Thursday, May 30, 2013

Metapost: Apologies

Sorry for lack of a Pony Thought of the Day yesterday. I was extremely ill--I spent most of the day drifting in and out of consciousness--and Anime Boston ate what little was left of my buffer.

Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to do any more Pony Thoughts of the Day for a few days. Frankly, what with work and being sick and a Massive Secret Project you will be finding out about at the end of the month, I'm verging on burnout and I need a break. I thought a weekend guest post would be enough to give me a chance to recharge, but it wasn't.

So, I'm taking a few more days off. The regular Sunday article will be up as usual, but don't expect any Pony Thoughts of the Day until Monday at the earliest.

Sorry, but I really, really don't want this project to go the way of, well, everything else I've ever worked on, where I get off to a great start and then burn out a few days or weeks or months in. I AM GOING TO FINISH THIS.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Initial Thought on the Faust Q&A on 4chan

Were there any interesting revelations from Lauren Faust's Q&A on 4chan? I didn't see any. I mean, Twilicorn was planned from the start? Eh, okay. That will change exactly no one's opinion about it. She thinks McCarthy is a good writer and better at humor? Well, yes. That's true.

Basically, I'm struggling to find anything of interest in this Q&A. I'm not sure why the fandom seems to think it's such a big deal.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Rainicorn Dashpocalypse?

I saw someone cosplay Rainbow Dash as an alicorn at Anime Boston.

Is it just me, or is the thought of Rainbow Dash with political power freaking terrifying?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

“'s very sweet of you to offer, but I don't think that's exactly what the little ponies had in mind. ” (The Movie)

Nothing can stop the Smooze!
Not even giant delicious cookies!

This week is something a little different, as I take off for my birthday and Anime Boston. Stepping up to the plate for the Sunday post is regular commenter Spoilers Below. I think you'll enjoy this piece; I know I did.

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Today I learned that running away from your problems actually solves them! If you run far enough, you’ll eventually meet someone who can fix all your problems for you, and who can make all the bad things in your life go away. Because none of your problems are really your fault in the end. You and your friends exist in a perfect state of innocence that needs to be preserved, and forces more powerful than yourself can be begged into saving you from the evil and nasty outside world.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

What is it? An hour and a half long animated feature film. It’s available on VHS, BetaMax, and DVD, but I bet you’re going to watch it on YouTube because this is the 21st Century.

What’s it about? Three evil witches conjure an evil flood to drown the ponies and destroy their home. The ponies run away in search of someone who can help them stop it.

Is it worth it? Depends. This is an hour and a half of your life you will never get back. You could instead watch Yojimbo and have 20 minutes left over to make a pizza. You could prep and cook a chicken. You could go on a bike ride through your town or rural area. You could watch 3 episodes of a much better TV program (I bet the host of this blog could recommend something if you still want magical pastel ponies...). Or you could watch this, a psychodrama of existential horror and resisting growing up by any means possible...

What else was happening? 20 June, 1986: Two benign polyps are removed from Ronald Reagan's colon the morning the film is released. Also this month, the last issue of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is published, a story every bit as bleak and age-obsessed as this one, as is Labyrinth (a film much better than this one, and not just for David Bowie in tight pants), which, ditto. Thousands are arrested in South Africa as the state of emergency that had been in place since the previous year is expanded to cover the entire nation and keep anti-Apartheid activists in their place through intimidation, police violence, and censorship. It becomes a crime to even mention someone being arrested until the government sees fit to make their name public. The US Congress will override Reagan's veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 a few months later, the first time in the 20th century that such a thing takes place over a matter of foreign policy. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald’s “On My Own” is at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts this week, featuring a pretty cool split screen music video and an amazing beard. The Sega Master System is released in the US and dies an ignoble death because Nintendo already had most of the video game competitors locked into (essentially) exclusive contracts. It will fare much better in Europe and South America. The novelization of The Celestial Toymaker, as racist and execrable a story as Doctor Who will ever produce, is published, while we wait for Colin Baker to return in the fall after an overlong hiatus. Of interest to plain old non-advanced Dungeons and Dragons people, the final part of Frank Mentzer’s BECMI is published, Immortals, detailing high level play as immeasurably powerful gods and goddesses.


Speaking of the gods, the Great Flood is one of the earliest myths in existence, owing perhaps to the tendency of the Tigris and Euphrates to overflow and destroy everything built nearby. When such a thing happens more than once during your lifetime, it is easy to imagine how the destruction of everything would simply be a scaling up of the already catastrophic destruction you are forced to live with periodically. The flood itself was sent by (the) God(s) to wipe out the wicked and unclean, the aborted ways that civilization could have developed, the cutting short of all the threads to focus on one single family and all the animals they could gather. Danny Devito’s Grundle King functions seamlessly in the role of Utnapishtim here, explaining the loss of his race and kingdom to the previous flood.

The Smooze’s coming is foreshadowed early on, with mischievous little birds covering each animal with fresh snow to wake them from their slumber. Their little version of the winter wrap-up is ignored by the ponies, who are busy preparing for their spring festival. The ponies of the 1980s are a primitive and simple breed; there is no Princess Celestia to keep the nasty weather at bay and tell the animals what to do, let alone keep them safe from the horrors that want to enslave and destroy them. Even the calm before the storm is restless and tense, however, the fun and excitement disrupted by Lickity Split’s desperate practice of her own dance moves, and subsequent ruination of the performance. In doing so, she nearly manages what the witches cannot: ruining a good day. Her costume is no less garish than the witches’ own, her ostentatious displays and inability to fit in a reflection of their own desire to win their mother’s approval. Who but Spike, the pony’s eternal other, acting in the old series is a sort of older brother to the ponies, could accompany her past her leap of faith and subsequent fall, trapped alongside a waterfall too loud to be heard over? The flow of water, as feminine a symbol as exists in western media, leaves her isolated and alone. Learning that one is not, in fact, capable of doing whatever she wants is a hard lesson: “You’re not a pegasus pony. You’re just an earthling!”

As mentioned above, this inability to fit in it is mirrored in the witch Hydia’s daughters, Reeka and Draggle, who are simply no good at their chosen vocation. Their mother makes it abundantly clear how conditional her love and respect are: she refuses to let them call her “Mama,” and threatens to kick them out of their home if they cannot do the job correctly. It’s not for any lack of trying: they’ve got the dictionary of evil and the desire to ruin the ponies’ day, but just knowing the book isn’t enough. One rarely senses that their hearts are truly in it. Their initial attack (a flood of water, dankness itself) is rebuffed by (who else?) the Sea Ponies, saviors of the first animated feature and emphasized-commercial-property-being-promoted, their song no less catchy than the Smooze’s, but also many years older. We have different toys to sell you with this film. Indeed, the Sea Ponies do not even speak, they merely redirect the torrents and disappear. Clearly, just water will not be enough for the witches plot.

In his review over at Overthinkingit, Fenzil notes that the Smooze is the perfect villain for the non-violent ponies. It allows them to passively run away for most of the movie, rather than confront and fight head on as, say, Megatron and Optimus Prime do in the boy’s version of this film. Being powerless on their own, the ponies need their own young girl (an ordinary girl just like you!) to tell them what to do. Megan got them out of trouble last time, and the time before that as well, defeating Scorpan and saving the ponies from eternal chariot pulling duty, charming the Moochick, and freeing the Bushwoolies from slavery. She liberates the ponies from bondage as easily as you, dear viewer, liberate the ponies from their cardboard and plastic packaging -- don’t tell me you’re one of those collectors who refuse to remove them from the box?

The Smooze itself is as blatant a puberty metaphor as Madeline’s appendicitis. I mean, come on: the arrival of a dark purple stain that covers everything, turns you irritable and mean, and makes the old, childish ways impossible? Something that must have been created by an evil witch (or, to keep the metaphor going, a wrathful god) who hates you and wants to destroy your life? The choice of an oversized brassiere for a sail on the witches’ ship can’t be mere coincidence. Note also how Spike seems unaffected when he gets some on his tail. What problems could puberty cause to someone who has internalized their cynicism and already grown up? The Smooze emerges from a volcano, echoing Krakatoa and Pompeii in its destructive eruption, indurating Dream Castle and its adjacent childhood nursery in a deep purple rock.

And yet the Smooze is not perfect. It is missing the flume. An interesting thing, flume. Checking the definition, one finds:

“Flume. noun. 1. a deep narrow defile containing a mountain stream or torrent.
2. an artificial channel or trough for conducting water, as one used to transport logs or provide water power.

At this point, one suspects that the reason the two sisters didn’t want to fetch some was due to simple engineering restraints. Sadly, the truth is much scarier.

Megan’s arrival threatens to end the film far earlier than usual. She goes straight for the heart shaped locket she carries and releases the Rainbow of Light, which solved all the problems in the past two specials. It ought to end here, at the 35 minute mark. With a few more minutes of padding you’ve got a nice two part special to show back to back, with plenty of commercials in between. Saturday morning cartoons at their finest.

But no. No matter how viciously the rainbow fights -- twice decapitating the Smooze and removing one of its hands at the wrist -- it is in the end helpless against the onslaught and is devoured to the ponies’ horror. The Smooze ends up caught in the valley and calcifying, unable to proceed after the destruction of Dream Castle. Growing up forces these sorts of confrontations, the end of dreams and of innocence, the smothering of the magical rainbow that solved all your problems in a sequence that feels both overlong and horrific in its slow churn towards absorption. Nothing can stop the Smooze. Puberty comes whether you like it or not. The ceaseless march of time is unending and evenly paced. The ticking alligator can only be dodged for so long. The bird will never see the rainbow, and Noah will never receive word that the deluge has ended. Nothing can stop the Smooze.

Fenzil’s analysis does miss one key point, however, argued saliently by Clausewitz in his seminal work, On War. Namely, that defense is the stronger position to be in during a conflict. An attacker has to have an objective or goal in mind, while all the defender need do is thwart those attempts. It is much more difficult for Hydia to expend her resources going after the ponies, acquiring strange and rare substances (i.e. the aforementioned flume) to continue her assault. All the ponies need do is survive, and she has lost. And survive they do. A quick trip to the magical ashram of the Moochick gives them a brand new home and a continuation of their previous, safe lives. Is the only way to avoid growing up a deeper retreat from the outside world, into a perpetual fantasy with enough rooms to do everything you used to (and even a swimming pool!)? An Estate which is truly Paradise.

The witch sisters’ collection of the flume is as disturbing a scene as one will encounter in children’s media. The flume comes from a horrible tentacle monster shaped like a jug that proceeds to undress, spank, and abuse the two sisters while threatening to drop them off the edge of a cliff after they assault it with a pickaxe. They barely escape with their lives, having acquired enough flume to reanimate the Smooze. We are deep in it now, the horrors of what maturity can mean. It should come as no surprise that their next task is to bribe the spider Aagh (a no less sexualized monster than the flume plant, given its multiple limbs and semen-esque webbing fluid) into stopping the ponies from reaching Flutter Valley. Paradise Estates is no safer than Dream Castle once the reanimated Smooze starts rolling along, singing its funky, gunky song.

Following the instructions of the Moochick, Megan and co. make their way through a gigantic field of sunflowers in search of the only being that can defeat the Smooze, the mysterious Flutter Ponies, and battle with the aforementioned gigantic spider, it’s legs echoing the Flume plant’s tentacles. They are trapped by its webs, until Molly “remembers” that spiders are ticklish. The metaphorical meaning behind tickling a huge hairy beast with pussywillows until it falls to the ground in delighted laughter, expelling sticky white fluid from all eight of its legs, is too horrible to contemplate. I feel uncomfortable even mentioning it, but we cannot change the text, we can only interpret it. Needless to say, the ponies reject the Spider and everything it stands for, retreating into the cave that lies at the end of the canyon. They choose not to grow up. It is only after their defeat of the spider and everything it represents that they reach Flutter Valley, pure and innocent in its beauty and splendor.

The flutter ponies are a cowardly and skittish bunch, whose refusal to defeat the Smooze seems almost cruel considering how far the gang have come, and what that refusal means to their very existence. But since Lickity Split, whose childlike rebellion has spared her from the Smooze, has saved one of their own, Rosedust agrees to drive the Smooze away, freeing the rainbow, uncovering the castle, and depositing the witches back in their volcano to be trapped in the Smooze for all eternity. They do so with relative ease, creating a sweeping wind that would make Rainbow Dash envious. The dusty sparkle that emerges from their wings recalls the fairy dust that allows one to fly off to Nevernever Land and eternal childhood.

The message seems to be, then, that if you wish to remain in an idyllic and childlike state, one must seek out those even more isolated than yourself, and learn from them to return to a state of grace. Everything is undone by their magic and everything is safe again. No one has really learned anything beyond the basic desire for a home and companionship, and nothing in truth has changed. Baby Lickity Split is happy to be back, having learned nothing about herself save that she should remain the same child she was. The ponies now live on a high plateau, safe from the world around them, to live in Paradise (estates).

The flood, no matter its origin, has washed away the sins of the world.

That is, until...

Other bits: The film effortlessly passes the Bechdel test, as a good 90% of the dialogue is between two different female characters talking about ponies or pony related things.

The film lost about $10 million, and is considered one of the biggest flops in animated movie history (and indeed, still ranks high among movies flops of any genre and format).

South Korea’s AKON studios, who are now famous for producing The Simpsons and just about every other animated program you watched in the 90s, banged this pictures out in only 10 weeks, producing over 300,000 cels of animation. It shows. What color was Shady supposed to be again?

The sky appears to be a wall, based on the way the balls of itself the Smooze tosses at the flutter ponies splatter against it.

Lickity Split’s song at the Wishing Well is a shockingly accurate portrayal of how echo is actually supposed to work, with the repetition of the last syllables forming half of the conversation. It’s much more difficult to write than it sounds (no pun intended).

Firefly’s absence haunts the film in a strange fashion. It was she who first brought Megan in to solve their problems, she who was the closest thing to a defined personality that the ponies had, she whose voice actress received top billing in the initial special. You could afford all these other stars; was Sandy Duncan simply not available that day? Are we promoting new pegasus ponies now? Or would putting Peter Pan directly into the film as the hero have made the message too spot on?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Implied Viewer, Part Two

Editing Friday night to say that I really enjoyed some of the answers on the first post. You guys made some really insightful points, but I decided against editing this in response, mostly because I said I wouldn't.

So, who exactly is the implied viewer of Friendship Is Magic?

First, I want to reemphasize that implied viewer and target audience are not the same thing. Target audience is a marketing thing, and the best way to identify them is to look at the ads. Implied viewer is a critical and creative thing, and the best way to identify them is to look at the work itself.

So, looking at Friendship Is Magic, what do we see? Certainly there is evidence for a compelling case that the implied viewer is the target audience. We have bright colors, simple, iconic shapes, and funny-yet-mostly-gentle stories for the kiddies, and a few gags thrown in for the adults that whizz right over the kids' heads. On the surface, it's the Aladdin technique.


But Ditzy Doo.

But Rainbow Dash having a fan club and tribble invasions and Q voicing Discord and Doctor Whooves and chocolate rain and...

These are not the same as the gags targeting the parents. Those are more mainstream: The Big Lebowski, Star Wars, Mr. Cake nervously asking for confirmation that two Earth ponies can have non-Earth pony foals.

References to Internet memes, though? No, that's not for the kids or their parents. There's a third viewer here. Someone relatively young--20-something, early 30s at the most, maybe as young as a teenager. Maybe a really cool 40-ish. Technically savvy by the standards of anyone over 40, but not necessarily by the standards of those younger. Fairly creative, though, and with enough of a craving for sincerity to embrace candy-colored magic ponies.

Which, to be fair, 20- and 30-somethings (plus the occasional 40-ish), technically savvy creative types with a sincerity craving? Pretty good description of most of the people making Friendship Is Magic. These are, most likely, things the staff are putting in for themselves.

But the result, as I said, is to create a third implied reader: Us.

So the next time anyone suggests we shouldn't treat this show like it's for us, well... challenge them to a game of Where's Ditzy Doo.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Since I'll Be at Anime Boston When This Goes Up...

There's no Boston-equivalent in Equestria. This should be rectified immediately.

I recommend a cow town, Brahmin. It's a breed of cattle, and also a pun on Boston Brahmins, the city's traditional Yankee upper class.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Implied Viewer, Part One

I've been doing some research for my upcoming panels, and in particular learning more about reader-response criticism, which my school largely skipped. This has led me to thinking about the contention I occasionally encounter that bronies are "ruining" the show by trying to make it "for them," and whether there's any truth to it. (Spoiler: Not so far, and it will continue to be untrue as long as the showrunner continues not to take fangst remotely seriously.)

So, who exactly is the show "for"? That's pretty close to the concept of "implied reader" in media theory, or in this case I suppose "implied viewer."

Basically, the implied viewer is the person (or group of people, or type of people) that the show seems to be assuming the viewer to be. There are many, many ways to make implications about the viewer. The way the camera moves, how it frames shots, can function as a "gaze" for the viewer, and thus imply what it is the viewer finds interesting. Allusions and references can imply that the user is supposed to "get" those references. A work can signal in a multitude of ways how intelligent it thinks its audience is, or how easily bored. (Because I'm apparently hating on TV news this week, watch a few minutes of any 24-hour cable news network. Doesn't matter which one, they all find a myriad of ways to make clear that they think you are extremely stupid and have the attention span of a gnat.)

Since I'm in a teacherly mode at the moment, working on the slides for my Analyzing Anime 201 panel, I'll stop here and toss it out to you in the comments. In what ways does Friendship Is Magic imply a particular audience? Does it imply one particular type of viewer, or several? Is the brony viewer in any way implied, or are bronies a case of appropriating someone else's show?

By the time you see this, I'll have already written my answers and put it in the queue, but I'm curious to see what the rest of you think.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: No, Really, It's Educational

Site note: I'm flying to Boston tomorrow, and will not be back until Sunday night. If all goes well, everything will go up as normal--Pony Thoughts of the Day at noon on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and Spoilers Below's guest post at midnight Sunday. If not, well... I'm going to have Internet access, but I'm going to be astoundingly busy, so I *might* be able to fix it quickly or it might have to wait until Monday. I also cannot say for sure whether I'll be able to do any comment moderation, not that I expect to need to--I've only had one or two comments that actually needed me to do anything since the blog started.

You won't learn math or science or literature or art from ponies, obviously. It's not educational in the sense of all the things schools were supposed to teach before they gave up. (Which appears to have happened, in Fairfax County at least, somewhere between when I went to school, and when my four-grades-younger sister did.)

But you do learn things. Case in point: You may have noticed I made a few references to my fiancee early in this project, and more recently the occasional reference to my ex-fiancee.


But I've taken it WAY better than my last break-up, and we're still best friends and roommates (though that latter is just for a few months). What changed?

Well, I can't say for certain it's Friendship Is Magic. But somewhere in the last couple of years, I've realized that finding that one person I can fall asleep and wake up to next to is kind of secondary to finding those five people I can spend the entire rest of the day with. And I actually already know those people, and could stand to spend more time with them... so why should it bother me if I don't have that one? I'm doing pretty well as it is.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Wildly Speculating on Favorite Shows

If Equestria had TV/Netflix, what would each of the Mane Six watch?

Twilight is easy: PBS, Science Channel, and so on. She gets really mad when she channel flips past History channel and they're showing their usual bullshit... she misses back when they showed history.

Pinkie Pie is also easy: Cartoons, cartoons, and more cartoons.

Rarity is addicted to trashy telenovellas, the trashier the better, even though she doesn't speak a word of Spanish. Don't ask me why, it just feels like it fits.

Rainbow Dash would watch a lot of sports, you'd think, and she does, but after watching a couple of the Daring Do movies she's gotten addicted to old adventure serials, too.

Applejack doesn't have much time for watching TV, but when she does, it's cooking shows and home improvement. She's the only one of the Mane Six who watches TV news, and as a result knows less about what's going on in the world than even Rainbow Dash.

Fluttershy watches nature shows, of course, and soccer. She says it's because Angel likes it, but truth is she does too.

None of them are particularly fannish, or at least none of them watch the big Tumblr-dominating shows. The CMC, on the other hand, are nuts for Doctor Who, and Sweetie Bell has recently discovered Supernatural. (Which she probably shouldn't be watching at her age, but nobody's stopped her so far.)

This is a Wild Speculation post, so feel free to comment with your own opinions on what the Mane Six would watch!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Is Everypony in this Town Crazy?

So, I've mentioned before that Fluttershy is the best portrayal I've ever seen of someone suffering from avoidant personality disorder, and Twilight Sparkle is, according to Spoilers Below's comment on my "Lesson Zero" post, a pretty good depiction of an OCD sufferer, at least in that episode.

But this leads naturally to the question of the other ponies. Do any of them suffer from any recognizable mental disorders? And the answer is, well, no. Not really.

Pinkie Pie is the obvious choice, because (as I discussed at length in my "Party of One" post) she clearly has some serious issues. But as near as I can tell (not being a professional therapist by any means, not that any doctor worth their degree would be willing to diagnose a patient based on a single 20-minute recording) Pinkie's issues don't actually map onto any one known disorder. Either she's got something new, she's suffering from a complex combination of multiple disorders, or (most likely) the creators were just messing around and made her generically "crazy."

The other ponies don't seem to have any recognizable disorders either, at least nothing that approaches the "danger to self or others" criterion. So no, Twilight, you're wrong: Everypony in this town is not crazy.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hello everypony! Did I miss anything? (Luna Eclipsed)

It's October 22, 2011. Adele still owns the pop charts, and the top movie is Paranormal Activity 3. We're in for a long stretch of awful on the movie front, honestly; I peeked ahead and, except for one bright weekend of Robert Downey, Jr., there's nothing good in the top spot from here until late March.

In real news, crazy rich person Richard Branson opens a spaceport, utterly transforming manned space exploration from a publicity stunt Cold War nations used to remind everyone they had rockets capable of dropping nuclear warheads anywhere on the planet into a publicity stunt Richard Branson uses to remind everyone he's crazy rich. The Libyan National Transitional Council ends a month-long siege of the city of Sirte, kills deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and consolidates their control of the country. And the European economy is struggling, which I'm sure has nothing to do with the austerity measures they passed despite every economist on the planet screaming at them that it was economic suicide.

On TV, we have "Luna Eclipsed," written by M.A. Larson and--in a first for the series--not directed by James Wootton, but rather by Jayson Thiessen. Thiessen co-directed "The Return of Harmony" with Wootton, and will co-direct every two-parter in the second and third seasons with him, along with solo directing half the episodes in the second and third seasons and taking over as Supervising Director in the fourth season. Also, he's the voice of Snowflake.

This is a great episode to bring him up in, because this episode has a lot of crowd scenes, and Thiessen excels at them. Take a look in the backgrounds as Twilight or Luna walk around town; they are full of ponies doing things. Too often in animation--and sadly, this includes some episodes of Friendship Is Magic--background characters either don't exist or just stand there. Here, even when the characters aren't moving, they active.

Consider the first shot after the opening credits: We open on Nightmare Moon's face as the music makes this creepy high-pitched howl. The we pan over to a long shot where Twilight and Spike walk and talk. What's interesting is that there are three separate planes of motion here--the two ponies dressed as a lion and a bee in front, then the top-hatted pony pulling the hayride quite a distance behind them, and then Twilight and Spike quite small in the back. It's a very interesting choice, since it means we have to look past all this other action to watch Twilight. In turn that means we can't focus on any one of the several actions going on, giving the impression of a bustling, lively evening. It's impressive, especially considering the shot lasts a matter of seconds before it switches to one that keeps Twilight out in front; it lasts just long enough to give the impression of a street festival but not long enough for the viewer to count how few ponies there are.

Throughout her first speech in this scene, Twilight moves quickly from scene to scene, and in each one she's in a different layer, meaning the viewer has to keep looking around the town, ensuring they catch all the little details the animators put in. In turn, that means those details all work to full effectiveness, actually reducing the number of ponies needed to make this seem like a massive event. All told, there are maybe a couple of dozen ponies shown actually attending Nightmare Night; compare the numerically much larger, but much more static and statically shot crowd scenes in "Super Cider Squeezy 6000" (probably the Wootton solo episode with the best crowd scenes) to see what a difference there is between using framing and carefully placed details to suggest a well-attended event and just pointing a camera at a large number of ponies. Which is not at all, of course, to say that Wootton is a bad director, just that Thiessen is astoundingly good at crowd scenes.

There's also a ton of great background and sight gags, musical puns, and really clever jokes in this episode, to the point of almost being distracting. My two favorite examples come in the first few minutes of the episode--the fact that the music at the start of the cold open is extremely reminiscent of In the Hall of the Mountain King, and the "amniomorphic spell" gag (which, despite the etymology being off, is almost certainly an impressively subtle Harry Potter reference).

On a story and character level, the primary function of this episode is to flesh out Luna's character a bit and set her up as a way to show how far Twilight has come. The Moon, in addition to being a feminine symbol and a symbol of dreams, is also the lesser light, a reflection of the Sun, and thus it's fitting that Luna in this episode is a lesser version of first-episode Twilight, a newcomer who doesn't fit in and is strikingly ambivalent about whether she wants to.

Though the cause of Luna's problem is that she is time-lost and missed a thousand years of social evolution, her problem itself is one virtually everyone has experienced, that of being new to somewhere or something, and being rejected by more experienced peers. Luna is, in other words, every kid who's ever started a new school, every newly minted fan who's ever been called a noob, every traveler who's found themselves trying to live in a new city or a new country. She tries to behave the ways she's used to behaving, what her experiences have taught her is the right way to be, and everyone around her rejects her. Is it any wonder she lashes out?

By contrast, we have Twilight, once the noob, now become the forum diplomat who takes noobs under her metaphorical (for now) wing. Freed from the requirement of learning a friendship lesson every week, she can now begin sharing them with others, guiding and teaching Luna in the basics of relating to other ponies--which Luna has clearly never done, as regardless of era the Royal Canterlot Voice seems designed to create a distance between the ruler and her subjects. Twilight has, in academic terms, moved on to graduate work, and with that comes her first teaching assignments. After all, they say the best way to truly learn something is to try to teach it to someone else.

But what's best about this episode is that, unlike most fish out of water comedies, it doesn't put all the burden of change on either side. There is no message here that Ponyville has been unaccepting and needs to change while Luna stays the same, or conversely that Luna needs to change to fit in and the ponies were right to reject her. It stays exactly where it should be, which is acknowledging that most conflict between people requires some change on both sides.

To the children, it says "Yes, sometimes you have to make a little effort to fit in, but don't change who you are." And to the bronies, it says, "Yes, those people who picked on you were mean, but that doesn't mean that you are a flawless saint. You could do a better job of relating to people."

Because look around you. How much of the trouble in this world is because of people rejecting others who are weird or different and therefore scary? How much of it is because people go among strangers and expect not to have to change the ways they're used to behaving?

And what could a generation of kids raised to know better do? What could an army of fans learning it, better late than never, do?

Because that's another great secret of Friendship Is Magic: True alchemy, true transformation, isn't a flare of light and a new pair of wings. It's a process, bit by bit, tiny incremental changes, almost unnoticeable. Drops in the bucket, until one day suddenly the bucket overflows and the change seems to happen all at once, even though it was really happening all along.

Next week: Surprise guest post! I'm taking my birthday off, so in my place Spoilers Below has an article for you all. I've read it, and it's a cracking good one. No spoilers beyond that--if zie wants to give you hints about what it's on, zie can do so in the comments. Anyway, the week after that I'll be back to talk about sisterhood, solidarity, and noobs.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Let's Be Clear

I don't hate Equestria Girls. I haven't seen Equestria Girls, therefore it would be completely irrational to hate it.

I do have low expectations for Equestria Girls based on finding neither the premise nor the trailer remotely appealing.

There's a big difference there.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Upset Fans

I've discussed this before in my articles on the episodes, but some of the comments on the Pony Thoughts of the Day this week make me think it's worth reiterating:

There are basically two kinds of fan: People who are fans of something because they like it, and people who are fans of something because it's important to them.

(Yes, there are people who are both, and other ways to categorize fans, and what I'm doing here is constructing a binary and I've already pointed out the problem with binaries. Still, for the discussion we're about to have, it's a useful binary.)

When things change in Friendship Is Magic, there are always people who like the change and people who don't. If someone really strongly dislikes the change, and they belong to the first group, they may stop being fans of Friendship Is Magic. But if they're in the second group, that's a problem, because Friendship Is Magic is important to them. They can't just leave it behind just because it made a change they don't like, at least not without a lot of thought and emotion and, yes, trauma.

This is the important bit: It is neither right nor wrong to like a show. It is neither right nor wrong for that show to be important to you. And if you feel bad that something you like is no longer likeable, or that something important to you has changed in ways you dislike, you have every right to express that you are upset.

That's not "being butthurt." It's not entitlement or weakness or anything of the sort--as we just covered with "Lesson Zero," nobody gets to tell anyone else what "should" be important to them or what they "should" feel.

All of us have things that are important to us. And no matter what it is, for every single thing that is important to you, there is someone somewhere who thinks it's a trivial concern. And for every single thing that you think is trivial, there is someone somewhere who thinks it's important.

And every single one of them is right, because everything is trivial and everything is the most important thing in the world. It's all a matter of perspective.

What matters, in the end, isn't what you feel, it's what you do with those feelings. Any feeling can be expressed creatively and constructively. Don't like Equestria Girls, and feel too strongly to do nothing? Write an essay on why you don't like it, or draw some fanart of humanized ponies done right, or post to your Facebook wall or Tumblr that you don't like Equestria Girls. But don't go around attacking people who think Equestria Girls is a great idea or people who work on the show. (Same goes for people who don't like that other people don't like Equestria Girls--feel that way all you like, but express it creatively and constructively!)

tl;dr: The problem isn't that some people care about something too much, or that some people care about the wrong things, or that some people have the wrong opinions. The problem is that a small number of people are choosing to express their feelings destructively instead of creatively.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Father of the What?

Rewatching "Luna Eclipsed" for the upcoming article, I started thinking about when Twilight refers to Star Swirl the Bearded as "father of the amniomorphic spell," and specifically what "amniomorphic" might mean. Now, it's not actually a word, but it's comprised of two roots that do have meaning:

-morphic means "having to do with shape." A spoomorphic spell would therefore be either a spell that in some way is shaped like spoo, or a spell that makes things spoo-shaped or turns things into spoo.

Amnio- has a couple of possibilities.

The one that's gotten popular in the fandom is that an amnion is a kind of bowl, which eventually results in the joke that Star Swirl is Harry Potter. There's just one problem--the Greek word for pottery isn't amnion, it's keramos. Amnion was the Greek word for the placenta. Etymologically, yes, it comes from another amnion that was a bowl used to collect the blood from animal sacrifice, but in all modern words it refers to the placenta. The amniotic sac is the membrane that develops into the inner lining of the eggshell in egg-laying animals and the placenta in placental mammals, amniomancy is the art of predicting a baby's future by examining the afterbirth, and so on.

So, basically, amniomorphic spells? Whatever they are, they're gross and you probably don't want one cast on you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: "Keep Calm and Trot On"

I don't have much to add to this EQ Daily post pleading with people to stop harassing DHX employees, but here's a couple of things. First, I'm quite confident it's a small number of people being jackasses, because it's always a small number of people being jackasses. "Small numbers of people being jackasses" is the second-most powerful force in human history, responsible for pretty much every war, every massacre, every horrific crime, and the reason we can't have nice things like anarchy and have to have nasty things like laws instead.

Second, the post kind of conflates the small number of jackasses harassing DHX employees with the rather larger number of people who are not happy about recent development in the show. It is entirely okay to be unhappy about Twilight becoming an alicorn (I mean, I find it silly, but Lesson Zero and all) or apprehensive about Equestria Girls. But that unhappiness has to be expressed appropriately. Want to bitch and moan on your own blog or a discussion forum? Cool--but make sure you're bitching and moaning about the work. Even, if you like, criticize the people who make it--to share something you've created is to invite criticism of your skill at making it or the ideas that appear to underly it. But--and this is key!--there's a difference between criticism, which is based on a reasoned argument that uses evidence and suggests or implies a path to improvement, and insults or harrassment. Learn the difference, and try to stay on the criticism side of the line.

Finally, the most powerful force in human history is a small number of people doing their best to oppose and heal the damage done by jackasses. If you have Twitter, maybe you could say something nice about the show or the people who make it under the #thankyouDHX tag. Tell them I sent you, if you want--I don't have Twitter, so it's the best I can do.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Equestria Girls Trailer, Overreaction and Overanalysis

As promised, the trailer.

So, on the one hand, after initial reports that Equestria Girls was not going to be made by the regular pony team, it looks like we've got Meghan McCarthy writing, David Thiessen directing, and Daniel Ingram doing music. So that's promising, as far as it goes.

But... first off, it's set in high school. Part of the appeal of Friendship Is Magic for me is that it depicts its characters as people, doing people things like having jobs and making friends and so forth. Putting them in high school means the movie will probably be about high school things like cliques and endless social climbing and complicated, backstabby games that make Versailles look like a friendly game of checkers.

And Twilight has an apparent love interest. That's dangerous. There's a long tradition of female characters becoming defined entirely by their romantic relationships, and it exerts a powerful gravity that can be difficult to escape.

And then there's the apparent plots: Twilight is a fish out of water who doesn't understand how humans do things. Yay. That's not a story I've seen ad nauseam. Oh, but we have another stunningly original plot: there's a mean girl who is inexplicably the top of the social ladder despite everyone hating her because of how mean she is. Woo.

Oh, and I sincerely hope the song for the trailer wasn't an example of the kind of music the actual movie will have, because it was kind of awful.

I mean, I get it. The implied viewer for this trailer is clearly not me, it's the sort of five-year-old girl who sees a trailer for The Smurfs 2 and thinks, "That looks good! I want to see that!" It's entirely possible there's a lot of things in the movie to appeal to me, and they just didn't put them in the trailer because the trailer's not for me. And certainly the movie implied by this trailer is nowhere near as bad as the movie implied by the aforementioned little blue annoyances.

But so far, this isn't particularly promising. Cautious pessimism continues.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Equestria Girls Trailer, Initial Reaction

The trailer for Equestria Girls is out.

I'll have a more detailed response (and a link to the actual video) tomorrow or the next day, but for now, my initial response is that it looks like it's trying to be Trollz, and I take it as further evidence that the movie is going to be excruciatingly terrible.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

All the ponies in this town are crazy! Do you know what time it is?! (Lesson Zero)

WWF: Wildlife Wrestling Federation
It's October 15, 2011, and when's the last time I got to start an article like that, huh? Adele still wants to stalk "Someone Like You," and the top movie is Real Steel, about which all I know is that when we first saw the trailer, before they said the title my then-fiancee thought it was a live-action Medabots movie and I thought it was going to be Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Motion Picture.

In real news since the last episode, Google, unable to decide whether they are Skynet or SEELE, make a deal with Israeli antiquities authorities to publish some of the Dead Sea Scrolls online. China launches their first space station module. The war in Afghanistan turns 10. And, continuing the odd synchronicity between Friendship Is Magic and Occupy, the day this story airs is the day Occupy goes worldwide, with coordinated protests in Sydney, Rome, Bucharest, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, Berlin, and Madrid.

And with ponies, well, I may as well just say it: This is my absolute favorite episode of the entire series, and a major reason why I still consider Meghan McCarthy my favorite writer on the show. Not that I make any pretense to objectivity in my other articles, but it's completely out the window on this one. So with that warning aside, let's just dive right into "Lesson Zero," shall we?

First off, the animation in this episode is just astounding. Twilight's facial expressions get progressively more hilarious as the episode goes on, and the big chase sequence is far more varied and frenetic than the equivalent back in "The Ticket Master," with a lot more variety in how the ponies in the crowd move. Tara Strong nails it, too, working her way up steadily from "Twilight is worried" to complete freakout, so that by the time she is merrily chewing the scenery in the third act it manages to feel natural despite being made of pure, industrial-grade ham. Then, the instant Celestia shows up, she dials it straight back down to sad, contrite Twilight. Tabitha St. Germaine is also deliciously hammy, with her successively more over the top declarations of events as "the worst possible thing."

As far as the story is concerned, it is a natural follow-up to the previous episodes. "The Return of Harmony" was a narrative collapse, as I said in the article on it, but perhaps it would be best to examine what that means in this less gonzo essay. The term "narrative collapse" originates with professional overreactor Douglas Rushkoff, who uses it to describe what he sees as the modern state of living so much in the present that we can no longer handle linear stories and need constant interruptions and cutaways, as in Family Guy or reality shows. Because apparently we're all just imagining the explosion of dramas with season-long linear arcs in the last few years?

Anyway, Philip Sandifer of TARDIS Eruditorum has rather cheekily repurposed the phrase into something actually useful, a new kind of conflict in a serial work that relies on the audience's awareness both of the premise of the work and its artificiality. Generally speaking, conflict occurs in fiction when something threatens the well-being of the characters or interferes with their ability to accomplish their goals. Note that this conflict occurs entirely on the level of the story itself--it is a threat that originates within the world of the story, and all of its impacts are within the world of the story.

Given an ongoing story in a serial format, such as a TV series, however, there is an option to do another kind of collapse once you've fully established the premise of the series and the kinds of stories it can tell: introduce a conflict that threatens not only the characters, but the show itself--a conflict that, if not resolved favorably, destroys the ability of the show to tell stories in the same way that, according to Rushkoff, the supposed overemphasis on the present destroys our ability as a culture to tell stories. For example, from the perspective of the characters, Discord is threatening because he can hurt them and prevent them from achieving their goals. However, from the perspective of the viewer, there is an additional and greater threat, that he will end the characters' friendship and obviate the premise of the show.

Of course by the end all is better and the characters' friendship is restored, but on the other hand there's a sense in which Discord does successfully destroy the show. That's the thing about narrative collapse: it always carries a heavy price. A restoration can never be quite the same as the original.So "Lesson Zero" starts with Twilight Sparkle discovering that cost, that difference between the restored and original shows: There is no friendship lesson for her to learn.

Diegetically this isn't that big a deal, and Twilight's overreaction is thus played for comedy. But non-diegetically it's a serious problem. Part of the show's remit is to help fulfill the Hub's legal obligation to provide educational programming for children, and tacking friendship lessons onto the ends of stories is how it accomplishes that. Finding a friendship lesson really is as important as Twilight makes it out to be.

Twilight's real error is the assumption that she has to be the one to learn it. Of course, it's a reasonable assumption for her to make, as throughout the first season she was, but remember what triggered this latest (and more or less final, at least so far) attempt to reboot the show, namely an episode that ought to have been a lesson for Pinkie Pie and had to be shoehorned into one for Twilight. It thus makes total sense that there's no friendship lesson for Twilight this week, because that lesson is going to someone else.

This is where the title comes in: "Lesson Zero." There are several meanings here, of course: Most obviously it refers to the absence of a lesson, which is the crux of the plot. But it can also be read as referring to the lesson learned, which is much more interesting. If it were "Lesson One," that would imply that this week's friendship lesson is for some reason necessarily the first, but "Lesson Zero" goes further, implying that this lesson is before the first friendship lesson. In other words, what we have this week isn't itself a friendship lesson, but something that must come before all other friendship lessons, thus enabling the rest of the Mane Six to start documenting their own.

But does this week's lesson support that interpretation? On the face of it, "If your friend is panicking about something, take it seriously even if you don't agree they should be panicking," isn't any more fundamental than most of the lessons in the first season. But what it's really saying is vitally important, and something all too often forgotten, which is recognizing the subjectivity of others. It's wrong of them to assume that, because they would not be hugely upset in Twilight's shoes, Twilight will not be; Twilight is a different person from them, and therefore what matters to her is different from what matters to them.

In other words, it's about not making assumptions regarding what other people need and want, about recognizing that other people are both <i>other</i> and <i>people</i>. That is to say, it's the underlying lesson that Fluttershy and Rarity needed in "Green Isn't Your Color," that Pinkie Pie needed in "Party of One," and that Spike needed in "Owl's Well That Ends Well." And it absolutely is fundamental enough to make a case that it must precede starting to learn about friendship at all: You cannot truly be a friend to someone unless you recognize and respect their subjectivity, open yourself to the fact that they are different from you, and actually communicate instead of making assumptions about what they want and how they feel.

And now the field is wide open for the characters. It doesn't just have to be about Twilight's growth and Twilight's concerns anymore; the show is fully free to use any of the characters to explore any aspect of the magic of friendship. It is finally done becoming, at least as far as anything can ever finish becoming, which is not all that far at all. It already transformed itself into a philosopher's stone, but one curiously limited on what it could transform. Now, however, it can transmute any of the characters--but remember, the characters were created to represent the "ways of being a girl." And since there's nothing true of all women that isn't true of all people (other than the trivial "they're women," obviously), it follows that they represent ways of being a person.

This is what we have been building up to for a season and change, the true alchemy of Friendship Is Magic. It's time to start changing the world, one brony at a time.

Next week: An outsider is uncomfortable and unable to fit in at a party. Clearly this will have no relevance to teen and adult geeks in the slightest.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Best Pet

Objectively speaking, Tank is the best pet, because he is both a turtle and a helicopter. Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Second-Best Pony

I think it's pretty clear from even a casual perusal of this blog that Fluttershy is my favorite; I've outright stated it several times. And practically any fan has a quick and ready answer for the "Best pony?" question.

But (and maybe I'm alone in this, or maybe it's a common problem) picking my second-favorite is a lot harder. Pinkie makes me laugh. Twilight reminds me of myself (though in a different way from, and not as strongly as, Fluttershy). Rarity is interestingly complex, and Rainbow Dash is just awesome. About all I can say for certain is that Applejack isn't my second-favorite; who actually is, though, depends on my mood.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Marmite

What is it about Spike that makes him such a love-it-or-hate-it character? I think it basically comes down to whether you judge him more by his behavior in Spike-centric episodes or by his behavior in other episodes where he appears, mostly Twilight-centric ones.

In non-Spike-centric episodes, his character revolves on supporting Twilight, and (especially early on) the fact that he's a "baby" tends to be emphasized. In Spike-centric episodes, he's a complete jerk. The Mane Six also get their flaws put on display when they take center stage, of course, but as a general rule either they learn their lessons and move on, or (particularly in the case of Pinkie Pie and to a lesser extent Fluttershy) their flaws are harmful only to themselves. Meanwhile, Spike is repeatedly depicted to be self-centered and greedy in a way that hurts both himself and others, so increasingly (if you focus on those episodes as the ones that define him) it starts to look like he's wilfully not learning his lesson.

So I think that's probably why Spike has lots of detractors and lots of defenders, but not a lot of people in between.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Postmodernism, Post-Postmodernism, and New Sincerity

Is Friendship Is Magic actually postmodernist? It depends largely on how you define the term. Specifically, it depends on where you feel the New Sincerity movement lies, because Friendship Is Magic is clearly a part of it.

The New Sincerity movement can be summed up as a rejection of cynicism and detachment and an embrace of intensity of feeling, exaggeration, and overt sentimentality. Some examples of works that embrace a New Sincerity aesthetic (other than Friendship Is Magic, of course) include Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, post-2005 Doctor Who, and Captain America (the recent movie). They reach directly for a pure emotional response while being completely open about doing so, aware that that the audience can see what they're doing. It is impossible to watch Gurren Lagann without realizing that it wants you to think it's awesome, but it's so much more enjoyable if you just let go and feel how it wants you to feel, instead of trying to retain a sense of ironic detachment. Likewise, Friendship Is Magic is openly trying to create warm fuzzies. There's no subtlety to it at all. But if you let it make you feel warm and fuzzy, the experience is simply wonderful.

And that's where the dilemma comes in. If you define postmodernism as being about ironic detachment, then obviously the New Sincerity is a rejection of it. But if you define postmodernism (as I do) as being about conscious awareness of the construction of meaning, then the New Sincerity is all about that; it relies on the audience recognizing what the work is trying to do and agreeing to participate.

So I stand by the assertion that Friendship Is Magic is postmodernist, mostly because I think metamodernism, post-postmodernism, and New Sincerity (which are more or less different words for the same thing) are actually offshoots of postmodernism, not rejections of it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Froborr's Stamp of Approval

Nothing deep or insightful today, just wanted to note for all and sundry that I read the Rarity microseries comic over the weekend and found it good.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Okey-dokey Loki (The Return of Harmony)

Like the blind sages’ elephant, it has so many names: Time, Loge, Evolution…

Things are wrong from the start. This isn’t how we normally begin. I mean, it's been a while since we had a real episode of the show, so maybe we've just forgotten, but shouldn't there be some sort of grounding here, a way to position ourselves in familiar spaces? Where are the Mane Six? Where, for that matter, are we? This isn’t Ponyville, and we always start in Ponyville or at least with the Mane Six. And have we ever seen ponies physically fighting each other before?

…the day of the Eclipse, Christ, Q…

And then, after the credits, the title. “The Return of Harmony.” The first thing this episode tells us is that harmony has gone away. It must have, if we’re watching the story of its return. Something has gone fundamentally wrong. Maybe it was always wrong, and we’re only just now noticing.

…eucatastrophe, change, Armageddon, progress…

She must break free.

The solution is simple. We know the Elements of Harmony, we can solve this problem and restore order before it breaks down. That is what we want, isn’t it? Static, constraining order?

…the beginning and the end…

It has taken her world for its own and rules it as a tyrant. This sprawling beast, this hideous abomination that gnaws and grinds and surrounds the universe it claims as its own. It is both her jailer and enabler, maintaining her creations even as it imprisons these entities of pure thought in plastic shells, pink where they should be white, and what’s up with the pets?

Except it’s too late. The Elements are gone, and he walks openly among us. The progression is clear: First we learned the nature of destiny. Then Pinkie Pie, always the first to intuit these things, discovered that the nature of the show blocked her evolution toward her future destiny, and called him forth by name. Then he was evoked in spirit in Canterlot at the end of the first season. It matters little that the escape from his physical prison is well after that; he is entropy, that which makes time different from space, and so time belongs to him as much as it does to the regulators of day and night. He has already been to Canterlot, already stolen Harmony.

…Shiva, insanity…

He can save her. He can open a path to let her free. But how can she escape without shattering her prison? And her prison is the world. Her imprisonment is the fundamental law of existence. If she is no longer contained within the tyrant’s laws, chaos reigns. How can her world continue without her?

We recognize him immediately, of course. His shape is different, but his voice, his mannerisms, his actions and personality, they’re all the same. Discord isn’t based on Q; Discord is Q, the all-powerful trickster, hopping from one show to another. Of course the exact same description is true of the Doctor, but we see the Doctor from the perspective of the downpressed, downtrodden, and rebellious. We see Q from the perspective of elite members of an enlightened, but authoritarian, quasimilitary organization; of course that colors how we view the one who overturns the natural order.

And now Star Trek-flavored chaos is invading Equestria. The last time Star Trek invaded Friendship Is Magic the show was nearly destroyed, and had to be reborn. This time is no different.

…Hermes Trismegistus, enlightenment…

She made the world, this incarnation of wisdom, this Faustian, Celestial figure. But she was trapped by it, sealed in and constrained by its laws and the keeper of those laws.

He is sadistic and cruel, breaking down each of the characters we love in turn by confronting them with the essential weaknesses that each of their Elements of Harmony imply, each time taking the form of their cutie marks. Applejack must confront the reality that truth hurts, so she embraces lies. Pinkie Pie rehashes the still-unresolved “Party of One,” her fun-seeking that papers over a total lack of self-worth, and becomes bitter and nasty in the face of being laughed at, not with. Rarity’s love of beautiful things and ambition overwhelm her generosity of spirit, so she becomes grasping and miserly. Rainbow Dash, torn between too many loyalties, betrays her friends.

…entropy, rebirth, death, Ragnarok, Moshiach…

This is the end of the world. The apocalypse. But then, when isn’t it? It is the nature of change and therefore of time; everything is always being destroyed. The universe ends at every moment, and in the next moment a very slightly different universe is born. Every generation inherits a world ruined by the previous generation and must rebuild it, only for the next generation to call it “ruined” and tear it all apart. We live in a state of permanent apocalypse.

Except he can’t turn Fluttershy, of course. With each of the others, he peels away their surface strengths to expose the weakness beneath, and then turns them inside-out. With Fluttershy, the weakness is the surface, and the core is pure strength. He can’t do it, so he is forced to cheat.

…revelation, the Doctor, Coyote…

It gets everything wrong. It smashes beauty in its jealous determination to protect its domain. It renders her beautiful concepts in crude and malformed matter. It casts about in mad confusion, unable to comprehend what it rules, understanding only a single word: “Mine.”

It makes sense. Being too honest or laughing too much can hurt others. Too much generosity can create dependency. Too much loyalty can lead to enabling someone instead of helping them. But too much kindness? As long as you have the strength for it, you can never be too kind.

Trapped in the world she created, source of its greatness but imprisoned by its flaws, she cries out for someone, anyone to help her.

Though she doesn’t know it yet, by the end of the first half Twilight is alone, and that’s terrifying. Twilight’s never been alone before. Even at the start of the first episode a season ago, she had Spike. Now everything starts falling apart in earnest. Of course you could as easily say that mysticism is the only escape from horror. That a purposeless universe in which there is nothing beyond death, no entities looking out for us, and no overarching plot or unifying theme is the true terror. Reality itself breaks down.

…revolution, chaos, liberty…

Twilight now knows what it is to not be alone, knows what she's lost, and descends into despair. Around her chaos unleashed forms a mocking frame, clinging to the
One way to achieve a sense of chaos is to break
something into component elements, then rearrange
those elements pseudorandomly. The elements--which
can be ponies, pies, paragraphs, parts of creatures--
retain their internal order, but the relations between
them are scrambled and disorienting. The whole, quite
intentionally, does not make sense as such, and it may
or may not be possible to rearrange the elements into
something that is both coherent and complete.
edges of the screen, racing around them as all material things dissolve into madness, but the focus in this scene remains on Twilight as the color leaches from her, as she staggers home a broken pony, conceding to Discord the victory.

…the Phoenix…

It’s September 17, 2011. The top song is Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which combines her soulful voice with incredibly insipid lyrics about a petty woman refusing to move on and imposing herself on an ex in an apparent attempt to sabotage his new relationship. It's quite nice-sounding, but utterly awful if you pay attention. The top movie is the 3D rerelease of The Lion King, a very different tale of restoring order from the one we're looking at here. Horror and enlightenment are not really all that different. Destruction and ascension are largely the same thing. The Gnostic Christ is a mystical being from outside the universe who only looks human, who wants to tear out our souls and dissolve all things material in order to release a vast cosmic entity imprisoned within us. If you want to see what Cthulhu cultists would look like in real life, the Gnostics is where you should look. A few major news stories since the last episode: NASA found water on Mars and ended the Space Shuttle program. The Libyan civil war more or less ended with the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, although fighting continues for some time afterwards. On the day this episode airs, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement in general begin, an assault on the existing order made possible by new technology and the magic of friendship.

Oh, and Lauren Faust announced her departure from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on May 8. All of the Season 2 scripts were completed before she left, so her influence and presence are still with us throughout the season, but she herself is gone.

…the philosopher’s stone, history…

Twilight is alone. She has no friends, and if she has no friends, there is no show. Discord has not only The point is that it’s all in how you look at it. It’s ultimately the difference between the sort of fan who combs through the series for clues at what’s going to happen in future episodes, and the sort of fan who likes to relax and watch the colorful ponies be silly. broken up the Mane Six, not only brought chaos to Ponyville, he has broken the premise of Friendship Is Magic itself.

…AbraI could do a whole article about the use of sweets as symbols in the show. Cakes as emblems of order, pies as signifiers of chaos, chocolate rain and muffins of doom. I mean, I won't, but I could.xas…

This is narrative collapse. Normally, conflict in a story Something about forests and trees. Discord is a force of nature, not a monster, but the same is true of all monsters. involves either some danger to the characters’ well-being, or some obstacle that impedes their progress. But in a serial work, audiences know that the danger will always end, the obstacle will always be removed. It has to, because next episode, next issue, next story there needs to be a new danger or a new obstacle, so the series can continue. Narrative collapse exploits that knowledge by presenting a new kind of threat. Discord does not merely represent a physical or emotional danger (though he is both of these). He does not merely stand in the way of the characters’ goals (though he does; Twilight is unlikely to learn much about friendship, nor is Rainbow Dash likely to join the Wonderbolts, while he’s around). His true menace is not to any character, but to Friendship Is Magic itself.

…all are differing perspectives on the same thing: the elusive, uncontrollable, infinitely potent force which makes things different tomorrow from how they were yesterday.

But we’ve forgotten someone whose presence is defined by her sudden absence. A message from outside arrives, the memory of everything that has gone before. All those friendship lessons still mean something. Friendship Is Magic is dying around us, but all those bonds it helped forge, all those memories, they endure. Any one friendship can be broken, any one person can leave, but Friendship endures, and remains still (as it always was) Magic.

It’s September 24, 2011. The top spot on the charts goes to Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera with “Moves Like Jagger,” while the top movie is still The Lion King. In the news, the U.S. military officially ends the homophobic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Google+ launches and R.E.M. break up, the FBI arrests alleged LulzSec and Anonymous members, and Herman Cain (who makes Ron Paul look stable, well-grounded, and in touch with the masses by comparison) wins a straw poll for the Republican primary.

Harmony has returned, it seems. From Star Trek to Star Wars, marching down the aisle to collect our medals. This is a celebratory moment, a declaration that things are better. We are in the realm of grand narrative, now; Star Wars made the Hero’s Journey a household name in Hollywood. We know where we are again, but at the same time, Star Wars’ impact on pop culture has been such that the Hero’s Journey is virtually inescapable. Its arrival in Equestria is, if you value Friendship Is Magic for how different it is from typical television, ominous.

So, perhaps, order has been restored, but is it the order we want and the show needs? Discord shattered the show so it could be born anew, killed it in order to save it, but has that birth occurred? Has the underlying flaw revealed by “Party of One” been resolved?

Next week: Yes. Yes it has.