Wednesday, September 19, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 102: Sparkle's Law

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

I'll be honest: up here, I got nothin'.  Below the break, my review of AestheticB's Sparkle's Law.

Impressions before reading:  Judging from the image and description, it looks like we've got a noir-style comedy on our hands.  Noir-style comedy is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel; it's not exactly hard to mock the gritty narration filled with colorful similes which are the hallmark of the genre, after all.  Still, just because something's an easy target doesn't mean it can't be lampooned brilliantly: look no further than Tracer Bullet, Calvin's detective alter-ego from Calvin and Hobbes, for an example of that well-worn joke done right.  Hopefully this story will be similarly inspired.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  It's the day of the Summer Sun Celebration, and Celestia has decided that Ponyville should host her (again, since her last attempt to hold the Celebration there was derailed by Nightmare Moon).  Although it should be a simple matter for everypony to reprise their roles from a year ago, Twilight soon finds that today will be infinitely more taxing than it has any right to be.

Thoughts after reading:  Although Pinkie does indeed play the role of noir detective/cliche machine in this story (and thankfully, demonstrates that the author has a good ear for parody), it's not really the central focus of the piece.  Instead, several intertwining plots involving Rainbow Dash's attempts at animal handling, Applejack's rivalry with Carrot Top, and Twilight's insatiable need for coffee after staying up studying the night before all meld together with it to form a tangle of a story.  Despite the seemingly obvious plot hook driving everything forward (Celestia's imminent arrival), these branching threads sometimes leave the story feeling slightly directionless.

That's fine, however, because this story focuses primarily on comedy (though not exclusively, as more random/comic stories often do).  And for the most part, the humor hits its marks.  Pinkie's alluded-to private-eye acts, for example are filled with clever allusions and Pinkie-style rambling, rather than being restricted to hoary old chestnuts which are comical only for the juxtaposition of a pink pony speaking them.  Likewise, Dash's efforts to control a flock of birds escalate nicely, with a natural yet hilariously ramped-up progression.  The focus ponies are all played as exaggerated stereotypes, but these were in keeping with the spirit of the characters.  And since the story leaned more heavily upon setpiece and narrative humor than character-based comedy, it was both unsurprising and perfectly natural that the ponies were painted in broad, unsubtle strokes.

The comedy extended to the writing itself, with the author including a huge number of meta-jokes.  Most of these I found unobtrusive and enjoyable; for example, AestheticB plays with the cliche "It was a beautiful day in Ponyville" opening line multiple times over the course of the story, and each time it brought a smile to my face.  On a few occasions, however, the references got too heavy-handed for my taste; a scene where Applejack briefly channeled Kanye West stuck out to me as a particularly egregious example of lowest-common-denominator humor in an otherwise very balanced and well-considered story.

Just as important as the quality of the humor was the quantity.  Comic stories need to keep the jokes coming, whether they're sight gags or bits of wordplay in the narration, or else the story can quickly begin to drag.  While the frequency of humor needed is inversely proportional to the depth of plot and characterizations in the story (deep, solidly-plotted comedies can afford to indulge in more serious asides so long as they advance the story; random, "wacky" stories cannot), the author made sure to never let the story go more than a few sentences without throwing in something entertaining.  And if not every gag hits the mark (I was less impressed with Twilight's put-upon grumpiness and growing fury than with the other characters' signature behaviors, though that's explicitly my personal opinion; I didn't much care for Lesson Zero either, yet it seems to be one of the most popular episodes of season two), there's always something in the next paragraph sure to be more to one's fancy.  At no point during this story was I bored, which is the most critical benchmark for any comedy.

I will admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the way this story ended.  Although it was unfocused at times, there was a clear conflict present from the very beginning: Princess Celestia is coming to Ponyville, and everything's going wrong.  Without giving away too much, the story ends very abruptly, not only leaving out any possible denouement, but also seemingly cutting short the resolution proper.  While it was by no means an insulting or otherwise criminally disappointing ending, it left me unsatisfied.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Despite a (very) few failed attempts at quotational comedy and other meta-humor, and an all-too abrupt conclusion, this is a very solid piece of comedy.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a good comedy should consider Sparkle's Law.  It's primarily based on situational, physical, and writing-style comedy, as opposed to character-based humor, so fans of the first three are likely to especially enjoy it.  Still, it's just a funny, enjoyable story, and I think most potential readers would be more than satisfied with it.

Next time:  Forever!, by Chengar Qordath


  1. Yay! I'm not the only one who doesn't think Lesson Zero was the best episode ever!

    1. You thought you were the only one? I thought I was the only one!

  2. I like this one a lot; it makes me think that this is what the show would have been like if it were more cynical and the characters were a tad more crazy.

    That said it does have a few problems.

    1) “Medium Misplacement”: There is a difference between writing that inspires strong imagery and writing that is meant for strong imagery. Quite a bit of Sparkle’s Law falls into the latter, and there were passages that made me think, “if this was in a visual medium, it would work better”. As an example, the ending gag with the coffee is something that’s done in only movies for a reason; it can work there. Here it doesn’t and Twilight’s interjecting thoughts (which would normally justify the use of the writing medium) only served to interrupt and slow down the gag. Other parts that come to mind include a few of the heavier action moments in the battle and much of Rainbow and “the Birds”.
    2) The stuff with Rainbow didn’t work for me. It just wasn’t funny enough and to be honest some of the violent parts of it made me cringe. (Rule #2 of comedy: “Cartoon Violence is simple: you can have all the explosions, the blows to the head, gun shots, anvil drops, and the like you want but once someone gets a paper cut and bleeds, it stops being funny.”)

    The good stuff is great though, reading about Applejack and her family waging war on the Carrot clan will always be a highlight in any ficts. So, yeah I agree with most of the above.

  3. Hey, Chengar's up next? The prequel to "My Little Denarians" is up next? These statements are pertinent to my interests.

    Been awhile since I read "Forever," but I remember it being pretty funny, and him having a pretty good handle on writing Harry (which has improved over the course of MLD). Definitely looking forward to seeing this review.

  4. I guess this was an 'okay' story. If you like this kind of thing.