Friday, June 12, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 113: Magical Pony Lyrical Twilight

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

So, who's ready for episode 100?

...Yeah, I imagine I'm going to have some stuff to say about that come Monday.  At this point, I'm not even sure whether I'm miffed or grateful that Carrot Top doesn't seem to have made the "surrogate main character" cut.  We'll see how it goes.  But before the manure hits, let's take a moment to talk about fanfics!  My review of Purple Prose's Magical Pony Lyrical Twilight, below.

Impressions before reading:  Well, it's a crossover with something I've never heard of, and the first sentence of the description ("What if Nanoha never became the White Devil?") means nothing to me, so I'm worried right away about accessibility.  Luckily the remainder of the description is pretty coherent even to a non-Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha fan such as myself, which gives me hope that this will be a story that can hold up on its own.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A set of Jewel Seeds--pseudo-magical items "of great power"--being transported between dimensions end up falling to Equestria, where they "awaken" and begin to violently defend themselves.  Luckily, an archaeologist-turned-jewel-collector-turned-ferret has also come to Equestria, and with Twilight's help can capture the seeds and prevent them from harming anypony.  Unluckily, she's not the only one who's come seeking the seeds...

Thoughts after reading:  Post-reading, I did a little looking into the crossed-over material, and was introduced to the phrase "magical girl series."  As I understand it, this describes a whole genre of entertainment common (but not exclusive) to anime, centering around teen or pre-teen girls who wear a variety of elaborate--and often, extremely revealing--costumes while learning to use their magical powers, typically in a highly episodic and/or monster-of-the-week format.  That gave me a grounding to understand some of the decisions made in Lyrical Twilight... but it doesn't make the results particularly more enjoyable to read.

The biggest problem with this story, I think, is the dramatic sense of medium displacement which pervades it.  Both of the source materials (sources material?) on which this fanfic is based are TV shows, and the author sticks religiously to conventions best suited to that format.  Well, better suited, at least--having characters scream the names of their attacks is silly no matter what, but whereas seeing and hearing a character cry "Do it, Raising Heart! Divine Shooter, fire!" would at be high-energy and distraction(-from-the-silliness)-filled if presented properly on television, simply reading the words without any audio or visual backdrop invites the reader to ponder the absurdity of the dialogue to which Twilight and company have been reduced.

More distressing than mere verbal silliness, however, is the transparent artificiality of the setup.  Here, I really don't know how much blame to assign to Purple Prose and how much to the anime in question, but the fact is that the vast majority of the elements which define this story seem to exist in absurd or improbable forms for no particular reason.  The Jewel Seeds are some sort of doomsday device, it's eventually revealed--but it's never satisfactorily explained why they're semi-sentient, why they're able to harness their own magic to corrupt their surroundings and attack others, or... well, why they act at all like they do.  The out of story reason, of course, is so that Twilight can battle them and learn to use her brand new magical device, which itself is an equally ill-explained tool.  Looking through the Nanoha wiki suggests that this device's status as an omni-plot-contrivance is taken from the show rather than original to the fanfic author, and if that's true, then it doesn't seem fair to blame the author for the way it's presented, any more than it would be fair to "blame" an author for not explaining why everypony in Equestria speaks English.

But on the other hand, that is a standard that any story in which English-speaking ponies is an issue should be held to; a story where real-world humans travel to Equestria, for example, should either explain why they all have a lingua franca, should have the characters acknowledge that this is a question even if they don't find an answer, or at least could try to prevent circumstances in which the question could be acknowledged from arising.  Whatever the source material provided in this case, what I feel comfortable saying is that many elements were not integrated into the story in such a way as to encourage immersion, nor even comprehension.

Beyond the issues of elements used and the effectiveness thereof, there's plenty more to discuss, however.  First, plot.  Unfortunately, Lyrical Twilight often has long stretches of seeming dullness.  Part of this relates back to that idea of medium displacement; combat in the story often involves characters screaming commands at themselves, followed by a description of whatever the characters just yelled, repeated ad infinitum.  In addition to the repetitiveness of it, this format makes it difficult to take any of the combat seriously, and as a result it's sometimes tempting to skim over large stretches of story.  The rest of the main six thankfully break up this format when they're present, but battles remain a chore.  There's also the larger-scale repetitiveness: the Jewel Seeds may provide a convenient and malleable event tool, but no matter how much one changes it up, the battles involving them are all fundamentally the same, with identical strategy-level goals and execution.  But on a more positive note, the other creatures seeking the Seeds provide some more varied action, and in their internal debating and confrontation actually serve as one of the most interesting parts of the story.

Second, characters: as I mentioned just now, the "villains" end up being a rather interesting group, even if one of them in particular comes off as very one-dimensional.  The girls as a group are pretty well-realized as well, with Pinkie especially striking me as well-written--despite having a relatively small part, she consistently hit the sweet spot between too dull and too annoying.  On the other hand, the author takes pretty massive liberties with Celestia and Luna, which has deleterious effects not just on their characterization, but on the setting as a whole.  Luna in particular suffers from this; in a flashback, she literally threatens to emotionally violate an entire populace to the point of driving them to mass suicide (and is capable of following through).  In fact, Equestria seems to be a very dark place in this adaptation; the Elements of Harmony themselves leave one character a self-violent wreck at the end.

Third, writing.  Lots of missing commas, but otherwise little to comment on, positive or negative.  Just figured I should put a three onto that list, dontcha know.

Star rating:  

It's entirely possible that this story is quite enjoyable as an alternate take on Nanoha, but as a pony fic, or even on its own merits as a story, it's got a lot of problems.

Recommendation:  I would only recommend this to someone who was already familiar with the story and genre conventions at play here, and who's interested not just in them generally, but in seeing them very faithfully rendered into text specifically.

Next time:  Changelings, Changelings Everywhere,  by Benman


  1. I was going to try to explain why I don't like anime in this comment, but I gave up. There's just too much. And I've learned from experience that no matter how many examples you give, there's always someone out there who will jump at the chance to try and prove you wrong by countering with another anime that's "actually good." I think watching anime changes the wiring in people's brains. It's like a fish trying to explain to a bird why water is better than air.

    That being said, I'm not surprised that this story is both popular, while at the same time being (from your description) super weird and repetitive. Maybe it's because I grew up with lots of books and no TV to acclimatize me to its ways, but seeing such a callous disregard for... logic... in any story actually makes me kind of angry.

    1. Oh, but you should totally check out Gokujou Seitokai! It's teh best anime eeever!!!! :p

      I have a weird relationship with anime. I grew up with it, and was a bit of a weab as a kid (even wanted to become a manga artist when I grew up). Now I kinda make fun of it and the people who watch it, but I still enjoy the occasional anime. Most of it's trash, but sometimes that can be fun to watch

      Definitely agreed that it messes with people's heads. I once heard some bronies comparing MLP to anime, in a way that suggested Western animation is garbage and anime is a high art form. I liked Speed Racer as much as any other ten-year old, but it wasn't any better than the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and I certainly wouldn't call it art (there are exceptions, but I'm just talking about the genre as a whole)

      There is some really good material out there too, like Hayao Miazaki's work... or Cowboy Bebop... think I liked Paprika... shit, I actually like a lot of anime now that I think about it...

    2. My usual reply when someone suggests I watch an anime is to yell, "I'm not joining your cult!" then, if possible, bolting out of the room. I do that for a lot of things though. As far as wanting to be a manga artist goes, it's an interesting art style on it's own, so I don't have anything against that. It's just unfortunate that practically everything it's used for is a floccinaucinihilipilification of animated storytelling overall. Yes... quite a floccinaucinihilipilification indeed.

      Also Miyazaki's stuff has impressive animation quality (though the way he draws people—especially children—bothers me for some reason), and the worlds he makes are really cool, but from what I've seen of it, the stories are more abstract, with lots of things that could be metaphors, but are mostly left unexplained, and not the genius, infinitely deep, flawless cartoon equivalent of Gandhi that anime enthusiasts insist they are. I found Cowboy Bebop to be a meandering, self-defeating soap opera about a bunch of deadbeats. And I don't know what Paprika is, but it doesn't matter BECAUSE I'M NOT JOINING YOUR CULT!

      *Bolts out of comment section*

    3. Well I should hope Miyazaki's work wouldn't draw comparisons Ghandi. I'd like to think he's better than that

      And it's not a cult. Just a group of people who share an admiration and devotion toward a particular art form, which some might find strange or excessive. It's not like The Great and Honorable Osamu Tezuka, Kamisama of Manga and Anime, is revered as a god or anything

      Why am I still up? I should be resting before the new episode

    4. *Walks back into the comments section*

      Upon further inspection, I would like to redact my previous statement about Miyazaki's stuff being abstract and filled with hidden metaphors. I just watched Princess Mononoke, and that was neither of those things. I'd only seen Spirited Away and most of Ponyo before! How was I supposed to know that not all his stuff was like that?!

      I still stand by my point though! I give a lot of praise to Miyazaki. He's got talent when it comes to combining fantastical worlds with subtle and concise storytelling, which is hard to do well, but that just makes his stuff actually good. Not near-death-experience-life-changing-paradigm-shift-super-Gandhi amazing. If you compare that to average anime storytelling though, and you think that those stories are actually good, then you might be inclined to see certain Miyazaki level things in that sort of light by comparison.

      So, you win this round, anime, but the war isn't over yet! I'll find the source of your power someday, and when I do... I'll keep trying to ignore it. Because you know what they say: Anime. Anime never changes....

  2. Hah! Magical Girl subgenre. Man, I grew up watching that stuff. Not as much by choice as it was because there were no more cartoons on the TV back then, but still, nostalgia.

    Also, funny how you didn't know about the genre -- apparently Lauren Faust based the entire concept of the Elements of Harmony in the Magical Girl subgenre (and to be fair, the first episode is VERY Magicalgirlesque, although later on they tone it down big time).

    As per the fic -- eh, the moment I saw what it was about, I guessed you'd give it just one star. Anime crossovers are never good. The medium just doesn't work.

    1. Well, I've certainly seen some magical girl stuff--my little sister was into Sailor Moon for a while, among other things--but this was the first time I realized it was a genre. Every now and then, I discover that a few things I've seen recently belong to some category I never even considered (e.g. Displaced, Five Score, etc., etc., etc....).

  3. Part of me wants to keep this on my RIL, to see if Nanoha-knowledge will get one through it, but when you describe the characters as poor and the battles as dull, I think I can live without it. Nanoha was fun (well, up until season three, when they grew up and went into space, like ya do), but it's been so long, I probably don't remember shit about it anyway.

    I'm excited for "Changelings Everywhere", though. That was a fun fic and I hope you enjoy reading it. :3

  4. Not big into anime myself. I've watched and enjoyed the occasional series (Hellsing Ultimate, Death Note, and Gurren Lagann are my personal favourites), but magical girl stuff like the source material here never really appealed to me. Which is kind of ironic given that it was such a big inspiration for FiM, but whatever.

  5. I rather enjoyed this one as well as its two sequels, but I come from the position of having watched the anime (not to mention lots and lots of other anime), so there's a high possibility of source material bias.

    From that perspective I disagree with the star rating, but not the concluding recommendation.

  6. I enjoyed this one. I really enjoyed it. I just... I really disagree with your views on it.