Monday, July 30, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 87: The Worst Bakers in Equestria

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

What better way to follow up a gore/horror set like the Silent Ponyville stories than with a series tagged random/comedy?  Below the break, my review of Bob from Bottles' The Worst Bakers in Equestria.

Impressions before reading:  I'm guessing I'm going to like this, based on the following comment left on the EqD post by yours truly, last September: "This is one of those stories that makes me want to give it 5 stars... but then I realize I did that after the first chapter.  I wish there was some way to re-star or give bonus stars or something--every piece to date has been excellent."  At the very least, I'll feel awfully silly if I have to call my past self out for being over-generous.  Still, if past self didn't want his butt on the line, maybe he should have kept his mouth shut.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Every year, Equestria holds a competition to see who the worst baker in the nation is.  Competition is fierce, and four mares in particular are bent on getting into and through the contest, no matter what the collateral damage.  Considering just what constitutes "bad baking" in a land full of tangible magic, collateral damage is pretty much assured.

Thoughts after reading:  Comedy can take many forms.  Sometimes it's slapstick, other times it's subtle.  Sometimes it draws on the ridiculousness of the situation, other times it plays on how serious things are.  One of the things that impressed me about Worst Bakers was how the author was able to maintain a high level of reader amusement while working through a variety of tones.

The story follows four ponies, and each are presented in a different light.  Luna's scenes and story (each of the four ponies has their own introductory chapter/story to begin) focus on broad, goofy humor, while Ditzy's aim more for feel-good grins.  Trixie's bits pile on misfortune to such absurd degrees that it's impossible not to laugh, yet still leave a lingering sense of unease--the mark of good "awkward comedy."  And Rainbow Dash's--and later, Pinkie and Spike's--scenes play to the hallmarks of those characters.  And when these characters begin to interact, such as with Ditzy and Luna (on an incidental note, there's only a few more fanfics to go which were written prior to those characters' S2 appearances), the tones combine smoothly and naturally.

This is about more than the characters' portrayals themselves, though those are generally strong.  Minor characters and scene construction work to enforce that tone.  Luna's chapter, aiming for broad comedy, features a royal chef playing straight man in the wake of Luna's culinary disasters.  Trixie's, on the other hand, gives time to an old stallion who runs a theatre that's been in his family for generations, and which is unlikely to survive him.  This is played for laughs (he asserts that his son will take over from him one day; when Trixie points out that his son is perfectly happy being a blacksmith, and even has a hammer for a cutie mark, he brushes it off as "just a phase he's going through"), as are so many things throughout the story, but it helps create an appropriate atmosphere for each pony.  

Of course, the comedy is king here; well-conceived setting only takes one so far if one's jokes aren't funny.  Bob from Bottles relies heavily on visual/auditory gags, which would seem an awkward fit for a written medium, but most come out pretty well.  Clear but not over-written narration makes it easy to visualize costume gags, wacky reactions, and the like.  Some didn't translate to the written word as cleanly--a scene involving Luna "dancing" while trying to get batter out of her eyes comes to mind--but for the most part, the jokes work better than I would have expected.  Between these and the character-based humor, I found myself laughing more than once as I read.  

Characterization was mostly good.  Trixie was the only canon character whose interpretation I had some issues with; although the author does a good job of making her at least somewhat sympathetic without over-justifying, the later chapters move her a little too quickly away from her egotistic ways, in my opinion.  I thought the author did a particularly good job with Pinkie, on the other hand.  Not including out-of-story interludes, he captures her impossible antics without going overboard or becoming too meta.

At times, editing was a weak point.  Although I think some cleaning has been done on this story since I read it (I remember there being a fair number of minor errors), there are some pretty regular mistakes during stretches.  The only really consistent problem was number confusion between verb and noun, the rest being a mix of misspellings, missed or unnecessary apostrophes, and other such.  This was never a problem to the point that it interfered with readability, but it was very noticeable at times.

Although the story starts off silly (the premise is that there's an annual competition to determine who the worst baker in Equestria is, and the ability to literally burn water is basically an entrance requirement, after all) and never abandons its lighthearted conceit, the later chapters do spend a fair bit of time crafting an elaborate explanation for the event, and some of the macguffins found along the way.  Personally, I enjoyed the worldbuilding that went into it, and I thought that the extra depth it gave to the ending was a welcome addition.  However, I suspect that not all readers will take to it as I did; there seem to be a fair number of fanfic consumers who dislike in principle stories that mix comedy and major worldbuilding, and this story certainly contains both in the later portions.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

Another quote from me, this time commenting after the final chapter was released: "This entire set has been absolutely wonderful. The first chapter with Luna was goofy fun, Ditzy was diabetus-inducingly cute, and Dash was just slapstick comedy... Even the occasional grammar errors weren't enough to stop me from enjoying every minute I spent reading this series. Excellent work."  I couldn't have said it better myself, past me.

Seriously though, I'm dreading the day when I open up a story that I showered a bunch of praise on, re-read it, and realize that it's not nearly as good as I thought it was.  Dodged a bullet this time, I guess.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for quality comedy of any stripe should consider this story.  The gags are mostly visual, and capture the style of the show better than prose has any right to, and the disparate tones between characters mean that readers are likely to find at least one protagonist whose path to the competition they particularly enjoy.

Next time:  Raiders of the Cutie Mark, by DJLowrider


  1. This one took me a try or two to get through, mostly because of the absurdity of the premise. That, and I didn't really care much for the first chapter when it first came out. But now I'm glad I actually finished it. Seriously, this story is great and you should be reading it now.

    And the next one...I can barely remember. So this should be interesting.

  2. I could use some good comedy. I'll give it a try tonight.

  3. "Did I shower too much praise on this fic? Eh, that's a problem for Future Chris!"

    This story sounds fantastic. When I'm laughing at the descriptions of things in a review...

    You fool, you've used "who's" when you clearly meant "whose". D: Twelve years, dungeon!

  4. The first two chapters were very good and what I expected, goofy and fun (chapter two particularly had an enjoyable prose that makes up for any shortcomings in the gags and lack of visuals) but I had problems starting with the third. Let me just start by saying that the final gag in chapter three was brilliant, it was precisely the kind of gag one works up towards. However I had difficulty swallowing the overall chapter; I really couldn’t buy the fact that Mrs. Cake would allow her kitchen to be treated as such by Dash. If she had fight back the urge to faint (as the text says), than common courteous should have been thrown out the window, along with Rainbow. After all there is a possibility that her livelihood would be wrecked or go up in flames (I’m not bothered by the first two chapters because Luna is a princess and the kitchen belongs to Ditzy). As for Trixie’s chapter, it had its laugh but personally, I’d rather watch one of Chuck Jones’ Coyote cartoons or read one of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comics if I wanted that kind of humor because they’re just better at it (not to mention I like their characters better).

    The real turning point for me was when it came time to enter the competition; the whole fict enters this tonal roller-coaster that makes me metaphorical queasy. At one moment there’s this weird Broadway musical number (the epitome of frivolousness) or a strange “optional” universe (note to writers: do not give your readers a choice in story options) where the arena is being attacked by sky pirates (I have no clue why this and the other intermissions were not cut, they would have worked far better as their own story and it really messes with the pacing here) and then at another part Apple Bloom is getting teary-eyed or Ditzy and Dinky share a heartwarming moment. The idea behind the fict is too absurd (and quite frankly insane given all the damage caused; I really want to know what kind of insurance policies the taste testers have) for me to take the characters and the drama of their plights seriously. That would be fine but the whole joke (highly destructive and out of control baking) got old too fast, so I was bored once past the preliminaries. Maybe if this was movie (I actually was reminded of some of the Hollywood comedies from the sixties such as the The Great Race while reading), I might have liked it better because some gags probably would have been sharper and clearer. Plus I didn’t care the whole bad luck aura stuff, it felt too much of a case of trying to explain the joke, which I am not a fan of. Overall, I’d say it had a mostly funny first half and a mostly dull second half.

  5. I loved all but 1 thing about this fic. The end part where the nurse puts dash in a body cast for no reason and no one helps her.

    I LOATHE that type of "oblivious detrimental altruism" in comedy. It is so annoying and frustrating. I does not make me laugh, it makes me rage.

  6. "When plot thickens, reduce heat and continue to stir."
    I think that quote sums up this story nicely.

    Personally, It sits in my favorites and I recommend it to anybody.