Applejack, Bon Bon, bronies, brony, brony community, Chrysalis, Coco Pommel, Derpy Hooves, fandom, fanservice, Flutterbat, Fluttershy, Gilda Griffon, Lyra, Maud Pie, Moondancer, My Little Pony, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Nightmare Moon, Octavia Melody, opinion, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, reinventing, review, shark jumping, Slice of Life, Starlight Glimmer, Steven Magnet, Twilight Sparkle
Hey everyone. If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you should know that I don’t review the individual episodes until the DVD release. It gives me time to ruminate over the episode and try to evaluate it on stand-alone criteria rather than be biased at the time, and plus I want to watch the episodes at leisure however long they take to go through.
I have no idea when Season Five is going to come out on DVD, and I have a lot of general thoughts about Season Five as a whole. Hence, I decided to go ahead and do the first part of my review that I normally reserve for the first part of my series premiere episode review now.
Let’s get started.
With the coming of Season Five of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” came a big milestone, but also a great challenge. The show had reached a little something I like to call the “Fifth Season Itch”.
For an animated series, this is make-or-break time. Very few animated series last longer than four seasons. In terms of a continuous narrative, it’s usually a good time to wrap things up, but even more so for a series that’s designed to “never end”. By this point a lot of the original writers and creators are likely moving to other projects and the original “idea well” is dry. If a series is to survive at this point it starts relying more on ideas that it runs the risk of being called “shark jumping”, such that even if it does manage to keep being renewed the ratings may be what end up killing it.
A series that does manage to survive at this point can usually only do so by “reinventing” itself into a somewhat new form that will hopefully endure for years to come. Some of these changes are more subtle than others, but it’s obvious in various other cartoons that have endured. By the time “The Simpsons” hit its fifth season, the pacing had noticeably quickened and it relied a great deal more on pop culture gags. By the time “Spongebob Squarepants” hit its fifth season, it had lost its narration and became considerably sillier.
“Reinventing” is really a logical process that comes as a natural consequence of time. As I said, much of the original crew has been replaced by this point in a show’s history. Those were the “starting lineup” that were pretty much inventing everything from scratch and exploring every idea they could come up with. By the time you get the new crew of a popular show, you’re importing, to a degree, fanboys. People who have seen this show for a while and may have generated ideas from the domain of a fan perspective rather than a historical one. Their ideas might be fresh, but they no longer have the perspective of seeing what the “true essence” of the characters and source material was. Rather they’re basing it off of whatever look the original creators gave them. This can lead to some interesting changes, and not necessarily for the better.
Reinventing can also be a rather delicate process. You want the show to get a semblance of “freshness”, but you also want the show to hold to the spirit of the original run. Fail to do either and the show will be DOA.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” didn’t escape this. Lots of new writers are in this season and we’re down to only four from the first season, and one of them has moved to position of co-producer (Megan McCarthy). In addition, the show is in a tenuous position of only being renewed one season at a time, meaning that they have to plan for each season finale to possibly be a series finale…and that means they left themselves with a pretty big hole at the epic Season Four finale. To keep the show going, they’d have to somehow logically move past what would have been a “good ending”.
And what method did they end up going with to extend the life span of the show?
For better or for worse…fanservice.
There is supposedly a rule at DHX Media that the writers are not allowed to indulge in any of the fan media or content to keep any fan-creations from leaking into the show. Well…aside from the fact that a number of new writers joined this season who presumably were not under that restriction until now, it’s obvious that the show has shifted its audience.
The season was littered with fanservice. Moondancer was made a character, a callback to the very first episode, and even used the same color scheme as the G1 character she was based off of while also being Twilight Sparkle’s “shape”, alluding to the fact Twilight Sparkle was based off of her. Gilda made a return appearance after a staggering 94-episode-absence. Pinkie Pie’s family was finally expanded on. The characters of Maud Pie, Discord, Coco Pommel, Princess Luna, Flutterbat, Steven Magnet, Chrysalis, and Nightmare Moon, all having their own fan followings, returned with most of them making multiple appearances. The adult-orientated allusions were through the roof: featuring pony versions of Charlie Brown, the two principles from “Plains, Trains, & Automobiles”, Francis McDormand, Prince, Marty McFly, and Danny Torrence just to name a few. And, of course, there was the ultimate “love letter” to the fans in the form of Episode 100, “Slice of Life”, which made the Lyra/Bon Bon pairing canon and gave Octavia and Derpy “voices” among other things.
While the “after school special” element is still there, the subject matter had shifted to things that no longer pertain to ages seven and younger but rather things that younger adults and even adults would key in on. “The Cutie Map” dealt with a more “mature” villain who was controlling, manipulative, and implemented Cold-War-esque brainwashing techniques. “Tanks for the Memories” was about death and acceptance (even if hibernation was used as a metaphor). “Canterlot Boutique” had to deal with not selling out your artistic style in the name of profit. “Brotherhooves Social” was about changing relationships within a family as you get older. “Hearthbreakers” was about respecting other cultures and traditions.
Even the “milestones” were more for the brony community than for little kids. One of the big announcements was that Lena Hall would be playing a character in “The Mane Attraction”. Well…the average seven-year-old probably couldn’t care one way or another about that, but the older fans did. There was an extra “villain” episode with “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?”, the title of which was something no child would get (It’s an allusion to the novel that inspired “Blade Runner”, BTW). Finally, it featured a villain who couldn’t be defeated by the normal chain of “friendship uniting and blasting them”, but rather had to be negotiated with into surrendering.
The question was if this was a good move or a bad one. That, unfortunately, is a hard question to answer. If the ratings are any indication…it was a bad move. The changes seemed to alienate the younger audience and the older one isn’t picking up the slack, as they can get their fix by watching pirated episodes on YouTube. And while there have been some truly great episodes this season, including possibly the best in the entire series, there were a number of episodes that were roundly hated as well. And while the brony community might have given the show a lot of its acclaim, adult fans are notorious fickle and brutal…especially ones tied to online, where the prevalent notion is to always declare everything either a mound of gold or a mound of feces with nothing in between.
While a sixth season and a feature film is in the works, it remains to be seen whether or not there is enough life left in the show for a seventh season. And while I personally think season five was, in some ways, the best one yet…I’m not even entirely sure the series will run the sixth season to completion.