Monday, November 12, 2012

Episode Talk: S3E1-2, The Crystal Kingdom

Well, after another long hiatus, new pony episodes are finally here.  Just like last year, I'm going to dedicate a post to commenting on episodes that I found I had a lot to say about, while skipping over those which, for better or worse, stuck out less to me.  I don't think it will surprise anyone to know that I have opinions about the season three premier, in any case.  Click down below the break for my semi-sorted thoughts.


-To start, my overall opinion: I was underwhelmed.  I guess I could best describe my reaction to the episodes as "probably the best that could be expected, under the circumstances."  By, "the circumstances," I refer to both my own, sometimes unreasonable, expectations (inflated, in this case, by the long wait since the end of last season), and the general storyline.  More on that last bit... now.

-At this point, I think it's safe to say I'm not really a fan of the "epic" episodes, as compared to the more slice-of-life ones.  There are a lot of reasons, but perhaps the biggest one for me is that a high-stakes environment doesn't lend itself to the simplistic morals on which the show relies.  I mean, the two-parter's message revolved around Twilight's dilemma: should she follow the princess's instructions to the letter, or should she try to do the right thing?  Now, if the story built around that dilemma had been something low-key, that would've been fine.  But when the stakes involve the subjugation of an entire nation, Twilight's concern with making sure she's the one who delivers the Crystal Heart doesn't just seem childish (which would be fine, by itself), but downright sociopathic.  I mean, that she has to think about whether or not to let Spike prevent everypony's enslavement at the hooves of a monomaniacal despot casts her less as someone still learning about friendship than as a cold-hearted monster.  The way she dallied, I half-suspected when she relented that she only did so because she realized that Sombra was probably going to end up putting her in shackles along with the rest.

-Speaking of Sombra, he was a major disappointment to me.  To see why, let's look at the other three "big" villains (i.e. not Trixie, Flim and Flam, Gilda, and the rest of the "antagonists, but not particularly evil" crowd) and him: Nightmare Moon was a being consumed by jealousy of the Sun, who sought to plunge Equestria into eternal night; Discord was Chaos personified, and intended to upend cause and effect as a raison d'etre; Chrysalis was leader of a race who fed upon love, and invaded Canterlot in order to secure sustenance for herself and her subjects; and Sombra was a unicorn who enslaved the crystal ponies because... he was evil, I guess?  And his endgame was...?

See the problem here?  The other three all have easily identifiable motivations for their actions, and equally clear goals.  Sombra?  He's just a midnight-black unicorn with fangs who can turn himself into shadow.  That's not a character, that's a physical description.

-One more bit about weaknesses of the episode: characters having deliberately, unrealistically obtuse conversations for the benefit of the audience is a pet peeve of mine, so I was no fan of the portent-filled scenes with Celestia and Luna.  Even if there is a satisfying payoff later, I'm still going to be disappointed in the execution here, in the setup phase.

-The highlight of the episodes?  I'm going to go with Dash and Fluttershy jousting.  Dash's passive-aggressiveness made me laugh out loud; "No Fluttershy, you don't have to keep getting beat up by me... it's just that if you don't, Sombra will win and it will be all your fault..."  In fact, a lot of the stuff with the crystal fair(e) worked for me--I guess I appreciated a little bit of levity and light-heartedness in the midst of all the high drama.

-I, for one, am desperately curious as to how the crystal ponies organize their libraries.  It would have to be something non-intuitive enough that Twilight couldn't even make a reasonable guess what section a history book might be located in, and since the one she found was apparently in a large section filled with non-history books, it makes me wonder.

-The fact that the crystal ponies are, at times, semi-translucent bothered me more than it should.  I mean, you can see right through them, and there's nothing there.  No organs, no traces of all that crystal food they were eating, nothing.  How does that work?

-Even if it was understated compared to previous celebrations, I liked that Spike finally got some recognition.  Being emblazoned on a commemorative stained-glass window's a start, anyway.

-That pink heart-train is starting to really bother me.  In its first couple of appearances, I told myself it was just a novelty that ran the Canterlot-Ponyville (and, I guess, Dodge Junction) route, and that any sort of real travel was handled by something like the setup from The Last Roundup.  But apparently the saccharine-mobile runs all the way to the frozen tundra in the far north.  I guess I'm going to have to get used to it, but that doesn't mean I have to think it's anything other than demographic (and, probably more importantly, merchandise-based) pandering, something I used to be thrilled that the show was so good at avoiding.

-Looking ahead to the rest of the show's announced run: I suspect the remainder of the season will be the same grab-bag of great, bad, and pretty good which the last two were.  I can tell you right now, though: the more I hear about it, the less I'm looking forward to Trixie's return.  This coming from someone who's always kind of liked her as a character, despite some of the more annoying fanon which has attached itself to her.  We'll see.

58 comments:

  1. Woo! A secondary source validating my own opinions.

    All is right in the world. :3

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    1. However, you definitely articulated your issues with the moral/Celestia and Luna scenes far better than I did.

      :(

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  2. Yeah, this was an episode that just didn't stand out for me. What I did like about it were all little things: the Celestia green eyes bit of animation, Shining Armor's very Hoth-esque snow mask (is my nerd showing?), Dash guilting Fluttershy into jousting, some of Pinkie's antics...little things like that.

    But the story was really underwhelming for me. I didn't feel bothered by Twilight's dilemma (if one can even call it that) so much as just confused. What was the point of Celestia telling Twilight that she has to do this on her own? Doesn't that fly in the face of all the friendship lessons she's been doing these past two seasons? It just felt like an obvious plot device being shoved in for convenience.

    And Sombra...yep, nothing interesting there. I'm probably gonna totally forget him in a short matter of time, and I don't really see a ton of fanfics being written about him. Which is a shame, because Chrysalis and the changelings gave us so much potential! To go from such a wicked, cool looking villain with a great concept to Sombra is pretty disappointing.

    Overall, a good episode, but definitely not one of my favorites.

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  3. I already reviewed the episode on my fimfiction blog, but here's a cliff notes:

    This was not a terrible episode by any means, but I still rate it as the worst of the two-part episodes so far. The animation was great, I loved the design of the Crystal Empire, there were a lot of funny moments (Fluttershy's reaction to Pinkie's discarded disguise of her and Twilight's bookgasm were the funniest for me), and it was entertaining enough to keep me watching. But what ultimately kills it is how weak the story it. There's a lot that just doesn't add up too well, the pacing is poor, and there's a lot that just doesn't add up too well.

    The one thing that really worked for me, though, was Spike getting to be the hero. While it was a bit contrived how it got there, just having the little guy actually be used for something other than a cheap gag or slapstick was nice. Sombra...well, I didn't like him when the episode began, and he's still a weak villain, but at the same time not every villain needs a complex backstory to work. His only real failing was looking like a bad OC and not actually doing anything besides corrupt the Empire. Not every villain has or needs layers of complexities, which is why I kind of roll my eyes at all the complaints that they needed to spend more of the episode just explaining his entire life story. What they needed was for him to be a bit more active, especially towards the end.

    So yeah, not a great start to the season. But still, the rest of the episodes announced so far look promising, especially the Apple Family Reunion one towards the end. Possible good Applejack episode?

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  4. I think this opener has a much deeper meaning than you give credit to, in fact probably even all of FiM has a deeper meaning to it.

    Actually, I think there was a great moral to the opener, which to be honest I'm still trying to figure out how simplify into a single sentence. Nonetheless, it's an interesting twist on both episodes if you think about King Sombra and his "dark magic" as symbolic representations of depression, and Twilight's overcoming of it.

    For starters, the crystal ponies themselves. When Sombra was in power or has some presence around them, they become less shiny and have more of a foggy-texture to their characters. And by the way they interact, they are clearly depressed.

    Now, one implication towards this is the description Celestia gives early on about the Empire in the first episode. If I could represent Equestria as a single person, then her description of the Empire has a deeper meaning to it. She says, "If the Empire is filled with hope and love, those things are reflected across all of Equestria." So what's being said here is that if a person receives love and affection, that is what they will feel. But, "If hatred and fear take hold [then likewise]."

    The Empire itself could be seen as a heart, or a person's soul, if you will. Twilight is assigned to protect it, and I could digress another paragraph or two about this signification, but I won't. Instead I'll say that Twilight discovered the spark of friendship, there's the Elements of Harmony that go along with that, Twilight's special talent is magic but 'friendship is magic' and allow you to draw your own conclusions from that.

    Moving on to other examples of depression, there's the instance with the moving door that show's a pony's worst fear; this should be quite obvious as to how it relates. Twilight first tried to open the door using Sombra's "dark magic" and got that vision as a reward. Then she filled it with "hope and love" and that opened the door. I'm going to be cliche and say that Twilight just used a key (love) to open a door (door) to gain access to the heart (crystal heart).

    Lastly, there's when Twilight grabs for the actual Crystal Heart and becomes trapped. She's so mindset on following Celestia's order that she and she alone should accomplish the test, that she won't accept help when she absolutely needed it. And then, for the moral, she realizes that it would be better to fail a test than essentially destroy a kingdom.

    Now, I'm sure I just butchered a lot of what I tried to explain, but it's a problem of mine to get thoughts written down. But I do suggest you rewatch the episodes with the idea that King Sombra represents depression or some form of, and I believe for certain that there is a much deeper meaning to the two episodes that is being overlooked.

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    1. I really hope that isn't true. It would be the most insulting attempt to enshrine such a thing in metaphor that I'd know of.

      Luckily, I'm not terribly prone to being insulted, just disappointed.

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  5. The episode was not internally consistent, and that for me is one of the biggest failures of any story. After the big build-up by Celestia, the fact that it isn't Twilight at the end doesn't even get mentioned (beyond whether Twi should feel bad about it or not). Building drama only to ignore it when consequences are being handed out is the most laze-ass plot writing imaginable.

    My opinions of Celesyia have to change, frankly. Her personality seems to be a continuation from A Cantyerlot Wedding in ways that I really don't approve of. She's really starting to feel like a manipulative bitch, and while I could say that's just my opinion in terms of what's right or wrong, it stands out because that's clearly not the intention for a kid's show. No, clearly it is in fact more lazy plot-writing and character inconsistency.

    "Hey, Twilight, come here. There's this giant problem that we can't be bothered to sort out, but you can, and it has to be you or the entire world crashes to it's knees. No pressure. And no, of course there isn't some over-wrought prophecy we're trying to force here. That would make me some kind of manipulative bitch, right? I wouldn't do that, but it still has to be you..."

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    1. I love it, hahahaha. It validates and supports 'Dancing on Silver Strings'. :D

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    2. I'll have a response to that as soon as I decide on what I think DoSS is about.

      Don't wait up :P

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    3. Celestia? A manipulative bitch? She's been one of those since the first episode (although, it wasn't till I first watched "Dragonshy that I first noticed it and made a lunar republic supporter (more the republic part)).

      "Hmm, my sister is returning and so instead of doing it myself or finding six ready-made friends, I going to send my student, who has just sent a letter reminding me that she's coming back, to a backwater town and hope that she bonds immensely with five others less than a day and that they travel the dangerous woods to the castles location. No problems what so ever."

      "A single dragon is going cover all Equestria in ash. Better go send out on the Twilight and her friends to deal with it while I feed myself with cake."

      And so on and so forth. I think it can be agreed that monarchy just flat out sucks.

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    4. Ahh, but there was enough unsaid that it could go either way. The difference is that now you're getting to actually see that onscreen.

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  6. Well, it seems like everyone with a desire to analyze episodes has the same opinion on this one, myself included. You've mentioned a couple things I haven't seen anyone else talk about, though.

    Dash's part with Fluttershy was awful. Passive aggression is Fluttershy's shtick, not Rainbow's. She was quite honestly mocking Fluttershy there. The best part of that scene was the helmets designed to use a pony's own mane as their crest.

    It's notable that the crystal ponies have a completely different written script from what we've seen in Ponyville so far. I think the reason the mane cast couldn't find anything was their search methods, which as far as I can tell consisted of "grab random books".

    What should really bother you about that train: Why in the hell is there a rail line leading up into the frozen north and ending at a spot where there hasn't been anything whatsoever in a millennium?

    I rewatched the episodes again last night, and I just can't help but be thoroughly disappointed. Worst opener, worst two-parter, severely lackluster when taken in the entirety of the show so far, though hardly worst overall. I hope it's not indicative of season 3's direction.

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    1. She wasn't mocking Fluttershy! She was just too caught up in glorifying herself to give a second thought to how Fluttershy felt about the whole matter at all! Dash isn't cruel, just callous and insensitive.

      Also, the armour design was indeed neat, though having a big gap for one's mane seems to defeat the purpose of wearing protective gear in the first place...

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    2. Have you learned nothing from D&D, Chris? Helmets don't actually protect you (unless you're playing 1e, but nobody reads the rules anyways)

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  7. I've already written about the season premiere on my blog here (you'll have to scroll down to the last part, sorry). But in short order:

    Cons:
    Everyone felt like a caricature (not as bad as the last episode)
    King Sombero was a left over from G1 (at least he wasn't stupid, inconsistent in his actions, and he didn't sing)
    Celestia wins worst monarch award again
    Twilight is made more special to the point of ridiculous
    No Sea ponies
    Too much filler

    Pos:
    Better than the wedding (and personally, I felt it was better than the pilot)
    Spike

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    1. From now on, I am now going to call him 'King Sombrero'. Thanks for thinking that up, Bugs! He also reminded me of the bad guy from G1's 'Rescue at Midnight Castle'.

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    2. I'm not sure how you could fit a sea pony into a frozen setting, unless you were going to show a prehistoric one encased in ice or something. Which would be really neat, to be fair.

      Also, good to see you're back, Bugs!

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  8. Reading the reviewers here, I am shocked to find how negative everyone is about this the season premier. I find it ironic that people are ranting about how self-contradictory the characters are and not realizing how hypocritical they sound. I hope this blog doesn't turn into something like the old Simpsons review forums in the mid-1990s where everyone bitched about how horrible the episodes were because Krusty was supposed to be illiterate but was shown in a 1980s flashback reading notes off a card.

    Re Sombra: Chris has admitted admiration for Lord of the Rings. What about Sauron? For three books, a couple hundred pages, he and his forces were just evil. What was their motivation? Something about destroying Gondor and enslaving Middle Earth? Those books are obviously trash, since the main villain is so boring and one-dimensional.

    I can easily poke holes in any of the three good villains. Nightmare Moon, someone corrupted by jealousy and had to be defeated by the brave adventurer and her friends, sounds boring, like every other RPG out there. Discord turns everyone into opposite-versions of themselves, just another rip-off of Mirror Universe/Alternate Universe type stories, much too predictable. And the Queen of the Changelings (besides being a dementor knockoff), talk about plot holes! How she managed to infiltrate hundreds of changelings into Canterlot without anyone noticing? How did Cadence survive down in those caves for what appeared to be weeks or months without food? And didn't Cadence/Shining Armor essentially commit genocide by banishing all them, because with no more emotions to feed on, won't they wither and die?

    The thing is, I doubt any sort of villain short of Walter White would satisfy the posters here. If Sombra were, say, a Voldemort-like character who was an orphan and never received any love, I can already see the posters hating him for being another boring one-dimensional trope. If he believes that unicorns are the most powerful by birthright, then I'd see people screaming about how this is just an obvious moral about racism and bigotry. If he were an ex-pupil of Celestia who was a little too curious about dark magic and got corrupted and had to be defeated by the good pupil, wow, that's so lame, because isn't that just the other half of RPGs in the universe?

    Expressing dissatisfaction is easy. But at least Chris has the good sense to temper his disappointment with some positive comments for what was, I thought, a good MLP episode. MLP isn't an epic adventure fantasy, and I too agree those episodes don't stack up well to the "real" epic adventure fantasy stories. I think the best episodes are the small, intimate ones that explores one or more of the characters (Green is Your Color, Cutie Mark Chronicles, Luna Eclipsed). Nevertheless, I found this season opener to be plenty satisfying in comparison to the other season openers.

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    1. Other things:
      1. I find it hypocritical for Chris to complain that Sombra is a one-dimensional villain, but somehow is disappointed that Twilight Sparkle isn't a paragon of virtue. You can't both criticize Sombra for being without nuance and then complain that Twilight was out-of-character for doing one thing you didn't like.

      I thought, given the doorway-scene from earlier, it was pretty obvious that dark emotion-inducing magic was everywhere. Why shouldn't there be something like that as a final trap. We had despair and doubt earlier, why not pride here? Yes, there was no hint that this was the case, and I'm just making this up as I go along (unless the writers were really clever and really did intend this). I thought the writers could've gone the next logical step and, since this is a kid's show, just flat-out state that this final trap appeals to pride. Even Frodo succumbed to the influence of the Ring at the end, so give Twilight some credit here rather than calling her "sociopathic."

      2. A lot of reviewers here seem to expect Mad Men or Breaking Bad-levels of storytelling and characterization in what is a children's show. They seem to expect that the writers can somehow produce scripts with the most profound themes for sophisticated adults that still appeal to children. If this is the case, then it's likely that continuing to watch this show is pointless, because you'll just always be disappointed.

      3. The reviewer is bothered by translucent talking magical ponies, but not by the ordinary talking magical ponies? Because the translucence is just one step too far to allow for the suspension of disbelief.

      4. I too get annoyed when things are hinted at in an episode but there's no pay off for a long time. But I like them if these long-arcs are resolved in a decent amount of time. Personally I don't usually like shows with the monster-of-the-week, or in the case of MLP, lesson-of-the-week format, but the show is what it is. I like the Buffy-model of story-telling with season-long arcs. I'm not too worried that this will devolve into some sort of Lost-like mythology that takes forever to develop and, worse, makes less sense the more is revealed.

      The fact is, you can't have seasonal arcs without "portents" in earlier episodes. So if you find the foreshadowing-scenes disappointing, you'll probably find the arcs disappointing, and there's no other way around this. I prefer to judge any shows with arcs by watching the entire season, rather than any individual episode. To be fair, I agree MLP is a lesson-of-the-week show and probably shouldn't bother with seasonal arcs, but let's see how this works out. I like shows that are willing to take risks and try something different.

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    2. I haven't actually watched the episode, so I feel no particular need to defend it or decry it. However, some of the arguments expressed here are really hitting some serious logical flaws, which I totally will respond to.

      "Chris has admitted admiration for Lord of the Rings. What about Sauron? For three books, a couple hundred pages, he and his forces were just evil. What was their motivation? Something about destroying Gondor and enslaving Middle Earth? Those books are obviously trash, since the main villain is so boring and one-dimensional."

      First of all, expressing approval and love for a book, or for any form media does not mean that you approve of and love absolutely everything in that book or form of media. Liking a book does not mean that you think that it is above criticism. I love China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle, and it is my favourite series ever, but that does not mean I love it unconditionally. The subplot about moths in the first book was unwelcome, the prose was riddled with solecisms, and at some points I couldn't help but think, "Yes, Mieville, you're really into socialism*. I get it." I love them, they are my favourite books, and I may be blinded by my own love at times, but I am still well aware that they are not perfect.

      At no point was it ever said that Sauron was a rich and nuanced villain. In fact, the OP may very well believe that he is the shittiest villain he's ever seen, but still enjoys the book greatly despite this flaw. The logic here is: Person A likes x medium that has a weak villain. Person A thinks that the villain in y medium is a weak one. Person A is therefore wrong.

      This is a terrible argument! (The other stuff in that first comment is mostly valid, though.)

      Moving on to the second one:

      1. That is not hypocrisy! Urgh! That is literally not what the word means!

      hy·poc·ri·sy
         [hi-pok-ruh-see] Show IPA
      noun, plural hy·poc·ri·sies.
      1.
      a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
      2.
      a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
      3.
      an act or instance of hypocrisy.

      At the very best, it's a double standard. And yes, I'm being pedantic, but to accuse someone of hypocrisy is something that should never be done lightly. You have to be absolutely sure that this thing you're accusing them of is true. And despite that, the main issue didn't seem to be that Twilight was imperfect, but that the choice presented to her was not realistic and that the way she handled it made her seem sociopathic. Once again, I have not seen the episode so I can't comment on whether that is actually the case. (The fandom is more fun than the show!) There is a big difference between having a character flaw and appearing pathologically remorseless.

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    3. And,

      2. One dude once said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." I do not expect the writers of this show to produce Shakespeare (for one, they would never get that many dick jokes past the censors), but it is disparaging to say that a children's show cannot achieve profundity or themes that mean as much to adults as they do to children. Quite recently, there was an episode in Adventure Time (a show that derives a lot of its humour from being random) that struck a melancholy chord with many, many viewers; I don't want to spoil too much, but the theme had to do with the loss of a loved one (in a way that is not immediately physical, ie. death), being forgotten, and forgiveness. And it was all framed through the inherently silly universe of a show made for children. And if that's not convincing enough, then Avatar the Last Airbender was also a children's show. Its sequel might have been disappointing, but there was no doubt that the original touched on a lot of very adult things.

      In the same way that you cannot excuse a fanfic for being bad, simply because it's a fanfic, you cannot excuse a children's show for being bad, simply because it's a children's show.

      * Usually unrelated to the solecisms. :P

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    4. @Solastice: Always good to hear an alternate viewpoint; there are enough echo chambers on the internet already, lord knows. A couple of things I'd like to clarify, though:

      1) Re: Sombra, and villains in general: I have no problem with one-dimensional villains. Discord, after all, was expressly one-dimensional, nothing more or less than chaos personified (draconequified?). My issue was that Sombra had no obvious goals or motivations. Even something as simple as "With the power of the crystal heart, he could overthrow the princesses," or the like would have made him a much stronger villain. Any of the backgrounds you suggested I might have embraced or derided depending on how it was executed, but they all would have been a step up by virtue of simply giving Sombra a purpose. As for the other posters, I can't say, but I'm not asking for a full psychological profile on the guy; I just want something past a vague suggestion that he'll change the decor to black and some nebulous suggestion that slavery will be involved

      2) Again with Twi: I had no problem with the lesson, and could easily see it working in a lower-stakes setting. For example, what if Celestia summoned Twilight to Canterlot, told her that she (Celestia) and Luna were going on some diplomatic trip for a week, they were leaving Blueblood in charge of the kingdom, and then asked Twi to stay and help him (and follow his orders)? Then as the week goes on, Blueblood keeps having Twi do increasingly petty, vindictive things, until things reach a breaking point (say, some poor ponies come to the castle gates to beg for food, and he tells her to toss them in the dungeon for loitering), at which point she refuses to do as he says. Then Celestia shows up, lesson learned about using your own judgement instead of relying on dictates from royalty, etc.

      Same lesson, but Twi worrying about obeying orders vs. doing the right thing makes a lot more sense to me when the order in question will result in something less than the destruction of an empire and the enslavement of an entire race.

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    5. @Sessalisk: Uh..."Avatar" is in no way intended for remotely the same age group as FiM. There is a massive difference in what you can do with TV-Y7 (intended age, as given by the producers: 9-14) as opposed to TV-Y. ("Adventure Time" is apparently even worse, since it's rated TV-PG, but don't ask me to really comprehend your American rating system here.)

      I understand the complaints, but still, apples and oranges.

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    6. I apologize for using the word "hypocrisy" incorrectly when what I meant was that the OP was applying a "double standard." I'm glad that another poster clarified what I meant.

      Regarding Sombra, perhaps the show made a flaw of not expressly spelling out his motivation. I think that it doesn’t take a giant leap to realize that this guy Sombra's motivation was that he wanted power for the sake of power. Perhaps this is trite, but then again, so many dictators and strongmen in the real world are like that. Your Stalins, your Kim Jong Ils, your Robert Mugabes, they just want power for the sake of power. Now, I do agree he lacked the charisma of Discord and doesn't get any sympathy like Nightmare Moon and the Changeling Queen, so in that sense he is boring. I think this line of criticism can be justified. But I feel it is unfair to criticize his motivation because the show doesn't have Sombra literally say "Haha, with the power of the Crystal Heart I will rule over all of Equestria!"

      Perhaps I always read too much into things, but I think it is obvious that the traps set by Sombra are exactly like the "trials of the hero(ine)" common in fantasy stories. The first was the hidden staircase, a test of intellect. Then the doorway, a test that induces despair. Then the ascending staircase, a test of (magical) strength. At this point, our heroine must be feeling pretty good about overcoming all the previous challenges. So she’ll be plenty susceptible to the final, most insidious trap, a test of pride. For these trials to mean something, there has to be high stakes involved. Having the fate of Equestria depend on Twilight's humility is a very good lesson; I think it is one which most of our political leaders could learn! I think it is fair to argue that the execution of this sequence could've been better. However, I don't think it is necessary for each test to be concluded by Twilight saying something like, "I swallowed my pride and let Spike save Equestria, overcoming Sombra's final trap!"

      As for having high standards: What if the season opener were changed, like making Sombra a more interesting villain, or improving the trials of Twilight scenes, or any of the many suggestions posted? I'm getting the feeling that no matter what is changed, at best the general consensus here will be upgraded from “very disappointing” to “barely passable.”

      I'm not excusing bad shows or bad fanfics. I think, by the standards of the previous 40ish MLP episodes, or even most adult TV shows, this was a decent episode. Not every children's book can be Charlotte's Web. Sure, we should celebrate and treasure those works, but I hardly think we should condemn anything that doesn't achieve the very highest standards possible.

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    7. "but don't ask me to really comprehend your American rating system here."

      Hey, don't look at me. I'm not American either!

      And that particular argument would fall under the No True Scotsman fallacy. The first argument presented was "A children's show cannot be expected to be profound or sophisticated." Then the argument became "A children's show that is targeted to an even more specific demographic cannot be expected to be profound or sophisticated."

      And I could play along and start citing Ghibli films like Kiki's Delivery Service or Grave of the Fireflies (which was originally screened as a two-parter with My Neighbour Totoro, so yes, it was intended for small children), but then I suspect that the new criteria would be something like, "anime doesn't count", or "stuff by Studio Ghibli doesn't count", or "anything made overseas doesn't count".

      No matter what, a logical fallacy is still a logical fallacy.

      "Not every children's book can be Charlotte's Web. Sure, we should celebrate and treasure those works, but I hardly think we should condemn anything that doesn't achieve the very highest standards possible."

      There is a very big difference between condemning something and criticising it. I haven't seen much condemning here, but I have seen a lot of criticism. Personally, I think it's great when people analyze things for their flaws and strengths. It's educational, often enlightening, and it helps others to not make the same mistakes. It's only when criticism becomes unhelpful and overly negative that it gets into the territory where it would be unwanted. ie. When it turns into flames.

      And once again, I must quote Moff here:

      First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, "I'm going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible!" — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

      Now, that doesn't mean you have to think about a work of art. I don't know anyone who thinks every work they encounter ought to only be enjoyed through conscious, active analysis — or if I do, they're pretty annoying themselves. And I know many people who prefer not to think about much of what they consume, and with them I have no argument. I also have no argument with people who disagree with another person's thoughts about a work of art. That should go without saying. Finally, this should also go without saying, but since it apparently doesn't: Believe me, the person who is annoying you so much by thinking about the art? They have already considered your revolutionary "just enjoy it" strategy, because it is not actually revolutionary at all. It is the default state for most of humanity.

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    8. God I love Kiki's Delivery Service! That should probably go without saying, and isn't really relevant to the greater discussion, but I just had to announce my love for that film. If anyone here hasn't seen it, go do so now (that last clause looks funny)

      And for the love of all that is pony, make sure it's the 2010 version!

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    9. I actually really really like the 1998 English dub. It's not like I watched it when I was a kid and have fond memories of it (I didn't even see Kiki's Delivery Service until a few years ago). I usually prefer subs, and yes, it's kinda unfaithful, but omg. That I'm Gonna Fly song is so damn catchy. It's like crack in pop form.

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    10. I had intended to say that it is unreasonable to expect a children's show to be sophisticated or profound. I did not mean to say that a children's show cannot be sophisticated or profound. My point is that if you're going into every episode of MLP expecting Kiki's Delivery Service, it is extremely probable that you will be disappointed every time.

      For instance, I can go watch sitcoms today and expect the brilliance of the classic Simpsons. I can watch MLP and expect character development like Wesley Wyndam Pryce's journey from buffoon to badass. But if I have these expectations, then I'll just be disappointed almost every time. This is what I mean by unfair expectation. I'm not advocating blind, unthinking consumption. I'm saying perhaps we should temper our expectations, lest we devolve into the negative environment of the mid-90s Simpsons message boards. Chris at least has made it clear that his expectations were high beforehand, and even that those expectations may have been unreasonable.

      I also don't see how the "no true Scotsman" fallacy is appropriate here. Sessalisk mentioned that Avatar: The Last Airbender as an example of a children's show with more adult themes. This is absolutely true, but that is because it is allowed to depict a wider range of situations. Just one specific difference, Avatar allows for much more depiction of violence than MLP. On Avatar, characters fight one another, they get injured, some of them even die. Have we seen one instance of death in MLP? Even during the S2 finale, the most violent scene was the Mane Six fighting a bunch of changelings, and that was still pretty tame. Another difference is that Avatar is a more serialized show when compared with MLP. Sure, the difference between MLP and Avatar is much smaller than say the difference between MLP and Breaking Bad. But I still think MLP and Avatar are have clear, objective differences, and you cannot fairly expect same themes from both shows.

      To be clear, I think it is better to talk about clear stylistic and thematic differences between different shows. And as a consequence of those differences, we can have different expectations. It's just like serialized vs procedural shows. On the one extreme there's Breaking Bad, and in the middle there's Buffy, and on the other extreme you have CSI. And yes, the procedurals can have some small elements of serialization, and serialized shows can have some stand-alone plots. But on the whole, viewers do not watch CSI and expect elaborate multi-season plots and character development, while they do have that expectation for Breaking Bad.

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    11. See, I think Rouge no Dengon was far better, and more addicting. It's one of my favorite songs ever

      I prefer dubs myself, as Japanese voice acting tends to bug the Hell out of me

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    12. @ Oats

      That was an awesome song too, but yaagh! Every time I hear I'm Gonna Fly I feel like grabbing my broomstick and jumping off a roof (in a happy, I'm-delusional-and-think-I-can-actually-fly way, not a suicide way).

      @ Solatice

      A lot of people seem to think that a work can only be profound if it deals with "edgy" things like death, violence or sex. While those can be cool too, this show's true strength lies in how much depth it had in its characters without having to rely on that stuff. Really, it could look at some of the other themes that everyone could appreciate, like growing up, or coming to terms with who you are, or lost opportunities or something like that. In fact, it's already done so. (And actually, we have seen an instance of death on the show. Check out that Hearts and Hooves Day episode where the Cutie Mark Crusaders are singing. They totally crash some guy's funeral!)

      If you want yet another children's show with great writing, one that handled mature themes without needing to resort to violence (or be directed by Miyazaki), you only have to look as far as Nickelodeon's As Told by Ginger. It was slice of life, young female protagonist, no violence or death and lots and lots of feels. Or how about Hedgehog in the Fog. It's a silly short about a hedgehog getting lost in the fog while trying to bring raspberry jam to his friend, and it's full of more symbolism than an English teacher could shake a mallard cock at.

      (srsly. If anyone here thinks I gab too much about dicks and math, try and start up a conversation with me about cartoons. I will talk your ear off until we both die*.)

      There are lots and lots and lots of things that manage to be awesome without needing to be serialized, with lots of violence and death. Sure they're convenient ways to tug on peoples heartstrings, but they're not the only ways!

      As for the No True Scotsman fallacy, I'm probably going to have to reiterate:

      The first argument presented was "A children's show cannot be expected to be profound or sophisticated." Then the argument became "A children's show that is targeted to an even more specific demographic cannot be expected to be profound or sophisticated."

      By redefining the criteria to exclude the provided examples, and by saying that they're not really for kids in the same way that My Little Pony is for kids, this argument falls under the No True Scotsman fallacy. I have to admit, though, it might actually be closer to the Moving the Goalposts fallacy.

      * Me of dehydration, you of blood loss (from the ear that got talked off, of course).

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    13. I have no background in philosophy and have never taken such a class, so I have little knowledge of the specifics of logical fallacies. I have a background in physical science, where if you find evidence that contradicts your given theory, you modify your theory such that it fits the new evidence. In some cases, only a small refinement to the theory is needed, often by explaining why those exceptions exist. In other cases, this might necessitate abandoning most if not all of the framework of the theory.

      So unless I'm understanding this wrong, if the Scotsman fallacy is that you can never adjust your original assertion to exclude subsets, this logical fallacy would then apply to the scientific process. This does not sit well with me at all.

      What about this following exchange:
      Person A: All turkeys can't fly.
      Person B: Wild turkeys can fly.
      Person A: Oh right, wild turkeys can fly. But domesticated turkeys can't.

      (Although wild turkeys and domesticated turkeys are different subspecies. Wild turkeys are in fact very good flyers, so much so that Ben Franklin wanted the make the turkey America's national bird. I'm aware that some domesticated turkeys can fly short distances, especially when young, but I think the characteristics of flight versus non-flight is a good enough first approximation.)

      Is second statement by person A a logical fallacy? And just so it's not just because I'm using words incorrectly, how would you make it not a logical fallacy?

      I was not aware of the brief scene of the CMC crashing a funeral in Hearts and Hooves day, so I was wrong to imply that MLP had absolutely no reference to death. However, a few seconds of screentime of implied death on MLP are very different from Avatar, in which the series premiere establishes that the Fire Nation has been waging war for a hundred years.

      And I do agree that resorting to death or violence is a not always an interesting way of upping the stakes. I'm usually bored by most TV shows that resort to that to keep my interest. Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite shows, and most of it is just the characters sitting around talking and going through life. However, the original examples given are an episode Adventure Time that dealt with the loss of a loved one and Avatar: The Last Airbender, so those are the examples I responded to. The new examples like As Told by Ginger and Hedgehog in the fog are evidence I can accept as a appropriate, as long as they too are TV-Y shows.

      When I first started watching MLP I judged it not in relationship to the best of the best's children's stories, but rather, to the state of television in general. I consider myself a discriminating television viewer (or a snob, if you are less generous). I think the vast majority of television (children or adult) is unwatchable trash, and yet, to my surprise, I found myself enjoying this children's show about a bunch of talking ponies. Is it the greatest show ever? No. Did it produce an episode that I would hold up as a paragon of writing? No either. But even if MLP doesn't deserve an A+, I would be okay giving it an overall grade of B or maybe even a B+. That's the level of storytelling I expect. If there turns out that there will be A+ episode in season 3, fantastic, I'm all for that! But none of this changes my opinion that if you are expecting a complete knockout for every episode of season 3 of MLP, then you are almost certainly going to be disappointed.

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    14. On your turkey example the "No true Scottman" fallacy would actually work like this:

      Person A: Since all turkeys can't fly, why do they have wings?
      Person B: Wild turkeys can fly.
      Person A: Oh right, wild turkeys can fly. But these aren't the turkeys I am talking about.

      The idea is that, when making some generalization about a set of things and being provided a counter argument via an example that contradicts that generalization, you retrofit the initial set by removing the offending elements. That in itself wouldn't be a fallacy, merely an admission of a mistake. However, the fallacy comes when you still keep the whole argument based on that initial generalization, disregarding the counter examples that would disprove it.

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    15. @ Solastace

      Looks like Soge ninja-ed me to the punch, but anyway, he/she (sorry! I don't know your gender!) is correct. You can re-evaluate your original theory, but to use the re-evaluated theory as an assertion that the original theory remains true is a fallacy. The new theory is potentially true. The old theory is demonstratively false.

      In addition to that, asserting that contrary evidence is not valid because it does not meet increasingly-specific and changing criteria is often an attempt to discredit the counter-argument without providing convincing evidence against said counter-argument. Without even getting into the tricky issue of who has the burden of proof, the party that made the initial statement is then dismissing every counter-example with something that amounts to, "No, not good enough. It doesn't count because of my own arbitrary criteria, which I will not explain to you until after you provide the example so that I can discredit it."

      You'll have to keep in mind, though, that I'm an idiot who cuts up dead things for a living, and who thinks dick jokes are the best things ever. My credentials are slightly better than a cardboard box's.

      [btw, no one actually died in that Adventure Time episode (I'm pretty sure I specified that in the original post). There was still a tragic loss, but it was not a death, and not all loss is death.]

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  9. Wow, quite the interesting comments section we've got today. Can't say I'm surprised by everyone's opinions, though I enjoyed the episode myself. The pacing was a bit off, as usual for the two-parters, and the villain was underwhelming, but it wasn't nearly the disappointment I was expecting. Aside from his lack of activity - which was still more than Jaws, and that stupid shark still gets tons of love - I really don't see what's wrong with him. Power's motivation enough. It's not like he was trying to destroy the world or anything

    What I am surprised by is the problem so many have with Twilight's conflict. Upon first viewing, I had initially assumed Celestia had some reason why Twilight could be the only one to assist Cadence and Shining Armor, such as her relation to the the latter or her status as Bearer of the Element of Magic. I'd assumed Twilight thought the same and this was her source of conflict. She feared letting anyone help would ruin their chance of success, and took a gambit having Spike save the day. Of course, it all turned out to be an arbitrary restriction by Celestia, but Twilight didn't know that. And to think, I actually felt bad for Celestia after that scene with the door. Hopefully future episodes justify her actions

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    1. I think my problem is that we still don't know if it was an arbitrary decision by Celestia. It was said, and then pretty much ignored. I just can't see past that being a gaping plot hole (and no, the talk at the end with Celestia did not tackle the issue).

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  10. Forgot to add that I enjoyed the return to pony-like behavior. Season 2 reminded me of how demi-humans in D&D became little more than humans with different stats, and even lost that designator outside of Kalamar. Whatever happened to Elves not having souls?

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    1. Elves and half-orcs, thank you very much. Though half-elves get souls, oddly enough. I guess that compared to a human base, orcish genetic characteristics (is a soul a genetic characteristic? Let's say yes) are dominant and elven are recessive?

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    2. Or perhaps it's because orcish half-breeds are never born of love, or even purely of lust, but of one of the most heinous, vile actions a creature can make

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  11. I did enjoy this episode for the most part. The only real concerns I had were that of King Sombrero (thanks again, Bugs) and that the mane cast might be falling into caricatures too much. Sombra never really felt like much of a threat in the episode. He also had a pretty generic 'evil' design and was given no real motive for wanting to take over in the first place. Mind you, the presence of the 'evil' elements in the story made me think 'Is this even a little girls' show I'm watching any more?'. It'd probably do a good job of making the show appeal to boys.

    As for character cliches, I thought Pinkie Pie was pretty overdone with her physics bending and Twilight too with her love of books. Fluttershy and Rarity weren't as bad and AJ and Rainbow were even less so. I'm also starting to predict that future two parters might not be as good as the actual episodes. There's only so many times I can see the mane 6 save Equestria from an Ancient evil at the drop of a hat, after all. Oh, and the songs were a bit forgettable as well.

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  12. Two things really bothered me about this episode.

    First, that Celestia said Twilight had to do the task herself, when it didn't actually require that... unless Celestia meant that Twilight was the one who had to make the decision to choose the greater good. Either way, it implies Celestia knew how it would play out, and set up this little test that she or Luna could conceivably performed at the risk of the Crystal Empire.

    The other was the door that showed a character's greatest fear. What was the point? I guess just to keep an intruder occupied? She didn't have to face her fear and overcome it to pass. She just had to be jarred back out of the illusion, and she went on her merry way through the door. It was pointless.

    I did like the few bits of humor thrown in. I would call it a below-average episode but not among the ones I actually dislike.

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  13. My thoughts on the opening:
    - Beautiful counterpoint/harmony in the first chorus of "Crystal Fair"
    >>Props to whoever in the fandom decides to arrange this. I do not envy the task.
    >>Although Spike seemed to be singing with the chorus, I couldn't actually pick out his voice, which is strange since he's the only male voice there. Huh.
    - Rarity singing fagsdfasd
    - What was the Queen of the Crystal Empire doing babysitting foals in Equestria?
    - The first song showed Canterlot architecture/culture/urban geography beautifully
    - Fluttershy's voice seems to have changed for the worse.

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  14. You know, I'll say one thing that did NOT disappoint me:

    The commercial aspect was not played up as much as I thought it would be.

    The Crystal Fair song, heard out of context, really sounded to me like "buy crystal ponies". Cadence has already been established as nothing but a shill, so her becoming the Crystal Princess changes nothing. But I was really expecting things to get corporate and fast, and I don't think they actually surpassed A Canterlot Wedding in that respect. So kudos; I can pretend like story is still the driving force of this show.

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  15. Throughout season 2:

    I found myself rewriting various episodes to make them work in my head--adding a couple lines here, redirecting the focus of a scene there--but that was OK. The series didn't seem to really have a story editor after Renzetti left, so I imagine there wasn't anyone with the authority to tell the writers, "Let's run this through the word processor one more time."

    Then came the Canterlot wedding episodes, and to this day, I simply cannot get them to make sense. The way the biology of the changelings is described, for instance, how could they possibly survive in the wild? And not just the whole "trying to generate the love they feed on by attacking the city," but then not offering them a spot of redemption at the end by having Celestia try to explain to the Queen what love really is? It would take more rewriting than I have the strength for to pull the whole thing together.

    Compared to all that, then, I found these episodes largely unobjectionable. Yes, there were some things that caused question marks to appear above my head, but with the several points they left purposefully ambiguous--Luna's open hostility toward Twilight, and the little black book at the end of part two, for instance--I can tell myself that they're engaging in some slight multi-episode continuity, something Meghan McCarthy seemed to hint at during the Sunday writers' panel at Equestria L.A. last week.

    A literally vaporous villain and more than a little long--I almost think it could've been tightened into a jaw-droppingly fine 22 minute episode--but the main point about forcing Twilight into a situation where she has to let go of her need to control everything around her came through for me very nicely. So I remain quietly optimistic about the upcoming season.

    Mike

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    1. You could probably do a 22-minute episode if you cut out the parts involving the rest of the Mane 6. Their roles are largely parallel to the main plot - Twilight gets the MacGuffin to defeat the Villain and prove herself. It would be an interesting editing job actually, and perfectly feasible with the existing footage.

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    2. "Luna's open hostility toward Twilight"

      I've seen several people mention this, but I can't see any hint of hostility towards Twilight from Luna. Sadly, Xyro's upload has been pulled now, so I can't check again, but I just don't see any hostility at all.

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    3. It wouldn't be the first time:

      My imagination has run away with me, but since the Hub's website seem to have the whole first episode up for viewing, give a look at the moment when Twilight enters the throne room. Luna's just leaving, and the look she gives Twilight, well, I can only call it "the stank eye."

      And again, after Celestia gives Twilight her assignment and the two of them are leaving the throne room, Luna's waiting outside in the corridor wearing an expression of severe disapproval.

      Mike

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    4. Eh, not working for me, but if it's that face that you're talking about, I don't think that was the emotion at all. One of the reasons I liked that look is because you can't tell what the emotion behind it is. That said, the one thing I am certain of is that it's not hostility. My instinct was closer to fear and doubt, as if Lune wanted to tell Twilight what was going on, but has been told not to. Could be many things though.

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    5. I agree with Inquisitor on this one. At the very least, Luna doesn't know Twilight the way Celestia does and doesn't have her sister's confidence. The look says, "Why is she going when I could easily solve this problem?" It's not anger directed at Twilight, but at her sister's scheming.

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    6. As you say, InqM:

      The best part about all this is that we can be having a conversation about the meaning of a look that passes between two cartoon ponies. :)

      I'm not heavily invested in my interpretation, though, and will happily cede the argument.

      Mike Again

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  16. Ignoring other gripes with the episode, I think that they did a good job in establishing the Crystal Empire as something that exists, is separate from Equestria, but still has some kind of connection with it.

    However, I find interesting how none of these supposedly 1000 year old Crystal Ponies talk in Ye Olde English like Luna. It only lends more credibility to Trollestia theories.

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    1. I found it interesting:

      That the Crystal Ponies were all earth ponies--not a pegasus nor a unicorn among them. So was Sombra an outsider who took over? Or is it only royalty in the Empire who get horns and such?

      And what's the connection between the disappearance of the Crystal Empire 1,000 years ago and Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon, two events that must've happened at nearly the same time? Was it Luna's restoration that triggered the Crystal Empire to return?

      The writer in me is very happy about all this fic fodder even though I'm halfway through one serial right now and have two others in the planning stages.

      Mike

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  17. Well, I for one really liked it. Maybe I'm just being a lazy analyst, but not a whole lot bothered me beyond lack of characterization for Sombra... and really, unless we want to go back to G1, where tons of expository garbage is dumped in our laps within the ten minutes or so they have to say it and fit in a good story besides, we really can't expect a show much better than this. Sombra wasn't really characterized because he wasn't particularly essential to the story; that is and always has been what Twilight and her friends do to solve the problem. I don't want them giving even a single line to a villain if it's just to toss out a somewhat good motivation. I'll just come up with that on my own.

    I do agree that I think the strength of the show came from its smaller focus and slice of life episodes though. But by the same token I doubt the show is actually moving away from that like some people seemed to fear - the two parters are the only ones that go halfway towards an "epic" scale.

    As for Celestia being manipulative, I kind of just accepted that from the get-go and rather like her more as a character for it. She doesn't have god-like powers that solve everything, but she does have her faith and wits and a little bit of string-pulling to get the job done. There's really *no way* you can relieve the pressure of having to save an entire country from an evil wizard, Twilight would have been in a tight spot regardless of what Celestia's orders were. And really, it's probably a good thing Celestia was testing Twilight's sociopathy in a situation that dire! I wouldn't want someone ruling over me who could at any moment turn on the kingdom just because they were under orders to, but Twilight showed she was strong enough not to, and that's something a lot of people can be vulnerable to and need to learn to guard against.

    ANYWAY, this came out a lot longer than I thought. I liked the episodes and look forward to the rest.

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    1. ^ The javascript works now, so I don't need to reply at the bottom anymore! :D

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  19. Chris, I agree whole-heartedly on all counts. It's hilarious that Sombra is /literally/ without substance. He's just a bad photocopy of Aku. The readers defending it here would have screamed bloody murder if I'd posted the same story as a fan-fiction: "Why do you hate Twilight so much, to show her as such a sociopath? When did Luna learn to speak? Why do you hate Rainbow and Rarity? Why are Celestia and Luna so useless? Why would Celestia risk the lives of two empires to give her student a test?"

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    1. As a corollary:

      To the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction, I'll propose "Canon is stranger than fanfiction."

      Mike

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