Text version (messy):
Well, I just finished my last day at my first job, and just in time to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the first time that my little brother and I marathoned My Little Pony season one. Ponies have dominated my life since then, and I feel it’s time for me to answer the question that every brony asks themselves at some point in their fandom: why the fuck am I so obsessed with this show?
For a lot of people, this question is a fan’s attempt to reconcile the person that they see themselves as, against the kind of person that they expect to like the showI.E., in most cases, asking, I’m a grown man, or even a grown woman, so why am I into a show about technicolor ponies made for little girls?
I’ve seen something like the stages of grief unfold before me over liking this show. Bargaining being the part where a brony tries to assure you that the show is much more deep and intricate than any other girls’ show, or something like that. On some level, it’s true, but at the same time, I don’t buy it.
The reason for that is I was already into girls cartoons before I started watching My Little Pony. I’ve been a fan of the Pretty Cure franchise for a couple of years now, and I generally have a great appreciation for magical girl anime. These, too, are shows with cult followings that include a lot of older men, but which have never reached the kind of mass audience that MLP currently has.
Now arguably, those shows shoot a couple of years older than the target demographic of MLP, but then again, MLP is about on the same demographic level of Pokemon, which I also watch a lot of. And not just out of nostalgia, I was watching Pokemon Best Wishes as it came out, and I enjoyed on its own merits, beyond my identity as a Pokemon lifer.
A lot of the reasons that I like these kids’ and girls’ shows is, I imagine, the same as the reasons that kids and girls like them. I adore cute outfits and adorable animals, I like to see shows about friendship overcoming all odds and saving the day, and I’m a big fan of lighthearted stories. As a kid, my favorite show was Winnie the Poo, because it was a show wherein nothing bad ever happened, and I hated stuff like the Disney movies because they always had a dark or sad part wherein the bad guy seemed to be winning.
So for me, there was a massive precedent for liking My Little Pony. Of course, growing up, I hated all things girly, so the “My Little Pony” jingle was still something that I had a gag reflex about, but by the time the new show was taking off and I started seeing bits and pieces of people talking about it on the internet, I was way beyond those kinds of feelings. When people were saying that the show was good, I was inclined to believe them, but I’m not really the type to jump into watching a show just because I’ve heard a lot about it. I had other stuff I was watching at the time, and I didn’t care to try and watch a show on a channel I’d never even heard of.
When I found out it was easily findable on youtube, I made my little brother watch the first episode with me at random, partially as a joke. He kept complaining and asking why we were watching it, but I just smiled and let it keep playing, mildly entertained by the episode, but not really grabbed. In fact, I ended up completely forgetting about it for a little while. I watched the second episode on my own a little while later, and I had already forgotten what was going on by then.
Yet, after a couple of months, it was the same brother of mine who ended up talking about watching the show again. He’d been hanging out on the meme website FunyJunk a lot, and a ton of MLP memes had been showing up on the site, so he started to grow familiar with it. Then, one of his friends watched a few episodes and really enjoyed it, so he wanted to give it a try. Completely interested in the idea, I suggested we marathon the show, and so we got to it.
The first episode to finally catch my attention was Applebuck Season, which today is still my favorite episode of the show. If I remember correctly, my brother didn’t want to keep going after episode six or so, but I talked him into continuing, and after episodes like Dragonshy and Winter Wrap up, we started to feel more into it. The big highlights were, of course, Sonic Rainboom, The Cutie Mark Chronicles, and Party of One, which are still thought of as some of the best episodes of the show by many fans. I remember my favorite character actually being Applebloom, and I loved the Cutie Mark Crusaders because they were so adorable.
Still though, had I never watched season two after that, I probably would’ve forgotten about MLP. For the reasons already stated, having enjoyed MLP wasn’t that big of a novelty for me, and I hadn’t established the kind of connection with the show that I have with some of my other favorite works. Here is a post that I wrote immediately after finishing season 1:
The One Thing I Wish My Little Pony Had
Is more consistency across episodes. A number of the most satisfying bits in the series come from the continuity nods and consistencies that do exist, such as Rainbow Dash’s backstory surrounding her Sonic Rainboom, Fluttershy retaining her abilities to discipline animals, and the last episode of season one remembering previous episodes about the Grand Galloping Gala.
However, often the development and personalities of the ponies shift heavily across episodes. Usually, this happens because the individual episode plots override aspects of the characters’ personalities, which is really tragic, considering that characterization is the series’ strongest aspect. Every time an episode comes along that shelves some of the past characterization, it makes it feel like the base personalities of the ponies are all that really counts.
This can be chalked up to two factors: the nature of being a children’s cartoon, and the nature of having a bunch of different writers (which also kinda falls under the umbrella of being a children’s cartoon). It often seems like the makers of children’s cartoons think the base characterization is all that kids really notice or something, although—and maybe it’s just me—inconsistent characterization bothered me in a lot of my favorite cartoons growing up.
The main things which fluctuate in MLP:FIM are the agressiveness, intelligence, and power levels of the ponies. For instance, sometimes Fluttershy is *seriously* fucking shy and easily scared, while on average she gets along pretty fine with just a bit of shyness and more of a motherly attitude. All of the ponies fluctuate in how friendly, agressive, competitive, hospitable, and mature they can be. The intelligence fluctuations are usually more joke-based as they are in most shows, but can be pretty egregious in cases like Twilight Sparkle ranging from know-everything genius to complete goddamn idiot from time to time. Twilight is also the biggest victim of power level fluctuation, with her magic at times used to thwart big enemies, easily harvest whole orchards, and at one point *teleport herself small distances for no particular reason* when later she can’t magic her way across a chasm or clean up a mess.
Additionally, the timeline makes no sense. There’s the “Winter Wrap-Up” episode which occurs three episodes before the beginning of… Winter. Yet, other aspects that are consistent in the show belay the idea of a Haruhi-esque purposely disordered timeline.
Anyway, it’s not a major complaint because it’s pretty much the norm for cartoons, but I feel like this show would be much more awesome if the characters remained consistent and—as overrated as I think character development is on the whole—went through some of that. I just think it’s an element that would work really well in a show with such an engaging cast.
Even today, the biggest problem that I, and I think a lot of the fans of this show have with it, is the often inconsistent representation of characters. Nevertheless, I went on to watch season two. At the time, the latest episode was Read It And Weep, so I got caught up to that point, and by the end of it, I was hooked. I loved almost every episode of season two, and it seemed to exhibit a level of quality consistent with the best episodes of season one.
The Return of Harmony, Lesson Zero, Luna Eclipsed, Sweet and Elite, May the Best Pet Win, Hearth’s Warming Eve, and the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 all became instant favorites, and for the next few days, I poured myself into researching MLP, reading everything on TV Tropes and Wikipedia, and finding all of the sites that I could which talked about the show. I also started making all of my friends watch it, and quickly got my other brother and my BFF into it Four days after that last post, I wrote this one:
This Gift Just Ain’t Done Giving
I’m talking about My Little Pony, which I’ve become a much bigger fan of since the last tumblr post I wrote about it. Was season 2 that much better than season 1? Probably more like, spending more and more time with the ponies just made them grow on me more and more. But there’s also all these gifts it keeps giving me!
I love it when something that I enjoy is popular. It means there’s more stuff out there for me to enjoy, more people to talk to and relate to, etc. But this is something totally beyond the likes of Homestuck, which has an unimaginably vast internet fanbase, but only 2 people that I know have read it, and I can’t even bring myself to try and get others into it.
On the flipside, for the first time ever, My Little Pony is the one show that *everyone I fucking know* likes. And I do mean *everyone,* with one exception, and he’ll surely like it if he ever gets around to watching it. This is amazing. I’ve always had a lot of difficulty getting offline friends to check out… just about anything. In this case, I didn’t have to—a few of my friends had already seen the show before I had. Then I got lucky and had other friends at my house while my brother and I were marathoning the show, and we managed to get everyone to enjoy at least some of it. I don’t need them to watch the whole show or anything: it’s enough that everyone is “in on it” so to speak. The brony culture has permeated my group of offline friends. If I can even rope my online friends into it, holy shit, holy shit.
So besides that, I’ve got a ton of easily rewatchable episodes, and the show is even still running. I have huge amounts of fan material, and some of it is just excellen. Here’s something I never saw coming: the voice actress of Applejack and Rainbow Dash is the lead singer of a jazzy indie band called Hey Ocean! which is really surprisingly good. How the hell did I manage to get a band recommendation out of this?! I love it.
Here’s to an awesome brony culture~
But this was only the beginning. Once I’d read all I could about the show, I turned to brony media. I started listening to all of the music and watching all the videos. I opened up Equestria Daily’s media tab, and I started a quest to consume absolutely everything. A week after that last post, I opened up my pony-specific tumblr, Digibrony, on which I made this post:
Wow, I’ve become a brony in no time flat.
My Little Pony is an easy fandom to get wrapped up in, and it’s something I very much appreciate as a long-time anime fan. It makes a world of difference to have most of a community’s product available in a language that I can understand. Doubly so when “community” includes the creators of the show itself! There’s no need to wait for materials—even interviews—to be translated—and one can easily learn all major aspects of the fandom without needing these things explained.
From the ground level, the series is superbly entertaining. It’s a perfect storm of creative potential: the rare occasion in which a decently-budgeted American cartoon is put in the hands of a team who seeks to make something that they can be proud of, without resulting in an arthouse production. Interviews with staff reveal their love and care for the series, which shows constantly in a show that never needs to be excused for being a “kids’ show.”
MLP:FiM wasn’t perfect from the beginning, though it started on the right foot. Early episodes reveal a staff that’s still getting into the swing of things: figuring out what aspects of the characters’ personalities should stand out, piecing together how the world operates, and discovering their own increasing love for a product which they began to realize was better than they could’ve known they were capable of. Gradually, the series realizes its potential. Episodes become more consistently great, characters’ personalities start to solidify, the world becomes surprisingly deep, and the quality of art and animation follows a steady incline.
The real magic here is that even before MLP:FiM functioned beautifully, it was good enough to attract a fandom from the start—good enough that people keep watching after the first episodes and stick around long enough to get into the thick of it. Helping along are a few early episodes that manage to stand out, such as episodes four (Applebuck Season) and seven (Dragonshy). Moreover, the fandom redefines and improves the emotions of earlier episodes. I consider episode six (Boast Busters) to be one of the weaker early episodes, saved by Twilight’s feat of badassery towards the end; but revisiting the episode is so much more special when seeing Trixie through eyes that have experienced her massive fandom.
In the bones of the show are some innate characteristics which help to draw the viewer into its world. Chief among these is visual consistency and the uniqueness therein. Some points:
1. The series has a gorgeous color scheme, bright and very colorful, but subdued—vibrant without being garish. This was something series creator Lauren Faust considered among her favorite aspects of the show’s art. As a bonus, it airs in glorious 1080p.
2. The character designs are necessarily very consistent, and fairly template-ish, but the many subtle differences between each pony are more than enough to set them all apart visually. Instead of hurtful, the design consistency is helpful in establishing the ponies as a race, and makes alternative design styles really stick out. One such establishment comes with motion: the way ponies walk and fly—their consistency—helps to establish the meaningful difference between, say, how Rainbow Dash (the fastest pegasus in the land) flies in comparison to other pegasi.
3. Like the designs of the ponies, the fact that locations were designed with toys in mind actually helps them. Every major location in the series is consistently massive and heavily detailed, creating a memorable and interesting-to-look-at world which all flows together excellently.
4. Background ponies! These are particularly special, and again, partly due to the show’s toy-selling nature. There are toys for more characters than there are even speaking roles in the show, and as a result, this means there are a number of “background ponies” who show up consistently throughout the series. Background ponies help to establish Ponyville as… existent! We see that there are ponies who actually live there besides the “Mane Six” and whomever they happen to interact with in each episode.
5. Attention to detail. Lauren Faust stated in an interview that she tried to make ponies interact with their world *like ponies* to the greatest extent possible. She didn’t want to see ponies walking around holding umbrellas, when they could have a rig that holds an umbrella to their head. This widespread attention to detail is yet another aspect which establishes the pony world as unique and memorable.
All of this world establishment endears the viewer to the visual language of the show. But MLP doesn’t stop there: the written language of the show is important, too. Most of the establishing phrases come in the form of pony puns. In this world, we refer to “somepony” and “nopony” and “everypony.” These words become a fan lexicon. As their love of the series grows, viewers find themselves joking in their minds about how “somepony needs to watch more My Little Pony” and all of a sudden they start talking like that… and who are they going to say those things in front of? Other fans, of course!
To recap, the series is engaging from the ground level, features characters who, as they hit their stride of consistency, become endearing, and establishes a world that becomes a culture in the mind of the viewer. Toss awesome musical numbers and the best vocal cast in the history of girls’ cartoons into the mix, and you’ve got a show begging for fandom. Now, give it several 26-episode seasons of 22-minute episodes which are readily available on youtube, and which can be watched in virtually any order, and you’ve got yourself the most accessible children’s cartoon this side of Disney.
Having accessed the violently accessible, where does one go from here? Personally, I was helped into the fandom by being an avid TVTropes reader—by the time I’d read most of the site’s MLP articles, I had tons of information and resources to find more. But even if you just watch the series on youtube and are curious to explore the fandom, the related videos on any given episode are filled with random fanmade crap. Following their trail will lead to more videos, and inevitably, if you read their descriptions, you’re bound to get linked to Equestria Daily. Subscribing to EqD alone is enough to make one a full-time brony, even without reading any fanfics. However, if you want to go beyond, EqD will certainly point you where to go.
My Little Pony’s fandom is gigantic, with endless growth potential. It can grow beyond massive fandoms like Homestuck because it’s so accessible—the only thing barring entry is fear of the feminine, which the series has already better conquered than anything of its ilk. Despite its size, the My Little Pony fandom is still very young. Just wait until projects like the Ponycart and Fighting is Magic games come out, and Bronycon continues to grow. There is potential for serious, exponential growth that could earn My Little Pony an eventual mainstream status surpassing even the likes of the Powerpuff Girls.
After writing this post, I continued to watch the show episodically on The Hub, and I continued talking about it on tumblr. I spent two months going through the entirety of EQD’s media tab, and collected all of my favorite fanworks into one giant post on my blog. I got to experience the brilliance of A Friend In Deed and all the amazing fan reactions to the episode. I also got to experience the lowest point in the fandom, when Derpy’s voice was changed, and everyone collectively flipped their shit.
By the time the second season was over, I was already way deeper into MLP fandom than I’d ever been into a specific work of art before. Even though I’d spent ten years as an anime fan, with periods in which watching and blogging anime was all I did in life, I was never into just one show on a very deep level. It’s always been rare for me to rewatch a show more than once a year, or play a game again, or read a book again, etc.
The closest I’ve ever come to obsessing over a work consistently is when, every couple of years, I get hooked on Touhou for a week or two, and then eventually I’m back to normal. I wondered, then, if this would happen with MLP.
And well, it did, and it didn’t. Once season two was over, and I’d made my brony media overview post, I started to pay more attention to other things. I started playing Tera Online a lot and got big into videogames, and ponies started to be less in my mind. I still listened to SoGreatAndPowerful on like a daily basis, and I still wanted to be a part of brony culture, but I was sick of all the posts coming from EQD, and I didn’t feel like hanging out in livestreams or keeping up with pony music anymore. I stopped posting on my tumblr, and pretty soon the only connection I had with the pony fandom was following the mylittlepony subreddit.
This isn’t something to underestimate, though. Even though what gets shared on Reddit is mostly short images and comics, I would check reddit several times a day every day, so I was still seeing a consistent amount of ponies. Because of this, even though I didn’t really watch or talk about the show for six months or so, I was still in the know about what was happening in the fandom, and I still got to see enough ponies to keep them on the mind.
When season three came around, I was working, and if I hadn’t been, I probably would’ve jumped into ponies exactly as I had in February, dedicating every waking hour to brony media intake. Instead, I started doing what I’d wanted to do for months—analyzing each episode of the show, in an effort to affirm my love for every little detail of Friendship is Magic. This lead to my video series and well, you know the rest.
The past few months have given me a totally new way to interact with the show and the fandom. Thanks to stuff like the Crepuscular Bronies podcast, I’ve been holding an even bigger microscope to the show, and talking more in-depth to fellow fans than ever before. Season three has definitely felt different from previous seasons of the show, and it’s interesting to see how people react, from feelings of joy to those of confusion and worry. Right now, we’re at the height of people being unsure about the show’s future, between the announcements about the finale, and the statements that season four may have a bit more control by Hasbro.
I’m excited for whatever direction the show might take. If anything, I’m glad that each season has so much different from the previous season, as it gives the series a different energy and keeps me on my toes as a viewer and an analyst.
In that post I read before, I talked about the core of what got me so into the show. The quality of animation, the interesting world-building elements, and the magnificent core cast of characters. These things still matter immensely, but there’s more to it now. It’s about looking at that core through every lens in which it’s presented. The inconsistencies aren’t good or bad, but they’re intriguing. I suspect that if the show didn’t have so many different writers and so many ideas flying around, mingling and contradicting one-another, I wouldn’t be able to write about the show. It’s because the show is confusing, and interesting, and has so much going on, that I feel the need to explain it to myself, and better grasp just what the fuck is actually happening in these episodes, and what it means, and how it interacts with the rest of the show and, more importantly, my idea of what the rest of the show is.
So yeah, that’s why I’m so into the show, and why I’m making videos about it. In every medium that I’m interested in, my favorite works are the ones with the highest density of things to appreciate about them, and so far, MLP has me appreciating it with the most density possible. So here’s to the season three finale, and here’s to season four, and here’s to Brony culture, and here’s to another year of thoroughly analyzing My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.