My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Comic Arc #22 (IDW My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Issues #43-45): “The Ponies of Dark Water”

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Synopsis:

On the way back from Abyssinia after saving Equestria yet again, the Mane Six and Spike hear a bubbling and a rumbling, and soon discover a recently-emerged hot spring. Deciding it looks like a good place to relax, they all slip in and ease up for a while before heading home. The next day, Spike wakes up and sees Twilight missing. On going into town, she finds that the city is routinely being disrupted by continuous Sonic Rainbooms, Applejack is acting like a ruthless, cutthroat businesswoman and yelling at Apple Bloom for being a bad “employee”, Twilight is using her magic to declare herself the new Empress of Ponyville by virtue of her intelligence, and Rarity’s vanity has grown so staggering that she can no longer tolerate the slightest imperfection and is wanting to challenge Twilight for rule as she is “the finest”. Spike gathers the CMCs and they retreat to their clubhouse, where they determine all of this happened as a result of the hot spring. Not knowing what to do, they send a letter to Princess Celestia, who, on realizing that the Mane Six are being dominated by their own darker natures, dispatches Princess Luna (who has experience) to help. Soon after, Spike and the CMCs are bucked out of the clubhouse by Applejack who demands rent. Luna arrives and puts a stop to her, discovering dark magic inside of her. Before she can draw it out, however, she discovers the hard way that the magic has also increased her power; allowing her to break free of Luna’s holding spell and flee. Unable to change her or the others back on her own, Luna dispatches the CMCs to go get Zecora and see if she knows a potion to undo the magic while she and Spike try to maintain order in town. However, on entering the Everfree Forest the CMCs almost immediately run into a hoard of savage animals being led by Fluttershy, and back in Sugarcube Corner Pinkie Pie gets ready to unleash her own twisted brand of “fun”.

The previous day, Twilight, obsessed with gaining all knowledge and gaining it immediately, invents a device to allow her to steal the brain power of other ponies and add it to her own; soon running around town and turning ponies into morons to add to her intelligence. In the present, the CMCs are surrounded by Fluttershy’s animals and Scootaloo accidentally steps on Angel Bunny’s foot. As a result, Fluttershy calls for their blood and sics the forest on them for intruding. Back in Ponyville, mysterious gifts have been left all over town, but on opening them they explode; driving panicking ponies into the local theater where Pinkie Pie holds them hostage for a deranged comedy show. At the same time, Rarity, infuriated at outdated fashions, blows up a clothing store, getting the attention of Luna. Back in the forest, the CMCs manage to meet up with Zecora just as Fluttershy catches up to them, but on using one of Zecora’s smoke bombs to escape she ends up growing so angry she has the forest declare war on Ponyville. Back with Luna and Rarity, they get into a battle and, in the ensuing struggle, bust into the theater; prompting Pinkie Pie to blow it up with her (live) party cannon to escape. In the aftermath, the CMCs, Luna, Spike, and Zecora reunite and realize that Spike was not affected by the water like the Mane Six were. Zecora theorizes that the cure may reside in Spike’s draconic nature, but before she can do anything Rarity and Pinkie Pie re-emerge, with the former running off to confront Twilight for rule of Ponyville while the latter begins bombarding the town with water balloons loaded with the same hot spring water. As all of Ponyville begins to turn evil, the group runs for cover only for Luna to get hit by one of the balloons, causing her to revert into Nightmare Moon.

Pinkie Pie gloats over her success only momentarily, before Nightmare Moon sets her sights on her as her first target. Fortunately, in the length of time it takes her to finally disable Pinkie Pie, Zecora and Spike are able to make a cure from his scales. Once Moon disables Pinkie and runs to the Castle of Friendship to deal with Rarity and Twilight, they give the cure to Pinkie and revert her to normal. The girls go to Applejack next, stopping her from cornering the Appleloosan market and reverting her as well. On hearing Pinkie say she only cared about being funny no matter what, and Applejack say she only cared about caring for the farm and her apples, the CMCs realize the water took their virtues and enlarged and distorted them into vices. Using that as an idea, they create a cure-water-trapped target and start loudly boasting that nopony can hit it, causing Rainbow Dash to come out of the sky and nail it to prove them wrong and, as a result, curing her as well. She takes pails of water loaded with cure and creates a thunderstorm over Ponyville next, curing both Fluttershy and the rest of the afflicted residents. Unfortunately, Rarity and Twilight were both indoors locked in a battle for supremacy. As the two battle on, Princess Luna is cured by the rainstorm, but continues the guise of Nightmare Moon and gets Rarity and Twilight to agree to a compromise to divide Equestria among them, sealing it with a toast spiked with cure. Although Rarity falls for it, Twilight does not; boasting that at this point she is so intelligent she has already imagined every possible contingency and future imaginable. Soon after, however, she sets off another one of Pinkie’s cure-water-traps, because the essence of comedy is unpredictability. All of the Mane Six are miserable that they caused so much trouble from doing things they thought were their assets, but Luna comforts them: telling them to be glad it was just cursed water and not their own arrogance and jealousy. The girls undo all of their damage that they can, and Zecora purifies the hot spring before Luna sets off to depart. She leaves saying she was glad that the corruption of the water also ruined their friendship–saying if they had been both evil and united no pony could have stopped them.

Review:

It had been a while since the IDW Comic did a multi-part story, and even longer since it had done a multi-part dramatic arc. To me, similar to the plotline itself, this arc suffered a bit of an identity crisis.

The storyline itself isn’t necessarily new. As early as “The Return of Harmony” we had a storyline where the Mane Six were acting the opposite of their true selves. This one ramped it up to eleven, however, basically turning each of the girls into a different form of supervillain. I also give it props for being something that hasn’t really been done on the show or the comic yet: an installment where both the Mane Six and the CMCs highlight the same storyline. In fact, this goes a bit farther by having it be the CMCs and Spike vs. the Mane Six. In “The Return of Harmony”, the girls still seemed like themselves but just grossly (and humorously) exaggerated in the opposite direction. Here they all seem far more mature and dark-natured in all aspects. Hence, I think it’s different enough to not think of it as a ripoff. It also highlights both Princess Luna and Zecora, who are two of my more favorite recurring characters, so it has that going for it too.

However, as a I said before, this arc has an identity crisis. Similar to “Night of the Living Apples”, the storyline doesn’t seem to know whether it should be the theme of a normal episode or if it should aim for something darker. Whereas the silliness in “Night of the Living Apples” eventually won out, here…I don’t see a clear victor. While the evil versions of the Mane Six get to go overboard to a humorous degree a few times, the “fight” between Pinkie Pie and Nightmare Moon is pretty amusing, and some of the comments from the stupefied ponies are funny, there’s something missing in the tone in this one. A lot of the dialogue doesn’t even seem like it’s still MLP:FIM, and at times it looks like it’s relying on the artwork to keep the story grounded in the show’s motif. I know the girls aren’t exactly supposed to be acting like themselves, but at times it seems like that’s being used as an excuse to go beyond making them evil versions of themselves and go straight to making new characters.

I got a little hung up on the fact that the evil versions of the girls kept insisting they were “better”, while once they were cured they claimed they were obsessed with one thing. The two don’t seem to connect to me. I’m not a big fan of “corruption” in fiction, in which a character is turned by external means into an evil version of themselves. I always have the thought that if a character we normally think of as moral, upstanding, devoted, and determined can be so easily turned evil just by a cosmic light switch, then what does that say about the character?

This storyline does have what you would expect from a drama-based episode, namely a mixture of the show’s signature humor along with some points of genuine tension and drama. Especially at the conclusion of the second issue. The problem is a lot of the tension that’s built up at the end of the second issue goes nowhere. Even as Nightmare Moon, Luna ends up helping out by disabling Pinkie Pie and then reverting back to normal “off screen”. The plotline with the rest of the town beginning to turn evil doesn’t seem to go anywhere (other than a quick piracy joke by DJ-Pon-3). But most of all, it ends rather awkwardly. I’m not sure if Luna’s final statement is supposed to be in praise of the Mane Six (who, admittedly, have little to be proud of by the end of the arc) or ending on a bit of a dark note. Either way, it seemed an odd way to wrap it up.

In the end, I’m not really sure whether this should be taken as a more serious arc or something that, in spite of having the evil Mane Six, is all there just for an odd yet good laugh. I think it’s ultimately a pretty good story and entertaining, but it’s not quite as smooth or memorable as it could have been.

Fun Facts:

The title of this arc is a knockoff of “The Pirates of Dark Water”, an early 90s action/adventure animated series.

In the beginning of this issue, the girls are coming back from an adventure in “Abyssinia”. Aside from a brief mention in Season Four’s “Glass of Water” song by Discord, this region has never featured in the main TV series. However, one of the MLP Movie prequel comics placed Klugetown within its borders.

When Evil Applejack tries to buck the CMCs out of their clubhouse saying she’s taking it back, she says: “I eminently need your domain.” Eminent Domain is a principle of government to be able to seize private property for public use under certain conditions, provided it compensates for it.

Evil Pinkie Pie is a parody of the Joker. In her first appearance, she parodies not one but two scenes from the 1989 “Batman” film: breaking into hysterical laughter on seeing her appearance in a mirror and quoting: “Wait ’til they get a load of me!”

As another Batman parody, Evil Twilight Sparkle’s brain-power-stealing device resembles the Riddler’s first model of “The Box” from “Batman Forever”.

The two philosopher ponies mention an older philosopher named “Sowcrates”. In “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, the title characters routinely mispronounce Greek philosopher Socrates’ name phonetically as “Sow-crates”.

Part of Evil Pinkie Pie’s act is to imitate Jerry Seinfeld, while at another part her puppet show quotes the novelty song: “Yakity Yak”.

Issue #44 was actually used in the Screwattack series “Death Battle” for the match between Pinkie Pie and Deadpool, when it was used to show the destructive potential that Pinkie Pie’s party cannon has when loaded with live ammunition. Oddly enough, if they had included Issue #45 as well, it would have shown she shares another power with Deadpool: namely in that she can’t be predicted.

Spike mentions that he had tickets to see “that Celestia Rap Musical”, likely an allusion to “Hamilton”.

In spite of the continuous “Sonic Rainbooms”, Evil Rainbow Dash doesn’t even appear until the final issue of the arc.

It’s never really explained if Evil Fluttershy was able to command the animals or if she somehow infected them with the corruption as well. At any rate, when she dismisses them some of them look annoyed that she canceled the war… O_o

One of the philosopher ponies, once stupefied, says: “Mashed potatoes can be your friends”, a line from Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to Be Stupid”. The other philosopher pony says: “You see, both characters’ mothers have the same name”, an allusion to the infamous “Martha” scene from “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.

When cleaning up Ponyville, Twilight enchants multiple brooms to sweep together, a possibly allusion to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from “Fantasia”.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Equestria Girls: Forgotten Friendship

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Synopsis:

At Canterlot High School, Sunset Shimmer, who has retained position of President of the Yearbook Committee and Editor-in-Chief since her days when she was still a bully, is finishing up getting the results for the “superlatives” for this year’s edition. She’s pleased to learn that she and the rest of the Humane Seven have been named “Best Friends”, but Trixie is outraged that she was not voted “Greatest and Most Powerful-est” (in spite of the fact that was never a category) and vows revenge. The girls decide to take their group photo using Twilight Sparkle’s new drone camera tomorrow at a beach outing for the yearbook, and that night Sunset writes to the Equestrian Twilight Sparkle thanking her for giving her the second chance that turned her into who she is today. The next day, however, when Sunset arrives at the beach, the rest of her friends act cold, afraid, and hostile to her. On touching them, she realizes the girls have had their memories of her erased.

On further learning the only memories any of the girls have of her is of her being cruel, mean, and deceptive, Sunset writes to the Equestrian Twilight and is relieved to discover she still remembers her “being nice”. Sunset returns to Equestria to try and find out how the Humane Six lost their memories and, unable to help her alone, Twilight takes her to Princess Celestia; leading the two to finally reconcile. Celestia and Luna, in turn, take the two to the forbidden section of the Canterlot Library, where they find a record from Clover the Clever in the pre-Equestria era of an old pony sorceress who used a magical item called the Memory Stone to erase memories and fragments of memories from her victims. The records show Clover was able to thwart her attempts to erase his own memory by keeping records of everything she erased, and eventually chased her through a portal before the record abruptly ends; indicating Clover hid the rest to keep anyone from finding the stone. Sunset believes the stone was hidden in the human world and a human has uncovered it and used it against her.

Sunset returns to the human world while Equestrian Twilight continues her research, attempting to convince the girls through photographs that her claims of their friendship are real, but not only are the photos dismissed as forgeries but she is falsely accused of intentionally breaking Human Twilight’s drone camera when she accidentally steps on it. When Sunset sees Trixie is still trying to get into the yearbook, she suspects her of having the stone and using it as revenge for not including her superlative and confronts her in the school hallway. Trixie ends up being clueless about the entire matter, but on overhearing Sunset talk about how she knows she’s one type of way yet everyone in school sees her differently, she sympathizes with her considering her own attempts to constantly be “great and powerful” and believes her story. She agrees to help Sunset find the true culprit in exchange for getting put in the yearbook. Meanwhile, Equestrian Twilight finds Clover’s missing record showing the stone was buried in a circle of three rocks, but also discovers that erased memories are gone permanently if they stay removed for three days.

Sunset and Trixie go about the school but are unable to find anyone who looks like a potential suspect. Finally, they are down to only one student left to investigate: Wallflower Blush, a quiet, introverted member of Sunset’s own yearbook committee and the sole member of the Gardening Club, who is so unremarkable that she constantly goes unnoticed and forgotten by everyone (including Sunset and Trixie). At that point, Twilight writes back to Sunset with the news of the rock formation and the warning that the stone has to be destroyed by sunset that day. On seeing that Wallflower’s desktop background is of the rock formation, she touches Wallflower and discovers she accidentally discovered the Memory Stone and used it to remove everyone’s positive memories of Sunset. She angrily confronts her and demands to know what she did to her to cause her to do this to her, to which Wallflower angrily responds that, to her, Sunset never changed at all: she ignored her completely as a bully and she continued to ignore her completely as everyone’s “best friend”, and that she erased everyone’s memories so that everyone would see her the same way she does–as”the biggest meanie”. Before Sunset and Trixie can stop her, she uses the stone to erase their memory of the entire encounter and leaves them locked in the editing room.

Sunset, however, took a cue from Clover the Clever and left herself a note to check Twilight’s broken drone’s camera, which she set to record the moment before she confronted Wallflower. After watching the footage, Trixie gets Sunset to realize Wallflower had a point, and Sunset mentions that even when everyone hates her permanently tomorrow she’ll still have one friend in her. This, however, emboldens Trixie enough to try out one of her “escape artist tricks”, which manages to get Sunset free. She runs out to confront Wallflower again, but this time does so in front of the rest of the Humane Seven and, in the ensuing confrontation, Wallflower accidentally blurts out that she did indeed erase their memories of Sunset. Infuriated that her plan to get back at Sunset has been exposed and determined to make her suffer, Wallflower moves to erase the Humane Six’s memories of high school all together. Realizing that will destroy their friendships with each other, Sunset jumps into the path of the attack rather than let herself be the cause of breaking up their friendship a second time. Sunset’s own memories of high school (and, ergo, the entire human world and living as a human) are erased, but on seeing her sacrifice for them the rest of the girls finally believe that she’s really their friend and are still able to unite with her to “pony up” and destroy the Memory Stone before sunset. Everyone’s memories are restored and Wallflower, after seeing firsthand what her desire for revenge did to Sunset, repents of her own behavior. As it turns out, however, Sunset apologizes to her for never being a good friend. As Sunset writes to Equestrian Twilight about the stone’s destruction, she reveals she made amends by including Wallflower on a page in the yearbook for the Gardening Club, as well as gave Trixie her full page superlative for “Greatest and Most Powerful-est”.

Review:

The “Equestria Girls” franchise, by most estimates, was undergoing a degeneration until this special. No one really liked the original, but “Rainbow Rocks” blew everyone away with one of the show’s greatest ensemble darkhorses: Sunset Shimmer elevated from generic villain to deuteragonist. “Friendship Games” was considered by most fans to be lesser by comparison, and “Legend of Everfree” paled compared to that. The three 22 minute specials were rather unremarkable as well, especially among those who disliked Starlight Glimmer as “Mirror Magic” made it look as if she was going to shanghai the EG universe just as she was accused of doing the same to the main series. Even ignoring that, continuous generic plotlines with one-dimensional villains who “just needed a friend” led the entire series to feeling like it was more or less copies of each previous one with slight modifications.

By comparison, the shorts featured on Youtube were a bit better received as they were small vignettes that allowed the individual girls to shine in different situations rather than have most of the Humane Seven squashed into a “character lump” while one or two other characters did everything. Yet once again, the shorts shined when they went to the star of the EG series, Sunset Shimmer. Through them, Sunset has been revealed to be a multi-faceted, oddly pragmatic, and lovable character…especially in ones like “My Past is Not Today”, “Monday Blues”, and “Rarity’s Display of Affection”.

It seems only natural that what would get the “Equestria Girls” franchise back on track would be a special devoted to everyone’s favorite bacon-headed girl.

“Forgotten Friendship” was widely loved by the fan base, and with good reason. Not only was this special a bit of a departure from the normal fare, but it also was a bit more “mature” than those others. It relied a lot heavier on character and internal conflict rather than on a lot of magic and colorful pictures and action sequences. In that sense alone, the new Y7 rating was justified. This special was good in the same way that “The Perfect Pear” was good–the story is great but really little kids likely won’t understand why.

Going with that, this is a special that focused more on a theme and concept rather than an overt tangible antagonist (although there was one of those too): namely the idea of how much of our own identity is, ironically, shaped by the perception of others toward us. Most of us work very hard to make sure people only see the “best” side of us, and if we do something wrong we work even harder to try and show off so much good that people will forget those moments. Sunset is caught in the situation of what would happen if all anyone could remember about them was everything bad they had ever done. The end result is a look at just how much of ourselves we define based on the reaction of others, and what sort of existential crises might result. (There are a number of times in the episode Sunset begins to revert to her old way of acting as a result of being treated like her old self.) The lesson Sunset herself learns (Can you really go around calling yourself a good person if all you are is “not mean” to people?) even goes back into that–causing her to ask herself if it really matters if the school gives her an award for a superlative when she personally knows she didn’t live up to that standard.

Some fans might have thought making Trixie be the surprise co-star of this special was just to capitalize on her newer, more prominent role in the main series. Since she’s Starlight’s friend now, they decided to make her Sunset’s friend. I…disagree. Going with the theme of the special, she belongs here. As is pointed out, Trixie is the very poster child of an individual who is constantly trying to make herself into a better individual by making herself appear to everyone as a greater individual. She always fails at it, but…in spite of continuously failing, she always sees herself personally as “great and powerful” even if no one else does and never gives up trying to promote that view. In that odd way, for all of her obnoxiousness, selfishness, childishness, and pettiness…Trixie is rather endearing and even slightly admirable. It’s something of the same deal as with Wile E. Coyote or Team Rocket: you admire a character for never giving up or abandoning who they are.

Wallflower Blush ended up being one of the more popular EG villains as well. While I’m pretty sure the Dazzlings still hold Number One, I’d place her up there with Midnight Sparkle in a tie. While Midnight Sparkle definitely has more charisma, in terms of realism and motivation it goes to Wallflower. Since “Rainbow Rocks”, the villains were pretty much cookie cutouts: character who doesn’t rely on friendship acquires Equestrian magic, ends up misusing it and being corrupted, turns into a monster, and gets blasted into submission/tearful apologies by the Humane Seven. Wallflower Blush…didn’t really break the mold, but she did “deform” it quite a bit.

On the spectrum of villains, there’s multiple axes to consider. Most modern ones place villains on the range from “True Villain” to “Anti-Villain”, dividing villains between those who are genuinely evil and those who are pretty much just confused or misguided individuals with good intentions. A different spectrum not often considered is motivation. Even if a villain does something genuinely cruel and malicious out of spite or hostility, there are some with such good motivation that we can’t help but admit we might have done the same thing. Wallflower isn’t quite to that extreme, but she’s close. Most fans of the show probably couldn’t identify with Gloriosa Daisy or Juniper Montage, but a lot of them have experienced feelings of invisibility or the dehumanization of being part of the high school crowd. In Wallflower’s case, she was an individual who had done a lot of work toward digging the hole she found herself in. The flashbacks reveal she didn’t make a ton of effort to try and join in at parties or social gatherings, and later she reveals that she erased memories of anything she had ever done to stand out…ironically making herself invisible as those would have been the things that would have made her stand out in people’s memories. Nevertheless, the fact remains Sunset never noticed her as a bully and never noticed her as a good friend either, so from her perspective Sunset never changed at all. So to see someone who you remember being a tyrant and a brat be loved and admired by everyone while you yourself, having never done anything cruel to anyone, still remain ignored by everyone?

The other part of this is that Wallflower shares something with older EG villains: egocentricity. She tends to see the world only from her perspective. She’s not as overt or obnoxious about it as other villains were so it doesn’t stand out, but it’s clear based on the episode. Wallflower continues to act the same way around Sunset in the editing room in spite of the fact she knows what she did to her. She describes the entire thing as trying to “teach her a lesson”. It heavily indicates that Wallflower does not realize just how badly she hurt Sunset by what she did, or what she would be doing if she fully erased the high school memories of the Humane Six. It’s not until she removes Sunset’s memories that she finally sees what she’s really been doing to her all this time, and the look on her face makes it clear she doesn’t like it. The fact that we get that instead of Wallflower turning into some magic memory-stealing demon is a major step forward. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough to make Wallflower’s change far more genuine.

If that wasn’t enough, this episode gave a lot of what fans had wanted to see. Sunset gets to interact with the Equestrian Twilight Sparkle, who hadn’t been seen since the brief appearance in “Friendship Games”. And it also gave what they had really been longing for, namely the reconciliation between her and Princess Celestia. Similar to a few scenes in “Legend of Everfree”, this special also indicated that Sunset Shimmer has a closer relationship with Sci-Twi than the other girls. Now…some fans have made the jump straight to homosexuality from that, but I think that’s extreme. For one thing, it would be one-sided because Sci-Twi has a boyfriend, and that would only make things more awkward for her to be around Sunset in that case. I tend to think that Sunset sees Sci-Twi as a “little sister”. And there are some genuine dramatic and gripping moments, including the climax in which Sunset cries out in anguish as her memories of the girls are removed one by one and how she looks at Sci-Twi and says: “Don’t forget me!”

Alas, there are some negatives.

This special has been compared to the infamous “Anon-a-Miss” arc from the IDW comic, which enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following the release of the special. One of the big differences between that story and this is that in this one the Humane Six have a plausible reason for instantly giving Sunset the cold shoulder. Nevertheless…most fans were a bit upset that the friendship-orientated personalities of the Humane Six didn’t make more of a connection. There are a fistful of scenes in which Sci-Twi starts to question it, which makes the most sense for her because she only has one “bad” memory of Sunset Shimmer and most of who Sci-Twi is today depended on Sunset Shimmer’s actions, meaning she would be the most likely to conclude something was “missing” in her memories. However, none of the girls ever seem to get the sensation that their group is somehow incomplete or question Sunset’s absence…in spite of the fact a comment by Rarity indicates they should have been experiencing deja vu of some sort or another. I think it would have been a nice touch myself, although going with the theme of the special I’m not sure it would have meshed.

The resolution was a bit hurried as well. While I compliment it for evading some of the expected tropes and cliches, it still adhered to quite a bit of convenience. The Humane Six just happened to be at that location and, what’s more, after giving Sunset the cold shoulder for three days they’re suddenly paying enough attention to her to overhear the key parts of her argument with Wallflower. And by not doing what I said above, it makes the fact that the girls turned around so easily, even considering Sunset’s sacrifice, a little unbelievable. If they had been starting to question if Sunset might be telling the truth, it would make sense. Since they didn’t, it seems like it was just a tad convenient.

Lastly, the moral was a tad smudged again. Everything started because of those superlatives in the yearbook. So was it arguing that superlatives were bad? Or that everyone should get a superlative just so that you acknowledge them, which defeats the purpose of a superlative to begin with? Also, by presenting the idea that Sunset was indeed in the wrong about her treatment of Wallflower, it leads to the idea that some of what happened to her was “merited”.

Nevertheless, none of those are major issues. This special was rightly one of the best in the entire Equestria Girls franchise. If future specials stick with the concept behind this one, not being afraid to consider a theme and treat the audience as being a bit older than the original crowd, and the EG franchise might indeed be able to endure when the main series departs in two seasons.

Fun Facts:

This special was the first entry in the “Equestria Girls” franchise to be rated Y7 instead of Y. While the dominant thought for the rating change is Wallflower Blush shouting: “I hate you!”, I noticed old Equestria Girls specials were retroactively upped to Y7 ratings as well, indicating it’s likely more of a change of ratings policy than new content.

This special was originally conceived as a five-part miniseries to be showed as part of the Equestria Girls Youtube series, which was eventually put online in weekly installments under the title of “Most Likely to Be Forgotten”. The special itself is a condensed version of the miniseries and is six minutes shorter, with several jokes and asides cut out, such as the pony Sunset Shimmer briefly spotting the pony Flash Sentry and a broken library index machine.

Similar to other Equestria Girls specials, this initially debuted in junior novel form under the title: “A Friendship to Remember”.

This special has frequently been compared to the IDW Comic Equestria Girls Holiday Special. Both plotlines featured Sunset Shimmer being unjustly accused of still being a cruel bully, the other girls casting her out, and the one responsible wanting to make Sunset suffer out of jealousy. It also shares a lot in common with the popular Season Five episode “Amending Fences”, which dealt with a character thinking of herself as a great friend discovering she had been neglecting someone for years.

A “wallflower” is a type of introverted person who attends social events but tends to stick to themselves and avoid standing out in any way.

Snips and Snails, in keeping with early episodes of the main series, have become Trixie’s minions again. With their memories erased, shouldn’t they be serving Sunset again?

Twilight’s drone had its AI changed by the Memory Stone to fear Sunset…somehow. O_o

It has been noted that the Memory Stone is very similar in appearance to the Gossip Stones in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. However, as Silver Quill noted in his own review, this is likely not so much inspiration from Zelda as both drawing inspiration from the same source: namely the “third eye” in many Eastern belief systems such as Hindu and Taoism. It’s considered to be a point of higher consciousness, intuition, and spiritual perception. As Silver Quill also mentioned, it is worth noting whenever the girls either lose or gain memories, the point of entry/origin of the memories is the same spot where the “third eye” is said to reside.

In a surprising change to Equestrian history, it is revealed Clover the Clever was in fact a stallion. Apparently back in Season Two’s “Hearth’s Warming Eve”, the girls weren’t necessarily playing roles to gender.

Both songs in the special are incidents of the characters being aware of their own musical number. Wallflower mentions she was trying to get Sunset’s attention through her own song, and Trixie later fast-forwards through Wallflower’s on the drone recording.

When Sunset “ponies-up”, her memories are still missing and so, naturally, she looks confused about the entire experience.

Rating:

4.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episodes Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six: “Shadow Play”

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Synopsis:

Sunburst has discovered that one of the treasures in the “blind buy” he made (in “Uncommon Bond”) was actually Starswirl the Bearded’s old journal. He reveals its contents to Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, the Mane Six, Spike, and Starlight Glimmer. Starswirl was gathered by an unnamed pony along with the five other legendary individuals mentioned in the Mane Six’s favorite tales, revealing them all to have been actual ponies and not mere myths, to form the Pillars of Old Equestria: the original group that devoted itself to banishing the newly-formed Equestria of the various evils inhabiting it and upholding the ideals of strength, bravery, beauty, hope, healing, and sorcery. However, he says the unnamed pony only brought them together to try and steal their power for himself. On driving him away, the pony embraced the powers of darkness and was turned into “the Pony of Shadows”, a foe devoted to covering Equestria with the same shadow. Unable to defeat him, the journal says the six went to confront him with a desperate plan, but fails to mention what happened afterward, and neither Starswirl nor the others were ever heard from again. Celestia entrusts the journal to Twilight and Sunburst to crack the mystery of their old mentor, and after extensive study and help from Starlight they discover a clue about a place called Ponehenge and, following the journal, uncover its ruins. On accidentally placing the journal at one spot in the ruins, a vision is projected showing what happened. The Pillars united their power through a magic artifact in each of their possession (Starswirl’s journal, Rockhoof’s shovel, Flash Magnus’ shield, Mistmane’s flower, Somnambula’s blindfold, and Meadowbrook’s mask) to create a spell to banish him to Limbo at the price of banishing themselves as well. As time and space has no meaning there, they have been trapped in that instant ever since. After further research, however, Twilight discovers that the spell can be broken and the six of them freed by reassembling their old artifacts, and the Cutie Map activates to show them where each of them are. Starlight suspects that Twilight only wants to break the spell for a chance to meet with her idol, and that they wouldn’t have banished themselves without good reason, but in the end her decision and those of the rest of the Mane Six and Sunburst overrides hers, and the artifacts are reassembled and the spell cast. The Pillars are immediately returned to the exact place where they disappeared, but as soon as they get their bearings Starswirl immediately tells Twilight to reverse the spell, shouting “you cannot bring only the Pillars back”. Moments later, the Pony of Shadows manifests himself as well.

The first act he performs is to immediately destroy Starswirl’s journal and Ponehenge so that he can’t be banished again. He attempts to destroy Starswirl next, but Twilight and Starlight intervene and, to his surprise, prove to be stronger than him in his currently weaker state. Vowing to destroy all hope in Equestria, he vanishes to regain his power and leaves everypony else behind. Starswirl is furious at Twilight for undoing the spell, and the chastisement by her idol leaves her feeling miserable. He states that they need to find where the Pony of Shadows went to perform the banishing spell a second time. The group takes the Pillars to the Cutie Map, where the Pillars reveal that the Tree of Harmony that resulted in the formation of the Castle of Friendship and the Cutie Map came from a seed they planted with a bit of their own virtue imbued into it. Seeing how much its power has grown in a thousand years, Starswirl decides to use the Elements of Harmony to perform the banishing spell again, much to the reluctance of the Mane Six on realizing doing so will kill the Tree of Harmony. Twilight, desperate to atone for her mistake and to prove she’s a good magic user to Starswirl, works on modifying the spell so that the Pillars themselves will not have to be trapped as well, and comes up with a solution that will allow the Elements of Harmony to open the gate to Limbo so that one powerful magic-using pony can push the Pony of Shadows inside; a solution Starswirl, after some pressure, accepts. However, when the Cutie Map activates again and all six members of the Mane Six are drawn to the Hollow Shades to confront the Pony of Shadows, Starlight grows concerned as the map has only ever sent the girls to solve friendship problems. On speaking with the other Pillars, she discovers the identity of the unnamed pony: a magic-less and weak unicorn named Stygian who had scholarly knowledge but no skill like them. She also discovers all of them always simply assumed Stygian tried to steal their powers out of greed and envy rather than knew for sure. Fearing this might be another friendship problem, Starlight confesses that banishment might not be the best course to Twilight but she, eager to prove herself to Starswirl, doesn’t listen; causing Starlight to chastise her as well. The Mane Six reclaim the Elements of Harmony from the tree and depart for the Hollow Shades, where they finally track the Pony of Shadows down. The gate is opened and starts to draw him inside, but Twilight hesitates to push him in and, in the course of doing so, notices a pony struggling to get out from within the Pony of Shadows. Diving inside of him, she meets Stygian face-to-face, who reveals he wanted to copy the powers of the Pillars not out of jealousy but because he always felt useless compared to them and wanted to help. When he was cast out as a result, he turned to “the darkness” and accepted its offer to make him stronger than the Pillars so he could have revenge. Unknown to Stygian, everything he has said is audible outside of the Pony of Shadows, and the Pillars realize their mistake. Starlight jumps in as well and she and Twilight encourage him to try and reunite with them, but when the shadows respond by clinging to him and forcing the two of them out, everyone, including Starswirl, shifts from trying to blast the Pony of Shadows into Limbo to seizing Stygian and yanking him out from within the monster. They’re able to separate him, and the shadows themselves are banished into Limbo instead. Starswirl finally admits he was wrong and he and the Pillars reconcile with Stygian, while the Mane Six are happily surprised to see the Elements of Harmony remain. Starswirl reunites with Celestia and Luna in Canterlot, but says that it isn’t the place for him. Instead, realizing he has a lot to learn, and with the Pillars eager to see how Equestria has changed, they decide to journey through Equestria before deciding where they will go. The episode ends with Twilight thanking Starlight for helping her to remember her “lessons” that she already learned.

Review:

And finally, the culmination of months of IDW Comic collaboration with the show in another two-part dramatic season finale. What’s my personal verdict?

Well, I find it better than Season Five and Season Six’s finales. Beyond that…it’s complicated. Short version, it had a couple things I liked and a lot of things I didn’t necessarily dislike but I was very “meh” about. Similar to the case with “My Little Pony: The Movie”, I expected more than got delivered. However, as time has gone on I’ve appreciated the movie more for what it did have and its villain. This episode, on the other hand, is very by-the-numbers…which is a much bigger minus.

It would have been one thing if this was a typical season finale, but this is a season finale that was being built up to in the IDW Comic for months. In the comic, the Pony of Shadows was made out to be such a powerful and malevolent villain, one so beyond any of the other villains until now, that his descendant Shadow Lock was purposely trying to erase any knowledge of his existence specifically to keep him from ever returning. That’s pretty intense. That promises something huge. And…we got a friendship misunderstanding with a character who’s practically a background pony. It may be the theme of the show, but…”Twilight’s Kingdom” left too much of an impression that’s being felt to this day. Fans long for powerful villains to defeat. It’s only a minor complaint, but it is a letdown. All that build-up for this.

There were some good points. Although it was mostly episode padding, Spike did get a little scene to himself with Rainbow Dash and Garble in which his clumsy, timid, yet determined nature comes through. And while Starlight does get a lot of credit for the resolution, this ended up being an episode where she and Twilight worked more alongside each other to save the day rather than one standing out above the other. And again, the end of this episode rams home the point made in the previous episode and the reason I finally accepted Starlight as a cast member: Starlight means a lot as a friend to Twilight, and if that’s the case then I can accept her based on that.

The nicest thing about this episode, however, is the Lore associated with it. We’re finally really breaking ground on the history of Equestria and making it canon. While a lot of the characters in this episode were alluded directly to by the comic, interestingly the one comic-concept that seemed to become canon from this episode is the idea that there are dark and malevolent forces, “shadows” if you will, that actively tried to ruin and corrupt Equestria in ages past. Thanks to efforts of Celestia, Luna, and the Pillars, most of them are diminished or banished and Equestria is now the land it is today, but they aren’t gone completely. The idea was used frequently in the comic with creatures such as the Nightmares and the Umbra, entities of nothing but darkness that constantly look to claim others and use them for their ends. It’s somewhat analogous to the shadow entity in “A Wrinkle in Time”, the idea that all civilized worlds have to constantly be on guard from interstellar darkness invading them and that their best defense are those that embody love, peace, justice, and everything good and wholesome in this world. It also ties in further to the idea that began to come to light in the movie, that Equestrians are in fact terribly powerful and destructive but because they’re so peaceful and friendship-loving their power is never used for ill ends. I’m wondering if more of this Lore will come to light in later episodes.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good stuff ends to me. If I had to sum up what’s wrong with this two-parter in one phrase, it would be this: character overload.

This episode features all of the Mane Six, Spike, Starlight Glimmer, Sunburst, and all six of the Pillars of Old Equestria in the roles of protagonists…a staggering 15 characters. Each one of them gets a couple lines. With so many characters and so many things to do in order to set up this episode, there’s no time for all of them. In fact, there’s practically no time for any of them. Almost all of the first half of this has to be devoted to exposition, and a lot of the second half has to be devoted to backstory. Whatever is not devoted to that is devoted to the tension between Starswirl the Bearded, Twilight Sparkle, and Starlight Glimmer…three characters out of fifteen.

With all of this taking up so much time, there’s little opportunity to devote to character interactions with the rest of the girls and their respective idols, building up the malevolence and tension with the Pony of Shadows, getting into the heads or personas of the Pillars who suddenly find themselves instantly 1,000 years in the future, how they all react to suddenly being in this new world so radically different from theirs, or even having enough backstory to really have a chance to develop sympathy for Stygian and a sense of the relationship he once had with Starswirl. Instead, the last part has to be spoon fed to us in a monologue. That’s a real shame in light of the movie, which managed to garner sympathy for Tempest Shadow without any lines in a silent flashback.

All of those other details could have made for good plot points. Perhaps even good distinct episodes. Any one of the Pillars of Old Equestria adjusting to this new world they find themselves in could make for a good storyline, or any of their old exploits as a group and how they met (which I hear is being handled by the comic). Instead, because so much exposition has to be presented and so many characters are there to cycle through, we barely get any time at all for most of them. About the only thing new we know about any of them other than Starswirl at the end is…Flash Magnus and Rainbow Dash want to hang with each other.

None of that necessarily makes the episode “bad”, but it does water it down quite a bit and diminish its dramatic impact to practically nothing. This has the feel of a story that could have stood to be three or even four episodes long to try and dig into everyone a little more. I appreciate that in every scene the shot is overloaded with characters that the animators took time to give them all their own reactions, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re mostly there along for the ride.

At least the Elements of Harmony are back and doing their thing. And this episode does leave me hopeful for the future and where the show could go from here.

Fun Facts:

As mentioned in the previous review, IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #6 leads directly into this episode. That issue concludes with Sunburst first reading the journal, discovering something shocking, and then running off to tell the princesses. This episode begins with him revealing his findings to them, the Mane Six, and Starlight Glimmer.

“The Pony of Shadows” was first introduced in IDW My Little Pony #53. His presentation and modus operandi, as well as his backstory, is somewhat similar to Ganondorf from “The Legend of Zelda” series, in particular with six “sages” unable to defeat a force of evil and instead sealing him away. However, he also has a lot in common with Venom from “Spider-Man” comics. In particular to his appearance, how the “darkness” appears to have latched onto him like a corrupting symbiote, and in one particular scene in which extensions of his fake wings act like Venom’s own synthetic webs. The Pony of Shadows is the closest the show has come so far to depicting a male alicorn.

Each of the “Pillars” corresponds to an “Element” in the sense that when the pillar is upheld, it gives rise to the virtue the element represents:

  • Strength begets Honesty.
  • Bravery begets Loyalty.
  • Healing begets Kindness.
  • Beauty begets Inspiration (and kind of Generosity…note Inspiration was originally supposed to be Rarity’s element, not Generosity)
  • Hope begets Laughter.
  • Sorcery begets Magic.

As I mentioned in an earlier review, Celestia and Luna now share the throne.

Twilight has a “nerd laugh” (with snorting) when she giggles about Starswirl’s hoofwriting.

Limbo was a non-Biblical idea Roman Catholicism endorsed back in medieval times as a place where those who lived morally righteous lives (and therefore were not culpable for suffering within Hell) yet who died prior to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (and therefore were not eligible for Heaven) went after death. (It is separate from the similar and likewise non-Biblical Roman Catholic idea of Purgatory, which is endorsed to this day.)  It was rejected with the emergence of Protestantism and the idea that mankind’s own righteousness alone is insufficient to gain any form of salvation, and rather that all salvation is purely through the work of Christ and that His Sacrifice transcends past, present, and future. Nevertheless, it remains a popular literary device as an extra-dimensional realm separate from the mortal realm. Now it’s apparently part of Pony Lore.

Petunia Paleo cameos at the old Mighty Helm site, who first appeared in Season Six’s “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks”. There’s also Indiana-Jones-pony, and looking like the “Crystal Skull” version. 😛 Ironically, Daring Do was originally a knockoff of Indiana Jones, and she cameos in this episode too.

Holy crud, Applejack is super-pony-ly strong. O_O

When Rainbow Dash answers Garble’s wager with “Fine”, I like how Spike panics. 😛

Ugh…Pinkie Pie carries Somnambula’s slime-coated blindfold in her mouth…

Similar to how the Timberwolves are drawn using 3D art, allowing the mixed media to make them more unsettling, the Pony of Shadows is hand-drawn as opposed to animated in Flash to make him stand out from the other characters.

By far, this two-parter sets the record for the most voice actors in a single episode (ok, technically two). Mostly because so many of the voice actors have done only one or two voices in show history. Starswirl the Bearded, first mentioned all the way back in Season Two’s “Luna Eclipsed”, finally gets a voice by Chris Britton, who has had an assortment of voice acting and live acting roles with his more notable ones being Mr. Sinister on the old “X-Men” TV series and Soichiro Yagami on “Death Note” (he also played a role in Netflix’s poorly-received live-action “Death Note”). Bill Newton, who plays Stygian/the Pony of Shadows, is new this season but got a lot of work as he’s also the voice of Pharynx and Bright Macintosh. Other “one-voice” roles include Ian Hanlin reprising Sunburst and Chiara Zanni reprising Daring Do.

When Pinkie Pie interjects to explain all the foes they’ve defeated to Starswirl, she produces the Journal of Friendship out of nowhere. The original one no less. Yay, hammerspace.

Neither Rockhoof nor Somnambula ever spoke in their original appearances. This is the first time either of them received a voice.

I pointed this out in an earlier review, but…Somnambula’s personality ended up being radically different from how she was depicted in the IDW Comic. Whereas that made her more like Pinkie Pie, here she’s definitely more sagacious and reserved.

I’m still kind of stunned that Mage Meadowbrook knows so much about magic and can’t do any. 😛

Does Rockhoof use his shovel as…a weapon? I’m getting flashbacks to “Mystery Men”… Does that make it a Warshovel?

One of the biggest surprises in this episode came from the flashback, in which one of the foes of the Pillars of Old Equestria were revealed: the Sirens in their original bodies. This was rather shocking because the show creators had officially stated that the “Equestria Girls” universe was a spin-off and distinct from the show’s universe. In fact, previous attempts in the series to feature a cameo by Sunset Shimmer have been shot down on those grounds (such as in “Slice of Life” and “The Cutie Re-Mark”). There’s a chance that this is an alternate version of the Sirens who got banished to Limbo themselves rather than the human universe, but most fans consider this permission to start including Sunset Shimmer as part of the regular show. At any rate, this is the first look we’ve really gotten of their true forms. Although they appeared somewhat in “Rainbow Rocks”, those forms were inconsistent in size and it was debatable if it represented reality or simply projections the actual Dazzlings were making of themselves. The design is mostly identical as is their size, which is revealed to be several times larger than a normal pony. Changes included adding different tones of color and reducing the size of their eyes. “The Art of Equestria” reveals one of the basic ways the artists make “evil-looking characters” more Y-rating appropriate is by enlarging their eyes, such as they did with Chrysalis. Apparently we can “scare” the kids a bit more now. 🙂 It seems even in Equestria their jewels were key to their power, although in this version they seem to be embedded in their chests rather than simply jewels they wear. Ironically, although this episode represented a collaboration with IDW Comic, it renders IDW’s FIENDship is Magic #3 completely bunk. 😛

In the flashback with the Sirens, a filly version of Esmeraldas teases a hunchback pony, who in turn slams a giant bell down on her. 😛

“Stygian” is an adjective that refers to the river Styx, a place in Greek mythology which represents the barrier to the Underworld. A very dark place, in other words. His design is rather interesting, made to look like the “dumber” ponies in the series and, therefore, more unremarkable and forgettable ones.

While the Castle of the Two Sisters makes an appearance in flashbacks, no sign of young Celestia and Luna like in the comic. Aw…

“It seems I never accounted for the Magic of Friendship.” This is an echo of the line Princess Celestia gave to Twilight in “Magical Mystery Cure”: “Something even a great unicorn like Starswirl the Bearded was not able to do, because he did not understand friendship like you do.” It’s a nice nod.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #160: “Filter Feeding”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Shadow Play”

While meant to be a drama, this episode ended up serving well as one of the “friendship lesson” episodes–illustrating the dangers of perceiving the world the way we are instead of how it really is. The epic battle that lasted over a thousand years between Starswirl the Bearded and Stygian, the Pony of Shadows, all boiled down to neither individual seeing the truth. Starswirl interpreted Stygian’s attempt to copy the powers of the Old Pillars of Equestria in order to earn appreciation as an attempt to steal their powers for himself, making him a villain in his eyes. Stygian, on the other hand, interpreted being cast out as an act of ingratitude and hate, making the Old Pillars, and his old friends, his enemies in his own eyes. In the end, their banishment and their fight was the result of misunderstanding reality rather than truth, but that didn’t mean both of them didn’t defend such misunderstandings vigorously. Starswirl saw Stygian as a monster to be banished, and Stygian wanted to destroy all of Equestria if it meant getting his revenge on him.

When thinking about this episode for this devotional this past week, a thought occurred to me that tied in with it. Many of you are probably aware of the abuses of social media. How they seem to be used as an excuse to vilify, insult, shame, and breed every kind of discord and intolerance imaginable to get everyone at each other’s throats, whether consciously or subconsciously. Enough to where a backlash has begun where people are beginning to swear it off. However, I myself don’t have much of a problem with it and I use Facebook regularly. How, you ask? I discovered a couple years ago I wonderful option to block posts from certain groups. Before then, anyone and everyone I friended would repost things that were political, aggressive, argumentative, and occasionally obscene. I used to always find the urge to respond to them, often resulting in arguments breaking out and the desire to feel justified overriding the desire to be Christian, but I eventually decided to go with the “if you can’t say anything nice…” maxim and simply blocked sites that had nothing but political and inflaming rhetoric. Since then, Facebook has become far more manageable for me (especially in election season…). Now that I filter out the stuff that ticks me off and leave only the stuff I’m interested in, things are much better.

How does this tie in to today’s episode? As I’m emphasized in other posts, we never see the world the way it is but the way we are. Everything from our view of international affairs to our outlook on our job to our attitude toward strangers to how we wake up in the morning and look around our rooms…whether it’s good or bad, hopeful or depressing, an opportunity or a lost cause: it all comes down to our outlook. And what many of us don’t realize consciously is just how many “filters” we put on everything subconsciously.

Such was definitely the case in this episode. Both characters had put up their own “filters” so that they could see nothing in each other except what they had already decided on seeing. In particular with Starswirl. To him, Stygian was nothing but evil to be stopped. He wouldn’t bother listening to anything Starlight tried to say about it, dismissing even considering an alternate viewpoint as irrelevant, and adamantly refusing to see anything but his version of history. In other words, anything that challenged his mental schema was blocked out entirely. Only things that confirmed it were let in.

Getting back to the topic of politics. I try to stay out of them, but my family listens to them and I get feeds from news sources both liberal and conservative. I’m amazed at how it seems as if they’re reporting on two different realities most days. Essentially, each source casts everything one way or the other. If it’s something that the party they’re in favor of did, no more how horrible, disgusting, illicit, or harmful, it’s always cast to make it look like it was either not a big deal or even a virtue. By comparison, if it’s something that the party they’re against did, no matter how good, noble, wholesome, helpful, or even innocuous, it’s always cast to make it look as if it’s the worst thing ever conceived by mankind. Or oftentimes they simply ignore whatever news story makes the other side look good as if it never even happened. Again, it’s all a “filter”.

Politics is an easy target, but it extends to everything. How you view this race or that gender. How you think of this religious group or that country. Even how you view the homeless and the needy, or what personal choices you make for recreation or fun. People don’t realize how often they have made a subconscious yet firm decision to love something or hate something. When that happens, they put on “filters”. And as a result, they often won’t give anything a chance or think up reasons to not do something or try something. Sometimes it’s used as an excuse for hate or intolerance. And sometimes it becomes just plain crazy. (I myself know one person who refused for ages to try a restaurant named “Cheddar’s”. Why? Because he hated cheese…in spite of the fact the restaurant doesn’t specialize in cheese and that’s just the name.)

Whether you pick the Old Testament or the New Testament, the Bible warns against the sin of showing partiality and seeing the world according to human eyes rather than God’s eyes. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” (1 Samuel 16:7). “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). In short, we are to strive to see things the way God sees them rather than according to our own internal “filters” and all of their associated biases and prejudgments.

However, to me, the good news is that the right kind of “filtering” can also work to our advantage.

Just as internal filters can keep us biased toward seeing the world in a negative light, it can help us see the world in a positive one. We can train ourselves to stop looking for reasons to hate or dislike things but instead to look for the living spirit of God in everything. When looking at a group or individual we dislike, we can choose to see how they are a precious child of God and loved by him as much as we are. When disaster strikes, we can choose to see in what ways we are still blessed and what opportunity we might now have. When feeling attacked unjustly or persecuted, we can choose to look for how God is guiding us and how he wishes for us to grow in that situation. It’s possible, even in the worst of circumstances, to still see the presence of God, his spirit, and goodness and love in everything, while at the same time filtering out anything negative, externally terrible, hostile, or that in any other way tries to get us to react with a hostile, angry, or hard-hearted attitude. But even if you’re not in the worst of circumstances, you can do the same in everyday occurrences, no matter how mundane or simple.

And over time, we can train ourselves to see the world that way by default, and to keep growing to see the world the way God sees it. And when that happens, like it did on my Facebook page, the world becomes a much more pleasant, hopeful, lovely, and opportunity-filled place.

My suggestion for this devotional is to focus a bit more on trying to identify filters that we have set up that are keeping our world view rather grim and pessimistic, and instead to focus on seeing things more the way our Lord wants us to. It might make all the difference in the world.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that the world is filled with your Spirit and blessings, and that they are all around us no matter the situation if we will look for them. If there is something in my life that is keeping me from seeing the world the way you want me to see it, or is warping my view toward others and keeping me hard-hearted, please help me to identify it, and I now renounce it and repent of it. Instead, please give me eyes to see the world the way you see it, so that I can better grow to love this world you have made and especially the people you have created to fill it. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episode Twenty-Four: “Uncommon Bond”

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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer is excited for Sunburst to arrive from the Crystal Empire, eager to spend the next couple days hanging out and catching up with her old friend as she believes they have so much in common. However, the visit doesn’t go quite as planned. It turns out Sunburst has developed an interest in antiques which Twilight Sparkle shares, causing the first day to be blown antiquing all day with her. The next day when she tries to get some apples from Sweet Apple Acres, she runs into Trixie, at which point Sunburst reveals his interest in stage magic and spends the whole morning with her instead. When she tries to show her to the Mirror Pool later, they bump into Maud, and, again, Sunburst reveals an interest in geology and spends his time with her. Desperate to try and relive their old friendship, Starlight ends up resorting to a spell that both transforms the interior of the Castle of Friendship into the house they played in as foals and regresses them to child age so they can play a board game called Dragon Pit. This, however, both unsettles and upsets Sunburst, and as a result of his backlash Starlight fears that he would prefer to be friends with her other friends, and that they now have so little in common that they can’t be friends anymore. When she runs off, Sunburst learns about her fears and tries to think of something the two still have in common, but coming up dry he turns to Twilight, Trixie, and Maud and discovers she doesn’t have terribly much in common with them other than they understand each other and accept each other. With that in mind, the four of them make a life-sized version of Dragon Pit to play with Starlight so that they can all do something together as friends. Starlight and Sunburst realize having a lot in common isn’t necessarily needed to be friends, so long as you understand and appreciate one another and enjoy being together. Starlight helps Sunburst get on board a train bound for home with a “blind buy” barrel of antiques, which includes a rather ancient book with a star swirl pattern…

Review:

I disliked “Marks and Recreation” the most this season, but this one remains a contender for one of my more disliked episodes.

It has a good lesson…kind of. The idea that you don’t have to actually have things in common to be friends. True, but…most of the time you do. It’s a rare occasion that you don’t, and usually in my experience your “bestie” is not the person you have the least in common with. The idea of having friends with different interests and appreciating each other in how they’re something you’re not was already explored better in “Discordant Harmony”. Nevertheless, the lesson is appropriate here. Starlight is indeed different from almost any other character on the show. Her choice in friends reflects her ability to understand them rather than already having a pre-established interest in geology, stage magic, etc. And really the only thing you need to do to have someone want to hang around you is appreciate them for who they are. So, even though it’s a teeny bit of a stretch, it’s still a good moral.

We have good bits from both Maud Pie and Trixie in this one too. It’s nice to see the continuity with them. Maud doesn’t get a terribly large amount of screen time but she does get to “be Maud” in all of her scenes. (Amazing how so much of Maud’s personality can come out when she has so little personality. :P) And if you find Trixie obnoxious usually, this is one of her “lighter” episodes. And honestly? She is a bit cute-looking when she doesn’t have her normally arrogant look on her face.

Nevertheless, I found some bad things in this episode. The biggest one is Sunburst. The only thing I’d say he has in common with Starlight is neither of them have a high degree of empathy for others. When an old friend invites you over to spend a few days together, you were invited to spend time with them, not their friends. Now, at first it’s forgivable. Sunburst could have forgotten himself in the moment with Twilight. And he does say Starlight doesn’t have to pretend to like what they’re doing. All of that is fine. But when Starlight wakes him up early the next day and all he goes on about is Twilight-this and Twilight-that, not to mention once he hears Twilight won’t be coming with them he ignores Starlight and tries to go back to sleep…yeah. Sunburst also never seems to fully realize his own mistake. The closest we ever get is toward the end of the episode when he tries to think of things he and Starlight has in common and begins to realize they don’t have anything in common. Yet that realization never translates to him fully thinking Starlight may have had a point in being upset. At the end of the episode, he still seems to think she was “worried for nothing”.

It’s true that Starlight goes (a bit creepily) too far with regressing their ages, but she’s done worse and she reverted it pretty quickly. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but…this episode actually makes me sympathize with Starlight in “The Cutie Re-Mark”. Yeah. I actually feel she was casually tossed aside by someone being an insensitive jerk now. There were parts in this episode I wondered why she wants to be friends with Sunburst at all.

Aside from that, the resolution seemed a bit awkward. If trying to physically relive childhood is disturbing, I don’t think playing a giant version of the game is much better. It’s still Starlight only able to remember them having anything in common as children, and both of them grew up. I thought it would have been nicer if both of them had learned more to appreciate each other’s company rather than…that. I still don’t get the sense that Starlight and Sunburst are very close at the end other than the plot fairy said “make it so”. That seems to happen a lot with Starlight…

So, while I don’t think it was much of a “stinker” in the realm of bad episodes, I still didn’t leave feeling to great about it even with the moral and cameos.

Fun Facts:

IDW My Little Pony #53 is a prequel to this episode, and was the first appearance of Starswirl’s journal as well as “the Pony of Shadows”. On the last page, it highlights the barrel containing Starswirl’s journal.

IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #6 opens with an alternate ending to this episode in another instance of the comic and the show not quite synching up, but ignoring that the comic is, in all other ways, a continuation of this episode and, in turn, is also a direct prequel to “Shadow Play”.

Sunburst can give Rarity a run for her money on luggage packing.

The Mighty Helm, the group that Rockhoof belonged to, is mentioned in the antique shop. By looking at the old map you can get a vague idea of where all of their Old Pillars of Equestria originated. Mistmane’s country was in the northeast, Rockhoof’s country was on the west coast, Somnambula’s country was to the southwest, and Mage Meadowbrook’s country was the southeast. Flash Magnus was obviously Cloudsdale while Starswirl the Bearded was obviously Canterlot. By the way, Starlight sounds unimpressed but…I find the fact the earth ponies made a map of Equestria a thousand years ago to be impressive.

Old Ponish gets mentioned again, and this time actually spoken: “Hliet forsettan pliht.” or “Reward prefers risk.”

Another Donald Duck moment in which Sunburst is embarrassed to be seen from under the covers with his cape on.

Even if you don’t like Trixie, you got to admit she looks rather adorable in a lot of scenes in this episode. 🙂

In another questionable decision by Starlight Glimmer, she uncovered the Mirror Pool from Season Three’s “Too Many Pinkie Pies”. Eh, Maud would have found it anyway. On the plus side, this finally eliminates the fear any fan might have had that the original Pinkie got trapped down there. 😛 Later in the episode, Boulder appears to have duplicated himself…er, herself?

“I thought he came to Ponyville to see you?” Excellent point, Twilight.

Pumice is indeed a light rock. It actually floats. Also, Maud is the only one who doesn’t snicker at the pitfall Starlight made.

On the train at the end, Lyra and Bon Bon get off the train together.

At first I thought Trixie had gotten good enough to levitate all of Sunburst’s luggage, but…it turns out Twilight is using her horn too. 😛

Rating:

2 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episode Twenty-Three: “Secrets and Pies”

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Synopsis:

Pinkie Pie is celebrating Rainbow Dash’s 73rd practice as a Wonderbolt with a very special custom-made blueberry pie, as she always presents Rainbow Dash with a pie for all major (and mundane) events since she believes she is her greatest fan when it comes to her pie-making abilities. Yet soon after dropping off the pie at the Wonderbolt Barracks, Pinkie thinks she catches a glimpse of the same pie being discarded in the garbage. After a bit of investigation in Ponyville and the barracks, she discovers evidence indicating that Rainbow Dash frequently gives the pies Pinkie bakes for her away, and she realizes she has never actually seen Dash take a bite out of any of her pies. Realizing that Dash has possibly been lying to her for years about liking her pies, she sets out to catch her in the act by deciding to continuously bake pies for her until she admits the truth or is caught in her lie. Through a tremendous amount of effort, Dash manages to dispose of each pie Pinkie presents her with and pretend to have eaten it, until finally she ends up cornered when Pinkie gives a pie to every single pony in town and Dash’s attempt to dispose of the pie via balloon drops it on her head. Her lie exposed, Pinkie is infuriated and storms off. Not long after, however, Dash goes to Sugarcube Corner again and reveals, to atone for not eating any of the pies she has made, a monstrous pie out of garbage and indigestible muck she plans to eat in front of her. Before she can take a bite, however, Pinkie stops her on realizing Dash went to such lengths of concealing or disposing of each pie because she wanted Pinkie to be happy about her saying how much she enjoyed the pies, just like she wanted Dash to be happy by making the pies for her in the first place. The two reconcile, and Pinkie gives Dash permission to be honest from now on.

Review:

Every season needs a wacky Pinkie Pie episode. 🙂 They’re almost their own subgenre to the show as a whole. Episodes like “Party of One”, “A Friend in Deed”, “Too Many Pinkie Pies”, and “The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows” all focus exclusively on Pinkie Pie and, as a result, gain an element of cartoonish surrealism to them…not only from Pinkie’s presence and normal physics-defying behavior, but from her own somewhat-warped mentality. And the same goes for “Secrets and Pies”.

While “Party of One” will set a record for the darkest a Pinkie Pie episode has ever been, this episode runs in second. Pinkie Pie’s “crazy” faces in this episode are quite noticeable, especially in one scene where her pupils drift apart as they did in “Party of One”. Her more crazed and scary-sounding side of her personality comes forth as it did in that episode when she has reason to think a friend is tricking her, and just as in that episode she develops a complex based off of her own wild imagination…both of which are times in which Pinkie goes from looking wacky and silly to looking insane. It doesn’t help that this episode focuses on a relationship between Pinkie and Rainbow Dash, who were the two in the notorious fanfic: “Cupcakes”. Especially in the last scene, which also points out one of the more disturbing parts of “Party of One”…namely in that Pinkie does things that she personally finds fun but nopony else necessarily does (occasionally even feeling disturbed).

But, all in all, this episode is milder than “Party of One”, and has plenty of normal-level silliness of Pinkie Pie as well. If you didn’t have a problem with “Party of One”, this one will be a breeze.

Aside from that, it’s got everything you would expect from Pinkie Pie. Crazy meme-worthy faces, wild moments defying logic even for the show, lots of gags and allusions, stoic Gummy being indifferent to everything, and even a crazy hallucination by Pinkie of a crudely-outlined, pie-hating Rainbow Dash.

If I had to fault it, as a nitpick I would say Twilight and Applejack were a tad too hard on Dash…but just a tad. I’m not sure how many people can see Pinkie’s point of view in this episode, but I can. As an amateur writer, I have dealt with situations before where people have given me the impression they thought I was a marvelous writer and loved my work. As a result, I not only got enthusiastic, but I started working harder to make my material closer to perfect so I could further please them. Sometimes I even start forfeiting my time for other activities or interests just to try and get something done sooner for the person who says what I write is great. I have had people turn around after all that and admit they aren’t really reading my stuff and were just saying things like that to “be polite”. I guarantee you that my feelings were hurt in spite of what they thought was the “polite” thing to do. Sometimes it gets so bad that I begin to hate the whole concept of “being polite” if it means this. It makes me not only upset that they lied to me, but it also makes me have less appreciation for my own writing ability and diminishes my trust in the praise of others as a whole. And yes, I would have preferred it if right at the onset they had simply said they weren’t interested in my work or didn’t care for it. Would I have been sore? Possibly…but not as much as them pretending to like my work and revealing much later they actually hated it and were lying all along.

So, all in all, it was another great Pinkie Pie episode. A nice bit of fun before we started digging back into the overarching plot in the final three episodes.

Fun Facts:

Derpy is mailpony again at the start of this episode.

With anypony else, I’d criticize Pinkie Pie for hitting the junk food a bit too hard at the start of the episode. Considering how hyperactive she is, however, she might starve to death like a bird in winter if she doesn’t constantly stuff her face with sugar.

Rainbow Dash’s nickname is still “Crash”. Yay for continuity. 😛 On a similar continuity note, Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail are in the background during Pinkie Pie’s conversation with her.

Prehensile wings again as Rainbow Dash carries the pie on one wing.

After Pinkie accosts the trashpony, the segue to the Party Planning Cave is the same as the old 1960s “Batman” segues, only using a pie instead of the Batman emblem.

When Rainbow Dash launches the It’s-Not-Your-Birthday-But-Here’s-A-Pie-Anyway pie up to the windowsill, the pony who ends up with it joyfully exclaims: “It’s not even my birthday!” Nice little joke. 🙂

Pinkie Pie digs out her detective hat and pipe from “MMMystery on the Friendship Express”. She’s much better at mystery solving now.

Another instance of Pinkie’s mane being prehensile. She can actually write with it.

Nicole Oliver got a decent amount of voice work in this episode. She voices both Dr. Fauna and Ms. Cheerilee.

“Animals just can’t digest pony food.” And ponies are renown for eating pies in the wild. 😛

Another nice little gag. Earlier in the episode, Tank’s x-ray shows the entire pie, unchewed and complete, is in his stomach. One might think that’s just a joke, but no…later in the episode, it’s revealed he does indeed swallow pies whole.

“We have to make sure you didn’t sustain any internal injuries.” Is it even possible for that to happen to Pinkie Pie? 😛

Yet another nice bit is how Applejack and Twilight’s reactions to Dash apologizing to Pinkie differ.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episode Twenty-Two: “Once Upon a Zeppelin”

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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle gets an unexpected scroll from her parents saying they won a contest for a free zeppelin cruise for the whole family, including Cadance, Shining Armor, and Flurry Heart. Wanting some relief from her princess duties, Twilight decides to leave tasks to Spike and attend the cruise to spend some time relaxing with her family. Not long into the trip, however, she discovers that Iron Will is running it as a theme cruise for Equestrian princesses, and that he offered her parents the free cruise so that Twilight and Cadance would be suckered into coming along. With Cadance too busy with Flurry to entertain anyone, and the only alternative to be to cancel the cruise and disappoint both her family and the rest of the cruise attendees, Twilight agrees to participate in all of the princess activities so long as the rest of her family gets to do what they want on the trip. Unfortunately, while everyone else has a good time, Twilight’s trip is a disaster. She constantly has to be a “good princess” for everyone, she’s forced to be shadowed by an overeager fan named Star Tracker who won a raffle prize to be her “honorary family member”, she has no time to do anything with her family, and, as the icing on top, she misses a chance to catch the Northern Stars–the one event she wanted to see on the trip. This latest disappointment causes her to blow up at all of her family, honorary members included. Following her outburst, Cadance approaches her and reminds her in wanting to be a good princess for everyone, sometimes everyone demands more than she can give and she has to be willing to make time for herself. With that in mind, she decides to do something she wants to do with her family, again including the honorary members, and goes out with them for ice cream. On realizing Twilight just wanted to relax with her own folks, however, Star Tracker voluntarily agrees to leave them alone to themselves, and even stands up to Iron Will when he tries to turn the ice cream social into a cruise event. As a result, Twilight herself makes an announcement to everyone that she would really just like to spend the rest of the cruise with her family, inadvertently exposing Iron Will’s deception and that the contract the cruise attendees signed never guaranteed the participation of any princesses. He leaps overboard to escape the cruise attendees’ backlash, leaving Twilight’s family to enjoy the cruise any way they like, which they do by reenacting the Northern Stars for her.

Review:

This is another one of those episodes I should really dislike, but I don’t.

It has a number of things wrong with it. The foremost one is the entire setup, the idea that Twilight is overworked as the Princess of Friendship. That’s kind of flimsy. The fact is there are still a number of episodes to this day where Twilight is sitting around bored, and a frequent aspect of her character is trying to keep herself busy while fretting about not being off on Cutie Mark Map quests or the like. A large part of the series since Twilight became an alicorn has been her lamenting that she doesn’t get to do much. So the thought that Twilight needs a vacation to begin with is a bit tacked on. It doesn’t detract too much from what happened in this episode, as while she may not be overworked she doesn’t get to spend much time with her family, but it does a little.

Other smaller things also take away from it as well. As mentioned in Fun Facts, Twilight Sparkle wasn’t in Season Two’s “Putting Your Hoof Down”, so she doesn’t know Iron Will. At this point, turning Shining Armor into the whipping boy every time he appears in an episode is getting a little stale. Yeah, I know the joke is this guy who’s this big royal guard has all these nuances that you wouldn’t expect from a “macho man”, but when the only side of him you see is being wimpy, disorganized, and incompetent, he starts becoming a Memetic Loser. The moral itself isn’t the best in the world for a kid’s show or even an adult’s show. There are some people who work themselves to the bone and forget to take time out for themselves, but those are just the occasional overworker and parents. It’s not terribly universal.

And to be honest, Twilight’s family is quite a bit insensitive to her plight. As her family members, they should know when she’s lying through her teeth normally, but even if they didn’t it was clear she meant to spend the trip relaxing and spending time with them. Even if they consent to let her sacrifice her free time for them, the least they can do is not “rub it in” whenever she comes up to them. “Oh, I got a bunch of water up my nose with that barrel ride.” “Oops, I lost. This Bingo game isn’t as fun as I remember.” “I think that tiny boat’s pedals were busted so it wouldn’t have been fair.” Stuff like that to downplay it, you know? The worst part was when they’re so insensitive about the Northern Stars, which Twilight explicitly said was the ONE thing she wanted to do.

Yet in spite of all that, I did still end up liking this episode.

Iron Will isn’t quite as big as he was in his first appearance, but his character is still there and I get a real kick out of his farewell: “Satisfaction NOT guaranteed. NO REFUNDS!” (Jump overboard with a parachute of him swimming in cash) Flurry Heart is still just as cute as she was last time. The part where Twilight realizes she missed the Northern Stars is one of the more poignant parts of the series to me, as I’m sure most of us have had to deal with wanting to do something that was practically once in a lifetime and then miss it and know how that feels. Equally appropriate was Twilight losing her temper soon after.

But the most likable part of this episode is Cadance. Five seasons after she was introduced, it looks as if the writers finally found the perfect role for her in the show: not an alicorn princess or a ruler of a magic empire, but as an older sister. The show is filled with instances of friends helping each other in a heart-to-heart situation, but there’s a special connection between familial relations that’s greater than friends alone. Yes, I know technically Cadance is only Twilight’s sister-in-law, but the relationship there is still clear. I also know we have sister interactions with Rarity and Sweetie Belle and Applejack and Apple Bloom, but that’s different. There we have someone who’s older, more independent, and more in a position to have authority in a situation. Not always, but more often and more easily. Sisters who are both older and independent and free to talk to one another as equals isn’t something the show has done save for Celestia and Luna, but it wasn’t until “A Royal Problem” that this was really explored. And here she manages to give some good advice that comes not from her power or authority but by her life experience. She knows she has to make time for her family now because she’s begun one of her own. And a lot of her lines are simple and poignant, like when Twilight says she has to submit to the cruise activities if she wants to be a good princess.

“You’re already a good princess, Twilight.”

Finally, and this is going to be a little weird…but…well…I kind of picture Star Tracker and Twilight Sparkle together.

Yeah, I know in the bulk of this episode he looks like a creepy stalker…mostly because he acts like one. He’s constantly in Twilight’s personal space and he leans in close to whisper in her ear while sweating and quivering all over. And yes, that’s not only a bit disturbing but it’s essentially harassment. That said…he does learn his lesson in this episode, and even gets in a bit of physical pain for it. He realizes by the end that not only does he need to mind Twilight’s personal space but he voluntarily relinquishes his title of “honorary” family member even thought Twilight insisted on bringing him along after everything because he feels Twilight deserves it. He does try to stand up to Iron Will on Twilight’s behalf as well. On top of all that, even after all his behavior early in the episode, Twilight voluntarily gives him a hug too.

I can totally see these two meeting again in a couple years and being all: “Oh, you were that one earth pony from that cruise!” “Uh, heh…yeah. Sorry again.” and that be the kickoff to eventually the two pairing. Stranger things have happened.

In short, the good and entertaining parts make up for the parts that were a bit subpar, and even make up for them a little.

Fun Facts:

How does one deep fry a gem? Throw it in lava…?

Twilight Sparkle is more than right to worry about Spike handling “princess duties” while she’s gone. Remember “Princess Spike”? 😛

One beef I have with the show in general is that the audio can be really bad for some lines. The line Twilight shouts to Spike after he “waits for it” is: “Cruises have activities, right? I should probably make a schedule!”

This is the second time Twilight Velvet has had a speaking role. Oddly enough, her first speaking role, “The Crystalling”, had her voiced by Tara Strong herself, and was only the second character she had ever voiced on the show other than Twilight Sparkle. However, she’s been given a new voice in this episode, Patricia Drake.

It makes sense that Night Light loves the “organizational” aspects of Bingo. It explains where Twilight got it from. 😛

Shining Armor reenacts Rose’s part in “Titanic” by standing up on the prow.

Iron Will’s only other appearance was Season Two’s “Putting Your Hoof Down”, which is widely regarded as Fluttershy’s worst episode by much of the fandom. Twilight Sparkle, however, never appeared in that episode. So Twilight’s former knowledge of him is one of those deals like how Chekhov knew Khan in Star Trek II.

Iron Will still uses goats as his staff, and the fandom still wonders on what level of sentience they are. Are they basically slaves and indentured servants? Or trained monkeys?

That look on Cadance’s face after telling the parents Flurry needs her nap. 😛

Star Tracker has taken over Spike’s role of “quill case handler” for Twilight’s autograph session.

This was the first episode to air following the premiere of “My Little Pony: The Movie”. I almost thought it was something of an apology to Britt McKillip as Cadance only had two lines in the film.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episode Twenty-One: “Marks and Recreation”

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Synopsis:

On seeing themselves swamped with a large number of “blank flanks” needing their help, the Cutie Mark Crusaders decide to open up a Cutie Mark Day Camp with the idea that they can get all of the colts and fillies needing their help to try new things together just as they did. On starting it up it seems to be a success save for one colt named Rumble, the younger brother of Wonderbolt Thunderlane, who looks bored and disinterested with the whole experience and, unseen by the CMCs, intentionally fails every activity. When they try to encourage him, he only grows hostile toward them and the idea of a Cutie Mark, surprising them by saying he’d rather remain a blank flank. The next day, his brother forces him to return to the day camp, but Rumble uses the opportunity to prey on the insecurities and fears of the other camp goers by telling them a Cutie Mark will force them to do something they don’t like to do forever and keep them from doing anything else. Before long, he leads the camp in a revolt to create “Camp Blank Flanks Forever”, dedicated to never getting a Cutie Mark. Angry and frustrated, and unable to talk to Rumble, the girls turn to Thunderlane instead, who reveals that all Rumble has been doing since Thunderlane became a Wonderbolt is either watch him practice or practice himself. The CMCs realize Rumble is scared of getting a Cutie Mark in anything besides being a Wonderbolt, thinking it will ruin his dream or be something he hates by comparison. The girls take Thunderlane back to camp with them to be the “guest participant” in the day’s activities, which soon not only sways the other campgoers into coming back but even Rumble when he sees one of the activities is a Wonderbolt obstacle course. However, he sees Thunderlane isn’t running it but is instead cooking, revealing after he became a Wonderbolt and had to start cooking meals at the barracks that he actually liked doing that a lot too. Realizing that even with a Cutie Mark you can still find new interests, Rumble decides to help out his brother with cooking as well instead of running the course, and agrees to try out the rest of the activities at camp from now on as a willing participant.

Review:

Well, every season has got to have the “one episode” I just can’t stand. And all things considered it could have been worse.

There is one good thing about it. Although this is a Cutie Mark Crusader episode, and most of those tend to highlight a new one-shot character, this episode solidly focuses on the one-shot characters in a similar way that “Top Bolt” did. Thunderlane had been named since Season Two and now he got a bit of screen time. Heck, they even gave a one-shot like Rumble his own song. A lot of fans appreciated that, and I can respect it.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I liked about it. The plot, well… Before I get into that, I have to focus on my biggest peeve for this episode: Rumble.

I don’t much really care for Rumble as a character. A lot of people likened him to Starlight Glimmer for his dislike of Cutie Marks and using a song to persuade the masses, but the relationships don’t stop there. Both of them ultimately had a personal issue to deal with and, rather than deal with it maturely or responsibly, they not only hid their fear behind aggression and hostility but attempted to manipulate the doubts and fears of others into rallying to their misguided cause. Rumble is younger and has less maturity so you can forgive him a little more than Starlight, but it still plunged him into severe unlikeability for me. Especially when he took out his personal anger on the CMCs. As I said in my separate devotional, I’m ashamed to admit I acted like “Rumble” at least once in my life. I’m not proud of it and I shouldn’t be, regardless of how I was feeling.

Yet what further got my goat was seeing that so many fans liked what he was spouting during his song and thought it all had a point, in spite of the fact it was all stuff Rumble was only endorsing to try and get out of getting a Cutie Mark he didn’t want. There have been debates in the past among the fandom over the nature of Cutie Marks and what it would mean to get one that you didn’t care for and be “stuck” doing that forever. And on the show, it’s been demonstrated that even those with Cutie Marks are sometimes confused as to why they have them. A number of fans seemed to take this as an allusion for being forced to do a job or career that they didn’t like and desiring the freedom to “be themselves”.

What I think a lot of them are missing is that all of these concerns have already been addressed by the show canon, and were put out poignantly in Season Five’s “Bloom and Gloom”. All of Rumble’s “points”, which, again, weren’t points at all but simply excuses he was making, were moot because they were predicated on a Cutie Mark being a cause and an individual being an effect. In reality, the opposite is true. Luna stated it succinctly: a Cutie Mark is merely a reflection of who you are. You don’t get a Cutie Mark to randomly tell you what your destiny is. You get a Cutie Mark when you discover what your true calling is. And like the episode showed, being talented at one thing doesn’t mean you stop doing anything else. Twilight loves to read and her Cutie Mark is in magic. Applejack loves rodeos and competitions and her Cutie Mark is for growing apples. Shining Armor’s Cutie Mark is for being a defender and when’s the last time he’s done anything involving guarding anything? 😛

Yet I think fans flocked to this for the same reason they did to “Flutter Brutter”. In spite of attempts to say the bronies don’t conform to a fandom, most of us strike me as the kind of people who spend too much time around the house not actively seeking a job, career, or even a good major in college and instead prefer to just “be ourselves and keep our options open”…which many (not all, but many) times translates into apathy, lack of ambition, or even laziness. Perhaps that’s the reason they identified with Rumble.

But even aside from him and the fact that the moral had already been addressed and the CMCs should have known better how to respond to it, I didn’t care for much of the episode. Since the song was 100 percent wrong, I didn’t like it that much even if it was a change of pace. I thought the CMCs were a bit dense that they couldn’t tell the difference between a failed attempt and not even trying. And the resolution was muddled. The real reason this is more a background pony episode and not a CMC one is because they don’t really provide the solution. Thunderlane does that in a heart-to-heart. What they do, on the other hand, is simply seduce the “Camp Blank Flanks Forever” goers back onto their side with a celebrity.  In a way, that makes the real moral of the episode that kids are easy to bribe into believing whatever you want them to. It may be true, but, in the words of Marge Simpson, “that’s a pretty lousy lesson”.

For all these reasons, this is my pick for the low point of Season Seven.

Fun Facts:

A bit of lack of communication between writers seemed to lead to a continuity error. As mentioned in “Fame and Misfortune”, the CMCs alluded earlier to the idea of a Cutie Mark Day Camp, but this episode makes it seem like a fresh idea.

Camp Friendship was the camp Applejack and Countess Coloratura went to in “The Mane Attraction”.

Thunderlane is in the Wonderbolts. No fair. How long did it take Rainbow Dash to get in? 😛

When asked if she remembers how long it took them to get their Cutie Marks, Apple Bloom answers: “I remember the nightmares”, an allusion that all three girls had episodes with nightmares prior to getting their Cutie Marks.

Another allusion to “Old Ponish”. That got a light of weight this season.

Most of the fans quickly realized that Rumble’s song, “Blank Flanks Forever”, reminded them of a song from the “A Pony Kind of Christmas” CD, in particular a song “Last Year I Got Coal for Christmas”. That song was sung by an unnamed colt known simply as “Pop Fly” who had the same voice actor as Rumble, Vincent Tong.

Rating:

2 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Seven, Episode Twenty: “A Health of Information”

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Synopsis:

Fluttershy enlists Zecora’s help in collecting some moss for oxen visiting her wildlife sanctuary, but while gathering it Zecora accidentally breathes the pollen from a blue and orange-dotted flower and ends up getting infected with “Swamp Fever”: a terminal disease that will eventually turn her into a swamp tree. Blaming herself for the whole incident, Fluttershy grows determined to cure her and enlists Twilight Sparkle’s help in seeking out the identity of the “Masked Pony”, a legendary healer, to hopefully find a cure. In spite of Twilight’s insistence that Fluttershy pause to rest, she spends all night searching Twilight’s library and eventually discovers the Masked Pony was Mage Meadowbrook, an infamous healer, and, without stopping for sleep, immediately takes Twilight along with her to Hayseed Swamp to hopefully find something she left behind they can use. On arrival at the swamp, and to the tune of Fluttershy’s degenerating judgment and focus from lack of rest, the two find Meadowbrook’s old home. On reading her old journals, they discover she found the cure to the disease was the honey of the extremely aggressive “flash bees”, but the journal doesn’t mention how she managed to get it from them. Furthermore, Fluttershy’s neglect of her own health has caused her to contract Swamp Fever as well, but rather than pause to rest she immediately rushes to try and get the honey from the flash bees. The attempt fails as they ignore both her reasoning attempts and her Stare and she passes out. When she awakens, she’s shocked to discover she’s been out for three days due to her poor physical condition, making her realize her neglect of her own health in her desperation to help Zecora has only made things worse for both of them. Yet now that she has a moment to think, she realizes the flash bees ended up ignoring Meadowbrook because her healer’s mask was colored the same as the queen bee. Wearing her ancient mask, Fluttershy is able to get the honey and cure both herself and Zecora. She learns the importance of not getting so wrapped up in caring for others that she neglects to care for herself.

Review:

This would be the final “Old Pillar of Equestria” episode prior to the season finale. Similar to Somnambula’s episode, this is one that tied in pretty close to the legend associated with it rather than just threw it out with “Campfire Tales”. And unlike that one, in this one, in spite of Twilight Sparkle’s involvement, the focus is solidly on Fluttershy. It also did a few interesting things with Mage Meadowbrook’s character. It turns out, after being first introduced in the Season Five premiere, that she was never a magic user at all but an earth pony who only dealt in folk medicine. Makes one wonder how she managed to make any magic relics… Her Southern accent is a tad overbearing, but nothing horrendous. I was also happy to see Zecora again, even if she was bedridden most of the episode.

The subject matter was a little on the dark side again. Although it managed to do it in a way that sugarcoated it again, this episode was dealing with an illness that, for all intensive purposes, was terminal and fatal. Sure, everything ended up alright at the end, but it put a bit more weight on everything.

Unfortunately, as a result of that, it kind of…well, the moral wasn’t “muddled”, per say, but it was diluted a bit. It was a moral about making sure to take time to care for yourself even if you care for others. That’s a true statement, and I myself have felt the effects of neglecting my own health to try and get something ready for someone else. Nevertheless, there are some things worth a bit more stress than others. A friend who could be dying is one of them. Not to mention most of us will never be in a position where we’re trying to develop a cure for a loved one who is about to die. It’s more likely we’ll busy ourselves with trying to give friends or loved ones the best, or perhaps work overtime at a job trying to get something done, and eventually make ourselves so tired and sore that we’ll get sloppy, clumsy, or irate. Unfortunately, that would be addressed far better in “Once Upon a Zeppelin”, so we kind of received the same lesson twice.

Aside from that, it’s not a bad episode by any means at all. It’s not the best Fluttershy episode either, but it is on the upper end of the spectrum.

Fun Facts:

This episode premiered in the USA on September 3, 2017. Four days later, Legends of Magic #6 came out. Prior to its release, Meadowbrook had been teased but only while wearing her healer’s mask. In that issue, it had her pulling it off and revealing her face.

Fluttershy’s animal sanctuary finally gets a name: “Sweetfeather Sanctuary”.

Eh…try not to think too hard about how the tree dropping the flowers that infected Zecora got there. O_o

In one of the bigger incidents of retconning, Mage Meadowbrook finally gets an appearance after first being mentioned in Season Five, only to reveal she’s not a unicorn or even a real “mage” or “sorceress”, but an earth pony that practices folk medicine.

Fluttershy is apparently good at “Old Ponish” as well. Too bad it wouldn’t help in the season finale. 😛

This episode settled that Zecora rhymes voluntarily, rather than has some sort of thing where everything she says is a natural rhyme.

Twilight mentions Fluttershy’s “excited squeaking noise”, the show’s first reference to the infamous “squees”.

Both Meadowbrook and Cattail are inspired by Louisiana Southern culture, although the bit with Meadowbrook’s mask is more of an allusion to old European plague doctors.

Meadowbrook shares Fluttershy’s eye shape. Similar to Somnambula and Pinkie Pie, Meadowbrook is an earth pony and yet Fluttershy most identifies with her.

Apparently, if an animal is aggressive enough, probably to the point of being nothing but angry all the time, it can ignore the Stare.

Brenda Crichlow, who does the voice of Zecora, also provided the voice of Meadowbrook’s mother. Doron Bell, the voice of Cattail, previously did Trenderhoof in “Simple Ways”.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #159: “No Son of Mine”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Uncommon Bond”

In this episode, Starlight Glimmer invites her old friend Sunburst over for a friendly visit to Ponyville and some quality time. Unfortunately, the visit doesn’t go very well. Most of the time Starlight spent with Sunburst was during their childhood, but now that he’s an adult he seems to have more interests and things in common with Starlight’s other friends. Before long, he’s more eager for chances to spend time with them during the visit than her. It eventually gets so bad that Starlight herself starts to feel like a “fifth wheel”, and begins to fear that Sunburst would rather abandon her in favor of her other friends; leading her to take extreme measures to try and reconnect with him.

This was another episode I had to think about for a long time, but eventually what stood out the most to me was Starlight’s feelings and, as a result, behavior. I eventually realized it wasn’t all that different from my own feelings as a Christian and, I imagine, the feelings of other Christians.

The New Testament emphasizes that we are only saved by the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He loves us because of who He is and who we are, not due to anything we have or haven’t done. Yet the Old Testament and much of the New Testament are still devoted to the pursuit of righteous living. Some passages indicate that doing so is proof of our acceptance of Lord Jesus’ Sacrifice and our devotion to live for Him, while others indicates that God shows special favor to those who lead more righteous lives as opposed to those who lead less righteous ones.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:22-27)

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (Psalm 112:4-8)

And we need only look around our own congregations to easily see that some people donate more, some give more of their time, some praise louder, some press on through tougher challenges, and some speak out more boldly than others. In spite of the idea that, as sinners, we are all equal in God’s sight, there’s much external evidence to give reason to believe that some Christians are “better” than others.

And when people start believing that, naturally what happens next is they start feeling ashamed. After all, most of us can look at, say, Mother Theresa and then look at our own lives, and start realizing there doesn’t seem to be much comparison. We may start wondering how we can call ourselves Christian when people like that walk around far more righteously, more boldly, and seemingly more devoted to God. In the worst cases and in our darkest moments, we may start to question how God can really love us compared to those people as we seem to be so much less and have so little of “what he’s looking for”, and we may feel we need to start doing external acts of our own to start to measure up to those standards and be someone more like the person God wants.

While regular self-evaluation is an important part of any Christian lifestyle, as is the need to challenge ourselves to be bolder and to step out and do greater things for Christ, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of starting to believe these works make us greater or lesser in the eyes of God. That’s, as King Solomon once said, meaningless and chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). We can’t do anything through our own actions to elevate our status before God. Only the Sacrifice of our Savior could accomplish that. However, as a result of what He did, we are now considered sons and daughters of God (Galatians 4:5-7). Christ’s Sacrifice makes us perfect and without blemish before him. That was all the work of our Lord without any input from us.

What we do now is the result of a desire to live for Him and to become more perfect/complete as He is. It comes from a growing relationship and affection for God and his heart and a desire to be as loving and gracious as he is. It’s nurtured by developing greater trust and faith in God to surpass all trials and tribulations and to do great things in His name. Therefore, doing “greater works” is not so much from greater effort on our part but instead having more faith in God’s own sovereign power and the willingness to let it act through us.

Always strive to live in greater harmony with his Will, but do not think your salvation is key upon it, and get the mindset of God just sitting there waiting to brush you off into condemnation for not “living up to expectations”. Rather, learn to see God as someone encouraging and empowering us to succeed in all the plans he has in mind for us.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the blessed Sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has made us blameless in your sight and your own sons and daughters. When discouragement comes upon me of not being able to “live up” to your expectations, let me always cling to the absolutely unchanging and unbreakable reality of the Cross that has already made me clean, and rather than fear your disapproval draw closer to you for strength and encouragement greater than anything I myself am capable of, and through relying on your Will and Power do more than I ever thought possible. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”