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Count me among the X-million Americans who went ahead and filled out a bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament, despite the fact that I watch virtually no college basketball besides a few tournament games each year. With predictable results, no less; after the first week, I'm already getting thoroughly trounced.
Below the break, my review of JasonTheHuman's Anthropology.
Impressions before reading: This is one of those stories that I'd never pick up if I weren't doing these reviews; Lyra and her human/hand obsession/fetish is something that I've long since grown sick of, and I already know the twist which comes in the first third of the story--a twist which is enough to tell me that I probably won't find Anthropology to be to my tastes.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Lyra knows that humans are real. Bon-Bon knows that her housemate is crazy. Wacky hijinks ensue, until...
Thoughts after reading: Okay, I'm gonna spoil that first-third twist in this review. If you don't already know it (it's pretty well-known) and want to go into the story fresh, stop reading now. It's my opinion after reading, however, that knowing what happens at that point in the story is unlikely to harm anyone's enjoyment of the fic, and may help you better decide whether or not this is a story you want to read. And in any case, it'd be really hard to talk about this story without mentioning anything after that point. Fair warning.
...Okay, are we good? Good. So anyway, let's pick that summary back up: "...Celestia reveals that Lyra is actually a human from another dimension who traveled to Equestria by unknown means when she was just a baby. Then Celestia turns her back into a human, and sends her to Earth."
To say that this story is a strange beast of a work would be an understatement. The early going is very slice-of-life in tone, before veering off into... well, it's hard to find a single world that encapsulates what it veers into, but "incognito-alien-on-earth" pretty well sums up the general story feel for the next section of the work. With this comes a not-unexpected dose of disconnectedness; although there are a few hints dropped in the early going, the transition from Lyra playing conspiracy theorist to her being humanized and appearing outside Des Moines is so abrupt that the early and later portions of the fic are hard to reconcile. The story's third act (which I won't spoil here) attempts to meld the two, but it ends up doing so in a way unlikely to satisfy the kind of reader bothered by such things in the first place.
Even more problematic, at least for me, than the fact that I seemed at times to be reading two tangentially related stories rather than a single cohesive one, was the obvious lack of effort put into justifying character actions. This was less noticeable in the Equestria bits, since Equestria is still a vague enough place after three seasons that it's not too difficult to make allowances for the way characters seem to frequently act the way they do not out of any intrinsic motivation, but in order to advance the plot. But when the action shifts to more familiar territory, character behavior becomes a major weakness of the story. Although a few half-hearted attempts are made to justify it, there's really no getting away from the implausibility of a sixteen year-old girl popping up in a major American city with no parents, no identification, no education (she's living with a teacher, no less!), and barely making a ripple. Many of the developments throughout the story are transparent plot devices, and this I found terribly disappointing.
And yet... I kind of liked Anthropology. Despite its many problems, I never had to force myself to press ahead in it, and I certainly didn't begrudge it my time, the way I occasionally have with some of the worse fics I've reviewed. It took me a while to figure out why this was (the main reason this review wasn't ready on Monday), but in the end it comes down to a few things.
First off, there's the writing style. JasonTheHuman uses very simple, direct, and near-invisible phraseology, which keeps the proceedings light and airy. The tone set by the text thus encourages forward momentum, rather than careful reflection, from the reader, helping to mask some of the story's weaknesses. There's also a fair bit of low-key humor scattered throughout the story (both on Earth and Equestria), especially in the dialogue. Although the characters may have come across more as actors in rather poorly-written play than as real people/ponies, there are a surprising number of good lines in here, and they often succeed in giving the characters some sense of, well, character, where their actions fall short.
I'm still not much for Lyra's fandom personality, personally. But in the end, that didn't stop me from enjoying this story.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although this fic has a disappointing habit of failing to justify its plot advances and character actions, it has a quick-pace and low-key style which helped mitigate some of its worse missteps. That said... there were some pretty sizable missteps.
Recommendation: This is a difficult story to recommend, because it goes so many different places. It's definitely not one for people with a strong antipathy towards humans in their pony stories, or who aren't interested in giving human-obsessed Lyra a chance. It's also not a good pick for readers looking for a story which holds up to close inspection, or one which holds together, period. But for folks looking for lengthy but light fare with plenty of twists along the way, this might be a good selection.
Next time: The Pony of the Opera, by Miyajima