Your Life,” where Rarity and Pinkie are trying the Zesty Gourmand-approved cuisine. The caption that follows reads “Don’t be a picky eater, focus on matching meat and vegetables, and eat vegetables, meat, and fruit of all sorts.” Given that “Spice Up Your Life” was an episode about not eating the same things over and over again, it’s a surprise that it wasn’t used as the story. At the same time, it seems very odd for our vegetarian friends to tell us to eat meat. (It is also interesting in itself that Chinese children also are picky about eating meat, when Western parents would just expect their children to eat their fruits and vegetables. Having tried a lot of authentic Chinese cuisine while in China, I suspect it is because in many meat dishes the bones are chopped up and cooked with the meat.) After that is a section called “Magic Practice Camp,” which presents the kids with a series of hypothetical situations that they are to judge either right or wrong, based on what they have learned. For the ones that are wrong, it further instructs the kids to discuss with their parents what should be done instead. What is particularly notable about this section is that the editors appear to have made a real effort to make the hypotheticals gender neutral—that is, both male and female characters are presented as virtuous and not-so-virtuous about equally. (I qualify this tally, though, because, especially as a non-native speaker, it is difficult to tell which names are male and female, and many Chinese names can be both.) This is interesting because in previous pony storybook publications from Tongqu, the audience was blatantly gendered—one series from 2015 was called “My Little Pony Teaches You to be a Perfect Girl.” Even more interesting is that there is no answer key in the back to accompany the questions. Though nearly all of the hypotheticals are not morally ambiguous, it still shows that the editors are more concerned with getting the children to think and interact with their parents in a dialogue, rather than to come up with the right answer. (Either that or there wasn’t room in the 120-page limit.) What Xue considers the most important part of the books is the “Good Habit Cultivation Chart,” to encourage children to “progress a little every day.” In this four-week chart, she instructs the reader to make a small goal for oneself to develop the habit just taught, and to color in the cutie mark each day that the goal is met. Interestingly, these pages never vary per habit, always using RD’s cutie mark. I find it cute, though that Applejack always heads the chart, as a sort of watchful eye over the reader to ensure that she (or he) is honest in filling in the marks. But what is most puzzling to me is the application of such a chart to the negative injunctions in the safety book, as not playing dangerous games, avoiding dangerous places, and not believing sweet talk always require someone or something else to provide the temptation to do otherwise. There is no reason to believe that a child will encounter such situations every day, unless the goal is not to put a fork in every electrical socket one sees. Each book ends on three notes: First is a reflective send-off of sorts, headed by these sentences: “The cultivation of good habits requires unremitting persistence. The ponies will always be there for you to cheer you on.” These are followed by a blank space next to one of the Mane Six, so the children can draw or paste a picture of themselves next to them. Next is a gallery called “Pony Fan Artwork Exhibition,” which celebrates the artistry and creativity of those who love the show (and the books). I am not sure if these children send these pieces of artwork to Hasbro’s China offices or to Tongqu, as the book doesn’t invite them to send their own artwork to any particular place. In any case, some of the artwork is quite impressive for those from three to eleven. One six-year old (not pictured here) created a traditional Chinese shadow puppet of Fluttershy with the help of her teacher. She must have had her stage fright in mind, for she comments “Although Fluttershy is timid and shy, I hope that she can be as happy as I am every day.” Many of these young fans also like writing letters to Princess Celestia of the moral lessons they have learned in real life. Unlike the hypothetical characters, all the fans featured are girls, but it’s hard to find a young boy who is into MLP:FiM anyway, so that’s not a huge problem. Finally each book provides a paper cutout craft of one of the Mane Six, somewhat boxy but still cute. Miscellaneous Thoughts Although the editors designed each story to be read on their own, there are some indications that the stories also flow from each other. Most obvious is the order of the books: Learning how to learn is of course fundamental to developing good habits, so that is taught first. The basic needs of living are explored in the second book, followed by the habits of good working, which support the basic needs of living. The higher-level ideas of communication with others and forming relationships come next. The only book that completely bucks the Maslow hierarchy of needs is the last book on safety, which should have come in either between the habits of living and the habits of working, or before the habits of speaking. (To its credit, there is a blurb in “Somepony to Watch Over Me” where the editor advises the reader, as Apple Bloom encounters the swamp chimera, that “safety is most important.”) It is also interesting that “Somepony to Watch Over Me,” the story about working independently, directly follows from “Flutter Brutter,” the story about self-care, as a natural expansion of the idea. I have already hinted my puzzlement at why “Spice Up Your Life” wasn’t used as the “healthy eating” story. I suspect two things: First, the Flim-Flam Brothers, as symbols of capitalist dishonesty, are easier, safer targets than the voice of authority that Zesty Gourmand brings. Further, Saffron Masala and her father are clearly inspired by Indian culture, and because of the border disputes between China and India, the Chinese are more likely to see India unfavorably than favorably, so having a story featuring them might get some backlash. (I did not see a single Indian restaurant when I was in China. At the same time, I do not know how "Spice Up Your Life" was received there.) What puzzles me even more is why “Wonderbolts Academy” wasn’t used for the “don’t play dangerous games” lesson instead of “A Friend in Deed.” As I have already said, the editors had to really shoehorn that lesson in. Meanwhile in “Wonderbolts Academy,” not only does Lightning Dust purposely take extreme risks, but RD feels overshadowed by Lightning Dust because of all the risks she takes. It’s hard to interpret the fire in “A Friend in Deed” as anything more than an unhappy accident, and certainly that accident wasn’t morally significant the way that the tornado in “Wonderbolts Academy” was. Perhaps, in light of using “Newbie Dash” for the “teamwork awareness” lesson, the editors found themselves debating whether it was a good idea to show RD retrogressing on her implied awareness in “Wonderbolts Academy” on how the Wonderbolts really should operate. Maybe they thought that RD had too many episodes centered around her at that point. Maybe they just saw “A Friend in Deed” as more fun for the kids. Maybe they also thought that the scenes where Pinkie Pie keeps on waiting for mail from RD to be too distracting from the main story. It puzzles me in any case. (I should further note, however, that this series is not the only set of pony-themed moral development books that Tongqu has recently published; there is one that focuses on making children feel proud of themselves as unique, and another that seeks to impart a more general “wisdom.”) Conclusion While far from perfect, “Presenting You 18 Good Habits” manages to capture a lot of what makes MLP:FiM so appealing to many bronies: the engaging stories, the impact of the morals, the empathy we feel with the characters, and the creativity it inspires. And probably because it was made with the parents in mind, it is no wonder it attracts fans like me, more than many English-language pony publications. (Or, at least, those who know at least a little Chinese.) Happy Hearth's Warming Everypony!