Saturday, 16 September 2017

Episode review: "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You"

It's always the ones you don't expect, isn't it? 

Last season, I was surprised to enjoy "28 Pranks Later," a fairly messy episode that was nonetheless made enjoyable by a handful of solid jokes and a decently creepy atmosphere. From the synopsis, it seemed likely to have a mean-spirited, vindictive tone, but unlike the similar "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well," it used its plot as an excuse to have some funny visual gags and indulge in zombie tropes rather than wasting time humiliating Rainbow Dash for some anachronistic wrong. It was far from perfect, but it was the season's most pleasant surprise. 

"It Isn't the Mane Thing About You" is less funny than "28 Pranks Later," but it's every bit as surprising. Despite its inherently awkward premise, the episode almost entirely avoids cringe comedy, and while what gags it does offer are mostly pedestrian, the episode's story structure recalls the show's earliest seasons in a good way. This is a story which gives itself time to breathe, which allows itself to be simple but relatable, which seems to understand the show's original charms. If only it were funnier, it would feel like a genuine return to form. Still, this is surprisingly pleasant! 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Episode review: "Daring Done?"

Daring Do has long been one of the most consistently entertaining characters in My Little Pony. As an obvious Indiana Jones homage, she allows the show to tell the kind of adventurous stories which were always part of the package without being constrained by the characters, and her appearances often boast more charm and creativity than many of the show's other adventure episodes. Until this point, all three of her episodes were great fun, but Daring Do as a character has never been explored in great detail, and is often the individual to learn the least from her journeys.

"Daring Done?" seeks to change that, giving Daring the kind of significant internal conflict which she previously lacked. However, in spite of its genuinely interesting premise, the episode does everything in its power to water down its own story, and features some of the worst humour I've seen in the whole show. Some decent world building keeps it from being entirely worthless, but that's faint praise when so much of the episode is an exhausting chore to sit through, and it can't even commit to the things which originally made it interesting.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Episode review: "To Change a Changeling"

Humour will do a lot to save an otherwise subpar episode for me, but I do have my limits. "To Change a Changeling" tells a largely uninteresting story with unclear themes and shallow characterization, but it also has a lot of great dialogue and humorous moments. The latter does a lot to keep the episode afloat, but there's only so many issues I can forgive before they start to overwhelm the humour, and while this episode is on the right side of the line, it's teetering near the edge, and it'd need to be a lot funnier for me to fully forgive a plot this dull.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Episode review: "Campfire Tales"

My Little Pony does not have interesting mythology. The fact is, the vast majority of its world and backstory are either heavily based on other stories or designed to fulfill a specific role. That doesn't need to be the case, but this is a children's program where most worldbuilding is made up during the scripting phase rather than taken from any grander vision, so the easiest route is simply transplanting ponies onto familiar stories from human mythology, or taking creatures from other fantasy stories and building a rudimentary, sometimes overly simplistic society around them.

With "Campfire Tales," the show seems interested in finally adding some weight to its mythos, and yet it falls into all the same traps. There are three stories in this episode, but all three are simple moral lessons which transplant human cultures onto Equestria without exploring them in much detail. Add in a framing story which tries to tie that to the actual main characters of the show, and you have an episode which can't do justice to either Equestria's past or present. It's still nice to see a diverse range of environments, and there's moments of charm and tension here and there, but it's not enough to make the episode particularly exciting.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Episode review: "Triple Threat"

One of my weak spots as a fan of this show is pony politics. Good or bad, if a My Little Pony episode revolves around the main characters struggling to adjust to new responsibilities - especially if said responsibilities are related to diplomacy - then I'm bound to get some enjoyment out of it. "Triple Threat" is a little too predictable to be on par with "Party Pooped," my favourite episode of this type, but it delivers the sympathetic internal conflict which always drives these episodes, and has a lot of charming and funny moments to boot, as well as a great moral.

If anything brings "Triple Threat" down, it's the story itself, which is very predictable and is often expected to drive scenes with few jokes to liven things up. "Triple Threat" admirably gives its story more time to breathe than many episodes this season, but it still refuses to add any twists or even unexpected quirks, and while there's enough fun moments to carry the rote narrative, it's simply too familiar to sustain attention through the entire 22 minutes.

Still, this is a major improvement over the likes of "Forever Filly."

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Episode review: "Fame and Misfortune"

Alright, we've got one of those meta episodes here, and this one is directly criticizing the fandom, so I'm gonna need to take a step back and try not to take it personally. The show has never gone this far in addressing its viewers before, and while I know there's a lot of people who get overly aggressive with regards to this show, I don't think all of the criticisms presented here are entirely fair. If you're gonna criticize the people who support your product, you should really proceed gently so as not to alienate them, and "careful" doesn't really describe My Little Pony anymore. Instead, we get a strained metaphor which seems vaguely contemptuous of the adult fanbase in general, and doesn't supply a whole lot of sympathy for or even understanding of what it presents as the "other side."

But that's all subtext. The real reason why "Fame and Misfortune" doesn't work is that, like so many other episodes this season, it relies entirely on characters being creepy or irritating for humour, and even though it has the benefit of not making a recurring character unsympathetic, it's just not weird or creative enough for these obnoxious, unpleasant ponies to be anything other than obnoxious and unpleasant. However I might choose to interpret the subtext, I just don't enjoy this sort of humour, and that holds back the episode for me.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Equestria Girls special review: "Mirror Magic"

And that's a wrap. This is the last piece of Equestria Girls content we're getting this year. Three shorts, 66 minutes, and yet not a single note of substance. "Mirror Magic" is easily the worst of the three shorts, rehashing ideas from earlier two-parters while piling on other tiresome tropes and possessing absolutely no emotional resonance whatsoever. All three shorts are vacuous and mostly unimaginative, but whatever positive qualities were present in the other two are largely absent here. It does nothing to move the series forward, isn't particularly funny, and is filled to the brim with lazy storytelling and characterization. It is an absolute waste of time.

If you'd asked me last year, I would have said that Equestria Girls should really expand into being a proper series. Now, I just want it to be over with already. None of these shorts demonstrates even the slightest interest in exploring what actually has potential about this world and these characters, and that would be fine if they weren't also committed to these hollow, derivative, thorougly tired storylines. "Mirror Magic" has a bad villain, a predictable structure, limp gags, and one-note characterization, and I do not understand why it exists. It's stagnation of the worst kind, and completely absent from it is the heart and charm which drew me to My Little Pony in the first place.