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.”

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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.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Three: “Sounds of Silence”

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Synopsis:

The Cutie Map has activated again and, even more surprising, is once again summoning Applejack and Fluttershy; although both are soon nervous to discover that the Cutie Map is taking them to the Peaks of Peril on the edge of unknown lands of Equestria. According to legend, that realm is the home of the honest and kind kirins, but also the flaming and fearsome niriks. The two arrive and run into a brief disagreement when Fluttershy pauses to help a group of local squirrels spruce up their den with local wildflowers, but as a result they find a secret passage under the cliffs right to the kirin village. However, both ponies are puzzled to discover all kirins are both mute and emotionless; leaving them incapable of discovering the friendship problem (let alone fixing it). They eventually point the way to a kirin who can talk, and Applejack goes to find her while Fluttershy stays behind. Applejack ends up running into a chatty, energetic, and boisterous kirin named Autumn Blaze. She reveals that the kirins and niriks are, in fact, the same creature; kirins transform into niriks when they get angry. At one point, a particularly large argument resulted in most of the kirins turning into niriks and burning down their village, causing their leader to demand the entire population cross into the “Stream of Silence”. Doing so removed the ability of the kirins to speak or feel emotions so they could never transform into niriks and cause destruction again. Autumn, however, accidentally came across a patch of Foal’s Blossoms which, when made into tea, restored her abilities to speak and feel. As a result, the other kirins made her decide to either become silent again or be exiled and, unwilling to lose the ability to speak and feel again, she chose exile. Applejack rushes back to the village to get them to welcome Autumn back and to set about restoring their voices and emotions, but on running into Fluttershy (who discovered the same link with niriks) she disagrees as it could cause another round of destruction. They begin to argue and the kirins, fearing they’ll too turn into niriks, seize them and attempt to dunk them in the Stream of Silence as well. However, Autumn, in nirik form, shows up and saves the both of them without causing any harm. This leads Applejack and Fluttershy to point out that the kirins can be responsible with their emotions and anger instead of forcing themselves to be mute and emotionless to get along. Realizing they gave up too much, the kirins indicate they want their voices and emotions back, but Autumn despairs on saying there are no more Foal’s Blossoms. However, it turns out the squirrels Fluttershy ran into earlier picked out flowers that were Foal’s Blossoms the entire time, and they use them to restore the voices of the rest of the kirins who, in turn, welcome Autumn back. Fluttershy and Applejack thank each other for their respective virtues helping again while Autumn breaks into a musical reprise for her village.

Review:

Well, before I get into the pony-of-the-hour, let’s talk about the rest of this episode.

On the whole, it’s a good one. If you remove you-know-who from it, it’s not quite as good as it would be with her, but I still think it’s one of the better ones. Kirins are finally formally introduced into the series (sadly too late to get one into the School of Friendship…), and I’m quite fond of their design and nature. Definitely the highlight of this episode aside from, again, you-know-who.

Comparing this episode to “Viva Las Pegasus”, I think it might be just a bit inferior aside from the stand-out character. While I didn’t think “Viva Las Pegasus” was that great of an episode, it did give a lot of color and things going on for your eyes. By comparison, the kirins kind of just stand around idly doing things with expressionless faces. The beginning of the episode is also a bit slow-paced even if it did end up being relevant to the plot. That being said, they did manage to cram a surprisingly large amount of exposition into a small time frame. In a season mostly void of Cutie Map calls to the Mane Six, this was a pretty good one. Especially considering the fact it utilized two of the more quiet and less wacky characters, Applejack and Fluttershy.

But of course…if you’ve actually watched this episode, you know as well as I do that all of this is largely irrelevant once the second half of the episode hits. While the Student Six collectively might be the best new “character” this season, when it comes to an individual character the one who stood out the most in Season Eight was this surprising ensemble darkhorse: Autumn Blaze.

Personality-wise, she kind of resembles, to me, a bit older and more “mature” version of Pinkie Pie. One who still likes being fun and wacky but has learned just a little more that not everyone appreciates it all the time. That, however, only likely serves to make her more bearable to people who aren’t solid Pinkie Pie fans. Her odd pop culture references, running gag of mispronouncing things, her way of “venting” as a nirik, and even the part where she tries to shake Fluttershy’s hoof only to find she’s still aflame is all great. Even without her nice musical numbers, which are some of the better songs the main series has seen in a while, her animated mannerisms and energy steal every scene she’s in. In that sense, it kind of made sense for Applejack and Fluttershy to be the ones to interact with her, as neither of them could reasonably compete for attention when she’s on the screen. She alone is what gives this episode the bulk of its appeal.

Probably one of the biggest tragedies of MLP:FIM coming to an end in Season Nine is it left little to no opportunity for her to ever appear again. There’s still a slim chance she’ll appear in one of the final episodes aside from the fact that season is already guest starring Patton Oswalt and Weird Al Yankovich, and a better than slim chance she’ll show up in a cameo, but considering Rachel Bloom was likely busy doing her lines for the upcoming “Trolls” sequel while Season Nine was in production that doesn’t look likely.

Nevertheless, it’s been a while since a new character stole the show and ran away with it, and a truly delightful runaway it was.

As for the moral of the episode, I, again, find that to be the weakest part of it. The most likely thing this episode is doing is taking a stab at modern censorship culture and the idea of it being better to forbid people from talking than risk them inciting anyone to anger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a corollary…or perhaps it did at one point but was edited into something different. This episode doesn’t deal so much with the idea of “safe spaces” or official laws as an entire race purposely removing its ability to speak or feel emotion for the risk of getting upset, which is an extreme we aren’t quite to yet anywhere on Earth. The message seems to be two-fold at the end…one that’s a bit muddled but the other is better. The “worse” of the two was that you shouldn’t give up who you are just because you’re scared you’ll make people upset, which…er…can be misinterpreted multiple ways. The “better” one, however, which is unfortunately underplayed, is that you have to be personally responsible and accountable for your own emotions and find healthy ways to express them. That’s a lesson everyone can learn.

I won’t give this episode a ton of points just for Autumn Blaze but…I’ll definitely give some as she’s earned them. One of the best episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a knockoff of the Simon and Garfunkel song: “The Sounds of Silence”. That’s ironic in two different ways. One is that, similar to the story within the song, the plot centers around a single talking deviant trying to get the rest of his society to open up and break their own silence. The other is that “The Sounds of Silence” is the song the new “Trolls” trailer opens up on, which is broken up by Rachel Bloom (Autumn Blaze)’s character.

Twilight notes this is the second time that Applejack and Fluttershy have both been summoned by the Cutie Map. The first was Season Six’s “Viva Las Pegasus”.

This episode actually ties into an earlier episode, pointing out that Rockhoof informed Twilight Sparkle about the Peaks of Peril.

A “kirin” (var. “qirin”) is a Chinese unicorn; one of two mythological creatures that both Western cultures and Eastern cultures have in common (the other being dragons). Unlike the cultural differing views on dragons, both Western and Eastern cultures view unicorns/kirins as mysterious, reclusive, sacred, pure, and innocent creatures. Unlike Western unicorns, kirins are often depicted with much wilder manes, a branching single horn, and extremely long necks. There was some theorizing (at least on my part) that Mistmane, coming from a Chinese-inspired culture that apparently had unusual recurved horns, was a kirin, but this episode officially makes them part of the show. Their appearances are pony-like, but have wilder manes similar to lion manes rather than horse manes, long tails with a tufts of hair along the trailing parts, more tufts of hair along the back of their legs, somewhat “floppier” ears, scales on their hooves, backs, and snouts, and branching unicorn horns…which, like “normal” unicorns, also perform magic. As for the niriks…they’re simply “kirin” backward (:P) and I’m not sure if they’re based off anything other than Chinese art.

Although the kirin village appears somewhat tribal, the music playing in the background is Chinese-inspired as a nod to their origin.

The giant kirin, Rainshine, seems to basically be the kirin equivalent of Princess Celestia; not only in her role as leader but appearance, crown, and demeanor. I guess, in Equestria, if you’re big that equals authority. 😛 Although she has only a brief speaking role, she’s voiced by Nicole Bouma, who has a long career in voice acting on Japanese anime dubs, including in “Gintama” and “Mobile Suit Gundam 00”.

Rachel Bloom provides the voice of Autumn Blaze. In addition to being the co-creator and starring in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, she’s also done a lot of voice acting, including the voice of Barb in the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” movie…which kind of makes me mad because it means she was likely too busy to reprise her role in Season Nine (which is still coming out as I write this).

Needless to say, “A Kirin’s Tale” was the hit song for this season.

Autumn put faces on all of her baskets and vegetables for company; a nod to “Wilson” from “Cast Away”.

Among the things Autumn tries to connect with the silent kirins is a reenactment of “Citizen Kane”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and even “Hamilton”.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Two: “What Lies Beneath”

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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle is holding a test on how the Tree of Harmony has impacted the history of Equestria, much to the chagrin of the Student Six. They end up retiring to the library for a study session but, while doing so, Cozy Glow stops by and overtly points out how surprising it is that six different creatures, five of which she says don’t have friendship in their nature, were able to become friends. This ends up upsetting the group as all begin to wonder if they really can be friends. While thinking this over, one of the vents in the library is moved aside by a crystalline root. The six follow it to discover a cavern interlaced with the same roots below the school and meet what looks like Twilight only sparkling and ethereal. On hearing that they doubt their ability to make friends, she immediately announces she will subject them to a test that they must pass by morning or remain trapped beneath the school before teleporting them away from each other. Gallus finds himself stuck in an enclosed, collapsing cavern. Yona finds herself surrounded by spiders. Smolder is stuck in a looping cave that keeps leading to a cute tea party. Silverstream goes back to a cavern in front of Mount Eris but faced with the Storm King and his yeti goons. Ocellus finds herself in a changeling hive turned into Queen Chrysalis and unable to change back. Finally, Sandbar is faced by Rainbow Dash and Rarity who tell him to leave his friends behind and help them on a real adventure. Gallus manages to figure out a puzzle to free himself while Smolder ends up agreeing to have a tea party to escape her own cave. The two find the exit and note that, rather than escape as any griffon or dragon would, both decide to stay behind to find the others. Gallus finds Silverstream and admits his own claustrophobia to get her to face her own fear of being conquered and losing her freedom. Smolder finds Ocellus and reluctantly admits she likes doing cute and “silly” things, which in turn convinces Ocellus changelings aren’t innately “bad” and gets her to revert. Yona, meanwhile, faces her own fear of spiders and realizes they’re harmless, and on befriending them they lead her first to her friends and then back to Sandbar. As for Sandbar, on realizing Rainbow Dash and Rarity are telling him to abandon his friends for his own success, he refuses to follow them and says they aren’t worth looking up to–which causes both to vanish just as the rest of the Student Six arrive. On returning to the exit, the phantom Twilight appears again, revealing itself to actually be the Tree of Harmony manifesting in a pony form. It points out how the experience of that night has proven that friendship is in their nature, and it lets them leave. On emerging into the library, the group meets with Cozy Glow again and is ready to report that the roots of the tree have grown below the school, at which point Cozy begs them not too–admitting she said what she did earlier because she felt jealous of the six of them and trying to avoid getting into trouble. As the six are exhausted from that night and Cozy’s sobs tire them out further, they agree. Cozy offers to give Twilight an alternative explanation to get the six an extension on the test, and as the six lie down for a nap she looks over the grating leading to the underground cavern…

Review:

Lots packed into this episode, so let’s get started.

First, as I said earlier, at this point we already knew Cozy Glow was going to end up being a villain, so I have no idea how she would have fooled us. Until this part of the series, she seemed very innocent to me. She even made numerous background appearances in which the most “menacing” thing she had done had been to constantly take notes on a notepad of everything she learned about friendship. She even frequently ended up as disappointed or misfortune-plagued as the other background characters, right down to being forced to wait “hoof-and-hoof” on Cranky Doodle Donkey in “A Matter of Principals”.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure this would have been the first episode where I would have noticed: “Something is off about Cozy…”. Unlike her appearance with the CMCs where she seemed a little off but, in the end, penitent and genuinely sorry, there’s an air of maliciousness about her in this one. Although she does apologize at the end, in this viewing I noted some of the Student Six crooking their eyebrows at her, as if wondering why she’s making such a big deal about the cavern. And although she never flashes a malevolent smile at the end, something definitely seems wrong with how she’s staring at the grating and talking to the others.

Ok, Cozy aside…this is one of the better-written episodes of Season Eight and even the series as a whole to me.

First of all, it had been a while since the writers had tried to juggle six characters at once. Usually when it happens with the Mane Six, one or two end up being the focus while the others are “along for the ride”. Actually giving effective time to all six is a challenge, and this one did it very well.

The basic idea of all six of them facing their worst fears isn’t new to animation, but the show pleasantly surprises by taking an expectation and putting an unexpected spin on it. While both Ocellus and Silverstream have deeper, psychologically-scarring, and “real” fears, Yona and Gallus both have phobias while Sandbar and Smolder both have fears tied to social health–how they’re viewed by others. And I like that because it’s realistic. In anime, for example, everyone would have these big, soul-crushing, existential fears that would threaten to destroy them…but that’s not how the world works. Some people do have huge fears to work through, but for others their worst fear would simply be public speaking or heights. Everyone’s different but, as the show points out, everyone can be different and yet still come together.

Out of the six…Sandbar ended up being the most disappointing to me. His greatest fear was real enough–letting people he looked up to down. But most of the episode he seems to be chasing Rainbow Dash and Rarity down an endless cave, and it takes him the longest to finally put his proverbial (and literal) hoof down. Furthermore, his fear was the only “muddled” one, as it wasn’t clear if Sandbar was actually facing a fear of letting his idols down or if he was choosing his own success over that of his friends, which would have been more of a loyalty lesson.

Yona was next up. Unlike the others, she didn’t seem to learn a “greater lesson” about her connection to the others. She simply conquered her fear of spiders, which we didn’t know about until this episode to begin with. Nevertheless, I like it simply because it shows there didn’t have to be something great and monumental with everyone’s fear.

Gallus had already gotten an episode more-or-less devoted to him in “The Hearth’s Warming Club”, or at least his inner character. Again, like with Yona, a lot of his story was him facing his own fears by himself. Nevertheless, unlike that episode, it shows that Gallus, for all his grouchiness, doesn’t view his friendship with the rest of the Student Six as only self-serving but also is devoted to them as well.

Things start getting more interesting with Silverstream. Her biggest fear isn’t the Storm King so much as, to quote Churchill, fear itself. This season really rammed home the idea that what Silverstream loves and gets the most excited about is simply being on land; having the freedom to do simple things taken for granted like go up stairs and experience plumbing. What the Storm King represented to her is loss of freedom…being forced to live the rest of her life away from all those things because she’s scared of being captured or enslaved. Her proclamation isn’t so much to stand up to the Storm King and his army, because they’ll always be new threats and conquerors that could endanger her and Mount Eris, so much as saying she’ll never let fear keep her from living again.

Ocellus has to deal with the most existential fear of all; the fear not of becoming Chrysalis but rather the fear that, deep down inside, she is a person like Chrysalis. And it’s a fairly good one. The changelings were, after all, generic monsters for most of the series until their abrupt change. Even if they’re embracing a new life and their very nature has adjusted to possibly render them mentally incapable of being as vicious as they used to be, that’s still there. While this is the least-relatable of the fears for the viewing audience, this is the most mature-orientated fear of all: Ocellus knows she was likely bred and hatched for the sole purpose of being a conquering minion of Chrysalis. That’s her reason for existence…her “purpose”. That’s something she likely has to come to terms with all the time as she, like all other changelings, continues to try and find their new identity.

Although her fear wasn’t as big as the others, I liked Smolder most of all, as this episode is where I felt her character really began to grow. Until this point, there were numerous times in the series where she still seemed to be, deep down inside, a brute and a bully. This episode, however, shows the real reason why Smolder out of all the dragons decided to go to the School of Friendship as well…deep down inside, she likes the idea of being cute and fancy and frilly but she’s embarrassed to ruin her image of a tough dragon by showing it off. And I honestly really like that. The trend nowadays is to show that for a woman to be strong and independent she must show she can, basically, “kick butt” all by herself. That she can shed the guise of being fragile and delicate and can administer a beating. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s more rare to see a character like, for example, Ashi on “Samurai Jack”, who can be brutal, ruthless, and a total badass and yet still have a gentle, delicate, innocent, and even cute side. However…what it seems people always seem to ignore is that if a person should be respected for being true to themselves and being who they want to be, then a female character who decides that who they really are and want to be is someone delicate, proper, and “cute” is just as valid as a female who decides to be tough, strong, and butt-kicking. That so long as it’s a representation of who they are and want to be, there’s nothing “wrong” with a person wanting to put on fancy dresses and go to little tea parties. It doesn’t make them or their choices any less valid than the warrior, and it doesn’t ruin a chance for them to still show off a good, strong character.

Finally, this episode established, as hinted at a bit in “The Mean 6”, that the Tree of Harmony is indeed sentient and actually adds an element of spirituality and even religion to the series…the idea of a higher power directing the actions of Equestria. I would have preferred if it had an alternate form rather than just taking that of Twilight Sparkle (I’ve seen some fanart before of what the Tree of Harmony in pony form would look like that was attractive), but it still adds a new layer to the universe.

All in all, a great episode. More of the Student Six showing off a lot of their relationships with one another, a well-written and executed plot, and with lots of nods toward the end of the season. Another great job.

Fun Facts:

The first episode I noticed that, when Yona grins, she has an anime-esque toothy smile.

Note how Ocellus mimics Applejack’s country accent as well when she turns into her.

Another appearance of the Storm King. On the second viewing, I noticed Silverstream instinctively turned into a seapony to hide.

Hearing the “cute Changeling” voice from an “evil” Changeling is a bit of a jolt. 😛

Can yaks…talk to animals (like Fluttershy)?

I really can’t tell if Spindle was real or not…

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-One: “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “Shadow Play”, Rockhoof has returned to his old town to help in excavation efforts. However, his overpowered mannerisms and antiquated thinking ruin the preservation efforts of the historical artifacts, and so Professor Fossil sends him to Twilight Sparkle to try and find a place for him at the School of Friendship. Twilight tries him out as a professor but, in spite of enthusing the students with his tales of old Equestria, again his strength and out-of-date rationale end up wrecking a good portion of the school. The Mane Six end up trying a variety of different tasks with Rockhoof as well as meeting up with the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria in an attempt to find a place for him in the modern era, but not only do all efforts end in failure but the fact that the rest of the Pillars have easily adapted and succeeded in modern times make him more depressed than ever. In the end, he grows bitter toward Twilight for returning him from limbo and asks her to turn him into stone so he can at least be remembered as a hero rather than as a failure. Unable to think of anything else, Twilight ends up agreeing to do so temporarily until she can find a new position for him, but on learning the news Yona, who has grown an affection for Rockhoof, runs up to him and reads the flattering essay she wrote for her class assignment about him; seeing him as the first pony who’s truly like a yak and concluding saying she wants to be like him when she grows up (even getting a small spade for her own “warshovel”). To say thanks for the essay, Rockhoof agrees to finish an earlier story he had about fighting an Ursa Major with both her, the rest of the students, and many of the Mane Six. Twilight approaches just as he finishes, much to the enthusiasm of his audience, and ends up proposing that he become Equestria’s official “Keeper of Tales”; noting that his stories of the past can inspire the next generation. Rockhoof is still reluctant, until Yona points out that he’s her friend, and that’s reason enough to need to stay around in the modern era. Finally feeling happier about being in the modern age, Rockhoof immediately begins to relate a new story “about a small yak who knew more than a great hero”.

Review:

Ok, it may not be “The Perfect Pear”, but this is a really sweet episode. This is the episode that finally landed me into liking Yona and, combined with “The Best Gift Ever”, made me finally appreciate the yak race on the show as a whole.

Following the end of Season Seven as well as the end of the “Legends of Magic” IDW series, the Pillars of Old Equestria found themselves in much the same situation as Rockhoof in this episode: having no reason to be on the show any longer. To be honest, I feel like the ultimate resignation that the characters, as a whole, ended up being another “Flash Sentry” was the fact that almost all of them ended up just easily inserting themselves into the modern era, with only Rockhoof left being the odd man out. Nevertheless, by focusing only on one pony, the end result allowed the episode to focus more on him, which was a good move.

In terms of drama, this is one of the better episodes of the series. While the situation is highly unusual, it’s also relatable. Most people have likely been in at least one situation in their life where they felt they didn’t fit in, and as a result can make the extension to what it would feel like to be in a world where everything was different from what you remember.

Yet what this episode managed to touch on that otherwise would have been too “heavy” a topic using a character from the modern era was the concepts of emotionally depression and feelings of self-worth. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in life: everyone wants to feel they have some value. Something to offer the world. That their existence actually brings something to others. To not have that feeling leads to pretty much what this episode implied Rockhoof wanted done to him. One might be a little upset at him for lashing out at Twilight but…it’s understandable, especially given his feelings. It’s just like he said…he’d rather have died a hero than lived out the rest of his life in a world as a failure.

And, of course, Yona is very sweet in this episode. It was at this point in the series that I fully began to understand and appreciate that any arrogance, pride, or even brutishness that Yona (and yaks as a whole) gave off is due to her race’s culture and demeanor…that there really was a kind and innocent individual the gruff and aggressive exterior.

I do fault this episode a bit on not making better use of the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria, but I’d rather they do one well than five poorly. My only other beef is that the final message of the episode didn’t really come through in the plot too well. It ended up being summed up in a line by Yona at the end. That’s too bad, because it’s something of a variation on the moral of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “no man is a failure who has friends”. But as it managed to tell that moral without resorting to using the normal “Capra-esque” plot of a what-if story, that gives it a bit more acclaim to me.

All in all, I think one of the better episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a takeoff of the saying “stuck between a rock and a hard place”; which refers to being a situation in which one must choose between two decisions that are equally bad.

Rockhoof’s “Theory and Defense of Friendship” class might be a knockoff of Hogwarts’ “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class.

Smolder’s crest scales slump when wet. 😛

Cranky’s old toupee is back. 😀

Following Season Six’s “No Second Prances”, this might be another episode that dealt with the idea of suicide.

Yet another episode that rams home the idea that the IDW version of the Pillars of Old Equestria are different from the show’s, which is a pity because I honestly felt the comic’s were better. Somnambula is pretty much the opposite of how she acts in the comic; taking on not only a sagacious role but a very quiet and reserved one. As for Stygian, who is actually closer to Rockhoof than any other of the Pillars in the comic, he never even makes an appearance.

Twilight’s classroom has a “periodic table”. I suppose it could be of the Elements of Harmony, but…there are only six of those…

Rockhoof may have one of the show’s only fecal-related humor jokes when he’s pondering which position he takes as a statue would leave the birds the least room to take a dump on him.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty: “The Washouts”

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Synopsis:

While eavesdropping on the latest meeting of the Rainbow Dash Fan Club, Rainbow Dash is shocked to see Scootaloo abruptly adjourn so that she can inaugurate the first meeting of the Washouts Fan Club: her new idols. Upset that she’s been supplanted as the object of Scootaloo’s fan affections, she goes with her to see a show and discovers that they’re Equestria’s only troupe of pegasus stunt ponies, focusing on flying through dangerous situations in stunts rather than air shows, and grudgingly admits their act is impressive. However, that changes when she discovers that the team is made up of pegasi who were rejected from the Wonderbolts due to lack of safety concerns and was founded by none other than Lightning Dust. To try and dissuade Scootaloo from idolizing them (and not-so-secretly wanting her to idolize her again instead), Rainbow Dash takes her to see Spitfire for a “scared straight” talk before trying to destroy all of Scootaloo’s Washouts memorabilia in favor of her own. However, this only angers Scootaloo further as Dash failed to realize the reason she idolized the Washouts over the Wonderbolts is because the Washouts are into stunts without requiring its members to be great fliers, something Scootaloo can do, whereas being a Wonderbolt requires its members to be the best fliers, something Scootaloo cannot do due to her disability. She ends up joining up with the Washouts to stand in for an injured member on a new stunt in spite of Dash’s warnings, who reluctantly stops trying to pressure her afterward as she realizes Scootaloo needs to make her own choices. However, at the next show, when setting up for the new stunt, Scootaloo realizes it will be far more dangerous than she initially expected and learns Dust only cares about her doing an extreme stunt to make the show look good and nothing for her safety. She forces her to do the stunt involving a rocket-powered scooter anyway, which goes wrong soon after, but Dash leaps in to save her while Dust accidentally gets carried off into the horizon by the same rocket. Scootaloo apologizes to Dash for not listening to her, but Dash, in turn, apologizes for not acting more like a good role model to begin with. Dash forms a new fan club for the pony she admires, the Scootaloo Fan Club, which Scootaloo promptly starts eavesdropping on as well.

Review:

Most Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash episodes ends up being pretty good and tugging on a bit of the heartstrings, and this one is no exception. Again, it manages to deal with a theme unexplored on the show although one geared a bit more to the adult persuasion: what to do when the younger member of a mentor/child relationship asserts their independence by idolizing behavior that is unsafe.

The big scene in this one to me is near the end when Scootaloo finally vents her frustration and cries: “I. Can’t. Fly!” Not only is it a bit of an emotional punch in the gut, it signifies a touch of bleak reality. Back in Season Four, Rainbow Dash still seemed to at least encourage the hope that one day Scootaloo would be able to fly, but after this episode it’s a bitter pill that the characters are finally accepting that the day will never come when Dash gets to pin a pair of Wonderbolt Wings on an older Scootaloo. It seemed to come a little out of nowhere the first time I watched the episode, but on rewatching it I now realize the real reason Scootaloo loved the Washouts was because she realized it was something she could not only idolize but actually aspire to. And on that note, the ending is a nice touch too as Dash finds a way to respect what Scootaloo can do rather than get her to look up to something she can’t become; that there’s a way she can have the best-of-both-worlds without sacrificing her safety.

I honestly hoped that if Lightning Dust ever returned she’d get a redemption; especially since, as I pointed out in “Wonderbolt Academy”, she was encouraged to have an attitude that disregarded safety of others for her own glory. Obviously that didn’t happen and, furthermore, it seems as if she will be one of the few “villains” to not get a redemption. That being said, I actually liked how the writers handled her for most of this episode, especially in regards to Rainbow Dash. It would have been so easy to go the opposite extreme with Dust and Dash and just have them at each other’s throats about “Wonderbolt Academy”. I like that Dust actually doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Dash (well…except for her last line which seemed almost tacked on…); and is grateful for not being a Wonderbolt so she had a chance to become a Washout. There’s even a moment where the two seem a little good-natured toward each other.

If I had to fault this episode for anything, it seems to try and jam pack a few too many issues in at once to where the bigger ones are missed. It was hard to tell on the first viewing if Dash really thought the Washouts were a dangerous influence or if she was just jealous that Scootaloo wasn’t idolizing her anymore. Likewise, I didn’t pick up until the second viewing that Scootaloo didn’t want to follow the Washouts just for the “ooo-aah” factor but because they represented a goal she could achieve. Because of that, this episode is another one that I rate as a “smudged” moral rather than a “muddled” one.

Another minor complaint I might make is that I’m not sure many people got the jokes in this episode. The “Mike Foley” jokes from Spitfire would likely only be appreciated by the members of the audience in their 30s. Otherwise Spitfire just seems to act weird (normally she’s “drill sergeant”). Another one is Short Fuse, who’s meant to be mostly for anger-related jokes, as it’s hard to make out what he’s saying in most of this scenes.

Other than those, though, it’s a good episode and has lots of the best thing of a Rainbow Dash/Scootaloo episode…namely Rainbow Dash/Scootaloo cuteness. 🙂

Fun Facts:

Bon Bon is a member of both the Rainbow Dash Fan Club as well as the Scootaloo Fan Club at the end. (She also sees the Washouts with Lyra. Maybe she’s just a fan of pegasi.)

“Only 20 bajillion percent cooler”…which blows away Rainbow Dash’s original “20 percent cooler” bit from the first season. 😛

Three of the Student Six are in the audience for the Washouts: Silverstream, Gallus, and Smolder.

A lot of prehensile wings in this one; something we haven’t seen from a pegasus in a while.

Lightning Dust first appeared way back in Season Three’s “Wonderbolt Academy”.

Spitfire’s “talk” with Scootaloo is a parody of the old Saturday Night Live skits featuring Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley. The bit with her continuously repeating “a full-body, wing-and-hoof cast drinking through a straw” is a joke on that character’s continuous threat that the youths he’s speaking to will end up “living in a van down by the river”; as his her “whoop-de-doodle-do” is a parody of his similar taunt: “lah-de-frickin-dah”.

Oh boy…Pinkie Pie’s own prehensile mane impales food and brings it to her mouth. O_o

Scootaloo’s Washout name is “Half-Pint Dynamite”. I guess “Scootaloo” didn’t sound extreme enough.

When shooting away on the rope, Lightning Dust yells: “Rivals for life!” (Just threw that in because I couldn’t make it out the first time…)

Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles cameo as, naturally, members of the Scootaloo Fan Club.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #178: “Chilling Out”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Road to Friendship”

As you may have noticed, I spent a long time trying to think up a message for this one. I ended up having to watch the episode again for the review before I saw something that struck me.

My head had been going over and over this episode, but I only focused on the arguments between Starlight Glimmer and Trixie Lulamoon when their attempt at a road trip for Trixie’s show degenerated into a nightmare due to their constant missteps and disagreements. The second time I watched it, however, I noticed something different. Although their entire trip was plagued with misfortune, it wasn’t until later in the trip that the misfortune actually became a problem. Early on, especially through the more dangerous legs, the two remained friendly and on good terms while working together. As a result, the trip actually went, from their perspective, very smoothly. In fact, later in the episode, when Starlight tried to go the same way alone, she realized she didn’t notice how hard and miserable the trek was before when she had Trixie along.

That, in turn, made me think of a different message.

As you may have guessed from earlier devotionals, I am anything but a “social butterfly”. I tend to prefer my own company, that of my family, or one-on-one interactions with friends. That being said, I know the value of having a friend to talk to and be at your side. I’m sure there are people out there, especially young people, who will maintain that there are some individuals out there ideally suited to a solitary existence or being loners. At this point in my life I no longer believe that; especially not for the majority of people. Whether you consider things from a biological perspective or a Biblical perspective, humans are made to be social creatures. Even if one tends to enjoy being alone, there are times where they need human contact to feel validated, accepted, appreciated, or encouraged. People need relationships and communication with others in order to grow and, in some cases, even to challenge them to become more than what they are alone. And, as this episode illustrated, having a friend by your side can always make a terrible situation more bearable.

Even in the earliest parts of the Bible, the Creation in Genesis, it points out how the first human was unhappy in spite of having the favor and friendship of God and all the creatures in creation as companions. It wasn’t until God created a second human that he felt satisfied, because now he had a relationship with another person (Genesis 2:18-24). Likewise, there are several references in the Old Testament to the need for friends and companions and the virtues of having one.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiates 4:9-10)

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Furthermore, while there are many strong men and women of the Bible who exemplify virtue, very few of them ever operated completely alone. Moses had his assistant Joshua and his brother Aaron. David had many upstanding warriors and counselors in his service that stuck with him through thick and thin. Even Elijah, a prophet who had to do most of his own mighty work alone, had a protege and successor named Elisha who followed him everywhere.

Yet the true emphasis on the dependency upon others, to me, is not until the New Testament. The Church community that Lord Jesus died for is often referred to as “the Body of Christ”; indicating that the community itself (empowered by the Holy Spirit) is the true means by which Christ moves and acts in the world now. While the need for repentance and conversion is on the individual level, the life of the Christian from then onward is often emphasized as their place in the Church and in working together with other Christians.

While it’s not as much of an issue in the Western World, one of the most important roles of the Church both in the Bible as well as in countries where Christians face persecution (and can be hurt or even killed with impunity and no legal recourse) is simply to act as support for one another. But even in places where this is not true, the role of the Church is vital to the Christian’s well being. When a Christian is feeling discouraged, it’s up to the community to build them up and encourage them to keep going. When they’re dealing with trouble or fears, it’s the community’s job to comfort and strengthen them. When they feel they are called to an insurmountable task or ministry that grows overwhelming and taxes them to their limits, it’s the community’s job to bear their portion of the load and to provide emotional as well as physical support.

Most of all, when a Christian is going through depression, feels no answer from God or his presence, and is plagued with doubts, despair, and thoughts of abandonment or self-destruction, it’s the mission of the Church to be there for that person. Not necessarily with any inspiring quotes or verses or anecdotes, but to simply be present and weep with them.

As the Church is the “Body of Christ”, so is it its duty to represent Christ “in the body” to all of these individuals. To let them know His presence is there because they are there. There is no overstating the importance, both for the Christian and for everyone, of how great it is to know that someone is there mourning with you; validating both your pain and suffering as well as you being worthy of consolation and concern.

As this episode pointed out, even if it doesn’t actually resolve the difficulties in your life, simply knowing that someone will always be there at your side for the ride, to pick you up when you’re down or cheer you when you’re feeling miserable…or simply just to go with you the whole way no matter how long or dreary…makes all the difference in the world. It makes the tasks and trials we must face not only seem more bearable but, in some cases, even possible to overcome. It’s small wonder that Jesus Himself pointed out the value of having just one friend by your side to feel His presence. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

The analogy that I saw in a different message once is a fireplace filled with hot coals, in which one is removed and set alone by itself. The coal may remain hot for a time, but eventually it will cool and become dull, lifeless ash. It’s only when it’s brought in contact with others that are “on fire” that it regains its own heat and blazes forth. In the same way, when an individual is feeling discouraged, defeated, or their own faith has “grown cold”, it’s through the community of believers in the Church, whether that be a group or simply another faithful individual and friend, that their flames are reignited, their spirits are restored, and their hope is renewed.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord Jesus, thank you not only for your assurance to always be at my side no matter what, but for all the times that others have been at my side and helped me continue when I felt at my lowest or like quitting. Please help me today to act in the same way. Whenever I see someone beset with loneliness, despair, or hopelessness, help me to be a true friend who will stay by their side just as I know you always stay by mine, and grant that we may bear each other’s loads and keep each other’s ‘fires burning’. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Nineteen: “Road to Friendship”

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Synopsis:

Shortly after Starlight Glimmer helps Trixie Lulamoon complete another successful show in Ponyville, a visitor from Saddle Arabia (Hoo’Far) offers first to trade his wagon for Trixie’s as it seems too small and in need of repair, and, after she refuses, suggests she perform in Saddle Arabia. Trixie is interested but dreads making the long trip alone, and ends up talking Starlight into accompanying her as an assistant. While the two are able to weather a number of mishaps early on, things start going bad once they reach their first stop. Starlight makes decisions constantly without thinking of the consequences to the overall trip, while Trixie’s insists on sticking to her normal routine which is only suitable for one pony instead of two. As the trip goes on, the two grate on each other’s nerves and degenerate into arguing and petty revenge; ruining their act and threatening to ruin their friendship. Finally, Starlight ends up trading Trixie’s wagon to Hoo’Far for his larger and more spacious one without Trixie’s consent, causing the two to break off completely. Trixie ends up tracking down Hoo’Far and stubbornly places herself in front of the wheels until he agrees to give her the wagon back, while Starlight starts heading home…having a much harder time managing the larger wagon by herself. After hearing a couple of mailponies who got encouraged by Starlight and Trixie’s earlier behavior on the trip to work through their own journey together, she ends up returning with Hoo’Far’s wagon to his and Trixie’s stalemate. Once there, the two give a rather pathetic attempt at a “friendship chant” (emulating Twilight and Cadance) to convince Hoo’Far to nullify the trade, which he ends up doing on seeing the lengths they were willing to go for each other but suggests they return home. The two take his advice and return to Ponyville, agreeing that the trip made their friendship stronger even if it convinced them never to go on a road trip together again.

Review:

Starlight Glimmer and Trixie Lulamoon are some of the more divisive characters in the fan community, although I think the “Starlight Hate” has mostly subsided (that or whoever couldn’t stand her left the fan community by this point…). So episodes where they both highlight tend to be a mixed bag in responses. This one, though, I think does better than others.

If you analyze it too hard, you realize that it’s really a fusion of “Look Before You Sleep” and “Pinkie Apple Pie”–showing that there’s no easier way for two characters to drive each other insane than to force them to be around each other constantly. Nevertheless, similar to what I said in an earlier episode this season, I don’t think it’s as bad as “Look Before You Sleep”; mostly because things stay animated and moving.

The song for this episode won’t win any awards (and, really, any song except the one coming up was pretty much overshadowed this season…), but it’s catchy and the sequence with it is nice. A good part of this episode is Starlight and Trixie arguing, to be sure, but it progressed better than “Look Before You Sleep”. Some people might still make the argument that Trixie is thoughtless and never learns, but I think she actually shows a lot of progress early in this episode. More than once she gives Starlight the chance to back out of the trip, especially whenever Starlight seems dubious about the arrangement. And while most of it is expressed in the song, the two of them were getting along in spite of the bad situation. The mailponies later in the episode help to keep that from being nullified simply because it was in a song.

Even later in the episode when they really do start getting annoyed, it’s a nice progression. It starts off as merely being a bit annoyed with the other’s choices and, when it starts getting to be too much, they quickly rein it in and apologize to one another. Both characters degenerate into petty revenge at the same time and after both had a miserable, sleepless night so neither has a chance to be repulsive even if they’re doing bad things.

If I had to say one point in which a character actually crosses the line, it would end up being Starlight; not Trixie. That would be when she trades the wagon. Even then, it’s not the trade itself. It’s the fact that Starlight, almost proudly, admits she did it without Trixie’s consent. For a moment, shades of the “old Starlight” come out; the character who thinks she knows better than everyone and so everyone is better off just letting her decide things for them. So while I think that was a bit too far for Starlight and made her seem like the worse of the two from that point on in the episode, it makes sense. And it’s worth noting that, of the two, Starlight is the one who ends up having the friendship epiphany. All Trixie really does is lie around on that road until she comes back.

I will say I don’t like that so much of the episode is just “two characters get into a long argument and end up making up at the end”, even if this episode does a much better job than the similar one in Season One. That’s for no other reason than it doesn’t give much to like about the episode and kind of puts the entire thing into a sour, grouchy mood. Yet that being said…Starlight and Trixie might be friends but they’re highly unconventional ones with, at times, almost a love-hate relationship. While they tend to get along, there’s large parts of each other’s characters they don’t get. And while Trixie has more of the character flaws (although I think both this episode and Season Nine shows she’s getting better about them), there are some parts the two will never quite “get” of one another. So that makes sense too.

All in all, it was a chance for either character to go into pure repulsion yet it managed to dance around that and provide something fairly entertaining in spite of a generally downer subject to begin with. Well done.

Fun Facts:

This episode is also known as “On the Road to Friendship”.

In a rather odd cameo, Princess Cadance and Flurry Heart are in this episode. Maybe the writers realized they wouldn’t appear this season otherwise. 😛 I love the bewildered and somewhat creeped-out looks Starlight and Trixie give them during their classic jump-rope rhyme chant.

Another appearance of the recurring Saddle Arabia and it’s more “horse-like” residents. Ironically, they were first mentioned in another episode featuring Trixie: Season Three’s “Magic Duel”. However, in spite of body types, they still seem to have the standard earth pony/unicorn/pegasus thing going on.

Starlight and Trixie are forced to cross the fire swamp from “Somepony to Watch Over Me”.

Starlight’s last lines in the song alluding to a “buddy comedy” about two people chained together is actually a reference to a very non-comedic movie called: “The Defiant Ones” about a pair of prisoners, one white and the other black, who escape a chain gang while still chained to one another. However, the idea has since been reused in cartoons for purely comedic purposes.

The town of Somnambula makes another appearance. (Kind of funny that the glowpaz festival is such a big deal when the residents can go see the actual Somnambula if they want…)

When Starlight and Trixie are low on money they end up being forced to buy haycakes as their only food source. I have no proof of this, but this might be an allusion to “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, who is initially on such a tight budget that all she can afford are pancakes.

It took me a second viewing before I realized Starlight is wearing the Saddle Arabian pony’s robe after they make the trade, and not just any robe he traded.

The Saddle Arabian pony’s name is Hoo’Far, according to the credits.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Eighteen: “Yakity-Sax”

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Synopsis:

The girls get a rather loud and obnoxious surprise when Pinkie Pie unveils her newfound love for the Yovidaphone instrument from Yakyakistan, declaring it her favorite thing and devoting herself to playing it all day, every day. Unfortunately, Pinkie is terrible at playing it and soon brings chaos and unpleasant, disruptive noise to everyone in Ponyville. Finally, the rest of the girls confront Pinkie and directly state that she’s not any good at playing the instrument and should focus on what she’s good at instead. At first, Pinkie seems to take the news well and abandons the Yovidaphone, but over the following days she lapses into depression over not being any good at playing it. The girls’ attempts to cheer her up fall flat and eventually culminate with her leaving Ponyville entirely to head to Yakyakistan to listen to real Yovidaphone players without so much as saying goodbye. The girls follow her there and find her even more depressed in a yurt hosting a Yovidaphone concert. She admits hearing good Yovidaphone players only made her realize more how she’d never be good at playing the instrument. This prompts the girls to suggest she play it anyway in a performance for the yaks even if she’s not good and will risk angering them, as it’s something that make her happy. Reluctantly, Pinkie does so, and is surprised at a roaring ovation from the yaks. They explain the true nature of the Yovidaphone is to play it to make yourself happy, so as long as Pinkie made herself happy by playing it she played it “perfectly”. Pinkie immediately goes into an encore song about how she has the best and most supportive friends a pony could ever ask for.

Review:

This episode was widely panned as being not only the worst episode of Season Eight but one of the worst of the entire series (according to IMDb, it’s actually third from the bottom at the time of writing this…with this same season’s “Non-Compete Clause” being the worst, if you’re interested). Do I think it deserves that notoriety?

Well…pretty much, yeah.

It’s not my personal pick for the worst of the worst, but that dishonor goes to episodes that I find painfully bland as well as making the mistakes that this episode did–namely gave a great big muddled moral and went out of character. To give the episode some credit, it at least kept things moving and animated and kept me wanting to see what would happen next. Aside from that, due to what I just mentioned (a muddled moral and out-of-character), it’s not that good.

While some muddled morals are smudged, this episode seemed to have been subjected to a rewrite that ruined it. The lesson behind it is good: do things that make you happy even if you’re not the best in the world at them. However, that lesson was already partially touched on and yet handled better by Season Six’s “On Your Marks”. I get the sense that how the episode was originally written was with the original Yakyakistan ending and only part of the opening. Namely, Pinkie Pie learned to play the Yovidaphone and loved it a lot although she wasn’t that good, she saw that real players were much better than her, she tried to go to Yakyakistan to learn better and failed, and at the end the rest of the Mane Six show up and tell her to do what she loves and from there the same resolution. And if that had been what happened, it would have been a decent episode.

Instead, everything gets confused. It’s very clear that the Mane Six, and Ponyville for that matter, don’t dislike Pinkie’s playing just because she’s not good at it but the fact she is very clearly disruptive and, in some cases, actually causing harm to residents and wildlife by playing. However, in order to make the end lesson works, none of the Mane Six state: “Pinkie, maybe you should play in a more open area.” or “Pinkie, maybe you should only confine your playing to indoors.” or “Pinkie, your instrument is really loud; please don’t play it after sundown.” No, they go straight to: “You’re not good at playing that instrument, and you should only do things you’re good at.” Not only is that rather hamfisted, it missed the mark of what the episode had been setting up.

And what does that mean? Was Applejack just supposed to smile and nod when Pinkie ruined her apple crop? Or Fluttershy supposed to just learn to put the animals to bed later after Pinkie went away? You can do something that makes you happy even if you aren’t good at it, but you can’t expect others to pretend you are. I play piano myself and I’m not that good. So if someone tells me to stop playing because I’m annoying people (which HAS happened before), I may be hurt but I have to expect it.

The other major factor is Pinkie Pie being out of character, which itself has two aspects to it.

The first is that it’s unnatural that Pinkie would get so attached to this instrument that she would hinge her entire sense of worth and well-being on it. What makes Pinkie happy is making other ponies happy. That’s been cemented since “The Smile Song”. The reason she went flat-maned in “Party of One” was because she thought her friends didn’t want to be her friends anymore, which hurt her personally but also disrupted her because she was throwing another party to make them happy and, to her, they acted like they didn’t care about her attempts to do so. Here…it’s an instrument she’s never touched before this episode. Suddenly Pinkie practically loses her sense of self over it. Not even in a “good” way appropriate to her character, such as in “The Maud Couple” when Pinkie had her meltdown over Mud Brier and imagined the girls all ending up having the opposite interests. She just becomes a bland lump who the rest of the girls have to actually physically move to make her do anything.

The second is that it makes Pinkie rather unlikable. A number of fans of “Gravity Falls”, which was a very well done show, nevertheless had the constant beef toward Mabel Pines that she always had to get her way and didn’t have to make any personal sacrifices, no matter how small, for the other characters for the sake of a relationship, and that others would have to cave into her to deal with her depression or sadness…which could be construed as a form of emotional manipulation. The same problem occurs here. The fact that Pinkie would end up going to such depressed lengths over an instrument she just picked up, continuously sulking until the Mane Six seemingly “caved” and just gave her what she wanted in order to get her to stop, seems almost childish. Like this was her version of throwing a tantrum or, worse yet, being emotionally manipulative to get her way.

Even Maud’s literal interpretation of everything the Mane Six say seems to be more “smartass” than her normal way of communicating in this episode.

I will say the rest of the Mane Six are fairly spot on for their characters (even if Applejack has grown more evasive rather than blunt) and, like I mentioned before, the episode at least keeps from being bland even if it goes in an unlikable direction to accomplish that end. Yet while Pinkie has her negative characteristics, this episode seemed to manufacture both one for her as well as engineer a situation which would bring it out. Neither makes for a good episode.

Fun Facts:

Although this episode is the eighteenth in production order, it actually aired prior to “A Matter of Principals” as part of Discovery Family’s “Summer of Surprises”. The episode wasn’t announced ahead of time and didn’t air again until the official release date, which was when I saw it.

Early releases of this episode called the instrument a “Zenithrash”, but this was not approved by Hasbro and the name was eventually changed to Yovidaphone. However, some synopses of this episode, including the one on Netflix, continue to call it a Zenithrash.

Applejack may be honest, but she’s mastered the subtle art of “weasel words”. “I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it in my life.”

Rarity slips and uses an apple euphenism. It’s a bit out of the blue, so I almost wonder if it was a line flubbed by Tabitha St. Germain they decided to keep.

Notice that Rainbow Dash kicks Fluttershy in the face to wake her up? 😛

Applejack chastises Twilight for attempting to lie about Pinkie’s playing ability, a callback to “Horse Play”. It’s rare to get a same-season callback that’s not tied to the season finale.

Notable in this episode is the return of flat-maned Pinkie AKA “Pinkamena”, who first appeared all the way back in Season One’s “Party of One”. It confirmed that Pinkie’s poofy mane goes flat whenever she’s depressed. However, this episode took it a step further and had her gradually lose all coloration, which is worse than her respective sisters (as even they have eye coloration).

Pinkie Pie’s bit in the yurt with ordering one ice cream sundae after another is a knockoff of the often-parodied bit of a depressed drunk constantly ordering more liquor at a bar. Also, yaks can wear bartender tuxes. 😛

Rating:

1.5 Stars out of 5