Monday, February 4, 2013

MLP is Changing, and I'm Not Sure I Like Where it's Heading

Rambling time!  Let's start with the two obvious questions: no, this isn't about Twilight's soon-to-be sprouting wings and princesshood (at least, not directly), and no, this isn't my way of announcing that I'm leaving the fandom forever because the show/the fandom ruined everything for me (culminating in a return 7-14 days later, if the example set by other fans is anything to go by).  To find out what I am talking about, hop below the break.

Lots of people got into FiM for a lot of reasons.  Mine is a pretty typical story: back in January '11, I saw a bunch of pony pictures posted on an RPG forum that I used to visit, they eventually piqued my interest, I followed the pictures back to 4chan's /co/ board, and from there was linked to the episodes.  By the end of that week, I was watching Winter Wrap-Up on a live stream as it aired, and the rest is history.  

But what about the show, specifically, made me stick around?

Well, there's been some nice music in the series, but I wasn't really sold on that aspect of the show until I saw Winter Wrap-Up, and by the time I'd made it ten episodes in I was already hooked.  There's some great humor, sure, but I could say that about a lot of cartoons that I don't have any real interest in.  There's something to be said for the rebellious satisfaction of freely enjoying something that isn't "manly," but that's a tangential pleasure at best.  And it's true that the presence of a large, vibrant fandom full of spots which foster and encourage in-depth discussion of the show, its setting, its characters, and so forth is a draw, but that's not what pulled me in initially.

For me, and I suspect for many other adult fans, FiM had a definite nostalgia factor.  And in this case, I can trace it back to one particular show: The World of David the Gnome.  You see, I didn't watch much TV as a kid, partly because I was more of a reader anyway and partly because my parents didn't particularly want my brother or me to be watching violent cartoons, which ruled out a lot of stuff like Transformers, GI Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which were popular at the time.  But David and his eco-friendly brand of pacifism were kosher, and I liked the show, so I ended up getting a healthy dose of it.

(On a semi-related note, I could watch this Gnome theme/MLP mashup all day)

Anyway, David the Gnome pretty much set my internal standard for what a children's cartoon should be, and since there aren't a lot of children's cartoons that are anything like it these days (and because I am a healthy, normal adult, or at least I like to imagine I am), I don't watch a lot of children's cartoons.  But when I saw the first few episodes of FiM, I was immediately struck by a few things which the two shows had in common.  First off, both were unironically, unambiguously, and unpatronizingly sincere purveyors of simple, some would say naive, truths: that strength and brutality are no match for wits and cooperation, that friendship and love are stronger than malice and greed, that even our enemies need not be despised, and that we should deal with them with as much kindness as the situation permits, and so on.  Some may say such things are corny, but the genuine way in which both shows presented those morals without talking down to viewers is deeply satisfying to me.  Maybe I just yearn for reassurance that the world is simpler than we sometimes make it?  I'm not about to start psychoanalyzing myself, but that's a big part of the appeal to me.

The other thing which struck me right away was how clean and, to me, aesthetically pleasing the animation was.  Now, I'm no student of cartoonography, but it seems to me that sometime in the 90's or 00's, the vast majority of children's cartoons began moving away from the clean, consistent character designs, warm color palates, and detailed backgrounds which I remember the cartoons from my childhood having (then again, Hanna Barbera was churning out visually unappealing garbage long before I was born, so perhaps that's the rose-tinted goggles speaking).  In any case, it goes without saying that David the Gnome and FiM have very little in common design-wise, but what they do share is an unaggressive, welcoming aesthetic which largely eschews visual gross-out gags and deliberate ugliness.  In terms of appearance, they are the anti-Spongebob, if you will.

Now we're near the end of Season Three, and as I look at what we were given this season, I find myself wondering if the things that drew me to the show in the first place are in danger.  Visually, I've had a number of problems with the most recent episodes.  Intentional grotesqueness like Pinkie sprouting fingers in Too Many Pinkie Pies, or the stylistic shift of the Timber Wolves in Spike at Your Service, simply don't appeal to me.  And while episodes like Keep Calm and Flutter On and One Bad Apple may have wholesome morals (if taken at face value, at least), they lack the clean simplicity of my favorite episodes, and of the ones that drew me in in the first place.  Sure, there have been some episodes I've enjoyed this season, and there've been some from the last two seasons that I really disliked, but I'd be hard pressed to name any episode this season that I really loved.

I'm not trying to say that MLP sucks now.  I'm not even trying to say it's getting worse--or at least, I'm not trying to say that it's getting objectively worse.  But I feel like the show is changing, and I feel like the ways in which it's changing may threaten the things about it which made me start watching in the first place.

David the Gnome has a special place in my heart.  Come whatever may with the rest of this season, come whatever may in season four and beyond, FiM will, too.  You don't spend more than a year blogging about a show and the fanfics it inspires without forming some sense of attachment, after all.  But is this a series I'll continue to enjoy for years to come, or will I look back on it in the not-too-distant future and say "Boy, it's too bad they didn't quit after two seasons?"  Will I still enjoy the show in coming seasons, or will it become just another Star Wars, each new release and re-release inspiring not excitement, but dread?

I don't know.

39 comments:

  1. I give it ten seconds before someone brings up Alicorn Twilight.

    One of the things that has constantly plagued FiM is the staff turnover. Faust left after the first season, and I've heard conflicting things about Renzetti. (Some say he stayed until all the Season 2 scripts were ready and left, while others say he cut out when Lauren did and the show went without an editor.) And with Season 3, you have a former writer taking over as editor, several key writers being pulled to Care Bears and especially Littlest Pet Shop, and a shortened season.

    I think what I'm saying is that all three seasons lack a real consistent feel, which in turn affects the fanbase. We all tune into FiM because we want to be entertained, but what we find enjoyable can differ wildly. Some like simple slice-of-life, while others enjoy exotic adventures. Some prefer slapstick comedy, while others would much rather have character interaction. And when those needs are not met, discontent rises.

    Personally, I got into the show towards the end of the first season, but I always preferred the second. It just felt like everything was coming together then, even with a few warts like MMDW and CP. As for Season Three, I generally enjoy most of it, but the duds here hurt a lot worse than they did in previous years.

    Still, Sleepless in Ponyville is one of my favorite episodes of the entire show, JFS and WA were both great, and I generally liked MD and TMPP. The only episode I can say I honestly hated was SaYS, but I would still rate it above MMDW and OaB. And I love acronyms.

    I know I'm in the distinct minority, but I don't see the show going downhill just yet. We're in the middle of an adjustment period, where new writers will come and go while the dust settles. There's already indications that a fourth season has been ordered and is in production, and given the time frame we've been able to dig up, there's a chance it'll be another full season. And I would bring up the finale, but that would just reduce this blog to a pile of rubble, so I'll let someone else remove that Seal of the Apocalypse.

    Now let's hear everyone cry about pandering and selling out and the betrayal of Saint Faust's vision. By this point, I've become almost numb to it.

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    1. I don't think the show is going downhill--or at least, I'm not ready to say that yet. What I am beginning to fear is that the direction it's going in. That direction seems like it will abandon elements which I place a premium on in favor of elements that are far less important to me in a cartoon (or at least, in this cartoon).

      Or maybe that won't come to pass. Or maybe there'll be a new show director for season four, who will move the show towards the tone and style that drew me in in the first place. Either way, I suspect that will be largely independent of whether or not the show gets better or worse.

      I have a friend who loves a cartoon called "Phineas and Ferb." I watched a few episodes with him. It was pretty good. I didn't like it, mostly because it was smugly self-aware and the blocky, unnatural-looking animation didn't appeal to me (also, one of the characters had a voice that really grated on me; I could also have mentioned that above. It's the reason I've never gotten into shows like The Simpsons or Family Guy: Marge and Loise's voices are just painfully raspy and sickly-sounding, and I find them uncomfortable to listen to. FiM, thankfully, doesn't have any similarly unpleasant voices in its main cast. But that's neither here nor there, and this aside is getting pretty unwieldy, so I'm gonna go ahead and get back to my original point). I hope that FiM retains the quality which, for me, separate it from P&F, but only time will tell.

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  2. I suppose I agree with Mr. AuthorHere's point about the seasons lacking a consistent feel. And indeed I can perceive a change as well.

    In any case I have the feeling that we'll see the phrase "jumped the shark" being thrown around a lot. If it hasn't been already. I haven't been paying much attention.

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  3. While I can certainly see from where this opinion comes from, I can't say I agree with it. So far, I believe this is the most consistent season of the show, with even the biggest dud (SaYS) having some of the best character based humor the show has done — and I am a sucker for this kind of humor. The animation is better, the music is about as good as season 2 (despite the lack of any stand out songs so far), and they are taking more chances
    with the visuals (especially in MD).

    I think the biggest issue is that there is a lot of stuff that they could do in Season 1 that they can't do anymore now, and that is episodes where the mane 6 get to know each other better. At season 1 they are basically strangers that became friends - except for some ponies such as Rarity and Fluttershy. From that we get stuff such as Fair Weather Friends, Look Before you Sleep, or The Cutie Mark Chronicles.

    Season 2 has a lot less of this kind of episode, but having them would be strange, since they should know each other better. Instead, there are lot more episodes focused on ironing out character flaws. MMDW, Lesson Zero, A Friend in Deed, etc. Sure, they had those in the first season (Applebuck Season is the prime example), but there is a more definite focus on this here.

    This leaves Season 3 with a lot less options. They could rehash lessons, but those episodes tend to few stale. They could also pull some new . The remaining option are what you get with the episodes in this season, where you put the pony in a new environment, and they have to apply the lessons they learned before. Indeed, the only episode where this doesn't happen this season is actually SaYS.

    In light of this, I think that changing the group dynamics — via Twilight Princess — is actually a good idea. This way they can have a fresh season 4, with brand new character interactions.

    TL,DR: My faith in the writers is still strong, 6 seasons and a movie.

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  4. Season 1 has the overall best writing making for the best individual episodes.
    Season 2 has the overall best lore and story, but the individual episodes were hit or miss.
    Season 3 is doing something better than the other 2 though. Continuity cohesion. Unlike the previous season the episodes (other than Magic Duel depicting a less magically advanced Twilight) show solid order, progression, callbacks and foreshadowing, making the overall season feel far less disjointed than previous ones.

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  5. Y'all need to quit with the acronyms -_-

    Chris, I really thought you were older for some reason. David the Gnome and TMNT were shows I grew up with, though they were made shortly before I was born. Are you at all familiar with Maya the Honey Bee?

    Both the show and fandom are changing, but it's a mixture of good and bad. Season 3's been surprisingly good so far, after a jumpy start. I was really worried about the new writer, but she's been marvelous and I wish we'd had her in Season 1. I definitely agree with you on the nostalgia factor. I joined after the first season had already ended, and many of the videos I found were those early ones with washed out colors, so it was a bit like discovering an old show I'd somehow missed. I miss the adventure of those earlier days (I say as though it were that long ago)

    I had some other stuff I wanted to say, but I completely lost my train of thought. I'm stuck on that idea of adventure now. This whole thing with Twilight is something I never wanted (I don't know anyone who did, which is why I'm confused when people say it's pandering), nor did I expect it. It's causing quite a stir, and I can't really say what's going to happen. And that's kind of exciting. So thanks, Chris & Co., for giving me some much needed perspective. I'm ready to delve into the unknown with my 11' pole! :D

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    1. I looked up Maya the Honey Bee, and I'm pretty sure I missed it by more than a couple of years. Keep in mind that David the Gnome aired for the better part of a decade, and that I remember watching it around first grade.

      That said, I'm not that old, despite the impression I apparently impart from my writing (and not just to you). Older than the average pony fan, sure, but hardly a wizened scholar of fanfiction. Heck, I'm not even (quite) thirty yet!

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    2. On her blog Tabitha St. Germain says she is working on a new version of Maya. And so the world comes full circle.

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    3. I knew Andrea Libman was, but not Tabitha. I'm kinda excited, even though the screenshots I've seen look terrible

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  6. Being the only member of my social circles which actively participates in what I like to think as the American side of the Internet (99% of my friends have never heard of 4chan), there was not much stigma for or against watching MLP. As a result, I don't feel the need to defend myself even remotely, and conversely, I haven't needed to think about why I like the show.

    Giving it some thought, I really am one of those people who watch it for the irony, but also because I've grown attached to the characters. Kinda like playing Dawn of Mana to the end because you want to find out what happens, despite the somewhat wonky physics systems, sometimes frustrating puzzles, and unattainable bonuses. Or insisting on watching a less cynical, more depressing season of House.

    You've come up with some valid, thoughtful points based on a defined set of likes/dislikes. But for me, I just watch it to fill up my free time, and unless it's notoriously bad like SaYS, I don't really mind.

    tl;dr casual here. =s

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  7. This season has been weird, to me. They've gotten a lot of little details right (episode continuity, things in the background, etc), but the main episode storylines have had a much worse hit/miss ratio than in previous seasons. SaYS is terrible by absolutely any measure, but even throwing out that outlier there were a lot of episodes where at the end I kind of shrugged and wondered why I'd waited all week for it.

    The biggest concern I have going forward isn't Alicorn Twilight herself, but what she represents. I've heard from friends more connected to things that Hasbro has been much more actively involved lately, doing things like rejecting designs for WeLoveFine that in the past were acceptable (even retroactively removing approvals in some cases). If we're getting Alicorn Twilight because the toy department decided they wanted to sell another round of insultingly awful princess toys, then the show is at the mercy of the toy department and in the long run that'll inevitably lead to bad outcomes.

    OTOH, if it was the writers idea in order to progress the show (as was suggested here), then maybe we're in the clear and set up for a resurgent season 4. Who knows. I want to see what they do with it before making any judgements.

    As for Season 3... it's largely forgettable.

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  8. I grew up on David the Gnome too, and Professor, I even remember Maya the Bee as well. Chris, I thought you eloquently explained how the sweetness of the first season seems to be slowly being replaced by something more self-conscious and worldly. On the other hand, the show has always been more hip and aware and "American" (even though it's Canadian) than David than foreign cartoons like David or Maya that explicitly deal with adult issues and express a specific philosophical point of a view that is consistent throughout the series. I do miss the sweetness of Season 1, though, and the delight I felt at all the new places and concepts introduced in Season 2. Season 3 just hasn't been as magical for me, and at least in the case of Wonderbolt Academy and Flutter On, I just strongly dislike those episodes. I'm still willing to stick out the expected upcoming full season and possible made-for-tv movie, though, because I do feel real affection for the characters and the world they inhabit, and there are almost always little gems to pick out even in more disappointing recent episodes. At least for now I can't stay mad at Friendship is Magic for long, even when I feel let down.

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  9. Interesting points all, and it is worth noting what was said above about each season's strong points in DPV111's comment. Yes, season 3 is the first that really had much of a continuity, though there were nice touches of that in season 1 as well, with the cutie mark and gala arcs.

    Many fans have changed along with the show, I suppose, and I'm not going to dig up some numbers about how many new viewers each season has brought, but I find it curious to see what it was that brought fans to the show in the first place, particularly with DPV111's points in mind.

    I found the show between the first two seasons, so my first impression was of season 1. There are a couple of competing factors here: which season matches a viewer's individual tastes better versus which season the individual saw first.

    Certainly, someone who saw S1 from the beginning might have been overjoyed with S3 because that tighter show-to-show continuity really meshed with his preferences. Conversely, someone might always prefer the first season he saw because that was when everything was fresh and new, and anything subsequent was just more of the same that lost a little more of its luster each time.

    I can't really say which camp I fall into, because I prefer season 1 on both counts. I'll address the latter first, because it's simpler. This is the same reason I enjoyed the first two Harry Potter movies more than any others. There was that new sense of wonder and amazement, everything was an unexpected delight, and a kind of fun I'd never seen before. Certainly this viewpoint is colored by the fact that I hadn't read any of the book beforehand. But the rest of the movies felt more ho-hum to me, with the occasional neat detail thrown in, but with nothing fundamentally new to offer. And so goes the slow decline, and that's how I feel about MLP as well, though like with Harry Potter, worse doesn't mean bad.

    On the former, I flat-out enjoyed the simple, innocent feel of season 1, with its weekly friendship lessons delivered in a straightforward manner, not as a lecture, but as a discovery process. And more of the episodes dealt with the light day-to-day life than with some weighty problem or threat. That feel is obviously impossible to maintain as the characters get to know each other better and the well of possible lessons runs dry. So it was inevitable that that era would come to an end, but I am sad to see it go.

    I'm not going to comment on Twilicorn any more than to say such an abrupt shift in interpersonal dynamics will be difficult to pull off well. As to other future possibilities--Blueshift wrote a nice, long blog post about some possibilities with an eye toward the history of how merchandising has affected the development of similar toy-centric shows. I'd link it here, but I can't access that site at work to grab the URL--maybe some other enterprising soul might do so. He's suggested a complete cast swap (ugh), a change of venue (meh), or regularly cycling in background or new characters to be the main focus of episodes (could be interesting).

    From a music perspective, I agree with Chris that the most memorable ones tended to be the earlier ones for me, but I look at those more differently than most fans. As a self-avowed music snob, I prefer songs that are musically complex, yet are primary plot drivers instead of incidental things. My favorites in that regard are "Winter Wrap Up," "At the Gala," "The Art of the Dress," and "Find a Pet." I'll give "This Day Aria" an honorable mention on both counts as well, but I just couldn't stomach that episode.

    I'm in it for the long haul. I'm just not sure whether I prefer the American method of running a show long past its shelf life or the British method of cutting it while it's still in its prime. Both make me tear my hair out.

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    1. Blueshift needs to be Hasbro's CEO, with the caveat that he's not allowed to mess with Applejack. Also, they need to push an Applejack and Bloomberg toy set

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    2. Scratch mah back Applejack would outsell Tickle me Elmo.

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    3. I don't doubt Blueshift's business sense, but my immediate impression upon reading through his suggestions was "there's no way I'd ever want to watch that show." Followed immediately by "Is that was being a Transformers fan is like? How do they put up with it?" It all sounds like one giant exercise in turning a bunch of 6-12 episode mini-series into a continuous show by removing anything which would have made those hypothetical mini-series interesting or unique, and replacing that with palate-swapped versions of someone else's vision.

      Maybe I'm just being cynical. Those, however, were my first thoughts.

      Also, Pascoite, you and I seem to have very similar musical taste (which I guess isn't a huge surprise). Find a Pet is my favorite song to date, but Winter Wrap-Up is special to me by virtue of being the song that sold me on the show's musical chops.

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    4. I'll never understand Find a Pet's popularity. It's too Andrew Lloyd Webber for my tastes, though I love the "yellow-striped bat" line. Art of the Dress is far superior

      Considering the popularity of background ponies, I imagine quite a few fans would enjoy seeing them get more screen-time as Blueshift suggests, though accusations of "panda throwing" would likely be hurled about

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    5. I started off at the end of season 1. I've found season 3 to be almost as enjoyable, and far better than season 2, and I think the minor efforts at continuity that you point out have helped a lot. I don't even demand season-long arcs, of the sort where you can't watch the episodes out of order without losing track of the plot, but stuff like the Gala arc in season 1 was great. Just tiny bits of arc like that are perfect for a show like MLP.

      Blueshift understands that the purpose of the show, however good it may be, is to sell toys, and that Hasbro is cocking things up by not keeping the toys and the show close enough together. I loved seeing Blossomforth in Hurricane Fluttershy because I love her toy (though I still need one ;_; ). A few characters have made the jump from screen to plastic, but it's precious few, really. The blind bag three-packs have helped. If you're a big toy company with a big show meant to sell your toys, you could do worse than listen to what Blueshift is suggesting. (Things are different if you're a fan looking for a good cartoon with good characters, etc...)

      As an aside, speaking as a Transformers fan... You live. :V But then, none of the shows have ever been about good characters, good plot, etc., Beast Wars being the unexpected standout, and even that started to suck in season 3. But really, it's all about the toys. I just bought the exact same toy recently because they put fucking spikes on it. SPIKES. That's it. And they get in the way of transforming the damn thing anyway!

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    6. Yessss someone else who doesn't like Find a Pet (and somehow posted before me!) Admittedly, I like Webber, but yes, I thought it was too musical-y, all over the place, not enough time to build on the good parts (mostly Fluttershy's bouncy adorableness), and far, far too many asides.

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    7. I loved Beast Wars as a kid! I vaguely remember seeing the original series before that, but Beast Wars was the version I really watched, and the one that got me to buy the toys. Forget a gun, that Megatron turned into a T-Rex! Villains like him were always my favorite characters at that age

      Maybe what MLP needs is more transformations. I mean, it worked for DBZ. Twilight goes alicorn, Fluttershy becomes a dragon, Rarity... I dunno, a gun? I got nothin' for the others

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    8. I love Find a Pet! Seems like it's been the hardest to remix for the fandom's musicians though. Foozogs is the only one that did a version I liked, but good lord do I pop for it :)

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  10. MLP fandom is changing and I'm sure I don't like where it's heading.

    This is just about the only fan site where I read the comments anymore. I still love the show, despite occasional less-than-stellar episodes, and I enjoy talking (communicating) about it... or did until lately. It's not just the sudden, unbelievable intense Twilicorn firestorm. I think that fan "appreciation" has been taking a gradually more negative tone as time passes.

    And... yeah, I just had the impulse to give a tentative thumbs-up to Twilight earning a princesshood... and had a visceral reaction to my immediate assumption of what the replies were going to be like.

    Even here. Really, I came very close to just deleting this whole post.

    Well, I still enjoy the show and some fan art and fics. I guess I should stick to that.

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    1. Sadly, I have to agree about the fandom. I keep a fairly active blog on Fimfiction, and about half the posts lately have been trying to calm down fires and tell people to stop freaking out.

      There are a lot of causes, but here's a few I can think of:

      - Fans are terrified. Ever since Faust left in the first season, there have been scores of fans looking for any sign of decline and chalking it up to the current staff not getting Lauren's glorious vision.

      - Fans don't trust Hasbro. And admittedly, Hasbro hasn't exactly been the nicest company to its franchises, as any Transformers fan will attest to. But at the same time, there seems to be this blind panic to anything that might imply that Hasbro's marketing department now runs the show, despite it always running the show.

      - We've become a huge fandom over the years, apparently producing more fan content than many much older franchises could dream of. This means that you're going to get angry, vocal fans from time to time. And sometimes, they just drown out the saner voices.

      - People fear change. That's really the heart of the Alicorn Twilight firestorm. People are afraid that it'll completely alter the show for the worst.

      I can share your frustration. It's hard just trying to discuss how much you enjoy the show when everyone is busy banging their heads against the walls. Hell, I went through an incredibly depressing (for me) falling out with Chad Rocco (the "Familiar Faces" guy who did a retrospective on the franchise, and who I loved to watch) after he made some incredibly stupid arguments against Season 3 and called a fan who disagreed a "little girl" on twitter.

      Unfortunately, it is just the nature of the beast. Bronies are just like any other fandom, and you will have some bad apples that spoil the bunch.

      And you know what? I'll throw my support behind you on Princess Twilight. If the writers pull this off, it could breathe a lot of new life into the series and create plenty of new possibilities for even better episodes in the future.

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    2. I second your feeling about CR. I love his stuff, and he is the reason I started watching MLP, but his recent comments about Season 3 has been depressing to say the least.

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    2. I don't see myself leaving the show over some decline. Or silly marketing ploy. Or vitriolic fandom. Even the episodes I like the least have redeeming moments and entertainment value. And nothing that comes ahead can erase what came before. So even if I lose interest in the show, there's still a draw to the fandom. I'd just be a fan of what was rather than what is.

      "There are doors I haven't opened and windows I haven't looked through. Going forward may not be the answer, maybe I should go back."

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    3. I love the idea of MLP grognards/genwunners

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    4. Ooooh, Ultrasonic Sound reference. Unexpected.

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    5. Inquisitor, how can I contact you to discuss the plushie? I don't think Chris needs me cluttering his blog anymore than I already do. As far as I know, you can't send messages on Blogger, and I can't send messages or post comments on FiMFiction without an account

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    6. InquisitorM on Fimfiction or inquisitor.M@hotmail.com

      Make your pitch :)

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    7. Nopony expects the drum & bass inquisition!

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  12. I think InsertAuthorHere nailed it. Season 3's episodes have been pretty hit or miss, but I don't see it as a sign of a decline, but a consequence of things going on behind the scenes.

    I thought the first half of season 1 was relatively weak compared to what came later. Which makes sense, because these were the episodes where the characters were getting to know each other. Watching those, I get the sense that the writers were finding their legs and trying to find a good pace. And with the last half of season 1, they found that good pace.

    Season 2 I think was the strongest. Even with Faust gone, the writers had settled into a comfortable pace and were able to churn out one great episode after another. There were a few duds, but all in all the writing was very strong.

    Then you get to season 3, where the number of episodes gets cut and you have a shake-up of the writing staff. So now the writers find themselves in a period of transition, and are trying to adjust. Some have done so gracefully, with really solid episodes like Sleepless in Ponyville and Just for Sidekicks, but others haven't found their pace, so you get those duds. And because there's fewer episodes this season, those duds hurt harder.

    All in all, I remain optimistic. If the show continues into a fourth season, then there's a chance the writers who struggled with this season will find their pace again next season and give us a really strong season once again.

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  13. This post mirrors a lot of my own apprehensions that I've been feeling since the start of Season 3, especially regarding the alicorn Twilight business (about which, more in a sec). I've felt a lot like something was missing from this season, almost from the outset. Maybe it's that the season isn't fresh and new, as others have suggested. Soge in particular raised a really interesting point about looking at the first two seasons in terms of being about different sorts of things, leaving this season without the ability to draw on either the "newness" of season 1 or the "ironing out character flaws" in season 2.

    That being said, I think my biggest gripe is that the show does feel like it's cutting itself off from "ironing out character flaws." To me, coming in 75% of the way through Season 2, back-and-forthing it through the rest of S2, then watching S1 in order, the show has always been about those character arcs. Even in the weaker, early episodes of Season 1, Twilight is one of my favorite cartoon leads, because she struggles with basic issues but as a very intelligent person. I'm not a big fan of Boast Busters, for instance, but having Twilight spend the episode refusing to stand up for her friends, because she feared that displaying her talents would brand her a show-off struck a chord. It's a very clear arc--Twilight goes from not wanting to stand out to realizing that it's okay to take pride in your own talents, as long as you aren't a jerk about it. But, most importantly, the reasons for that arc make perfect sense as well: they come from a place of real importance to Twilight as an individual, her fear of losing her newfound friends. To be sure, she's making a mistake there, but she's making it for really relateable reasons.

    I feel like season 3 has lost sight of that a bit. It's not just the lack of lessons but on the whole the tone of the episodes is... less about learning, and more about already knowing. I liked "Flutter On" okay (although I defy you to tell me if it's Fluttershy's story or Discord's--it should be Discord's but it plays him so close to the vest that it's hard to sympathize with him), but there's a line in it where Fluttershy says "Of course I know what Discord's doing. Do you think I'm that naive?"

    Well, maybe she should be. Because as much as I love to see characters who are smart (and Season 3 has plenty of moments like that, for instance Spike seeing through the fake Timberwolf), I -relate- to characters who have to struggle with their own weaknesses. To me that's been the most consistent thread through seasons 1 and 2, that they're always about characters coming to grips with some fear or insecurity they possess, or a mistake they've made along the way. Watching characters learn and grow by making those mistakes is so much more compelling than watching them realize that they were "prepared for this" as the song in the season opener puts it.

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    1. Now, season 3 isn't totally absent characters screwing up either. The CMC can be counted on for some goofing, Applejack goes way overboard, and Too Many Pinkies actually had a pretty great basic setup if you ask me (though I am biased because I had started to plan a story where Twilight tried to juggle friend groups so as not to let anyone down, and was really pleased to find out that the show picked up something that was, essentially, a better version of what I had thought up). But I think that there's a tendency away from... letting these characters be flawed in ways that drive the story, perhaps. (Like Dash is kept -really- morally pure in Wonderbolt Academy, which I think hurts it dramatically)

      The other thing I notice a lot that sort of disappoints me is that there's a lot less emphasis on friendship this season. In seasons past, friends were the people you could count on to help you out of a tight spot--or, if the problem was between friends, it could be resolved by an appeal to friendship of some sort. Even in the Season 2 finale, the thing that pushes Twilight over the edge into the crazies is that none of her friends believe her. A lot of episodes this season... don't really use the characters who aren't the lead of the episode to very much effect. One of the good points, I thought, about Spike at Your Service was that finally the entire main six got together to try and address a problem again. It's the sort of thing where, again, the season opener was about Twilight having to do something by herself, and sending the others off to do something different while she focused on the real problem.

      Part of what worries me about Twilight as an alicorn is that, I think... the act of setting her apart from her friends, or implying that she's ascended to a higher level or whatever because of her worth. To me this show has never been about worth. It was about trying to be a better friend and better person because those relationships were their own rewards. So when the writers talk about Twilight's special journey, or destiny, or how this season is about her "magical development" all I can think is that those aren't the things I care about. I care much more about her learning what it means to be a better friend, and a better person.

      To which end--I can understand the theory that there aren't any more stories in that, and that's why this season is different. But I'd like to think that that's not true, that a room full of obviously-talented writers can still come up with new and surprising ways for friendships to be tested. Relationships are such a fundamental part of human life, after all, that it shouldn't be possible to ever exhaust all there is to say about them.

      Anyway, I don't know. Part me is totally aware that I just really hate change, but I feel like more of the same from MLP would have suited me just fine. I also can't help but feel that if these episodes weren't all chained together I would like any of them individually just fine.

      On a side note, I've never seen David the Gnome, and there's nothing for me to be nostalgic about MLP for, but I do find myself feeling that way. I think the show lives in a realm of deliberate nostalgia to an extent--by being so genuinely... childish, almost. By wearing its heart on its sleeve and saying that's not only good, but how things -should- be done. It feels like your childhood, even if your childhood had the 90s version of cartoons, which bear rather little resemblance to MLP.

      (Apologies for rambling--my pen gets carried away with some... most of the time)

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