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.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Equestria Girls special review: "Movie Magic"

Okay, so "Dance Magic" was a fluke. This second short, "Movie Magic," is still low-stakes and impersonal, but it's a lot funnier than the first short, and makes much better use of both the Rainbooms' character traits and some of their magical powers as well. While I may dream of nuanced character arcs and satisfying narrative payoff, all I really ask of My Little Pony in all forms is that it's entertaining. I always felt that "Movie Magic" had the most potential of these shorts, and although it would benefit from being a bit snappier story-wise, the pacing is still brisk enough, and there's enough fun jokes and neat character moments this time around to entertain. Nice!

Equestria Girls special review: "Dance Magic"

Up until now, Equestria Girls has only told stories equivalent to the main show's two-part episodes. Even Legend of Everfree, which tried to incorporate several slice-of-life elements, eventually came back to having a magical villain threaten the camp, and the three films before that established high stakes from the beginning. As fun as some of these movies are, much of this series' appeal is in seeing familiar faces in this new, mundane, relatively familiar setting, and I've always hoped it would focus more on the individual lives of the main characters than on whatever event or villain caught their attention this week. 

"Dance Magic" isn't really that, but it is the first Equestria Girls installment to not feature a magical villain, and it's also by far the most low-stakes entry in the whole series. Considering that, it's a shame that the special is such a simplistic bore, expanding on easily the least interesting part of Legend of Everfree the least interesting way possible, and completely failing to build up to My Little Pony's most basic moral in quite some time. It has more energy than Everfree, but that's not saying much, especially when its story is even emptier. While I enjoy that "Dance Magic" has lower stakes than previous entries, those stakes are so impersonal that the entire story is impossible to care about. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Episode review: "The Perfect Pear"

Melodrama is one of My Little Pony's foundational blocks. So many of the most emotionally affecting episodes of the show are melodramatic in nature, from "The Last Roundup" to "Hurricane Fluttershy" to "Wonderbolts Academy." But starting in season 5, the show's most dramatic episodes have become increasingly grand and pretentious in nature. Even the most naturalistic episodes of this time, "Amending Fences" and "The Mane Attraction," strained to have a greater point and to reflect the show at large, and then there are episodes like "A Royal Problem": tense, overstuffed, high-stakes stories which bear more resemblance to the two-parters than to the melodrama episodes of old.

Until now, the only episode like "Hurricane Fluttershy" in the past few seasons was "The Fault in Our Cutie Marks," that adorable, genuinely moving highlight of season 6. While "The Perfect Pear" has baggage which prevents it from reaching that level, it's every bit as emotionally effective in its own melodramatic, gooey way. It avoids any tough questions and builds on elements which the show never properly established, but goddamit, I wish the show were always this sweet and emotional and adorable. If "A Flurry of Emotions" represents half of what the show has been missing in recent years, "The Perfect Pear" represents the other half.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Episode review: "Discordant Harmony"

Thanks, Australia. 

I am generally biased in favour of Discord. The only episode starring him which I didn't at least enjoy a little was season 5's "What About Discord?," and that episode was meant to be unpleasant. A character who can bend the laws of reality to his will gives a lot of room for funny and creative visuals, and the only thing really holding him back is that he's always seemed like an unpleasant person to be around. He's always appeared emotionally immature and somewhat apathetic about how others feel about his actions, and this has made it increasingly unclear to me why the mane six tolerate him.

Earlier episodes have usually dealt with this either through Discord claiming to teach someone a lesson, or through having Discord himself learn a lesson, and while "Discordant Harmony" mostly leans towards the former, it also does a better job than any episode before it of making him sympathetic and even likeable. Its need to serve up creative visuals still results in Discord irritating almost every pony in his vicinity, but his intentions in this episode are better than ever, and those visuals are pretty creative and delightful anyway. The visuals do a good job of distracting from the exposition, and the moral is rock solid, making for an all-around enjoyable episode.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Episode review: "Not Asking for Trouble"

In any other season, "Not Asking for Trouble" would be a middle-of-the-road throwaway episode. It's simple, it repeats a lot of jokes, and its moral has already been done in this show. In season 7, however, I'm just glad the episode was funny, even though its simplicity wasn't enough to carry the handful of funny gags. Those repeated jokes are at least good on their own, Pinkie Pie is consistently delightful, and it's neat to learn just a little bit more about yak culture, but this is hardly a memorable episode in the grand scheme of the show, even with its small virtues.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Episode review: "A Royal Problem"

This is not what I wish it was.

The Celestia and Luna episode I wanted was a light-hearted, humorous slice-of-life. This is a semi-serious moral-driven episode. But it wouldn't be fair to begrudge the episode for that, especially since the episode we got is still very entertaining and hugely admirable. This entire season has had a laser-focus on moral-driven stories, and while that's often been for the worse, "A Royal Problem" demonstrates how well this formula can go with the right jokes and sufficient, well-thought-out character depth. Indeed, stuff like this is even enough to make me tolerate the Cutie Map at its most nonsensical, because otherwise a plot like this would likely not happen in the first place.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Episode review: "Honest Apple"

"Honest Apple" is an Applejack and Rarity episode, and I'm genuinely not sure if I have anything constructive left to say about episodes they share. Of course I didn't like "Honest Apple," because I think that pairing is inherently unentertaining. Of course Applejack's worst traits are exaggerated here, because that's just how episodes starring this duo work. If there's one thing I can uniquely criticize about this episode, it's the moral, which is even more unbalanced than that of "Parental Glideance," and is followed by the episode falling apart at the seams with a formulaic ending and some genuinely obnoxious jokes, more or less destroying all my goodwill towards it.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Episode review: "Hard to Say Anything"

I'd almost forgotten how it feels to hate an episode of My Little Pony this much. How long has it been? Since "What About Discord?" I mean, "Fluttershy Leans In" was awful, but at least it didn't sink to this level of annoyance and odiousness. "Hard to Say Anything" has almost nothing to redeem it. Most of its jokes fall flat, its plot is tired and lazy, the characters are borderline reprehensible, and the moral is pedestrian at best. Every season has its stinkers, but I was really hoping we'd moved past My Little Pony stooping this low, and having this in an already dire season is really starting to test my patience with this show.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Episode review: "Parental Glideance"

There's a reason humour is my highest priority in this show. A funny or cute episode with narrative inconsistencies, a predictable storyline, or flawed characterization is still a funny or cute episode, whereas a boring episode with zero inconsistencies, is still a boring episode. The wonderful "Parental Glideance" is a strong example of that, demonstrating how energy and charm can overpower even a weak moral, and while I can't help but feel frustrated with the direction the moral took, everything around that is so plainly entertaining that it's still hard to resist. The fact is, I'll take a fun episode with a weak moral over yesterday's dull episode with a strong moral, and getting some lovely new characters in the form of Rainbow Dash's parents certainly helps.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Episode review: "Forever Filly"

My Little Pony will probably survive season 7, but I might not. This is the third episode in a row which I haven't had much fun with, and the second in a row which appears to have placed character consistency and narrative focus above any sort of personality or humour. "Forever Filly" is much like season 6's "The Cart Before the Ponies," not only in how it focuses on how adults treat children, but also because it grafts a specific archetype onto a preexisting character to the point of overpowering what makes that character endearing in the first place. But whereas "The Cart Before the Ponies" at least had a little bit of structural messiness, "Forever Filly" doesn't contain a single beat which isn't in direct service of its story, which would be admirable if it didn't have the side effect of straining out almost any entertainment the episode could have offered. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Episode review: "Fluttershy Leans In"

And season 7 has officially lost me. "Fluttershy Leans In" provides a continuation of season 6's impressive treatment of Fluttershy, concluding her character arc by presenting her with a massive ambition which she finally has the confidence to see through. As nice as that might sound, though, this is an "Amending Fences"-type episode which gives absolutely zero personal growth to anyone involved and simply seeks to demonstrate Fluttershy's newfound strength without any sort of internal conflict. Worse still, "Fluttershy Leans In" lacks even a compelling secondary character, instead letting Fluttershy react to moronic antagonists without even a hint of decent intentions, and then has the gall to take itself mostly seriously on top of that. The result is an episode with little to redeem it except already established characterization and the specific phrasing of its moral. How did this even happen?

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Episode review: "Rock Solid Friendship"

Since her introduction in season 4, Maud Pie has made at least one appearance in every season, and every single one of those appearances is stronger than the last. By season 6's "The Gift of the Maud Pie," the writers had grown comfortable with subtly suggesting her emotions, and here, they've gone a step further and fleshed out her flaws and anxieties. She is rapidly becoming one of the absolute best characters in the entire show because of this, which makes it all the more disappointing that she shares "Rock Solid Friendship" with Pinkie Pie at her most obnoxious and Starlight Glimmer at her most bland. This is an episode with a great deal to admire, but it's really only got one joke, and all the nuance in the world only means so much when the episode gets in its own way so often.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Episode review: "A Flurry of Emotions"

While I wasn't very fond of the first two episodes of season 7, they represented a further shift in the right direction for this show. Both were very low-key slice-of-life affairs which took advantage of changes to the status quo, and "Celestial Advice" in particular finally showed an interest in the supporting cast which the show already has instead of tossing yet more new ponies onto the pile. Both of those traits are present in the adorable "A Flurry of Emotions," which, even more than "Dungeons & Discords" last season, is the exact kind of silly, endearing romp which caused me to fall in love with this show in the first place, and it also sees the show at its most controlled and polished. More of this, please. Way more of this.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Episode reviews: "Celestial Advice" / "All Bottled Up"

At long last, the two-parter is dead. Season 7 is the first My Little Pony season to open with two entirely disconnected episodes, and while they aired on the same day and share a (very) small degree of continuity, for all intents and purposes these are two different episodes, neither of which shares even the skeleton of an epic adventure plot. The formula is finally, finally gone, and so here's two episode reviews for the price of one: "Celestial Advice," which boasts novelty and continuity but lacks much going on or a conflict I have any interest in, and "All Bottled Up," which drags a good moral and some solid ideas through a relatively tired conflict. Neither are terribly exciting, and "All Bottled Up" is rather tedious, but while both are a massive step down from season 6's "The Crystalling," they both have points of merit and serve as a fresh change of pace for the show.