Analyzing “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”

One of my videos was finally featured on Equestria Daily! Many thanks to everyone who submitted the video, and if you’d be so inclined, please continue to submit them! I’m hoping they’ll do a full post featuring all of my videos, or at least all the ones from season three. To all the new viewers coming in from EQD, welcome!

Since I’ve been saying a lot of stuff in a lot of different videos about what I’m doing right now, allow me to summarize. Right now i’m trying to get through a bunch of key season one episodes before moving on to season two. I had people suggest which episodes I should cover, and the most commonly suggested video was The Cutie Mark Chronicles.

I also stated in my pony mating habits video that I was going to do a video about the man six’s ages, and since that’s pretty much the most interesting thing I could think of to say about this episode anyways, I’m going to combine these into one video.

So, let’s talk about the ages of the mane six ponies. First of all, relative to one-another.

Thanks to Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom running through all of the stories, we know that all of this backstory takes place at the same time, so it’s easy to compare what each pony looked like at the same period in their childhood.

Interestingly enough, they all look pretty different, which could mean one of two things. It could either mean that they aren’t all exactly the same age, or it could mean that they all aged at different rates.

I’m going to assume that the school-aged ponies in MLP are the human equivalent of somewhere between ages seven and ten. This makes them pre-pubescent, though it also means that they could be on the cusp of puberty, if they’re early bloomers. We must remember that the ponies are all female, and girls tend to go through puberty earlier than boys do, so there’s an even bigger margin for variety here.

If I wanted to declare the ponies to all be the same age, it would be very believable. Even though Fluttershy clearly appears to be older than all of the rest of the mane six, we could easily say that she’s just an early bloomer.

However, we happen to have a statement from Fluttershy that she’s a year older than Pinkie Pie. It may be jumping to conclusions to say that if Flutters is older than one of them, then she may well be older than all of them, but it does seem pretty convenient.

Moreover, going by the backstory, Pinkie Pie happens to be the smallest-looking pony. Now, in spite of everything I just said about aging at different rates, we also must consider the rules of existing within a cartoon universe. Cartoons rely heavily on visual cues that inform the viewer, so that the viewer can translate abstract fantasy into a cohesive reality. MLP being a kids’ show, tries to present a relatively simplistic vision of its world, so that it isn’t difficult for children to understand.

Going by the rules of easy communication, we might then assume that the bodies of the ponies exactly reflect how old they are. In this case, I would probably suggest that Fluttershy is the oldest, followed by Rarity, then Applejack, then Twilight Sparkle, then Rainbow Dash, and finally, Pinkie Pie. Putting them all within a year of one-another means that they’re all basically the same age, which might be kind of a boring conclusion, but it makes perfect sense.

Now, let’s ask the harder question. How old are the mane six ponies at the time of the show? First, let’s invoke the word of the show’s creator, Lauren Faust.

Faust has said more than once that she thinks of the ponies more in terms of maturity level than in terms of age, and would put them on the maturity level of a teenager. She also points out the important fact that real ponies age way the hell quicker than humans.

Thanks to the way the show has played out with its history scenes, we can safely say that at this point that these ponies are assumed to age at the same rate as humans, with the same lifespans. This is the only way that the Apple Family Reunions can take place every one-hundred moons, unless Granny literally means one hundred days, and altogether it just makes more sense with the show’s presentation.

So, we’re going to assume that magic ponies age at the same rate as humans. And we absolutely are not going to open up any cans of worms about each pony type aging at a different rate, because that would be better suited to a fanfiction or headcanon.

So, how old are they? To figure this out, we need to better understand pony society. I’m going to bet that mandatory schooling for ponies only lasts up through their equivalent of elementary school. Given as ponies are expected to find their talents before they graduate pretty much without fail, it makes sense that after they’ve completed basic education, they’ll move on to studying their specific field of work.

This episode tells us exactly where each of the ponies were when they discovered their talents, so now let’s think about what all they must’ve done since then to get where they are now.

Applejack is simple enough. She was working on the Apple farm, and she continued to work on the Apple farm. Seeing how much work Applebloom does on the farm without any apple-related cutie mark, I think it’s safe to assume that Applejack was already very familiar with her work, and all that’s changed is that she’s gotten insanely good at it. In fact, that’s probably why she’s insanely good at it.

At the time of her backstory, Fluttershy has only just arrived in Ponyville and only just discovered her ability to communicate with animals. She’ll have to build her house and her entire ranch, befriend and earn the trust of every animal in the area, and raise them. She also has to meet the ponies of Ponyville and seed herself in as the pony who deals with animals. She seems to be the only one in town, so we can assume that she filled a pretty important role in Ponyville, given their frequent animal-related catastrophes. So yeah, she’s done a lot.

Rarity seems to have always lived in Ponyville, and was already interested in fashion before getting her mark, which it turns out is more directly related to her love of rare jewels, which inform her choices as a designer. Rarity has come a long way since designing cake costumes, and since her parents don’t have any talent for fashion whatsoever, we can assume she was self-taught.

Being far away from the fashion capital in Canterlot, she’s probably had to do a lot of learning on her own, not unlike it would be if you tried to learn everything about fashion while living in Virginia Beach, instead of in New York, or Paris. She’s become the biggest fashionista in Ponyville, probably without much difficulty, and opened her shop, the carousel boutique, which probably doesn’t have much competition. That said, she does constant passion projects and perfects her craft, and has proven at least once that she’s a match for the designers in Canterlot. So that’s a lot of time and dedication.

Twilight Sparkle had an interesting story, because we must remember that she barely knew anything about magic before she saw the Summer Sun Celebration. She got up to the entrance exam for magic kindergarten before Rainbow Dash activated her god-powers, which shows that unlike the other ponies, who discovered a deep love of something and have perfected it just through practice, Twilight is some kind of magic savant. Even before her studies, she was insanely powerful, but her studies were the only way to control her power.

Celestia taking Twilight as a personal student is like if you went to college and instead of being a regular student, were taken in as Steven Hawking’s personal protege. It would stand to reason that she’s spent years carefully honing her talent, but the only way this is believable is if we ignore Boast Busters. In that episode, Twilight supposedly had a small setlist of magic that she knew, even though we’ve usually seen Twilight learn spells in a matter of minutes. Of course, I’m okay with forgetting about Boast Busters, so I’m just gonna forget about Boast Busters.

Pinkie Pie’s backstory is ostensibly the hardest one to draw a line from where she was then to where she is now. Pinkie discovered the magic of parties and decided to spread this with the world, and she still does that, but a lot has also changed for her that lacks explanation. She somehow ended up in Ponyville, and somehow became the live-in apprentice to Mr. and Mrs. Cake at Sugarcube Corner. Figuring out how or when she did these things is as difficult as anything else dealing with Pinkie Pie, so I’ll leave that up to speculation.

Finally, there’s Rainbow Dash, who pulled off the Sonic Rainboom and discovered a love of racing. The two bullies who Rainbow beat in this race claimed in Sonic Rainboom that she’d been kicked out of flight school for too much napping and not following the rules, but Rainbow states matter-of-factly that she wasn’t kicked out. I’m guessing that Rainbow was probably afforded instant graduation, seeing as she’d proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that she could fly very well, but it’s hard to say what she’s been doing since then.

It seems like she got so big-headed that she got out of practice, seeing as she wasn’t able to pull of the Sonic Rainboom again until the Young Flyers Competition. That, or learning the tricks necessary to be a Wonderbolt was a lot more involving than simply learning how to race. Altogether, I think it’s just a case of a backstory that hasn’t been carefully formatted enough, just like Twilight’s Sparkle’s.

So anyways, the long and short of it is that a lot of years have passed since they were fillies, as the cases of Fluttershy and Rarity at least prove. In the cases of Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, the show continually puts them on the cusp of maturing in their talents, so it’s easy to see them as not being fully adult. However, while it’s much easier to see Fluttershy and Rarity as fully adult because they seem so concrete in their roles, it’s also true that they both fill really important niches in Ponyville, which means they may have been particularly young when they came into their roles. Rarity not yet being a big-name designer by Canterlot standards attests to her being young-ish.

Pinkie is only an apprentice baker, who gets to run the store on her own for the first time in episode four, so I think that puts her along the same age lines. And of course, Applejack has the advantage of having done one thing for her entire life.

So! Where does that put them? If I were to say that they were all aged eight to ten at the time of getting their cutie marks, then this will put them squarely around age fifteen. Maybe not the age you were expecting?

Body-wise, the ponies all seem to be adult, because their bodies match up with those of everyone else in town. That said, there are plenty of older-looking body types, from the middle-aged ponies to the elder ponies, so this would ostensibly put them at around seventeen, assuming that physical maturity for ponies matches up with physical maturity of humans. Again, there’s wiggle room here, since some people stop growing around age fifteen, and some don’t stop growing until age twenty-five, but again, we’re trying to follow simplistic rules of age here.

One thing that we really haven’t seen in MLP is teenaged ponies. We’ve pretty much seen fillies and standard ponies, with no middle ground. If we did have regular teenaged ponies, then I’d definitely be willing to cast the mane six as adults, but since we don’t, I’m going to go ahead and say that the standard pony design is more of a catch-all for ages fifteen through thirty or so. I’ve seen humans all over this spectrum who could pass for humans from anywhere else in this spectrum so I’m okay with this.

But still, why fifteen? Because even if we compare pony ages with human ages, the social structure is completely different. Humans go to mandatory, mostly-useless school until they’re eighteen, and if they actually discover any kind of talent, it can happen at almost any point in their life, averaging in their teenage years. On average, it takes humans way longer to launch talent-based careers than it does ponies.

If human society was structured the same way as pony society, and believe me, I wish it was, we too would go to primary school, and we’d have the same kind of open environment to experimentation and learning that ponies do, discovering our talents when we are very young and being pretty damn good at them by the time we’re in our teens.

It makes me think of Malcom Gladwell’s ten thousand hour theory, from his book Outliers. The theory is that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to truly perfect something. This adds up to something like three hours a day over the course of ten years, and it’s about how much practice The Beatles had before they launched their career, and how much practice Bill Gates had before he launched his career, and so on. I’m a fan of this theory, because if I pattern my own growth as a writer along it as a chart, it seems to add up pretty well. (I’ve probably got around seven-thousand hours myself).

Applejack most likely has her ten thousand hours already, and it shows. Fluttershy may have hers as well, since she spends the great majority of her time with the animals, so even if she’s only been doing her job for six years, she’d have to do it for less than six hours a day to have reached that total.

Because the rest of the ponies usually seem to be on the cusp on true mastery, rather than complete masters, I’d say that each of them is probably between eight and nine-thousand hours into their practice. Considering the level of concentration that pony society allows for, it would be weird to imagine that they averaged less than four or five hours of practice a day, so I think it’s pretty fitting to put them at around age fifteen.

Putting the ponies at age fifteen also aligns very well with their maturity. Even though the ponies all live on their own, this again has more to do with pony society than it has to do with pony aging. In terms of emotional and intellectual maturity, fifteen seems like just the right sweet spot.

And… I was gonna say something about Cheerilee being in Rarity’s class, and how she’s now a teacher, but that doesn’t seem very important now that I’ve made this ten thousand hours comparison. Well, I guess we can finally move along then!

The Cutie Mark Chronicles is altogether one of the best and most important episodes of MLP. Production-wise, the pacing is almost unbelievably perfect for an episode with six whole stories in it, and the framing device of the Cutie Mark Crusaders seeking Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark story works brilliantly. Right from the start, it sets us up to anticipate Rainbow’s story, which makes it that much more awesome when her story ties all of the others together.

The episode gets a hell of a lot done in terms of world and character building. Obviously, there’s the fact that it explains all of the mane six backstories, but there’s also the introduction of Manehattan, a revisit of Cloudsdale, and the birth of Spike the Dragon. All of this along with classic moments, like Fluttershy’s I Love Everything song, Rarity being dragged by her horn, Twilight going god mode for the first time, and Rainbow pulling off the original Sonic Rainboom.

Altogether, this episode is perfect. There’s a good reason it sits atop many lists of the best episodes of the show, and for me it probably marked a moment when I started getting more into it, before Season two completely blew me away. For being so good, and for sparking so much discussion and establishing so much canon, this episode has earned its legendary status.

And at nearly three thousand words, I think I’ve said enough about it! Thanks again to everyone who sent my last video in to EQD, and to anyone who sends this one in as well. In case you missed it, I guested on the AnY Pony’s Crepuscular Bronies videocast, in which we discussed Keep Calm and Flutter On and a number of other topics at length, so check that out if you’re into hearing a lengthy MLP discussion. Also hit up the description for a link to my website, and have a nice day!

4 thoughts on “Analyzing “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”

  1. One thing you maybe already dismissed: Apple Bloom is possibly a preteen, because at the end of every Reunion there’s a photo snapped, and she’s in the last one. I could see her as an 11-year-old (by Equestria years), or even twelve. It’s unclear whether that was a Reunion photo or not, as the nuance of Granny’s statement was unclear. It’s no big deal, because emotional maturity is suppressed across the board, anyway.

    There’s also the possibility that the Reunion at the beginning of the TV series was an informal one. If this is true, then the photo might have been from that time, and Apple Bloom would be closer to 9.

    If she is, and if Applejack was a baby at the time of a Reunion, she necessarily would either be around 17 or around 25. 25 seems like the better number—at least initially—except for the fact that it just feels too old. Then again, if she’s near the oldest, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

    • The reunions may be a bad thing to go on because they now seem so unclear. It’s hard to structure the timeline well around “100 moons.” If we consider the meeting in episode one to be a real reunion, than “100 moons” most likely means “100 days,” and then we have to start wondering hard about the show’s timeline, and whether or not this is the first reunion to occur since the show started. Then we have to think, if she means new moons, then how do we know that the moon cycle works the same way in Equestria? And if it does, then how badly can this fuck up my aging video? lol. There’s been a lot of talk about this in the comments on youtube which is actually pretty interesting. I’m willing to write it all off though, as I usually am, since this show is really unreliable about these kinds of things.

      • I agree. What confuses me then, though, is the fact that 100 days is hardly anything to get excited over — unless we’re talking actual horse lifespans. In that case, we’d be talking a yearly thing — and that still wouldn’t be anything to get hugely excited over.

        More reasons to dislike that ep? Maybe. XD

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