Saturday, May 31, 2014

I know I said no more flaking, but...

Given that today was a complete fucking disaster in every respect, that I stayed up all night cleaning, and that I'm currently crashing so hard I'm slipping into microsleeps mid-word, I'm pushing back the Sunday post to noon, so I have time to sleep before I have to finish it.

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy: Episode 1

Today, as promised, the Kill la Kill liveblog chats begin!

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 Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.

Afterwards, I'll post the chat log here!

...Or technical difficulties could prevent me from chatting. Possibly everyone, I have no idea--it certainly LOOKS like the chat server is down, but it could be an issue on my end nonetheless. Anyway, if you folks managed to have a successful chat, feel free to post the log. Otherwise, sorry, guess we'll try again next Saturday.

Okay, log is finally done and available below the cut.

Friday, May 30, 2014


"Memory. That lying scumbucket."

The woman had green hair and a large, shapeless brown jacket. She sat on the sidewalk, hugging her knees.

"I'm sorry?" I asked. I don't know why. I normally push past homeless people, since I don't carry cash and can't give them anything. It's embarrassing to have to say, because I think they'll think I'm lying.

"Can't trust a memory. You can only remember what you saw, for starters." Maybe it was the hair. You don't often see a homeless person with dyed hair.

"That's... true, I guess?" I said.

"Even then, can't trust it. Full of holes, and half of what is there is made up anyway."

"I don't have any money to give you," I said.

She ignored me, staring fixedly at a point two feet to my left and who knows how far in the past. "All made up. But it's what makes now." She looked up at me, straight into my eyes. "So now's made up too, you see?" I have only ever once seen a face like that before, on an eight-year-old at her father's funeral.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"You're sorry?" she demanded, and then laughed. "How do you think I feel? They're my memories!"

I stood there for a while in silence, while she stared. She didn't say anything more.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I tried

The next Madoka post is 3/4 done, but there is no hope of me having any time to work on it in the next few days. I have been utterly blindsided and swamped by (very time-consuming and very expensive) apartment stuff all week, which is why I have been flakier than usual. The only reason any posts are happening at all is that said apartment stuff involves lengthy Metro rides. Said apartment stuff should be over Saturday, so the Sunday post should be unaffected... But I'm massively behind on editing the book, so most of next week is up in the air. Sorry.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No Madoka today, sorry

I know I've been flaky lately, but I've just got too much going on. I couldn't brain last night, so I left it for this morning in the hopes that a good night's sleep would fix the problem and I could hammer out a post before work. It didn't and I couldn't. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When people talk about bronies being entitled, this shit is why

So Equestria Daily has a story up about an online retailer that sells user-designed merchandise removing, apparently at Hasbro's request, merchandise tagged "brony." The response in comments, at least at time of writing Friday evening, is typically panicky and ill-informed.

Let me explain some basic copyright law. It will be basic, because I Am Not a Lawyer and basic is all I know; on the other hand I was the primary person responsible for keeping a $300K/yr content-generating business out of IP-related trouble for four years, so I'm not talking out of my ass, either.

Here's the basics: Hasbro (probably to some extent shared with DHX (the production study) and maybe Discovery Communications (who co-own The Hub)) owns the trademark on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. They also own the copyright.

If you slap official MLP logos all over your stuff, you're in trademark trouble. I'm not concerned with that at the moment--it's obvious enough that most people get it. You don't get to pretend to be official merch if you're not, and using official logos and such is legally considered to be such a pretense.

People get a bit less clear when it comes to copyright, mostly because fans really, really, really want to be able to basically make derivative works whenever and however they want, including selling them, and really don't want to believe that they can't.

Here's the thing: If you are making derivative works of ANY kind, unless you fall into a fairly narrow band of works protected under the principle of Fair Use, Hasbro has the legal right to make you stop. As a general rule, for most stuff, they won't, because they don't care--your AU crossover fanfiction where Trixie is the Element of Mustard and has a torrid love affair with Deadpool doesn't do Hasbro any harm, so why waste time (which is money), people (who are money), and money (which is also money) going after you?

On the other hand, Hasbro makes money off of shirts, and every shirt you buy from a fan rather than an officially licensed short is money not going to Hasbro. Hasbro doesn't like it when money goes to people other than Hasbro, so yeah, they're going to exercise their right to get rid of those shirts. This is not Hasbro asserting ownership of the word "brony," it's Hasbro noticing that any shirt tagged "brony" is almost certain to be a violation of their copyrights, and therefore asking a shirt-design company to start removing the shirts tagged that way.

Not only is this completely within Hasbro's rights, this is what copyright is for. The exact same principle that gives Hasbro the right to stop you from selling MLP t-shirts (or, for that matter, if they want to, posting MLP fanart to the Internet) is the principle that prevents 20th Century Fox from turning my bestselling novel (I haven't written it yet, but give me time) into a movie without my permission and without paying me any money.

So, bronies of the world, do please sit down, shut up, and try to understand that just because you enjoy doing something and have gotten away with it in the past does not actually mean that you have a right to keep doing it.

(And no, what I do is not the same thing. There is an explicit Fair Use exemption for works of a scholarly or educational nature, as well as reviews, and it is one of the exemptions which is allowed to be for-profit. Hasbro has the right to make me pull down my fanfic, but not to make me stop selling my books.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

I wonder where I'm going now/What my role is meant to be/I don't know how to travel/To a future that I can't see (Magical Mystery Cure)

No, seriously. The first image Celestia shows Twilight during
her song is the arrival in Ponyville; the second is this.
There is nothing remotely sudden about Twilight's ascension.
It's February 16, 2013. The top song, as it is for the entire month, is "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz. The song may be a clever satire of that subgenre of raps about how rich and expensively dressed the rapper is, tapping into the high levels of unemployment and debt among the current generation of young people and resulting trend of "found fashion," i.e. using thrift store purchases as a form of expression. Or it's a brainless and repetitive novelty song that is annoying the first time and grows more obnoxious with each repetition. Probably both, but it could be worse--March's charts are all topped by "Harlem Shake."

The top movie is Identify Thief, an alleged comedy. In the news, "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae, the only Billboard top song I have actually liked in the history of this blog, wins the Grammy for Song of the Year; North Korea conducts a successful nuclear test, prompting the EU to tighten trade sanctions; and the Large Hadron Collider shuts down for a couple of years for upgrades, after nearly five years of significantly advancing our knowledge of fundamental particle physics while not destroying the world even a little bit.

Oh, and Twilight Sparkle is dead.

For the length of one commercial break, anyway.

Which is part of why, as I mentioned in the last article, this could not have worked as a two-parter. The only cliffhangers in the episode are at the end of the cold open and Twilight's death, so the division would have to be at her death. This creates two problems. The more severe one is that, after the "Twilight's been vaporized" cliffhanger is resolved, there is no conflict whatsoever for the rest of the effort--workable as an act-long detournement, not so much as an entire episode. But there is also the problem that we are dealing with a very young audience here, and leaving Twilight dead for an entire commercial break is bad enough. Doing it across the end of an episode and into the next one, or worse, still, across an entire season break? That's just cruel--not so much because the kids will think she's going to stay dead, as because of the tension of how she'll be brought back.

Because she is most definitely, unquestionably dead, sacrificed to restore the rightful destinies of her fellow ponies. She is burnt to a smear of ash in the shape of her own symbol, annihilated by the potent magical forces she has tapped in messing with destiny itself. She ascends to a dark and empty space illuminated by a distant light, the classic depiction of the liminal space between life and death, and there her entire life is presented to her by her mentor, now taking the role of a psychopomp. She is transformed, acquiring wings and a full-body halo of purple light. Pretty much the only thing she's missing is the harp.

And then she returns from beyond to establish her kingdom in the earthly realm. Behold: a Christ-figure, which is to say a sacrificial deity, which means it's time to recall some foreshadowing I noted way back in the Season 2 premiere.

You see, one of the most influential takes on the sacrificial deity in pop culture is a book which has nothing to do with pop culture, John Campbell's study of folklore and mythology. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. That book is in turn primarily about the Hero's Journey, a structure which Campbell constructs primarily from elements of Mediterranean sacrificial deities and cherrypicked bits of a handful of European folktales (and to a much lesser extent, myths and tales of other cultures), then declares it to be universal by tying it to the big psychological theory du jour, in his case Jungian psychology. (Which, to be fair, is how every Grand Unifying Theory in literature and mythology gets made. If it weren't for the Science Wars, we'd probably have a major theory explaining how all stories are representations of concepts from evolutionary psychology by now.)

The influence on pop culture came indirectly; George Lucas was a fan, and treated Campbell's descriptive theory as a prescriptive framework, trying to hit every beat of the structure over the course of the original Star Wars. Before long, cribsheet versions of the Hero's Journey were floating around Hollywood, and the structure became intimately tied to popular film, particularly the action-fantasy blockbuster model Star Wars helped create. From there, it has infested pop culture, a straightjacket which demands far, far more than their fare share of heroes need to be wide-eyed farm-boys (and it is almost always boys) or the modern equivalent, the working-class kid, whose wise old mentors die halfway through their conflict with a dark figure tied into the hero's origins.

This is not to say that the structure is inevitably bad or even that it's inherently problematic that it's widespread. Like it or not, the most popular religion in the world, the dominant religion for most of our culture's history, is devoted to the worship of one of those Mediterranean sacrificial deities; the Hero's Journey is going to show up a lot. And sometimes it's used well in popular culture--Harry Potter is pretty decent until it flubs the ending, most of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is quite good; there are plenty of examples of it being executed well and plenty of examples of it being executed poorly, just like pretty much any structure.

The problem is in its ubiquity and its prescriptive force; the Hero's Journey has become the standard, and as a consequence it has become predictable and boring. But as foreshadowed by the Star Wars homage in the Season 2 premiere, Twilight is on just such a journey in the third season, although the highly episodic nature of the season (and probably also its short length) compresses that journey into the two-part premiere and the finale.

As is often the case in serial works--and as Campbell himself noted is often the case with the Heroine's Journey--the result is a sort of spiral structure. Taking all three episodes as a unit, Sombra takes on the role of the Journey's first challenge, the Threshold Guardian, who represents the protective parent who won't let the child out into the world. Twilight's conflict with him, however, contains within it a miniature Hero's Journey in itself, with Celestia taking on the role of the Mentor, representing the parent as teacher, Cadence as the Goddess who provides protective gifts (in this case, keeping Sombra at bay until Twilight is ready to deal with him), representing the parent as nurturer, and Sombra as the Dark Father, the menacing figure connected with the heroine's origin (in this case he is a villain defeated by her Mentor returned for revenge), who represents the necessity of rebelling against the parent to attain adult independence. Twilight sets out on the Road of Trials in a quest for the Crystal Heart, experiences a descent into the Belly of the Whale at the door which forces her to face her greatest fear, and then acquires the object of the quest and overcomes the Dark Father, taking a step out into the adult world.

And yes, that is how the Hero's Journey works: anything novel or unique to the story is stripped away so that it can be pulled apart, its bones neatly labeled and placed in boxes, each of which has a prescribed metaphorical meaning. It's like TVTropes, if there were only twenty-odd tropes. And much like TVTropes, it can be an amusing diversion for an afternoon, but is more hindrance than aid to real analysis, and actively destructive as a guide to writing.

Anyway, as Sombra was only really the Threshold Guardian within the larger story, Twilight has not yet proven herself, and a second cycle of the Journey begins, deploying a different set of the archetypal stages of the journey. Here, the Dark Father is notably downplayed, but nonetheless is clearly Starswirl the Bearded, the ancient unicorn whom Twilight sees as a role model, but whose spell has quite maliciously disrupted her friends' destinies. (Note that each of them has quite possibly the worst possible job for their personality: Rarity must work outdoors, Rainbow Dash needs to be a caretaker, Fluttershy has to make people laugh at her, Pinkie Pie is forced to do constant chores entirely by herself, and Applejack is obligated to make the dresses she hates wearing).

But Twilight saves them using the same technique Celestia used to save her from Discord, and from that experience gains the inspiration she needs to complete the spell--finishing the work Starswirl couldn't, a form of the Atonement with the Father, the reconciliation with the parent that the young adult comes to post-rebellion. By finishing the spell, she triggers her own Apotheosis, ascending into the heavens to be granted divine power, and returning to the world as the leader she was foreshadowed to be all the way back in "Winter Wrap-Up."

And that's where, for those trained by TV and movies to expect the standard-issue Hero's Journey formula, this all starts to feel wrong. If Twilight has accomplished her destiny, and completed the journey, what else is there? The formula is fulfilled--how can there be any more show after this? Twilight becoming an alicorn and a princess is series finale material, not a mere season finale with another season to come already confirmed! Won't she have to leave Ponyville to take up whatever her new duties are? Won't this unbalance the friendships of the Mane Six that are the core of the show? From that perspective, this is a narrative collapse, a direct challenge to the ability of the story to continue.

Yet the episode itself takes great pains to assure us that no such collapse has occurred. There is no conflict after her transformation, just celebration, a coronation and an assurance that "Everything's going to be just fine!" How can this be?

The Hero's Journey is, supposedly, a metaphor for adolescence, for leaving the safety of childhood, acquiring skills and learning one's destiny, pulling away from the guidance and protection of one's parents and establishing oneself as an adult. This is supposed to be the universal story, the monomyth--but life doesn't end at 20. It's barely begun. The problem with treating the Hero's Journey as the only story--or, rather, one problem among many--is that it robs children and adults of all their stories, and creates a culture in which adolescence is the only narrative.

You may have noticed a glaring omission, verging on outright lie, in my description of "The Crystal Empire": Twilight didn't defeat Sombra. Spike did. Indeed, the entire point of the test Celestia set Twilight to complete was for her to learn to lead rather than try to do everything herself, to let others act when they are in a better position to do so. The Hero's Journey is all about the hero becoming independent, shaping their own destiny--precisely what Starswirl tried to do with his spell. But instead Twilight shows her friends how to help each other recover their lost destinies, and then they help her open the path to hers. The mistake in Starswirl's spell was in treating destiny as something that he creates and completes himself, but it's not.

Oh, each person does define their own destiny, that much is clear. Given the same cutie mark, Rarity embraces a destiny as a weather manager, while Rainbow Dash maintains weather management as her day job and pursues a destiny as a racer and stunt flyer. That's the diegetic reason so many background ponies have the same handful of cutie marks--even if they look identical, they are still different destinies because the ponies that bear them are different, and thus necessarily interpret them differently.

But no one achieves their destiny alone. Everyone has caretakers as a small child; the Hero's Journey reduces parents to archetypes, but they're not. They're people. The companions met on the path are not The Companions Met on the Path, to be placed in a box and labeled; they are individual and unique people to be related to. The Hero is not the only one on a Journey; never forget Lesson Zero, that everyone is the main character of their own story.

"Everything is going to be just fine" because the Hero's Journey is not the monomyth. There is no monomyth, no magical formula to crafting Story, which is far too large and wild a thing to be pulled down and trapped in little cages. Season Three has flirted repeatedly with the formulaic, from the Return of Fan-Favorite Rival to the Very Special Episode, from the Parody of a Popular Movie from Decades Ago to the sitcom flailing of the four episodes prior to this finale, and at first glance "Magical Mystery Cure" is just as formulaic. But it is also a denial of the formula, a declaration that there is story to be found beyond this and every other formula.

Season 3, especially toward the end, showed serious signs of illness. The show seemed to be losing its magic. It needed, desperately, a cure, a restoration of magic--and this episode delivered precisely that, by adding precisely what the show, by becoming increasingly formulaic, was losing: mystery.

After this episode, it is impossible to say what the show will do next. What could be better than that?

ETA: "Du jour," Froborr, not "de jure." Kind of a bit of a difference in meaning, there.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I'm exhausted and miserable and I can't focus and it's 4 a.m. and the post isn't finished. It'll be up when it's up. Or not, whatever.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Utena dump, and a brief introduction about truth

Reminder: Next week, we will be starting liveblogs of Kill la Kill on Saturdays at 2 p.m. EST. Not doing them this week because I'm busy. Also, Netflix fortuitously just added Kill la Kill, subbed and in its entirety, to their streaming service.

Normally, when we talk about something being true--in the everyday sense, or the sense used in the sciences--we mean that it possesses two properties: it is consistent with a larger body of truth, and it corresponds to some standard.

Consistency is the requirement that, to be true, a set of statements must not contradict one another.

Correspondence is the requirement that, to be true, a statement must be testable against some standard. In the sciences, that standard is careful experimental testing or close observation of natural phenomena; in everyday life, it is consensus reality and our own personal experiences.

However, some fields use different models of truth. Mathematics, for example, follows a consistency model only--a statement is true as long as it does not contradict some fundamental axiom. Alternative mathematical systems can be created by choosing different sets of axioms; some of these do correspond to some standard--for example, Euclid's Postulates describe the behavior of geometric figures on a flat surface, and fiddling with the Fifth Postulate can create systems corresponding to different types of curved surfaces--but it is not actually a requirement to do so.

The humanities, on the other hand, and particularly in the analysis of the arts, follow a correspondence model. This is necessary, as the works being analyzed themselves are under no requirement to be consistent. Thus, the only real rule is that analysis must correspond to the work being analyzed; while most analytical essays try to be consistent within themselves, and sometimes attempt consistency with particular paratexts or broad theoretical schema, this is no more a requirement than correspondence is in math. (One even, occasionally, encounters critics who insist on only ever applying one theoretical model to all texts. How sad and tiny their literary worlds must be!)

These concepts are implicit in everything I do for this site, though I came close to making the non-necessity of consistency explicit in my first essay on Rebellion. The reason I am making a point of being explicit about them now is because Utena positively revels in inconsistency. One of its main themes is the unreliability of memory and story, so often events recalled by different characters or at different times will alter substantially. At the same time, it has enormous semiotic density--the highest of any TV show or film I've ever seen--so there are a wealth of interpretations, many of them contradictory, for each version of each memory/story, and all of them are true.

That's the key point I want to make: unlike math or the sciences, in the humanities two statements can contradict each other and still both be true, as long as they have justification in the text.

Actual dump of Utena thoughts (eps 1-5) after the cut. Unmarked spoilers abound!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I've got nothin'

The old inspiration well is running a bit dry at the moment, so... uh... Saturdays will be Kill la Kill liveblogs starting, not this coming Saturday, but the one after. This Saturday's apparently my birthday, according to Facebook and my sister, and she's taking me out. (My sister, not Facebook. So far as I know, Facebook, treated as a gestalt entity, is neither taking me out nor has a gender identity.)

This Saturday I'll probably post an Utena thoughts dump for the first five episodes, and then pick some other day of the week to do that going forward. I have more Bakemonogatari thoughts to dump, too, but I'm not somewhere I can access them at the moment so they're not today's post.

Other than that, uh... what would you like to see? Keep in mind that I'm currently doing two large analysis and one large fiction post a week, so time-consuming things are unlikely to happen remotely regularly. But aside from that, anything in particular you'd like to see me do?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Against Madoka (Rebellion)

Spoilers! Rebellion has still not had a wide theatrical or home-video release in the U.S., so I will continue to put all Rebellion-related content behind a cut as a courtesy to those who read my site through feeds and don't want to be spoiled.

Also, sorry for being a bit late on this.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Possibilities for Saturdays

So, currently the Saturday slot is empty, since ponies are off the air. There are a couple of possibilities:

1. As I briefly did with Supernatural, I use them to post up my episode-by-episode thoughts on the current Mark Watches project, Revolutionary Girl Utena. These are not precisely liveblogs, and also not as in-depth or organized as my analysis essays, just things I'm thinking about and ideas I have in regards to each episode. Each Saturday would cover five episodes.

2. Liveblog something else. Kill la Kill is the first thing that comes to mind, since I have promised to eventually watch it. These would work basically the same as the pony liveblogs, one episode a week, watched live in a chat. I'm open to suggestions as to what to watch, but I'm giving Sylocat veto power since it's his chatroom.

3. Make them just another whatever-I-feel-like day.

What do y'all think?

Monday, May 19, 2014

No, me! Stay good! Don't do it!

So there's a fanfic I have in my brain that I have sworn never to write because (a) it's a fanfic, and therefore unsalable, and also (b) it's really freaking big and I have a terrible track record with such things.

Specifically, it's an MLP AU fanfic, and as we all know, AUs are barely one step above crossovers.

But Thursday night, the bug got me, and I did the worst possible thing I could do, the one thing that makes a world sufficiently real to me that I can start writing it...

...I made a map. Label colors indicate fealty to different rulers. The green areas are temperate climate, the gray tundra/glacier, mustardy-brown desert (And yes, I know, the desert should reach right up to the mountains and the rain patterns implied by the river and desert placement make no sense. It's still better than the official map in that respect.) You will probably have to click the image to open it bigger, and then rightclick to View Image to make most of the labels legible, I was deliberately working very zoomed in to make room for future details.

Doom, in PNG format.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Guest Post by Spoilers Below: "Resistance Is Useless!" (The Great Rainbow Caper)

Sorry this is a bit late. Spoilers Below got this in with PLENTY of time, I'm just a procrastinating suck.


The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

it can be hard to admit that you’re not capable of doing something on your own, and sometimes there’s a strong temptation to pass someone else’s work off as something you did yourself. But a real friend would never do something like that! Not only would you not get away with it, but your friend would know never to trust you again, and if you can’t trust your friends, who can you trust? If you work hard, your friends will always support your efforts, and working together is always better than working alone.

Your faithful student,

What is it? The first single episode story of My Little Pony ‘n Friends, and an exercise to see how much story they can tell in such a short time.

What’s it about? Two evil monkeys kidnap Danny and Surprise to force Megan into giving them the Rainbow of Light.

Is it worth it? Eh. It’s short, so you’re not losing much there. What else are you up to for some random 11 minute stretch? It’s not bad, but you also wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it either.

What else was happening? 3 October 1986 - TASCC, a superconducting cyclotron at the Chalk River Laboratories, was officially opened, and a bizarre solar eclipse occurs, visible only for a few moments in parts of the Atlantic ocean, between Greenland and Iceland. We haven’t advanced a week, so the movies and music are the same as they were with The Ghost of Paradise Estate.


Strangeness and science make for a good segue into the episode, because that’s the theme at work in these 11 minutes and 16 seconds. A tight episode, slotted into the now usual pattern of a 4 part story for Monday through Thursday, with a 1 shot on Friday to finish out the week.

Episode author Diane Duane is better known for her Star Trek and her Young Wizards series of novels, and will end up with dubious honor of being one of the highest profile authors MLP ‘n Friends will have. At the time, though, Star Trek: the Next Generation hadn’t begun airing, so the new wave of fans hasn’t quite started battering down the doors, but let’s talk about Star Trek anyways for a moment, because it gives a little lens into the episode. An inherently optimistic and utopian program, Star Trek envisions a post-scarcity future wherein the universe is patrolled and defended by a voluntary military force who do what they do simply because it is the right thing to do. They are called, and they serve. No one uses the world socialism out loud, because Americans have a kneejerk reaction to it, but what else do you call a planned society in which everyone is given tasks that they are qualified for after rigorous testing, where there is no economy because science, via the replicator, has made commerce essentially obsolete, and where a great deal of time is spent exploring the rest of the galaxy looking for other societies which are ripe for uplifting and integration into the federation once they have passed certain benchmarks? Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the films, states outright that “The needs of the many outweigh...” “The needs of the few...” “...or the one.” Endless numbers of “redshirts” are slaughtered throughout the various episodes with barely any acknowledgement by the rest of the crew so that the wheels of progress can keep turning, and the technocratic engines can continue to absorb and uplift and improve the rest of the galaxy. It will be found and understood, because that is the technocratic impulse that drives the Federation. Duane has already written the novel The Wounded Sky, parts of which will be incorporated into the script for Where No One Has Gone Before, postulating a hypothetical end point to this exploration, literally the outer rim of the galaxy, where reality and thought become one and the same thing.

But reality (those philosophically loved and despised “things-in-themselves” our senses always are interpreting for us) and human thought are different. And science is constructed from human thoughts.

Because despite the protests of those who would demand otherwise, science does not control the world;  that’d be putting the cart before the pony. The universe does not “run” on mathematics, nor does it “think” in terms of laws or theorems. The cosmos isn’t a big computer, nor a large formula, though it helps us conceptualize to think of it as such. Best as we can tell, atoms move; that is all. Science, once you get into the theoretical aspects, is a system applied onto the world by mankind to make the world intelligible and predictable. Atoms move like this under these conditions, and so if we do this, then.... To mangle Karl Popper’s definition, science consists simply of those likely theories which have yet to be proven wrong. It is never infallibly Right. It is simply not wrong yet. It may be highly unlikely, and when one properly understand the rigors of testing and evidence necessary to even present a theory as likely, it does seem highly likely that certain scientific theories will never be proven incorrect. But we do not have enough hubris to say never. Should not, rather.

And so, when science encounters something which it cannot properly explain, science must change to accommodate it. The world will not change to allow a pretty or convenient theory to continue existing for our sake.It is the nature of science to build around things it cannot yet understand. It is additive, absorbing the world, building boxes to encompass any new information and throwing out its old frameworks if they cannot accommodate the new information. Good bye, Tychonic system with your pretty epicycles, hollow Earths, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, miasma theory of disease, telegony, phlogiston theory, Aristotelian physics, electron clouds, emitter theory... We thought the universe used to be like that, but it turns out we were wrong. Maybe we got it right this time?

Needless to say, science is different from magic. To steal a quote from Lawrence Miles’ This Town Will Never Let Us Go:

A scientist points a device of death (let’s call it a laser-gun) at a victim and fires. He knows every atom in the path of the beam will be incinerated, the target’s skin will boil and burn away but those parts of the body left outside the beam will remain intact, and anything which happened to be around the victim will also suffer. Much of the floor is bound to be singed, not to mention the walls.
On the other hand, a magician points a device of death (let’s call it a wand) and fires. She knows that the victim will vanish or turn to ash in his entirety, leaving everything around him intact, maybe even his clothes. That’s the real difference. Magic is the art of meanings. The universe doesn’t know where a human being ends and the clothes begin. The laws of physics only know atoms, not complete shapes. Only a magician’s weapon recognizes the target as a target, and only magic understands context. Magic is context. (p.233)

Mad Larry is talking about weaponry here, but it would work for any sort of magic, not just the violent kind. We’ll be back to science vs. magic in just a moment. Now, the Rainbow of Light is one such powerful magical item. Its central importance to this era of ponies is on par with later years’ Elements of Harmony. And at the opening of this episode, we find Megan snuffing out the clouds with the Rainbow’s magic as easily as the aforementioned magician destroyed her victims, so the ponies can pick cherries to make cherries jubilee without getting rained on.

The weather is such a highly complex system that predicting it with any accuracy even seven days out is terribly difficult using our most advanced technology, let alone actually changing it. Could you imagine the power of a device that could simply destroy clouds in an instant, then summon them right back again? The present reader’s mind, of course, jumps ahead twenty-five years to the weather factories of Cloudsdale and the teams of Pegasi that patrol the skies with the utmost efficiency, keeping Equestria’s weather managed to the most predictable moment. Their Rainbow is the element of loyalty, who, despite her brash demeanor and lazy attitude, is simply so good at her job that she has more than enough time to relax. But right now, back in the past, it’s stuck in a small, easily stolen locket, and Megan is outraged that Danny would even consider engineering on that scale. “Portable weather, great idea, huh Megan?“ No, it isn’t, and she makes him put things back the way they were. Which, in this case, means back to the way they were when she was changing things to suit the needs of the group, not simply obeying the whims of one malicious malcontent.

Enter the Gizmonks, Gonk and Glouda, a pair of advanced tool using apes who view the miraculous Rainbow of Light from afar on their steampowered television set, much like we viewers at home. After capturing Danny and Surprise with a falling cage, they come within one word of uttering the catchphrase that the Borg would a few years later. (So close, yet so far.) The two have already imprisoned numerous creatures, create fantastic devices that they don’t understand, and seem to desire acclaim from their peers for their inventing prowess. It’s implied that there is a society of Gizmonks, who trade in inventions and receive praise for creating. A magical item like the Rainbow of Light would work as a wonderful shortcut to said acclaim. But really, it would never work for them. Not if their society works anything like they say it does. Look at all the latest tools and gadgets they pass over in Danny’s bag (“Not the walkman! No, it’s a computer, don’t!”). Could they credibly pass any of them off as their own? Of course not. Who’d believe they were capable of creating something as brilliant and powerful as the Rainbow of Light?

Because, when you actually consider it, what these Gizmonks are doing isn’t science. They even admit outright that they have no idea what some of their inventions do, and they create them with no specific tasks in mind, and no idea about their potential outcome. The throw things together and hope that they work. While many inventions are the result of lucky accidents or as the unintended side effects of trying to create something else (plastic, penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, ink-jet printers, the slinky...), actual science requires a formal hypothesis tested rigorously under controlled conditions, with variables accounted for, reproducible results, and lots and lots of math. Even the brute force style inventing of Thomas Edison’s laboratories  had a lot of rational thought and engineering put into trying parts that could work, and was being tested to see what worked best. Though inspirations and ideas may come from any number of sources, there are no accidental scientific theories. Einstein didn’t wander onto the stage not realizing that it wasn’t the patent office banquet he was supposed to be giving a toast for and start making up a story about looking into mirrors while travelling at the speed of light to get himself played off stage to applause without looking too embarrassed.

The Gizmonks want science to be magic, and it never will be. They don’t even understand magic. Because magic requires thought and intention. Magic is context. And that context, as we know, is friendship. It’s doubtful the Rainbow would work for Gonk and Glouda even if they acquired it. Magic isn’t a shortcut or “the cheat codes of the universe” any more than science is. It isn’t a bypass on the easy road to happiness. Magic -- understanding context and significance, why certain things are the way the are because of the situation they are in and why an action can mean totally different things depending on what surrounds it and when it happens --  takes work. So does maintaining friendships. There’s a difference between using the Rainbow to clear the skies to pick cherries with your friends, and using it to change the weather to suit your personal whims and pick on your sister. I’d even go so far as to argue that while intent may not be magic, context is magic, and is in fact the only way in which certain things can ever be understood.

Oddly, there isn’t even time for the ponies to confront and reject the Gizmonk’s worldview. As with many episodes, the philosophical quandary is already resolved by the time they arrive, as Danny and Surprise have already busted the place up and come rolling out of the glass domed tower in a Trojan horse-like contraption that immediately falls to pieces. The ponies' hedonistic naturalism and lack of interest in controlling the world around them need not be questioned. Megan keeps them safe and innocent. She’ll bear the weight around her neck for them.


-- I am, of course, being completely unfair to Star Trek up above. That Kirk and Picard and Sisko and Janeway are in almost constant rebellion against the directives from above, that they regularly encounter people and societies which desire no interference whatsoever from the Federation, and that the Federation’s “conquering with kindness” impulses are mirrored darkly in the anonymous hivemind of the Borg, the xenophobic imperialism of the Romulans, and the cloying sadism of the Cardassians is very much the point. It’s a fascinating and frustrating and wonderful series of programs and films to lose yourself in. If you need a guiding text, Josh Marsfelder is doing wonderful work here:

--”The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities — perhaps the only one — in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.” --Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge

--I hasten to add, for the benefit of myself and because I’ve actually had people somehow come off with this impression when I talk about science and history and doubt, that no, I absolutely do not believe that, for example, the stars suddenly realigned themselves and quit moving in loop-de-loops and that the Earth suddenly shifted in place however many billions of light years to quit being the center of the universe (if such a place is even correctly thought of as existing) when the observations and theories of Copernicus and Galileo gained traction amongst the general human population. Yes, I used to play Mage: The Ascension too, and I read that one JLA story where Wonder Woman’s lasso breaks, and I’m quite familiar with the idea of consensual reality. I also happen to know how to separate the quite fictional trappings of a role playing game or comic book from quite genuine doubts I have that we are presently at the zenith of all knowledge and that there will never be anything ever proven to be false or incomplete ever again. I’m as sure as I’m going to be that black holes exist. I don’t know enough to make any confident assertions regarding dark matter. If, for some reason, the Earth stops rotating and the Sun doesn’t appear to rise tomorrow morning, I’ve got a heck of a lot more problems than figuring out a new model of physics. All that said, vaccinate your kids so they don’t die, global climate change is real and a major problem, and yeah, it totally sucks about Pluto and the Brontosaurus, but that’s how things go sometimes. The old scientific theory is only discarded in favor of one that works better, not skeptically jeered at in advance just in case because you’re afraid to admit you were wrong some day.

--And lest you think I’m some crackpot, no, obviously magic of the kind wizards and sorcerers do isn’t real. Well, aside from the kind of telepathy I’m practicing right now, wherein I sit in a specific position for hours at a time, staring into a brightly lit screen that changes colors occasionally, moving my fingers across a board covered in symbols, and concentrating really hard on just the right words and ideas to send my thoughts all over the world and into the heads of interested parties who have screens of their own, who will see the symbols and know what they mean and may hear what they imagine my voice to sound like in their heads...

--Oh, and the magic context that makes the example you might be thinking of okay is “Hey, want to see my impression of what a racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. jerk sounds like? You do? They sound like this...”

Next week: Magical Mystery Cure, pt 2.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Not to get all cult-show on you, but...

...has it occurred to anyone that Friendship Is Magic might be a prequel to Gen 1, and what we saw last weekend was the origin story of the Rainbow of Light?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Still ponies instead of Felda...

Sorry, still mulling over the need to better-establish Felda's family and life. Luckily, I updated my Lunaverse fic last night! (Link)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Transgender horses, the Doctor, and real names

Moffat-era Doctor Who gets a lot wrong about gender. "Susan the horse" in "A Town Called Mercy" is a great example of how badly it's handled as a matter of course--let's deliberately raise the existence of trans* people so that we can make a joke about how funny it is that they exist! While also suggesting that it's a choice! (This Tumblr post covers it much better than I ever could.)

But very rarely, it gets something right. Susan's chosen a name for herself, and it tells you quite a bit about her (which the Doctor deliberately ignores in calling her "him.") That becomes important in "The Name of the Doctor": "The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it's like, it's like a promise you make."

A person's real name is always the name they choose to be known by. Just because most people default to the name their parents picked doesn't make that their real name. Just because the government may insist they use a particular name on forms doesn't make that their real name. A person's real name is the one they introduce themselves with.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Against Love and Salvation (Rebellion)

Ah, young love. Isn't it a beautiful thing?
At the end of Madoka Magica, Madoka ascends to a higher plane of being, sacrificing not only her life but her entire existence to save the other magical girls from becoming witches. As becomes clear from both Homura's explanation to Kyubey in the final episode of the series and comments by Nagisa and Sayaka in Rebellion, the magical girls so rescued continue existing in some form outside the universe, with Madoka. Whatever form they are in, we know they are in some sense aware and able to make decisions, and it appears are simultaneously magical girls and witches (which, of course, they always were).

That this is presented, within the series and initially within Rebellion, as a positive development and more-or-less happy ending is perhaps puzzling. Arguably the entire point of Sayaka's character arc was coming to realize that it was a mistake to try to sacrifice herself to save another, while Homura's attempts to save Madoka were similarly depicted as making things continually worse for them both. It is not particularly surprising, then, that Rebellion calls that salvation into question.

The first segment of the movie, in which the magical girls are happy and get along, and the opponents they face are challenging but conquerable, serves as a parody of both worlds that can be understood as "Madoka's world." As a new enemy representing human misery, the Nightmares are a twisted reflection of the Wraiths. Like the Wraiths, the Nightmares are oddly similar to one another, but where the Wraiths are fairly creepy, attenuated humanoid giants, the Nightmares wear bear suits and fire stuffed animals from their arms. Defeating a Wraith earned many small rewards for cleaning the magical girls, Soul Gems, making magical girl teams viable, unlike in the prior, witch-infested timelines). But in Homura's fantasy world, defeating a Nightmare creates a diffuse glow that  purifies the Soul Gems, making magical girl teams actively preferable to intercept more of that light. In addition, where the first we see of the Wraith world created by Madoka is the death of Sayaka and mourning of her teammates, Homura's dream world preserves both Sayaka's life and her wish, by pairing (or at least heavily implying a pairing) her with Kyoko to allow Hitomi and Kyosuke to be together. Homura's fantasy world is, simply, happier than the one Madoka created!

It is also sillier, and not just because of the bear suits. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the eerie is the province of surrealist art, and it is here that the Wraiths, and by extension the city they haunt, largely fall. Faceless men are, for instance, a favored subject of Magritte. Likewise, the witches, though more playful, are juxtaposed with extreme violence, both by the witches against humans and magical girls, and by magical girls against the witches. This combination of playful, often childish, imagery and violence forms a sort of brutalist surrealism. 

There is, however, no violence against the Nightmares. They destroy property, seemingly, but there is no trace of damage when the magical girls are done, and against them the magical girls will deploy traps and bindings or fire weapons to drive the Nightmare into a trap, but never attack the Nightmare directly. The actual defeat of the Nightmare seems to involve actions that are at once highly ritualized, yet seemingly arbitrary--a banquet catered by the magical girls in the cold open, and a nursery rhyme-like chant or game about food against Hitomi's Nightmare. 

Meals, food, nursery rhymes, games, the nursery--these are all common features of nonsense literature, most famously the Alice books. At the core of nonsense is an interest in alternative logics, in circumstances (such as games, meals, etiquette) where ultimately arbitrary, yet internally consistent, rules guide behavior; like a dream, nonsense substitutes one set of arbitrary rules for another, and lets the consequences play out logically. And yet within this nonsense, all five magical girls are alive and happy and thriving; it seems, a world of nonsense is better than the world of Wraiths Madoka created. 

Madoka's "pure land," her heaven, is also depicted inferior. As I have argued at length elsewhere, Madoka's "afterlife" is inferior to even Homura's dream world because it is a deathless world that contains no decay, no suffering, no putrefaction; both Sayaka and Nagisa chose to reify themselves alongside Madoka because they sought something that only existed as a consequence of decay and death, namely Sayaka's relationship with Kyoko and, for Nagisa, cheese. 

Homura's dream world is also more directly a parody of Madoka's "heaven," in the sense that Homura snatched magical girls (as well as at least five, possibly six ordinary humans) into her world without their consent and now keeps them there, trapped and cut off from the universe, but artificially happy. She has "saved" them because she has grown to care about them by extension, as the people Madoka loved--and at least in the case of Kyoko and Mami, whom she ultimately trusts to kill Homulilly, come to respect and possibly even like, as well.

To want to save someone is necessarily to want power over that someone. By becoming a knight protector, Sayaka made herself a judge (and in the case of those two misogynists on the train, likely executioner as well). By wishing to be the one to protect Madoka, Homura ultimately put herself I a position to repeatedly try to take the choice of becoming a magical girl away from Madoka. And by wishing to save all magical girls from their destiny of becoming what they fight, Madoka set herself up as a goddess. 

To be a savior (as always, as opposed to helping, which involves the consent of the one helped and places the helper in a temporarily subordinate, rather than dominant, position), in other words, necessarily entails being a little bit of the tyrant. Since the savior is acting without the consent of the saved, they are very likely to get it wrong, as Madoka does with Homura. Look at the opening credits: Homura is depicted as a grey, troll-like figure lurking while the magical girls dance. She is not capable of joining their happiness; the closest she is able to come is as the weak and shy "pigtails" version of her character during the first segment of the movie, and even then she is able to sense that something is deeply wrong. Once her hair is again loose, she is never genuinely happy again for the rest of the movie, for the simple reason that her untold ages of suffering, and the fact that she and she alone remembers them, have warped her emotionally to the point that she very possibly cannot be saved. 

Instead, she acts in parody of Madoka, snatching people up and placing them in her labyrinth. But is it really any different from what Madoka did? Is Madoka's sacrifice an act of selfless love while Homura's is selfish? And which is the greater sacrifice--your existence or your soul? Is it worse to never have existed, or to become the enemy of all you once held dear?

The answer, of course, is that it's a silly question. All value is relative, so it is entirely a matter of perspective which is worse; very likely, each of the two girls feels their own sacrifice is the greatest they could make, since Madoka cares deeply about her connections to others, while Homura is more focused on her cause. 

But, seeing in Homura's actions a twisted reflection of Madoka's, we see Madoka's in a new way as well. Can an act truly be considered selfless if it gets you everything you ever wanted? Madoka gets to be with, in her own words, "everyone"; all her loved ones are safe; she gets to defeat all the witches; she gets to become a magical girl; she gets to matter, quite possibly more than anyone else who ever lived. By contrast, Homura's choice to become a "demon" devoted to keeping Madoka in the world costs her the only thing she values, the chance to be together with Madoka in the end; now they must eventually be enemies. Isn't it therefore Homura who is selfless?

Of course not, because selfless love is an oxymoron. That is the point in depicting Homura's possessiveness, and through it revealing Madoka's selfishness. To love someone is to want to protect that person, possibly from themselves. It is to want to spend time with that person. It is to want that person to want you. Expressed in a healthy way and reciprocated equally, of course, love can be a wonderful thing; romantic or otherwise, it is the ultimate bond between two people. But like any bond, it can be use to entrap, to control, to assert dominance. It is no accident that the people most likely to claim that "pure," "selfless," "giving" love is better than the messy, reciprocated, collaborative love of an actual relationship are such upstanding members of society as moe fanboys, people with Nice Guy Syndrome, and authors of "Christian" purity-culture marriage handbooks that read like guides to creating an abusive relationship.

Throughout the series, we saw magical girls torn between acknowledging what they genuinely wanted and what they believed they should want. Mami tortured herself for wishing to live, rather than wishing to save  her parents. Sayaka and Kyoko wished for others' benefit, rather than wishing for those others to appreciate the help, and suffered tremendously as a result. This is why Kyubey targets girls, because from the moment they are given their first doll they are indoctrinated to take care of others, socialized to think of themselves as caretakers, responsible for the wellbeing of others. Society has done Kyubey's work for him, creating girls who will wish for what social pressure tells them they want instead of truly wishing for what they desire. (Not that it matters in the end, of course; the wish alone damns the magical girl to become a witch or die, though a poorly chosen wish makes the hope-despair cycle faster.)

So, of course, Homura sees no way to wish for what she truly desires, to be with Madoka. She wishes instead to take care of Madoka, first in the series at the end of the "original" timeline shown in the first part of Episode 10, and then in Rebellion when she becomes a "demon." In both cases, she ultimately sees no hope but to become "evil." Rebellion thus closes the largest cycle in a series full of cycles: the evolution of Homura Akemi from a dark, seemingly villainous character who disrupts the status quo to a dark, seemingly villainous character who maintains the status quo. More than ever, she is now Mami's dark mirror.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Rains of Castamere"

Game of Thrones is getting increasingly clever in its use of the rather mournful "Rains of Castamere" as a leitmotif for the mounting tragedy of the Lannister clan. Best use to date, I think, was the most recent episode, where the "And so he spoke, and so he spoke" part, played on cellos, emerges out of the mostly unrelated background music immediately after Tyrion's (amazing, potentially Emmy-worthy) speech at the end of his trial, leading into a full, cello-heavy instrumental version playing behind the ending credits. Ramin Djawadi, the composer for the series, doesn't get anywhere near enough credit, in my opinion.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trying out the Doctor Who RPG...

Only done character creation so far; are party consists of a PTSD-afflicted combat medic descended from a certain Victorian detective's sidekick (me), a Peace Corps lifer with a knack for improvised technology, a soldier fresh from putting down the Ood Rebellion, and a talking dog with telekinesis (the party diplomat, obviously).

Not having played yet, I can't say much about the system, but character creation was fairly straightforward and easy, and already just from looking at the rules it's clear both that there's a fairly hefty random factor to actions (somewhat mitigated by the use of degrees of success/failure, but still) and that combat is heavily de-emphasized (the turn order is determined by choice of action rather than a stat or roll, and talking, running, and nonviolent action all go before attacking). So they are clearly trying to get the mechanics to reflect the spirit of the show. 

Once we get another session in a few weeks, I'll let you know if they succeeded. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Guest Post: Magical Mystery Cure: The "Con" Position

Alicorn Priest was kind enough to volunteer an alternate perspective on "Magical Mystery Cure," specifically the "anti" or "con" position on the episode.

Hey, everyone! I guess I’m doing a guest post while Froborr is taking a break. He wanted me to do a retrospective on Magical Mystery Cure to share my take on the whole alicorn debacle. And believe me, I was pretty upset! I mean, they really should have kept it the way it was. I know there’s this mindset to give the fans what they want, but this was uncalled for! They had used the term “princess” this whole time to represent a winged unicorn, and then they just go and have Rarity use “alicorn” out of nowhere. That’s just indefensi--

Wait, what’s that? Nobody cares about that? Oh, my bad.

No, you wanna know about the angry response to Twilight becoming an alicorn. That I can do as well. I think the best way to go about it is to talk about the effects we expected from such a monumental change. (In hindsight, not so monumental, but still.) Those can be roughly sorted into four categories:
  1. How will this change affect Twilight specifically?
  2. How will it affect her friends and the other main characters?
  3. How will it affect the setting of Equestria?
  4. How will it affect the structure and theme of the show?
I think Froborr did a pretty good job of explaining why all of these things would be fine, but let me try to explain what we were seeing in the naysayers camp. Looking back a year later (has it really been that long?), all of these fears almost seem ridiculous. Back then, though, they seemed all too real.

First, Twilight herself. Remember, we knew nothing about what would happen to Twilight other than a picture of her with wings at first. All we had was the precedent of Celestia, Luna, and Cadance (who we considered a last-minute change). What would Twilight become if she became an alicorn? Well, a goddess. Her magical powers would increase significantly, she would have to rule over a kingdom as the other princesses do, and she would become something different and separate from the rest. This is sort of bleeding into the other categories, but Twilight would lose much of what made her character interesting and relatable. She was a young student trying to balance her schoolwork with interacting with friends. She frequently got flustered and had to go to her princess for help. If Twilight becomes a princess, we asked, what then? Who would she be? Even before the season 3 finale, Twilight was getting the ignominious title of Mary Sue thrust upon her. What would she be if she became a goddess solely because of how awesome she was? On another token, what would be left for her character to explore now that her fundamental question had been answered? The second episode told us that her goal was to learn about friendship and the magic within it. But “Magical Mystery Cure” stated without a doubt that all of that was over. All that could possibly be left for her would be reveling in how awesome she is now. What kind of story is that? (Watch everything after the “Princess Twilight Sparkle Cometh” to see what I mean.) A lot of us like Twilight a lot; would becoming a princess mean we wouldn’t see her as much any more? Would she go the same way as Celestia, Luna, and Cadance?

But that’s not enough. Raising Twilight, by comparison, lowers all of the other characters as well. Twilight may be my favorite (mane 6) character, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the other characters or appreciate their place in the story. What makes Twilight so special that her studies are what propelled her to godhood? Not Rainbow Dash, the mare who performed the mythical Sonic Rainboom? Not Applejack or Fluttershy, who run huge businesses without any assistance? Not Rarity or Pinkie Pie, who bring joy to an entire town? Why does Twilight get her arc wrapped up when there are so many other interesting characters worth exploring? Twilight was the bond keeping them all together. What happens when she becomes a princess and leaves to take on her destiny? And that’s not even getting into the other characters. Creating yet another alicorn cheapens the total effect of the other alicorns. One wonders what Mayor Mare actually would do, considering Twilight would be the highest-ranked official in Ponyville. Who else can I pin through Twilight’s change? It wrecks Trixie’s position as foil. Nope, I’m out of ideas.

I’ve sort of already talked about the setting. I’m writing this before “Twilight’s Kingdom” comes out, but as Equestria Girls put it, Twilight’s probably going to have her own area to rule like Cadance and the Royal Sisters do. ...Where, exactly? But along with that, being able to achieve apotheosis brings up some very strange questions. So few ponies actually pull this off, despite pursuing one’s special talent being the entire focus of the society? Twilight and Cadance can do it basically on accident, but hundreds of thousands of ponies can’t do it despite pursuing their personal talents just as ardently? Or is it just ponies with vague concepts like “love” and “friendship” for cutie marks that can get it? And, Celestia forbid, it makes Celestia and Luna even more bizarre. Did they achieve apotheosis too, or are they some greater version of alicorn? If the former, why are they immortal, then? Seriously, it’s such a bizarre thing that nobody would have pegged for this society had this episode not come out. It’s borderline antithetical to the very idea of “do what you do to the best of your ability.” Clearly, a lot of ponies are slacking off.

Lastly, the meta-argument. I don’t remember who said it exactly, but someone said once that “Magical Mystery Cure” would have worked pretty well as a show ender, since it wraps up the critical question of the entire show. But season 4 had already been confirmed by that point, so the show has to keep going from there. But where is there to go when the guiding idea is gone? “Friendship is Magic:” that’s what Twilight was trying to understand that. In “Magical Mystery Cure,” she outright says that she understands it perfectly: “From all of us together, / together we are friends. / With the marks of our destinies made one, / there is magic without end!” So… what then? Where do you go from that? With Twilight a princess, what will the stories be about? How can they be the same if Twilight is so much more powerful? Or what if she’s gone entirely? What kind of show would it be without Twilight Sparkle?

No, to all the haters and nay-sayers, it was clear that things couldn’t be for the better. Twilight would finally be a Mary Sue to end all Mary Sues, and she would leave all of her old friends in the dust. The setting and the story would be broken into a gazillion pieces. Anything they did to explain it would only prove that it was ruined. And then Equestria Girls happened, and it showed that Twilight wasn’t perfect. She still had questions left to answer, and she was still trying to be modest and personable. But Equestria Girls wasn’t perfect, and we still thought that there wasn’t much hope. No matter how much she pretended, Twilight was still a princess, and that meant she was inherently better than everypony else, right? And then “Princess Twilight Sparkle” answered that exactly. Discord outright forced her to consider that position, and she rejected it. The rest of the season, from “Castle Mane-ia” and “Three’s a Crowd?” to “Twilight Time” and “Trade Ya!” kept up the precedent. Looking back, all of the fears I had seem ridiculous now. Of course Twilight would still be Twilight. Of course she’d still stay with her friends in Ponyville. Of course they’d come up with a concept like the diary to keep the characters thinking about friendship and magic. But before season 4, we had no idea the writers had it all under control. Perhaps we should have had more faith.

Alicorn Priest writes: Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope I gave a good insight into the cynic’s perspective to “Magical Mystery Cure” and season 4. PLUG: If you like my writing style or my analysis, check out my reviews here. I’m not nearly as good as Froborr, but I do have some good ideas here and there. END PLUG. Anyways, by the time you read this, “Twilight’s Kingdom” will be come and gone. Crazy how it goes, huh? Fingers crossed that it was good. And then we get another long break, with only Rainbow Rocks to tide us over. Hey, at least it’s not as bad as Sherlock and Doctor Who, right? :P

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: Twilight's Kingdom

Season finale! Which I really, really hope is better than the last two episodes!

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 Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 3:00 p.m. EST. At least... hopefully someone will? I currently have no idea whether I'll be doing it--I'm going to a season finale party, but thanks to some miscommunications it is no longer clear whether the season finale will actually be viewable at said party. So if I watch it there, then I'm obviously not going to be able to participate in the liveblog. But if I don't, then I will.

Anyway, if I do not do the liveblog, can one of you worthy folk please keep the log and post it in comments below? If I do make it, I'll post it here myself.

I ended up doing both! Liveblog below the cut!

Friday, May 9, 2014

And now for something completely different...

No, not Monty Python. Man, that phrase is never going to be useable again, is it?

Anyway, I needed to take a break from Felda. I have to once again go back and rework, or more accurately, insert some things. I need to flesh out her family and the community she knows, to better establish the status quo before I break it.

But I also just wrote a new chapter of my MLP (well, Lunaverse, actually) fanfic, so here's a link to that instead.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Against Analysis (Rebellion)

Spoilers! Rebellion has still not had a wide theatrical or home-video release in the U.S., so I will continue to put all Rebellion-related content behind a cut as a courtesy to those who read my site through feeds and don't want to be spoiled.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Some guesswork and calculations re: the population and size of Equestria

I'm a bit under the weather and it's getting in the way of getting The Very Soil done, I'm afraid. Please accept this nonsense instead, and The Very Soil will go up Thursday. Sorry, guess I'm not all that clever after all.

What, asked the Equestria Daily on Twitter the other day, is the population of Equestria?

Let's start with a simpler question: What's the population of Ponyville? There's a couple of different clues we can use. First, we can use turnout for major town events like Winter Wrap-Up or the sale of Apple Family Cider to make an estimate. Twenty percent turnout is pretty good for a major event (that is, ten percent of the town population showing up), and there appear to be a couple of hundred ponies in line for cider or working on Winter Wrap-Up, so that gives an estimate of 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants.

Alternatively, there are about 20 ponies in Apple Bloom's class, all about the same age. If we assume that ponies spend 12 years in school just as we do, that gives 240 school-age foals in Ponyville. School-age children make up about 16 percent of the population in the U.S., and if we assume the same of Ponyville, that gives us 1,500 total Ponyville residents.

Can we make that assumption, though? I'd argue yes--many of the place names in Equestria, and the presence of Appleloosa and Manehattan as locations visited in the show, suggest that Equestria is at least in part a fantasyland version of the U.S.

This then gives us the key to estimating the population; if we can find a U.S. city broadly equivalent to Ponyville, we can compare its population to Ponyville and extrapolate from that to Equestria as a whole. After a bit of research, I've chosen Butler, Pennsylvania as the closest equivalent to Ponyville--it is a small farming community in a forested area, not too far from mountains, and has a signature product that put it on the map. Butler has a population of about 13,000, but we're estimating, so let's call that ten times the population of Ponyville.

If Equestria is a fantasyland version of the U.S., it would imply that the relationship between Ponyville and its nearest American equivalent mirrors that between Equestria and the U.S., meaning Equestria has about one-tenth the U.S. population, or a bit over 30 million. For comparison, that's about the population of Peru and a bit less than the population of Canada.

We can in turn use this to estimate the size of Equestria by making some assumptions regarding agriculture. Approximately 40 percent of the land area of the U.S. is dedicated to food production, which is to say about 1.5 million square miles to support 300 million people. However, ponies do not need 150,000 square miles of farmland to support their population. First of all, Equestrian ponies are small, about the size of a border collie, which ways about one-third of a typical adult human. Since the amount of food a mammal needs to eat is mostly a function of its size and metabolism, and the ponies appear to have a similar metabolism to humans (they eat three meals a day like we do, and the meals appear to be about the same size relative to ponies as our meals are relative to us), so we can conclude ponies only need 50,000 square miles.

Or we would be able to, if not for two wrinkles: pegasus weather-control and the subtle magic of earth ponies. How much of an impact this has (especially since ponies lack the high-output, often environmentally destructive technology of industrialized farming, and it's hard to gauge to what degree that balances out their magic and super-special talents) is difficult to guess, so let's pretend they're twice as efficient, and therefore only need 25,000 square miles of farmland.

Going back to that 40 percent farmland figure, this gives a total size of 62,500 square miles, a bit smaller than Latvia. No wonder they seem able to get anywhere in the country via train ride one commercial break long!

That packs one-tenth the U.S. population into one-twentieth the area, but remember, ponies are smaller than humans and about a third of ponies don't even live on the ground, so compared to their size each pony actually has more space than an average American--and keep in mind, the U.S. is only at about the 25th percentile in population density: Ireland is twice as dense, Micronesia five times as dense, and Japan more than ten times as dense. In terms of population density, Equestria is thus comparable to Ireland.