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I can't seem to think of anything interesting to put up top here. No matter; pop on down below the break for my review of Miyajima's The Pony of the Opera, about which I assure you I do have something to say; with any luck, it will even prove to be something interesting.
Impressions before reading: My only experience with the Phantom of the Opera (beyond cultural osmosis, anyway) is the Andrew Lloyd Webber opera. This seems to be based on that opera, and to be truthful, it's an opera which I didn't really care for. Still, I'm not too concerned about this fanfic from a thematic perspective; the Phantom brings a solid enough premise to build off of, at least in theory. I'm just hoping that I'm not in for a bunch of re-written musical lyrics. I've seen plenty of stories (sometimes crossovers with operas or musicals, sometimes not) throw in a lyrical parody, and I can't think of a single time it's been an unambiguously good idea.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Fluttershy is plucked from Ponyville by the manager of the Canterlot Opera House to be the new star of his theatre. There, she quickly discovers that the theatre is believed to be haunted, and that the "ghost" has taken a personal interest in her.
Thoughts after reading: We'll start by assuaging pre-reading me's fears: no ponified Webber lyrics here. There are a number of musical links, which ranged from mildly annoying to "merely" needless--although Mozart et al is perfectly unobjectionable music, it's at best an unnecessary distraction to include real-world equivalents of the music the ponies are performing, when specific knowledge of the music in question isn't directly relevant to the story. Miyajima also tosses in a link to another author's fanfic to justify a bit of AJ's behavior that, frankly, didn't need any more justification than was already provided by the present text, which seems to me both bizarre and immersion breaking.
The story itself was fundamentally solid, but not particularly enthralling. Although the narrative comes together nicely, there are some issues with pacing. Fluttershy being tabbed to perform in Canterlot with the flimsiest of justifications I could buy, at least insofar as it moved the action quickly to the main plot, but frenetic speed during plot advancement is the rule of the day even after the Phantom rears its head. Meanwhile, unnecessary fluff is allowed to billow. For example, when Rarity sends each of the main six an invitation to the opera house, a separate scene is given to each of them as they receive and discuss their letters. While it's true that these scenes are entertaining enough in and of themselves, it's impossible to look at the time lavished on them without asking why they merit more verbiage than the entirety of Fluttershy's transformation from shy waif with no musical training to confident (well, sufficiently confident, anyway) opera singer. Indeed, I feel like I should be irate considering the way musical training and rehearsal generally are depicted in this fic, but I find I can't be; so little was depicted at all that it's hard to feel anything towards it.
On a more positive note, there the story's sense of humor. Some falls flat, and some stands out (and some falls somewhere in the middle; I laughed aloud at this line from Twilight's letter, though I suspect other readers will simply scowl: "You'll also find enclosed a return envelope [that] has been enchanted with the Opera House's dragonfire service thaumic signature, or 'hotmail address', I think they call it."). The comedy is fairly muted throughout (as it should be, in a semi-serious story like this), but I found it to generally be a welcome addition.
The best parts of the story mostly involve the main six interacting, and it's clear that Miyajima has a feel for these characters. Unfortunately, few of the OCs who fill the opera (the Phantom notwithstanding) are given much personality. In fact, only one leaves any particular impression, and she's more caricature than character. Considering what a large part of the story they represent, particularly in the early going, this proves to be a major flaw. For long stretches, the reader is faced with a combination of lurching plot advancement and dry-as-paste characters--not an ideal combination by any stretch.
I suspect that the problems with characterization and pacing, at least to some degree, come from trying to adapt a musical story in the first place. Theatre, particularly musical theatre, can get away with far less in the areas of exposition and characterization by virtue of its musical and visual elements--elements which are not part of an author's arsenal (usually). Iron Knot, for example, is a stageworker about whom I can think of nothing to say which isn't simply a description of his role in the story. Were this a play and he a character in it, the actor given his part might try to play him as a clumsy comic relief role, or as a grizzled harbinger of doom. But here, with only the words on the page to shape him, he's nothing but a near-faceless cog.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This isn't a bad story by any means... but I can't say it's a good one, either. It exists in that comfortable middle ground between actually engaging and actually unpleasant. Considering the sheer number of fanfics that fail to rise even to those modest heights, it's perhaps not surprising that this story was well-received. But past the well-known tale of revenge which is its premise (well, a well-known tale, somewhat adapted--although it does vacillate in the story to a degree, the author (to his/her credit) clearly recognized that murder wouldn't have fit the tone at all) and the odd pun, there's just not a lot here that excites.
Recommendation: Low rating notwithstanding, this is a very competent adaptation of PotO; anyone specifically interested in reading such an adaption need look no further. For a more general reader though, The Pony of the Opera will probably elicit more indifference than enthusiasm.
Next time: Antipodes, by PK