Friday, January 8, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 143: Boast Busted

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

And so, the hastily thrown-together and almost entirely one-sided race against PresentPerfect ends in a resounding victory for team Chris, as I become the first reviewer (not counting any reviewer besides the two of us) to review this story!  Ah, the sweet taste of success-at-reading-slightly-faster-than-someone-else!

...Okay, that was a little underwhelming.  But the more important question is this: is RainbowDoubleDash's Boast Busted underwhelming, or does it live up to the hype?  Find out what I think, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  This is the first story written (though not the first chronologically) of the sprawling Lunaverse; as I understand it, an AU spanning dozens of stories by various authors which takes the premise that Celestia, not Luna, went crazy 1000 years ago and had to be banished, and that in this world some background ponies and minor characters ended up becoming the Elements of Harmony instead of the main six.  That by itself doesn't sound too bad (it's certainly been used as the basis for plenty of fanfics, some of them quite good), but the fact that all of the Lunaverse stories seem, at a glance, to be "such and such episode, but with Cheerilee instead of Pinkie," doesn't have me feeling good; I'm worried that what I'm about to read will end up just being Boast Busters, but with Twilight and Trixie's roles reversed (and the short description, "A sort of reverse of Boast Busters. Read the long description," isn't inspiring much confidence, either).  Hopefully there's more here than that, but this is the least optimistic I've been about a story in a while.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Trixie puts on a magic show at Ponyville's annual Eventide celebration, her performance is interrupted by a stranger from out of town.  That stranger is a mare named Twilight Sparkle, who has spent years studying magic--and wants to know why the so-called Element of Magic isn't doing any real spellcraft.

Thoughts after reading:  I'm very pleased to report that my worst fears didn't come to pass; in no way can this story be written off as just a Boast Busters retelling.  True, it does follow the same general beats (an interrupted performance, an Ursa being drawn into town, a letter to the Princess at the end, etc.), but it deviates significantly from the episode as dictated by both the different characters involved, and by the change in setting.  In fact, I would hold this up as an exemplar of how to write one's own version of something: the connections are both abundant and apparent, but they don't constrain the story, nor rob it of its ability to stand on its own merits.

With that said, this story doesn't do a terribly good job of handling its broad premise--that Trixie and her friends are the Elements of Harmony.  This story is necessarily predicated on the reader's familiarity with the source material, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that the reader should be expected to question anything that isn't either a match for canon, nor its opposite.  The fact that Corona (evil Celestia) apparently wasn't reformed by the EoH as Luna was in the show, and has escaped to wage covert war against Equestria, for example, is obliquely shown a few times, but never expanded upon.  Given that this doesn't match up with what the reader either knows or expects, some sort of minimal explanation, or at least an account of what happened, would be appreciated (I suspect this is addressed in one of the many other -verse stories, but Boast Busted leaves the subject awkwardly aside).  Other matters, like the absence of Spike or a Spike analogue, needn't be addressed directly since they're never directly mentioned, but more than once, an incongruity with reader expectations is introduced, then left totally untended, which makes the setting somewhat harder to envision than it ought to be.

For the most part, characterization is a strong point; Trixie comes off recognizably showboat-y and narcissistic, yet tempered by both her new friends, and her tutelage under a Princess who clearly wasn't afraid to pop her ego when it over-inflated.  Raindrops, Carrot Top, and Derpy--the three other Element-bearers who feature meaningfully in this story--get distinct personalities without the author having to resort to verbal tics or narrative checklists to demarcate them, and the "original series" Element-bearers who are mentioned still seem to be themselves.  The question mark, however, centers around how Twilight is portrayed in this story, with her lack of social graces turned up to 11 and a callous (albeit, not particularly malicious) disregard for anything standing between her and her studies evident.  To a certain extent, I could buy this: this is a world where she doesn't have Spike or Celestia, the two creatures in the show who consistently pulled her back when she became too antisocial, and who repeatedly encouraged her to come out of her shell (one could argue that her brother belongs on that list, too, but I refuse to believe he could have had that big an impact on her, if she could go two years without once mentioning him to any of her friends).  Even allowing for that, however, the way her time in Ponyville concluded felt jarring to me, and was one of the few times I felt like the author was following the formula from the show, rather than the dictates of the story he was telling.

There's also the matter of how the story seems to go out of its way to speak ill of the main six (not just Twilight); while I certainly don't have a problem with their flaws being mentioned in the context of the story, it's very noticeable that almost all the verbiage dedicated to Rainbow Dash points out how lazy she is, or that AJ and her family are cast in a mysterious but unmistakably negative light, and this is without getting into Twilight's depiction.  To a certain extent, I didn't mind this--I certainly didn't feel any need to see them praised and elevated despite not having saved the world recently--but it gives the entire story a strong whiff of "take that" against canon, which is largely avoided when the subject isn't centered on one of those three ponies.

The biggest thing I can say in praise of this story is that it shows how to adapt a story to its chosen medium.  Boast Busters is, of course, a cartoon show, and Boast Busted manages to borrow several of its iconic elements while modifying them to fit a written medium.  Time and again, I was impressed by how the undercurrent of humor was kept constant through both dialogue and narrative asides (it was about the time Trixie's narration featured a parenthetical aside wondering about the proper pluralization of "Raindrops" that I realized RainbowDoubleDash and I seem to have similar senses of humor), or how a description of how Trixie fought(/distracted) the Ursa kept the tension high by avoiding overly-detailed lists of events, and instead focused on the flow of character action.  Technically, this is a very well-written story (even if it does have a couple of overly goofy construction elements; I didn't need the words "side story" written out before a PoV shift), but more than that, it's an excellent adaptation of something conceived for a very different medium, which hews to the spirit of the original while utilizing the strengths (and avoiding the weaknesses) of a text-based format.

Star rating:

This was, overall, a very enjoyable story, and one that successfully navigated the most dangerous waters it attempted to navigate.  That said, it does come across as a rather mean-spirited response to canon in places, and doesn't always do a terribly good job introducing the AU it's set in.

Recommendation:  For readers who are actually interested in seeing Twilight taken down a peg, I suspect this story will scratch a vindictive itch while still feeling like a quality product, rather than a mere guilty pleasure.  For those interested in exploring the Lunaverse, this serves reasonably well as an introduction thereto.  And for general fans of "what if it was somepony else?" premises, this is a solid choice.  I wouldn't recommend it to readers at all put off by a sense of authorial malice toward canon characters, however, nor to those looking for something that feels more like a complete piece than an "episode one."

Next time:  The Cough, by Ebon Mane


  1. Enjoy your victory, Chris, for it is pyrrhic.

    For I, Present Perfect...

    Completely forgot about this whole thing! I don't care at all that you've won!


    ...Actually, you've defeated me with a button that doesn't work. :B Stupid computer...

    1. ..I read this entire thing is Papyrus' voice and I don't know how that's possible when his voice is just weird beeping.

  2. Why do people ALWAYS start with this one? Why not Longest Day longest night or with Hero of Oaton a.k.a the best one out there.

    1. To my knowledge, Boast Busted is the start of the Lunaverse. Whether or not that's true, it seems to be common knowledge.

    2. "The now-famous first story of the Lunaverse!"

      It's kind of in the blurb...

  3. Weird, I actually just read The Cough not too long ago, and have no idea how I came across it

    "For readers who are actually interested in seeing Twilight taken down a peg..."

    What?! Who could possibly harbor ill will toward Ms. Center-of-the-Universe?

  4. As someone who called out the Lunaverse on the shit of its early days long ago, and has ironically written a couple of stories in said universe, I feel the need to comment.

    Boast Busted is, in my opinion, the worst of the very early Lunaverse stories, for many of the reasons you highlighted. The intention of the Mane 6 being more or less dumped on was to try and establish that they weren't the heroes in this universe, but it was handled in a very terrible way, Twilight especially. She actually stayed an antagonist for the "first season" of stories, although by this current point she's become the Ponyville librarian again.

    The actual "start" of the Lunaverse, Longest Night Longest Day, suffers from many of the same problems on a bigger scale. It indeed ends without the villain reformed. Also, one of the good characters from the show is evil for no at-the-time explained reason other than "because," and another is more or less dragged along with them. Thankfully, RainbowDoubleDash realized there was a problem and took steps to correct it in future stories, although stuff like the one where Applejack is a delusional lunatic who thinks her failing to win a competition will spell the complete destruction of Ponyville manage to slip through from time to time.

    As for the AU in general, it has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, the L!6 are well-realized characters, and there is a good emphasis on building up the world they're in and how things might have changed by swapping which sister went power-hungry. The "second season" in particular has produced some decent to good stories, even if some are still meh. On the other hand, some aspects, such as the Mane 6 bashing (which, as mentioned, is downplayed a lot more now) and the countless stories about Luna's corrupt court really grate on my nerves. As far as AUs go, it has a good deal of thought put into it, and while I'm flustered with it several times, I do enjoy the community built around it.

    I'll leave it at that, rather than share the seedy backroom drama, like the meltdown last year.

    1. (also aimed at Jacek)

      Without having read farther, I have a suspicion that the divisiveness of the main-six-as-villains is exacerbated in the context of the entire series of fics. There's a big difference, in terms of what you're asking the reader to accept, between Twilight-in-this-fic, and Twilight-as-a-longer-term-antagonist. And that's without getting into how the rest of the main six may be portrayed, which I can't comment on other than to say that I can see how the way they might be used in the rest of season one could make this story's character treatment significantly less (or more) palatable.

    2. But seedy backroom drama is so much fun! You can't tease us with its existence and then not describe it.

      Well, actually, you can, especially if you couldn't describe it without pointing fingers and hurling blame.

    3. Sorry, but I quite frankly disagree with you on the Mane Six being worse in the Lunaverse somehow 'bad'. Quite frankly, I can think of multiple instances where they acted like jerks at best and deserved jail-time at worst.

      I mean for god's sake, have you read my review of 'A Friend in Deed'?!

  5. Hi, author here. InsertAuthorHere above me more or less hit everything on the nose, I just want to address a single small point. I intentionally chose to leave some things - like Corona not having been defeated, for example - as vague, as my intention when writing the story was to create an "in media res" thing that would feel kind of like sitting down to watch an episode in the middle of an already-running show, rather than an actual proper first story.

    So, for example, much as how "Boast Busters" the episode doesn't touch on the subject of Gilda, or the Gala, or Nightmare Moon herself, "Boast Busted" the story only vaguely touches on larger stuff from the Lunaverse.

    Whether or not this was a good idea, I leave to individual readers. My thought was that it might seem a bit enticing, but I can see how some people may have simply found it annoying.

    Anyway, that's all. As I told IAH elsewhere, 3/5 for this story seems about right.

    Thanks for the review all the same!

    1. You're welcome for the review, and thanks for taking the time to explain your intentions with this fic!

  6. The Lunaverse Mane 6 being antagonists was one of the better ideas in this story. It emphasizes the whole Mirrorverse idea, with the original antagonist now the protagonist, and the original protagonist now the antagonist. And to a certain extent it is an interesting examination of the Mane 6 without their element, or an imperfect reflection of their element. It is better developed for some than others, ie Rainbow Dash without her loyalty to balance her lackadaisical nature. Plus accidentally evil Twilight is just the best.

  7. GAH! NOOOooo! How could I have been late to this review?

    As a complete sucker for parallel- and cross-universe shenanigans, I love the Lunaverse, especially the parts written by RainbowDoubleDash and InsertAuthorHere. (No – I'm not just saying that because you guys commented.)

    I started with Longest Day Longest Night (first chronologically instead of first written), so by Boast Busted I already knew most of the AU's backdrop, and most of it is not relevant to the story being told in Boast Busted. I think RDD made the right decision in not bogging Boast Busted down with establishing the rest of the universe. If the writers tried to do that in every Lunaverse story it would feel redundant to those who've read other Lunaverse stories, and it might distract from whatever that particular story is about. Boast Busted being the clearly-marked first story written is what messes with people's expectations. Maybe it should point new readers elsewhere if they're looking for something to establish the universe.

    Even Crisis on Two Equestrias, which claims to be written as a stand-alone that people who aren't familiar with the Lunaverse can enjoy, just doesn't succeed on that front, I think. Sure, they'll follow the basic idea of what's happening, but they'll spend what I thought were the funnies parts just figuring out who everypony is and why they're doing what they're doing. If someone wanted to read it, I'd recommend first reading Longest Day Longest Night for basic Lunaverse and L!Trixie familiarity, Boast Busted for basic L!Twilight familiarity, Elements of Insanity and A Chance Encounter for L!Twilight's further character development, and At the Grand Galloping Gala for development of L!Luna and what her government suffers from. (And At the Grand Galloping Gala may itself not make sense without one or two earlier stories.)
    Maybe Crisis should have been able to stand alone, or maybe that's just too much to reasonably convey in the introduction leg of a story. Personally, I think reading the major earlier stories is just going to be the price of entry to a many-story alternative universe.

    As for the Mane 6 in the Lunaverse, I was under the impression their negative traits were exaggerated to make them potential antagonists for other writers to use (though I see that's now made it to the discouraged ideas list). I actually enjoyed some of the Mane 6 bashing – not because I dislike any of them but because I enjoyed seeing how someone might take a negative view of each of them.

    1. The thing is that they no longer seem to be antagonists as such. I mean, they've got Twilight working at the library now!