The Cutie Map has activated again and, even more surprising, is once again summoning Applejack and Fluttershy; although both are soon nervous to discover that the Cutie Map is taking them to the Peaks of Peril on the edge of unknown lands of Equestria. According to legend, that realm is the home of the honest and kind kirins, but also the flaming and fearsome niriks. The two arrive and run into a brief disagreement when Fluttershy pauses to help a group of local squirrels spruce up their den with local wildflowers, but as a result they find a secret passage under the cliffs right to the kirin village. However, both ponies are puzzled to discover all kirins are both mute and emotionless; leaving them incapable of discovering the friendship problem (let alone fixing it). They eventually point the way to a kirin who can talk, and Applejack goes to find her while Fluttershy stays behind. Applejack ends up running into a chatty, energetic, and boisterous kirin named Autumn Blaze. She reveals that the kirins and niriks are, in fact, the same creature; kirins transform into niriks when they get angry. At one point, a particularly large argument resulted in most of the kirins turning into niriks and burning down their village, causing their leader to demand the entire population cross into the “Stream of Silence”. Doing so removed the ability of the kirins to speak or feel emotions so they could never transform into niriks and cause destruction again. Autumn, however, accidentally came across a patch of Foal’s Blossoms which, when made into tea, restored her abilities to speak and feel. As a result, the other kirins made her decide to either become silent again or be exiled and, unwilling to lose the ability to speak and feel again, she chose exile. Applejack rushes back to the village to get them to welcome Autumn back and to set about restoring their voices and emotions, but on running into Fluttershy (who discovered the same link with niriks) she disagrees as it could cause another round of destruction. They begin to argue and the kirins, fearing they’ll too turn into niriks, seize them and attempt to dunk them in the Stream of Silence as well. However, Autumn, in nirik form, shows up and saves the both of them without causing any harm. This leads Applejack and Fluttershy to point out that the kirins can be responsible with their emotions and anger instead of forcing themselves to be mute and emotionless to get along. Realizing they gave up too much, the kirins indicate they want their voices and emotions back, but Autumn despairs on saying there are no more Foal’s Blossoms. However, it turns out the squirrels Fluttershy ran into earlier picked out flowers that were Foal’s Blossoms the entire time, and they use them to restore the voices of the rest of the kirins who, in turn, welcome Autumn back. Fluttershy and Applejack thank each other for their respective virtues helping again while Autumn breaks into a musical reprise for her village.
Well, before I get into the pony-of-the-hour, let’s talk about the rest of this episode.
On the whole, it’s a good one. If you remove you-know-who from it, it’s not quite as good as it would be with her, but I still think it’s one of the better ones. Kirins are finally formally introduced into the series (sadly too late to get one into the School of Friendship…), and I’m quite fond of their design and nature. Definitely the highlight of this episode aside from, again, you-know-who.
Comparing this episode to “Viva Las Pegasus”, I think it might be just a bit inferior aside from the stand-out character. While I didn’t think “Viva Las Pegasus” was that great of an episode, it did give a lot of color and things going on for your eyes. By comparison, the kirins kind of just stand around idly doing things with expressionless faces. The beginning of the episode is also a bit slow-paced even if it did end up being relevant to the plot. That being said, they did manage to cram a surprisingly large amount of exposition into a small time frame. In a season mostly void of Cutie Map calls to the Mane Six, this was a pretty good one. Especially considering the fact it utilized two of the more quiet and less wacky characters, Applejack and Fluttershy.
But of course…if you’ve actually watched this episode, you know as well as I do that all of this is largely irrelevant once the second half of the episode hits. While the Student Six collectively might be the best new “character” this season, when it comes to an individual character the one who stood out the most in Season Eight was this surprising ensemble darkhorse: Autumn Blaze.
Personality-wise, she kind of resembles, to me, a bit older and more “mature” version of Pinkie Pie. One who still likes being fun and wacky but has learned just a little more that not everyone appreciates it all the time. That, however, only likely serves to make her more bearable to people who aren’t solid Pinkie Pie fans. Her odd pop culture references, running gag of mispronouncing things, her way of “venting” as a nirik, and even the part where she tries to shake Fluttershy’s hoof only to find she’s still aflame is all great. Even without her nice musical numbers, which are some of the better songs the main series has seen in a while, her animated mannerisms and energy steal every scene she’s in. In that sense, it kind of made sense for Applejack and Fluttershy to be the ones to interact with her, as neither of them could reasonably compete for attention when she’s on the screen. She alone is what gives this episode the bulk of its appeal.
Probably one of the biggest tragedies of MLP:FIM coming to an end in Season Nine is it left little to no opportunity for her to ever appear again. There’s still a slim chance she’ll appear in one of the final episodes aside from the fact that season is already guest starring Patton Oswalt and Weird Al Yankovich, and a better than slim chance she’ll show up in a cameo, but considering Rachel Bloom was likely busy doing her lines for the upcoming “Trolls” sequel while Season Nine was in production that doesn’t look likely.
Nevertheless, it’s been a while since a new character stole the show and ran away with it, and a truly delightful runaway it was.
As for the moral of the episode, I, again, find that to be the weakest part of it. The most likely thing this episode is doing is taking a stab at modern censorship culture and the idea of it being better to forbid people from talking than risk them inciting anyone to anger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a corollary…or perhaps it did at one point but was edited into something different. This episode doesn’t deal so much with the idea of “safe spaces” or official laws as an entire race purposely removing its ability to speak or feel emotion for the risk of getting upset, which is an extreme we aren’t quite to yet anywhere on Earth. The message seems to be two-fold at the end…one that’s a bit muddled but the other is better. The “worse” of the two was that you shouldn’t give up who you are just because you’re scared you’ll make people upset, which…er…can be misinterpreted multiple ways. The “better” one, however, which is unfortunately underplayed, is that you have to be personally responsible and accountable for your own emotions and find healthy ways to express them. That’s a lesson everyone can learn.
I won’t give this episode a ton of points just for Autumn Blaze but…I’ll definitely give some as she’s earned them. One of the best episodes of Season Eight.
The title is a knockoff of the Simon and Garfunkel song: “The Sounds of Silence”. That’s ironic in two different ways. One is that, similar to the story within the song, the plot centers around a single talking deviant trying to get the rest of his society to open up and break their own silence. The other is that “The Sounds of Silence” is the song the new “Trolls” trailer opens up on, which is broken up by Rachel Bloom (Autumn Blaze)’s character.
Twilight notes this is the second time that Applejack and Fluttershy have both been summoned by the Cutie Map. The first was Season Six’s “Viva Las Pegasus”.
This episode actually ties into an earlier episode, pointing out that Rockhoof informed Twilight Sparkle about the Peaks of Peril.
A “kirin” (var. “qirin”) is a Chinese unicorn; one of two mythological creatures that both Western cultures and Eastern cultures have in common (the other being dragons). Unlike the cultural differing views on dragons, both Western and Eastern cultures view unicorns/kirins as mysterious, reclusive, sacred, pure, and innocent creatures. Unlike Western unicorns, kirins are often depicted with much wilder manes, a branching single horn, and extremely long necks. There was some theorizing (at least on my part) that Mistmane, coming from a Chinese-inspired culture that apparently had unusual recurved horns, was a kirin, but this episode officially makes them part of the show. Their appearances are pony-like, but have wilder manes similar to lion manes rather than horse manes, long tails with a tufts of hair along the trailing parts, more tufts of hair along the back of their legs, somewhat “floppier” ears, scales on their hooves, backs, and snouts, and branching unicorn horns…which, like “normal” unicorns, also perform magic. As for the niriks…they’re simply “kirin” backward (:P) and I’m not sure if they’re based off anything other than Chinese art.
Although the kirin village appears somewhat tribal, the music playing in the background is Chinese-inspired as a nod to their origin.
The giant kirin, Rainshine, seems to basically be the kirin equivalent of Princess Celestia; not only in her role as leader but appearance, crown, and demeanor. I guess, in Equestria, if you’re big that equals authority. 😛 Although she has only a brief speaking role, she’s voiced by Nicole Bouma, who has a long career in voice acting on Japanese anime dubs, including in “Gintama” and “Mobile Suit Gundam 00”.
Rachel Bloom provides the voice of Autumn Blaze. In addition to being the co-creator and starring in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, she’s also done a lot of voice acting, including the voice of Barb in the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” movie…which kind of makes me mad because it means she was likely too busy to reprise her role in Season Nine (which is still coming out as I write this).
Needless to say, “A Kirin’s Tale” was the hit song for this season.
Autumn put faces on all of her baskets and vegetables for company; a nod to “Wilson” from “Cast Away”.
Among the things Autumn tries to connect with the silent kirins is a reenactment of “Citizen Kane”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and even “Hamilton”.
4 Stars out of 5