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.
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.
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.
2.5 Stars out of 5