My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ “Equestria Girls: Sunset’s Backstage Pass” (and Series Review)

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Synopsis:

The Humane Seven are headed to the Starswirl Music Festival for a camper trip of two days of fun and concerts. Sunset Shimmer and Pinkie Pie are both particularly eager to see a pop duo named Post Crush, who have gotten together for a reunion tour after seemingly breaking up. Day one of the event arrives, and Sunset is eager to get a front row seat with Pinkie. Unfortunately, Pinkie keeps getting too excited about the other events at the festival and keeps dragging Sunset to one distraction after another; culminating in ruining a churro stand that gets both thrown out of the festival completely and miss the Post Crush concert. Angry at Pinkie, Sunset says she wishes she could do the day over again…this time alone. Yet on getting up for the second day of the festival, she is stunned to see that the events of the first day are repeating, and she realizes she’s gone back to the first day of the festival.

As Sunset keeps seeing events that have repeated, she confides in Twilight that she’s reliving the first day of the festival. After proving it by predicting the various mishaps that Pinkie’s distractions will cause, Twilight states that Sunset appears to be in a time loop. Concluding that this is the result of Equestrian magic and her wish to redo the previous day for a second chance to see Post Crush, Sunset decides not to mess it up but, unfortunately, in spite of Sunset’s warnings Pinkie again loses control at the churro stand and causes the same accident to get her and Sunset thrown out. However, the next morning Sunset sees that day one of the festival is again repeating itself, which she takes as her third chance. Determined not to waste it, quickly and without any explanation, she ditches Pinkie and gets a spot at the front of the stage. She ends up getting the best place in the festival to see the concert (albeit without Pinkie) and declares it a “perfect day” when she gets K-Lo’s guitar pick.

In spite of enjoying the concert, the girls are upset at Sunset ditching Pinkie while Pinkie herself is emotionally distraught that Sunset abandoned her, but brushing it off she heads to bed…only to wake up the next morning still on day one of the concert. Over two weeks pass, but every day keeps repeating itself exactly the same, much to Sunset’s misery. Finally, she hijacks the RV after everyone goes to sleep in an attempt to escape the time loop by driving away from the concert, but she ends up wrecking it. When explaining her problem to Twilight she repeats how she thought this was the result of a wish to see Post Crush, but when she accidentally shows that she hasn’t asked Pinkie Pie once for advice in all of the loops and she suggests she ask the Equestrian Twilight Sparkle, Twilight suggests that this isn’t just about Sunset’s wish. The “next” day, Sunset writes to Twilight, who returns that the looping is a result of the Time Twirler relic being lost in the human world; but also that the relic can only operate through conscious choice–meaning someone has it and has been using it to repeat the day endlessly. Sunset and the girls are stumped at first as to who it could be, until they realize that the festival has a last-minute addition to its roster of acts: the Dazzlings.

Unfortunately, the girls can’t confront the Dazzlings as their backstage passes don’t take effect until the second day. Pinkie, again ignoring Sunset, attempts to get by the security guard by talking with him, but on bringing up how he was fired from his last job at a pet event by trying to take a kitten home with him she makes him angry enough to get all the girls banned from the festival. Sunset, however, decides to do something different and rather than get upset at Pinkie uses her idea to bribe her way past the security guard with a new kitten matching the description when the day is repeated. Nevertheless, Pinkie messes up again when she’s once more distracted by churros instead of keeping watch while Sunset checks the Dazzlings’ tour “bus” for the Time Twirler. Sunset ends up confronting them, but on grabbing Adagio’s arm she finds out she knows nothing about the Time Twirler, leaving her back at square one. Sunset ends up blowing her stack about Pinkie’s continuous sabotage and being stuck reliving the same day forever, which Pinkie overhears and which causes her to run off in tears, and the Dazzlings, before driving off, mockingly suggest that if every day’s the same perhaps Sunset is the one who needs to change.

On seeing how much she hurt Pinkie Pie’s feelings, Sunset realizes she’s been thinking too much of herself over the repeated days and decides that Pinkie deserves a “perfect day”. When the loop resets, she devotes herself to doing everything Pinkie wants, including going with her to all the things she was previously distracted by and culminating at the end of the day by getting her the churros she wanted. In doing so, the two manage to overhear Puffed Pasty’s deliveryman quit, and end up getting an opportunity to see Post Crush backstage by filling in for him. However, on making the delivery, Su-Z accidentally slips that she was expecting the deliveryman; prompting Sunset into tricking K-Lo into shaking her hand. On doing so, she learns that the two are the ones with the Time Twirler, and in a desire to make their comeback performance perfect they have been resetting every single day in an attempt to remove every tiny defect that keeps arising during the concert, and refuse to stop until the performance is perfect. However, on realizing Sunset is also aware that the days have been reset and will try to stop them, they get her and Pinkie kicked out of the festival once again, and this time plan to notify security on each repeated day to ban them from re-entry.

Sunset and Pinkie nearly try to break in again using a churro, but the security guard ends up relenting after Sunset treated him respectfully early that day. The two end up confronting Post Crush backstage before they go on, and, after a wild struggle, the four accidentally set off the lift to get them on stage just as Sunset smashes the Time Twirler. K-Lo laments that their comeback is ruined, until Sunset points out the crowd is still cheering for them to perform and points out how it’s not important that everything goes perfectly; but that they have fun performing together. Realizing their mistake, Post Crush does one more performance and is met with raucous cheers and applause; prompting them to end up inviting Sunset and Pinkie to join them in playing on stage. Following the performance, they toss their guitar pick to them both, but this time Sunset gives it to Pinkie and gets a selfie with the four of them. The next day, a relieved Sunset and Pinkie wake up to find it’s the second day of the music festival and are ready to handle whatever it brings.

Review:

At the time of writing this, the series finale aired two days ago. While at one point I considered the possibility that Equestria Girls might outlive the main series, that was dashed shortly after this special aired on television. When the holiday shorts air as a compilation at the start of November, it will be the final page both of Equestria Girls and the original MLP:FIM franchise as a whole.

Therefore, I’ll consider this episode individually and sum up the series in this review.

Overall, I think this special did better than “Spring Breakdown”. The characters and interactions were far more realistic and the plot flowed better. In many ways, it seems as if the show’s creators realized a lot went wrong with “Spring Breakdown” and so they deferred back to what worked in “Forgotten Friendship” and earlier in the series. The plot again focuses on the original character, Sunset Shimmer, actual villains are present again, it still relies a bit on the Equestrian element with a scene with pony Twilight, and, as a final note, it actually brought back the Dazzlings. Being far and away the most popular villains of the Equestria Girls franchise, and also having a perfect opportunity to reintroduce them during a music festival, seemed like a good way to attract more of the crowd who had been into “Rainbow Rocks”.

Also, while the idea of a “Groundhog Day” scenario, in which a character is stuck endlessly reliving the same day, is widely recognized it has not yet been overdone. That made for an interesting plot with the opportunity to do something new and interesting, and, for at least some of the part, the writers utilized it well at points.

Unfortunately, to me, this seems like too little too late. If Equestria Girls was a normal franchise with regular episodes and relied on those instead of its periodic Youtube shorts, this might have been fine or even good. Since it’s a series that relies on specials, however, this fell victim to many of the same series fallacies of underutilization of concepts and, most of all, the dreaded “muddled moral”.

I can understand how, given the audience, they wouldn’t want Sunset to spend months or even years reliving the same day. To be honest, to make the plot work out the way it did, the number of repeated days had to be numerous but also of a fairly limited duration. Unfortunately, based on that and time constraints, it didn’t give as much opportunity for things to happen as possible. I still think they did a pretty good job with what they had in this regard, though, so that’s just a minor gripe.

More problematic is that the Dazzlings returned only to pretty much be a glorified cameo. Not only were they one of the series’ only solid villains, in spite of my personal gripes that their personalities were too much the same people seemed to enjoy them quite a bit. So it’s a bit of a letdown that not only are they there pretty much just to pad the runtime, but what makes it worse is that they almost look like they’re in a morally superior position to Sunset at one point.

That leads to the worst part of this special: the infamous muddled moral. The lesson in this one was supposed to be that Sunset was, at worst, being thoughtless and selfish by only caring about having a good time herself or, at best, forgetting that part of the enjoyment was supposed to be sharing the experience with a friend. However, not only is this an odd choice (it’s been clear in the series up until now that Sunset is closer to Sci-Twi rather than Pinkie), but the fact was Pinkie was constantly acting thoughtless and, in many instances, ruined the event for both of them. Not once in any of the daily iterations did she ever show enough self-restraint to not go after the churros, no matter if Sunset warned her or not.

The end result is that this special suffers from what I’ll call the “Mabel Pines Effect”: a faulty storyline in which a minor negative trait about a character is highlighted and confronted at the expense of a different character’s equal-or-worse character trait being upheld. I don’t care much for these because it’s one of the easiest ways to take an otherwise likable character and quickly turn their quirks into negatives, as other characters not only act to call out the flaws but magnify them.

Another flaw is that Post Crush are easily the most lackluster villains of the entire franchise, if you can even call them that. It had been clear at this point in the series we’d be lucky if we ever saw anything else on the level of the villains from the original movies, but I’d argue at least with characters like Vignette Valencia, Juniper Montage, and, standing a bit above either of those too, Wallflower Blush, we at least got into their heads a bit and saw they had something of a personality other than being a plot device for the latest Equestrian MacGuffin. There was none of that here, and adding the Dazzlings as glorified cameos only made that worse by teasing the audience with real villains.

Like with most Equestria Girls entries, there are some cute moments between Sunset and Pinkie Pie, and some of the repetitions Sunset goes through end up being pretty entertaining. I liked how they handled the interactions with the security guard in a somewhat silly way and yet didn’t go over the top like other children’s programs would. Other members of the Mane Six get left by the wayside but, if I had to choose between omitting them and forcefully inserting them as “Spring Breakdown” did, I’ll choose this. In short…it’s a fairly average note to go out on, which is kind of a crime in and of itself for the franchise but it is what it is.

And now that Equestria Girls has come to an end, my final words on the series as a whole…

“Equestria Girls” came out when “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” was at the height of its popularity and more fans seemed to be joining every day. The fact that it got its own toy marketing campaign and was translated into multiple languages over multiple countries while the original series was not makes it pretty clear to me that Hasbro was trying to cash in on the Brony fandom as well as the rush of other “magical girl” series and toy franchises that were popular at the time, such as “Monster High” and Disney’s “Faeries”, by creating something that didn’t have a pony and, therefore, childish stigma attached to it. To this day, the fan community is split between those who hate it and those who…tolerate it. Nevertheless, it has some stand-out aspects to it many fans admired.

While to this day I think the peak of the franchise was shared with “Friendship Games”, it’s almost universally agreed that the franchise hit its high point with “Rainbow Rocks” and, since then, it’s either stagnated or gone downhill from there. That was when the show’s staff was running on all eight cylinders and veterans from the main series were still largely helming it, to say nothing of Daniel Ingram turning in possibly his best songwriting work.

For me personally, I was never as much of a fan of it as I was of the main series, but it was at this time that I felt it had potential. No one was a fan of the original movie, and yet I myself have tried to encourage people who really didn’t like that one to at least give “Rainbow Rocks” a chance because they managed to do what they did with the core series in first episode: made something out of material that was never designed to be more than toy commercials. They took no one’s favorite villain and made her endearing, heroic, and showed that, for as bland as everyone thought she was, there actually was a reason she was once Princess Celestia’s star pupil and she had more in common with Twilight than either of them thought. I thought of it as a potential new beginning. A chance at a fresh start with something new. If the trend kept going, I could actually see the series one day possibly having the longevity of the main one. Perhaps it might even surpass it.

Instead, the series has progressively gotten lazier and lazier, having unremarkable style and even less substance as time has passed. After a brief resurgence with “Forgotten Friendship”, it seems clear to me that the only reason the franchise survived this long was because Hasbro was struggling to make it work.

The primary thing that caused the slow death of Equestria Girls is that it never knew what it wanted to be: a magical girl series or something more in the line with relationship drama like its source series. Because it tried to be both at the same time, it failed at both.

As a magical girl series, it relied too much on almost constant levity. What little drama was around was saved for the specials, and almost always the “villains”, who more often than not were regular folks who stumbled across Equestrian magical artifacts, were uncharismatic, usually unsympathetic, and ultimately uninteresting. To try and keep the silly, light-hearted, and energetic feel, there were progressively less of the serious or more dire moments that would characterize a true magical girl series. Moments where a character’s resolve or fortitude is challenged, or when things looked truly bleak and hopeless not only for the characters but for the world. Those moments mostly vanished completely following “Legend of Everfree”. From then on in, we’d mostly see the girls making pet play dates, working at a mall (malls are still around…?), or doing online videos….in other words, pure fluff. That’s not to say there wasn’t a place for that, but if you’re going for a magical girl series it can’t derail it completely.

Yet the franchise failed even harder as a relationship drama. The true potential that the Equestria Girls franchise had was that it had an opportunity to take the Mane Six and put them in situations that could test them in ways they would never see in Equestria. As teenage human girls, what constrains the girls, what motivates them, what’s important to them, and how society impacts them is vastly different than it would be if they were ponies. I liked “Friendship Games” because it dealt with the very real impact of peer pressure and manipulative power structures within education; something the ponies would never have to deal with. That’s part of the reason I liked it in ways more than “Rainbow Rocks”. As much as people hated Flash Sentry, having Twilight Sparkle get romantically infatuated with someone was actually something new. It was something that forced Twilight to deal with feelings she had never felt before and, if it hadn’t been so cliched and contrived, that too could have had potential.

It never capitalized on this. Instead…we got fluff. All the girls ever do is go on activities where there’s no pressure, no struggles, just them supposed to be relaxing and having fun. While the main series was dealing with topics of tough love, manipulative people, prejudice, and doing the right thing even when no reward will be offered…Equestria Girls sent the Humane Seven to camp, to the movies, to an amusement park, and to a music festival.

This isn’t the Mane Six. The Humane Six is the most stereotypical, sanitized, “tea party” version of the Mane Six you could think of, because none of them are ever pressured to grow. In fact, the way the series is set up, they can’t grow because they need to stay in high school forever. That, in turn, makes them figurative reflections of the true Mane Six. They never do anything new or different. They’re never challenged. All they do is hang out and do activities and occasionally have to deal with some magical object.

Part of the reason Sunset Shimmer became a stand-out character is because she was the only character in this franchise that had to experience growth and change. She’s the only character who we don’t have a better version to compare to. She actually had to go through moments that tested her and pushed her, both in “Rainbow Rocks” and “Forgotten Friendship”. To give credit where credit is due, Sci-Twi is also somewhat more interesting because she’s actually different from the Equestrian Twilight. You know she’s not going to react to a situation the same way that the main series Twilight would. Yet it was all too little and left by the wayside.

The main series had its nine seasons of longevity because, in spite of losing fans and support over the years, the writers continued to push the characters in new directions and continued to expand the universe as the years went by. The final episode itself stressed that change and growth is inevitable but it doesn’t mean you have to give up the relationships you love so long as you’re willing to work at them. It is now four years since “Friendship Games”, and the Humane Seven are still exactly where they were at the end of that movie.  That’s pretty telling.

If the rumor is true that G5 does try to tie some aspects of both the EG universe and the MLP:FIM universe together, I, for one, won’t mind seeing more Sunset Shimmer, as not seeing her show up in the “Portals”-like sequence in the finale of the main series was one of my big regrets. As for the rest of it, this is one franchise I’m not terribly sad to see put out to pasture.

Fun Facts:

The day after the full special aired on Discovery Family Network, the Equestria Girls franchise was canceled and all future projects scrapped–making this the series’ unofficial “final episode”, although the Holiday Shorts would still get aired in a package after the main series finale.

As with most of the longer Equestria Girls specials, there had been a series of Youtube shorts leading up to this for weeks; although the schedule for the release of the shorts was accelerated following the franchise cancellation.

Post Crush’s full titles are Kiwi Lolipop (K-Lo) and Supernova Zap (Su-Z).

Pinkie store all the candies Sunset leaves as bait in her mane…er, hair.

I can’t remember if they named the chef in “Spring Breakdown”, but in this one Pinkie calls her Puffed Pastry. Apparently, she’s gotten a demotion from chef for a luxury cruiser to running a churro stand. 😛 And this is the second time Pinkie’s inability to contain herself around her treats has resulted in misfortune (although in all fairness things went wrong due to Rainbow Dash last time).

One of the big plot holes of this episode is that Sunset is the only one other than Post Crush who notices that time repeats. It’s never really stated or explained why.

The problem Post Crush committed on the day Sunset actually saw the concert was a too-loud cymbal crash.

In a bit of a nod all the way back to Season One’s infamous “Party of One”, Pinkie Pie “replaces” Sunset with a fake Sunset when she ends up ditched. At least Pinkie doesn’t go flat-maned.

“What is the point of throwing shade if no one’s there to catch it?” The way Tabitha St. Germain punctuates the “t” on the end of that sentence is one of my favorite line deliveries by her in the series. 🙂

Obviously, this episode takes a lot of inspiration from an increasingly-more-frequent style of episode modeled after “Groundhog Day”; in which a character is stuck endlessly repeating the same day. Eventually it reaches the point where, as in the original movie, Sunset predicts what’s going to happen. And similar to that movie, the solution ends up being the affected character making the most out of that one day.

Based on how the episode plays out, Sunset spends a grand total of reliving the same day 20 times.

When Sunset breaks the RV, Applejack acts like…a jack. 😛

How are the Dazzlings able to get any crowds? Using vocal processing aside, everyone in the human world knows they’re really monsters from another dimension… Anyway, they can apparently survive off of eating food normally.

Sonata has a taco on her own outfit. Following “Rainbow Rocks”, it became fancanon that Sonata loves tacos following her “taco Tuesday” line.

Technically, Sunset cheated to win the bicycle… :X

Sunset tries to trick Post Crush into shaking her hand, but there’s really no need. One of them shows off the Time Twirler in her hair band as she turns around.

Apparently, Post Crush keeps extra drums and guitars on standby.

Rating:

1.5 Stars out of 5

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ “Equestria Girls: Spring Breakdown”

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Synopsis:

It’s Spring Break, and the Humane Seven are looking for an opportunity to relax (and get a reprieve from Equestrian magic) by going on a week-long cruise on the Lux Deluxe planned by Twilight Sparkle which features a variety of activities for each of them to enjoy. However, Rainbow Dash, (eagerly) expecting there to be another incident with Equestrian magic, ends up ruining most of the fun of the others by running around trying to sniff out any new enemies or magic relics to contend with.

As Rarity gets attracted to a somewhat simple crewman named Ragamuffin, Sunset ends up confronting Dash about her behavior potentially ruining the trip Twilight had planned. While she apologizes, Dash nevertheless wants to make a big scene at the Rainbooms’ poolside performance that evening in the not-so-secret hopes that it will attract a malevolent Equestrian force to combat. Unfortunately, instead the display seems to kill the ship’s generator and plunge the voyage into darkness just as storm clouds roll in.

Following the power outage, Dash is insistent that the reason for the failure was true malevolent Equestrian magic attacking the ship as a result of them manifesting their powers; something which the rest of the group, getting irritable about Dash’s behavior, is more than doubtful over. Things get worse when Dash ends up ruining the attempts of the girls to sneak in some of their own interests, including Twilight’s attempt to get the auxiliary power on the ship started, when she spots a strange glowing emblem in the ocean under the growing storm around them and drags the girls out to see it…only for it to vanish by the time she gets there. Twilight is especially angry at Dash for ruining the trip and insisting that there’s an enemy for them to fight, but by the next morning (with the ship still stranded in the ocean and the storm around it getting worse) she relents for losing her temper and goes out with Sunset to find her. Unfortunately, they soon discover, after failing to elicit the help of the rest of the girls, that Dash has headed off into the storm to look for the source of the emblem herself.

With Twilight and Sunset both feeling indirectly responsible for Dash’s departure, the two go off to find her while the rest of the girls try to tend to the Lux Deluxe. The two end up trailing her boat to a seemingly deserted jungle island filled with wildlife, and track her down to a quicksand pit. As they try to save her, however, her claims are at least partially justified when they are shocked to discover a monstrous carnivorous plant from Equestria running wild and attacking them. While Twilight holds it at bay, Sunset tries to get Dash out but, in the process, discovers that the quicksand pit is shallow and seems to be concealing golden light. Getting an idea, she shoves Dash the rest of the way into the quicksand before grabbing Twilight and throwing themselves both into it. Moments later, the three find themselves in the Everfree Forest in Equestria…all three transformed into ponies.

After getting over the initial shock of their transformation, Dash decides that hanging out in Equestria for a while in pony form would be the best way to give Twilight a different kind of vacation to make up for her behavior on the cruise. Twilight seems to agree, and she, Sunset, and Dash end up sneaking into the Castle of Friendship and meeting up with Equestrian Twilight Sparkle, Spike, and Pinkie Pie to relax and learn about the world. While they’re having fun, however, the storm in the human world grows more violent and, in their desperation to get the ship working again, the girls accidentally run the cruise ship into the rocks surrounding the deserted island; causing the ship to begin to sink. In Equestria, meanwhile, Equestrian Twilight shows off some of the notable items from their adventures and ends up showing off the Staff of Soconus from their fight against the Storm King, which supposedly contains the remains of the magical storm he generated. Yet on seeing his symbol around it, Dash realizes it’s the same symbol from the ocean she saw the night before, and the humans-turned-ponies realize that the remains of his storm are wrecking havoc on the human world.

Sunset, Twilight, and Dash take the Staff of Soconus and return to the human world to use it to stop the storm, but the ship is still sinking. After Twilight and Dash make up with one another, they and Sunset return to the boat and, with Twilight accepting Dash’s earlier statement that the girls are in fact “superheroes”, they end up saving the rest of the passengers and getting them to shore. Unfortunately, they are now all stranded on a deserted island, and in the end the only way for them to get back is to cross through Equestria to access the portal Equestrian Twilight has in the castle. This leads to a final scene of Equestrian Twilight and Spike getting an unexpected visit by a large crowd of humans-turned-ponies.

Review:

When I first saw this on TV, I didn’t think too bad of it. Unfortunately, on rewatch, this episode entered the elite segment of episodes that go downhill on seeing them the second time. This is possibly the lowest point of the entire spinoff series thus far.

It was at this point that the fundamental flaws of Equestria Girls versus its parent series began to become apparent. I’ll go over that in more detail when I cover the final special, but here I’ll start touching on them. The problem isn’t that there is anything overwhelmingly bad with this special; it’s that there are lots of small things that are a little bad that add up to a mess.

The problems begin right with the setup. One of the big issues that Equestria Girls shares with MLP:FIM is that almost all of the episodes are reactionary. The girls do some activity purely out of fun, some conflict arises, and the girls are forced to resolve it. However, there has to be something about it. Something fun. Something magical. Perhaps even the act of ponies doing something normally reserved for humans. Here it’s the girls going on a Spring Break cruise. A cruise in and of itself is neither a dramatic nor dangerous situation; it’s a time to relax. In fact, part of the reason the worst Equestria Girls specials are so bad is that the setup is always boring: the girls are doing something that’s non-dangerous and is essentially an activity for fun or relaxation. (True, the ponies do that a lot too, but I’ll get into why there’s a difference here later…)

Since the original three EG movies, one can make the argument that the villains have consistently gone downhill in one way or another (Wallflower Blush being the one something of an exception), and this special is another step down in that there really isn’t any villain. For that matter it’s kind of unclear what the conflict really is. The special’s resolution is mostly trying to escape from a bad situation, which makes this movie more of a giant version of one of the shorts rather than a narrative going to a conclusion.

On that note, the main series has lampooned itself before by saying that all of its plotlines can be broken down into a “friendship problem” or a “monster attack”. This special doesn’t really seem to commit itself to either. The situation with the storm is so inconsistently focused on that it’s unclear how much of it is supposed to be a threat, let alone a sentient one to be dealt with. Yet what really falls apart is the friendship problem angle. What exactly did Rainbow Dash and Sci-Twi learn at the end of the episode? Was the goal for Sci-Twi to accept that they’re superheroes? That they’re going to have to do Equestian magic clean-up duty all the time? Was the goal supposed to be they needed to back Dash up from now on whenever she went on one of her almost-crazy searches for a problem that needed fixing?

That brings into the next bad part of this special…the plotline just isn’t put together that well. It’s weird that Dash is suddenly obsessed with finding villains to fight, and obsessed to the point where she starts being so oddly thoughtless and even almost crazy. It’s weird that Pinkie gets so easily banned from the buffet for an accident that wasn’t her fault. It’s weird that Dash simply talking sternly to a rabbit ruins the petting zoo. It’s weird that they tried to shoehorn in this totally pointless love subplot with Rarity and Ragamuffin that went nowhere (Was he supposed to be some sort of Leonardo DiCaprio joke?).

There is a legitimate few seconds that’s a combination of sweetness as well as the elephant in the room being pointed out: the fact that everything that has gone wrong in the human world is, in fact, Sunset Shimmer’s fault and ultimately traces back to her, as well as a cementing of the sister-ly relationship she’s formed with Sci-Twi (“I wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world…or any world.”) Yet it’s also a poor plot item, because it’s used only as a quick plot device to give Sunset and Sci-Twi a reason to pair together to go after Dash as opposed to all the girls or just Sci-Twi. It comes out of nowhere and is used just for that, so even it seems cheap and ultimately forced.

Really, this isn’t anything new for the franchise. They did things similar to it in other specials. The problem is here it’s especially poignant because this special has so much wasted potential. One of the things that actually got me a bit excited for this was when I saw the Storm King emblem in the previews. That actually got me a bit hyped. I actually thought it might have meant we’d see a humanized Storm King or, dare I say it, a humanized Tempest Shadow. Even if that didn’t take place, however, I also knew from previews this was going to be the first time we truly saw the Humane Seven go the other way through the mirror portal and end up as ponies. I thought about what this would mean. What the ramifications would be of them meeting their Equestrian counterparts. What sort of things they might see in each other now that they were looking at how they turned out in a different world. How this would frame their thoughts toward Sunset Shimmer now that they actually knew the world she originated from. Perhaps, even, that the two sides would end up switching places and be forced to work out an issue from the standpoint of the other: the Humane Seven needing to master their new bodies and be confronted in a world that’s fantasy based without any of the comforts or conveniences of the human world, and the Mane Six needing to try and work out an issue as normal humans.

None of that happened. Most of the Humane Seven as ponies is never even seen, and when it is seen it comes off as Sunset, Sci-Twi, and Human Dash taking a thoughtless vacation while leaving their friends to rot. (Even accounting for the storm not getting worse, they know full well they’re struggling to get the ship running again and keep the passengers calm.) Yet I realized that, even if they did, it wouldn’t really matter. Again, I want to keep some of this for my final special review, but the issue is that most of the Humane Seven are nothing more than transplants of their source characters. You know who these people are, whether they’re in human form or pony form, and so there’s really nothing new to compare. The only two who are different are the two Twilights. While Equestrian Twilight has grown over the series to become more active, composed, and thinking of the future of her world as a whole, Human Twilight prefers to be more on the sidelines and to embody more of the character type of “the quiet, awkward brainy one”. There’s enough there that you know there’s more than splits them apart than just Sci-Twi’s glasses. For everyone else, there’s nothing.

By this point in the series, these omissions are no longer just disappointing; they’re official failures. The whole “point” of this special, if you can call it that, was Sci-Twi accepting the role of the Humane Seven as basically magical girls. Yet not only does the Equestria Girls series fail to properly execute the keystone pieces of a magical girl series, they overlook what opportunities they have. And this one did the worst so far. At the bare minimum, we expect, if nothing else, at the end of one of these episodes either a character will grow or a relationship will grow. Neither happened in this episode. Honestly, I’m not sure it even has a moral. And when a special is robbed of an interesting plot, a good message, and even forfeits a chance for fun and action, what does that leave it with? A huge pile of more-than-bland meh.

My guess is this episode, more than “Sunset’s Backstage Pass”, had to do with why the line was eventually cancelled. To me, this episode dug a grave for any potential future longevity the franchise had.

Fun Facts:

The Humane Six have all worked their respective geodes into some accessory on their attire rather than the normal hanging around the neck.

Pinkie Pie and Bulk Biceps reenact the “I’m flying” big from “Titanic” on the prow of the cruise ship. Ironically, the Lux Deluxe also sinks on the second day.

As a bit of meta humor, when Rainbow Dash fantasizes about a sea monster attacking the cruise ship and Fluttershy asks if the sea monster is ok at the end, she answers that the sea monster is their friend now. Basically, it sums up almost every Equestria Girls special. :/

Based on the context, it appears Sci-Twi may have paid for the trip for the Human Seven, although it’s also equally likely they simply got it for free as part of the live entertainment. It lend more credence to the possibility that she is, in fact, from a wealthy family.

I guess this particular episode gained its Y7 rating when Applejack was trying to talk over a mouth full of vomit and swallowed it down. Yuck…but the show didn’t have the chutzpah to have her ralph all over Rainbow.

Kind of a weird thought… At Bronycon 2018, Tabitha St. Germain read one of her fan-written scripts which featured and alternate-universe version of Derpy who was a superhero named Ragamuffin. I just found it ironic that Rarity ended up playing off a Cockney-themed character named Ragamuffin in this special.

The Youtube version of segment two accidentally plays scenes from a later installment when Ragamuffin says goodbye the Rarity.

Although Flash Sentry is pretty much officially a background character by this point in the series, he nevertheless goes starry-eyed when Sunset looks at him during the song.

Why is the chef guarding the desserts? Aren’t they free to the guests?

The special references a line of shorts from Youtube in which the Humane Seven were working on a school play. The constant references to the main character being a “coal miner’s daughter” are no doubt a reference to Loretta Lynn.

The look on Ragamuffin’s face when Dash yanks Rarity away… O_o

At least Fluttershy remembered to feed Pinkie Pie. Were they really planning on not letting her eat on board the ship just for the mishaps with the cake?

First time the animators have gotten a chance to do Twilight as a unicorn in a while. 🙂 I figure Sunset is happy she’s not an alicorn…

“All my things are HORSE THINGS!” Ok…that was a legitimately funny line from this special.

The human-turned-pegasus Rainbow Dash initially lets her wings hang low. Apparently, pegasi need to practice keeping their wings folded on their backs for normal day-to-day activities.

Is there a “Thunderlane Jr.” in Equestria?

The painting Spike is hanging is reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”. There’s a good chance Salvador-Dali-pony painted it. 😛

Somehow, Equestrian Twilight Sparkle instantly recognizes that human Rainbow Dash isn’t her Rainbow Dash. Perhaps there’s subtle nuances that ponies can recognize.

Then again, maybe not. Pinkie Pie doesn’t realize the Sci-Twi is a version of Twilight Sparkle due to her glasses. This might be a joke toward the infamous Clark Kent/Superman secret identity.

Human Rainbow Dash (as a pony) makes the infamous “20% Cooler” joke. Har-har. 😛

Telekinesis is apparently somewhat innate to unicorns, as Sci-Twi was able to start using her horn’s magic in spite of having only been a unicorn for a few hours. Of course, this might have been as clear as early as Season Two’s “Baby Cakes”.

Part of the things Equestrian Twilight brought out for the humans-turned-ponies to look at includes Pinkie Pie’s “new friends” from Season One’s “Party of One”. O_o Other items include the relics that would feature in the Season Eight finale, Boneless 2 (in a custom-made case, no less), the glow-paz that Dr. Cabelleron stole, the Staff of Sameness (which should really just be a stick…), and…the Alicorn Amulet? Maybe Twilight should keep that away from the humans…

One of the more notable goofs of this episode is that it basically ret-conned part of the MLP Movie while trying to reference it. The Storm King didn’t have any magical power of his own. All of the magic he possessed was in the Staff of Soconus, which he absorbed from the alicorns, and was supposedly restored to them and Equestria at the end of the movie. One could make the argument that maybe the big magic storm he made itself was what was still lingering behind, but the episode doesn’t say that directly so I’m calling it a goof.

“WARK! The ship is still sinking! WARK!” Ok…TWO funny lines.

I don’t know if I ever noticed this before but, when “ponied-up”, all of the girls seem to be capable of sustained flight and not just Sci-Twi, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash.

Unfortunately, none of the human-exclusive characters are shown in pony form at the end of the special.

Rating: 

1 Star out of 5

My Little Devotional #184: “Human Nature, Human Nurture”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “School Raze”

Have you ever heard of the debate of “Nature vs. Nuture”? Most of us have, but if you haven’t I’ll explain in brief.

In the philosophy of ethics and the sciences of psychology and sociology, an ongoing debate that has lasted for years (and will likely last indefinitely) is the impact of Nature vs. Nurture on human development. Those who favor “Nature” say that one’s demeanor, personality, and morality is ultimately the result of genetics and is, therefore, a simple matter of who that person is from the time of conception. Those who favor “Nurture”, on the other hand, say that the same qualities of a person are a result of their environment and upbringing and therefore can be controlled and shaped by surrounding them with the proper influences at key points in their development.

In truth, either one of these is monstrous if they’re considered to be the sole factor in determining a human being. If it were only Nature, then there would be justification to stereotypes stemming from racism and sexism saying certain individuals can’t do or become certain things. If it were only Nurture, then morality and ethics would not exist as such things would purely be a byproduct of environment, and therefore “good” people couldn’t be praised for their virtue and “bad” people couldn’t be punished for their vice. Therefore, what most people argue for is that one has a greater influence over the other, and this philosophy, in turn, shapes how we see other people and society at large.

Whether this episode intended to or not, it delved right into the issue of Nature vs. Nurture. Consider both Chancellor Neighsay and Cozy Glow. Neighsay was, most clearly, a racist. He believed that simply due to the fact the Student Six were mostly non-ponies that they were innately hostile and treacherous. Later, when trying to frame the Student Six for her own crime, Cozy Glow played off the same idea that non-pony races were innately “evil” to try and sway the student body against them.

It seems, therefore, that the episode was purely pro-Nurture, but looking deeper we find that’s not the case. Again, consider Cozy Glow next to the Student Six. All of them had gone to the same school, which emphasized the ways of friendship, kindness, honesty, loyalty, generosity, and laughter. The whole goal of the school was to instill those values into its student body. And yet, while the Student Six internalized those values, we can see from the season premiere they already embodied them for the most part. By comparison, all of the lessons didn’t change Cozy Glow at all. The episode therefore actually has a pro-Nature message too.

But of the two views, which one is “Biblical”? Which one should the Christian endorse?

Honestly, I’ve seen Christians do both. Occasionally I’ve seen the same individual exhibit both philosophies. I’ve seen one flat out condemn an entire group as not being worth any time or effort because he felt it would be a waste on them due to their genetics. That same individual extended help, generosity, and forgiveness to a career criminal time and again because he knew him personally and he wanted to believe, deep down, that this was a good person who only needed the help to get his life in order.

Different churches have different philosophies too. More traditional, “older” churches and religion seem to want some evidence or proof of a person’s good nature before allowing them fully into their services, while others immediately bring everyone in regardless of their station in life. In doing so, they show that one expects a person to show their good quality before being allowed to be considered a “Christian” (more toward Nature), while another believes the environment of the Church itself is all they need to be influenced into being a more righteous individual (more toward Nurture).

What’s most perplexing to me is that people seem to back one way or the other when there’s plenty of evidence that goes both ways. There are some people people who waste every opportunity, kindness, compassion, and outreach sent their way and continue to destroy themselves and occasionally others. There are other people who most of us would think are “human garbage” who turn everything around and become shining inspirations to us all without much more than them deciding to get their lives in order. Some people become “saints” on their own or require help, and some people are “sinners” either due to what people did to them or simply because they just decided to be that way all on their own.

Yet to me, neither philosophy really matters. What ultimately matters in life, and what ultimately determines how good or poor of a Christian we are, is not whether we think someone is good enough intrinsically to overcome any personal setback or if, properly surrounded by support, they’ll go from a gangster to a model citizen. What matters to a Christian, and especially their world view, is if they can believe people can change.

If a Christian decides to go do the Will of God, but has a fierce belief that some people are “beyond saving” (whether or not that’s true), I have a hard time believing that they’ll be that effective at God’s ministry. God often calls us to go outside of our comfort zone and to push ourselves beyond what we know. Well, if we “know” that this group of people over here or that group of people over there is rotten to the core, then we’re highly unlikely to carry out God’s will or, at minimum, give it a half-hearted attempt. Or if we innately assume that some people will be deaf to the Word of God, or will waste any attempt to give them charity or outreach, or would sooner kill and rob us than build a relationship, we’ll likewise avoid all of those things.

In the time of Jesus, not only the religious leaders but much of society had their own class of “untouchables”. People who were prostitutes or tax collectors were considered the scum of their society and worthy of nothing but condemnation for their immorality and greed (Matthew 9:10-11; Luke 7:36-39; Luke 19:1-7). Jesus, however, went against the culture and reached out to them. He was ridiculed for even bothering with them (Matthew 11:19), but as a result they came to Him and had their lives changed (Luke 19:8-10). I’m sure not every one did. No doubt, they were still plenty of tax collectors extorting their own people and prostitutes who thought Jesus was full of it. But many did, and those many wouldn’t have come if Jesus had automatically dismissed them all.

Even the early Church had issues from belief in the ability of people to change. Initially, the Gospel was preached only to people who followed the Jewish faith. It wasn’t until Peter was given a vision by God that he felt any need to start preaching to Gentiles as well (Acts 10). Likewise, the Apostle Paul, considered one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, got his start being a persecutor and accessory to murder of Christians. So much so that the early Church refused to believe that he could have possibly changed and needed testimony from a Christian named Barnabus first (Acts 9:23-28). Can you imagine what Christianity would be like today if the Church hadn’t accepted that others could change in these scenarios?

It’s true that the world won’t always be sunshine and rainbows, and being forgiving of everyone doesn’t mean wandering into danger cluelessly. Nevertheless, the Gospel still gives Christians a higher calling than the average person, and demands more from them both in attitude and personal risk. That includes occasionally taking a chance on people. As we believe God has overlooked our own pasts and has faith that we can change, we must do likewise to all others.

After all, whether we believe a person is who they are due to genetic or upbringing, the one thing all Christians can agree upon is only God can change the heart.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the tremendous mercy and marvelous gift of salvation you have granted to me through Christ Jesus. Today I choose to have faith, hope, and love in those that the world has dismissed. Please help me to be as Christ to anyone I have ever unfairly judged as being a “waste of time”, and help me always to be mindful that, as Christ never considered me beyond help, I must always leave a little room to do likewise. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #183: “Words’ Worth”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Father Knows Beast”

This episode took a bit of an odd yet emotional turn toward the end. After Spike met his “father”, a manipulative and lazy dragon named Sludge, and ended up being taken advantage of by him playing on his emotions, the younger dragon was confronted by Twilight Sparkle who suggested the possibility that Sludge may not have had his best interests at heart. Spike, in turn, casually responded that Twilight was only acting that way because she was a pony and not a dragon, and in turn dismissed the role she played in raising him.

Naturally, this sort of thoughtless comment caused Twilight to burst into tears, and goes down in my book as one of Spike’s worst moments. It also illustrates the power and danger of any thoughtless thing we might say.

I rag on the Internet a lot on this blog but…honestly? I love it. And one of the things I love the most about it since I’m so socially awkward and trip over my own words all the time is that it allows me to carefully choose everything I say. Moreover, it allows me to get something impulsive and emotional down in a text box, sit back, look at it for a few minutes, and then decide whether or not I really want to say that or if I should go back on it.

Not so easy in real life. Especially since I often let my anger or sadness run away with me and say things that I may get a thrill out of at the time only to regret deeply later. This has happened with my family, my job, and in public arenas. There are many times I have said something and may have even felt smug or justified at the time, only to go back hours later or lie in bed, and wring my hands in embarrassment or regret and pray to God that the impact of those words be recanted. Especially when I think about how I should have been “as Christ” to someone that day.

As illustrated in the last blog and others, words and/or silence have great power to them. Arguably, they’re the most powerful things about us as human beings. And as such, God has certain demands upon our words.

“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deuteronomy 23:21)

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

The bottom line? God takes the words we say very seriously. And he should. I know from experience that certain things that are said to us when we’re younger are remembered years later, and continue to lodge in our memory no matter how much time passes and shapes who we are. Many people never forgive nor forget certain things said to them, whether it’s something unkind and hateful or something encouraging and memorable. Certain phrases or words can either cast a shadow on our lives or give enlightenment for years to come.

Case in point, in regards to this message, I remember something important my dad told me: “You are the master of your unspoken word.” Simple enough, but very true. Being too quick to speak may mean you have to recant what you say, explain it, protect it from misinterpretation, or try to keep others from spreading it around if they prove to be untrustworthy. Holding your tongue at the right time, on the other hand, saves you a world of trouble.

I’ve talked in the past about the need to watch carefully what we say, but considering that it’s such an important topic, I think it merits repeating a few pointers to keep in mind every time we feel the need to respond to something that makes us feel particularly emotional.

  • If necessary (or possible), wait. Especially if whatever was said makes me feel angry or upset. There are very few things I’ve ever said in my life in anger that I ended up not wishing I could take back as soon as I was calmer, and blowing up in rage never does anyone any good…including ourselves.
  • Ask yourself if it’s what Jesus would say. There are many times I’ve felt justified or clever in wanting to say things to others but, when I think about it and meditate on the life of Jesus, I realize that ultimately all I would say would end up boosting me but no one else. It wouldn’t serve any useful or beneficial purpose to anyone; it would just give me some temporary gratification.
  • Ask yourself if it’s true. As I’ve cautioned before in the past, we do not see the world as it is but as we are. That leads to a lot of distortion, especially when we feel like we were insulted or that a wrong has occurred. Consider the situation more carefully. Look at the evidence with fresh eyes. If necessary, talk it over with someone else. Think hard about whether or not what you believe occurred really occurred or if it’s just the way your mind is framing it.
  • Ask yourself if its beneficial. In the right setting at the right time with the right phrasing, a criticism or chastisement actually is not only merited but could do some good. When it’s spoken with an ulterior motive of making ourselves look good, is manipulative, is laced with passive-aggressiveness, or is an attempt to publicly humiliate someone…not so much.
  • Ask yourself if it’s worth it. While my last devotional focused on the need to speak in the face of silence, in many person-to-person reactions it might be better to ask oneself if it’s worth stirring a pot over. Granted, there are some things in which it’s better to speak up rather than let a wrong continue, even if it will cause a bit of outrage at first, but in our modern world and especially on the Internet people will say a lot of things just to get our dander up or start an argument for the sake of arguing. Not all of these battles are worth fighting. Sometimes the best move is, rather than being baited into something, to let it go—even if an opponent will boast that it means you’re speechless and that they’ve “won” the argument. As Mark Twain once observed: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
  • Always remember the motive. For the Christian, the ultimate motive behind everything has to be to bring glory to God and his Kingdom. That includes everything we say. For that matter, it’s best for most of us to always ask if we’re building it up or tearing it down in everything we say to another, but especially when responding emotionally.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you again for the power of my words and the ability I have to teach, to show love, to console, to reconcile, and to build up and encourage others that I have through them. Today, I confess all the times I’ve used this ability to tear down others or gratify myself rather than aid people or give glory to you, and I repent of them. Please help me to use this God-given gift as you intend me to use it in the future. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #182: “Silence is Tarnished”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Sounds of Silence”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I hope this episode doesn’t end up being prophetic.

In “Sounds of Silence”, we’re introduced to the kirins. They are a race of creatures that abandoned the ability to talk for fear of their words getting each other upset or angry to the point of breaking out in violence due to their alternate “nirik” natures. In doing so, this episode speaks volumes about the power of words and emotions but also introduces an interesting concept about silence: in the right situation, silence speaks just as powerfully if not more so than words.

By far, the most powerful and dangerous organ in the human body is the tongue. The ability to speak and transmit complex ideas, sentiments, and feelings simply through our voices sets us above and beyond all other creatures and is likely largely responsible for human civilization. Words can teach, explain, insult, motivate, discourage, comfort, incite, organize, and tear down.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:3-10)

It’s small wonder, therefore, that many places in the world seek to maintain power or control over the ability to speak. Freedom of speech, the ability to publicly state your mind about anything (but especially the government or society), is considered a hallmark of free nations; while a lack of freedom of speech is a signature of oppressive regimes. Many places in the world will form protests, mobs, or even riot in response to someone speaking about something that they don’t want to hear. At the more individual level, people can grow incensed when talking about sensitive matters or hearing someone trudge on their beliefs; even enough to grow angry or violent. (Hence the unwritten rule in many families about never talking about politics or religion.)

As a result, silence has quite a powerful force to it as well. Oppressive countries attempt to make themselves look better to the world by forbidding people to even speak of black marks on their history, and claim they have the widespread love and happiness of their own citizens because anyone who says anything against them can be imprisoned or forcefully stifled. What stories are chosen to headline news get national attention, whereas other important matters that simply go unreported are quickly unnoticed and ultimately forgotten. And, as often seen in history, all that’s necessary for widespread evils such as slavery, ethnic cleansing, or genocide to reach the point of becoming national policy is for people to not say a word against them…in which case, ironically, silence speaks volumes.

And of course, almost since the beginning of Christianity, silence has been the primary means of suppression of the Gospel. As Christians we all believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that everyone is lost to Hell without His Grace, and that His message is the ultimate good news too important not to share. Yet nevertheless, even for those of us lucky enough not to live in countries where speaking of Jesus can earn anywhere from a jail sentence to a cup full of acid in our faces, the possibility of getting everyone angry and worked up, launching into an emotion fueled debate, and leaving everyone despising us for being “Jesus freaks” is enough to keep us quiet and retain the message to ourselves. On the other hand, nations that do this as a matter of policy use silence as a means of quiet extermination. After all, so long as Christians cannot proselytize but other religions can, their numbers should eventually die out or at least be confined to their families at best.

Today in the USA, however, we face a threat far more unprecedented. With the idea proposed that hearing something unsettling or uncomfortable causes stress, and that chronic stress can have ill health effects, many people have come to the conclusion that, therefore, speech is physical violence. That simply talking not only can hurt emotionally or mentally but actually leave a tangible mark on the human body. Therefore, rather than argue, debate, or simply ignore certain topics, the new impetus from some people is that those topics shouldn’t even be allowed to be spoken in public at all as they are physically dangerous.

Hence the ongoing debate over the idea of “safe spaces”, whether speakers should not only be banned but physically barred from entering college campuses, and even groups as extreme as Antifa who believe the only equitable and rational response to someone’s “violent” speech is to inflict actual physical violence; since by merely saying something they didn’t like the speaker was “physically assaulting” them to begin with.

Most of all, it’s taking the “no politics or religion” to a new extreme and trending more to what’s in this episode—making topics off-limits to the public by relegating them to silence. What this means for all of us is that when something you say gets a group of individuals unhappy, or sometimes just a single individual, the topic ends up banned from even being allowed to be mentioned under threat of violence or reprisal.

I consider this the equivalent of a modern day lynch mob, and dread to think what will happen if silencing people like this becomes official legal policy.

Ultimately, I think this episode illustrated a good principle in a timely manner about what to do about this. I would supplement it just a little, though.

First…

Someone once said something very simple yet very profound to me—how I feel about something may be beyond my control, but what I do with those feelings is always my responsibility. Only a small child throws a fit and screams when they get sad or angry. A person who wishes to be an adult, on the other hand, must take responsibility for their own emotions and express them in healthy and appropriate ways. No one is responsible for your behavior but you.

In this world, you will inevitably face something that makes you sad, upset, or even angry. Someone will say something that challenges you and incenses you. In fact, if you want to claim you’re truly living, I guarantee that will happen. The only way it wouldn’t is if, like in this episode, we lived in a world of silence. But that’s more than just not being able to chat, laugh, or sing. A world where you never feel uncomfortable or tried in your beliefs or opinions is an egocentric one—where you can go around smugly believing yourself to be perfectly right in every way all the time with no need to self-improve, challenge your own assumptions, or ever think any differently. If you want to grow, your values have to be tested and proven.

That’s why even though I believe Christianity is the one true faith I am completely behind total freedom of religion. My faith is worthless if it can’t stand up to others challenging it, and my own resolve is weak if the only way I can ensure people stay in my faith is by threatening them if they consider leaving it.

Second…

Just as we will all inevitably face something that makes us upset or uncomfortable, we too will all inevitably say something to someone else that makes them upset or uncomfortable (at least, we will if we claim we stand for something). Even if that thing is of lasting value and important to disclose. When that time comes, we may face anger. We may face hate. We may even face violence.

For the Christian, we already know exactly what the most important thing is. And Jesus warned us from the start about what that would mean. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

The Gospel isn’t always a message that makes people “feel good”; although it often will for the repentant. For those who still cling to their sins, however, it’s a message of conviction…designed to make one uncomfortable so that they will seek repentance and Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Some people will accept it; some people won’t. Keeping silent and not sharing it may be a way to avoid possible scorn and ire from those who won’t, but it’s also a guarantee that people who have never heard it and would have accepted it will go on not hearing it until the day they face judgment.

The truth is, so long as you stand for something, it will inevitably make someone mad or upset. (If it didn’t, change would never happen.) Yet as Autumn Blaze says, “you can’t give up your laughter ’cause you’re scared of a little pain”. For that reason, whenever we know something is good, something is right, and something is important, we can’t let fear, whether internal or external, keep us silent. Especially when it comes to the Gospel for those who need to hear it.

May that be something we are always willing to make a stand for.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the power of my words, and that within them I have the ability to spread the message of your salvation, to encourage the downhearted, to comfort the grieving, to love the unloved, and to speak the truth in the face of falsehood. Please grant that no thing outside of me and that nothing inside of me will ever keep me from saying what needs to be said or from proclaiming the Good News to the world. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #181: “Good God, Bad God”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “What Lies Beneath”

The Tree of Harmony, introduced in personified(ponified?) form in this episode, is the closest thing the MLP:FIM universe has to a deity, and one line she had caught me for today’s devotional.

When she gives the Student Six their “test”, she caps it off by saying they must pass it or “here you will stay”. Obviously, the Student Six passed their test, and we find at the end that the Tree of Harmony might have been expecting them to pass all along.

However, I thought of something on rewatch…what if they hadn’t passed? She said “here you will stay”. What does that mean? That they’d be stuck down there until someone came to get them? That they’d have to repeat the test until they passed? That they’d be trapped down there forever? Would she, in fact, be punishing them for not realizing they were friends? And if she did, would that level of punishment be merited?

Thinking about that eventually led me to thinking about God again and, in particular, the inner conflict a lot of Christians have with their faith: reconciling God of the Old Testament with God of the New Testament.

While many Christians are able to think of the two as one, in my experience many Christians prefer to focus on the New Testament. Truth be told, most of what applies to the Christian faith is found in the New Testament, and there’s a lot in the Old Testament that’s genealogies, blueprints for palaces and places of worship, and the proper way to offer holocausts, peace offerings, and sin offerings—none of which really applies to the Christian nowadays. However, those aren’t the things that I think any of us honestly dislike about the Old Testament. There are passages that are far harder to digest.

I’m talking about when God smote the firstborn of Egypt, even the animals, (Exodus 12:29-30) after he made Pharaoh stubborn enough to refuse to let the Israelites go in spite of the plagues (Exodus 7:3-5). I’m talking about when God told the Israelites to annihilate the nations of Canaan down to the last child (Deuteronomy 15:16-18). I’m talking about how in the Mosaic Law the Israelites were told they could take women and children as “war booty” for themselves after killing all males when fighting other nations (Deuteronomy 20:12-14), and how, while Israelite slaves were to be released at an appointed time, foreign-born slaves were allowed to be retained forever (Leviticus 25:39-46).

I’d like to think any Christian who has ever praised and worshiped about the “never-ending, never-failing, reckless Love of God” and who believes God hates the evils of war, racism, and slavery would probably feel at least a little uncomfortable reading these passages. The fact is it’s a hard thing to reconcile. I myself read the Bible cover-to-cover in my own devotional life, and when I get to the New Testament and start reading passages about God’s Mercies I can’t help but think back to the Old Testament about God’s Wrath. At times, it makes me begin to doubt the former of the two.

I’ve seen Christians try to reconcile this in different ways. One way is simply denial. I know some Christians who rationalize that everything in the Old Testament was written by men of the time and biased, while everything in the New Testament is the “real” Word of God. However, most of us know that’s not true. Paul said it (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16]) and, more importantly, if we start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which parts are made up, then logically our whole faith and belief has to be called into question as there’s no reason not to think that Jesus’ Sacrifice and salvation aren’t lies as well.

An answer that’s more satisfactory for some refers to the fact of God’s omniscience. Naturally, we all believe God wants all sinners to come to repentance, and that only God knows the heart. Therefore, God himself is the best judge of when a person should be shown mercy and when judgment should fall upon them, and all will happen in its proper time according to his Will. Therefore, when incidents of violence and war happen in the Bible by God’s will, it was because it was “a time to kill” (Ecclesiastes 3:3); a point when mercy would no longer be effective and this was the only recourse.

I believe that, but leaving it at that can potentially raise new problems. How do we know when an act of violence, terror, or destruction is an evil to be condemned or is the Will of God? That is, after all, what groups like the Westboro Baptist Church endorse. They praise the deaths of American soldiers as divine punishment for the USA not outlawing homosexuality. It’s also what a lot of extremists who resort to murder to enforce what they think of as God’s Will believe. And if we do get to the point where we start concluding in the modern day that people can execute the Will of God as the ancient Israelites did through war and plunder, then I fear we start to tread dangerously close to one of the oldest Christian (and religious) dilemmas: the Socratic Argument.

The Socratic Argument is one of the primary logical arguments used against religion being morally right. The basic dilemma is: “Is something morally right because God says it is, or does God say it’s morally right because it is?” The argument some Christians make to me sounds much like the former of the two options, and that, to me, is a dangerous precedent to follow. Not only does it make good and evil arbitrary, something I refuse to believe God would ever condone, but it allows any pastor or self-proclaimed “prophet” to come along and say God told them something completely contradictory to the Bible and then say it’s morally right.

To me, God doesn’t tell us not to kill simply because he wants to “do the job himself”, but because it’s wrong. While there are always exceptions or special circumstances, such as defending other people or oneself, a rule is, the far majority of the time, a rule.

So how do I reconcile the two?

I’ll admit, some days I have a hard time doing it even now. However, the best practice that I currently have is trying to take the Bible in its entirety.

While I myself am not a Lutheran, one of the best pieces of theology I ever received from them was the idea that everything recorded in the Old Testament and the New Testament is for a purpose to the people living today. As such, although it is indeed divinely inspired, there are aspects of God’s nature that are accented and magnified in different sections of the Bible for the purpose of instruction rather than the whole picture of God being gained from just one passage, chapter, or book. First and foremost: the Old Testament is a message to sinners about the requirements of holiness and the wrath of God, while the New Testament is about the way to salvation and the mercies of God. One side emphasizes one aspect of God’s nature more than the other, but it’s still the same God.

It’s important to note that while the New Testament is heavy on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, it’s not without some “wrath” of it’s own. There’s the episode in Acts of the Apostles where Christians are struck dead for trying to cheat the community (Acts 5:1-11), and then there’s the entire Book of Revelation in which most of the terror and wrath comes from angels in Heaven.

Likewise, the Old Testament is far from being void of God’s mercy. Even in Genesis, God outlines how as little as ten righteous people in a city filled from top to bottom with evildoers would be enough to make him overlook their wickedness (Genesis 18:23-32). Jesus’ “new commandment” in the Gospels (John 13:34) is nothing more than a commandment from the Mosaic Law that was overlooked (Leviticus 19:18). In the Book of Jonah, God didn’t sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh with the intent of telling them all of their impending death but to save their lives by spurring them to repent, which they did. And to Ezekiel, God explicitly said he doesn’t take any pleasure in striking sinners dead. Instead, he takes pleasure in their repentance (Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11).

In both examples, the Bible shows that just as the God of the New Testament is the same God with terrible holiness and anger in the Old Testament, it also says that same God from the Old Testament possesses the mercy and love of the God of the New Testament. This I choose to have faith in as much as I have faith in Christ.

My prayer for today is that we all may never lose sight of the totality of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and that we are all able to accept all of the Word of God as useful for our own instruction and building up…even the difficult parts.

After all, if Christianity was meant to always be easy, Jesus wouldn’t have warned us about it (Matthew 10:22).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word as contained in the Bible and its message to all people—to the sinner, the warning of God’s judgment, the demands of the Law, and the sentence of condemnation; to the Christian, the victory of Lord Jesus, the overwhelming power of God’s mercies, and the promise of eternal life. Help me to cling to both and never embrace one so much I forget the other. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episodes Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six: “School Raze”

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Synopsis:

While taking the students of the School of Friendship for a visit to Cloudsdale, Starlight Glimmer is shocked on seeing her spell that allows non-pegasi to walk on clouds suddenly fail, leading to multiple students being endangered. On returning to school to report to Twilight Sparkle, Twilight soon finds her own magic failing both in her and in other unicorns. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna quickly summon them and Princess Cadance to Canterlot where they share findings that Starswirl the Bearded compiled: namely that all magic is vanishing all across Equestria, and will vanish completely and forever in three days. Prompted by a suggestion by Cozy Glow, whose friendliness and helpfulness have gotten her the title of Professor Sparkle’s Friendship Assistant (which she may or may not have given herself), the Mane Six decide to inspect Tartarus to see if Tirek has found a way to drain Equestrian magic from within. While gone, Twilight puts Starlight Glimmer in charge with Cozy Glow assisting her. However, the next day Cozy claims she got a letter from Starlight saying she was going to help Twilight and she was left in charge, and she immediately begins to do special favors for the entire school…something that makes the Student Six suspicious. Even more suspicious is when they catch Cozy Glow coming up from the grating that leads to the Tree of Harmony in the library. They follow her back to the headmare’s office and watch as she herself is surprised and confronted by Chancellor Neighsay. He has blamed the loss of magic on the non-pony creatures being let into the school and further accuses Twilight of being irresponsible by letting them in and then abandoning the school for what he calls a pointless friendship quest, and plans to take over to make the school ponies only. He ends up catching the Student Six, as he possesses a magical artifact that hasn’t yet had its power drained, and imprisoning them in the school, but Sandbar manages to get free by pretending to share Neighsay’s speciest sentiments. Meanwhile, the girls arrive at the gate to Tartarus but, without magic, have no way in. They discover that Cozy Glow packed a magical artifact that will open any door, but shatters after a single use. They use it to get inside and find the denizens of Tartarus miserable as they have lost their own magical abilities. They also confront Tirek, who is still depowered but nevertheless teases and strings them along when they press him for answers. The girls eventually realize that if they are unable to get their magic back from Tirek that they are locked in Tartarus with him, which he soon reveals was his intent all along. He further explains that while he couldn’t get free, he had gotten inquiring letters from an unknown pony which he decided to respond to both out of boredom and a chance of getting revenge on Twilight; ending up telling the pony everything she would need to get the Mane Six locked in there with him as well as to drain magic from Equestria. Back in the School of Friendship, Sandbar manages to recruit the Cutie Mark Crusaders with the intent of getting Cozy Glow to distract Neighsay long enough to free the rest of the Student Six, but when they try to find her by following her under the library, they are shocked to discover Cozy Glow not only has Starlight Glimmer imprisoned there but is using the power of the six artifacts (from “A Matter of Principals”) to drain all magic of Equestria and banish it to oblivion. Revealing her true vile nature, she reveals her intent to become the “Empress of Friendship”.

Unfortunately for Cozy, Neighsay’s presence and his assuming control of the school interferes with her plans to take it over herself. She uses the opportunity of him declaring himself the new headstallion to rally the student body against him when he announces his plans to go against Twilight’s guidelines, leading the students to revolt and reinstate Cozy in charge. Once he’s tied up and apart from the others, Cozy exposes herself to Neighsay, stating that she believes friendship to be the means to power and, by taking over the school and ridding Equestria of magic, she’ll have the ability to gain the most “friends” and therefore be the most powerful in Equestria. Sandbar and the CMCs free the rest of the Student Six but, on seeing Cozy depose Neighsay, decide on an alternate plan. While the CMCs create a diversion for Cozy, the Student Six free Chancellor Neighsay; causing him to realize how wrong he was to prejudge them. He ends up using his artifact to go to Canterlot and get the princesses, while the Student Six rushes to caverns under the Tree of Harmony to free Starlight Glimmer and stop the magic drain. Unfortunately, they realize not only will upsetting the relics likely cause an explosion, but Cozy isn’t distracted nearly as long as they like and, on sniffing out the CMCs and imprisoning them in a broom closet, she leads the rest of the students down there to frame them for trying to remove the magic of Equestria out of species jealousy. Meanwhile, the Mane Six are unable to escape Tartarus under their own power but Twilight gets the idea to use the innate magic that makes up the monsters there to give her enough to open the doors. They manage to even get a reluctant Tirek’s help when he realizes too late that he could be imprisoned with the Mane Six (and especially Pinkie Pie) forever. While the gesture works to break them free, the sun is setting on the third day and they have no chance of getting back to the School of Friendship in time. Meanwhile, the student body rushes the Student Six but, through a mishap, Gallus accidentally gets trapped along with Starlight. The rest of the Student Six get imprisoned trying to save him just as the portal to the aether opens and begins to draw all magic inside. However, the Tree of Harmony reacts and ends up rescuing them and freeing the Student Six; showing at the same time how they too each represent an Element of Harmony. This act convinces the student body of their innocence and the Student Six seize the relics and remove them. While it does cause a blast, the six plus Starlight are teleported to safety and magic is restored to the denizens of Equestria. As a result, not only the Mane Six but the Princesses, Neighsay, and a royal guard escort are all able to arrive at the school in moments. Cozy Glow is confronted, but now that she’s trapped she soon breaks down and reveals her demented and power-hungry side. She tries to escape but is cornered not only by the Princesses, Neighsay, and the Royal Guard but the student body as well. Chancellor Neighsay ends up apologizing to Twilight and agrees to let her run the school as she sees fit, and the Student Six get a bit disappointed on realizing that even though they saved Equestria they still haven’t learned everything about friendship in just one semester, and as a result still have to wait to graduate. As for Cozy Glow, she ends up imprisoned in Tartarus right alongside Tirek, and with a malevolent grin asks if he wants to “be friends”.

Review:

To be honest, ever since the Season Four finale, the end of seasons has constantly failed to grab me. There always seems to be something wrong with it. The Season Five finale was…well…either you like it or you hate it. The Season Six finale had to artificially remove most of the cast so one could focus on Starlight and crew. The Season Seven finale, on the other hand, suffered from cast overload so that the far majority of them were along for the ride.

To me, this season finale represents an attempt to try and make up for the shortcomings of the previous two by having a large cast, but still managing to keep them all relevant. In that regard, I offer my compliments to it for succeeding better than the Season Seven finale. Unfortunately, a lot of this episode and what went into it was mediocre at best.

In spite of the stakes, this episode isn’t very dramatic. Tirek returns and does nothing. Tartarus is brought back and does nothing. A chance for a decent friendship lesson is presented but rolls off almost as an afterthought or an aside. And while a lot of characters are featured, few are relevant and the few who end up being important get muddled so much that they fail to stand out as much as they should.

While the season as a whole had done a good job of introducing the Student Six and rounding them out as characters, in this episode they act mostly as a unit. Their individual personalities stand out almost less than they did in the season premiere, which is too bad because, ultimately, they end up being the most relevant to the episode and saving the day.

I had suspected that Chancellor Neighsay might end up being the villain for the season finale, and I give this episode credit for including a convincing subvillain with an ulterior motive from the main one. I also liked how he ended up getting his comeuppance in a very ironic format; mostly being punished for his own devious and cold demeanor. Nevertheless, not a lot of time was spent dwelling on it, and on watching the episode a second time the point where Neighsay is taught a lesson about dismissing other species simply because they aren’t ponies and has his own specism turn him into a heel wasn’t quite as poignant or long-lasting as it could have been, and the moral of not prejudging someone, or even an entire group, is somewhat muddled. It’s brought up again when Cozy Glow tries to rally the students against the Student Six but, even then, the students themselves never seemed to distrust the Student Six based on species until that point. In all other episodes, they seemed readily accepted as fellow classmates and residents of Equestria. Hence, it kind of fell flat there too to me.

Yet the real issue to me is that although other characters are given some screen time, ultimately they’re pointless being there. This is the first season finale that featured the CMCs in a role, and…they don’t really accomplish anything. Cozy Glow could have just as easily been distracted by something else temporarily. I actually feel a bit worse about this part because a CMC episode served to introduce Cozy Glow this season, so one would think that the two would at least have acted as if they were a bit closer so that it would have made Cozy seem a bit more vile when she backstabbed them.

The Mane Six take up a very large part of this episode but, again, for almost nothing. A lot of time is devoted to them going to Tartarus and then breaking out of it, but in the end it does nothing for the plot. Things would have still ended up the same for them when the Student Six succeeded.

Tirek also amounts to nothing, and that one’s a bigger problem. I can forgive it somewhat now as I realize it was setting up for Season Nine, but the fact of the matter is no matter what your view is on Tirek in terms of villain ranking the fact was he was the focal point of the best season finale and so large and intimidating he almost appeared to be from a different show all together. Making him the butt of Pinkie Pie’s jokes and being too clueless to realize he played himself constituted quite a bit of Villain Decay, not to mention they brought back the most fear-inspiring villain to spend his time monologing in a cage in his weakest form.

Finally, the villain. Cozy Glow was, unfortunately, dead on arrival. As I mentioned in earlier postings, everyone already knew she would end up being the villain going into this episode, and we’ll never know if people would have been fooled until the big reveal. (I think midway through part one all doubt would have been gone, personally.) In this episode, we finally get to see her true nature, which includes her forming rather psychotic and twisted faces whenever she abandons her faux cuteness and innocence. If there was any questions prior to this episode about whether or not she was meant to be a knockoff of Darla Dimple from “Cats Don’t Dance”, I think this should have settled it.

That being said…part of the appeal of Darla Dimple was the depths of insanity she went to. She went so over the top that she was pretty much Pinkamena from “Party of One” in most of her scenes. By comparison, Cozy is mostly just angry and power-hungry. There’s a moment or two where the animators really make her look like she’s got a screw loose, but most of the time she’s just an egotistical brat. If they had gone the whole nine yards and made her genuinely psychotic, I think she would have just worked out enough as a villain for this episode.

Instead, I kind of wince on seeing the most deadliest threat to Equestria to date being a young pegasus. That’s not to say the idea of a magicless individual being a serious threat doesn’t appeal to me, but the fact that it’s Cozy Glow feels a bit underwhelming. Unlike Starlight Glimmer, who, at least in the Season Five opening, managed to exude a true aura of malevolence through her controlling, manipulative, and even sadistic behavior, Cozy Glow just seems like a form of spoiled brat.

The fact that Tirek and the monsters are mostly used for humor and that the villain is Cozy Glow, a character whose very diabolical nature should have a humorous element to it from the contrasts of her personality, gives the impression that this drama-based episode should have been more comedic. The fact that it isn’t played up in that way makes it just mediocre. While I’ll give it one more point of credit of not immediately making the Student Six perfect or overwhelmingly saving-the-day (more like they did just from the standpoint of being normal individuals), it also didn’t do much to build on them anymore as we kind of knew their friendship was magic by the time “What Lies Beneath” came out.

I like it better than some season finales and I won’t fail it because there’s nothing outright bad about it (other than, perhaps, the Mane Six and Tirek alike both being clueless about what the end result of letting the door to Tartarus shut on them would be), but it wasn’t that great. A capstone like this made me begin to realize what the folks at Hasbro likely did…it was time.

Fun Facts:

Cozy Glow sucks up so much she even splits the discarded juice box into its recyclable and disposable parts.

I think the pony that Yona is clinging to in Cloudsdale looks like the odd love child of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. 😛

It wasn’t until this episode that I realized Gallus hates being dragged into things out of “friendship obligation”. 😛

As an interesting bit of lore, it seems magic is used fairly commonplace throughout Equestria, as indicated that it’s used to keep food fresh in spite of having no refrigeration or preservatives.

Twilight references the last time she was in Tartarus. This is referring all the way back to “It’s About Time” in Season Two, and was never actually seen on screen. Tartarus itself before this episode was only seen briefly in Season Four’s finale. While in Greek Mythology, it’s essentially the equivalent of Hell (being the place the worst of the worst of Ancient Greek mythology got locked up in), in this episode it’s mostly depicted as, well, a giant kennel.

Does Fluttershy actually try to comfort the cockatrice for not being able to turn them to stone? Actually, that sounds like Fluttershy would do that.

Among the imprisoned monsters are the cockatrice, the bugbear, the malwurf, the manticore, and the chimera…all of whom have appeared throughout the series. Cerberus, who first appeared in “It’s About Time” in Season Two, also shows up.

Tirek licking his lips when he mentions all the magic that’s missing might, in fact, be a reference to “The Silence of the Lambs” in the scenes between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter.

My prize for visual joke goes to the shot of Sandbar showing the various objects he planned to throw at Apple Bloom’s window next. 😛

Cozy Glow fashioned a crown for herself using tape. It what might be a bit of an animation goof, it would seem she made the crown from her necklace as she isn’t wearing the necklace in the second half of the finale, but she briefly has both at the end of part one.

Yona calls Neighsay “Nasty Pony” and Cozy Glow “Even Nastier Pony”. I don’t know why, but…that gets a grin out of me.

As another throwback to Season Two, Pinkie Pie is used as a form of torture. 😛 She may have been using a pair of prosthetic limbs for her monkey costume, but…it’s probably more likely she just grew a pair for the occasion.

When the monsters that help Twilight out give up their abilities, they split into individual animals. The chimera turns into a goat, saber-toothed tiger, and snake, the cockatrice turns into a chicken and a cobra, the manticore turns into a lion and a scorpion, the bugbear turns into a wasp and a panda, and Cerberus turns into three separate dogs. This might, in fact, have been another allusion to Grogar in Season Nine. He describes himself as the “Father of Monsters”, which he may have created by splicing together normal animals into one body. (It’s interesting to note the three dogs Cerberus turns into appear to be different ages.)

When all of the magic gets returned to Equestria, some of it goes to Pinkie Pie… O_o One might say “that explains everything”, except Pinkie was still able to “be Pinkie” even when magic was gone.

Poor Ocellus and Yona didn’t even get their fake diplomas. 😦

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

 

My Little Devotional #180: “Hitting Rock Bottom”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”

This episode gets into some pretty dark territory, but important territory. The idea of a character on the show actually contemplating suicide was around as early as Season Six’s “No Second Prances”, but it didn’t come as true to real life as it did here. Although Rockhoof was only talking about being turned into a statue in a reversible situation, the implication was very real. Especially more so when considering the background. A stallion who had missed out on the last 1,000 years and came into a world where everything he had ever known was gone, dead, and buried for centuries. He went from a time where he was heralded as a hero and a champion to, within a blink of an eye in his view, a place where he was a klutz and a failure who couldn’t even get the most menial of jobs.

The situation fits the mentality that many veterans, including those returning home from war to this day and especially those with PTSD, have: what place is there for them in a world where their greatest talent no longer means anything? The answer that many of them come up with, as well as many others experiencing similar feelings, is that there is no place at all. And when that happens, many people end up drawing the same conclusion Rockhoof did…that if there is no place for them in the world, they should take themselves out of it.

I’ve had some very dark times in my life, as alluded to in my earlier devotionals. I’ve been in some low places. And at those times my mind has turned to the lowest choice of all. I will say I never got to the point where I made a serious attempt on it. (The farthest I ever got was I had made the noose and picked out a place to hang it.) As one who has been in that situation, though, I can say two things.

  1. The last thing you ever want to do to a person contemplating suicide, especially if they’re a Christian, is to try and scare or even threaten them out of it by telling them God will send them straight to Hell for it. That might work in some cases, but if the person is already feeling so low and worthless and unloved by everything in Earth and Heaven there’s a chance that last statement might be the last thing they need to convince them that God hates them and, therefore, they have absolutely no worth and nothing to live for. So they might as well go through with it if they’re going to Hell either way.
  2. Far more importantly, the biggest thing that made the difference between me being sunk in depression and entertaining thoughts of ending it all was a feeling of total worthlessness. I was convincing myself that no one, including my family, my friends, my parents, God, Lord Jesus, etc., had any need to have me around and that my very life had no meaning to them. That I had nothing to offer anyone anywhere and I was essentially a lump of flesh taking up space.

Rockhoof was definitely feeling the second of these things. He was ready and committed to end it all; thinking it was better to let his memory die while he was still a hero rather than spend the rest of his years being nothing.

What brought him out of it, though? A little girl coming up to him and telling him how much he meant to her, and that she wanted to be just like him when she grew up.

It didn’t snap him out of his funk all together. He was still depressed and still thinking about ending it all. However…it did make him think that maybe he could hold off long enough to tell one more story.

Similar to me, my depression didn’t magically go away from what one person ever said to me. Not even when they came up to me and told me how sad they’d be if I was gone and how much my time with them meant to them. Nothing ever works quite that fast. However, it did make me think: “Maybe I should hold on until tomorrow…see how I feel then.”

Feelings of worthlessness, the thought that one has nothing to offer anyone and that one has no value to anybody, are some of the worst feelings imaginable. If you’re young, you may think that you’re immune to them. That you can just keep yourself happy forever and that you’re fine being alone. One day you will wake up, look around yourself, and ask yourself what impact you’re making on the world and what people would remember you when you’re gone. You’ll ask yourself if you really did make the world better for anyone or if anyone would miss you if you weren’t there. I hope the answer at that time is positive, but I myself have had it be negative and I know what that’s like. It’s not a good place to be.

However, the nice thing about all this is that this is one of the easiest things we can counter in others.

Yona demonstrated that in this episode with her flattering essay to Rockhoof, but it doesn’t even take that much. Just being conscious enough to say you enjoy seeing someone, that you like spending time with them, that you appreciate their presence…small little things here and there…it makes all the difference in the world. Taking time out to build someone up just a tiny bit. Not just when a person is at rock bottom as I’ve said above. Some days I’m in a foul, horrendous mood. I’m grumpy about everything and feeling discouraged and irritable. All it takes is one unexpected talk with a friend or family member or a nice comment on one of my fanfictions to suddenly make me feel better about everything. To be ready to seize the day once again, and even to “take up my cross and keep walking” again. (I can attest that I was perfectly ready to give up on something before, I heard one nice word, and all of the sudden I was ready to tackle it all over again.)

When Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians with advice on how the community could live a Christian lifestyle, he included: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Likewise, one of my favorite Proverbs is: “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25) I would go so far as to say probably the easiest and simplest way to be as Christ to both the community and to everyone around us is to simply say an encouraging word or two every day to those we meet. Not to mention I can’t think of anyone I would rather like having around than someone who always made it a point to build up people around them.

My suggestion for this devotional is for everyone to start making a word of encouragement or gratitude for a person just “being themselves” a healthy habit. Especially to those you may have noticed you haven’t said anything in a while to or people in your life who seem to constantly be down. You might end up making someone’s day, week, month, lifetime, or, just maybe, eternity.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you have vowed never to leave me or forsake me, and that you have loved me with an everlasting love. Thank you also that this does not change regardless of my fears, doubts, failures, and anxieties. If I find myself beset by these, help me to cling to this fact and focus on what you have envisioned for me. And if I am feeling well, then I pray today I may be your word of encouragement to everyone who is currently suffering from depression and hopelessness, and that I may never take those around me for granted. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Four: “Father Knows Beast”

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Synopsis:

A flying lesson for Spike with Twilight Sparkle goes south, causing Smolder to step in and correct him for learning in a “pony” fashion, which causes Twilight to begin to feel she might have let Spike down raising him as a pony rather than as a dragon. As Spike gives Smolder an (unwanted) throw pillow as a thank-you present, an adult dragon (Sludge) crash lands in Ponyville. In spite of him protesting that it’s not how dragons get better, the Mane Six and Spike insist on nursing him back to health while showing off the comforts of Ponyville and the Castle of Friendship. When he finally recovers and begins to leave, Twilight and Spike end up mentioning Spike being raised by ponies and fearing he’s missing something in his upbringing. Sludge, on hearing that, says that the reason he came to Ponyville was because he is, in fact, Spike’s father and he wanted to reunite with him. Overjoyed at meeting one of his missing parents, Spike overlooks the holes in Sludge’s story and tries to connect with him. After doing several activities together, however, Sludge changes his tune to try to “help Spike be a real dragon” by telling him to give all of the castle comforts to him so he can show him how a “real” dragon would react to them, and in turn is soon exploiting Spike to not-so-secretly wait on him hand and foot while he lazes about the castle. Seeing him being used, Twilight tries to bring it up, only for Spike to lash back that she’s just upset because he has his “real” parent and he’s a dragon rather than a pony; causing Twilight to break into tears. Smolder, however, learns about what’s been going on with Spike and sets the record straight–exposing that Sludge isn’t acting like a dragon at all but is exploiting him. With her help, the two confront Sludge and catch him in his lie and, on being found out, he reveals he wasn’t Spike’s father at all but lied in order to try and get the comfortable lifestyle of Ponyville. Spike apologizes and reconciles with Twilight, and when she offers to give him more time to search the Dragonlands for his real parents, he responds he already knows who his real family is.

Review:

Oh boy, did Season Eight have some stinkers among the fan community. First “Non-Compete Clause”, then “Yakity-Sax”, and now this. However, this was the best received of the three and I can see why.

Really I don’t see anything outstandingly bad about it except, perhaps, a touch of cluelessness on the part of the ponies and Spike. However, that fits well with the episode. Part of it was pointing out the legitimate differences between pony lifestyles and dragons, and part of that lifestyle is ponies are willing to go with the “benefit of the doubt” more easily.

It does have something I don’t think it really took the time to get into and develop, instead focusing more on scenes with Sludge and the various characters. It wasn’t until the second viewing I really got the chance to find out that a big part of it was supposed to be Twilight’s parental role with Spike. That, in and of itself, is confusing when viewing the series as a whole. Spike’s relation to Twilight has never been totally encompassed and nailed down. In many episodes he seems like just an assistant, sidekick, or even a servant in spite of the fact it’s canon that Twilight raised him. In “Dragon Quest” we deal with Spike’s existential thoughts about what it means for him to be a dragon in a nation of ponies, but that was Spike’s identity rather than his relation to others. And while Spike and Twilight’s relationship has been touched on in several other episodes, often it always seems from the perspective as somehow Spike is the “subordinate” to Twilight; whether it be as an assistant, servant, or even almost a pet.

About the only time where Spike seems to be part of Twilight’s “family” is in the holiday episodes, and even then it isn’t emphasized too strongly. This is the first one where we really get the sense of Twilight viewing herself as a parent, and it’s too bad because, if the episode had focused more on that, long enough for the audience to digest that idea, it would have had a greater impact. Instead, there’s the rather cartoon-y scene where an X-ray of Twilight shows her heart breaking. Not only does that spell out the moment of argument with Spike, but it also “dumbs it down” and makes it a joke. That’s probably the worst part to me.

However, I do like that they reconcile at the end, and on the second viewing it is a cute and sweet moment.

The other part I like is, again, Smolder standing out as her own character apart from the Mane Six, even if it caused me to complain again. I actually think it’s a good move to pair Smolder up more with Spike. Not only does it logically make sense, with the “pony-raised” dragon learning from the one dragon migrant living in Equestria, but it makes a little more sense and comes easier than Spike pairing with Ember. Furthermore, both are kind of learning from each other. While Smolder still seems to have something of a dismissive view of Spike in this episode and is thoughtless about things she says around him, the fact she was willing to even help him confront Sludge shows, once again, she does care even if she doesn’t like to talk about it. She even makes a weak attempt at being understanding at the end.

My biggest beef in the original episode was when Smolder flatly states to Sludge that it’s not in dragon nature to exploit weaknesses. Uh…yes it is. Smolder herself seemed to endorse that view explicitly in “The Hearth’s Warming Club”. However, on rewatching and seeing Smolder evolve, I kind of overlook it. When people begin to become disenchanted with a view they formerly espoused, it’s understandable that they would start misusing the “Real Scotsman” argument. Sludge might be right about it being dragon nature to exploit the weakness and compassion of others, but…that’s something that Smolder might not be feeling good about anymore to the point where she doesn’t think a real dragon should practice it. So I’ll go easy on that.

So really, in terms of content and relationships, there’s nothing too bad. I think what drags this episode down is Sludge. He gets a very large amount of screen time, and not only is much of it him lazing around but a lot is also the sounds of him stuffing his face with everything in sight. I understand that was kind of the point but he is, by design, an unappealing and dirty character and so having to have him around kind of gives this episode a likewise dirty feeling to it.

Nevertheless, while it may not have been the best episode of this season, I didn’t find it too bad.

Fun Facts:

This is me personally, but the intro (or “teaser”) feels like it could have been one of the Youtube series shorts.

Seems like the series fully forgot about how big adult dragons were in the first two seasons by now. 😛

Anyone else think it’s kind of funny that Rainbow Dash relies on fake snow when she could, in fact, make it snow if she wanted?

A return of Spike’s (somewhat-creepy-when-you-think-about-it) Rarity doll.

Poor Starlight…cameoing only to be thrown out along with the bathtub.

Twilight walking in on Sludge “exposed” is a parody of a scene from “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman’s characters and “Mrs. Robinson”.

Assuming Smolder is telling the truth (which seems to be accurate from the interactions with Torch and Ember), dragons seem to at least care about their children.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #179: “The Next Best/Worst Thing”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Washouts”

When kids are young, most adults in the Western world like telling them that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be–if only they try hard and devote themselves to that goal. At some point in life, however, we get a dose of reality such as was in a brutal scene in this episode. Scootaloo pointed out, rather angrily and bitterly, that she can never fully look up to Rainbow Dash as a role model because, due to her disability, she has no chance of ever becoming a Wonderbolt or even a flier like her.

The same is true for everyone in one sense or another. While in many cases it’s a matter of determination and will, the fact is there are some things we will never be able to do. Even if we like to sing, not many of us are ever likely to become pop stars. Even if we’re good at sports, odds are most of us aren’t good enough to get college scholarships let alone into professional careers. A lot of fanfic and amateur writers out there, myself included, will likely never be published other than for free on websites. And if a disability is involved such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis, that adds a whole other dimension.

Maybe it’s lack of sufficient talent, physical shortcoming, circumstances, or the advancement of age, but at some point in all of our lives we will realize that one (or more) of the doors that we thought was open to opportunity is closed.

And, at times like that, many of us may respond in one way or another as Scootaloo did with the Washouts.

It wasn’t simply the cool-looking stunts and death-defying feats that attracted Scootaloo to the group. What really sold her was that you didn’t have to be a great flier to be one of them. They represented something that her talents could do that would let her shine; giving her a way to live her dream of being a “cool” stuntpony. Because of that, Scootaloo overlooked everything else involved–such as the very real chance she could get seriously hurt and that Lightning Dust really didn’t have her best interests in mind.

Thinking of this brings to mind the end part of the Gospel of John in the New Testament, in particular with Peter and the disciples who, after the death of Lord Jesus, “went fishing” (John 21:1-3). For Peter, a former fisherman, the last few days had not been kind. After following Jesus for three years as one of his inner circle, not only of Apostles but the “circle within the circle” of himself, James, and John, he saw the man he had come to accept as the Messiah and that he had hoped would lead to a new age for Israel sentenced and put to death by both the religious and political authorities. This was a horrible shock for all of Jesus’ disciples, but him especially as he had a disastrous moment when he found himself put to the test at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Only a few hours earlier he had vowed that he would follow Jesus anywhere, including to the death. Instead, exactly as Jesus had told him he would, he vehemently denied Him publicly three times. The event left Peter so crushed he wasn’t even there for the crucifixion itself. By the time Jesus was buried, Peter was probably feeling about two inches tall and that he had failed in every possible way.

So, as it turned out, Peter went back to what his old “talent” was and went fishing. Maybe because he was comfortable with it. Maybe it was because it was something he knew. Maybe because he couldn’t think of anything else to do with his life now. Or maybe because he wanted to do something he knew he was good at after seemingly failing at being a disciple of Jesus.

I mentioned in earlier devotionals that I had gone through a number of failures trying to become more active for God and find a ministry I could join. For example, trying to help out at food kitchens didn’t work out that well for me because my social skills were terrible. That wasn’t a decision I arrived at after one failure, though. I went back multiple times and tried to develop it, but it never got any better. This had only been one of several incidents in my life that gradually made it clear to me that certain things were just not going to work out for me or, at my current stage in my life, I was not ready to perform them.

When it came to wanting to be active for God, however, I was at risk (and still am in similar situations today) of making the same mistake that Peter or Scootaloo did. I became so obsessed with my failure, my closed door, or my missed opportunity I couldn’t get back that I ended up backsliding too far. In that situation and others, the risk is always the same…that I would lapse back into something that was comfortable and familiar, but also something that was either subpar to what I was pursuing for God, going nowhere toward his Kingdom at all, or, worse yet, carried a lot of rather un-Christ-like or self-destructive/defeating things along with it.

The problem is I still prefer to pursue those paths and interests in those situations because they make me feel better about myself. They are things I can succeed at and, more importantly, I know I can succeed that. And as a result, I continue to pursue those interests and life choices and gratify them, gradually becoming less Christ-like in my behavior, while what I wanted to do to become more passionate for God gets replaced by a false goal and lets the original one fade out or die.

This was evidently a danger to Christians even in the earliest times, as shown by the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:17-19) And, again, in his first letter to Timothy. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

In a more all-encompassing sense, there was Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13) in which He used a metaphor of seed on various types of ground to point out the types of people who hear the Word of God. Among the groups of seed that failed to bear fruit (a metaphor for those who heard the Word of God yet failed to be improved by it) was the seed that fell among thorns and was choked as it tried to grow. This represented people who were unable to be productive for God because of, in the words of Lord Jesus Himself, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”(Matthew 13:22).

This was a danger not only in the New Testament but remains a danger to Christians today, especially in the Western world where, ironically, we usually have far greater means available to us. While the passages above mostly focus on the pursuit of wealth, it can apply to anything that catches our attention and captures our devotion.

For example… Have you ever experienced a moment where you saw a Christian group, or any group, advertising something for a street cleanup or short term mission trip or ministry that involved some hours of a week, and you began to realize you couldn’t do it either due to lack of time or talent in that area? My guess is most of us who went through that, myself included, didn’t look for an alternative or try to find an alternate way to volunteer or assist the same endeavor, but (at least in the Western world) decided to do something that would make money to donate instead. Or maybe, at a juncture where we were looking at pursuing a life or, at least, long term choice that could make an impact for the Kingdom of God, we decided to take a job that we believed would benefit a lot of people instead. Or we tried to focus on getting ourselves secure in our life standing so that, in a few years from then or even later in life, we would have all the time we needed to volunteer.

While money does come in handy for many of these ministries, it’s people who eventually make them happen and people who form the personal connections involved. Furthermore, there are lots of ways to make money in the world–both good and bad. By making money the end goal of our endeavors, even if we plan to use the money to provide for other people, as Paul cautioned it’s very easy from that point to become devoted to and even obsessed with the idea of having financial security; forgetting the role of God in truly providing for us and that he gave us what we have in the name of being good stewards. Not to mention, so long as the ends provide money, a lot of things could satisfy that criteria and leave a lot of “wiggle room” for ourselves and our own pursuits.

Likewise, there are many jobs that benefit, or can benefit, people. Going back to Peter, people do need to eat, and there’s nothing stopping a fisherman from giving a portion of his catch away to whoever wants it after he’s taken care of his own needs. But was that what Peter could really do to help people? Or what he was called to do? Or would it have just been a substitute for something greater that was still open to him?

As for personal security, I know from experience that there is never a “stopping point” when it comes to material gain or savings. One will always think: “just a little bit more…just that one thing…if I can just pay that one item out…”. And one will never truly be able to feel happy over getting what they want because, so long as there is discontentment in life that doesn’t stem from material goods that we nevertheless attempt to satisfy with material goods, there will always be something else we want. Attempting to reason otherwise is a recipe for misery. (Case in point, I have one relative who I have grown increasingly worried will be a slave to his job until his dying day; because he eventually grew so scared of poverty and ruin not only for himself but his children and grandchildren that now he’ll work forever to ensure all of them are paid for, and keeps pushing off his retirement in spite of his declining health…)

The problem in all of these situations is the same problem that Peter faced: losing sight of the goal, which is Christ. The examples I listed above are all ways of “dealing” with that by shifting the focus to the way to get to that goal. It’s analogous to looking down and watching the path you’re walking on to see if it looks good without seeing if you’re even headed for your destination or off a cliff. In these cases, people wish to pave their own road to God rather than focusing on God first and letting him direct their paths. This is neither a situation where God is “your copilot” or “in the driver’s seat”…it’s a situation where we’re driving ourselves to some town and then texting God to see if he’s ok with us being there after we already rented ourselves a hotel room.

My suggestion for this week is for all of us to perhaps take some time out and sit down to think about our lives and where we’re putting our time, talent, and energy. Perhaps we need to stop and evaluate what we’re currently devoting the most time to and if, in fact, we need to consider whether or not we’ve gotten off track or enamored by the wrong thing.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you for the blessings you’ve given me in terms of my talents and means available to me, and I give thanks to you even more in light of whatever I find myself seemingly lacking in. I choose today to commit and trust these things to you along with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength. As I do, please guard me from concerns, worries, feelings of self-doubt, and anxieties that would choke me from giving you everything that is your due. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”