God damn, I’ve finally got something to be excited about. I haven’t felt this fulfilled with a piece of media since I finished Mass Effect 2 six weeks ago. Just as in February, MLP has filled the hole left by my growing fallout with currently-running anime (except JoJo, which is fairly satisfying). It’s a shame I’ll only get one episode a week; I’ll have to continue marathoning all my favorite anime in the meantime.
The season premiere is as exciting as I needed it to be. I’ve seen mixed (though mostly positive, because come on, it’s S3!) reactions, mostly because the villain is almost non-present throughout the episode. I don’t even care, do you care? Do you fuckin care? I don’t care.
The most exciting thing in the premiere is something which had started to emerge in season two, and looks to be a continuing trend—continuity. Back in season one there were two major continuity threads between five episodes—three of which revolved around the Grand Galloping Gala (3, 14, and 26), and two of which revolved around the Sonic Rainboom (16 and 23). You may remember that my first reaction to MLP after finishing S1 was that I wished it had a stronger continuity.
Season two started to bring that, with frequent callbacks to past episodes across both seasons. Episodes seemed to progress in order, with little to no inconsistencies in either plot or character development.
Season three kicks off with a huge continuity surge. Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, who were introduced and important in the Season 2 finale (and could easily have never appeared again), fulfill an important role here.
Luna gets a fair amount of screentime with her sister Celestia, which is something that fans have wanted to happen more frequently since episode two, when Luna was freed from the curse of Nightmare Moon. She got an episode to herself in season two (the first big continuity nod in that season), and cameos towards the end, but only now is she really present. Moreover, an incredibly subtle hint at the end of the episode suggests that she will continue to be important. (She comes into the frame holding a book with stars and swirls on it, clearly hinting that it’s Starswirl the Bearded’s book, which she will be using to help Twilight reach the next stage of her training. Starswirl was one of the minor continuity threads which was built up continually throughout season two).
Twilight is the episode’s focus, with her test to enter the next stage of her training at the forefront. Not much actually develops with her character, but it’s an entertaining trial, and opens the floor for a season-wide character arc. Even the commercials for this season are stating that, “one pony will find her destiny.”
The two-episode premiere is paced similarly to the finale of season two, with the first episode mostly setting the stage for the events of the second.
At first, I was upset by the fact that the focus was so squarely on Twilight, and the rest of the main six weren’t getting to do much except make cutaway gags of varying quality. The main six had already taken a backseat during the season two finale, and I was starting to get a little irked. Don’t get me wrong, Twilight is probably my favorite character, but at this point she isn’t the most interesting, since she’s pretty well fleshed-out already.
When the others started getting screentime in the second half, though, they really shined. Rainbow Dash and Applejack got some great dialog exchanges, and Rainbow got to remind me why she’s so god damn fucking awesome. Rarity is being her usual fabulous self, obsessing over all of the jewels, but some of her dialog is priceless (mostly because Tabitha St. Germain delivers it so perfectly).
“I had to make a hat out of three pieces of hay and a drinking straw! …I made it work.”
Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy didn’t get to do much, but they were both involved in the most hilarious and disturbing joke in the episode: Pinkie Pie peeling out of a Fluttershy costume all of a sudden, and then Fluttershy obliviously standing on it.
What I found most interesting about this episode is that it portrayed the stakes well. Cadance really looked to be in a lot of pain throughout the episode, and the desperation on Twilight’s and Shining Armor’s parts was palpable. Seeing Cadance like that even had myself worrying and wanting them to help her as soon as possible. (I relate as well, since my job leaves me so tired all the time.)
And what kind of amazing badass is Cadance that, still looking like she’s gonna collapse at the next second, she lets Shining fire her like a fucking rocket to catch the crystal heart. That girl deserves a long-ass rest.
I felt there was a pretty dark tone to this finale on the whole. Celestia and Luna being so serious at the start set it up,—then there was the depression of the crystal ponies, and the tiredness of Cadance, with her barrier failing. In the season two finale, Shining Armor’s barrier was destroyed in a big surprise moment which was awesome. In this episode, the slow erosion of the crystal ponies’ will and Cadance’s body enhanced the drama, which is good because there wasn’t a villain this time to do that.
Rather than seeing King Sauron (or whatever his name is) as a villain, I think it’s better to see him as a force of nature that the ponies had to overcome. It wasn’t about Sauron, it was about what the ponies had to go through to protect themselves. Kind of like… Sauron, from the Lord of the Rings.
And I can’t forget to mention one of the darkest moments in the whole show, which is when Twilight enters an illusion and faces her fear that Celestia would fail her and cancel her studenthood. Celestia’s language is uber-harsh in this scene, which made it obvious that this was probably an illusion, but Celestia is just enigmatic enough, and I was just caught up in the moment enough, that I was genuinely worried.
Even more effecting, though, is when Spike looks into the illusion. We don’t see what Spike sees, we just hear him fearfully telling the illusion that he doesn’t want to leave Ponyville, and then he starts crying. That was a pretty emotional scene for me, don’t know about ya’ll. I think what really made it brutal was that in the illusion, it’s Twilight herself who’s telling Spike that he has to leave. That would’ve been really painful to experience.
One more thing before I wrap this up: it was cool to see Twilight experimenting with magic and seeming genuinely surprised at what she can do. In the past, she usually tended to break out spells out of nowhere. This episode utilizes a number of the spells that she’s used in the past, such as the blink ability, and introduces more that she figures out as she goes along.
First and most surprisingly is her use of dark magic, which she picked up just from watching Celestia do it. I was worried about the implications of this at first, and I think my worry was confirmed by the fact that the second time she used it, she was faced with the illusion of her worst fear.
The second one is a “gravity spell” which she uses to walk on the ceiling (in this case, the underside of a spiral staircase), and slides up the slope as if it were going down (meaning her gravity is literally reversed). It’s a wicked cool spell, and I’d love to see her making casual use of it, which is very probable, since spells are one of the series’ favorite continuity nods.
All in all, I’m excited as hell for this season. I’d love to see more excellent character moments, more continuity, and more of the now-they’re-just-showing-off animation flourish of the premiere. Also, there’s apparently gonna be a Trixie episode. MY BODY IS READY.