Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mini-Reviews Round 203

So, who's excited for the movie?  Apparently it's already leaked; I don't know when I'm going to get to go see it (I'm still well behind on episodes, for that matter...), but it's somewhere on my to-do list.  Not gonna lie, though; I haven't felt nearly the excitement for this from the fandom at large as for an previous season premier, or for the first couple of Equestria Girls movies.  It makes me wonder if the show ennui is wider-spread than we'd all like to admit.

Or maybe it's just a quieter sort of excitement.  We'll find out over the next week or three, I'm sure.  Until then, here's some fanfic reviews to tide your pony-needing self over!  Get 'em below the break.

The Most Beautiful Song, by OnionPie

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight walks through an endless desert, seeking the leader of the southern tribes which have overrun Equestria, enslaved and murdered its inhabitants, and killed her brother, so that she may offer a peace treaty.  But as she walks, the image of her brother haunts her mind, urging her to cast peace aside in the name of justice.

A few thoughts:  This is a story that asks you to accept death and murder on a mass scale as a price of entry; if you can't reconcile that with your vision of Equestria, there's nothing here to win you over.  But if you can, it's a brilliantly biting critique of a certain view of the Princesses (one I'm pretty sure came from the comics, though having not read them, I admit I don't know how much of it is directly from them and how much is just people seeking confirmation for a pre-existing headcanon) which states that they're morally obligated not to do... anything, really.  That any exercise of force on their part is paradoxically a fundamental abrogation of their duties.  Song takes this to its logical extreme, showing just what disasters betide those who refuse to act out of principal when a problem is still containable by moral means.  It's a dark, visceral tale that I found revolting in places... exactly as it was intended to be.

Recommendation:  If graphic depictions of death and violence are a no-go for you, this is one to pass on--and more broadly, if you're the kind of reader who has trouble buying into a FiMfic in which that kind of thing can happen.  But if you're willing to give this a chance on its own terms, it's a biting, starkly relevant piece about power and responsibility which packs a heck of a punch.

Avoid Your Heros, by secretagentplottwist

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight travels back in time to meet her hero, Starswirl the Bearded, only to discover that he was neither as revered nor as genial as he would later be remembered.

A few thoughts:  The biggest problem with this fic is its first and last scenes, with Twilight leaving and returning to the present, because of the terrible Pinkie Pie writing.  Interestingly, it's not any of the normal Pinkie pitfalls that do this story in; instead, it's the author's decision to cast her as Twilight's SO.  Which would be fine by itself, if that didn't then metamorphose into Pinkie being a stay-at-home reactionary worrywart, the specific presentation of which fits neither her voicing nor her personality particularly well.  The rest of the story is much more enjoyable; the author does try a little too hard to have it both ways with Starswirl (making him both a sympathetic character and a letdown re. Twi's expectations is a tough act to balance), but there are a few nice scenes, a solid introduction, and some fun bits of history--I was particularly fond of the explanation for how SS got his moniker, even if the actual presentation of it is a little forced.

Recommendation:  If OOC main six is a turnoff for you, stay away, and readers seeking excellent writing in terms of flow and presentation will find this more towards the "serviceable" end of the spectrum.  But if you can get past that, there's a good mix of fun and time-travel here for fans of light (pony) history.

Diamond Ring, by DemonBrightSpirit

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Scootaloo finds an expensive-looking diamond ring--and a moment later, Diamond Tiara comes by looking for it.

A few thoughts:  This is a pre-DT-redemption, which tries to cast her in a more sympathetic light.  But it is very heavy handed, both in terms of content and in presentation, with Scoots frequently tripping over every tiny step of her thought process in the narration for the reader's "benefit" (Scootaloo barely heard the second part. Because it was mom’s! echoed in her mind. Did something happen to Diamond Tiara’s mother? Everypony knew about Filthy Rich, but when was the last time anypony said anything about his wife?).  I will give it points for going with a lighter, more amusing ending than I was expecting, though; it does help that the overbearing messaging lets up a bit at the end.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something blunt and explicit at most every turn--for example, if you're reading this story to a child without a lot of experience with fiction--this would be a perfectly fine choice.  And that's not an insult!  It's probably not a great choice for the typical adult reader, though.


  1. "The Most Beautiful Song" was a tough one for me. I thought the writing was very good, and I even read the same implications you did about the princesses generally being unwilling to personally involve themselves in the fighting. But I found the entire thing to be such an exercise in vagaries and seeming contradictions that it was ultimately unsatisfying.

    From wondering how Equestria even got this deeply involved into a war in the first place; to whether this peace gesture is born of the desperation of a losing side or a general distaste for violence; to why Twilight laments how far she has to walk when she could have flown; to what informs the princesses' desire to stay out of direct conflict while simultaneously commanding their armies into it; to how Twilight plays it both ways in saying she's entirely at her enemies' mercy while also repeatedly thinking she could break free whenever she wanted; to how at the end, Twilight seems vaguely happy as she goes off somewhere peaceful, so it seems more like she's rewarding herself than heading to a self-imposed exile or some such; there's just this overwhelming nebulosity to it all that makes me unable to find a message in it, leaving it as something with shock value just for the sake of having shock value. The writing was great, but I didn't come away from it with anything more than "bad things happen because reasons."

    1. This was very much my reaction. At the broadest level, I think it failed to choose and commit to what kind of story it is. Is it a satire, or is it being played straight? It didn't really have the feel of a satire, to me anyway; that would have taken something like playing up some aspect of Twilight (+ the other princesses), say the narcissistic self-absorption this would require, and having that come through. If it was meant to be taken at face value, the story was missing huge swaths of supporting detail to justify what's going on, from the logistics of the situation not making sense to the false-pacifism being both self-contradictory and entirely unexplained.

      "Bad things happen because reasons" was about my take: " 'bad things happen because people made obviously stupid decisions for no reason' isn't tragedy."

      But yeah, an unwillingness to accept mass death and murder in Equestria as a price of entry is far from the only reason someone might end up seeing this as a poor story.

    2. I don't think it's a satire; I think it's taking a particular worldview to its ultimate conclusion.

      And that's part of why I was able to enjoy it more than you two, I think (forgive me if I'm putting any words in your mouths that don't belong there): I am familiar with the particular strain of neo-pacifism (a group, I hasten to add, not to be confused with actual pacifists any more than "the alt-right" is to be confused with "politically right-of-center") which holds that any exercise of power is abuse, and that to act from a position of strength is to fail a moral test by definition. Twilight allowing herself to be bound and have the magic-nullifying ring placed on her horn, even as she acknowledges that it does no good, and then respecting its presence as if she were actually stopped by it, fits into that worldview perfectly. She is able to overcome any restrictions they devise, therefore it would be wrong of her to overcome their restrictions.

      I don't know that that makes any difference in how you react to the story--I would guess it wouldn't affect either of your enjoyment, particularly--but the fact that this isn't just fandom/comic commentary, but also reflective of a (fringe) real-world set of values (and that it offers plenty of commentary on where that set of values gets us, too), was a selling point for me.

    3. I don't think it's my first run-in with straw pacifism (or I guess neo-pacifism to the extent people subscribe to it) in ponyfic. I've yet to respond favorably, that I'm aware, but then, this is the only example that jumps to mind immediately.

      And I guess part of why this one in particular doesn't work for me--why the fact that yeah, it's an exploration of taking an idea to its extreme doesn't particularly help--is that I felt like there wasn't anything done to sell why Twilight is a this way. (Okay, there is: because Celestia said so. But why is Celestia?) This means that basically the key point of departure for the AU is not justified within the story beyond bare assertion.

      Now, somewhere I've seen something similar done was in Twilight Snarkle's work, where no alicorn may harm any pony. But there was specific world-building which resulted in that. Similarly, The Descendant's "As A Mother" doesn't have Celesia as a (*-)pacifist, but goes into character motivations that might support that. And I felt like that was missing here. Especially since as far as I could tell, everything applied only and specifically to them, as it seemed like the Royal Guard etc. existed, but were ineffective.

  2. Well, I'm very excited and eager to see the movie. If I knew where to get the leaked version, I'd watch it right now.

  3. I've not heard as much excitement for the movie in my corner of FimFiction either. But that really doesn't surprise me. Season seven has been aggressively mediocre so far IMO (and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Bats! and whose favourite season is the fifth), so I think a lack of confidence in the movie is entirely warranted.

    1. I think the infinite leaks/early releases this season really didn't help either.

    2. What's supposed to be so bad about "Bats!"? I'm genuinely curious. I hear it trashed frequently on this blog, yet all the reviews I've read/watched have been generally positive.


      For starters, Bats is the story of how Fluttershy's friends seek her help with a problem that her expertise is perfectly suited to, then promptly ignore everything she has to say and ultimately browbeat her into doing what they want. You know, because after four seasons, they forgot that you don't treat Fluttershy that way.

      I have a lot of strong opinions against this episode, by the way, should probably warn you. :B

      Next, I'm fairly certain it's the first episode where the Stare was used explicitly. Like, "C'mon, Fluttershy, we need you to Stare now". Despite, y'know, it being introduced as something she can't control. It'd be like saying, "C'mon, Pinkie, what does your Pinkie Sense tell you?" and she's just standing there, getting nothing. I might be wrong about this, I try not to watch this episode, so it's been a while, but I know for sure this started around this time, and it continues a trend that remains cringey and awful today.

      Then there's the song. WHOA NELLY. A minor key that does not fit AJ's voice at all, no sense of meter ("They rest for a minute/Maybe three/Then they’re eating every apple in your apple tree."), and the fact that Fluttershy's argument is weak at best. Y'know, the argument they've brought her in to try and give for why saving these fucking bats is important? It doesn't hold up. And it should, it's from Fluttershy. Maybe this explains her behavior in Fluttershy Leans In. >.>

      Let's see, I've pulled up my old episode review to grab notes... The vampire fruit bats are a completely unnecessary addition to Equestrian lore, given that we'd just gotten regular fruit bats. We've never seen them since, so obviously, they weren't that important. Fluttershy not being able to talk to them is... It's like those bad OCs you always hear about. "My animal OC is such a badass, Fluttershy can't talk it out of doing bad things!"

      I'm not a fan of using mind control to solve problems; if they'd linked Twilight's spell to the one she'd used on the parasprites... Well, then we would have known it was a bad idea from the start. (Also, mind control + Stare = physical transformation how?) I'm not a fan of Flutterbat, because she just felt like a thing made to pander to the fandom. We sort of already had bat pony versions of the mane six floating around, we didn't need a canon one.

      They ham-fisted the moral, the zinger makes no sense and was never gotten back to, and it's just an episode about the mane six abusing Fluttershy to no purpose. Merriweather Williams was always the worst writer on the show, and this is her worst episode. It's a smorgasbord displaying her perfect inability to write both the characters and music. I'm glad she went back to Adventure Time, where she belongs. It's an utter crapfest of an episode that makes me hate all the main characters more every time I watch it. Literally no one wins when Bats is involved. :(

    4. I think there are some important reasons "Bats!" is terrible that you left out, PP.

      The solution they actually went with at the end doesn't make any sense. So there's this preserve; how does that stop them from leaving it and generally eating the rest of the apples? And even if you wave that away, that reserve is effectively acreage the Apple family is losing.

      Which brings me to the other point: this was a relatively early step in the process of removing one of the few sources of conflict in Applejack's life: her family is (now effectively was) broke, or at least pretty hand to mouth. An ill-conceived plan to pay for her grandmother's operation by selling baked goods at the GGG, needing cider season sales to get through the winter, that kind of thing. But now the implication is she's supposed to just shrug off a potentially failed harvest like it's nothing (way to read your audience, Fluttershy), or cut out a bunch of their land for a reservation that we're hand-waving as actually effectively containing the bats.

      AJ losing that semi-impoverished angle--can you seriously imagine them starting to act like they could lose the farm/whatever again after ~4 seasons of dropping that entirely, unless maybe you want to count the episode about her stupid fixes--removes one of very few real sources of tension she has other than Apple Bloom.

    5. Oh, there's definitely more reasons. I enumerated them all in my S4 retrospective. The one I was trying to be entirely positive in. :B

    6. It just keeps going... forever!

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  5. Lack of enthusiasm for the movie can be attributed to many things from a general uninteresting premise (I've seen the trailer and I'm barely getting any sense of why exactly they need that many celebrities playing all these new characters besides toys, and what exactly I'm supposed to be excited about besides some kind of Sea Ponies, which to be fair are worth the price of admission) and the general danger of seeing TV shows on the big screen (the plot looks like its going to be a typical season two parter stretched out to feature film, which is not a good thing). But I think the biggest issue is really just fatigue. This show has been going on for almost seven years, and the fandom has already passed its peak years ago (look no further than the number of new members joining fimfiction or look at this google trend. For fans that have been here for a few years, I can't speak for anyone besides myself, but this show end after this season (and be rebooted in a few years) and I'd just shrug and get on with my life.
    More new blood would probably induce some more excitement in the movie, but this is no longer the environment that Friendship is Magic (and Adventure Time) entered into when the competition was almost nonexistent. Nowadays (and even before that), there's been a lot more new shows that are grabbing people that would have gone come to FiM (both animated and live-action), which is no longer the hot new thing. It's not like the show encourages discussion and speculation, the life blood of the internet fandoms.

    I don't know. I've said before that Hasbro should have gone a movie out years before, instead of making Equestria Girls, so we'll see how well the movie does in the box office, which might be another point. The realization that you'll actually have to pay to see the movie (well, besides those who pirate).

  6. I think it mostly depends on your own attitude. People usually hand around like-minded folks, and the majority of folks who regularly comment here are steadfast doomsayers about all things canon. A new entrant into the fandom would think nobody liked the show, if they used this forum as their only gauge. Contrast that with the EqD Discord channel, for example, and almost everyone is enthusiastic about it. If you only ask your regular friends what your regular friends like, then you're only going to find out what your regular friends like.

    1. That's all true, and it's probably all there is to it; the people I follow and the circles I move in are not necessarily representative of the fandom at large. What I was more reacting to was how little I've seen on FiMFic in advance of the movie; there aren't a bunch of new groups springing up to talk about/anticipate it, there have hardly been any fics about the new characters prior to the show's release (compared to, say, when EqG first came out, and Sunset was everywhere), that sort of thing. But as is noted below, FiMFic isn't necessarily all that representative either, and the things I'm looking at my not be good measures of eagerness in the first place.

      It'll be interesting to see what happens next!

  7. As far as enthusiasm goes, I think it depends on what corner of the fandom you're looking at. I frequent EqD, as well as several pony-related youtube channels, and judging by the comments, enthusiasm there seems rather healthy (sans Starlight, but that's another story).

    Judging from this blog (an admittedly microscopic sample size) I sort of get the feeling that many in the FiMFic side of things are actually fans of MLP fanfiction, rather than MLP itself, or at least the cadence around most episodes (especially anything post-S1) seems noticeably more negative than it is elsewhere.

    As for the movie... I dunno. The premise is a bit generic, and I agree that there are too many celebrities tacked-on. Still, it does look nice, and I thought the prequel comic did a good job setting things up. I'm a closet fan, though, so I doubt I'll get to see it.

    1. That's probably not a bad interpretation of this side of the fandom.

      People who read fanfic are (theoretically) people who care about writing. And, speaking entirely for myself, the writing on the show has been lacking over the last five seasons, with exception.

      Back when I joined the fandom, I discovered this amazing community of writers, and ever since S1 (S2 if I'm being charitable), I've always felt they could do a better job writing the characters than the actual show writers. The fandom has always been more important to me, and as I watch the show enter a distinct downward spiral in terms of quality, I feel more and more justified to have that opinion.

      (That said, I'm super hype for the movie and pretty sure I won't be seeing it today. D:)