Friday, March 4, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 153: Twice as Bright

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

So, I'm pretty sure Rocky IV is the most rewatchable movie ever made.  I mean, whenever I notice that it's on TV, I always watch it.  In fact, I've done exactly that twice just in the past week.  Those would be something along the lines of the 150th and 151st times I've seen (at least most of) that movie, and I can't say that my appreciation has significantly diminished.  I'm not prepared to call it the best movie ever made--although, seeing as it was single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union, it might be the most important--but I can't think of any film that holds up as well to scores and scores of viewings.  Something about the combination of robots, communism, 80s chitz, and sweaty dudes smacking each other around defies disinterest, I guess.

Now, on to a story that (spoiler alert!) has none of those things!  My review of Cloudy Skies' Twice as Bright, below.

Impressions before reading:  As regular readers won't need to hear me say, I'm not really a shipping person.  And even beyond that, I have a significant aversion to mortal/immortal (or, if you prefer, mortal/long-lived-enough-as-makes-no-difference) pairings.  I mean, really, the best thing I can say about my feelings toward the pairing here is "at least it's not Twilestia"--avoiding the whole abuse-of-role angle is certainly a point in this combo's favor.  But yes, I'm not very excited with this off the bat.  I'm hoping that the comedy tag promises enough material beyond "two ponies move through the Stations of the Cross Storybook Romance" to keep non-shippers engaged, at least.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Celestia is perfectly satisfied with her comfortably busy, thoroughly predictable life... but Pinkie wants to make everypony happy, and "perfectly satisfied" is still well short of that goal.  Even beyond that, though, Celestia is totally cute, even if nopony else seems willing to say it!

Thoughts after reading:  For my money, there are few things more pleasant than discovering that a story you weren't terribly optimistic about is, in fact, extremely enjoyable to you.  Reading a story you like that you knew you'd like is still nice, of course, but that element of surprise that comes from finding out that something you didn't think would be to your personal tastes is, in fact, something you can appreciate not just on an academic, but also a personal level, adds another level to that enjoyment.  All of which is to say (albeit with an entirely awful comma-to-sentence ratio): I liked Twice as Bright.

With that said, let's look at why I enjoyed it, starting with the logic of the romance itself.  Cloudy Skies neatly sidesteps the thornier issues of relationships between creatures with massively different lifespans by focusing both the characters and, crucially, the narrative and payoff, on a mutual happiness with one anothers' presence.  Indeed, the "shipping" here treads awfully close to friendshipping in many places, and rather than try to awkwardly transition from that basis to "true love"--something many, many shipfics would attempt--this story never tries to sell Pinkie's feelings toward Celestia as more than a guileless extension of her personality combined with physical appreciation, nor Celestia's feelings for Pinkie as some sort of obsessive super-lust.  It's a naturally developing, low-stakes (relatively speaking, anyway) relationship that's on display from conception to conclusion, and the simple fact that the narrative embraces that makes this story not only feel remarkably believable, but also avoids some of the biggest pitfalls that can snare a pairing such as this.

The one weakness of the development of Celestia and Pinkie's relationship comes from how, despite the story trying to develop a "learn to accept one another as they are, not how you see them" angle, the accommodations are almost entirely one-sided.  A game attempt is made to show Pinkie learning (/needing to learn) to respect Celestia's boundaries, but I felt like this was still undermined by her frankly aggressive inability to... well, not so much to "fit in" as to "not cause a scene."  This ends up mostly being a story about Celestia changing to meet Pinkie's idea of what a pony should be, which isn't an awful thing, but which does make the relationship feel rather lopsided, and undermines the idea (which the story spends some time trying to build up) that it's important to Celestia that she be treated the way she wants to be, and not have things presumed about her.

That notwithstanding, characterization is a consistent selling point in this story.  Pinkie, in particular, is portrayed remarkably well; she's portrayed relatively seriously, but it's seriousness through a lens of whimsy.  I think her own words actually sum up that dichotomy quite well: "'Applejack likes this one word, and I don't use it a whole lot because it sounds silly and boring all at the same time, but that word's "sincere."'"  This is a Pinkie who's sincere, even as she remains her ineffably exuberant, goofy self.  Celestia is likewise given a strong, nuanced characterization, though the story does vacillate between her love of routine being a legitimate part of who she is ("I do not spend every moment of my life straining against my bonds wishing I, too, could grab a whole cake whenever I pleased," as she herself puts it), and it being a shell/constraint which she needs to be broken of/from.  Be that as it may, she still comes across as a dynamic character, and the fact that she does so while also being primarily defined as a creature of routine speaks well of her construction.

Speaking of construction, the story itself follows a very predictable narrative arc; if you've seen or read a few romantic comedies, you can probably guess the general beats of this story (if not the specific settings and impetuses, obviously) without reading a single page, and the ending will surprise no one.  I don't consider that a flaw, in and of itself, but it does mean that whenever the story isn't delivering some inherently interesting bit of characterization or humor, it does tend to slow down.  This is ameliorated somewhat by the excellent writing--Cloudy Skies knows his way around a mean metaphor, and the prose is at all times enjoyable in its own right--but even that can't change the fact that 50,000 words following a largely predictable plot are bound to leave some stretches where the pacing languishes.  These stretches are all relatively short--no more than a thousand words or so at the longest--but it's always a little frustrating to run into a patch of writing which seems to serve no purpose other than to deliver a stock conversation, when so much of the dialogue manages to rise above that.

The humor in this story is mostly of the milder variety, primarily narrative observational humor and "Pinkie being Pinkie" stuff--though I hasten to add it's "Pinkie being Pinkie" in an entertaining, non-immersion-breaking way, rather than in a lolrandom style.  There's also some fine entertainment to be had from the character interactions, and even a few very gentle passes at fandom tropes (when Pinkie expresses surprise that Celestia's seen a movie, she quips, "'I have a sister[...] There are limits to how many hours siblings can spend bonding over staring off into the horizon while talking about eternity. She suggested weekly movie nights in the palace theater'").  This isn't a fic with much in the way of belly laughs, but it does have a pleasantly light tone throughout.

Star rating:

This is one of the best pure-shipping stories I've ever read.  Yes, I realize its tagged both Romance and Comedy, but this is clearly a CelestiaXPinkie story which happens to have a fair bit of humor, not a comedy piece in which those two get together.  It takes a classic formula and uses it without (well, rarely) being slave to it, and the central romance manages to be both sweet, and engaging to those without a vested interest in getting their "and then they kissed" in.  That's something I have no problem giving some praise to.

Recommendation:  This is an easy story to recommend to shippers in general, but beyond that, I'd suggest it to anyone who enjoys taking in a straightforward plot with surprisingly deep characters.

Next time:  Rarity Loses Her Innocence In a Poker Game, by MrNumbers


  1. Blimey. I never thought I'd add a Celly x Mane Sixer story to my RiL list, but I have now. What have you (and, indeed, I) done?

  2. Well, as you've described it, this is something that's probably in many ways quite good, but not for me. I might get to it eventually, though.

  3. I've actually never seen any of the Rocky films. I've caught bits on TV, but can never catch it at the very beginning, and I hate watching movies like that unless I've seen them before

  4. [Rocky IV] was single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union

    Well, it's... a point of view. :P

    1. Don't you know? Rocky IV went back in time and not only engineered the elections of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, but inserted the internal contradictions into the Soviet economic model. :P (Is there anything else I'm missing?)

      . . . And it taught us that if he can change, and they can change, we can all change.

  5. I specifically checked this review because this story had done the same thing for me.

    I went into it not really expecting to like it, but it just did so much right, and more importantly, did the rare (imo) really good portrayal of Pinkie, that's not just completely bonkers or a reference machine.

    I was actually expecting you to like it, and lo, you did.