Analyzing “Snowdrop”

Yep, you guys got to me, and I’m glad you did. I wasn’t going to talk about Snowdrop because I didn’t have anything meaningful to say about it before. You guys kept asking me to do it, and I did say I was giving into the demands of my viewers, so I gave Snowdrop another watch, and discovered that I liked it a lot more than I expected, and found something to say.

First of all though, I should address why I didn’t want to watch Snowdrop in the first place. Originally, I watched the first few minutes of it with my brother while we were setting up for a livestream, and I quickly got the impression that it was supposed to be a sadfic. This term usually refers to a sad fanfiction, but I often use the phrase sadfic to refer to any story that goes out of its way to be deliberately tearjerking. The top tier of sadfics, in terms of being exactly that, are the works of Maeda Jun, such as Kanon, Air, and Clannad.

I don’t like sadfics. I don’t put much value into a story’s ability to make me cry, because to me it’s very much a smoke and mirrors act of trickery, for an emotion that doesn’t mean a lot to me. Allow me to explain:

When I watched episode nine of Clannad, I cried like a baby. I didn’t care about the characters or the story in the slightest—hell, I barely remember what happened in the episode—but the way that it was put together perfectly pulled on the heartstrings. The way it was directed – the pacing, music, voice acting, and animation, were all constructed in a way that elicited the maximum outburst of emotion, which caused me to cry about something that I not only didn’t care about, but found completely unmemorable.

My first impression of Snowdrop, which I still hold to be fairly true, was that it wanted to make me emotional, and it seemed to be going about this in the cheapest way possible. The main character is an ultra-adorable little girl with a disability (specifically blindness), and she lives in a world that doesn’t know how to take care of her.

This scenario COULD ring true, and could be incredibly sad, but it would have to be explored extremely in-depth before it would start to resonate with me. The only story I can think of that pulls off that kind of depressive atmosphere while still being a resonant and human story is the classic HBO drama The Wire, which is an amazing show that I still have trouble going back and watching just because no matter how resonant it is, it’s still depressing, and I don’t particularly like to feel depressed about things.

Snowdrop was obviously not going to be on that level and I wouldn’t expect it to be, whereas I’d totally expect it to be a cheap grab at my heart using the cruelty and ignorance of its characters to make me feel bad.

When I watch this episode, my feelings aren’t, “oh man, I feel sorry for Snowdrop,” my feelings are, “FUCK THAT TEACHER. HOLY SHIT. FUCKING BE HER PARTNER YOURSELF YOU FAILURE. HEY ASSHOLE, IF THE BLIZZARD IS SO BAD, WALK THE FUCKING BLIND PONY HOME.”

So yes, the story successfully generates emotion in me, and for a lot of people this would make it good. However, for me, generating an emotion that I don’t like and am not interested in feeling means that I would rather not watch it. When I felt that the story was trying to deliberately make me pissed at the world around Snowdrop in order to find sympathy for her, instead of making me sympathetic for her by showing off how interesting and cool she was on her own, I decided not to continue.

But as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t really the story of why I don’t like Snowdrop, it’s the story of what I did like about it after returning to it.

Before I say anything else, I’ll point out that Snowdrop is definitely well-constructed. The animation is solid, it’s paced well, and while I may not agree with the techniques it uses to develop sympathies, the dialog itself is not bad in any way, and the story has no intrinsic flaws. I wouldn’t ordinarily bother pointing all of this out, but after my Double Rainboom review, I’ve been told that people really want me to mention stuff like this, so here it is. And since this statement, while not important to me, will probably be vindicating for a lot of viewers of both reviews, I will state openly that yes, I think Snowdrop is altogether better constructed than Double Rainboom. The animation may not be as technically impressive, but the production altogether has way more tonal cohesion and tightness that makes it feel like a solid piece of work, rather than a lot of hit-or-miss ideas flying around. We all happy now?

So, why is Snowdrop interesting? Because the central conflict and its resolution—what Snowdrop is trying to accomplish, and the way in which she accomplishes it, are interesting.

Snowdrop’s goal is simply, to prove that she isn’t useless. That, even though she can’t see and doesn’t have any particular talents, there must be something that she’s good for. And as it turns out, she expresses this through art, in a startlingly realistic representation of what art is and what it means to people.

You could compare Snowdrop’s snowflake to something like a Jackson Pollock painting. To a lot of people, such as the other kids at the celebration, the painting is meaningless and stupid. However, the art piece manages to find its audience in Princess Luna, and just as an artist like Pollock could have a place in life as long as there was someone who would pay for his art, Snowdrop’s creation was embraced by a backer who mattered enough to give her a place in the world.

The romance of making art is a lot like the romance of love. If you’ve ever read the kind of romance where a character says that their life has meaning as long as they can be with their lover, the same is often true of art. It has meaning, even if only one person can see that meaning, and if that person happens to have a lot of money, then the art can be allowed to flourish. This is the same magic that Kickstarter operates on. The idea is that a piece of art doesn’t have to appeal to a wide audience, it only has to appeal to an audience that’s willing to pay for it, and as long as you can get someone like Notch, the creator of Minecraft, to see something in your work, you’re pretty damn likely to get funded.

Snowdrop’s initial snowflake is not exactly well-made, and it’s interesting that she was not even necessarily passionate about the construction of the snowflake. Her passion was to prove herself useful, and her creation reflected that meaning. She wanted to show that anything could have a purpose and bring joy to someone’s life, including snow, which was typically treated… coldly. She does this by comparing snow to the night sky, which she knows can bring joy, and this conflict immediately resonates with Luna, whose inner conflict over the lack of appreciation for her night had once been so intense that it lead to her transformation into Nightmare Moon.

So yeah, this is pretty interesting stuff, and I appreciate this kind of hardship as an artist myself who, for a very long time, had an audience of just a handful of people that really appreciated what I was doing. The Lunas to my Snowdrop.


8 thoughts on “Analyzing “Snowdrop”

  1. Long post, but I swear it makes sense.

    Not much in your post to qualify here. Yes, Snowdrop’s well-constructed and better-patterned, in a way that the likes of Double Rainboom isn’t. Yes, it’s cheaply sentimental (that’s what you mean in a single word), and when we really try to get into the tendencies or the “spirit” of MLP eps, we might have seen that coming (doesn’t mean the approach is/isn’t aesthetically unpleasant generally, and we’ll both admit that there are probably at least a few significant eps in the series that don’t do this). Yes, it has something interesting to say about art.

    I still…don’t like it. True: this time around, I slipped into the warped view (everyone does once in a while) that if a work is well-constructed, you’ll both appreciate and love it. Thinking it over, though, I realized that there are other factors to consider besides melodrama. I want to like it—at least I think I do—but I get hung up over a few things that I recognize, things that people may not care about but I feel too strongly about. After all, “liking,” “respecting,” or “valuing” a work, even at the level of aesthetics, is a weighing process. Payoff—we talked about this.

    Even though extended speeches to “nobody/everybody in particular” seem to be responsible for so much of the story, the effect doesn’t strike me as “right” or “worth it.” We could try to rationalize the dissonance by saying that it emphasizes Snowdrop’s being the lone or singular individual in a society or in the universe, but…still kinda strikes me as bullshit, or not convincing enough. I’d also like to have said that all kinds of subtle attention to expression, context, and other stuff was present. And maybe there was (i.e. more than I realized), but the story didn’t make me want to find and examine them.

    Wanna know the odd thing? What actually irked me was the—ignorance demonstrated, shall I say?—with respect to the tension or dissonance in the religious narratives used. I say this not as some raving religious guy (I’m not, lol), but as a guy who was raised so, is somewhat so, and consequently sees the text in a “deeper” way. Christmas and Easter, among other holidays, derive from a tension between traditional Christian dogma and paganism. As an example: Christians in the early centuries rejected the idea of circularity (even explicitly in, like, the Bible). Time ends, people are judged, rewarded and punished. Linear. The cyclical nature of the seasons was grafted onto the idea of the Resurrection as a learning tool for “pagans,” for whom cyclical history, etc. deeply resonated and was deeply ingrained. We get “rebirth” and ideas like that. If you read Beowulf (written by an anonymous guy who was almost definitely a Christian himself), this specific tension is explicated. History *seems* cyclical—think Naruto’s “cycle of hatred”—which makes sense because murder, war, and revenge are so constant and immediate. Beowulf’s bid for glory and the security of his people (he dies in the process of taking on a dragon) is hinted at the end of the epic to have been for naught from the human point of view; having cremated his body, the subtle idea is that the people are aware that by a couple of generations they’ll have ceased to exist, having been snuffed out. Having been noble and righteous, however, God presumably rewards him in the afterlife.

    Why does this matter? Aside from the hint of the afterlife with Snowdrop at the end (Celestia’s referencing her in the present tense), there’s the fact that, at the end of the day, this is a Christian narrative. Not a story about Christianity, I must be very explicit in stating, but a narrative infused with Christian cultural values and literary systems. Christianity is one of the few religions so explicitly paradoxical (plenty of religions feature paradoxes). Think about it: the humblest, most vulnerable subject gives a humble, badly-made gift to the great King (princesses).

    One of the many elements distinguishing ironic stories like “Gift of the Magi” (couple selling most prized possessions “in vain”) from, say, your classic Greek tragedy like Antigone (guy desperately sticks to his way of doing things, heeds wisdom and acts too late, loses his entire family) is the role of the error of judgment. Irony aside, the narrator of “Gift” doesn’t seem to think an error of judgment was made; he would say that it only seems like it was made, but that the choice was really correct according to a framework that does strike some as a little…weird. The more-neutral “this is how treasured gifts are given” (the meaning that actually resonates with us) becomes an actual claim of what matters in life. You wouldn’t get the duality in Greek tragedy, not quite the same way. The character in Antigone who loses everything indeed gets the wisdom he was seeking, but “uselessly” in terms of dealing with the situation in the story, only as a result of and through the suffering he experiences. He was “clearly” wrong (not clearly at all, because we’d have to question his values), but then, the goal was never to vindicate him—only to show a precise and visceral understanding of why people act.

    So it comes down to the fact that this is a story about grace, gifts, mercy, paradox, etc. Not about stumbling, and falling, and failing, and irony. This, at least arguably, weakens (I didn’t say *cheapens*, because it necessarily depends on your world view) the project. It *feels* “nice,” but the results are platitudinous. MLP isn’t about this sort of thing, thematically—no, not just because it’s about “friendship.” It’s about seeing or rationalizing gifts/grace, only as added to action. I guess I get the impression that Snowdrop didn’t do anything, because I don’t really understand what caused her to act, beyond the superficial.

    How it plays out in the work? Possibly, not enough of a narrative nod to the fact that Snowdrop is not a blind girl, but a “blind filly Pegasus living in the magical land of Equestria.” Seems like common sense, but full awareness of this makes a difference. In MLP eps, do magic and the metaphysical, etc. strengthen or better situations that would otherwise be ironic pathos? Not…usually. Usually that part played by gods or chance or whatever are carefully replaced. Consider that Celestia’s giving tickets at the end of “Ticket Master” is not actually a deus ex machina. When magic comes in, the attempt is usually careful. I still say that if Magical Mystery Cure “differentness” was more explicitly advertised, people wouldn’t have bitched too much. They’d have realized: “Oh, this doesn’t test possibilities? Oh, this doesn’t test values? Oh, this preaches? Oh, this obvious message?” And then moved straight to the brilliance of what it actually accomplished.

    So social responsibility is a big deal for Snowdrop, as is finding a niche. Stars are just as present during the day as at night (well, arguably—it isn’t our world, though). What I mean is, why the hell would Snowdrop care? Luna values her because Snowdrop values the stars, which she was told twinkle at night. What, then, does it mean to “truly know her night?” She gives so much for something she can’t even see? Are we to praise naïveté? Are we really to feel so badly for her that we forget that she basically wished for a school project she never worked on? She so damn “Tiny Tim” that it gets a bit grating (not the VA, just the script tone).

    Also got to me, the vase thing. They already had a window with her cutie mark on it. The snowflake thing was all ceremony and shit. Like, *mere* ceremony. There’s no reason why Celestia wouldn’t have just run out of those badly-made things early on. And we have to ask whether the writers were aware of the dissonance of Luna’s turning Night Mare while Snowdrop was alive. If they were, then what were they saying? It isn’t clear.

    I’m so glad I’ve figured out analysis in terms of dissonance. It’s not enough to experience dissonance in art; someone has to rationalize it convincingly.

    • About the Luna thing well maybe she got so caught up in her delusions that she completely forgot about Snowdrop for a while
      And didn’t realize how Snowdrop felt about it.

  2. Let me correct a few of my perhaps-errors. 1) Seeing is not everything. 2) Snowdrop’s wish is to be useful, not for a project itself (sort of devious here). 3) she wants the opportunity to be useful and is literally given an object that she fashions badly.

  3. Dammit, wasn’t clear at all. Yet again. I’m tired of this double and triple posting pattern. Don’t respond if you weren’t going to.

    What I’m saying is that I didn’t like Snowdrop because it relies too carelessly on a particular patterned archetype—leading to a sense that the difficulties of creating and understanding art were oversimplified with respect to realism and the things FIM is argued to value.

    When I think of Gardner’s “Grendel” or Carver’s “Cathedral” (link:, this stuff just seems more like an imitation. The textual pattern, religious in origin, is in tension with many values we have—thus, a rationalization or lens is needed to engage the multiple sides. Some stories, like “Gift of the Magi,” do this better.

    Snowdrop, by my comparison, features characters literally going on and on in speeches that distractingly evoke inordinate levels of pity for the speaker, or superficial “I’ve been there,” when the point is arguably deeper understanding. You can’t talk art into people, or there’s always a level of indirection and artificiality in it. This is a necessary, fundamental point. The art finds a niche. It is “appreciated,” not exactly “assimilated.” Only later might it be “understood” by people who experience it. I should have cared—really cared—about Luna in the story. I didn’t, and that makes me feel rotten.

    Whether appreciation was the goal rather than assimilation is probably a topic for thematic debate.

    I think I would have been really moved if Snowdrop’s gift was not immediately recognized, or recognized for years. But then maybe *that* pattern would have been too obvious.

    • While all your literary allusion are lost on me as usual :p, I agree with your points altogether. I really, ultimately don’t like Snowdrop, and I do think it’s got all these problematic elements—I just found something to like about it via the usual density. I think you’re altogether way better at realizing and coming to grips with what you don’t like and why you don’t like it, whereas I’m more ready to ignore the stuff I don’t like, or sum it up as quickly as possible, and then dive super in-depth into the good stuff.

      • Yeah, starting to think this kind of stuff sounds better in my head or spoken :-/

        It’s a REALLY GOOD CALL, not doing what I would with these texts. I’d HATE NEARLY EVERYTHING, in considering “depth” or whatever. Later I’d take back or qualify some of my opinions. I assume people would be upset, so they wouldn’t come back to discuss other ideas.

        I might be decent as a counter to people who don’t have good reasons for liking/hating the stuff they do, but your parsing skills with the material is great for the medium itself: getting people to sit down and think.

  4. Suggestion, review the audio series narrated by Derpypony22 of My Little Dashie. Remember there are four of them and each one gets better than the last.

  5. Interesting analysis! I have a few questions, so I’m gonna give my input thingie. I’m also incredibly tired, so here comes my -45 to rhetoric skills reply.
    I originally didn’t notice that the notions about art were actually meant to be taken within the context of the film, silly me for missing that.

    So, right. The view of her creation as her way of expressing her feelings of negligence through the object as perceived by others is very interesting in itself, I admit that, even if her motive was much simpler in actuality. It’s also coherent with the story in the sense that it can be written off as a subconscious decision. On the other hand, I don’t think anypony has ever been really intrigued by her art, but they did learn about her problems by having the snowflake presented to them – her “stars” had a function, after all, granting wishes (or calming winter and weather, whichever), which well justifies the princesses’ long-lasting interest in their creation.

    To me, it seemed that Luna connected with Snowdrop due to the similar struggles they face – she didn’t appear interested until this parallel has been made known to her. To me, she came off as being appreciative of her as a person with whom she shares a consensus and some common views. Where does art get involved in this?

    During the presentation of the gifts, ponies began to pay positive attention to Snowdrop before Luna visibly displays any real interest in Snowdrop or her star. For example, at around 09:55 in the original upload, there’s a window where they should interrupt but they do not – and there’s also a musical cue, of course. It doesn’t look like Luna induced any kind of change of view from the ponies in the proximity, who instead found Snowdrop’s message inherently interesting, worthy of appreciation or most probably, shocking/stirring. That seemed very prevalent to me and it’s unrelated to her actual gift.

    On a small tangent, having monologues is also beneficial because they require less work to animate than full-fledged scenes, and that’s something the staff surely took into consideration.
    Also, “and the story has no intrinsic flaws”, you say?
    > teacher explains why winter is scientifically good
    > Snowdrop later on says that winter can’t be all bad
    > silly pony, we already know it has benefits
    ‘Kay, maybe that doesn’t qualify.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s