Junk Bin #22 (Special!): “Fate/Zero”

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The past few years have gotten pretty wild for me. I had largely abandoned anime for a period of time, to be honest, in favor of the new wave in America in which animators have adopted the trend of making animation that appeals to all ages and not simply all kids or all adults (and by adults I mean college students). In more recent times, I’ve tried to come back. And while in the past I dabbled mostly in “junk bins”, I’m trying to now get to what’s en vogue. I’m reading “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic”, “One Punch Man”, “My Hero Academia”, and “The Ancient Magus’ Bride”, and I bought “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid” and “Fairy Tail”, although I’m still getting to those two.

This attempt to get into the more popular animes and mangas has led me to some new and interesting stories, although I must say it’s also caused me to start identifying why I think anime/manga is failing in some storytelling compared to newer American material…but that’s a whole other story. And one of the ones that was suggested to me was the following…

Now, technically this isn’t a “junk bin” entry. The “Fate” series is very popular right now, after all. At ACEN, they were showcasing the “third path” to the visual novel that the source material was based off of coming soon, and last year “Unlimited Blade Works” was highly proclaimed as well. After finishing this series, I did a bit of research on the “Fate” series and found out that this was actually the prologue to the original series, which was “Fate/Stay Night”, although it was considered vastly better in terms of art style, storytelling, and plot. Nevertheless, the reason many people seemed to like “Fate/Zero” better was because “Fate/Stay Night” was largely considered a disappointment; meaning most people viewed it in the context of already knowing “how it would end”. And since it’s a tragedy, anyone who had seen “Fate/Stay Night” already knew how people would succeed or fail in “Fate/Zero”.

So, in spite of the fact this series is well-received, I am one of the few who walked into the “Fate” series with no prior context right at the point of the prequel, so I think I might have a different perspective than most. So, without further ado, the first ever “special” junk bin entry…

“Fate/Zero”

The setup to the “Fate” series is kind of interesting in and of itself. I find it somewhat of a mixup of Harry Potter and the Highlander series. The world is full of mages who live in secret under the radar but actually command very powerful and deadly orders right underneath mankind’s nose. Many of them do many cruel and inhuman experiments that kill innocent lives, but the mages themselves are largely apathetic. To them, none of it matters so long as they further their ends: the greatest of which is to attain a magical item known as the Holy Grail, which is said to grant the desires of anyone who obtains it. How do they obtain it? The Holy Grail War.

The Grail itself selects seven individuals from around the world to become “Masters”, which are the contestants in this war. All of them are mages, but in order to be chosen they have to have a very strong desire for the Grail to make reality. The participants almost always end up chosen from the three big magic houses in the world as well as four other outsiders. Once they’re chosen, however, the mages don’t duke it out with their own spells. Rather, they summon up the spirits of long-dead, legendary warriors to fight on their behalf. The warriors fill seven job classes…sorry, roles: Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Berserker, Assassin, and Caster. They correspond to the respective Masters and they are the ones who battle it out for supremacy.

In this Holy Grail War, one of the Masters who has been chosen is a man named Kiritsugu Emiya, who is a mercenary and assassin of mages as well as a mage himself. His own father was an unscrupulous mage whose experiments led his entire village to being killed by vampires, but felt nothing other than it was a failure in his experiments. Enraged at his callousness, Kiritsugu killed his own father without hesitation and dedicated his life to killing all other mages who abused their power. He became so obsessed with saving people from the mages that he ended up killing innocent people in bombs and assaults, including his own loved ones, so long as it meant neutralizing his target as he believed the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. Kiritsugu ends up getting chosen by the Einzbern family, who marries him to a homunculus representative of the Grail named Irisviel. In doing so, he allows her to live as a human for a number of years and even bear his child, which the Einzbern family consents to so they can groom her to be the participant in the next Holy Grail War if the current one fails. His new wife and child become his focus, and his intent becomes to use the Grail wish to put an end to all of mankind’s struggling and warfare to ensure a peaceful future for them and everyone…and is ready to spill however much blood he needs to accomplish that end.

Of the many individuals opposing him in this war as not only rival mages but rival Masters is a man named Kirei Kotomine, who was raised as a priest but is truly a sadistic psychopath at heart; deriving pleasure only from making other people suffer and die by killing them himself. Realizing this all to be sin, he has suppressed this side of himself but now lives without pleasure or joy or feeling as only in the act of killing other people does he feel any emotion or happiness. To Kirei, Kiritsugu is both his perfect opponent because, like him, he’s emptied himself for his goals, as well as a target for his hatred because he abandoned his own chance at happiness of his own free will rather than felt compelled to give it up.

Among the other Masters are Tokiomi Tohsaka, a powerful mage, head of a magic house, and father to daughters Rin and Sakura…one of which he is grooming to be his successor and the other he gave as a free will offering to an evil and profane magic house so she could get success as well; Waver Velvet, a young, nervous, and timid mage who wants to win the Holy Grail War to be respected among his peers; Kariya Matou, a “prodigal son” mage who returned to be a Master in the Holy Grail War to hopefully free his niece Sakura from the horrible fate that awaits her in her magic school; Ryunosuke Uryu, a psychopathic serial killer; and Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald, a snobbish and egotistical mage who was Waver’s former teacher.

Kiritsugu himself ends up summoning the “King of Knights” himself, Arthur Pendragon…sorry, Arthuria Pendragon. That’s right: history lied to you. Arthur was really an attractive teenage girl the whole time. However, once summoned, she goes by the title “Saber”. Similarly, Kirei initially summons the Hassan for the “Assassin” role, Tokiomi summons the first and greatest of all heroes, Gilgamesh, for the “Archer” role, Waver summons the “King of Conquerors”, Iskandar/Alexander the Great for the “Rider” role, Kariya summons an unknown black knight from Saber’s past for the “Berserker” role, Ryunosuke summons Gilles de Rais in the “Caster” role, and, finally, Kayneth summons Diarmuid Ua Duibhne in the “Lancer” role.

So the Holy Grail War comes, and what follows? Three words: bitter, bitter tragedy.

“Fate/Zero” is one of those rare titles in an anime that has a double meaning. The series actually starts with a backward ticking clock such that, when it hits the end, it is the start of the main series that people are familiar with. However, the real purpose of the title is how everyone ends up being crushed by fate. The name of the entire series is all about living and (pretty much always) dying for one’s ideals and vision; whether that vision be a noble one or a grotesque one. One after another, characters are dispatched in the series in the name of their goals without ever having attained them. The “Servants” that were brought forth are, ironically, individuals who were undone in life by fate, and find themselves ironically bound to suffer the same thing inevitably crushing their hopes, dreams, ideals, and desires. Therefore, the series is not so much about battle and victory as it is about how someone who is doomed or forced into a sentence that is basically slavery chooses to face the inevitable.

Being a prequel to the later “Fate” works, this is not a “happy” story. It’s not one where the hero gets to emerge triumphant or evil gets defeated. Rather, the sole consolation for the audience at the end of the series is in admiring those who met their fate bravely and still finding hope for the future even in the midst of losing everything else.

Now as for my personal verdict…

Well, unfortunately for me, before writing about this anime I went and did a bit of research ahead. The children who appear only briefly in this anime, Rin, Sakura, and, in the final episode, Shiro, are bigger characters in the following series I now know, but when I saw this series I knew little of what to make of any of them on seeing them. That biases me just a little for the future series, but I’ll try to consider this one as a whole.

To sum up my thoughts on the series, for me personally, I will quote Happy Gilmore:

“You were good out there. Maybe even a little great. But not that great.”

I will admit that I am not a fan of shows or series that feature large assemblages of morally ambiguous characters or of tragedies in general. The bottom line is there are precious few characters in this series that aren’t flawed to a point where they cross a bit of the Moral Event Horizon, and the ones that are that way have been forced into the roles of slaves or tools of other characters so neither their wishes or ideals factor much into anything. While I feel bad for many of the characters that perish, I don’t feel that bad about many of them as they were, to be honest, not terribly nice people. Early in the series, I got a sense that I wanted everyone to lose, so that diminished the tragedy aspect quite a bit.

I’ll just come out and say it: I really don’t like Saber’s character at all. Mostly because she was made out to be a Woobie but, the way the series was so ham-fisted about it, it comes off as a Wangst at points. I will cut “Fate/Zero” some slack as it was not this series’ intention to make King Arthur a girl, but now that she is in that form it seemed to be a cheap gimmick to get the audience to pity her and be behind her. She goes through most of this series being rather pitiful, constantly suffering self-doubt, constantly needing other Servants to bail her out or be chivalrous to her in order to allow her to succeed, and almost being “bullied” by some of the other Servants. Even when she does gain access to her Limit Break or whatever they want to call those special moves, she still gives the impression of being a pity sink rather than a formidable warrior. The fact that she’s the only female in the group and a cute teenager just seems like the plot is trying to slap you over the head with it.

But ignoring Saber, for she really is just a side character out of several in the series, I would say that the series only works halfway as a good tragedy. Spoilers are about to follow from here on in so you’ve been warned.

The ultimate crux of any good classical tragedy is not that something horrible happens to someone who had good intentions and now everyone in the world is a little bit more miserable and ticked off than they were before. A tragedy usually has one of two goals: (1) to teach the audience a lesson (such as in “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”) or (2) to show the triumph of the human spirit. The latter case is what would apply here as none of the watchers are going to participate in any mage tournaments. In these situations, the key takeaway from the tragedy is that the tragic victim fell in the pursuit of a noble goal and, in the end, either left a ray of hope for the future or made things better by their sacrifice. That you can at least take joy in the triumph of an ideal that was held to the end.

Unfortunately, that does not apply in whole to “Fate/Zero”. It’s true that the main “winner” in this tragedy is Kiritsugu, who fails to achieve the world he wanted and loses everything but emerges a changed man who found salvation saving one of those “casualties of war” and spent the rest of his life trying to live up to be a true hero who devoted himself to saving everyone he could. Likewise, because of his friendship with Rider and witnessing his sacrifice, Waver is inspired to always shoot for the impossible and to have faith in himself. However, Lancer dies unable to atone for his own misdeeds in life, loads of innocent people die who get caught in the crossfire, and the main villains go off to kill countless other innocent people pretty much scot free.

Yet worst of all is Kariya. Goodness alive…this dude was put into the plot pretty much just to be tortured to death by it. His sacrifice is worthless, his goal goes totally unfulfilled, and the world is generally a worse place for him even trying. That’s not tragedy…that’s just a punch to the audience’s solar plexus.

For a tragedy to succeed, to paraphrase “To Kill a Mockingbird”, you have to at least believe the fight was worth fighting even if there was no way you could win. Everything would have been better for Kariya and those around him if he did nothing, and that’s just bad.

However, all of that said…

I will concede that I am not a huge fan of tragedy, but even then the “good” tragedies ended up making me smile a little in this one. The artwork was indeed very well done. Beautiful from start to finish, no matter the scene or setting. I don’t think the action was quite as great as everyone said it was, although the artwork, again, was beautiful during them. There’s a lot of talking, but the intrigue kept me invested from start to finish unlike its following series. And…because of all the tragedy and a desire for a better end, as I write this I have started watching “Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works” through the miracle of Netflix, so it must have done something right even for a guy like me.

Obviously if you’re a fan of the “Fate” series, this one is for you. Also, if you don’t shy away from a bit of tragedy and like some gorgeous animation and art, then it might also be for you…but only if you can follow up with the next in the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Because it’s not about if you win or lose, but how you fight your war…eh, most of the time.

What You Should Do With This DVD:

If you don’t mind the taste of bitterness and sweetness in your mouth, give it one good run before assigning it a place of eternal glory in your collection.

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Junk Bin #21: “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”

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I kind of wanted to do this one earlier when Thor in the Marvel Movieverse was in vogue, but ah well. It’s no secret nowadays that anime/manga doesn’t confine itself exclusively to Japanese mythology. For years they’ve drawn on other elements of mythology from around the world for the purpose of crafting tales. And a favorite target for both Americans as well as the Japanese is Norse mythology. Probably the most famous of these in the USA is the Marvel treatment of it, in which the god of thunder, Thor, is one of the Avengers and Earth’s mightiest heroes, while Loki is his arch-nemesis and one of the big antagonists of the entire universe. It takes quite a few liberties with its source material while staying closer to others, but it overall does keep with many of the ideas of Norse mythology as a whole.

So, what did Japan end up doing with it in this treatment? Let’s just say they picked something of a different direction.

“Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok”

“Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok” is a one-season anime in the genre of occult detective, only, in general, far more kid friendly and drawing a lot of inspiration from stories that are more “villain of the week”. It’s set in the modern-day era and centers around two main characters.

The first is a teenage girl named Mayura who is obsessed with superstitions, fantasies, and mythology. She has a never-ending obsession to try and discover evidence of the supernatural in the modern age. Shortly after the series begins, she ends up falling in with a child named Loki, who bills himself out as an occult detective due at first to her mutual interest in supernatural mysteries and, later, due to her attraction to him as an individual.

The catch is Loki is, in fact, the same Loki, god of mischief, darkness, and chaos, from Norse mythology. It turns out he was banished from Valhalla to Earth into the body of a child by Odin and, in order to return, he has to collect “evil energy” (yeah, that’s what it’s called in the dub) to power himself back up. Hence he started the detective energy to find sources of it to harvest.

As it turns out, Odin apparently wants Loki more than banished but dead to boot, and so the series is pretty much one instance after another of a Norse god or monster being sent after Loki to assassinate him. And that’s pretty much how the series plays out more or less. Although the overarching plot is for Loki to return to Valhalla, it centers so much on the individual problem or opponent he has to tackle in every episode that the focus is usually from episode to episode rather than keeping that goal in mind.

The big gimmick of this series is that the various gods and monsters that get sent after Loki are also not in their original forms. For example, one of the series regulars is Narugami, a teenage boy with a bokken who continuously is working every part time job he can get in order to make ends meet. As it turns out, Narugami is actually Thor, also in a different form, and the bokken is Mjolnir likewise disguised. Loki himself has a polite, mild-mannered, and dutiful servant/assistant named Yamino, who, it eventually turns out, is actually Jormungand. Later in the series he gets a small black puppy who is innocent and sweet to him but crude and crass to everyone else, who it turns out is actually Fenrir. Heimdall, god of light, who for much of the series is his arch-nemesis, is likewise a serious little boy named Kazumi who constantly ends up being the butt of jokes and is miserably tethered to his roommate Freyr…who himself has taken the form of a ridiculously stereotypical “dashing rogue”.

As a result, a great deal of this series is seeing classic characters from Norse mythology in very bizarre and unusual circumstances and bodies. It gives it a bit of its own unique quirk, though I think I’d only classify it as a charm some of the time. In addition to a bit of magical action, there’s a lot of humor in it too; mostly from the absurd situations the gods find themselves in and their reactions to them. Another big highlight of the series is its romantic aspects. Loki, apparently, has quite the slew of lovers, including in one of the Norn sisters and Freyja, who herself has become incarnate not by taking a human form but by resurrecting and “borrowing” the body of a deceased girl. Debateably, Mayara would also be one of his lovers, although, considering the fact that through the entire series Mayara remains oblivious to his true nature or any of the supernatural things happening around her, that would be kind of creepy as she would be attracted to a child.

The plot adheres to some true parts of Norse mythology even more closely than Marvel (Thor was, in fact, often Loki’s “partner in crime” in mythology rather than his opponent, so it makes sense that Narugami helps him often; Heimdall is in fact that one destined to kill Loki in Ragnarok, giving basis for their animosity; the characters of Jormungand, Fenrir, and Hel are all the children of Loki just as they are in the Norse mythology), but it also departs in some rather big ways. The biggest is that Loki, in spite of his titles and collection of “evil energy”, is actually quite benign. He’s not even much of a trickster. Whereas in the Norse mythology there is good reason for Loki to have been banished from Valhalla, here he seems to just be an innocent victim. He doesn’t even know why he was banished. Odin, on the other hand, is characterized as the main villain as it’s revealed almost everyone has been manipulated or tricked by him into going after Loki to kill him.

As for how I would rate or recommend this anime, I would classify it mostly as “fluff”. Action, magic, comedy, and romance “fluff”. The plot fails to really give a sense of urgency or purpose, and that’s one of the major failing points to me. We never even see or hear Odin himself on screen, or find out why he wants Loki dead so badly and, if he does, why he banished him first. Some of the antagonists and opponents seem to practically flip a coin off screen to decide whether for a given episode they’ll try to kill Loki or assist him.

There is a subtext to the series as a whole that the one crime Loki was genuinely guilty of was not paying enough attention to those who loved him and cared about him, and that he eventually learns he wronged them by not even acknowledging them. To that end, Mayura’s character can be viewed as someone who opens him up to thinking about caring about others besides himself. However, even that doesn’t seem consistent. Yamino and Fenrir, after all, obviously still care about Loki, and most of the people who want to kill him aren’t doing so out of vengeance or hurt but because they were manipulated. While the series does end with Loki deciding to make a personal sacrifice so he can avoid hurting someone who cares about him and who he in turn cares about, that he has indeed come to a greater understanding that’s changed him, it wasn’t played up enough throughout the series as a whole to really see it as that monumental of a moment but more like a character flaw that was “slipped into the background”. And since this theme isn’t emphasized that strongly, Mayura feels like a glorified MacGuffin: simply there to provide plot devices to get Loki where he needs to go from time to time.

Because you don’t get a sense of an overall plot and it focuses more on “villain of the week” type episodic deals, the series ends up not having much of a satisfying resolution or even a thought of having truly made progress at the conclusion. And since things are so episodic, you know that things are going to go back to the way they were more or less after every episode.

However, the series does have good “tidbits” and “nibbles”. The funny parts are usually pretty amusing (this was the first anime I ever saw that parodied “Ringu”/”The Ring”), and the last storyline, which takes place over a few episodes, is engaging enough to keep the viewer engrossed. And it’s kind of fun watching and waiting for what figure or object from Norse mythology will pop up in the next episode. Yet ultimately, this series just isn’t that fun or entertaining, which is kind of sad considering how much it had to work with.

If you’re big on Norse mythology or even Marvel’s Thor and you want to see an alternate take done on it, then you might want to give “Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok” a look just for curiosity’s sake. Otherwise, it’s really not worth the money.

Rating 2.5 out of 5

The only “strange mystery” about this set is how so many things from Norse mythology ended up being so “meh”.

Watch You Should Do with This DVD:

Use it as Wikipedia bait for people who are anal-retentive about mythology, then put it up on eBay and sell it to dutiful housekeepers who constantly order things online they don’t need.

Junk Bin #20: “Jing: King of Bandits”

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Boy have I let this one slide. It’s been ages since I covered any, and most of my junk bin entries I have at home are over a decade old. I need to see if I can knock any more of them out.

Here’s a good candidate.

“Jing: King of Bandits”

This is another one of those animes they pushed at a convention one year and, similar to “Spice and Wolf”, faded soon after. It got a fair amount of exposure when it debuted, not only pushing the anime on DVD but also releasing the manga at the same time, but the series itself was only 13 episodes long and it never seemed to catch on.

The story centers around the titular character, Jing, who appears to be nothing more than a roguish kid on the outside but is actually the greatest thief in the world. Aside from being incredibly skilled at thievery, he’s also an extremely powerful, tenacious and intelligent fighter. He has a wrist-mounted blade that apparently can cut through almost anything, and his partner, a talking bird-like creature named Kir, can mount to his other arm and spew out an incredibly destructive beam cannon. Personality wise, Jing is eternally cool, confident, suave, and on top of things. In addition to being at-home in any situation, he possesses a natural charisma and street-smarts that lets him almost always seem to know how to deal with an individual in a given situation. By comparison, Kir worries a lot, browbeats him a lot, and is far more “normal” in temperament and attitude, providing a natural foil to him.

The short series does not follow an overarching narrative. Rather, it’s a series of short storylines that involve Jing coming into a town or land looking to steal some priceless or well-guarded/coveted treasure. Why does he want to? The audience really never knows or gains any real grasp of his motives. That’s because almost every new storyline focuses more on a young woman he meets in each situation and who ends up briefly teaming up with him, and she usually ends up being the emotional anchor for the story arc. Then, at the end of each episode, he moves on and the next place is a new story and a new young woman. Since there’s only 13 episodes, Jing is barely in one, two are a two parters, and the last one is a three-parter, that only leaves a few stories to tell even in an already-short series.

The setting is an alternate universe, in a world that’s quasi-fantasy, quasi-technology, and filled with creatures that are normal, magical, and perhaps downright bizarre–most notably the use of beasts of burden that appear to be animate bones. Since almost every episode is a new setting, it gives the opportunity for a lot of different environments and locales, as well as continuous new characters and situations.

The episodic type of storytelling is a bit unusual for most anime but not unheard of. When most people think of an episodic anime about a bandit, the most infamous one that comes to mind is the “Lupin the Third” series. However, in this one, the focus is never really the heist. It’s usually focused more on the characters that Jing interacts with. Furthermore, the main conflict that gets resolved in each episode usually only distantly relates to the object he’s trying to steal. Usually, it instead represents a personal conflict being resolved with the characters, such as reuniting a mother and her child, a hopeless person finding a new purpose, or even learning to embrace and appreciate one’s own mortality. Jing himself shows early in the series that he has no actual desire for anything he steals, so one could infer that helping the individuals he runs into was his true goal all along. In that sense, far from being a story like “Lupin the Third”, Jing is more of a knight-errant archetype acting out that type of tale.

So, that’s the series in a nutshell. Is it any good or worth watching?

For people who don’t really have the patience to stick with a long anime narrative, the episodic take is nice. Each new episode brought the promise of a fantastic new setting and conflict to engage interest, and the artwork, while a bit childish and cartoony in many points, is colorful and creative. Most of the side characters are pretty interesting and engaging. And while the series has a lot of drama, it actually has a ton of crazy humor and fourth-wall breaks on top of it all, so combined with the action scenes it does offer a little something for everyone.

Yet where the series falls flat is the titular character. “Sword Art Online” has been criticized, and with some justification, that Kirito is a type of Marty Stu who just ran around assembling girls for his “harem” by being the one thing they needed in their lives to achieve happiness. But even Kirito eventually faced challenges he either couldn’t defeat alone or challenged him and his philosophy and forced him to grow. By comparison, Jing is a true Marty Stu. He’s always confident, always in control, always knows exactly what to say and what buttons to press, always is superior to his opponents, and always has a plan.

There are only two times I recall in the entire series in which Jing even looks caught off guard. One is early in episode three when one of the villains surprises him briefly, although he recovers from that and adapts quickly. The other is a joke: when Kir accidentally causes him to fall off a bone ladder. That’s it. The rest of the time, Jing is the picture of perfect confidence and charisma.

I kept waiting and waiting in this series for a threat to come up that Jing couldn’t just smirk off. Something that would push him to his personal limit or force him to make a difficult choice. It never happens, though. Combined with the fact the series reveals little to nothing of Jing’s background or how he came about his power and skill, and Jing almost becomes a plot device or a force of nature rather than a character. Most of the drama is lost in every episode by the end because you know in advance Jing will succeed. And when a character is simply perfect in every way, they’re not that interesting. And since he is the main character and the one central point of the series (other than Kir), he takes a little away from every episode.

It’s a bit entertaining and has some things that seemed interesting and new at the time when it came out, but it’s not much surprise this series quickly faded into obscurity and is hard to find. If you do pick it up, it’s a bit of good clean fun and some nice little adventures, and the final three-parter is a bit touching and bittersweet, but it’s definitely not a must-have. I’d recommend it over the other entries in the Junk Bin I’ve rated lower, but that’s all.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Good enough to be a somewhat uncommon treasure, but far from a rare find.

What You Should Do With This DVD: If you want something cheap, short, and you’re new to anime, pop it in for a quick little adventure. Otherwise, pass it by in search of a real gem.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #35 (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #35): “Twilight Sparkle & Starlight Glimmer”

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Synopsis:

Although still months away, Twilight Sparkle is already planning Hearth’s Warming Even gifts for next season and decides, for Princess Celestia, to go to the Castle of the Two Sisters and pick up some of the nicer ones for her as a gift while sorting the old library in something she calls “Book-sort-cation”. She decides to also roll it into a lesson in thoughtful gift giving by bringing Starlight Glimmer along; who, in spite of being tired from friendship lessons, is eager for the chance to see if there are magic books there written by Starswirl the Bearded. On arrival, however, Twilight, Starlight, Owluiscious, and Spike find the place is rather dusty and a mysterious vine is spewing spore dust everywhere, making Spike sneeze and, as a result, causes him to head out with a book on “Ferocious Flora”. While he’s gone, however, Twilight and Starlight start getting into a progressively more heated argument about the best way to sort that eventually turns into personal insults, all while the mysterious vine grows bigger and more widespread. Spike eventually finds out from the book that the vine is a “Squirm-Spore”, a hive-like spore-based creature that generates animosity in ponies and feeds off of it to grow bigger and stronger, eventually reaching dangerous proportions. As the Squirm-Spore starts animating suits of armor and stonework in the castle ruin to attack, Spike rushes back and tells the girls the news, and they realize it has been fighting off of their hostility. Realizing this, however, the two are able to resist the effect and work together, combining their magic along with Spike and Owluiscious to weaken and repel the monster back into Everfree Forest. Following the incident, Twilight reads more and discovers Starswirl the Bearded himself once fought a monster like that, which was triggered into growing into monstrous proportions by an argument between him and Melvin the Manticore. Hearing this, Starlight realizes that even somepony like Starswirl needed help from time to time, while Twilight realizes even somepony like Starswirl didn’t always know everything. The two reconcile, Twilight marks off Starlight as having completed this “lesson”, and, without distractions, the book sorting resumes; much to Spike’s chagrin.

Review:

This is…an interesting one.

In a way, I kind of think this is a wasted arc. Starlight Glimmer is a fairly unique character on the show, and in many ways represents what would happen if a “normal person” was suddenly in the magic land of friendship that is Equestria. She definitely has a way of thinking more maturely and treating things with more human-like neuroses and reactions. Pairing her with any other character, therefore, would be interesting just for her to have to adjust to them. The fact they paired her with Twilight Sparkle, the character she already interacts with far more than any other character, seemed a bit of a waste. But considering this was so soon after “The Cutie Re-Mark”, it might have been appropriate.

At the time this came out, Starlight Glimmer was still relatively new as a cast fixture. And because her personality had shifted so much between her time as a villain and her time as a regular, it’s understandable that the writers would have had a hard time pegging down her character (because I know I sure did, and I think the show writers did as well).  Because of that, this arc makes some character flubs. Starlight tends to be a compulsive overachiever, and she overcompensates for her lack of social skills by trying her best to be a people-pleaser at times, even when she shouldn’t. While I can see her being tired of friendship lessons, it wouldn’t be something she would profess in this case because she’d have a chance to “impress her teacher”. Furthermore, although Starlight is awkward in most social settings and interactions, she still longs for them. There’s never been a moment on the show in which she hasn’t been invited to participate in an activity or had a subordinate task in which she hasn’t felt “left out”.

The lingering animosity between her and Twilight, on the other hand, is something that could be potentially appropriate. Starlight did, after all, have a rather quick turnaround, and it’s hard to believe she’d just throw off all of her years-long mindset just like that. Parts of her might still long for her commune and a more controlling society. It’s a topic that would be interesting to pursue on the show, but in this case it gets a pass in any event because we can attribute Starlight having been affected by the spores.

Also, I find something rather interesting about this arc. One of my issues with the main series is that Starlight is still failing to “integrate” into the Mane Six. In Season Seven, there was only one episode, “It isn’t the Mane Thing About You”, in which Starlight felt like she was fully on the same level as the rest of the girls; no better and no worse. Most of the time she either stands above them or stands apart from them…and, granted, while the second of those two might be what the writers ultimately want, it enhances her reputation for being “Mary Sue”. I like this one because it’s the first real time that Starlight and Twilight had to work together on something (unless you count their very brief scuffle with the Pony of Shadows in the Season Seven finale).

Aside from that, one other thing I want to mark this issue down for is the monster. It’s basically the same modus operandi as the Dazzlings all over again, and connected to Starswirl the Bearded to boot. I thought they could have gone with something a bit more original than that. It’s a small complaint, but still.

The characterization confusion on the part of IDW is understandable in this issue, but nevertheless makes some of it fall flat. Aside from that, while colorful the plot isn’t all that remarkable even for “Friends Forever” standards, and it doesn’t really offer anything new to Twilight and Starlight’s relationship other than hints that she still clings to her old way of thinking. If I forgive the confusion, it’s still pretty middle-of-the-road.

Fun Facts:

While Jay Fosgitt’s art style for ponies is fairly signature, Spike’s own design is more-or-less the same as on the show.

The mention of crafting friendship lessons for Starlight places this story in the middle of Season Six.

Two of the comics Spike takes with him are “Flying Mouse” and “Arachnerd”, possibly insults for Batman and Spider-Man, respectively.

Spike gets to experience being a full-sized dragon again…kind of. 😛

Starswirl the Bearded is still in his “pre-legends” canonical form.

Melvin the Manticore is a character from, shall we say, the “expanded lore” of MLP:FIM; first introduced in “The Journal of the Two Sisters” by Amy Keating Rogers.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #34 (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #34): “Pinkie Pie & Cheese Sandwich”

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Synopsis:

Pinkie Pie, while traveling in the Everfree Forest (for an undisclosed reason), is suddenly ambushed by an old sentient house on legs, and is captured and locked inside. Once within, she’s surprised to find Cheese Sandwich and three other fillies are already trapped within. They explain that Cheese was entertaining the fillies at a birthday party when the house, which Cheese has nicknamed “Housey”, suddenly arrived and captured the four of them. Unfortunately, the reason it captured Pinkie as well was because Cheese accidentally mentioned aloud he knew the other greatest party planner in Equestria, causing it to seek out and capture Pinkie. Housey is seemingly unbreakable from the inside so the five decide to do a conga line through it in order to try and find another way out without “alerting” it. However, when one of the fillies mentions aloud she’s having fun, the lights in the house grow brighter; leading Pinkie and Cheese to conclude Housey likes it when its residents are having fun. They use whatever is on hand to make the biggest party they can muster but, although Housey grows brighter, it still won’t let them leave, and Cheese makes it worse when he accidentally says the only thing that would make the party better was more partygoers–prompting Housey to look for more victims in Ponyville. However, while it’s running along it accidentally dislodges a photo album that Pinkie picks up on, and sees that, years earlier, when the house was first built by a pony family a protection spell was placed on it, but the spell ended up interacting with the love of the family for three generations and came to life. Once the family moved away, the house grew lonely for the happiness from celebration and parties that used to take place in it and longed for more. Pinkie and Cheese end up making Housey an offer: in exchange for letting them go, they’ll enable Housey to have a continuous party in which new ponies are free to enter the house and join the party whenever they wish, provided they are allowed to leave again when they want. As a result of the constant input and output of guests, the house will be host to a never-ending party. Housey agrees and lets them depart as it takes on its first new guests, and the house departs Pinkie and Cheese comment on how the best parties are celebrations of life and love, and now Housey, who saw a lifetime of parties, now has become a lifetime party machine.

Review:

It went without saying that the odds of Cheese Sandwich ever appearing on the main show were very slim. Although hiring different voice actors for celebrity characters is not unheard of, Weird Al Yankovic is such an icon that it’s unlikely they’d ever be able to replace him without getting some backlash. (Although he does have a regular series in Milo Murphy’s Law now, so maybe…) The comic, however, is free to use whatever character it wants, and so thanks to this issue we got a return of one of the more popular one-shot characters ever in the series.

Unfortunately, Cheese doesn’t get a chance to do too much here, and the writers didn’t really think to have him do much in the way of Weird Al parodies either. There are a few gags, but with the big open panels there wasn’t much room for too much over-the-top humor. Rather, this plotline does something that’s a bit more “big picture” with a hint of science fiction in it, similar to Spike’s “Pony Tales”, only this one deals with a topic normally you wouldn’t expect from “My Little Pony” in how to satisfy the basic need of a machine-like object once it gains sentience. Normally these end in one of two ways: destruction or finding a way to fulfill its desire, the second of which is usually more fun and intriguing. Such happened here. It made for an intriguing conclusion that required a bit more thinking outside of the box than your basic friendship lesson, which was kind of ingenious on the part of the writers.

I will say this story was a bit of a downer, however. By constantly interspersing Housey’s own somber story, it detracted quite a bit from the plot with Cheese and Pinkie, who normally should be such funny characters that it should have been able to elevate any situation. It does end happily enough, although a house walking around the countryside is still a tad odd, but it didn’t seem to have the humorous punch one would expect from this sort of tale.

Overall, it’s a good entry. Just not one that really sticks out as much as the others, and one that brings back Cheese Sandwich only to not do much more with him than you would expect from Pinkie Pie alone being there. So, it’s a tad disappointing.

Fun Facts:

The plot to this issue shares some similarities with Star Trek episodes. In particular, the Star Trek episode “Metamorphosis”, in which an alien entity fell in love with a Earth human and kept him immortal and alive like her and, when he mentioned he would die of loneliness, rather than let him go captured the crew of the Enterprise to entertain him; and the original Star Trek movie, in which an inanimate satellite is given sentience threatens the Enterprise and Earth until the crew makes it possible for the newly-sentient entity to gain the fulfillment it longs for.

A “starry-cloaked” unicorn named Magical Miasmo casts the protection spell on the house, and based on the cart and appearance he seems to be related to Trixie.

Aurora Muffin’s sketch features Cheese Sandwich trying to ward off the house with a balloon animal…and muscles.

Kwinkles are obviously parodies of Twinkies, and the fact that Cheese Sandwich mentions “they stopped making them a few years ago” indicates that this comic might have been written in between Hostess going bankrupt and it’s product being picked up by a new company. He also mentions the infamous Twinkie myth that they’re so processed they never go bad…which is a lie, by the way. Don’t believe me just leave a Twinkie sitting out and see how long it takes to mold. 😛

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Comic Arc #25 (IDW My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Issues #51-53): “From the Shadows”

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Synopsis:

After an outing to see “The Bridle of Frankenstag” with the rest of the Mane Six, Twilight Sparkle and Spike are heading home to the Castle of Friendship only to find it has been broken into. The thief is still inside, a mysterious gray unicorn stallion, but he manages to escape with several of Twilight’s books after ransacking the library. Fearful about what just happened, Twilight calls the girls over for an impromptu sleep-over, and on ordering the remaining books she finds that none of the spellbooks have been taken but, rather, history books about monstrous figures from Equestria’s past. The next day, Twilight and Spike use a Location Spell she placed on the books to find them, but on finally tracking them down she finds the books abandoned in an alley with all of their pages blanked out. The girls split up in town, realizing the thief couldn’t have gone far, and through independent investigation find the culprit is a pony named Shadow Lock who has a specialty for book magic, including the ability to erase not only the contents of books but also the knowledge that the content gave to anyone who ever read that book. They manage to track him down to the Public Library just as he’s about to check out even more books, but on being confronted by the girls he uses his power to bring multiple monsters to life out of the books to attack them.

As the girls begin to struggle with the monsters, Shadow calls out that what he’s doing is for their own good; that he’s trying to keep “a darkness” from returning to Equestria. While the girls manage to stop the rampaging monsters by hurriedly moving to the end of their stories, he escapes in the confusion. Over the next few days the girls attempt to stake out classrooms, newspaper offices, and historical reenactment sites to try and corner Shadow Lock, but he either doesn’t show or manages to escape in the same way he escaped the library: unleashing more monsters. Finally, Twilight and the girls set a trap at the Canterlot Museum by holding a huge “History of Equestria” exhibit, then staking out that location. Sure enough, Shadow Lock sneaks in and makes for the archives, thinking the girls asleep, but on arrival he’s surprised to see Twilight Sparkle is awake and waiting for him. She stops him from summoning another monster from a book and offers to hear him out on his reasons for why he’s doing what he’s doing; suspecting that she has the upper hand in she can always call out to wake her friends up to help her. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Shadow Lock already dealt with them by trapping them in a world brought to life by the museum exhibits.

Pinkie Pie and Applejack find themselves stuck in the cavepony exhibit, Rarity and Rainbow Dash are stuck in the Egyptian-themed exhibit with Queen Cleopatrot, and Fluttershy and Spike are stuck in the medieval exhibit with pony knights and a full-sized dragon. Shadow Lock, deciding to let Twilight continue to think everything’s fine, explains that he discovered he is the last descendant of an ancient pony who was corrupted by darkness into a horrible monster capable of dooming all of Equestria. He first discovered it on reading about him in a book, and ever since then he’s continually found more passages of him that has made him obsessed with the fear that he too will be corrupted by darkness into the same monster. He felt the only way to prevent it from happening was to erase all memory of his existence so that none will ever follow in his footsteps. Twilight, however, points out this won’t stop the inevitable of another tyrant appearing and that erasing and hiding from history won’t stop it; that one has to embrace both the good parts and bad parts of their history if they want to learn from it and keep it from happening again. Her point is proven when Shadow Lock realizes, to his own horror, that by using his spell he has already erased from his own mind how the monster was stopped the first time. Not long after, he is surprised as the rest of the girls show up; revealing they escaped the history traps that they had been stuck in by doing something different from normal history–further proving Twilight’s point. He apologizes for all he’s done and changes his strategy; instead deciding to go through Equestria and use history to find a way to stop the monster from returning and the same thing from happening again. As he departs, Twilight realizes she never got the name of the villain from him, but the girls brush it off. Meanwhile, in the Ponyville House of Antiques, a shoppony accidentally knocks over a blind buy barrel that contains an old journal marked with a star swirl and a picture of the same monster from Shadow Lock’s memory inside…

Review:

With this story arc, the combination IDW comic/main series arc of the Pillars of Old Equestria and the Pony of Shadows was officially launched. The timing was good as it came out prior to the start of Season Seven, even though the actual arc on the show wouldn’t start until midseason. Plotwise, it was an interesting and clever way to launch things to me.

Overall, this whole arc is well-balanced. All of the girls are given something to do although they are shoved into pairs for most of it. Each one gets their own lines, quirks, and gags, just like you would expect from any episode trying to use all of them. The girls treat the whole plot in a rather “light” manner even though it does have some heavy implications, especially when the audience doesn’t know what Shadow Lock’s intentions are exactly initially. The balance works out well in this one rather than being a sharp contrast such as in “Reflections”, “Chaos Theory”, and “The Ponies of Dark Water” (to a lesser extent).

On the “darker” side, the biggest standout is Shadow Lock himself. There’s been a number of OCs in the IDW Comic over the years; many of them just there to fulfill minor roles. Creating a new villain, and a stallion no less, was eye-catching a bit in and of itself. I’m a bit grimacing at the use of a cloak yet again, but overall there’s something about Shadow Lock personality-wise that makes him seem a bit different from the other Equestrians. His attitude seems a bit sharper and more severe.

Some of the last issue is a bit of a callback to the plot in #15 and #16, especially with more monsters coming out of books. I kind of kept thinking of that arc as this one went on, so if there was anything I would mark this arc down for that would be it. Nevertheless, it was still fun and made for some good jokes.

Seen in the context of the entire season arc, a point I will make here and will make later is that the comics went a long way into making the Pony of Shadows a much more intimidating, fearsome, and dangerous foe than the show itself managed. Liberated from the Y-rating and having much more room to work with as they could focus on individual characters, the comic overall did a much better job of promoting the stakes for the Season Seven finale, which itself had such character overload it really only had time for a 44 minute exposition dump. This arc, on the other hand, created an intriguing and foreboding villain in Shadow Lock, and the fact that he was trying to save Equestria from something far deadlier and went to such lengths to ensure it, not to mention the hints and hype that began in this issue, really geared me up more for the Season Seven finale than I would have been otherwise. In that regard, it did its job very well.

If you frame this prequel in the light of what we eventually got out of the show, it seems to downgrade its rating a bit. But keeping in mind how much better the comic did plus how effectively this started building up for the finale, I give it a higher rating it deserves.

Fun Facts:

This comic arc is the prelude to the IDW “Legends of Magic” limited series and the second half of Season Seven’s overarching story arc. The last page connects directly to Season Seven’s “Uncommon Bond”. This arc also, in part, fixes the plot holes of many of the Pillars of Old Equestria never getting mentioned, the Pony of Shadows not having any reputation from legend, and Celestia and Luna not remembering that the Pillars were real individuals, although the “Legends of Magic” arc would later explain that as well by having them purposely avoid making their presence known to either of them. (As well as a brief line from Fluttershy using the incident to explain why the CMCs are still in the same grade after seven years. :P)

“The Bridle of Frankenstag” is playing in the same theater from “The Ponies of Dark Water”, which was apparently rebuilt. Although the girls clearly point out it was a play, the IDW Comic writers seem to have forgotten that film exists in Equestria (as evidenced in “Hurricane Fluttershy” and “One Bad Apple”). 😛

I just noticed…instead of sleeping bags, rollaways, or even spare rooms, for sleepovers Twilight has entire beds in her own bedroom. Weird.

As a nod back to Rainbow Dash admitting to Scootaloo that scary stories got to her when she was younger in “Sleepless in Ponyville”, she’s the only one who had nightmares of Frankenstag.

This arc might be the first time Fluttershy has ever used her attractiveness to get out of a situation.

The cyclops pony bears a resemblance to Bulk Biceps. His Cutie Mark is an eyeball. H. Pony Lovecart is a parody of H.P. Lovecraft, whose horror writings often featured elderich horrors of monstrosities that included tentacles. Hence, nothing but a mass of tentacles comes from his book. Frankenstag’s monster is a parody of Frankenstein’s monster and, as if often the case with those who have read the book, he corrects the cast on misconceptions given from the popular media version. 😛

The “Marshans” are parodies of the Martians in “War of the Worlds”. In that story, the Martian invaders were eventually destroyed by contracting infections and sickness from Earth’s native bacteria.

The Mane-Iac briefly returns in a cameo.

Trenderhoof (from “Simple Ways”) cameos at the Canterlot Daily News office. (Were newspapers really around back in the days of the Pony of Shadows? :P)

Ponebert by Trot Adams is (obviously) a parody of Dilbert by Scott Adams. It seems, just like in real life, the quality of its humor is somewhat up for debate.

In Colonial Whinniesburg, Prancy Drew makes a brief cameo.

So ponies DO have bathrooms and they DO use toilet paper. 😛

Somnambula as a locale (rather than an individual) is mentioned for the first time in this arc.

This arc is the first appearance of the Pony of Shadows (although only as a drawing in a book).

It’s never explained how Shadow Lock managed to descend from the Pony of Shadows, although it’s safe to assume he isn’t a direct descendant of Stygian. It’s also never explained how he got the scar across his snout. Shadow Lock doesn’t look like it compared to the show version, but he does bear a slight resemblance to Stygian in “Legends of Magic”.

Some of Pinkie Pie’s attempts to talk to the caveponies include saying “Artoo Deetoo” or R2-D2, the droid from the Star Wars franchise.

Pinkie Pie randomly mentions the Matrix, complete with shades.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Comic Arc #24 (IDW My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Issues #48-50): “Chaos Theory”

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Synopsis:

The Mane Six, Spike, and Starlight Glimmer are all heading out with the residents of Ponyville to enjoy the Cosmic Convergence Conjunction, only to find that they have a “party crasher”: Discord. It’s not long before his chaotic nature and need to be the center of attention earn him a scolding from the girls, who pouts and disappears. Not long after, the Cosmic Convergence Conjuction occurs but, as it does, Starlight notices something nearby. The girls look and see what appears to be a blend of a strange egg and Discord smoldering in the ground. They take it back to the Castle of Friendship only for it to hatch, revealing a creature that looks like Discord but dresses neatly, talks calmly, and acts mannerly. He indicates that he’s a creature that Discord transformed into as a result of the energy of the conjunction, and is not a spirit of chaos but one of order and harmony. Twilight Sparkle names him “Accord” and, on learning that he wants to help bring order and harmony to Equestria, decide to reintroduce him to town. He ends up being extremely mannerly and helpful, earning the admiration of all of the girls except Fluttershy, but Starlight gets uneasy when Accord, rather than fix a hotel under construction that is suffering from a clash of styles from disagreeing architects, momentarily mind controls both of them instead to make them agree on the same design. Twilight and the others rub it off as a mistake, however, and the next day Accord and the girls are invited to Canterlot for a royal luncheon with Celestia and Luna to formally introduce him. While at the luncheon, Starlight vocalizes her disapproval with how Accord acted the other day, but Accord soon surprises everypony by saying he wishes to bring complete harmony to everypony in Equestria via unity, and he plans to achieve unity by making every resident in Equestria think exactly alike and run it under his own direction. He starts by trying to mind-control everypony in the palace and, while Celestia manages to protect the girls, herself, and Luna, everypony else is turned into a like-minded zombie.

Unable to reason with Accord, who believes he is simply doing what Celestia and Luna were trying to do “more efficiently”, Twilight tells Celestia and the rest of the girls to start evacuating Canterlot while she and Luna enter Accord’s mind using her dream magic. While they successfully enter, they soon discovered he’s changed inside and out and all he has is a uniform sameness throughout his mind. Nevertheless, Twilight manages to find a snow globe in one of the monolithic offices inside his head that contains the original Discord. She breaks it open and frees him, but Discord informs her that he is merely the last part of what Accord is now that is still Discord. He confesses that he was truly hurt when the girls scolded him at the Cosmic Convergence Conjunction and felt he would never fit in with them, so he decided to change himself into a harmonious form instead. Unfortunately, he can’t change back unless Accord willingly changes himself back into Discord, and shortly after confessing this the Accords inside his mind trap the three of them… Back outside, Celestia and the girls break for it only to discover Accord is not only rapidly expanding his control to all of the other ponies in Canterlot but he is, in effect, copying his own consciousness onto them in order to make them partially clones of himself from a mental standpoint. They manage to escape the zone of his magic influence and round up whoever isn’t converted yet to the train station, only to get a rather bad surprise: Twilight and Luna, both now mind-controlled as well, suddenly arrive.

The group manages to escape on a train and head toward Ponyville, but while en route Celestia begins to wonder if Accord might actually have a point; seeing as he seems to have brought harmony and balance far easier and more quickly than Celestia has. Starlight protests that he’s gone about it through making ponies conform and be controlled, as she did once, rather than trying to get them to work together as friends. She begins to speculate based on similar incidents (such as with the cursed water, the Mirror Universe, and Inspiration Manifestation) that both Discord and Accord themselves actually had the same goals (making friends) but went about it in different ways. On arriving in Ponyville, Celestia leads the girls to go for the Elements of Harmony with the intent of using them against Accord and Celestia taking Twilight’s spot. Soon after, Accord teleports in and invites them to try, and not only do the Elements not work they actually enhance his power to allow him to instantly mind-control everypony in Equestria except Starlight (who was protecting herself at the point of the attack). However, before Accord can do the same to her, she points out that since she’s the only non-controlled one left and no threat to him that he should be able to convince her to join his philosophy without forcing her. Accord agrees to the challenge, claiming that he’s made everypony in Equestria his friends by making them think alike and that “friendship is order”. Starlight counters that friendship is about understanding and connecting with others because of differences, and that Accord hasn’t really made a single friend or brought any ponies to work together. All he’s made is copies of himself who can only think and act the way he wants them to “and not a single friend”. Realizing he was wrong all along, Accord tells Starlight goodbye and says he hopes this is the last she’ll ever see of him before turning back into Discord. The girls all welcome Discord back and learn to appreciate how differences and “chaos” helps build friendships, and the cast ends with a proclamation that “friendship is magic”.

Review:

First things first. (Holds a gun to the head of the part of my Angry Inner Fanboy who’s mad that Starlight’s second appearance in the main IDW series was another “Starlight Saves Absolutely Every Other Protagonist in the Entire Series by Herself” story to keep him from complaining.) On we go.

A big theme that keeps getting revisited in the “My Little Pony” franchise is the idea of what would happen if characters would be the opposite of their true selves. Ironically, that idea first came around because of Discord way back in Season Two’s “Return of Harmony”. But with Discord reaching the point where he tried to fit in more with the regular cast, and him being such a stand-out character, it caused no end of fan speculation as to what Discord would be like if he was the opposite of his current self.

It was played up mostly for laughs but with a touch of “aw” and drama in “Discordant Harmony” in Season Seven. By comparison…this arc went much darker with it. It essentially showed that being an omnipotent creature is pretty much a dangerous thing for Equestria whether he wants chaos or order.

The art is really great and the pacing is pretty good, keeping things at a very tense progression after Accord reveals his intentions that keeps you engrossed in the story. I don’t think that the show could ever get away with an ending this philosophical, but…it was rather appropriate, fitting, and even clever. Most of the times in the main series when a character talks down a villain it basically amounts to “I’ll be your friend”. In this one, the dialogue was more mature and satisfying. Using the more mature rating for a more intelligent plot is good to me. And there were quite a number of callbacks both to the TV series and the comic, making this a very unifying arc. And the ending message is good as well…that chaos in and of itself isn’t necessarily evil just as order in and of itself isn’t necessarily good, and that it’s possible to appreciate and even befriend both.

However, for being an arc that focuses on Discord and the normal zaniness that surrounds him, even when he’s trying to be “orderly”, this arc goes in a dark direction pretty quick. Even the narrative hook is a bit unusual. The odd egg/chrysalis thing that Discord changes into is a bit unsettling looking right at the start, already foreshadowing that things are going to go from humorous to dark pretty quickly in this arc. And indeed they do. Similar to the “Reflections” arc, this plotline very quickly gets into dark territory. Many of the scenes of the Stepford Smiler ponies are very disturbing looking, especially when it starts showing the other ponies aren’t merely brainwashed but have been turned into copies of Accord, in a sense. The comic makes numerous attempts to try and alleviate this with comic relief, but…similar to the “Reflections” arc, it doesn’t work out that well to me. In fact, it works a little less. The plot just gets a little too heavy to be able to lift it out of it, even with someone like Andy Fleecs doing the normally wonderful art.

This does have the feel of a season-capping episode, but…it also suffers from most of the pitfalls of one. The biggest part is the rest of the girls are just there to be random gags and one liners. Celestia, Starlight, Luna, and Twilight get a good amount of focus, but Fluttershy gets largely ignored after the first part even though anything that would happen to Discord would impact her the most.

And…what the heck, I’ll let him get it out. (Lowers gun)

This comic was likely in production long before “To Where and Back Again” came out or was even known about, but I’m a little disappointed at the show staff for not warning the IDW Comic writers they planned to do an arc where Starlight would save the entire cast more or less by herself, because the fact they put out a second arc where she does the same thing in the comic made me frown a little. In several ways, it’s worse than it was for “To Where and Back Again”. In that one, Starlight found herself forced into a position of leadership she didn’t want to be in. She was hesitant and self-doubting at least, and part of the story had to be her being willing to direct others to work together. In this one, Starlight is portrayed as already being smarter, stronger, and even possibly more empathic than the others. And the issue with that is that it continuously renders not only the Mane Six superfluous compared to her but also casts doubt upon how they ever did anything to change her, as she already seems to be “better at friendship” than them without them saying or doing anything to change her…a fact that seems accurate considering the flimsy resolution of “The Cutie Re-Mark”. It’s not to say I don’t like Starlight Glimmer, but…seriously? Could they have not done an arc or two where she was working with the girls instead of bailing them and the princesses of Equestria out? …Again?

All in all, this is still a good arc in spite of its flaws. It’s not quite as funny or show-appropriate as it would like to be and I personally feel it could have gone in slightly different directions, but overall it’s still a tense, dramatic, and colorful arc. A good solid benchmark for their 50th issue. Here’s to seeing fifty more. 🙂

Fun Facts:

This arc is also known simply as: “Accord”.

Discord breaks the fourth wall earlier than usual, saying “in the four color flesh”. Comic coloration is done in only four colors: Yellow, Cyan, Magenta, and Black. A moment later he’s unhappy on seeing that the script for Issue #48 has him saying puns.

Accord is physically identical to Discord in spite of being “a creature of harmony” except in one detail: instead of a beard he has a mustache.

In possibly a nod to “Fairly Oddparents”, Accord’s word bubbles are more rectangular and rounded on the sides rather than ovals.

Both this arc as well as “Discordant Harmony” in the main series explored the idea of what would happen if Discord started acting “less chaotic”, but it’s interesting to note in both versions Fluttershy doesn’t like how he’s changed and wants him to be more chaotic.

Spike dreams of eating Kentucky Fried Crystals. Not sure how that will work out…

As with most Andy Price drawn stories, the IDW exclusive character Kibitz makes a return.

I’m sure most fans thought Twilight Sparkle eating her Toasty Oats breakfast was adorable. 😀

This comic might be the only indication we’ll ever get of numeric distances in Ponyville. The distance between Ponyville and Canterlot is 14 miles, the distance between Canterlot and Dodge Junction is 48 miles, and the distance from Canterlot to New Horseleans (never before mentioned in the TV series) is 260.

The looks on the faces of the mind-controlled ponies is a classic “Stepford Smiler”, which is similar to what was done in Season Five’s own “The Cutie Map” with Starlight’s commune members.

This story arc features a number of callbacks to earlier arcs. A major plot point is a callback to the “Friends Forever” issue with Luna and Discord–namely the fact Luna has entered Discord’s mind before. Another is a callback to the “Reflections” arc when Celestia mentions the evil version of herself. Lastly, there’s a callback to “The Ponies of Dark Waters”.

In a bit of comic relief, when Accord says he’s trying to achieve the same goal as Princess Celestia, Celestia screams: “WAT.”

Discord’s original persona is found in Accord’s mind in a snow globe, which may or may not be an allusion to “Coraline”. At any rate, the sled in the snow globe is named Rosebud, an allusion to “Citizen Kane”.

The mysterious fedora pony appears at the train station.

A pony version of Jimmy Olson calls out on seeing the mind-controlled Twilight and Luna.

As more comic relief, Starlight easily distracts the mind-controlled Twilight and Luna with a toy monkey.

When Princess Celestia tries to use the Magic Element of Harmony, it connects to her golden collar instead of as a tiara.

At the part where Starlight makes the point that you can’t be friends with “someone who’s exactly like you”, she’s looking at a random picture of Sunset Shimmer. As this arc came out in Season Six, it’s likely that this is a joke at the frequent fan complaint that Starlight Glimmer was nothing more than an attempt to clone Sunset Shimmer into a permanent role on the show.

A number of jokes are on the page where Discord returns. He brings Twilight and Luna in a fourth-wall breaking cardboard box that says “characters not seen for 16 pages”, he has a pizza from Panucci’s (the pizzaria in “Futurama”), and Doctor Whooves, no longer brainwashed, says he can finally blink…an allusion to Doctor Who’s fights against the Weeping Angels. Soon after, Discord complains about the entire story arc, saying he was only on nine of the sixty pages.

The final page is a tribute to IDW’s 50th issue of the My Little Pony series. It has numerous little nods, such as another appearance of the fedora pony, a Changeling, a foal with a horn like King Sombra’s, and an appearance from a buffalo and stag.

Issue #50 was a plus-sized issue that capped the “Chaos Theory” story arc with a ten page short called: “For the Pony Who Has Everything”, in which Discord gives Celestia a “birthday present” of turning her into a normal pegasus to take a day off as an average pony. Her Sun Cutie Mark is replaced with a Christmas tree light bulb. Eventually, Discord turns himself into a pegasus to tag along…with the Cutie Mark of an electric cord (obviously to plug in Celestia’s light bulb). When incognito Celestia says hi to Pinkie Pie, she reenacts her reaction to Twilight from the first episode, and one of the ponies in the impromptu pony parade is Jay Fosgitt, the short’s artist, in pony form.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #33 (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #33): “Applejack & Cherry Jubilee”

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Synopsis:

The Equine Flu is making its rounds about Equestria, and as Cherry Jubilee is currently shorthanded for harvest season she’s called Applejack to come help her. While harvesting one day, a group of ponies called “Buffalo Bull’s Amazing Wild West Show”, which Applejack is a fan of (and, in particular, its star attraction “Calamity Mane”), rides up to the farm. Calamity Mane herself comes out and explains that the troop is sick with the flu and asks if they can stay to recuperate for a few days. Yet when Applejack approves them staying without consulting Cherry and tells her about it, on mentioning that Buffalo Bull and Calamity Mane are there she gets so enraged that she only allows them to stay one night, but tomorrow wants both them and Applejack gone (for letting them stay at all). Applejack and Calamity both try to find out the reason for being angry, but not only do Cherry and Buffalo Bull (who himself caught the flu) say nothing but it turns out Bull is angry to find out they stopped at Dodge Junction in the first place and now is getting sicker. Applejack decides to go to the town library instead to see if she can find something in the history of the town to give a clue, and ends up discovering that Cherry Jubilee is, in fact, the original “Calamity Mane”. On confronting Cherry with this, she breaks down enough to tell the whole story. As a young filly she felt her special calling was cherry farming but wanted a chance to go abroad in Equestria. When Buffalo Bull’s (then) small show stopped by the town, they fell in love with each other and she accepted his offer to join his show to see Equestria, changing to a stage name of “Calamity Mane”. While the show enjoyed success, Cherry eventually tired of the exhaustion of stage life and wanted to settle down. While they were stopped in Dodge Junction, Bull publicly proposed to her and, panicking and not sure what she wanted, she ran off to a nearby cherry farm. Feeling her calling there once again, she grew more confused and went to talk to Bull about it; only to discover he had packed up the show and left her behind. Although Cherry eventually found her calling working on that farm and eventually buying it, she never stopped hurting over being abandoned by Bull and, now, from having replaced her with a different mare. Applejack tries to point out that both Bull and her ended up having good lives that made them happy doing what they wanted and tries to tell her that holding onto her grudge isn’t going to make her or Bull happy. Cherry seems to ignore this and runs to confront Bull but, on seeing him sick and heartbroken as well, lets go of her resentment. The two finally apologize for hurting each other and reconcile. A few days later, Cherry has also managed to reconcile with the current Calamity Mane. Buffalo Bull puts on his first show in Dodge Junction in years, inviting Cherry Jubilee to also perform under her real name. She, in turn, welcomes Calamity Mane on stage to perform with her while thanking Applejack for making it all possible.

Review:

Kind of ironic that Applejack, who has a history to me of having the most bland and humdrum episodes, ended up having the most heartfelt and emotional episode of the regular series with “The Perfect Pear”. Similarly, one of the most heartfelt and emotional issues of the “Friends Forever” series also goes to her.

Cherry Jubilee hasn’t had too much to do in the main series, which goes without saying. She was pretty much just a character brought in help move the plot in two episodes. Characters like this, however, are gold for the IDW Comic because they’ve been established along with relationships to other characters but haven’t yet been fleshed out. And this one did a marvelous job of that.

While the IDW Comic gets away with more than the show does based on the medium, it still has a responsibility to remain grounded not far from Y-rated territory, so it’s still subject to many of the same constraints. Nevertheless, just as was done in Season Seven, the comic managed to push the envelope by going in a story direction that little kids would find somewhat entertaining but the adult audience would understand far better and hits a bit closer to home. The experience of first being in love is something that feels very new and yet wonderful to lots of younger people. Yet it’s not very long after we first start forming connections with other people outside of our family’s that run far deeper and tighter than mere friendship that we start to learn just how “tender” and “vulnerable” those same connections are. One of the bitter lessons of most people’s younger years is the pain that accompanies throwing your heart around and giving it to other people. Yet none of that, however, is nearly as brutal or painful as when we feel like we’ve found the person who might be “the one” and bare everything to them, perhaps for a period of years, and feel like we could be together forever even if we’re still at the part of our lives where we’re trying to figure out who we are.

And as a result, when something happens that breaks that connection, there are two overwhelming emotional responses: extreme sadness and a desire for revenge. When you get hurt that bad and that deeply, it often spawns feelings of wanting to hurt that person back. And while this is most bitter, typically, in relationships…turning otherwise reasonable and pleasant people into their most hurting, venomous, and vengeful natures…it can happen any time someone hurts us deeply. And, similar to as was shown in “The Perfect Pear”, the pain can be so bad that we feel it “deserves” the grudges that we associate with it. That the misery and anguish we feel needs to keep being honored by never stopping being angry or hateful to the one who hurt us.

And just like in “The Perfect Pear”, all that ends up doing is rotting at our own hearts. Having a hole put into them ironically makes us want to keep that hole in there forever.

The truth is everyone has their reasons for doing the things they do. Some of them are selfish. Some of them are foolish. Some of them are based solely on raw and misplaced emotion and revenge. Rarely, however, (and far less often than most people are willing to accept) do people do things out of a pure desire to just be cruel for the sake of being cruel. Rarer still is the person who is willing to see what they contributed to get them to the point of where they are today and to apologize for it.

While it’s pretty clear that Bull and Cherry are friends again by the end of this story, whether or not they went so far as to restart their relationship is probably too much of a stretch. Yet even that was alright, because they finally got to part on friendly terms and finally understood, and accepted, that both of them were thinking more of themselves than anyone else in what happened and, for better or for worse, both ended up with the lives they wanted…leaving it pointless to spend the rest of their lives angry and hurting over what they did to each other.

This isn’t quite as tragic as “The Perfect Pear” and the ending isn’t quite as bittersweet although it does make the point, once again, that life’s too short to go around clinging to grudges. However, the real reason I mark it down was the “new” Calamity Mane. She is, for all intensive purposes, an innocent bystander. It’s clear she didn’t know that Cherry Jubilee was the original Calamity Mane and she looks up to Buffalo Bull in a non-romantic way, and yet she suddenly finds herself (unfairly) receiving Cherry’s wrath for Bull’s mistake. The most stand-out panel to me is where she overhears Buffalo Bull telling Cherry it was a mistake to replace “the one and only Calamity Mane”…something that clearly hurts her. Yet all we get is Applejack quickly throwing in an almost comedic “I’m sure he didn’t mean that”. At this point, you could have made an entire separate storyline in which the newer Calamity Mane now wonders if she was never anything more than a way of getting revenge on Cherry.

The way the art is drawn in the final panels, it looks as if Calamity Mane was just supposed to be happy for Bull and Cherry at the end but then, reading back through it, the writers realized that Calamity had just been wronged as badly as Cherry had been. So the dialogue was amended to include a few throwaway lines to show Cherry had made friends with her after all and didn’t mind her taking over her old spot. The biggest indication of that is the next to last panel when Cherry asks Calamity to come on stage as well…yet in the last panel Calamity is clearly just watching the show alongside Applejack. That’s something a little too big to overlook.

But aside from that, this is one of the best of the “Friends Forever” series and another surprisingly emotional tale from the most down-to-earth of the Mane Six. It’s not quite “The Perfect Pear”, but it’s definitely one of the high marks of the comic.

Fun Facts:

This entire storyline features a lot of nods to “Buffalo Bill” Cody, one of the last legendary figures of the American Old West. He was most infamously known for “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”, a traveling show that showcased numerous acts and stunts that were themed with the 1800s American West and, in great part, helped romanticize and popularize the idea of the Old West culture. Among its most notable acts was the storytelling of Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, a prominent frontierswoman from the Old West and contemporary of “Wild Bill” Hickock, and Annie Oakley, an infamous sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Buffalo Bull is clearly inspired by Buffalo Bill, especially running “Buffalo Bull’s Amazing Wild West Show”, while Calamity Mane seems to share aspects of both Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley.

It appears that Twilight Sparkle has used her princess status to promote literacy. Although she doesn’t appear in this issue, there’s a poster with her face on it in the library encouraging ponies to read. 😛

The gremlins appear…AGAIN. This time as stickers in a scrap book. So does a Pigasus from the Friends Forever with Applejack and Fluttershy.

Rating:

4.5 Stars out of 5

What if “Pitch Meeting” Did the “Fairy Dance” Arc of “Sword Art Online”?

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(First off, if you’re a fan of “Sword Art Online” and, in particular, the “Fairy Dance” arc, you should probably not read this…)

So, in my proud and illustrious tradition of always being the last person to ever know about anything when it comes to anime/manga, I only recently had the misfortune of starting to binge watch “Sword Art Online”. I wanted to stop early on, but…I had already paid (too much) for the DVDs so I figured I might as well at least watch it all once before selling it so it wasn’t a complete waste. I wasn’t completely sold on the “Aincrad” arc to begin with, but I kept hearing that what really ended up being the poison pill was the “Fairy Dance” arc that came after it. I figured it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

I was wrong. I tend to be pretty tame in what I pick to watch, so it was a bit unusual for me to see something so cringe-worthy I fast-forwarded past it.

Anyway, I also have a new favorite series on Youtube, “Pitch Meetings” from Screen Junkies, which is a hilarious little bit where a single writer/actor plays both a film executive and a screenwriter who act out hilarious pitches for existing films. And, as you can tell from my shameless ripoffs, I kind of have an affinity for imagining how those would go and no sooner had I finished suffering through watching this arc than I began to imagine how it would work out if they ever actually did a Pitch Meeting of it. So…this is what I came up with.

(Er…on the off chance they ever actually do this, I’ll make sure to take this down…)

BTW, before reading this you should go search for “Pitch Meeting” on Youtube for a lot of hilarious fake movie pitches. It’ll also help you to get the tone and jokes of this better.


 

[Scene opens on the outside of an A-1 Pictures meeting room, then cuts to a smiling anime executive.]

EXECUTIVE: So I hear you got an idea for a new continuation arc for “Sword Art Online” to pitch me.

[Cut to an equally smiling screenwriter]

SCREENWRITER: Yes sir, I do!

EXECUTIVE: I imagine it’s going to be pretty hard because, you know, we kind of wrapped everything up after the Aincrad arc. Didn’t really leave much room to go anywhere. “Sword Art Online” shut down and everything.

SCREENWRITER: Well, to tell the truth I got rather stumped on where to go from there myself so I looked to the Internet.

EXECUTIVE: The Internet?

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, you see there’s a whole bunch of things out there called “fanfiction” which are more or less fans of the original “Sword Art Online” just writing what they would like to see happen next. So I just randomly looked at a bunch of them and put their ideas in my script.

EXECUTIVE: Wow!

SCREENWRITER: I figured why do the extra work when people had already done it for free?

EXECUTIVE: Awesome. So what do you got?

SCREENWRITER: Well, it turns out the company that put out “SAO” got bankrupt and broken up as a result of the whole, you know, main developer turning into Jigsaw and basically forcing 10,000 people to play a murder game for his amusement. But they sold most of their servers to a different company named RCT that started a new MMORPG called “ALfheim”.

EXECUTIVE: So I imagine because everything that happened in “SAO” was such a horrible incident that they’re going to have to make a completely different game.

SCREENWRITER: Actually no. It’s pretty much the exact same game only with magic, flying, and pointy ears. Oh, and you can die without “dying” now.

EXECUTIVE: Oh…but no one wants to play this game because it’s just like “SAO” though, right?

SCREENWRITER: No, everyone wants to play it.

EXECUTIVE: Wouldn’t Nervegears have been, like, outlawed following what happened with them the first time?

SCREENWRITER: Yes, but they put out a newer model that does the exact same things the Nervegears did only now it has better security features.

EXECUTIVE: (Blinking) But wasn’t the problem the first time nothing to do with security? It was the developer coded them to run his deathgame?

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, but…it’s more secure now.

EXECUTIVE: So all that’s changed is if you got stuck in this game now you’d be even more stuck than before?

SCREENWRITER: Kind of, but…it’s more secure so…everyone likes that.

EXECUTIVE: Huh.

SCREENWRITER: Anyway, it’s been two months since “SAO” went offline and so the player who had the avatar Kirito is adjusting back to normal life.

EXECUTIVE: I can imagine he’s still in terrible shape because he hasn’t used a single muscle in his entire body for two years.

SCREENWRITER: No, actually he’s in such good physical condition he can almost beat someone who’s an adept at kendo in a match.

EXECUTIVE: How does that work?

SCREENWRITER: Good rehab.

EXECUTIVE: Fair enough.

SCREENWRITER: Anyway, it turns out 300 players are still stuck in Nervegear comas and Asuna is one of them, so he visits her in the hospital every day. It also turns out that she’s the daughter of the CEO of RCT that bought the servers and is running the ALfheim game. And it turns out there’s a family friend who is also pretty high up in the company and managing the ALfheim game and the servers that are keeping Asuna alive.

EXECUTIVE: Whoa. That seems pretty convenient.

SCREENWRITER: (Smiling and nodding) It’s EXTREMELY convenient.

EXECUTIVE: So what happens?

SCREENWRITER: It turns out even though Asuna is in a vegetative state that he’s going to legally marry her and become the family heir.

EXECUTIVE: (Confused) He’s going to marry someone who’s in a vegetative state.

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, they’re actually going to dress her comatose body up in a wedding gown and everything.

EXECUTIVE: That sounds extremely morbid and extremely stupid.

SCREENWRITER: (Shrugs) It was in one of the fanfics I read.

EXECUTIVE: Is that even legal?

SCREENWRITER: Well, you see, this entire series happens in 2025 so it’s not reflecting modern society.

EXECUTIVE: And you think in about 10 years we’re going to reach the point where people are allowed to legally marry people who are comatose?

SCREENWRITER: I dunno…maybe?

EXECUTIVE: Alright then.

SCREENWRITER: Anyway, it turns out this guy is actually crazy and severely perverted. He’s going to fondle Asuna’s comatose body right in front of Kirito and grab her hair and smell it.

EXECUTIVE: Whoa! So I guess Kirito’s going to go right to her father and tell him this guy is seriously messed up and then he’s going to call the cops and the whole thing’s going to get broken off immediately?

SCREENWRITER: No, he’s going to go back to his room and cry about it.

EXECUTIVE: (Blinking) Why wouldn’t he go to the police?

SCREENWRITER: This is Japan we’re talking about. Owning child porn became illegal less than five years ago.

EXECUTIVE: Hmm.

SCREENWRITER: Well then he’s going to get an email from one of the guys he knew in “SAO”, so he’s going to go down to his bar to meet up with him.

EXECUTIVE: Wait, wasn’t this guy stuck in a MMORPG for two years?

SCREENWRITER: Yes.

EXECUTIVE: And somehow he still owns a business?

SCREENWRITER: He did in the fanfic I read. Anyway, he shows him a picture that was taken from the “ALfheim” game that shows at the top of this massive World Tree which is at the end of the Grand Quest there’s a birdcage that looks like it has Asuna in it. As it turns out, the RCT corporation managed to reroute 300 of the players from “SAO” onto their servers they got from the game’s original company just as the game was ending. So now he has to go back into the game to save her.

EXECUTIVE: So I imagine this is going to be really rough on him since he’s probably psychologically scarred and afraid to use any Nervegear technology anymore.

SCREENWRITER: Actually, it’s super easy. Barely an inconvenience. In fact, he’ll use the same helmet he was stuck in for two years.

EXECUTIVE: He actually kept the helmet he was stuck in for two years? Isn’t that like someone who was chained and tortured for two years keeping their shackles?

SCREENWRITER: No, it’s not.

EXECUTIVE: Ok then. But if RCT could reroute players onto their own servers, why didn’t they use them to disconnect the players from “SAO” over the past two years?

SCREENWRITER: Well, you see as it turns out the pervy executive and a bunch of other pervy researchers are secretly using the players as test subjects to conduct experiments in being able to manipulate memories and emotions of players so that they can get the technology for mass control of entire populations, and they want to sell this technology to hostile governments and organizations.

EXECUTIVE: That’s pretty intense. So what do they end up doing with this terrible yet amazing technology during the story?

SCREENWRITER: Almost nothing.

EXECUTIVE: Really?

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, the pervy executive will talk about using it once and boast that he can use it on anyone and that it makes him a god, but he’ll end up only using it to decrease one guy’s threshold for pain.

EXECUTIVE: Oh, the pervy executive plays a role?

SCREENWRITER: Oh yeah. As it turns out, he’s set himself up as the king of ALfheim and hacked himself to become the biggest and best player and he’s actually holding Asuna prisoner in the game.

EXECUTIVE: But since Asuna was one of the main characters in the Aincrad arc and she’s shown herself to be just as strong, resourceful, and full of self-pride as Kirito, I’m sure she’s going to get out of that. So what sort of things is she going to do in this arc?

SCREENWRITER: Get this…she’s going to sit around and cry for Kirito to come rescue her.

EXECUTIVE: (Blinking again) Excuse me?

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, there’s going to be one part where she manages to figure out the lock to her cage and get to a terminal to press a button that would log her out, but that’s going to fail because it will take her, like, 15 seconds to move her finger one centimeter. Then she goes back in the cage and throws an admin card through her bars, and…that’s pretty much it. The rest of the time she’s going to just be molested.

EXECUTIVE: Wait…what was that last part?

SCREENWRITER: (Wincing a little) Yeah…it…turns out a lot of those fanfictions weren’t appropriate for audiences under the age of 18.

EXECUTIVE: We’re taking one of the main characters of the series, the ones that all the female viewers idolized and cosplayed as, and we’re going to make her just a crying, helpless victim?

SCREENWRITER: Well…she’ll also get a nice new outfit.

EXECUTIVE: All this is only in a really small portion of the arc, right?

SCREENWRITER: Actually it’s going to happen continuously.

EXECUTIVE: Why?

SCREENWRITER: Well, Asuna is one of the major characters so now it’s the only way to give her a lot of screen time, but I have lots of things to distract the audience from cringing.

EXECUTIVE: Oh! Like what?

SCREENWRITER: You know how one of the major problems of the original series was there was a lot of dialogue but not much action or battles?

EXECUTIVE: Oh! So you’re going to put in more battles?

SCREENWRITER: No, there’s going to be less and even more talking.

EXECUTIVE: Why?

SCREENWRITER: More talking means more young adult romance and less money spent on animation.

EXECUTIVE: (Grinning) Gotcha.

SCREENWRITER: Also, Kirito and Asuna’s little adopted AI program thing is going to respawn as Navi, more-or-less.

EXECUTIVE: Oh, did lots of people want to see more of Kirito and Asuna’s little adopted AI program thing?

SCREENWRITER: (Shrugging) Hopefully. And one of the fanfics I read was a self-insert where the author put themselves in as Kirito’s younger sibling, only she’s not really his younger sibling because it turns out his parents died and he moved in with his aunt and uncle so they’re actually cousins, and therefore although they have a big brother, little sister relationship she actually has a crush on him.

EXECUTIVE: (Wincing) That kind of sounds like a cheap author’s-fantasy romance.

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, but I created a character like that anyway.

EXECUTIVE: Oh…well, at least she shouldn’t be that important to the plot, right?

SCREENWRITER: She’s on screen more than any other character and is the second-most important character in the entire plot.

EXECUTIVE: Hmm. So what all does she do in the story?

SCREENWRITER: Wish Kirito loved her instead of Asuna.

EXECUTIVE: And that’s it?

SCREENWRITER: That’s it.

EXECUTIVE: That would only take one or two episodes.

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, but somehow I managed to stretch it over twelve.

EXECUTIVE: Ah.

SCREENWRITER: And since you have to use magic in “ALfheim”, Kirito’s going to have to learn what type of magic he’s good at and master it.

EXECUTIVE: That’s new and creative. Starting him off on the same level as everyone else and has to learn a new skill. So how will his magic figure into things?

SCREENWRITER: He’ll use it twice and then never again.

EXECUTIVE: Ok.

SCREENWRITER: Also, there’s a cat girl.

EXECUTIVE: Why?

SCREENWRITER: Because.

EXECUTIVE: Awesome. Cat girls are TIGHT.

SCREENWRITER: And the cousin has a classmate friend who’s going to cast this self-destruction spell that has a massive penalty so that he can clear a path for Kirito to get to Asuna.

EXECUTIVE: Oh, so he’s going to make a noble sacrifice to get the two reunited?

SCREENWRITER: No, it’s going to fail. Kirito won’t be able to get through and the opening will close up again, and two minutes later a whole army of players will show up and clear the path again instead.

EXECUTIVE: So this character sacrifices himself for absolutely nothing.

SCREENWRITER: Pretty much.

EXECUTIVE: And will any of the other characters respect him or acknowledge him for this?

SCREENWRITER: Nope. They’ll pretty much forget it even happened right after it happens.

EXECUTIVE: Oh. Well, sucks to be that guy, I guess. So how does it end?

SCREENWRITER: Kirito is going to become the One.

EXECUTIVE: I don’t follow.

SCREENWRITER: Well, he’s just a player while the pervy executive is a system admin, so the pervy executive just pins him down and gets ready to rape Asuna right in front of him while simultaneously torturing him to death while he can’t move. Then the game’s original developer is going to appear before him kind of like how Odin appears to Thor in “Thor: Ragnarok”. And…Kirito is just going to get up and depower the pervy executive to “n00b status”.

EXECUTIVE: He can do that?

SCREENWRITER: (Shrugging again) Apparently, because that’s how he beat “SAO”. He just kind of stopped having any of the rules of the plot apply to him once they got inconvenient.

EXECUTIVE: Yeah, but I think this time we should give an actual reason, because otherwise…you know…conflict is meaningless.

SCREENWRITER: Fair enough. How about we have him just suddenly log-in under the name of “Heathcliff”, which was the developer’s avatar, which gives him full control of the system?

EXECUTIVE: Let me get this straight–he can control completely how the game works by simply saying he’s logging in as the name Heathcliff?

SCREENWRITER: Yes.

EXECUTIVE: And he doesn’t need a password or anything?

SCREENWRITER: Yes.

EXECUTIVE: That system is extremely insecure. Basically anyone could hack it. And this system is supposed to be “more secure”.

SCREENWRITER: Well, at this point, the audience is going to be so uncomfortable watching what’s happening on screen they won’t really care how Kirito stops the bad guy just so long as he does it.

EXECUTIVE: So now that he’s up and free, I’m guessing he’s going to free Asuna so that she can deliver the final blows herself to show off she’s not some weak caged bird to be used as a doll, right?

SCREENWRITER: No, she’s just going to hang there and watch Kirito do it, then say some cliche stuff like “I knew you’d come for me”.

EXECUTIVE: Wow. This is not going to have many female viewers. How does it end?

SCREENWRITER: Well, everyone goes back to the real world, and the MMORPG industry takes a major nosedive for obvious reasons. Everyone cancels development and it looks like that’s the end of those types of games.

EXECUTIVE: Well, I would imagine so.

SCREENWRITER: But Kirito saves it.

EXECUTIVE: Why would he want to save it?

SCREENWRITER: Basically, he and everyone else who was stuck in “SAO” now has massive Stockholm Syndrome and they can no longer fully function in normal society. They all now literally think that their lives in that game were equivalent to their real world lives and were just as important and so they have to keep playing MMORPGs.

EXECUTIVE: That’s pretty dark. So they all need to get massive psychological help for this dependency?

SCREENWRITER: No, they all go back to playing MMORPGs using Nervegear.

EXECUTIVE: …Which is still not illegal for some reason?

SCREENWRITER: (Smiling and nodding) Which is still not illegal for some reason. And now, Kirito has mass deployed a bit of freeware called the World Seed which allows pretty much anyone in the world with a major server to create their own independent and fully integrated version of “SAO” so that now everyone can play their own version of “SAO” and freely interact with everyone else’s world.

EXECUTIVE: Wow. That’s amazing.

SCREENWRITER: Yeah, there’s going to be literally thousands of worlds at the end of the series.

EXECUTIVE: That’s incredible. How does the industry not collapse?

SCREENWRITER: (Blinking himself) Excuse me?

EXECUTIVE: Yeah, what you just described would destroy the MMORPG industry far more easily than the deathgame incident. Basically everyone would have their own capability to create their own independent SAO game but they’d still need to hire developers, run regular server maintenance, provide patches and new versions, etc., and they wouldn’t be able to because the market would be so over-saturated that no one would be able to generate any money off of the game. It’s the same reason the big Video Game Collapse happened in the 80s. Everyone was producing the same games that the Atari 2600 was producing. How does that not happen here?

SCREENWRITER: It…um…doesn’t.

EXECUTIVE: Why?

SCREENWRITER: (Long pause) …Did I mention Asuna gets caught by slimy tentacles at one point?

EXECUTIVE: Ew!

SCREENWRITER: So, what do you think?

EXECUTIVE: Well, I honestly have my doubts. This sounds like we could run the risk of alienating a whole lot of people with this one.

SCREENWRITER: Hey, if fanfiction writers indulge this stuff, why not us? We’re just cutting out the middleman.

EXECUTIVE: I guess you’re right. Besides, all anyone really cares about is the Kirito/Asuna romance. So long as we have that and be all about true love, it’ll be fine, right?

[Cut to shot of countless posts, threads, and videos arguing about how controversial SAO is and why it’s obsessed with sexual content]

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Friends Forever #32 (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Friends Forever #32): “Fluttershy & Daring Do”

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Synopsis:

Fluttershy is just getting ready to enjoy a week off with no “adventures”, only to get a surprising uninvited guest: Daring Do. She’s trying to find the lost treasure of Queen Parabola, hidden in a castle that can supposedly only be found by reading the map off of the back of a Map Spider. She needs to catch one to find it but claims she is allergic to them, and therefore needs Fluttershy’s help in wrangling one. In spite of being highly nervous at the thought of going on a Daring Do adventure, Fluttershy agrees at the thought of meeting exotic animals. Daring Do ends up taking her through a series of scuffles and dangers including against Daring Do’s nemesis Dr. Cabelleron, all of which she finds terrifying and barely manages to get by, and the two eventually manage to acquire a Map Spider and end up in Queen Parabola’s castle. Unfortunately, they end up ambushed by Daring Do’s other nemesis Ahuizotl and are caught tied in a deathtrap by him. While faced with certain doom, Daring Do admits the real reason she brought Fluttershy along is because she’s an arachnophobic, and she says, of the two of them, Fluttershy is the one who is truly brave because she’s able to be confronted with her fears and press on anyway. Realizing the Map Spider they still have can undo the knot that’s tying them up, but only if it is allowed to crawl on Daring Do, Fluttershy convinces her to confront her own fears so they can get free. Daring is able to let the spider untie them, and the two manage to foil Cabelleron and Ahuizotl and secure the treasure. Both congratulate each other on facing their respective fears, but when Fluttershy suggests Daring made friends with a spider and she yelps and cringes in response, she suggests she takes “baby steps”.

Review:

This was another good little story in the Friends Forever series, and once again one with rather unlikely characters. In fact, if I had to give it one flaw, that would probably be it. While the story only really works out if it is Fluttershy and Daring Do together, and the moral wouldn’t if it wasn’t the two of them, two of the last characters one would ever expect to see being put together would be Fluttershy and Daring Do considering how different they are. The way the show is set up, pretty much it will always only be Rainbow Dash or (at a stretch) Twilight Sparkle. Heck, in Season Seven, in order to get a connection of Pinkie Pie to Somnambula, they had to use Rainbow Dash as a bit of a bridge in relationships to connect to Daring Do. Fluttershy is pretty much the opposite of everything she is and, in the series, they have had pretty much zero interaction.

But if you can overlook that and see them actually getting together, it’s a nice dynamic. A classic foil of Daring Do being bold, daring, forthright, and fearless, while Fluttershy is timid, shy, nervous, and hesitant. It’s played up for a good number of sight gags and jokes in this one. However, the big point is the lesson, which is one that hasn’t really been displayed on the show yet or, at least, not as clearly. Bravery is not never being afraid; it’s being afraid and pressing forward anyway. And when taken in that sense, Fluttershy might actually be one of the bravest characters on the show. Since everything scares her, the fact that she’s able to go out and do anything at all shows she’s constantly needing to be brave. Of course, for this to work for this lesson, Daring Do had to be given a phobia, but I think it worked out. And actually, I like it as a trait. Aside from being an adventurer that Rainbow Dash idolizes, we know very little about Daring Do as a character. Comics like this help give a bit more to her.

Normally I don’t care for Daring Do episodes because they seem so superficial and, thanks to the Y rating, toned down too much to be that exciting. However, this one was nice and with a nice moral I could get behind.

Fun Facts:

This entire story might have been inspired by Daring Do’s first appearance in Season Two’s “Read It and Weep”. In that one, part of Ahuizotl’s death trap is a bunch of spiders that don’t actually do anything, although the cobras also don’t really do anything in that scene either.

One of the items the IDW Comic ended up having to recant was an earlier arc in which they made Daring Do temporarily become a “real” character…only for the show to later make Daring Do a real pony as the alter-ego of her own author, A.K. Yearling. Although that episode was old by the time this issue came out, the storyline still seems to focus on Daring Do rather than A.K. Yearling, indicating it might have been written as early as when “Daring Don’t” aired.

Daring Do helps herself to some of Fluttershy’s tea, but she cleans up after herself. 😛

Queen Parabola is depicted as a zebra alicorn, of all things.

Daring Do has a whip, similar to Indiana Jones.

Jay Fosgitt’s style of Ahuizotl makes for some rather amusing panels. 🙂

Fluttershy and Daring Do, when forced to confront their fears, both keep their eyes closed and chant: “I’m not scared… I’m not scared…” Even the words that are bolded are the same in both panels.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5