My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Three: “Sounds of Silence”

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Synopsis:

The Cutie Map has activated again and, even more surprising, is once again summoning Applejack and Fluttershy; although both are soon nervous to discover that the Cutie Map is taking them to the Peaks of Peril on the edge of unknown lands of Equestria. According to legend, that realm is the home of the honest and kind kirins, but also the flaming and fearsome niriks. The two arrive and run into a brief disagreement when Fluttershy pauses to help a group of local squirrels spruce up their den with local wildflowers, but as a result they find a secret passage under the cliffs right to the kirin village. However, both ponies are puzzled to discover all kirins are both mute and emotionless; leaving them incapable of discovering the friendship problem (let alone fixing it). They eventually point the way to a kirin who can talk, and Applejack goes to find her while Fluttershy stays behind. Applejack ends up running into a chatty, energetic, and boisterous kirin named Autumn Blaze. She reveals that the kirins and niriks are, in fact, the same creature; kirins transform into niriks when they get angry. At one point, a particularly large argument resulted in most of the kirins turning into niriks and burning down their village, causing their leader to demand the entire population cross into the “Stream of Silence”. Doing so removed the ability of the kirins to speak or feel emotions so they could never transform into niriks and cause destruction again. Autumn, however, accidentally came across a patch of Foal’s Blossoms which, when made into tea, restored her abilities to speak and feel. As a result, the other kirins made her decide to either become silent again or be exiled and, unwilling to lose the ability to speak and feel again, she chose exile. Applejack rushes back to the village to get them to welcome Autumn back and to set about restoring their voices and emotions, but on running into Fluttershy (who discovered the same link with niriks) she disagrees as it could cause another round of destruction. They begin to argue and the kirins, fearing they’ll too turn into niriks, seize them and attempt to dunk them in the Stream of Silence as well. However, Autumn, in nirik form, shows up and saves the both of them without causing any harm. This leads Applejack and Fluttershy to point out that the kirins can be responsible with their emotions and anger instead of forcing themselves to be mute and emotionless to get along. Realizing they gave up too much, the kirins indicate they want their voices and emotions back, but Autumn despairs on saying there are no more Foal’s Blossoms. However, it turns out the squirrels Fluttershy ran into earlier picked out flowers that were Foal’s Blossoms the entire time, and they use them to restore the voices of the rest of the kirins who, in turn, welcome Autumn back. Fluttershy and Applejack thank each other for their respective virtues helping again while Autumn breaks into a musical reprise for her village.

Review:

Well, before I get into the pony-of-the-hour, let’s talk about the rest of this episode.

On the whole, it’s a good one. If you remove you-know-who from it, it’s not quite as good as it would be with her, but I still think it’s one of the better ones. Kirins are finally formally introduced into the series (sadly too late to get one into the School of Friendship…), and I’m quite fond of their design and nature. Definitely the highlight of this episode aside from, again, you-know-who.

Comparing this episode to “Viva Las Pegasus”, I think it might be just a bit inferior aside from the stand-out character. While I didn’t think “Viva Las Pegasus” was that great of an episode, it did give a lot of color and things going on for your eyes. By comparison, the kirins kind of just stand around idly doing things with expressionless faces. The beginning of the episode is also a bit slow-paced even if it did end up being relevant to the plot. That being said, they did manage to cram a surprisingly large amount of exposition into a small time frame. In a season mostly void of Cutie Map calls to the Mane Six, this was a pretty good one. Especially considering the fact it utilized two of the more quiet and less wacky characters, Applejack and Fluttershy.

But of course…if you’ve actually watched this episode, you know as well as I do that all of this is largely irrelevant once the second half of the episode hits. While the Student Six collectively might be the best new “character” this season, when it comes to an individual character the one who stood out the most in Season Eight was this surprising ensemble darkhorse: Autumn Blaze.

Personality-wise, she kind of resembles, to me, a bit older and more “mature” version of Pinkie Pie. One who still likes being fun and wacky but has learned just a little more that not everyone appreciates it all the time. That, however, only likely serves to make her more bearable to people who aren’t solid Pinkie Pie fans. Her odd pop culture references, running gag of mispronouncing things, her way of “venting” as a nirik, and even the part where she tries to shake Fluttershy’s hoof only to find she’s still aflame is all great. Even without her nice musical numbers, which are some of the better songs the main series has seen in a while, her animated mannerisms and energy steal every scene she’s in. In that sense, it kind of made sense for Applejack and Fluttershy to be the ones to interact with her, as neither of them could reasonably compete for attention when she’s on the screen. She alone is what gives this episode the bulk of its appeal.

Probably one of the biggest tragedies of MLP:FIM coming to an end in Season Nine is it left little to no opportunity for her to ever appear again. There’s still a slim chance she’ll appear in one of the final episodes aside from the fact that season is already guest starring Patton Oswalt and Weird Al Yankovich, and a better than slim chance she’ll show up in a cameo, but considering Rachel Bloom was likely busy doing her lines for the upcoming “Trolls” sequel while Season Nine was in production that doesn’t look likely.

Nevertheless, it’s been a while since a new character stole the show and ran away with it, and a truly delightful runaway it was.

As for the moral of the episode, I, again, find that to be the weakest part of it. The most likely thing this episode is doing is taking a stab at modern censorship culture and the idea of it being better to forbid people from talking than risk them inciting anyone to anger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a corollary…or perhaps it did at one point but was edited into something different. This episode doesn’t deal so much with the idea of “safe spaces” or official laws as an entire race purposely removing its ability to speak or feel emotion for the risk of getting upset, which is an extreme we aren’t quite to yet anywhere on Earth. The message seems to be two-fold at the end…one that’s a bit muddled but the other is better. The “worse” of the two was that you shouldn’t give up who you are just because you’re scared you’ll make people upset, which…er…can be misinterpreted multiple ways. The “better” one, however, which is unfortunately underplayed, is that you have to be personally responsible and accountable for your own emotions and find healthy ways to express them. That’s a lesson everyone can learn.

I won’t give this episode a ton of points just for Autumn Blaze but…I’ll definitely give some as she’s earned them. One of the best episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a knockoff of the Simon and Garfunkel song: “The Sounds of Silence”. That’s ironic in two different ways. One is that, similar to the story within the song, the plot centers around a single talking deviant trying to get the rest of his society to open up and break their own silence. The other is that “The Sounds of Silence” is the song the new “Trolls” trailer opens up on, which is broken up by Rachel Bloom (Autumn Blaze)’s character.

Twilight notes this is the second time that Applejack and Fluttershy have both been summoned by the Cutie Map. The first was Season Six’s “Viva Las Pegasus”.

This episode actually ties into an earlier episode, pointing out that Rockhoof informed Twilight Sparkle about the Peaks of Peril.

A “kirin” (var. “qirin”) is a Chinese unicorn; one of two mythological creatures that both Western cultures and Eastern cultures have in common (the other being dragons). Unlike the cultural differing views on dragons, both Western and Eastern cultures view unicorns/kirins as mysterious, reclusive, sacred, pure, and innocent creatures. Unlike Western unicorns, kirins are often depicted with much wilder manes, a branching single horn, and extremely long necks. There was some theorizing (at least on my part) that Mistmane, coming from a Chinese-inspired culture that apparently had unusual recurved horns, was a kirin, but this episode officially makes them part of the show. Their appearances are pony-like, but have wilder manes similar to lion manes rather than horse manes, long tails with a tufts of hair along the trailing parts, more tufts of hair along the back of their legs, somewhat “floppier” ears, scales on their hooves, backs, and snouts, and branching unicorn horns…which, like “normal” unicorns, also perform magic. As for the niriks…they’re simply “kirin” backward (:P) and I’m not sure if they’re based off anything other than Chinese art.

Although the kirin village appears somewhat tribal, the music playing in the background is Chinese-inspired as a nod to their origin.

The giant kirin, Rainshine, seems to basically be the kirin equivalent of Princess Celestia; not only in her role as leader but appearance, crown, and demeanor. I guess, in Equestria, if you’re big that equals authority. ๐Ÿ˜› Although she has only a brief speaking role, she’s voiced by Nicole Bouma, who has a long career in voice acting on Japanese anime dubs, including in “Gintama” and “Mobile Suit Gundam 00”.

Rachel Bloom provides the voice of Autumn Blaze. In addition to being the co-creator and starring in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, she’s also done a lot of voice acting, including the voice of Barb in the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” movie…which kind of makes me mad because it means she was likely too busy to reprise her role in Season Nine (which is still coming out as I write this).

Needless to say, “A Kirin’s Tale” was the hit song for this season.

Autumn put faces on all of her baskets and vegetables for company; a nod to “Wilson” from “Cast Away”.

Among the things Autumn tries to connect with the silent kirins is a reenactment of “Citizen Kane”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and even “Hamilton”.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Two: “What Lies Beneath”

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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle is holding a test on how the Tree of Harmony has impacted the history of Equestria, much to the chagrin of the Student Six. They end up retiring to the library for a study session but, while doing so, Cozy Glow stops by and overtly points out how surprising it is that six different creatures, five of which she says don’t have friendship in their nature, were able to become friends. This ends up upsetting the group as all begin to wonder if they really can be friends. While thinking this over, one of the vents in the library is moved aside by a crystalline root. The six follow it to discover a cavern interlaced with the same roots below the school and meet what looks like Twilight only sparkling and ethereal. On hearing that they doubt their ability to make friends, she immediately announces she will subject them to a test that they must pass by morning or remain trapped beneath the school before teleporting them away from each other. Gallus finds himself stuck in an enclosed, collapsing cavern. Yona finds herself surrounded by spiders. Smolder is stuck in a looping cave that keeps leading to a cute tea party. Silverstream goes back to a cavern in front of Mount Eris but faced with the Storm King and his yeti goons. Ocellus finds herself in a changeling hive turned into Queen Chrysalis and unable to change back. Finally, Sandbar is faced by Rainbow Dash and Rarity who tell him to leave his friends behind and help them on a real adventure. Gallus manages to figure out a puzzle to free himself while Smolder ends up agreeing to have a tea party to escape her own cave. The two find the exit and note that, rather than escape as any griffon or dragon would, both decide to stay behind to find the others. Gallus finds Silverstream and admits his own claustrophobia to get her to face her own fear of being conquered and losing her freedom. Smolder finds Ocellus and reluctantly admits she likes doing cute and “silly” things, which in turn convinces Ocellus changelings aren’t innately “bad” and gets her to revert. Yona, meanwhile, faces her own fear of spiders and realizes they’re harmless, and on befriending them they lead her first to her friends and then back to Sandbar. As for Sandbar, on realizing Rainbow Dash and Rarity are telling him to abandon his friends for his own success, he refuses to follow them and says they aren’t worth looking up to–which causes both to vanish just as the rest of the Student Six arrive. On returning to the exit, the phantom Twilight appears again, revealing itself to actually be the Tree of Harmony manifesting in a pony form. It points out how the experience of that night has proven that friendshipย is in their nature, and it lets them leave. On emerging into the library, the group meets with Cozy Glow again and is ready to report that the roots of the tree have grown below the school, at which point Cozy begs them not too–admitting she said what she did earlier because she felt jealous of the six of them and trying to avoid getting into trouble. As the six are exhausted from that night and Cozy’s sobs tire them out further, they agree. Cozy offers to give Twilight an alternative explanation to get the six an extension on the test, and as the six lie down for a nap she looks over the grating leading to the underground cavern…

Review:

Lots packed into this episode, so let’s get started.

First, as I said earlier, at this point we already knew Cozy Glow was going to end up being a villain, so I have no idea how she would have fooled us. Until this part of the series, she seemed very innocent to me. She even made numerous background appearances in which the most “menacing” thing she had done had been to constantly take notes on a notepad of everything she learned about friendship. She even frequently ended up as disappointed or misfortune-plagued as the other background characters, right down to being forced to wait “hoof-and-hoof” on Cranky Doodle Donkey in “A Matter of Principals”.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure this would have been the first episode where I would have noticed: “Something is off about Cozy…”. Unlike her appearance with the CMCs where she seemed a little off but, in the end, penitent and genuinely sorry, there’s an air of maliciousness about her in this one. Although she does apologize at the end, in this viewing I noted some of the Student Six crooking their eyebrows at her, as if wondering why she’s making such a big deal about the cavern. And although she never flashes a malevolent smile at the end, something definitely seems wrong with how she’s staring at the grating and talking to the others.

Ok, Cozy aside…this is one of the better-written episodes of Season Eight and even the series as a whole to me.

First of all, it had been a while since the writers had tried to juggle six characters at once. Usually when it happens with the Mane Six, one or two end up being the focus while the others are “along for the ride”. Actually giving effective time to all six is a challenge, and this one did it very well.

The basic idea of all six of them facing their worst fears isn’t new to animation, but the show pleasantly surprises by taking an expectation and putting an unexpected spin on it. While both Ocellus and Silverstream have deeper, psychologically-scarring, and “real” fears, Yona and Gallus both have phobias while Sandbar and Smolder both have fears tied to social health–how they’re viewed by others. And I like that because it’s realistic. In anime, for example, everyone would have these big, soul-crushing, existential fears that would threaten to destroy them…but that’s not how the world works. Some people do have huge fears to work through, but for others their worst fear would simply be public speaking or heights. Everyone’s different but, as the show points out, everyone can be different and yet still come together.

Out of the six…Sandbar ended up being the most disappointing to me. His greatest fear was real enough–letting people he looked up to down. But most of the episode he seems to be chasing Rainbow Dash and Rarity down an endless cave, and it takes him the longest to finally put his proverbial (and literal) hoof down. Furthermore, his fear was the only “muddled” one, as it wasn’t clear if Sandbar was actually facing a fear of letting his idols down or if he was choosing his own success over that of his friends, which would have been more of a loyalty lesson.

Yona was next up. Unlike the others, she didn’t seem to learn a “greater lesson” about her connection to the others. She simply conquered her fear of spiders, which we didn’t know about until this episode to begin with. Nevertheless, I like it simply because it shows there didn’t have to be something great and monumental with everyone’s fear.

Gallus had already gotten an episode more-or-less devoted to him in “The Hearth’s Warming Club”, or at least his inner character. Again, like with Yona, a lot of his story was him facing his own fears by himself. Nevertheless, unlike that episode, it shows that Gallus, for all his grouchiness, doesn’t view his friendship with the rest of the Student Six as only self-serving but also is devoted to them as well.

Things start getting more interesting with Silverstream. Her biggest fear isn’t the Storm King so much as, to quote Churchill, fear itself. This season really rammed home the idea that what Silverstream loves and gets the most excited about is simply being on land; having the freedom to do simple things taken for granted like go up stairs and experience plumbing. What the Storm King represented to her is loss of freedom…being forced to live the rest of her life away from all those things because she’s scared of being captured or enslaved. Her proclamation isn’t so much to stand up to the Storm King and his army, because they’ll always be new threats and conquerors that could endanger her and Mount Eris, so much as saying she’ll never let fear keep her from living again.

Ocellus has to deal with the most existential fear of all; the fear not of becoming Chrysalis but rather the fear that, deep down inside, sheย is a person like Chrysalis. And it’s a fairly good one. The changelings were, after all, generic monsters for most of the series until their abrupt change. Even if they’re embracing a new life and their very nature has adjusted to possibly render them mentally incapable of being as vicious as they used to be, that’s still there. While this is the least-relatable of the fears for the viewing audience, this is the most mature-orientated fear of all: Ocellus knows she was likely bred and hatched for the sole purpose of being a conquering minion of Chrysalis. That’s her reason for existence…her “purpose”. That’s something she likely has to come to terms with all the time as she, like all other changelings, continues to try and find their new identity.

Although her fear wasn’t as big as the others, I liked Smolder most of all, as this episode is where I felt her character really began to grow. Until this point, there were numerous times in the series where she still seemed to be, deep down inside, a brute and a bully. This episode, however, shows the real reason why Smolder out of all the dragons decided to go to the School of Friendship as well…deep down inside, she likes the idea of being cute and fancy and frilly but she’s embarrassed to ruin her image of a tough dragon by showing it off. And I honestly really like that. The trend nowadays is to show that for a woman to be strong and independent she must show she can, basically, “kick butt” all by herself. That she can shed the guise of being fragile and delicate and can administer a beating. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s more rare to see a character like, for example, Ashi on “Samurai Jack”, who can be brutal, ruthless, and a total badass and yet still have a gentle, delicate, innocent, and even cute side. However…what it seems people always seem to ignore is that if a person should be respected for being true to themselves and being who they want to be, then a female character who decides that who they really are and want to be is someone delicate, proper, and “cute” is just as valid as a female who decides to be tough, strong, and butt-kicking. That so long as it’s a representation of who they are and want to be, there’s nothing “wrong” with a person wanting to put on fancy dresses and go to little tea parties. It doesn’t make them or their choices any less valid than the warrior, and it doesn’t ruin a chance for them to still show off a good, strong character.

Finally, this episode established, as hinted at a bit in “The Mean 6”, that the Tree of Harmony is indeed sentient and actually adds an element of spirituality and even religion to the series…the idea of a higher power directing the actions of Equestria. I would have preferred if it had an alternate form rather than just taking that of Twilight Sparkle (I’ve seen some fanart before of what the Tree of Harmony in pony form would look like that was attractive), but it still adds a new layer to the universe.

All in all, a great episode. More of the Student Six showing off a lot of their relationships with one another, a well-written and executed plot, and with lots of nods toward the end of the season. Another great job.

Fun Facts:

The first episode I noticed that, when Yona grins, she has an anime-esque toothy smile.

Note how Ocellus mimics Applejack’s country accent as well when she turns into her.

Another appearance of the Storm King. On the second viewing, I noticed Silverstream instinctively turned into a seapony to hide.

Hearing the “cute Changeling” voice from an “evil” Changeling is a bit of a jolt. ๐Ÿ˜›

Can yaks…talk to animals (like Fluttershy)?

I really can’t tell if Spindle was real or not…

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-One: “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “Shadow Play”, Rockhoof has returned to his old town to help in excavation efforts. However, his overpowered mannerisms and antiquated thinking ruin the preservation efforts of the historical artifacts, and so Professor Fossil sends him to Twilight Sparkle to try and find a place for him at the School of Friendship. Twilight tries him out as a professor but, in spite of enthusing the students with his tales of old Equestria, again his strength and out-of-date rationale end up wrecking a good portion of the school. The Mane Six end up trying a variety of different tasks with Rockhoof as well as meeting up with the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria in an attempt to find a place for him in the modern era, but not only do all efforts end in failure but the fact that the rest of the Pillars have easily adapted and succeeded in modern times make him more depressed than ever. In the end, he grows bitter toward Twilight for returning him from limbo and asks her to turn him into stone so he can at least be remembered as a hero rather than as a failure. Unable to think of anything else, Twilight ends up agreeing to do so temporarily until she can find a new position for him, but on learning the news Yona, who has grown an affection for Rockhoof, runs up to him and reads the flattering essay she wrote for her class assignment about him; seeing him as the first pony who’s truly like a yak and concluding saying she wants to be like him when she grows up (even getting a small spade for her own “warshovel”). To say thanks for the essay, Rockhoof agrees to finish an earlier story he had about fighting an Ursa Major with both her, the rest of the students, and many of the Mane Six. Twilight approaches just as he finishes, much to the enthusiasm of his audience, and ends up proposing that he become Equestria’s official “Keeper of Tales”; noting that his stories of the past can inspire the next generation. Rockhoof is still reluctant, until Yona points out that he’s her friend, and that’s reason enough to need to stay around in the modern era. Finally feeling happier about being in the modern age, Rockhoof immediately begins to relate a new story “about a small yak who knew more than a great hero”.

Review:

Ok, it may not be “The Perfect Pear”, but this is a really sweet episode. This is the episode that finally landed me into liking Yona and, combined with “The Best Gift Ever”, made me finally appreciate the yak race on the show as a whole.

Following the end of Season Seven as well as the end of the “Legends of Magic” IDW series, the Pillars of Old Equestria found themselves in much the same situation as Rockhoof in this episode: having no reason to be on the show any longer. To be honest, I feel like the ultimate resignation that the characters, as a whole, ended up being another “Flash Sentry” was the fact that almost all of them ended up just easily inserting themselves into the modern era, with only Rockhoof left being the odd man out. Nevertheless, by focusing only on one pony, the end result allowed the episode to focus more on him, which was a good move.

In terms of drama, this is one of the better episodes of the series. While the situation is highly unusual, it’s also relatable. Most people have likely been in at least one situation in their life where they felt they didn’t fit in, and as a result can make the extension to what it would feel like to be in a world where everything was different from what you remember.

Yet what this episode managed to touch on that otherwise would have been too “heavy” a topic using a character from the modern era was the concepts of emotionally depression and feelings of self-worth. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in life: everyone wants to feel they have some value. Something to offer the world. That their existence actually brings something to others. To not have that feeling leads to pretty much what this episode implied Rockhoof wanted done to him. One might be a little upset at him for lashing out at Twilight but…it’s understandable, especially given his feelings. It’s just like he said…he’d rather have died a hero than lived out the rest of his life in a world as a failure.

And, of course, Yona is very sweet in this episode. It was at this point in the series that I fully began to understand and appreciate that any arrogance, pride, or even brutishness that Yona (and yaks as a whole) gave off is due to her race’s culture and demeanor…that there really was a kind and innocent individual the gruff and aggressive exterior.

I do fault this episode a bit on not making better use of the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria, but I’d rather they do one well than five poorly. My only other beef is that the final message of the episode didn’t really come through in the plot too well. It ended up being summed up in a line by Yona at the end. That’s too bad, because it’s something of a variation on the moral of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “no man is a failure who has friends”. But as it managed to tell that moral without resorting to using the normal “Capra-esque” plot of a what-if story, that gives it a bit more acclaim to me.

All in all, I think one of the better episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a takeoff of the saying “stuck between a rock and a hard place”; which refers to being a situation in which one must choose between two decisions that are equally bad.

Rockhoof’s “Theory and Defense of Friendship” class might be a knockoff of Hogwarts’ “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class.

Smolder’s crest scales slump when wet. ๐Ÿ˜›

Cranky’s old toupee is back. ๐Ÿ˜€

Following Season Six’s “No Second Prances”, this might be another episode that dealt with the idea of suicide.

Yet another episode that rams home the idea that the IDW version of the Pillars of Old Equestria are different from the show’s, which is a pity because I honestly felt the comic’s were better. Somnambula is pretty much the opposite of how she acts in the comic; taking on not only a sagacious role but a very quiet and reserved one. As for Stygian, who is actually closer to Rockhoof than any other of the Pillars in the comic, he never even makes an appearance.

Twilight’s classroom has a “periodic table”. I suppose it could be of the Elements of Harmony, but…there are only six of those…

Rockhoof may have one of the show’s only fecal-related humor jokes when he’s pondering which position he takes as a statue would leave the birds the least room to take a dump on him.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty: “The Washouts”

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Synopsis:

While eavesdropping on the latest meeting of the Rainbow Dash Fan Club, Rainbow Dash is shocked to see Scootaloo abruptly adjourn so that she can inaugurate the first meeting of the Washouts Fan Club: her new idols. Upset that she’s been supplanted as the object of Scootaloo’s fan affections, she goes with her to see a show and discovers that they’re Equestria’s only troupe of pegasus stunt ponies, focusing on flying through dangerous situations rather than air shows, and grudgingly admits their act is impressive. However, that changes when she discovers that the team is made up of pegasi who were rejected from the Wonderbolts due to lack of safety concerns and was founded by none other than Lightning Dust. To try and dissuade Scootaloo from idolizing them (and not-so-secretly wanting her to idolize her again instead), Rainbow Dash takes her to see Spitfire for a “scared straight” talk before trying to destroy all of Scootaloo’s Washouts memorabilia in favor of her own. However, this only angers Scootaloo further as Dash failed to realize the reason she idolized the Washouts over the Wonderbolts is because the Washouts are into stunts without requiring its members to be great fliers, something Scootaloo can do, whereas being a Wonderbolt requires its members to be the best fliers, something Scootaloo cannot do due to her disability. She ends up joining up with the Washouts to stand in for an injured member on a new stunt in spite of Dash’s warnings, who reluctantly stops trying to pressure her afterward as she realizes Scootaloo needs to make her own choices. However, at the next show, when setting up for the new stunt, Scootaloo realizes it will be far more dangerous than she initially expected and learns Dust only cares about her doing an extreme stunt to make the show look good and nothing for her safety. She forces her to do the stunt involving a rocket-powered scooter anyway, which goes wrong soon after, but Dash leaps in to save her while Dust accidentally gets carried off into the horizon by the same rocket. Scootaloo apologizes to Dash for not listening to her, but Dash, in turn, apologizes for not acting more like a good role model to begin with. Dash forms a new fan club for the pony she admires, the Scootaloo Fan Club, which Scootaloo promptly starts eavesdropping on as well.

Review:

Most Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash episodes ends up being pretty good and tugging on a bit of the heartstrings, and this one is no exception. Again, it manages to deal with a theme unexplored on the show although one geared a bit more to the adult persuasion: what to do when the younger member of a mentor/child relationship asserts their independence by idolizing behavior that is unsafe.

The big scene in this one to me is near the end when Scootaloo finally vents her frustration and cries: “I. Can’t. Fly!” Not only is it a bit of an emotional punch in the gut, it signifies a touch of bleak reality. Back in Season Four, Rainbow Dash still seemed to at least encourage the hope that one day Scootaloo would be able to fly, but after this episode it’s a bitter pill that the characters are finally accepting that the day will never come when Dash gets to pin a pair of Wonderbolt Wings on an older Scootaloo. It seemed to come a little out of nowhere the first time I watched the episode, but on rewatching it I now realize theย real reason Scootaloo loved the Washouts was because she realized it was something she could not only idolize but actually aspire to. And on that note, the ending is a nice touch too as Dash finds a way to respect what Scootaloo can do rather than get her to look up to something she can’t become; that there’s a way she can have the best-of-both-worlds without sacrificing her safety.

I honestly hoped that if Lightning Dust ever returned she’d get a redemption; especially since, as I pointed out in “Wonderbolt Academy”, she was encouraged to have an attitude that disregarded safety of others for her own glory. Obviously that didn’t happen and, furthermore, it seems as if she will be one of the few “villains” to not get a redemption. That being said, I actually liked how the writers handled her for most of this episode, especially in regards to Rainbow Dash. It would have been so easy to go the opposite extreme with Dust and Dash and just have them at each other’s throats about “Wonderbolt Academy”. I like that Dust actually doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Dash (well…except for her last line which seemed almost tacked on…); and is grateful forย not being a Wonderbolt so she had a chance to become a Washout. There’s even a moment where the two seem a little good-natured toward each other.

If I had to fault this episode for anything, it seems to try and jam pack a few too many issues in at once to where the bigger ones are missed. It was hard to tell on the first viewing if Dash really thought the Washouts were a dangerous influence or if she was just jealous that Scootaloo wasn’t idolizing her anymore. Likewise, I didn’t pick up until the second viewing that Scootaloo didn’t want to follow the Washouts just for the “ooo-aah” factor but because they represented a goal she could achieve. Because of that, this episode is another one that I rate as a “smudged” moral rather than a “muddled” one.

Another minor complaint I might make is that I’m not sure many people got the jokes in this episode. The “Mike Foley” jokes from Spitfire would likely only be appreciated by the members of the audience in their 30s. Otherwise Spitfire just seems to act weird (normally she’s “drill sergeant”). Another one is Short Fuse, who’s meant to be mostly for anger-related jokes, as it’s hard to make out what he’s saying in most of this scenes.

Other than those, though, it’s a good episode and has lots of the best thing of a Rainbow Dash/Scootaloo episode…namely Rainbow Dash/Scootaloo cuteness. ๐Ÿ™‚

Fun Facts:

Bon Bon is a member of both the Rainbow Dash Fan Club as well as the Scootaloo Fan Club at the end. (She also sees the Washouts with Lyra. Maybe she’s just a fan of pegasi.)

“Only 20 bajillion percent cooler”…which blows away Rainbow Dash’s original “20 percent cooler” bit from the first season. ๐Ÿ˜›

Three of the Student Six are in the audience for the Washouts: Silverstream, Gallus, and Smolder.

A lot of prehensile wings in this one; something we haven’t seen from a pegasus in a while.

Lightning Dust first appeared way back in Season Three’s “Wonderbolt Academy”.

Spitfire’s “talk” with Scootaloo is a parody of the old Saturday Night Live skits featuring Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley. The bit with her continuously repeating “a full-body, wing-and-hoof cast drinking through a straw” is a joke on that character’s continuous threat that the youths he’s speaking to will end up “living in a van down by the river”; as his her “whoop-de-doodle-do” is a parody of his similar taunt: “lah-de-frickin-dah”.

Oh boy…Pinkie Pie’s own prehensile mane impales food and brings it to her mouth. O_o

Scootaloo’s Washout name is “Half-Pint Dynamite”. I guess “Scootaloo” didn’t sound extreme enough.

When shooting away on the rope, Lightning Dust yells: “Rivals for life!” (Just threw that in because I couldn’t make it out the first time…)

Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles cameo as, naturally, members of the Scootaloo Fan Club.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #178: “Chilling Out”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Road to Friendship”

As you may have noticed, I spent aย long time trying to think up a message for this one. I ended up having to watch the episode again for the review before I saw something that struck me.

My head had been going over and over this episode, but I only focused on the arguments between Starlight Glimmer and Trixie Lulamoon when their attempt at a road trip for Trixie’s show degenerated into a nightmare due to their constant missteps and disagreements. The second time I watched it, however, I noticed something different. Although their entire trip was plagued with misfortune, it wasn’t until later in the trip that the misfortune actually became a problem. Early on, especially through the more dangerous legs, the two remained friendly and on good terms while working together. As a result, the trip actually went, from their perspective, very smoothly. In fact, later in the episode, when Starlight tried to go the same way alone, she realized she didn’t notice how hard and miserable the trek was before when she had Trixie along.

That, in turn, made me think of a different message.

As you may have guessed from earlier devotionals, I am anything but a “social butterfly”. I tend to prefer my own company, that of my family, or one-on-one interactions with friends. That being said, I know the value of having a friend to talk to and be at your side. I’m sure there are people out there, especially young people, who will maintain that there are some individuals out there ideally suited to a solitary existence or being loners. At this point in my life I no longer believe that; especially not for the majority of people. Whether you consider things from a biological perspective or a Biblical perspective, humans are made to be social creatures. Even if one tends to enjoy being alone, there are times where they need human contact to feel validated, accepted, appreciated, or encouraged. People need relationships and communication with others in order to grow and, in some cases, even to challenge them to become more than what they are alone. And, as this episode illustrated, having a friend by your side can always make a terrible situation more bearable.

Even in the earliest parts of the Bible, the Creation in Genesis, it points out how the first human was unhappy in spite of having the favor and friendship of God and all the creatures in creation as companions. It wasn’t until God created a second human that he felt satisfied, because now he had a relationship with another person (Genesis 2:18-24). Likewise, there are several references in the Old Testament to the need for friends and companions and the virtues of having one.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:ย If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiates 4:9-10)

A friend loves at all times,ย and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Furthermore, while there are many strong men and women of the Bible who exemplify virtue, very few of them ever operated completely alone. Moses had his assistant Joshua and his brother Aaron. David had many upstanding warriors and counselors in his service that stuck with him through thick and thin. Even Elijah, a prophet who had to do most of his own mighty work alone, had a protege and successor named Elisha who followed him everywhere.

Yet the true emphasis on the dependency upon others, to me, is not until the New Testament. The Church community that Lord Jesus died for is often referred to as “the Body of Christ”; indicating that the community itself (empowered by the Holy Spirit) is the true means by which Christ moves and acts in the world now. While the need for repentance and conversion is on the individual level, the life of the Christian from then onward is often emphasized as their place in the Church and in working together with other Christians.

While it’s not as much of an issue in the Western World, one of the most important roles of the Church both in the Bible as well as in countries where Christians face persecution (and can be hurt or even killed with impunity and no legal recourse) is simply to act as support for one another. But even in places where this is not true, the role of the Church is vital to the Christian’s well being. When a Christian is feeling discouraged, it’s up to the community to build them up and encourage them to keep going. When they’re dealing with trouble or fears, it’s the community’s job to comfort and strengthen them. When they feel they are called to an insurmountable task or ministry that grows overwhelming and taxes them to their limits, it’s the community’s job to bear their portion of the load and to provide emotional as well as physical support.

Most of all, when a Christian is going through depression, feels no answer from God or his presence, and is plagued with doubts, despair, and thoughts of abandonment or self-destruction, it’s the mission of the Church to be there for that person. Not necessarily with any inspiring quotes or verses or anecdotes, but to simply be present and weep with them.

As the Church is the “Body of Christ”, so is it its duty to represent Christ “in the body” to all of these individuals. To let them know His presence is there because they are there. There is no overstating the importance, both for the Christian and for everyone, of how great it is to know that someone is there mourning with you; validating both your pain and suffering as well as you being worthy of consolation and concern.

As this episode pointed out, even if it doesn’t actually resolve the difficulties in your life, simply knowing that someone will always be there at your side for the ride, to pick you up when you’re down or cheer you when you’re feeling miserable…or simply just to go with you the whole way no matter how long or dreary…makes all the difference in the world. It makes the tasks and trials we must face not only seem more bearable but, in some cases, even possible to overcome. It’s small wonder that Jesus Himself pointed out the value of having just one friend by your side to feel His presence. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

The analogy that I saw in a different message once is a fireplace filled with hot coals, in which one is removed and set alone by itself. The coal may remain hot for a time, but eventually it will cool and become dull, lifeless ash. It’s only when it’s brought in contact with others that are “on fire” that it regains its own heat and blazes forth. In the same way, when an individual is feeling discouraged, defeated, or their own faith has “grown cold”, it’s through the community of believers in the Church, whether that be a group or simply another faithful individual and friend, that their flames are reignited, their spirits are restored, and their hope is renewed.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord Jesus, thank you not only for your assurance to always be at my side no matter what, but for all the times that others have been at my side and helped me continue when I felt at my lowest or like quitting. Please help me today to act in the same way. Whenever I see someone beset with loneliness, despair, or hopelessness, help me to be a true friend who will stay by their side just as I know you always stay by mine, and grant that we may bear each other’s loads and keep each other’s ‘fires burning’. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Nineteen: “Road to Friendship”

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Synopsis:

Shortly after Starlight Glimmer helps Trixie Lulamoon complete another successful show in Ponyville, a visitor from Saddle Arabia (Hoo’Far) offers first to trade his wagon for Trixie’s as it seems too small and in need of repair, and, after she refuses, suggests she perform in Saddle Arabia. Trixie is interested but dreads making the long trip alone, and ends up talking Starlight into accompanying her as an assistant. While the two are able to weather a number of mishaps early on, things start going bad once they reach their first stop. Starlight makes decisions constantly without thinking of the consequences to the overall trip, while Trixie insists on sticking to her normal routine which is only suitable for one pony instead of two. As the trip goes on, the two grate on each other’s nerves and degenerate into arguing and petty revenge; ruining their act and threatening to ruin their friendship. Finally, Starlight ends up trading Trixie’s wagon to Hoo’Far for his larger and more spacious one without Trixie’s consent, causing the two to break off completely. Trixie ends up tracking down Hoo’Far and stubbornly places herself in front of the wheels until he agrees to give her the wagon back, while Starlight starts heading home…having a much harder time managing the larger wagon by herself. After hearing a couple of mailponies who got encouraged by Starlight and Trixie’s earlier behavior on the trip to work through their own journey together, she ends up returning with Hoo’Far’s wagon to his and Trixie’s stalemate. Once there, the two give a rather pathetic attempt at a “friendship chant” (emulating Twilight and Cadance) to convince Hoo’Far to nullify the trade, which he ends up doing on seeing the lengths they were willing to go for each other but suggests they return home. The two take his advice and return to Ponyville, agreeing that the trip made their friendship stronger even if it convinced them never to go on a road trip together again.

Review:

Starlight Glimmer and Trixie Lulamoon are some of the more divisive characters in the fan community, although I think the “Starlight Hate” has mostly subsided (that or whoever couldn’t stand her left the fan community by this point…). So episodes where they both highlight tend to be a mixed bag in responses. This one, though, I think does better than others.

If you analyze it too hard, you realize that it’s really a fusion of “Look Before You Sleep” and “Pinkie Apple Pie”–showing that there’s no easier way for two characters to drive each other insane than to force them to be around each other constantly. Nevertheless, similar to what I said in an earlier episode this season, I don’t think it’s as bad as “Look Before You Sleep”; mostly because things stay animated and moving.

The song for this episode won’t win any awards (and, really, any song except the one coming up was pretty much overshadowed this season…), but it’s catchy and the sequence with it is nice. A good part of this episode is Starlight and Trixie arguing, to be sure, but it progressed better than “Look Before You Sleep”. Some people might still make the argument that Trixie is thoughtless and never learns, but I think she actually shows a lot of progress early in this episode. More than once she gives Starlight the chance to back out of the trip, especially whenever Starlight seems dubious about the arrangement. And while most of it is expressed in the song, the two of themย were getting along in spite of the bad situation. The mailponies later in the episode help to keep that from being nullified simply because it was in a song.

Even later in the episode when they really do start getting annoyed, it’s a nice progression. It starts off as merely being a bit annoyed with the other’s choices and, when it starts getting to be too much, they quickly rein it in and apologize to one another. Both characters degenerate into petty revenge at the same time and after both had a miserable, sleepless night so neither has a chance to be repulsive even if they’re doing bad things.

If I had to say one point in which a character actually crosses the line, it would end up being Starlight; not Trixie. That would be when she trades the wagon. Even then, it’s not the trade itself. It’s the fact that Starlight, almost proudly, admits she did it without Trixie’s consent. For a moment, shades of the “old Starlight” come out; the character who thinks she knows better than everyone and so everyone is better off just letting her decide things for them. So while I think that was a bit too far for Starlight and made her seem like the worse of the two from that point on in the episode, it makes sense. And it’s worth noting that, of the two, Starlight is the one who ends up having the friendship epiphany. All Trixie really does is lie around on that road until she comes back.

I will say I don’t like that so much of the episode is just “two characters get into a long argument and end up making up at the end”, even if this episode does a much better job than the similar one in Season One. That’s for no other reason than it doesn’t give much to like about the episode and kind of puts the entire thing into a sour, grouchy mood. Yet that being said…Starlight and Trixie might be friends but they’re highly unconventional ones with, at times, almost a love-hate relationship. While they tend to get along, there’s large parts of each other’s characters they don’t get. And while Trixie has more of the character flaws (although I think both this episode and Season Nine shows she’s getting better about them), there are some parts the two will never quite “get” of one another. So that makes sense too.

All in all, it was a chance for either character to go into pure repulsion yet it managed to dance around that and provide something fairly entertaining in spite of a generally downer subject to begin with. Well done.

Fun Facts:

This episode is also known as “On the Road to Friendship”.

In a rather odd cameo, Princess Cadance and Flurry Heart are in this episode. Maybe the writers realized they wouldn’t appear this season otherwise. ๐Ÿ˜› I love the bewildered and somewhat creeped-out looks Starlight and Trixie give them during their classic jump-rope rhyme chant.

Another appearance of the recurring Saddle Arabia and it’s more “horse-like” residents. Ironically, they were first mentioned in another episode featuring Trixie: Season Three’s “Magic Duel”. However, in spite of body types, they still seem to have the standard earth pony/unicorn/pegasus thing going on.

Starlight and Trixie are forced to cross the fire swamp from “Somepony to Watch Over Me”.

Starlight’s last lines in the song alluding to a “buddy comedy” about two people chained together is actually a reference to a very non-comedic movie called: “The Defiant Ones” about a pair of prisoners, one white and the other black, who escape a chain gang while still chained to one another. However, the idea has since been reused in cartoons for purely comedic purposes.

The town of Somnambula makes another appearance. (Kind of funny that the glowpaz festival is such a big deal when the residents can go see the actual Somnambula if they want…)

When Starlight and Trixie are low on money they end up being forced to buy haycakes as their only food source. I have no proof of this, but this might be an allusion to “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, who is initially on such a tight budget that all she can afford are pancakes.

It took me a second viewing before I realized Starlight is wearing the Saddle Arabian pony’s robe after they make the trade, and not just any robe he traded.

The Saddle Arabian pony’s name is Hoo’Far, according to the credits.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Eighteen: “Yakity-Sax”

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Synopsis:

The girls get a rather loud and obnoxious surprise when Pinkie Pie unveils her newfound love for the Yovidaphone instrument from Yakyakistan, declaring it her favorite thing and devoting herself to playing it all day, every day. Unfortunately, Pinkie is terrible at playing it and soon brings chaos and unpleasant, disruptive noise to everyone in Ponyville. Finally, the rest of the girls confront Pinkie and directly state that she’s not any good at playing the instrument and should focus on what she’s good at instead. At first, Pinkie seems to take the news well and abandons the Yovidaphone, but over the following days she lapses into depression over not being any good at playing it. The girls’ attempts to cheer her up fall flat and eventually culminate with her leaving Ponyville entirely to head to Yakyakistan to listen to real Yovidaphone players without so much as saying goodbye. The girls follow her there and find her even more depressed in a yurt hosting a Yovidaphone concert. She admits hearing good Yovidaphone players only made her realize more how she’d never be good at playing the instrument. This prompts the girls to suggest she play it anyway in a performance for the yaks even if she’s not good and will risk angering them, as it’s something that make her happy. Reluctantly, Pinkie does so, and is surprised at a roaring ovation from the yaks. They explain the true nature of the Yovidaphone is to play it to make yourself happy, so as long as Pinkie made herself happy by playing it she played it “perfectly”. Pinkie immediately goes into an encore song about how she has the best and most supportive friends a pony could ever ask for.

Review:

This episode was widely panned as being not only the worst episode of Season Eight but one of the worst of the entire series (according to IMDb, it’s actually third from the bottom at the time of writing this…with this same season’s “Non-Compete Clause” being the worst, if you’re interested). Do I think it deserves that notoriety?

Well…pretty much, yeah.

It’s not my personal pick for the worst of the worst, but that dishonor goes to episodes that I find painfully bland as well as making the mistakes that this episode did–namely gave a great big muddled moral and went out of character. To give the episode some credit, it at least kept things moving and animated and kept me wanting to see what would happen next. Aside from that, due to what I just mentioned (a muddled moral and out-of-character), it’s not that good.

While some muddled morals are smudged, this episode seemed to have been subjected to a rewrite that ruined it. The lesson behind it is good: do things that make you happy even if you’re not the best in the world at them. However, that lesson was already partially touched on and yet handled better by Season Six’s “On Your Marks”. I get the sense that how the episode was originally written was with the original Yakyakistan ending and only part of the opening. Namely, Pinkie Pie learned to play the Yovidaphone and loved it a lot although she wasn’t that good, she saw that real players were much better than her, she tried to go to Yakyakistan to learn better and failed, and at the end the rest of the Mane Six show up and tell her to do what she loves and from there the same resolution. And if that had been what happened, it would have been a decent episode.

Instead, everything gets confused. It’s very clear that the Mane Six, and Ponyville for that matter, don’t dislike Pinkie’s playing just because she’s not good at it but the fact she is very clearly disruptive and, in some cases, actually causing harm to residents and wildlife by playing. However, in order to make the end lesson works, none of the Mane Six state: “Pinkie, maybe you should play in a more open area.” or “Pinkie, maybe you should only confine your playing to indoors.” or “Pinkie, your instrument is really loud; please don’t play it after sundown.” No, they go straight to: “You’re not good at playing that instrument, and you should only do things you’re good at.” Not only is that rather hamfisted, it missed the mark of what the episode had been setting up.

And what does that mean? Was Applejack just supposed to smile and nod when Pinkie ruined her apple crop? Or Fluttershy supposed to just learn to put the animals to bed later after Pinkie went away? You can do something that makes you happy even if you aren’t good at it, but you can’t expect others to pretend you are. I play piano myself and I’m not that good. So if someone tells me to stop playing because I’m annoying people (which HAS happened before), I may be hurt but I have to expect it.

The other major factor is Pinkie Pie being out of character, which itself has two aspects to it.

The first is that it’s unnatural that Pinkie would get so attached to this instrument that she would hinge her entire sense of worth and well-being on it. What makes Pinkie happy is making other ponies happy. That’s been cemented since “The Smile Song”. The reason she went flat-maned in “Party of One” was because she thought her friends didn’t want to be her friends anymore, which hurt her personally but also disrupted her because she was throwing another party to make them happy and, to her, they acted like they didn’t care about her attempts to do so. Here…it’s an instrument she’s never touched before this episode. Suddenly Pinkie practically loses her sense of self over it. Not even in a “good” way appropriate to her character, such as in “The Maud Couple” when Pinkie had her meltdown over Mud Brier and imagined the girls all ending up having the opposite interests. She just becomes a bland lump who the rest of the girls have to actually physically move to make her do anything.

The second is that it makes Pinkie rather unlikable. A number of fans of “Gravity Falls”, which was a very well done show, nevertheless had the constant beef toward Mabel Pines that she always had to get her way and didn’t have to make any personal sacrifices, no matter how small, for the other characters for the sake of a relationship, and that others would have to cave into her to deal with her depression or sadness…which could be construed as a form of emotional manipulation. The same problem occurs here. The fact that Pinkie would end up going to such depressed lengths over an instrument she just picked up, continuously sulking until the Mane Six seemingly “caved” and just gave her what she wanted in order to get her to stop, seems almost childish. Like this was her version of throwing a tantrum or, worse yet, being emotionally manipulative to get her way.

Even Maud’s literal interpretation of everything the Mane Six say seems to be more “smartass” than her normal way of communicating in this episode.

I will say the rest of the Mane Six are fairly spot on for their characters (even if Applejack has grown more evasive rather than blunt) and, like I mentioned before, the episode at least keeps from being bland even if it goes in an unlikable direction to accomplish that end. Yet while Pinkie has her negative characteristics, this episode seemed to manufacture both one for her as well as engineer a situation which would bring it out. Neither makes for a good episode.

Fun Facts:

Although this episode is the eighteenth in production order, it actually aired prior to “A Matter of Principals” as part of Discovery Family’s “Summer of Surprises”. The episode wasn’t announced ahead of time and didn’t air again until the official release date, which was when I saw it.

Early releases of this episode called the instrument a “Zenithrash”, but this was not approved by Hasbro and the name was eventually changed to Yovidaphone. However, some synopses of this episode, including the one on Netflix, continue to call it a Zenithrash.

Applejack may be honest, but she’s mastered the subtle art of “weasel words”. “I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it in my life.”

Rarity slips and uses an apple euphenism. It’s a bit out of the blue, so I almost wonder if it was a line flubbed by Tabitha St. Germain they decided to keep.

Notice that Rainbow Dash kicks Fluttershy in the face to wake her up? ๐Ÿ˜›

Applejack chastises Twilight for attempting to lie about Pinkie’s playing ability, a callback to “Horse Play”. It’s rare to get a same-season callback that’s not tied to the season finale.

Notable in this episode is the return of flat-maned Pinkie AKA “Pinkamena”, who first appeared all the way back in Season One’s “Party of One”. It confirmed that Pinkie’s poofy mane goes flat whenever she’s depressed. However, this episode took it a step further and had her gradually lose all coloration, which is worse than her respective sisters (as even they have eye coloration).

Pinkie Pie’s bit in the yurt with ordering one ice cream sundae after another is a knockoff of the often-parodied bit of a depressed drunk constantly ordering more liquor at a bar. Also, yaks can wear bartender tuxes. ๐Ÿ˜›

Rating:

1.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Seventeen: “The End in Friend”

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Synopsis:

Before they have a chance to leave on their “day of fun”, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are brought into one of Twilight Sparkle’s lectures at the School of Friendship to demonstrate how two very different ponies can still be friends. Unfortunately, questioning from the students as to how the two of them can be friends causes them both to realize they have no common interests. It gets worse when Twilight, intent on proving her point, drags the class along on their day of fun to have them demonstrate their friendship, only for both to get frustrated at each other’s demeanor toward their activities and get into a fight that threatens to break their friendship up. Starlight Glimmer tries to intervene by scheduling a book club meeting in which either pony reads a book the other one likes, but both ignore their respective assignments and only use it as an excuse to insult the other’s preferences in literature. While blowing up into another argument, however, Twilight calls them both back to the School of Friendship and reveals the Amulet of Aurora has been stolen. While she and Starlight try to make a spell to locate it, the two of them are left to try and track it down. As a result, both end up having to put their respective talents to use, surprising the other at their own skill set, as well as demonstrate how much they learned from their respective choices in literature. As they continue the search, they finally reconcile on learning to appreciate each other better just as they track down the amulet…only to discover themselves right back in the School of Friendship. It turns out Twilight organized the entire theft as a way to get the two to work together on something and, as a result, learn to appreciate each other. As the students learn to embrace differences in friends, Rainbow Dash and Rarity head out to cap off their “day of fun” together.

Review:

This was a nice little episode, and, in many ways, a major throwback to the spirit of the “Pre-Alicorn Twilight” era; back when the Mane Six regularly got into fights and arguments with each other over petty things. Of course, that’s what some people no doubt preferred about the episode, as this late in the series there is a lot of nostalgia for any time an episode follows a vein of the originals. It does indeed have the feel of a lesson that could have been learned in Season Two, yet is set up in such a way that only the School of Friendship motif could have worked for it, so that’s rather nice.

Season One’s “Look Before You Sleep” has a similar theme to this episode, only with Rarity needing to learn to appreciate Applejack. Unlike that one, however, things keep moving in this episode rather than confining the girls to one area and relying on slow-paced dialogue to keep things going. Better yet is that the girls actually spend some time slowly reconciling rather than waiting for the climax to get it all out at once.

We also see a bit of the “old Starlight”‘s genius at work. The reason the fake theft was so suited to Rainbow Dash and Rarity was because she read both of their books and therefore knew what would be an appropriate gimmick for either pony. That said, it was pretty obvious from the get-go that Twilight and Starlight had set up the whole thing, especially with Twilight’s exaggerated “gone”, but the point of the episode wasn’t Rarity and Dash falling for the ruse but reuniting. Hence, it goes to show Twilight also still has the brains about this whole friendship thing. ๐Ÿ˜›

If I had one complaint about this episode, it would be that the balance between the two helping each other out at the end seems a bit biased in Rarity’s favor. (Rarity uses her skills to build a fully functional pontoon boat and Rainbow Dash uses her skills to…dip a cattail in a swamp.) Overall, though, that’s a small nitpick.

So although it showed up a little late in the series, a nice episode that shows how you don’t have to like everything someone else likes to appreciate them.

Fun Facts:

The only other episodes which featured Rainbow Dash and Rarity as the prominent characters than this one was Season One’s “Sonic Rainboom” and Season Five’s “Rarity Investigates!”, both of which are alluded to in this episode.

Rainbow Dash is using Braeburn as the earth pony for her team. Guess he got over the Appleloosan defeat by Ponyville. ๐Ÿ˜›

The title “The Cult in Crimson” is likely a knockoff of the first Sherlock Holmes mystery: “A Study in Scarlet”.

“I learned it at Scootaloo’s Filly Guide’s camp.” A brief nod to the Filly Guides from “28 Pranks Later”, and shows Rainbow Dash takes an interest in her activities. Maybe that’s how she learned to use your own wings as a horizontal propeller. ๐Ÿ˜›

A “bufogren” is one of the more obscure fantasy creatures to ever appear on the show, used to denote frog-like people. The name is a fusion of the French words for “toad” and “frog”.

When Rainbow Dash suggests she’d like Rarity’s help shopping, she gives an excited whinny.

A bit of a plot hole. At the end of the episode, Rarity and Rainbow Dash say they still have some time left in their “day of fun”, but that’s assuming they both were expected to read their respective books and come for the book club meeting with Starlight Glimmer the same day. Of course…my theory that Equestrian days are longer than Earth days might have held sway. ๐Ÿ˜›

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5

 

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Sixteen: “Friendship University”

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Synopsis:

While getting a new shipment of sewing machines for Rarity’s class, both she and Twilight Sparkle are stunned to discover that a rival school, Friendship University, has opened in Las Pegasus and that its ad campaign, among promising to teach the same lessons as the School of Friendship but in half the time with a better locale and free tuition, is specifically targeting the School of Friendship for competition. Twilight and Rarity head to Las Pegasus to check it out and, much to their displeasure, discover it’s being run by the Flim Flam Brothers. They immediately expect the worst but Twilight runs into two conundrums. One is that Chancellor Neighsay of the EEA is seeking to approve it as it targets only pony-races (and seemingly simply out of spite for Twilight and her own educational philosophy). The other is that Starswirl the Bearded, who has returned to journeying Equestria to learn more about friendship, has decided to enroll there and is willing to give the Flim Flam Brothers a second chance. When Neighsay takes Starswirl’s attendance as all the proof he needs and give the school EEA approval, Rarity and Twilight try to go undercover to discover the scam. Unfortunately, Twilight’s own disguise is rather pathetic and, when she breaks into the office of Flim and Flam looking for evidence and finds nothing but genuine lesson worksheets, she’s exposed and photographed. Flim and Flam both threaten to expose her of trying to sabotage her “rivals” out of jealousy and hurt her reputation as well as that of the School of Friendship, and Starswirl ends up siding with them in light of the current evidence, leaving Twilight dismayed. However, Rarity’s own work reveals that the Flim Flam Brothers are indeed charging nothing for tuition, but exorbitant fees for the worksheets. A bit more investigation reveals they’re using the school as an excuse to raise money to expand their resort in Las Pegasus, but also reveal they stole the lessons from Twilight’s own guidebook. When they threaten to expose their picture of Twilight if she exposes them, she ignores the threat; saying her title means nothing if she doesn’t stand up for what she knows is right. Instead, she offers to let Flim and Flam use her lessons so long as they refund the bits they took and use them for free in the future. When they refuse, however, Rarity exposes that she brought in Starswirl to overhear everything. As a result, Starswirl orders them to return all of the bits and shut down their school, before apologizing to Twilight and officially endorsing her school to Flim and Flam’s former students. Twilight and Rarity return to Ponyville; with Twilight wondering how Flim and Flam got her lessons and Rarity knowing she’ll be able to use the sewing machines to teach about friendship…just hasn’t figured out how yet.

Review:

In one of the episodes that gets into more “real world” threats, it goes to show that when it comes to threats that monsters, demons, and shape-shifting parasites got nothing on politics.

At the core of this episode is a pretty good, albeit painful, lesson about how the world works. While little kids would love to think that things operate in such a way that virtue and character ends up rewarding those who display the best of those traits, the fact is politics often runs things, and politics are governed by biases, stereotypes, deception, manipulation, coercion, and straight-up lies. People don’t always do what’s right; they do what gets the most amount of people behind them or what most people want, even if what they want is wrong. And very rare is the person who will stand up for what they believe in and what’s right; especially since, unlike in this episode, there’s usually no reward, benefit, or victory for doing so other than personal integrity. (Heck, a lot of people will usuallyย hate people for standing up for what they personally believe in. Especially if it’s not popular.)

Sift through everything in this episode and the core message is good. The problem is there’s a lot of little frustrations and facepalm moments to get to that point.

There isn’t too much in the way of outright fun and humor in this episode…more like cringe. In terms of the fun we do get, Flim and Flam’s song is alright but not only is it unlikely anything will ever top the song from their first Season Two appearance the fact is, at this point, we know these two are fully conartists and so seeing ponies getting so easily suckered in yet again makes me grimace a bit.

On one hand, I like how Starswirl the Bearded is handled overall in this episode. I dislike the fact that the Pillars of Old Equestria were virtually discarded following last season’s finale and, frankly, the one other appearance they would make this season only made things worse to me. Starswirl, however, is good and logical in this one. He took Twilight’s lesson from the end of last season to heart and, in spite of his age, he’s growing as a character. He definitely respects Twilight now, as is pretty obvious, and Twilight still has her own hero worship in spite of the end of last season.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but cringe again on seeing how easily Starswirl trusted the Flim Flam Brothers over her. I suppose it’s a little excusable considering how naive he is to the times, but if he really learned the lesson to try and look deeper into characters then he should have known better with Twilight. Or, perhaps, I’m just still a little irritable that Twilight once again has to “prove herself” to those she looks up to after having done so before. It’s the same issue I had with Celestia getting angry at Twilight way back in “A Canterlot Wedding”; not realizing that Twilight wouldn’t be one to make up something about Cadance lightly.

The situation with Neighsay, however, and how it was resolved or, more appropriately, lack thereof is what really gets me. Early in this episode, it’s clear he’s so biased against the idea of nonpony races that he’d look for any reason to throw mud in Twilight’s eye. He already shows off a double-standard at the start. He gives EEA approval with almost no oversight to Friendship University simply because Starswirl the Bearded is there, when Twilight’s own school had the approval of at least two princesses (Twilight Sparkle and Celestia) and he still insisted not only on grilling it but then held out anyway due to speciesism. All of that makes sense, though, and it’s meant to make the audience grind their teeth at how people in power can utilize their own position and a well-respected individual’s attempt to preserve their own good name to pretty much bend the rules in their favor and do this sort of thing.

Yet the resolution didn’t go “deep” enough for me. At the end of the episode, Starswirl recants his endorsement of Friendship University and places it on the School of Friendship. As a result, I would have appreciated if the shoe had been on the other foot for Neighsay. Nowย he would be on the hook, along with the EEA, for having endorsed a school with no formal evaluation only for it to end up crooked. He also would have been forced to expose his own blatant bias to the public if he refused to give the School of Friendship EEA approval, because he had just done the same to a different institution simply based on Starswirl’s approval.

Aside from that, there were other problems with how it panned out. For one thing, they put in the part where the Flim Flam Brothers threatened to expose Twilight if she exposed them, so they tried to call them “even”. The problem is they didn’t really have a leg to stand on at that point. Their own exposure of Twilight was supposed to be from her trying to expose their scam, and the dirt on them was that there was a scam. It was kind of like saying: “If you go to the police and give them proof that I robbed your house, I’ll publish this evidence showing you putting up security cameras to catch me robbing your house, and everyone will think you’re paranoid!” It doesn’t really work.

I also scratch my head over the ending. I’m honestly not sure how Flim and Flam got the copy of Twilight’s lesson plans either. The subtle hint the episode leaves is that Cozy Glow might have had something to do with it, but that doesn’t make sense as she wanted the School of Friendship to stay open and succeed so that she, in turn, could succeed. The other alternative is that Chancellor Neighsay had something to do with it.

I won’t say this one was quite as bad as a muddled moral and, while sidetracked, the lesson it was trying to teach was a fairly important one. And it did help build up to the finale a bit more, and did justice to the sole callback from the Pillars of Old Equestria. If only it had done a bit more with it…

Fun Facts:

Starswirl went river rafting with Tree Hugger. The pony he’s painting with is a parody of Salvidor Dali (and who appeared already once briefly in “On Your Marks”).

Although Cozy Glow had appeared as a background student in multiple episodes at this point, this was the first episode that showed her beginning to have more responsibility at the School of Friendship.

Even eternally-scowling Neighsay is like “wat” when Rarity tries ripping off Starswirl’s beard. ๐Ÿ˜›

Flim and Flam’s “secret” amusement park model actually appears in their song early in the episode.

A subtle yet nice joke in the episode is the main reason Flim and Flam were fooled by “Plainity” is simply because the only characters from the Mane Six they are familiar with would be Applejack (from prior experience), Fluttershy (from prior experience), and Twilight Sparkle (from reputation).

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Fifteen: “The Hearth’s Warming Club”

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Synopsis:

Hearth’s Warming Eve has come once again, and all of the students of the School of Friendship depart for their homes for holiday break. However, shortly after dismissal, an individual breaks into the school lounge and vandalizes the Hearth’s Warming tree. Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Spike chase after the culprit but lose him or her in the dormitory, where only the Student Six are left packing to leave. Knowing one of them is responsible, Twilight gives the culprit a chance to confess before taking the students aside one by one to interview them; telling that the culprit will have to stay at school over break for one-on-one remedial friendship lessons, but if the culprit is not found all six will have to miss the holidays. As the interviews go on and the others are left to start cleaning up the mess, Ocellus, Yona, Smolder, Sandbar, and Silverstream all share stories about their own respective holidays and everything they like about the time of year. However, when all students are interviewed and no one has confessed, they begin to angrily accuse each other of selfishly ruining their own holidays by not admitting. As their arguing intensifies, Gallus, not liking seeing them fighting, finally breaks down and admits he’s the culprit. He reveals that he’s actually an orphaned griffon, but since coming to school has grown to see the rest of the Student Six as his family. He purposely sabotaged the tree so that he’d have a chance to be with them longer and experience what a holiday was really like. Soon after, Twilight reenters; revealing she, Dash, and Spike realized it was him but wanted to give him a chance to confess. She sticks by her word and intends to give Gallus the punishment she promised, but this, in turn, prompts the other members of the Student Six to volunteer to stay over as well and give Gallus the family holiday he wanted. Pleased at their reaction, Twilight decides none of them need remedial friendship lessons and offers, as soon as they’re done cleaning up, to have them as her guests for her own Hearth’s Warming Eve festivities that year.

Review:

(Forrest Gump voice) And just like that…Gallus became the show’s biggest woobie.

This episode was a refreshing pick-me-up from the previous two. While I don’t think any of the Student Six can be a runaway Ensemble Darkhorse, as I said before collectively they were one of the highest points of Season Eight and episodes like this that focus on them are no exception. Once again we’re treated to a trip through these various interesting characters and, truly, their individual personalities really help sell this episode.

Even more so, we get to dip a bit deeper into their individual characters and flesh them out more from their initial appearances, but we also get a better concept of the nonpony races of Equestria and their respective cultures. In keeping with the overall moral of the Student Six to begin with, multiculturalism, it offers a look at how various peoples can see the same concept of a holiday. Aside from a few lines by Yona, it (perhaps mercifully) doesn’t touch so much on the idea of holidays being impressed upon uninterested cultures so much what each culture associates with a holiday being important.

On the low end…Sandbar, obviously. His own story is kind of a joke, but even character-wise he’s kind of so-so this episode. On one hand, I like how they bring back his easy-going and, perhaps, a bit of a “stoner”-type personality. On the other, they try doing a joke with him accusing Ocellus that doesn’t quite work out and makes it look like he’s singling her out. Considering the fact changelings and ponies used to be mortal enemies, and that starts looking like a touch of racism…

Next up is Smolder. Again, her story was mostly meant to be a joke, but, at the time, it kind of made me raise an eyebrow to the idea of ponies welcoming dragon culture. Here are a bunch of ponies offering to extend their hands in friendship to dragons…and here we see that dragons love to exploit kind-hearted and generous creatures and mock them for being weak. It kind of started making it look like Chancellor Neighsay might have been right about being wary of dragons. When taken more of the context of “What Lies Beneath” and Season Nine’s “Sweet and Smoky”, we would learn Smolder actually does have a gentler side that admires some of the aspects of Equestria, but that was a ways off when this episode came out.

Around the middle is Silverstream. It’s nice to still see her perky and I got a smirk from her attempt to join in yak traditions and break something, but simply being excitable and perky didn’t make her stand out too much this episode. If they had more instances where her eternally-happy attitude led her to do silly things like that, she would have stood out more.

Ocellus’ story was obviously the silliest holiday of all; basically one opportunity after another to misinterpret directions. However, I still liked it a bit. Shows how changeling culture is still very much like “kids playing pretend” as they try to find their own identity as a people. And, in truth, itย is how a lot of cultures around the world have formed. When people get displaced or relocated throughout history, they tend to either blend their traditions with local ones or absorb local tradition and put their own spin on it. As silly as Ocellus’ behavior was, she does point out that their misinterpretations are actually forming their own culture.

Yona’s story was pretty much what you expect yaks to do for their holidays. ๐Ÿ˜› However, at this point in the series, I admire the transition a bit. I was growing fully accustomed to Yona and, as a result, her idea of yak culture as well. Where before they seemed like prideful, aggressive brutes, now their tendency to go “yaks best at everything” is starting to seem more like a joke they’ve told so many times it’s starting to elicit a chuckle. Their nature of getting excited about finding things to smash and their exuberance has gone from being a sign of aggression to more of an endearing trait. Most importantly, however, is when I hear Yona exclaim “yaks best at ______”, I no longer think of it as something arrogant or snobbish but rather a sign of being so enthusiastic, energetic, and determined to do this, that, or the other thing that they’re going to be the best at it…that it’s kind of become something admirable.

And, of course, Gallus. For some time now people have wondered if Scootaloo is an orphan (in spite of her referring to her own parents in the past), but it turns out our first real orphan character ended up being him. While some people thought it was a tad cheesy or cliche, I actually was touched by the end of the episode. I honestly didn’t think he was one. I just thought…y’know…griffon. They’re sardonic and apathetic to everything.

The funny thing is the previous episode with Discord had as its theme a character doing something mean and hurtful to others out of feelings of being left out to selfishly benefit himself as well, so I actually asked myself after this episode was over if it was really fair to feel sympathy for Gallus as he did pretty much the same thing. Well, I guess what really sank it for me was not just that it was Gallus vs. Discord but the fact that Gallus did, in the end, see how he was hurting his friends and so he confessed of his own accord to spare them from being unhappy like him. And it was a rather high mark of the rest of the Student Six that, after how broken up they had been about the thought of missing the holidays, they realized it was far worse to have no family at all to go home to and so selflessly decided to stay to keep Gallus happy (even though, at the time, I’m not entirely sure Smolder would have done it without being coerced).

While Grandpa Gruff is pretty much the same level of grouchiness as the rest of the griffon race, the very fact he brought Gallus to the School of Friendship in spite of not being a blood relation shows he has to careย something for other griffons. While I’m still not sure if he was the one who dragged Gallus to the school or if Gallus expressed something of an interest at one point and Gruff decided to sponsor him, I now begin to think that the real reason Gallus came to the school was to finally have a family of his own. And it looks like he got it.

A cute, nice episode that made me eager to see more Student Six centered ones. Let’s all hug the grouchy griffon and pat his little head. ๐Ÿ˜›

Fun Facts:

The title is a reference to the 1980s film “The Breakfast Club”, which is similarly a story about a group of students stuck in detention over a Saturday connecting with each other.

Continuing MLP:FIM’s proud tradition of airing holiday-themed episodes at inappropriate times, this episode debuted on August 4, 2018.

I always thought it was a bit odd that Rainbow Dash was in this episode. Not that I’m complaining, but it seems kind of out there that she and Twilight are the only members of the Mane Six to feature in this one, but there’s really no need for Dash to be present. Ah well.

It looks like Twilight replicated the original Fire of Friendship spell for the top of the…um…Hearth’s Warming Tree. ๐Ÿ˜› Fire and trees generally don’t mix, but hey…they used to be candles before lights were invented.

People trying to do something shady always seem to find black cloaks in MLP:FIM. ๐Ÿ˜› Yeah, I know the real reason is because it’s hard to “hide” character identities if they don’t.

The purple glop itself and the difficult time everycreature has removing it might be a Easter Egg to the nature of the Smooze in the original “My Little Pony: the Movie”.

Twilight relied on the oldest trick in the teacher’s handbook (although, in all fairness, it rarely works): group punishment to turn the students against each other so they rat out the culprit. ๐Ÿ˜€

Somehow the Changelings are reproducing… Er, maybe “King” Pharnyx is hermaphroditic. Anyway, I’m glad the Changelings misinterpreted “dive into some holiday punch” as swimming in a vat of punch as opposed to hitting each other in the face. ๐Ÿ˜›

Nice continuity…Yona’s hair is still hanging low in her recollection of Snilldar Fest. Although she had braids before, she didn’t learn how to tie them up until the end of “School Daze”.

Smolder loving the winning story from last year’s “Feast of Fire”. Yeah…remember how much she loved this story when we get to “Father Knows Beast”… (Eye roll) At any rate, I take that as evidence of how much she’s changed. In light of, say, Season Nine’s “Sweet and Smoky”, I imagine Smolder probably doesn’t like this story as much now; especially since, at the end of the episode, she elected to stay with Gallus as well (er, with a touch of peer pressure).

Although the Storm King died at the end of “The My Little Pony Movie”, he would go on to make various appearances in one form or another in the series. His first was in this episode in a flashback. This would also serve as the first episode to retcon the movie to show that the Storm King did, in fact, have some power over storms even without alicorn magic. Queen Novo also (sorta) makes a cameo appearance in this episode.

It actually makes sense that the Three Days of Freedom was expanded from one day to three, as the second two days both involve being on Mount Aris rather than Seaquestria.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5