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.