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Synopsis:

The “faithful student” and star pupil of Princess Celestia (the ruler of Equestria), Twilight Sparkle, comes across a legend in her studies that leads her to believe the dark goddess Nightmare Moon, the corrupted alter ego of Princess Luna, the younger sister of Princess Celestia, is due to return after being banished into the moon for 1,000 years during the Summer Solstice and bring eternal night with her. When Twilight Sparkle attempts to tell the princess via her baby dragonservant, Spike, her only response is to send them both to Ponyville, the location for the 1,000th year celebration of the Summer Solstice since Nightmare Moon’s banishment, to oversee preparations and to “make some friends”. Twilight plans to blow off the whole thing as quickly as possible to look for proof of Nightmare Moon’s return, but ends up getting sidetracked by the various ponies in charge of the events and their attempts to make friends with her: Applejack, a cowgirl apple farmer pony; Rainbow Dash, an athletic, tomboyish pegasus; Rarity, a fashionista unicorn; Fluttershy, a shy and reclusive animal lover pegasus; and Pinkie Pie, a wild and exuberant party-loving pony. Unable to get any research done, she fears the worst when she goes to the Summer Solstice celebration, and soon gets it when Princess Celestia fails to appear, instead being shown up by Nightmare Moon herself, who announces she’s bringing eternal night to Equestria.

As Nightmare Moon is too powerful to stop through physical force, Twilight Sparkle returns to the library and finds out that the “Elements of Harmony”, the objects used to banish Nightmare Moon the first time, are the only things that can stop her. Their location is in the wild and dangerous Everfree Forest in the forgotten “Castle of the Two Sisters”. In spite of wanting to go alone, Twilight is accompanied by the other five girls and, over the course of the journey, they help her overcome various attempts by Nightmare Moon to stop them: Applejack rescues Twilight from falling down a cliff, Fluttershy tames a manticore in their path, Pinkie Pie drives off monstrous enchanted trees with laughter, Rarity gives the end of her tail to a dragon upsetting a river so they can cross, and Rainbow Dash ties a rope bridge in spite of Nightmare Moon’s attempts to tempt her into leaving her friends. On arrival at the castle, only five elements are found, and Nightmare Moon steals them. Although Twilight Sparkle manages to pursue her, she smashes them before Twilight can use them to find the sixth element. But when the other five ponies run up to her, she realizes that the true elements were “inside them” all along: Applejack is Loyalty, Fluttershy is Kindness, Pinkie Pie is Laughter, Rarity is Generosity, and Rainbow Dash is Loyalty. Seeing this enables her to gain access to the sixth element: Magic (Friendship). The Elements take on new forms and the six blast Nightmare Moon with them, causing her to revert back into Princess Luna and ending the night. Princess Celestia appears soon afterward and reveals she told Twilight to “make some friends” as she knew that was the key to using the elements. She and Luna reconcile and the girls return to Ponyville victorious. However, Twilight Sparkle is dismayed to learn she needs to go back to Canterlot and abandon her new friends. In response, Celestia gives her a new assignment: remain in Ponyville and learn about friendship, and report her findings back to her.

Review:

This is the one that “started it all” and, for many bronies, is a fine introduction to the series. It wasn’t my first. Mine was “Luna Eclipsed” from Season Two. As this was only the pilot episode and the only one penned entirely by Lauren Faust, it has its own charm to it that works for adults as well as children…but at this stage it definitely seemed more child-orientated, which is not surprising as it would be some time before the show makers realized they had attracted an adult audience that surpassed the children. It was still in its “experimental” phase. Some designs weren’t done yet although I marvel at how much the first episode still looks like the fourth season episodes in many respect. There wasn’t much effort on the background. The voices were still “experimental”. The plot seemed to lack “heaviness” and be a bit more suited to a “Dora the Explorer” special. A lot of people say if this is the only episode you’ve ever seen, the ending reminds them of “Sailor Moon”. Possibly…but that wasn’t a regular occurrence in the series. There are two main types of episodes in the series: drama and (the far more frequent) after-school special. This is the former and, compared to some of the others…it’s middle-of-the-road for me.

I think it’s well done how each of the characters get enough “screen time” to shine briefly, and that none of them seem “perfect” or complete stereotypes, which makes a big difference to me. It’s nice that they start fleshing them out now with traits that will hold for the rest of the series. I appreciate how that “aspect” of Faust’s original idea managed to hold throughout the rest of the series to this day. I can see Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash in Season Four and they’re still the “same characters” they are in this episode. And even here, all of the members of the Mane Six dominate their individual scenes in the first episode, and once Pinkie Pie finally shows up as “herself”, she immediately begins her signature “scene stealing” from almost every character.

It’s a bit sad that this season only really had one villain, Nightmare Moon, which kind of made the pilot episode look like a “fluke” and that the rest of the series would be fluff. While her “legacy” both in the fandom and on the show itself was impressive…here she’s kind of bland. To be honest, to me she’s one of the more overrated villains of the series. While “eternal night” has severe repercussions to anyone who analyzes it enough, here it’s presented like “eternal no weekends” or “eternal homework”…something that would be mildly annoying but ultimately could be adjusted out of. She spends most of her time standing there and laughing, likely due to the show makers not willing to “push the envelope” of the Y-rating yet. Even her attempts to foil Twilight Sparkle, while they are intended to demonstrate the virtues of her new friends, are rather “mild”. One can argue “it’s a kid show”, but compared to the things that Discord, Chrysalis, King Sombre, and Tirek would pull in later episodes, she fails to really give an aura of “malevolence” off to me. The fact that Luna would not appear again for the rest of the season, even during the “Grand Galloping Gala”, indicated to me that the show makers weren’t too terribly “ambitious” yet or realized what they had available to them.

I do feel there were two incidents of “bad writing” in this episode. Applejack’s incident with Twilight Sparkle that is supposed to show off her “honesty” was rather forced. As an adult, by now, I realized even before this scene began that the girls were going to do something to demonstrate the virtues of the Elements of Harmony (it had pretty much been alluded to back in the library when Twilight was reading that one book aloud), but hers seemed the weakest of all. Twilight would have probably been a lot more willing to trust her if she had simple said: “Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy will catch you when I let you go.”, and one could argue it still would have been a test of honesty since Twilight didn’t really have any trust for the others at that point and could have been reluctant to believe her.

The other was the scene at the end of the episode between Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. There’s a lingering “idea” within the fandom that sees Luna as more sympathetic and Celestia as an overbearing, proud, uncaring ruler…AKA “Trollestia”. And, sadly, the first episode started off presenting that idea. In spite of her insistence that she told Twilight Sparkle to make some friends and “nothing more”, Twilight is right…she did dismiss her report about the return of Nightmare Moon as nothing to be worried about in the response letter. It never really explains why Celestia didn’t show up for the Summer Solstice, but it doesn’t give the impression that Nightmare Moon had anything to do with her disappearance either. Based on the flashback episode in Season Four which showed Nightmare Moon easily dominating Princess Celestia in a fight, one gets the idea that she simply “ran and hid”. Yet the worst part was the “reconcilliation”. While Princess Luna eventually became one of the most popular non-Mane Six characters due to her complexity of character, personality, and her ability to both appear as “apart” and “mysterious”, a “god” but also as sympathetic to her subjects, Princess Celestia, starting here and even after four seasons, comes off more as “aloof” and “superior” as opposed to “wise” and “leader-esque”. Most of it is due to the fact that she is always looking so admired and proclaims everything, yet when a crisis arises she always defers the responsibility to Twilight Sparkle, which is part of what needs to keep the show going but at the same time makes her look useless. The downturn here, however, is how even when Celestia is “reconciling” with Luna, her head is held high, her voice is aloof, and it sounds almost as if she’s “ordering” Luna to “become good again”. Her character seems so detached from the entire scene. This should be a powerful moment, even for a kid’s show. The two parted in anger (putting it lightly) 1,000 years ago and now they’re finally able to see each other again. But, for one reason or another, it really falls flat to me.

The episode itself felt a lot like the same vibe that the pilot episode for “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” had. It essentially takes place in the same “five acts” that that episode did: introduce the main characters and the conflict, introduce all of the other show regulars, have a complication, have a series of events that brings all the show regulars together, and, finally, set up things for future episodes. However, it was a good formula, so I can understand reproducing it. Considering some of the vocabulary used in the episode, in spite of the rating, I think the show was definitely geared more toward older children at least even from the inception. As far as “kid show pilot episodes”, it does better than most, too. But compared to later episodes, it’s still “lacking” to me. It has all the “heart”, but none of the “muscle”.

Still, it’s a good way to start the series off and honestly better than some other two-parters, with everything you need to “get a feel” for the series. If you don’t like this episode, there are others that are better…but not many that could “blow this one away”, so you probably won’t like the series. On the other hand, if you get hooked here, consider yourself welcomed to the Herd.

Fun Facts:

The conclusion to the two-parter is alluded to right at the beginning. Although Twilight Sparkle looks surprised at the end of the episode to find out that Princess Luna is the sister of Princess Celestia, it’s mentioned right in the beginning that she’s the younger sister. Also, Celestia is wearing the Magic Element of Harmony in the book in spite of it being the “unknown” element.

At the beginning of the episode, the ponies that talk to Twilight Sparkle mention “Moondancer’s birthday party”. Moondancer was a G1 pony who was the inspiration for Twilight Sparkle, and whose design would later be used for Twilight Sparkle’s mother in “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”. Spike was the only G1 character to make it into the new series until Tirek all the way at the end of Season Four.

Applejack’s entire family is introduced in this episode, and Apple Bloom and Granny Smith even have a line apiece. Yet if Lauren Faust, who wrote this episode, intended the oversized family to be present on Sweet Apple Acres full time in her original inception of the show, this was one of the first things to be changed, as in Episode Four it is revealed the entire gathering is only due to the Apple Family Reunion (which itself would become the subject of an episode in Season Three).

This episode was the origin of the “Ten. Seconds. Flat.” meme.

The voices are clearly still “being worked on” in this pilot episode. Rarity’s signature New England accent falls apart at times (particularly in the “ers”), while Nightmare Moon emulates her from time to time. Rainbow Dash and Applejack both sound “younger” while Pinkie Pie sounds “older”.

This is one of many episodes where Fluttershy’s “kindness” is somewhat questionable, as she shoves Twilight Sparkle violently and thoughtlessly out of the way to admire Spike. In addition, she’s the only one of the Mane Six who doesn’t seem interested in becoming Twilight’s friend, even as an “accessory” to Spike. All of her comments are directed squarely at him. As another thing that seems to have been “changed” from Faust’s original idea, it was revealed not long after that Fluttershy is actually terrified of dragons…only baby ones are tolerable. She doesn’t seem scared of the Chinese Dragon in this episode…although he’s a lot better dispositioned than the European ones that show up later. Also…her meeting of Twilight Sparkle was reproduced almost verbatim for human Twilight Sparkle meeting human Fluttershy in “Equestria Girls”.

Shortly after Twilight Sparkle accidentally makes her hot sauce drink, if you look in the background you see the infamous “mistake that started it all”…a gray pegasus with a blond mane and bubbles for a Cutie Mark was mistakeningly put in cross-eyed by the artists. Meant to simply be a generic background pony, the fans caught on this and were immediately attracted to her, eventually giving rise to probably the most popular background pony in the entire series: Ditzy Doo/Derpy Hooves.

Although the Cutie Mark Crusaders hadn’t officially “formed” yet, they cameo in Episode One toward the end right after Nightmare Moon’s appearance due to a coloration mistake.

Likewise, in another “Faust revision”, it seems unlikely that the citizens wouldn’t know who Nightmare Moon was when they celebrate Nightmare Night every year and have statues of her. Sure, they may have assumed she was a mythological character, but they also should have recognize her when she showed up.

Although Princess Luna got the biggest “redesign” after this episode, Nightmare Moon did as well. All later incarnations of her featured her with fangs.

The first of many, many original songs for the series was in this episode: “Giggle at the Ghosties”.

The “Castle of the Two Sisters” would figure in to a lot of the plot in Season Four, and would get a redesign to where it was mostly intact. Here, however, it’s a total ruin with barely any intact chambers and much smaller and less intricate.

Apparently, Nightmare Moon’s “Shadowbolts” left a nice impression on Rainbow Dash, as she would be one for Nightmare Night in Season Two.

The Elements of Harmony oscillate between different shapes and being similar ones, kind of like the Infinity Gems.

When Twilight Sparkle opens her eyes during the scene with the Elements of Harmony, a sound effect from “Star Trek” is used.

Regarding the design of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna: this episode is the origin of the idea that Celestia once had a totally pink mane, namely because that’s how she appears in the legend drawings at the beginning of the episode. Fanartists have since drawn the younger Celestia like that. Luna looks vastly different in this episode from later ones, with a much shorter mane and lighter colors.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5

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