Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Continuing the theme of it being 2003 in my house...

...I'm watching Angel. (I had only ever seen the first season before.) And damn, I'd forgotten how good the theme song is!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Bats!

No, but seriously, "Bats!" is the best episode of Friendship Is Magic in a long time. I'd have to rewatch "Magic Duel," but it's at least the best since that episode, and possibly the best since Season 2.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Save Derpy (Doctor Whooves and Assistant)

Pop between realities, home in time for muffins.
Let's talk about a pair of boxes.

In his excellent, ongoing project TARDIS Eruditorum, Phil Sandifer discusses the so-called E-Space stories of Doctor Who, a period in which the Fourth Doctor and his companion was thrown into an alternate universe by a deep-space encounter with a phenomenon referred to as a Charged Vacuum Emboitment. Sandifer makes the point that "emboit," etymologically, looks like it should mean "to place in a box," and a Charged Vacuum Emboidment is therefore a box containing a vacuum that has a charge differential across it, not a bad description of a CRT television screen. The TARDIS, in other words, smacks into the TV screen and ends up slipping into another universe (read: TV show).

Sandifer has a lot of fun with this concept of emboidment throughout the rest of the series, and of course he does not fail to notice the presence of another prominent box that contains the series, the TARDIS.

As I noted in my article on Time Lords and Terror, the TARDIS is a mobile version of a classic staple of British children's literature, the everyday object that contains liminal space. Well-known examples include Narnia's wardrobe, Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4, and (most importantly for the work we're tackling today) Alice's looking glass. These gates to another world normally lead to a new space where adventure can occur; what makes the TARDIS near-unique is that the space within it is entirely liminal; it is when one emerges that one finds oneself in a new world.

This pair of boxes is a large part of what gives Doctor Who its longevity; the power of the TARDIS is that it can emboit almost any genre or story, bringing it into Doctor Who and playing with it.

Early in the fan-made audio drama series Doctor Whooves and Assistant, Ditzy Doo mishears "paradox" as "pair of box," spawning a minor running gag through the rest of the series. This is, of course, a complete coincidence, but it's a fun coincidence. Let's run with it.

Interestingly, just as the rigid structure of Ace Attorney ensures that any crossover with it becomes Ace Attorney with some unusual guest stars, the flexibility of Doctor Who has the same effect. Because Doctor Who is so readily able to emboit any other story it comes across (even, contra Sandifer, "the story where the Doctor is a serial rapist"--you just have to add the final twist that it was the Valeyard or the Dream Lord), almost any fanwork crossing Doctor Who with something else will tend to deform toward standard Doctor Who with characters from that something else as companions. Friendship Is Magic has the slight advantage in this regard of having no humanoid characters, but in the end this just means that Doctor Whooves and Assistant evolves toward standard Doctor Who with Friendship Is Magic characters as companions and a pony-shaped Doctor.

Most tellingly, Doctor Whooves and Assistant's serial nature (to date, four of the six stories occur across multiple episodes) causes it to develop a similar property to Classic Who, which is that it is nigh-impossible to marathon. (A fact which I learned to my dismay this past week.) The pacing of episodes makes attempting to watch them back-to-back extremely grueling, which isn't helped by the fact that this is amateur work. Most of the episode ideas are quite good, but the execution is sometimes lacking, most notably with the painful age-regression sequence in Episode 5 and the interminable, mediocre musical numbers in Episode 8 Part 2. Like the classic series, there is quite a lot of padding, especially in the crossover with Doctor Whooves Adventures that comprises episode 7, where the split across two series means that many scenes depicted twice, those which aren't frequently have to be summarized for characters that weren't present, and on top of that many ideas and debates are recycled for no apparent reason. Coupled with the lack of any banter between the two Doctors (the primary source of entertainment value in any multi-Doctor episode) and the total run time of three and a half hours, this makes episode 7 the most grueling slog of the series. (Though it could be rather a lot worse--the same writer, under another pseudonym, is responsible for the vile "Ask Discorded Whooves" Tumblr.)

At the start, the series seems to invert the emboitment which Doctor Who usually performs. The first story, which takes place across episodes 1 through 3, places the Doctor entirely within Friendship Is Magic. Indeed, his presence is entirely irrelevant; he ends up (together with Ditzy Doo) witnessing but not influencing the events of the Friendship Is Magic premiere, reflecting his and Ditzy's roles as background ponies. The next story, episode 4, appears to continue this trend of placing the Doctor on the fringes of a Friendship Is Magic episode, as the Doctor returns to Equestria for Winter Wrap-Up and is guided through the pony holiday by Ditzy. However, once the two of them stumble upon and thwart an alien invasion of Equestria, the story becomes one of the most familiar and well-established story structures for Doctor Who, the pseudo-historical.

In a pseudo-historical, the Doctor lands in an established period of history (or at least, that period as filtered through the popular consciousness), but rather than interacting with that history itself, he instead deals with some science-fictional menace that threatens to disrupt that history; examples from the most recent Doctor's run include "Cold War" and "Vampires in Venice." However, because Doctor Whooves and Assistant takes place in the world of Friendship Is Magic, the equivalent to history is aired episodes of the show; it is thus the stories set in the "present day" of the program that function as pseudo-historicals.

In other words, episode 4 (as well as episode 6, which is set during "Over a Barrel") emboits the Doctor within an episode of Friendship Is Magic, but then emboits that episode within a standard Doctor Who formula. Episode 5 then takes this further by placing all of Equestria within a Doctor Who episode. In this episode (on of the series' best), the Doctor travels to the future of Equestria only to find a Cyber-pony invasion underway, having an adventure which is both recognizably in Equestria and in a Doctor Who episode (notably, the episode's climax is reminiscent of both Doctor Who's "Closing Time" and Friendship Is Magic's "A Canterlot Wedding").

The most recent episode, episode 8, is notable for introducing the first real continuity to the series, something which is much more pronounced in Doctor Who than Friendship Is Magic (the vague hints of a season-long arc in Season 4 of the latter notwithstanding). The presence of another time traveler, the introduction of a new companion, and the first defeated villain to swear revenge all suggest that the series is starting to develop an overarching plot in addition to the individual stories making it up, becoming more serialized and thereby more Who-like.

In the end, Doctor Whooves and Assistant has little to say about Friendship Is Magic or Doctor Who. Increasingly, it is just a fan-made Doctor Who audio drama with a lot of pony puns. But that's a fairly entertaining thing to be, especially if taken in chunks no larger than a half-hour or so.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: Bats!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Capcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at just before 2:00 p.m. EST. After the chat, I will update this post with a log of the conversation.

Chatlog:

[14:00] <@Sylocat> It's time
[14:00] <DecoyOctopus> clicked
[14:00] <Froborr> Yep. Go!
[14:00] <@Sylocat> Play
[14:00] <Froborr> Why is Applejack happy it's applebucking day?
[14:00] <Froborr> Doesn't she remember the last one?
[14:00] <DecoyOctopus> ...is it just me, or is the animation quality way better?
[14:01] <Froborr> Yeah, it's been noticeably improved this season.
[14:01] <@Sylocat> Well, she remembers the last one turned out okay
[14:01] <@Sylocat> Yeah, their budget got reinflated
[14:01] <@Sylocat> (it was cut to shreds for S3)
[14:01] <Froborr> Yeah, a lot of their money got yanked away to make a mediocre movie.
[14:01] <DecoyOctopus> wait it was?
[14:01] <DecoyOctopus> ohh
[14:02] <Froborr> Vampires that target fruit!
[14:02] <@Sylocat> WHOA
[14:02] <Froborr> Best thing ever!
[14:02] <@Sylocat> Like Bunnicula!
[14:02] <Froborr> Yes!
[14:02] <Froborr> "The Celery Stalks at Midnight" is one of the best titles any book has ever had.
[14:03] <Froborr> YES FLUTTERSHY EPISODE
[14:03] <DecoyOctopus> the incredibly deep language of bats
[14:03] <DecoyOctopus> oh god a song
[14:03] <@Sylocat> She needs that thing from Bale!Batman's shoe
[14:04] <@Sylocat> Ooh, a Gothic orchestra number... how appropriate
[14:04] <DecoyOctopus> adorable bats are the best
[14:05] <Froborr> I have been waiting for Territorial Applejack vs. Hippy Fluttershy since season 1, this is beautiful.
[14:05] <@Sylocat> This is creepy
[14:05] <DecoyOctopus> pinkie is way too amused compared to everyone else
[14:06] <Froborr> Oh, I was not expecting EVERYONE to oppose Fluttershy, I thought it would be 3 vs 3.
[14:06] <Froborr> This is WAY better.
[14:06] <DecoyOctopus> yeah I was about to say it was exactly what you expected but then it wasn't
[14:06] <Froborr> Did... Pinkie just sing "Fruitbat Roundup" to the tune of "Winter Wrapup?" That's beautiful.
[14:06] <@Sylocat> Ah, a cycle-of-life moral!
[14:07] <DecoyOctopus> the great apple depression
[14:07] <DecoyOctopus> ah cripes my video stopped buffering
[14:07] <Froborr> Dash needs her cider!
[14:07] <@Sylocat> Oh, Rainbow Dash
[14:07] <DecoyOctopus> nvm, it's fixed
[14:07] <Froborr> Oh, Rainbow Dash, your alcoholism is hilarious to me.
[14:07] <@Sylocat> Hi, my name is Rainbow Dash, and I'm a ciderholic
[14:07] <DecoyOctopus> "hi rainbow daash"
[14:07] <@Sylocat> (sorry)
[14:08] <Froborr> So this is going to be a peer pressure episode, huh?
[14:08] <Froborr> Fluttershy advocates responsible use of mind contol powers!
[14:08] <Froborr> Fluttershy > Dumbledore
[14:08] <DecoyOctopus> "am I the only one who cares about the bees?!"
[14:08] <@Sylocat> She's an antisocial animal lover. What do you think, Twilight?
[14:09] <@Sylocat> Carmen Miranda!
[14:09] <@Sylocat> A biohazard cutie mark on her suit
[14:09] <Froborr> That's the funniest Rarity scene in a long time.
[14:09] <DecoyOctopus> they did that before
[14:10] <DecoyOctopus> with the cutie pox episode
[14:10] <Froborr> That's... not actually that many bats.
[14:10] <DecoyOctopus> so presumably there's just a company that manufactures radiation suits
[14:10] <Froborr> So, does this make the fruit bats want to eat everythign, or just cause them to starve?
[14:11] <Froborr> *everything but fruit I should say
[14:11] <@Sylocat> Because changing the Parasprites' dietary habits worked out so well
[14:11] <@Sylocat> ...Uh, Spike?
[14:11] <DecoyOctopus> twilight never learns anythi-wait what
[14:11] <Froborr> Oh no, did it transfer the hunger for juice to Fluttershy?
[14:12] <DecoyOctopus> ...you definitely could've phrased that better, froborr
[14:12] <@Sylocat> What is it reading?
[14:12] <Froborr> My guess? The Angel comic.
[14:12] <DecoyOctopus> it looked like it had a glass of lemonade on it
[14:12] <Froborr> Fruit Juice Afficionados Monthly?
[14:13] <@Sylocat> HAHAH
[14:13] <@Sylocat> It did!
[14:13] <@Sylocat> You were right!
[14:13] <@Sylocat> A Batmare reference!
[14:13] <Froborr> This is not the story I was expecting.
[14:14] <DecoyOctopus> yeah same here
[14:14] <@Sylocat> "I have a bad feeling about this."
[14:14] <Froborr> So Fluttershy is a vampire pony that only drains fruit?
[14:14] <@Sylocat> They should have started the season before Halloween
[14:14] <Froborr> That is *almost* as good as vampire watermelons.
[14:14] <DecoyOctopus> vampony

[14:15] <@Sylocat> This should have been a Halloween special
[14:15] <DecoyOctopus> wikipedia why
[14:15] <@Sylocat> AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH
[14:16] <Froborr> Flutterbat?
[14:16] <Froborr> Rarity is HILARIOUS this episode.
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Vampershy?
[14:16] <Froborr> Vampershy is better.
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Lasso her!
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Whoa, Pinkie Pie can dig!
[14:17] <Froborr> Um, vampire bats actually do bite horses?
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Wait, that's how Luna's batpony guards are made!
[14:17] <DecoyOctopus> yes
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Mission briefing!
[14:17] <Froborr> Twilight has an exposition diagram hologram spell!
[14:17] <Froborr> That is the BEST
[14:17] <@Sylocat> This should be a loading screen!
[14:17] <DecoyOctopus> wait how does
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Oh wow, this is creepy
[14:18] <Froborr> Seriously, anyone who still hates Merriwether Williams at this point is OBJECTIVELY WRONG
[14:18] <DecoyOctopus> but froborr ranbo dadsh isn't fully in-character
[14:18] <Froborr> Creepy AND hilarious, one of my favorite combinations!
[14:18] <@Sylocat> She got off on the wrong foot, but she's picked up since then
[14:18] <Froborr> lol DO
[14:18] <@Sylocat> LASSO HER!
[14:19] <DecoyOctopus> Ranbo: First Blood Part II
[14:19] <Froborr> Wait, mirrors don't work on vampires!
[14:19] <@Sylocat> Wait, she can see herself in the mirror?
[14:20] <DecoyOctopus> well she's a vampire /bat/ not just a vampire
[14:20] <Froborr> True.
[14:20] <@Sylocat> Did she give the hunger back to the bats, or absorb it herself?
[14:20] <DecoyOctopus> alternatively, magic
[14:21] <@Sylocat> A Green Aesop!
[14:21] <Froborr> I think this is the first time Rarity has been the comic relief for an episode without being Fussy McFussypants? I heartily approve.
[14:21] <Froborr> YES
[14:21] <@Sylocat> Ooh, a double Aesop!
[14:21] <Froborr> SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO SAY NO TO YOUR FRIENDS
[14:21] <DecoyOctopus> you win, froborr
[14:21] <Froborr> Duhn duhn duhn
[14:21] <@Sylocat> One about peer pressure, and another about short term solutions at the expense of long-term ones
[14:21] <Froborr> *cue happy music*
[14:22] <@Sylocat> (a micro one, and a macro one)
[14:22] <@Sylocat> Oh wow
[14:22] <Froborr> Which latter is basically a green thing
[14:22] <DecoyOctopus> dun dun duuuuun
[14:22] <@Sylocat> THAT END SHOT
[14:22] <@Sylocat> Wow, this was an awesome one
[14:22] <Froborr> Fluttershy hungers for juice!
[14:22] <DecoyOctopus> watch it never come up again
[14:22] <Froborr> Eh, it'll probably show up in background gags.
[14:23] <Froborr> Maybe in next season's opening credits, Fluttershy will snatch the apple from Angel and drink its juice.
[14:23] <DecoyOctopus> so yeah. good episode, or good episode?
[14:23] <Froborr> GREAT EPISODE
[14:23] <DecoyOctopus> yes good
[14:24] <Froborr> Man, this season has been pretty much on fire so far.
[14:24] <DecoyOctopus> except the daring do episode
[14:24] <Froborr> There's been one episode that left me pretty flat, the Daring Do one.
[14:24] <Froborr> Yeah.
[14:24] <Froborr> But otherwise? Really solid stuff.
[14:24] <Froborr> Like, Season 2-calibre.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Did I predict tomorrow's MLP? We'll see...

Just a quick reminder, there's another liveblog for the new MLP episode this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. EST. We'll be meeting up at http://webchat.freenode.net/ in the channel ##rabbitcube.

Some time ago I wrote about an episode and friendship lesson I'd like to see the show tackle. And here's the synopsis of tomorrow's episode. Pretty similar. I hope it ends up being the friendship lesson I talked about, just because I think "friends don't need to get along all the time to be friends" is high on the list of things kids need to hear.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My biggest problem with the Doctor Who Christmas special...

Is that the collective fandom deathwish represented by harping constantly on the regeneration limit has now been legitimized. The premise of Doctor Who is infinitely extensible; the only thing that can end it is the viewers not wanting it to continue, and that's what the regeneration limit has always represented. By explicitly giving the Doctor a new cycle as opposed to saying the limit is gone forever, the series has embedded the limit even more strongly into the series' DNA. That the Doctor will eventually run out of regenerations and die permanently is now inevitable. It might be in 2060 with the 23rd Doctor or 3015 with the 405th, but it is unavoidable now.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How to be a Jewish atheist

In the video I linked yesterday, I referred to myself as a Jewish atheist a couple of times. As is usually the case when I mention it publically, there were some comments questioning how such a thinG can exist.

The reason this question happens, I think, is because Christianity so dominates the Western conception of religion that I becomes difficult to recognize that much of what we think of as being "normal" for religious practice and belief is really idiosyncratic to Christianity. 

When discussing religion from a high-level perspective, I prefer to use the dimensional approach laid down by comparative religion professor Ninian Smart. This approach treats religions as social constructs that contain seven distinct dimensions of variance:
  • Ritual/Practical: The active, participatory elements of the religion, such as holidays and celebrations, rites of passage, prayers and observances, and so on.
  • Ethical/Legal: The behavioral restrictions imposed by the religion, such as moral precepts.
  • Experiential/Emotional: The personal, emotional elements of the religion. Most mystical traditions usually fall here, but so also do personal epiphanies and numinous moments.
  • Narrative/Mythic: The stories of the religion. Note that these are usually a mix of mythology (that is, events which are treated as having occurred but likely never did, such as the Exodus from Egypt), history (events which probably did occur, such as the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans), and parables/marchen (stories which illustrate a point but are not intended to be statements of fact, such as the Four Sons in the Passover ritual).
  • Doctrinal/Philosophical: The cosmological, metaphysical, and epistemological beliefs of the religion.
  • Institutional/Organizational: The structure of the religion as a social phenomenon, such as hierarchies of clergy, educational institutions, charity organizations, and so on. This is the dimension which spreads the doctrinal and narrative beliefs, as well as enforcing the ethical/legal dimension.
  • Material/Artistic: The creative output of the religion, such as sacred songs and art, temple architecture, and so on. Can be created at the institutional level or the individual (the architecture of a cathedral and the Easter eggs a Christian child decorates in Sunday school are equally part of this dimension).
The first thing that you may notice is that this approach works equally well for non-religious worldviews. Contemporary secular American society has its own equivalents to all of these: We have rituals such as elections, driver's license exams, graduation ceremonies, and retirement parties; a legal system; shared experiences such as national mourning over tragedies like the Newtown shootings; narratives both mythical (Washington and the cherry tree; nobody except Columbus believed the world was round) and historical (the Continental Congresses, the Civil War); doctrinal beliefs (it has been said that most people in our culture find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism); institutional and organizational structures such as public schools (which indoctrinate and educate) and the police (which enforce), and a massive artistic output, from New York publishing companies to Hollywood movies, that makes up one of our chief exports.

Of course, like all social constructs none of this exists except within the context of a human mind, and as such any given person's worldview is going to be unique to them, albeit likely built out of bits and pieces of culturally available worldviews. When we speak of the "Christian worldview" or the "Jewish worldview" or the "American worldview," therefore, we are talking about the consensus worldview of individuals within the group in question.

What about when we discuss the "atheist worldview"? I would argue that there is no such thing; atheism is a doctrinal position that can serve as one element in a worldview, not a complete worldview in itself. Communism, scientism, skepticism, Theravada Buddhism, and humanism are all examples of worldviews in which atheism is a doctrinal/philosophical component.

Given that atheism is a doctrinal position, it is easy to imagine taking a typical religious, theistic worldview, and just swapping atheism into the doctrinal/philosophical dimension. However, this is where the treatment of Christianity as normative becomes problematic: that swap is absurd in a Christian context, because the Christian religion, as a general rule, heavily emphasizes the doctrinal and experiential dimensions. Christian ethics depend on a concept of salvation, which has no meaning if the underlying doctrine of a particular understanding of the divine is removed.

The Jewish worldview, however, is less dependent on the experiential and doctrinal elements and focused more on narrative, ritual, and ethics. Thus I am able to be a Jewish atheist:
  • On the ritual dimension, I celebrate the holidays I like as a means of bringing structure to my year and connecting with my heritage.
  • On the ethical dimension, I merge Jewish ethical precepts such as tikkun olam (a form of deontologically constrained utilitarianism) and the importance of debate and discussion between a plurality of voices, with a generally humanist approach and a healthy dollop of third-wave feminism.
  • On the experiential dimension, I basically have nothing, because I have no sense of spirituality or the numinous. But that would be true no matter what my religious views were.
  • Narrative: I tell the story of Passover, not because I believe it is true (archeology strongly suggests it is not) but because it connects me to generations of ancestors and millions of contemporaries who have told the story before. I also maintain an awareness of Jewish history because it is my ethnic heritage.
  • On the doctrinal/philosophical dimension, I'm an atheist and a postmodernist/post-positivist, and a materialist skeptic.
  • Institutional/Organizational: I don't really participate in any larger institutions or groups.
  • Material/Artistic: Every once in a while, I write an essay (like this) about my Judaism, as well as quite frequently doing postmodern media analysis (you may have read some, possibly) and the occasional feminist piece.
I think "Jewish" and "atheist" are both adjective that make sense applied to the worldview I describe, so calling myself a Jewish atheist makes sense to me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm in a webshow!

I am in the Christmas special of the webshow Viga Loves Comics--I voiced Scrooge and the Narrator (the latter of which I ad libbed). If you're interested, you can watch it here.

Viga Loves Comics is an indie comics review show created and hosted by my friend/ex-fiancĂ©e/roommate/kith/cover designer/illustrator Viga. I've had cameos in it a couple of times before, but this is my first time real participation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

So, seeing as the Madoka: Rebellion review is my second-most read article ever...

Would there be any interest in me using the Wednesday Whatever slots to do an episode-by-episode analysis of Madoka the way the Sunday posts do with Friendship Is Magic?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My favorite background pony is Applejack (Background Pony)

"I got this at Hot Trotic, do you like it?"
Joy is not shallow.

We as a culture tend to treat it as being somehow less worthy, less deep, than other emotions. We associate joy and happiness with childhood, and cynical world-weariness with adulthood (the precise opposite of my own experience of maturation), and so we tend to see happy, joyful things as less important, less serious, than the somber, the despairing, and the angst-ridden.

Angst, however, is itself an adolescent phenomenon. In English, the word originates with Kierkegaard, who used the term to refer to the anxiety that comes with freedom, the fear and stress created by the need to choose between possibilities. It is, in other words, an emotion felt by one who is no longer bound by the strict rules and supervision that encompass childhood, but has not yet attained the equanimity, confidence, or self-assurance to make decisions without agonizing unnecessarily over them.

This does not mean that only adolescents experience angst; rather, any experience of angst is an opportunity to mature past that angst. Maturation is not a linear process with a fixed end-point; no one living is ever completely grown up. This also does not mean that any anxiety or emotional pain is adolescent; rather, it is self-inflicted anxiety, anxiety in the absence of something actually worth worrying about, that is immature. Anxiety because of a probability of something going wrong is natural and inevitable; self-destructive angst because something might not go right enough, or might go right in the wrong way, is childish--the Internet meme of "first world problems" is a close equivalent. However, this should not be taken to mean that angst is somehow not a legitimate emotion; it of course is precisely as legitimate as any other emotion, because legitimacy is itself a purely emotional concept--but by the same token, there is no reason to treat angst as more legitimate or more serious than any other emotion, joy included.

Finally, angst should not be confused with genuine clinical depression or anxiety. These are medical conditions, and the emotional distress they produce is a symptom of a disease and source of genuine suffering. At the same time, as symptoms of a disease, the feelings produced by clinical depression and anxiety have no greater philosophical or artistic depth than an impacted tooth or a collapsed lung.

All of which serves as preface to the following statement: Background Pony is half a million words of pure adolescent angst, a determined rejection of joy and light in favor of wallowing in despair for no better reason than a delusional belief that misery is somehow more serious and worthy than the fun offered by the source text of Friendship Is Magic.

The premise of Background Pony is actually a fascinating idea, filled with potential: What if a background pony--those characters who recur throughout the series in the backgrounds of shots but rarely or never speak--existed as such in an intradiegetic sense as well as extradiegetic? What, in other words, if she were in some sense invisible to the other characters? Thus we have the story's main character, Lyra Heartstrings, one of the better-known background ponies in the fandom. As the story opens, she has been living in Ponyville for nearly a year, cursed to be unable to leave the town and to be almost immediately forgotten by anyone she talks to.

As a metaphor, this forgettability could be deployed in countless ways. It is an excellent metaphor for the breakdown of community, for instance--the way in which most of the people we encounter in modern urban life are strangers, alienating us from the geographic community in which we exist. It works well as a metaphor for homelessness and poverty (a concept which early chapters flirt with and then largely ignore). Most of all, it works well as a metaphor for feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, and angst, which is largely how the story uses it.

This is where the trouble begins, because the nature of a metaphor is that one concept signifies another. The presence of the signified undermines the metaphor. To use an example, part of Lyra's curse is that she feels cold when it takes effect--the reason she cannot leave Ponyville is because she feels colder the farther she gets from the center of town, and she gets chills whenever a pony forgets the interaction with Lyra they just experienced. This chill serves well as a metaphor for fear and loneliness, except that at the same time as she feels cold Lyra is talking (and talking, and talking, and talking--this story never deploys a few precise words when it can vomit up dozens of sloppy (and frequently straightforwardly wrong) words instead) about how frightened and lonely she is. The result is that the declaration feels even more blatant and unsubtle than it already is, while the metaphor, with nothing left to signify, ceases to be a metaphor and becomes just a chill.

That, of course, is only a problem with the metaphors that are actually explored. Many, many more are simply declared and then left to sit, a recurring feature of the story's purple prose, along with what later chapters describe as "philosophizing," which appears in this story to mean the declaration of aphorisms and leading questions without any attempt to construct an argument or address questions of ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, or any other known branch of philosophical inquiry.

Which is not to say that the story is all bad. It does do some things right--certain chapters, most noticeably the self-parodying Pinkie Pie encounters in Chapter 10 and the four musicians' stories in Chapter 14, work extremely well because they are able to temporarily set aside the angst and bathetic, interminable purple prose and tell a story. The breakdowns of reality in chapters 16 and 17 are likewise well-handled, paying off the use of first-person perspective throughout the story.

This last requires some expansion. In some ways, first-person is the most natural perspective to tell a story in, because the context in which most of us tell stories is in response to questions about ourselves--for example, when a parent asks "What did you do in school today?" Amateur writers thus often instinctively default to a first-person perspective in their stories. However, first-person is the most limited of all perspectives, unable to convey any information to the reader except for what is filtered through the perceptions of the perspective character; anything outside those perceptions is lost. Thus, more mature writers will generally avoid first-person unless there is a reason to employ it, either to explore the way in which the character perceives reality (most obviously, in the use of an unreliable narrator) or to deliberately hide information from the reader. Background Pony does an excellent job of the latter; magic is at work that obscures perception and erases memory, and as the story enters its second (vastly superior to the first) half, we learn that Lyra herself is not immune to these distortions.

Chapters 16 and 17 also benefit from the horror element at work in them; in general, the story is at its most effective when dealing with objects of terror and fear, where the purple prose helps disorient the reader, and at its least effective when dealing with Lyra's feelings, where the prose is simply pompous and self-serious. The entire story remains continually at a register of maximum emotional intensity for everything (for example, Lyra, not suffering from any sort of heightened sound sensitivity, describes the sound of a quill scratching on a parchment as setting her nerves on fire), with almost no contrast, so rather than seeming poignant or sad Lyra's continual losses and failures blend into an indistinguishable blur of misery. Those rare moments that appeal to other emotions (most particularly the horrific description of the Unsung realm) are thus an extremely welcome touch of color in an otherwise gray emotional landscape. Unfortunately, the story does not permit them to last for long; the horror-humor (as I've argued before, these are closely interrelated genres) of Chapter 16, for example, gives way to the absurd bathos of Discord--Discord, the unflappable trickster god!--giving up on life in despair over memories of a lost love.

Ultimately, the biggest problem is that the premise of the story makes it impossible to take its relentless despair seriously. We know it can't be that bad to be Lyra for two reasons. The first is that she is someone who observes the lives of the residents of Ponyville, comes to know and care about them, while remaining utterly unknown to them and able to influence them only indirectly and with great effort. This is precisely the relationship between the fan of any work and the characters in that work, and we know, because we experience it, that fandom is much more a source of joy than despair.

Second, we know that it can't be that bad because nothing in Equestria is that bad. This is a world where curses explicitly do not exist according to a highly accomplished scholar of magic, where friendship and love are the most powerful known sources of magic, and where the cosmically empowered ancient evil has become an ally of the heroes by the end of the second episode. Simply put, the problem of Background Pony is the problem of any grimdark pony fic: since Equestria contains no grimness or darkness to speak of, the only grimdark is that which the author brings with them--it is not recognizable as a derivative work of Friendship Is Magic, but rather appropriates the names of a few characters and locations to tell an entirely unrelated story.

When it comes down to it, the problem with Background Pony is in the claim that Equestria began with a song. Oh, there is nothing surprising in that suggestion itself; that Equestria began with a song is self-evident. The fundamental error of Background Pony lies in the suggestion that this song is an elegy or suite of elegies; there is nothing elegiac, mournful, or grim about the song that began Equestria. After all, by this point we all surely know it by heart:
I used to wonder what friendship could be
Until you all shared its magic with me...

Next week: Feeling a bit boxed in...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: Power Ponies

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Capcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at just before 2:00 p.m. EST. After the chat, I will update this post with a log of the conversation.

Chatlog:


[14:00] <Froborr> play
[14:00] <@Sylocat> And we're off?
[14:00] <@Sylocat> Play
[14:00] <DecoyOctopus> oop, hit play after froborr said it, sorry
[14:00] <DecoyOctopus> oh hey it's a Joker pony
[14:00] <@Sylocat> Ah, so Spike is the brony proxy this week
[14:00] <Froborr> Mane-iac, get it?
[14:00] <DecoyOctopus> ...oh
[14:01] <@Sylocat> Calling it now: Spike winds up as Humdrum
[14:01] <DecoyOctopus> he wasn't already?
[14:01] <Froborr> Aw, I like that Twilight isn't judgmental about print books vs. comics.
[14:01] <@Sylocat> Ah, so the castle is the key to everything
[14:02] <Froborr> Did they mention the castle? Think I missed it.
[14:02] <DecoyOctopus> they're fixing it up
[14:02] <@Sylocat> They've got multiple running subplots now... the mystery box, the castle, and the Equestria Games
[14:02] <Froborr> Yeah, I really need to see what my niece thinks of this season.
[14:02] <Froborr> I'm worried it's getting too complex for the four year olds.
[14:02] <DecoyOctopus> oh snap a new Aquabats episode
[14:03] <Froborr> Aquabats Christmas special? My roommate is going to go nuts.
[14:03] <DecoyOctopus> also yeah, it seems like they're kinda going overboard with the subplots
[14:03] <@Sylocat> Eh, kids can handle surprisingly complex stories
[14:03] <DecoyOctopus> oh hey it's the new Spyro thing except in Flash and with Transformers
[14:04] <@Sylocat> Ew
[14:04] <Froborr> That pig toy would have terrified me as a kid.
[14:04] <DecoyOctopus> who is even buying it?
[14:04] <DecoyOctopus> they've been advertising it for literally years
[14:04] <@Sylocat> That's just... wrong
[14:04] <@Sylocat> And we're back
[14:05] <Froborr> Yeah, this is going to be a "Spike is useless wait no he isn't" episode, isn't it?
[14:05] <@Sylocat> Three writers? That's new
[14:05] <DecoyOctopus> why is pinkie scrubbing a carpet
[14:05] <Froborr> Because she's Pinkie?
[14:05] <DecoyOctopus> but
[14:05] <DecoyOctopus> wouldn't that just make it wet and gross
[14:06] <@Sylocat> Could the foreshadowing be any more obvious?
[14:06] <DecoyOctopus> yes
[14:06] <DecoyOctopus> haven't you seen the episode with Tank
[14:06] <@Sylocat> Ah, of course, I forgot
[14:07] <Froborr> "What kind of spell is that? It doesn't even rhyme!"
[14:07] <@Sylocat> Spike can cast magic spells?
[14:07] <Froborr> Eh, it's clearly one of those spells that casts you.
[14:07] <DecoyOctopus> I think it's just a magic book, he didn't realy do anything
[14:08] <@Sylocat> Ah, and Pinkie just jumps in
[14:08] <DecoyOctopus> for a second I thought they were gonna rip off the BTAS opening
[14:08] <Froborr> That would have been great. Best opening ever.
[14:08] <@Sylocat> They're clearly going for the Adam West vibe instead
[14:08] <DecoyOctopus> ...is the maneiac using Luna's model?
[14:09] <@Sylocat> mere_oblivion, wouldn't Matthew love this?
[14:09] <mere_oblivion> He would in-deed! Hey, why isn't he here?
[14:09] <Froborr> "Fillisecond?" That's pretty good actually.
[14:10] <@Sylocat> (for context: Matthew is a friend of mine who once came to my Halloween party as Adam West's Batman)
[14:10] <@Sylocat> Mane-iacal laugh!
[14:10] <Froborr> Ah, so Dash is Thor.
[14:10] <DecoyOctopus> who /doesn't/ go to costume parties as Batman
[14:10] <Froborr> I am amused that Pinkie is the only one who actually knows how to use her powers.
[14:11] <mere_oblivion> Actually, first Matthew came as Bruce Wayne, then left "to go to another party" before returning 20 mins later as, yes, the AW Batman.
[14:11] <@Sylocat> She's Pinkie, fourth walls are nothing new to her
[14:11] <Froborr> That's hilarious.
[14:11] <DecoyOctopus> @mere aha that's perfect
[14:11] <DecoyOctopus> oh god is rarity the green lantern'
[14:11] <Froborr> Rarity is Green Lantern/Star Sapphire, yep.
[14:11] <@Sylocat> and Fluttershy is the Hulk!
[14:11] <Froborr> Fluttershy as the Hulk is PERFECTION ITSELF.
[14:11] <DecoyOctopus> she better be
[14:11] <@Sylocat> Well of course
[14:12] <@Sylocat> In all the Avengers-crossover fanart, she's the Hulk
[14:12] <@Sylocat> (she's the one pony everyone can agree on in that regard)
[14:12] <DecoyOctopus> so is there like, a batman villain who focuses on hair?
[14:12] <DecoyOctopus> I honestly can't think of one
[14:12] <@Sylocat> Probably
[14:12] <Froborr> I think Mane-iac is a cross between Batman's Joker and Marvel's Medusa.
[14:12] <DecoyOctopus> like this is Gotham and the Maneiac is obviously the Joke-ah
[14:12] <@Sylocat> Ah, so Applejack is Pecos Bill
[14:12] <Froborr> She's basically Joker with Medusa's power.
[14:13] <Froborr> I think Applejack is Wonder Woman.
[14:13] <Froborr> I'm not entirely sure what Twilight is?
[14:13] <DecoyOctopus> I want fic of Rarity giving Spike Edna's "NO CAPES" speech from the Incredibles or something
[14:13] <Froborr> That woudl be great!
[14:13] <@Sylocat> I know, but lassoing a tornado, that's Pecos Bill all over
[14:13] <Froborr> True.
[14:14] <DecoyOctopus> ...actually yeah, who /is/ Twilight?
[14:14] <@Sylocat> LEEROY JENKINS
[14:14] <Froborr> *sigh*
[14:14] <DecoyOctopus> yes
[14:14] <@Sylocat> (sorry, I hate myself for that)
[14:14] <mere_oblivion> @decoy--My sentiments exactly (about Edna, I mean--this is all going too fast for me, not that i mind.
[14:14] <Froborr> And then they all get captured and Spike's encyclopedic knowledge of comics saves the day.
[14:15] <DecoyOctopus> @mere: glad you like it, sorry that I'm not helping with the speed :P
[14:15] <@Sylocat> Pinkie Pie in the face
[14:15] <@Sylocat> MY HAIR!
[14:15] <DecoyOctopus> oh god is she seriously the hulk
[14:15] <@Sylocat> Wait, Mane-Iac has Sombra's eyes!
[14:16] <Froborr> Aw, does this mean we're not goign to get to see Fluttershy Hulk out?
[14:16] <DecoyOctopus> does she?
[14:16] <@Sylocat> Ooh, that's just mean
[14:16] <DecoyOctopus> oh, she does. maybe this is all tying into /another/ subplot to make sombra less boring
[14:16] <Froborr> Okay, the bucket made me laugh.
[14:17] <mere_oblivion> But Fluttershy's secret isn't that she's always angry.
[14:17] <Froborr> Lol, probably not oblivion.
[14:17] <@Sylocat> Or is it? Remember "Putting your Hoof Down"
[14:17] <@Sylocat> (or wait, did I not show you that episode yet?)
[14:17] <Froborr> Oh yeah, this is total Adam West.
[14:18] <DecoyOctopus> there needs to be fanart of the "I'm always angry" scene now, that's perfect
[14:18] <@Sylocat> Yes, yes it is
[14:18] <Froborr> With a bit of Pinkie and the Brain mixed in.
[14:18] <mere_oblivion> I think I still have yet to see that one. Meanwhile . . . is this how superheroes feel when they get turned into action figures?
[14:18] <DecoyOctopus> yes
[14:18] <@Sylocat> Not according to Toy Story
[14:19] <DecoyOctopus> wait I just thought of something. did they just magically replace the original Power Ponies, or...?
[14:19] <Froborr> I'm pretty sure this world was made around them, there are no "original" Power Ponies.
[14:19] <@Sylocat> ...Or did the Power Ponies universe not actually exist until they warped in?
[14:19] <DecoyOctopus> oh maybe
[14:19] <@Sylocat> Great minds think alike
[14:20] <DecoyOctopus> that's some pretty ridiculous magic then though, making an /entire universe/
[14:20] <Froborr> Eh, it's just a magic Holodeck.
[14:20] <@Sylocat> Hey... it's like Sombra's illusion magic
[14:20] <DecoyOctopus> ...hm
[14:20] <Froborr> It is, actually. Hmm.
[14:21] <Froborr> Wilhelm scream!
[14:21] <@Sylocat> Please tell me they're going to have one of the henchman go "You know what, I hate working here, they are so weird," like in Iron Man 3 and Machete
[14:22] <@Sylocat> Here we go
[14:22] <Froborr> This is everythign I have ever wanted.
[14:22] <Froborr> I can die happy now.
[14:22] <@Sylocat> Oh. My. Celestia
[14:22] <DecoyOctopus> jesus christ it's exactly as dumb looking as I expected
[14:22] <Froborr> FLUTTERSHY SMASH!
[14:22] <DecoyOctopus> this is great
[14:23] <@Sylocat> What? That was it?!
[14:23] <@Sylocat> HAHAH!
[14:23] <Froborr> OF COURSE Pinkie Pie was able to pull out extraversal cupcakes.
[14:23] <@Sylocat> Pretty good moral
[14:23] <Froborr> *facepalm*
[14:23] <DecoyOctopus> ...I was just about to ask how this worked but oh good lord
[14:24] <@Sylocat> ...Huh?
[14:24] <Froborr> That was completely ridiculous and great fun.
[14:24] <@Sylocat> Ooh, twist ending there
[14:24] <DecoyOctopus> well, that was better than last week's.
[14:24] <mere_oblivion> But no Agent Coulson, sigh.
[14:25] <Froborr> How much you want to bet that comic shop was run by this guy? http://th03.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2012/353/8/6/my_little_pony_vector___seller_from_magic_duel_by_krusiu42-d5oezav.png
[14:25] <DecoyOctopus> you're right, he should've been present
[14:25] <Froborr> Eh, this was more Justice League than Avengers.
[14:25] <DecoyOctopus> @Froborr: doesn't he already have a magic trinkets shop to run
[14:25] <@Sylocat> But with the Hulk
[14:26] <@Sylocat> Now, they're going to investigate that comic shop, right?
[14:26] <DecoyOctopus> nope
[14:26] <Froborr> I mean, they wouldn't introduce some new, interesting element in a Spike story and then completely ignore it forever after, right?
[14:26] <DecoyOctopus> this does beg the question of what would have happened if they lost, though
[14:26] <mere_oblivion> How do we know Ethan Rayne (spelling?) wasn't behind it all?
[14:26] <Froborr> *coughcoughPeeweecough*
[14:27] <@Sylocat> We finally learned Peewee's fate during Just For Sidekicks
[14:27] <DecoyOctopus> peewee died because spike is a terrible pet owner
[14:27] <Froborr> True Sylo.
[14:27] <Froborr> So: Best Spike episode, or best Spike episode?
[14:27] <DecoyOctopus> idk I think aside from the moral it felt more focused on superhero references than Spike
[14:27] <Froborr> Which is what makes it the best Spike episode.
 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is Elsa too sexy?

A reminder: My friend Viga is still trying to raise money for college. You can get art for helping! Details here, donation site here.

I'm running a Kickstarter to fund my second book! Details here.

The feminist blog community seems to have mostly embraced Frozen, rightly so in my opinion: not to spoil, but ultimately it is a movie about sisterly love that subverts the typical Disney princess formula, and the villain could serve as a poster child for the destructiveness of hegemonic masculinity. The movie is far from perfect, but it is a massive step forward by a major cultural institution that is normally much more regressive, and that should be celebrated.

There is one shot that seems to have engendered some discussion, at the end of the film's best musical number (despite the song being pretty awful, the sequence itself is brilliant):


At the end of a celebration of her newfound freedom to express herself emotionally and magically, Elsa transforms her gown and sashays sexily across the room, ending the song with what can only be described as a come-hither smirk. The question that naturally arises, then, is whether this is an instance of Male Gaze that undermines the freedom and self-determination in the rest of the song?

And I actually don't think it is. It is an instance of the Male Gaze, yes, but look at Elsa in this moment: this is not her coming down from the peak of confidence and self-determination, but reaching that peak. She starts the song taking ownership of her emotions, continues by taking ownership of her powers, and this is her taking ownership of her body and sexuality. She is not a victim or object, here, but rather a powerful woman look out of the camera, directly at the audience, and saying "This is me, sexy, alone, in control, and not needing you." Or, as she puts it, "The cold never bothered me anyway."

It is, in other words, yet another subversion of the Disney formula, which has frequently subjected its princesses to the Male Gaze. Compare, for instance, the moment in Aladdin where Jasmine pretends to have been magically compelled to fall in love with Jafar. Jasmine is secretly in control of the situation, yes, but she presents as submissive, controllable, and controlled, with the camera assisting her in this presentation--and she still ultimately needs to be rescued by a man.

By contrast, Elsa is in no danger here. Breaking free of the "good girl"/"bad girl" dichotomy, she embraces her power and sexuality both, and becomes a challenging, almost mocking figure as she smirks at the audience. Rather than aiding Elsa in a presentation of emphasized femininity, the camera tries to trap her in one and she laughs it off; she is feminine, yes, but powerful, and her performance is for no one but herself. The song ends here because Elsa tells it to--the Male Gaze is ordered to get lost so that she can continue to explore her newfound power in peace.

Yes, this subversion would work better if Elsa were not so generically, conventionally attractive. And yes, there is a great deal of room to debate whether it is actually intended subversively or (more importantly) read as such by the audience. But I at least will continue to stand by the argument that it is a powerful and appropriate end to an empowering sequence.

Update 2/1/2014: This is now the second-most viewed post I've written, and I'm getting tired of deleting crude, crass, and trolling comments. As of now, comments are closed on this post.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Veronica Mars again...

Just a quick reminder, there's another liveblog for the new MLP episode this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. EST. We'll be meeting up at http://webchat.freenode.net/ in the channel ##rabbitcube. Last time had some technical difficulties, so this time we are waiting later in the day so we can use prerecorded versions of the episode.

Content Warning: Rape and Rape Culture

So, was there a major change in writers at the beginning of Season 3 or something? I've only watched the first half of the season, but it's suddenly gotten all anti-second wave. Which is... deeply weird? We have all these young early-2000s college students acting like a caricature of 1970s college students, treated narratively as the main villains while the actual rapist--and, more dammingly, the actual victims--are barely acknowledged by the story. Part of what made the first season so powerful is that Veronica got to tell the story of her own rape, to own it and define it for herself, but then the very end of second season snatched that away, and followed it up with this ugly mess of a storyline where the fake rape victim (because somebody would willingly invite on themselves the nightmare of community scorn, police questioning, and ostracism that our society imposes on rape victims) gets more screen time than the actual rape victim, and the college "greek" system (which genuinely is an enormous facilitator of rape culture on college campuses, along with the existence of college police departments answerable to the college rather than the larger community) is unfairly maligned and innocent.

I really hope the second half of the season picks up. It looks like the main plot for it is a maybe-suicide probably-murder, so that's promising.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Apologies for lack of a Wednesday Whatever...

I am horrifically ill today, so no Wednesday Whatever this week. I would have posted this earlier (like, say, before the article was supposed to go up) but I was busy being unconscious.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saw Catching Fire over the weekend...

The thing about The Hunger Games is that they're conceptually interesting and have some great images, but are not actually at all well-written on a technical level. The films, on the other hand, take those same concepts and images and add a stellar cast and excellent cinematography, creating an adaptation that is far superior to the books it's based on.

Catching Fire is the best of the books, and looks likely to be the best of the movies, as well. Happily, the film was able to capture the idea, very prominent in the books, that revolution is not necessarily a matter of violent uprising; it is a matter of clashing ideas and ideals, of swaying enough popular opinion to undermine the control of the powers that be. A revolutionary act need not be a bombing or a battle; it can be a clever engagement with the media or a subtly subversive popular entertainment.

You may have noticed that same idea here and there elsewhere on this blog...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Am I still the only one utterly unenthused about The Hobbit?

I mean, I predicted the first movie was going to suck on the grounds that the book is crap and also too short to make a trilogy out of. I was right, not only because of those reasons, but also because the movie couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be a faithful adaptation of a fairy tale for children or an epic epic of epic proportions, and thus failed to be either, or to achieve any kind of consistent tone.

So after that inconsistent, poorly-paced mess... why is my Tumblr still full of people talking about it? I can't be the only one who is going to see the second movie out of a begrudging sense of duty and a bit of Sunk Cost Fallacy, as opposed to any real expectation of enjoying it, right?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hate Detected (Turnabout Storm)

Meanwhile, in the Lunaverse...
Turnabout Storm is a six-episode, eight-and-a-half-hour fan-made video series crossing over the Ace Attorney video game series with Friendship Is Magic, which tells you most of its major problems from the start.

The first of those is its length, barely an hour shorter than an entire twenty-six episode season of the show, while telling a story only barely more complex than a typical two-parter. Part of that is a testament to the efficiency of the show, of course--the writers are able to convey surprisingly complex story structures such as "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" or "Princess Twilight Sparkle" in very short running times and in ways still simple enough for the extremely young primary target audience to follow. Turnabout Storm lacks that efficiency, and at times (particularly in episode two) can become something of a slog.

The more interesting problem, and the one the series itself seeks to tackle, is the simple incompatibility of the two series. For all that both are heavy on puns, meaningful names, friendship, and a generally positive, sincere outlook on life, Friendship Is Magic is a utopian show that depicts a society of peace and order that is only ever interrupted by external threats, while the Ace Attorney series is set in a world where murder is so common a defense attorney can spend his entire career on nothing else, criminal trials are massively unfairly biased in favor of the prosecution, and said prosecution is so corrupt that, in his first three years as an attorney alone, main character Phoenix Wright uncovers murders by two prosecutors and the chief of police, not to mention instances of blackmail, evidence tampering, and the creation of fraudulent evidence.

The two worldviews fundamentally cannot coexist, and from the moment the series begins, this tension works to undermine and corrupt Equestria, the setting for almost all of the crossover. Despite that setting, as well as a cast in which only two Ace Attorney characters have large roles (though a third has a small but very significant part), it is the worldview of Ace Attorney that seems to win out for most of the series.

This is perhaps inevitable as a result of the choice by the creators to impose the Ace Attorney structure on Equestria. For those unfamiliar with the games, the Ace Attorney series has a fairly rigid structure for each case: a brief (and usually misleading) scene shows a significant event related to the case (usually a murder, but sometimes another event related to the motive for the murder), then has an "Investigation" sequence in which main character Phoenix Wright (or, in some cases, another lawyer) enters the mystery's setting, encounters some of the major players in it, and is hired to defend someone falsely accused of murder (with, as of the series' fourth installment, one case that does not initially involve murder and one where the client is guilty). The next morning the first trial sequence begins, during which the prosecution plays ridiculous games like concealing evidence until the most dramatic moment or trying to trick the defense into a rhetorical trap, while the player character (again, usually Phoenix )interrogates witnesses and tries to get them to contradict themselves or the physical evidence. Eventually, he exposes a whole in the prosecution's theory of how the murder occurred or casts suspicion on a suspect other than his client, and the trial is suspended for a day, leading to another Investigation sequence that afternoon. The next morning the trial resumes, and this second day of court is usually where the really ridiculous courtroom shenanigans occur: the most eccentric witnesses, such as parrots, puppets, or ghosts, the absurd bluffs Phoenix throws up in an attempt to stretch out the trial until he can figure out the real killer, and usually (some cases, especially early in the series, stretch into a third cycle of investigation and trial) dismantling one of the witnesses' stories and getting them to confess to the crime.

Turnabout Storm follows this structure to T. One might argue that this represents a narrative collapse from the Equestrian point of view, but not quite--there is no threat to the continued ability to tell stories, but rather the imposition of a new way of telling stories and a new genre of stories to tell. It is the imposition of a new narrative, but the old continues underneath. The essential tension between the generally sugary world of Friendship Is Magic and the brutal fact of murder necessitated by the imposition of the Ace Attorney structure is constantly highlighted throughout the story. Most obviously, the contradiction created by the crossover is used to create a diegetic justification crossover: no attorney or judge in Equestria is willing to take on a murder case, so Phoenix Wright and the nameless Ace Attorney judge are summoned magically from their world.

This tension also manifests in the conflict between Phoenix and Twilight Sparkle that defines Part Three of the series (which is actually the third and fourth episodes, one following each character). Phoenix has more than once ended the first day of trial by casting suspicion on someone he believes is innocent, as a delaying tactic to give him time to gather more evidence and find the real guilty party. He is forced to do this at the climax of the second episode, leading to the arrest of Fluttershy. Twilight Sparkle reacts to this as a complete outrage--she hired Phoenix to clear one of her friends, and now two are being tried for murder--and so she and Phoenix separate for the second investigation phase, allowing for the inclusion of more characters (Phoenix teams up with Pinkie Pie, which is delightful, and Twilight with Apple Bloom, which is all right) and a great deal more evidence-gathering and interaction, important since in addition to the (relatively complex) murder mystery itself there are also the ongoing story threads of why Phoenix in particular was summoned and why Trixie (who is serving as prosecutor) is so determined to destroy Twilight and her friends.

That last becomes important in the final two episodes, after Twilight and Phoenix reconcile and begin cooperating again. The two apparently incompatible structures of the murder mystery and the friendship lesson begin to merge as Sonata--who is clearly framed from fairly early on as the killer--takes the stand and begins bullying her former classmate Trixie, forcing Phoenix, Twilight, and Trixie to work together to take her down and heavily hinting at Trixie's reasons for hating Twilight so much. This could fit in either world--it is particularly likely to occur in Ace Attorney where Edgeworth is involved--but the twist that follows makes it clear that the two structures are merging.

After Sonata finally confesses her guilt, Phoenix recognizes that there is still a contradiction in her testimony. He considers whether to simply accept his victory, but chooses instead to object, because an established and oft-repeated theme of the Ace Attorney games is that uncovering the truth is more important than winning the trial--that a correct verdict is better than a favorable one. In the case where Phoenix's client is actually guilty, for example, the player has the option at the end to clinch the verdict of not guilty, or expose the client; the one that leads to a happy ending (which is treated as having happened by later games in the series) is the one where he gets his own client found guilty. Here the inverse occurs; Phoenix's client is innocent, and he can either let Sonata go to jail for the murder everyone--including Sonata herself--believes she committed in self-defense, or he can pull on the one thread still dangling.

He of course chooses the latter, which is consistent with how the Ace Attorney universe works, and what he discovers partially restores the Friendship Is Magic universe to innocence: there was no murder. There was an attempted murder of one pony by another, of course, which is still worse than anything we've ever seen ponies do to one another in the show--as of this writing, the most evil act by one pony against another (assuming that Nightmare Moon blotting out the sun would not cause massive ecological devestation because Magic) is a toss-up between the callous greed of the Flim-Flam brothers in "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" and Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara picking on Scootaloo for her disability in "Flight to the Finish." But there was no actual murder, just a terrible accident that happened to the very pony trying to commit murder; Sonata is guilty of blackmail, but not murder, even in self-defense.

Equestria restored, Phoenix must return to his own world before his presence (and the Ace Attorney rules he brings with him) can cause another murder. The ending is long, happy, and silly, including both the traditional "everyone shouts Objection!" formula from Ace Attorney and the Friendship Is Magic letter to Princess Celestia. There are still questions left unanswered--most prominently, exactly what happened to Trixie to make her so bitter, and what exactly Rainbow Dash was doing in the pictures Sonata and Ace Swift planned to blackmail her with--but we get enough information to form our own theories, and more importantly we know enough to understand why the characters react the way they do.

And maybe having some mysteries left is a good thing. After all, both Ace Attorney and Friendship Is Magic continue on, restored to their own original structures, but both with hints of how this collision will affect their now-separate futures; Trixie has softened slightly, Rainbow Dash has joined the community of professional racers, and Phoenix has the magician's hat he wanted as a kid, which looks suspiciously like the one his adopted daughter Trucy will have in the fourth game. The two seemingly incompatible worlds have influenced one another for the better--a concept which fits well into the themes of both series.