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Synopsis:

Rainbow Dash is fresh off of Wonderbolt Spring Training and eager to relax in Ponyville, only to soon find herself and Twilight Sparkle called back to Wonderbolt Academy by the Cutie Map during tryouts of new recruits. On arrival, they soon focus on a pair of entries: Sky Stinger, a cocky and confident record-breaking flier, and Vapor Trail, his shy and weaker-flying friend who appears to not even really want to be there. On observing both in flight, Twilight and Rainbow soon realize that the two only ever fly together and Vapor is assisting Sky with all his record-breaking stunts. On confronting Vapor about it, she admits that she’s been assisting him for years without his knowledge, and now she’s followed him all the way to Wonderbolt Academy; but soon both will be required to perform in solo trials and neither will likely make the cut. Insisting that the truth will only ruin Sky’s confidence, Rainbow convinces Twilight to keep it a secret and to have her run Sky on basic drills to build strength while she teaches Vapor more advanced tricks; but while Vapor takes to the lessons and shows herself to have potential to be an excellent flier herself, Sky dismisses his own exercises as unnecessary, prompting Vapor to blurt out the truth and the two to get in a fight that threatens to ruin both of their performances. Twilight and Rainbow end up talking to either one respectively, convincing them that both could be Wonderbolt material, and encouraging them to help one another as friends rather than one take a “back seat” to the other. Now assisting each other, both manage to pass the trials and make it into Wonderbolt Academy, with Spitfire even admitting they might surpass Rainbow Dash one day. The mission accomplished, Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash head back to the Castle of Friendship…only for Rainbow to get called on Wonderbolt duty again soon after arrival.

Review:

This episode is one of the more “mixed bags” of this season. The various Cutie Map episodes are never really anything terribly monumental, in my opinion. The lessons they teach always seem to be executed fairly mildly. This one seems to go above average in several categories and below average in others.

On the above average side are the characters of Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail. For your standard one-shot characters in a 22 minute episode, both are remarkably well developed. Both come from different backgrounds, suffering from the effects of being a “middle child” struggling to stand out for one and an only child being coddled by the other, and both are individuals who have stuck to a routine they thought was friendship for so long that it’s become an unhealthy codependency. On one hand, Vapor has spent so long supporting Sky that she’s reaching the point of her life where she doesn’t have any desires or ambitions of her own. On the other hand, Sky has gotten so used to thinking of himself as a great success and let his ego get so big that it’s become “too big to fail”; being the core now of his own self worth and causing him to blame everyone but himself if it fails. It’s quite a bit more then the standard run-of-the-mill charicature one-shot characters or those with simpler backstories. It draws the focus away from the “friendship problem” of this episode and makes you focus more on them. This is one of the rare episodes where the one-shots steal the show.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot on the below average side. This episode seems almost like it could have been a stand-alone one for Rainbow Dash but was doctored to be a Cutie Map including Twilight Sparkle; who we all know is far from a good flier, let alone Wonderbolt material. While Sky’s behavior is somewhat understandable given his backstory, he’s pretty repulsive for the bulk of this episode; first being an egomaniac and then irrationally accusing Vapor of trying to sabotage him. The characters ignore the fact that lying wouldn’t have helped anyone once the solo trials got there and instead blame each other, and while Vapor should have given Sky an apology for not ‘fessing up to her assistance earlier, Sky owes her an apology for how he treated her. Rather than “both friends being at fault” in this episode, Sky was wrong for how he treated Vapor, and Vapor was wrong for how she treated herself. That makes Sky really the one in the wrong this episode, which sort of unbalances things. Lastly, part of the appeal of the Cutie Map episodes, at least to me, is creating situations where two members of the Mane Six are forced to deal with each other rather than in their more collective dynamic. Aside from the classroom bit, there wasn’t much time for Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle to do that, and really they were more accessory to the conflict and its characters than anything else. So all those little details drag things down a tad.

Because it’s so mixed, it’s a hard episode to assign a rating to. I was definitely invested and engaged in Sky and Vapor, but I felt underwhelmed by the resolution even if it was something of what I expected. Considering this was the last “regular” episode before the season finale, it left me hoping for a little more, so that’s how I based my final rating.

Fun Facts:

“Top Bolt” is likely a knockoff of “Top Gun”. Although the Wonderbolts have only seen offensive action twice in the show’s history (and once was simply in an alternate universe), and seem to be mostly stunt show performers, they still share a lot in common with more military outfits.

An episode where Starlight Glimmer appears but doesn’t have anything to do with the plot…and only one episode before the season finale too. :/

Frankly, Angel Wings is my favorite character in this episode. 😀

Sky Stinger is voiced by Emmett Hall. He’s served as animator, animation director, and storyboard artist for a number of animated programs, including MLP:FIM, but this was his first voice acting role.

The new candidates for Wonderbolt Academy sputter along like old propeller aircraft, as opposed to the jet sounds the Wonderbolts make.

Sky and Vapor’s “relationship” isn’t actually all that far from nature. Waterfowl are infamous for flying in formation because the wing movements of the bird in front makes things easier on the one in the back from a slipstream.

Vapor Trail got her Cutie Mark before Sky Stinger.

Similar to Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust, Sky Stinger leaves a unique streak behind him as he flies.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

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