If someone told me thirteen years ago (when my anime fandom was just taking off) that down the line I’d get into My Little Pony again, I probably wouldn’t believe them. Actually, I was never really into it before; I remember having a few toys and watching the old cartoon a bit when I was very young, but that’s it. So how did it come about that a few years ago this somewhat forgotten franchise suddenly burst into new-found popularity among an audience much older that its creators intended?…
For over a decade now, the sheer variety of genres and stories that exist in the anime medium have given me all I wanted in terms of my constant hunger for good animated entertainment. While I always check out all the latest American animated movies, for many years I had lost faith in American TV cartoons after glancing at some of the shows on Cartoon Network and seeing nothing but generic superhero shows or obnoxious, even crude, comedies. So I never had much desire to watch any non-anime TV cartoons, despite fellow anime fans claiming that some are quite good, such as Avatar: the Last Airbender and Teen Titans. While I believed them that a handful of Western TV cartoons still had dignity, I just plain never cared to watch them over anime.
A couple of years ago I started to notice the popularity My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic had amongst some of my friends and fellow anime fans. I could understand an older audience liking something like Avatar that has an obvious epic, dramatic story and looks very anime-ish, but the fact that so many adults liked a much simpler, cutesy, and child-aimed show intrigued me. I started seeing more and more My Little Pony cosplayers, merchandise, and events at Anime Expo and AnimeLA, and like I said, a few friends and fellow anime bloggers were talking about it too. It took me a while but finally I had to see what the fuss was about.
Around June of last year, when I was still unemployed and had a lot of free time on my hands, I sat down and watched the first few episodes. I continued to watch more episodes in the ensuing months and thought it was a cute and fairly well-written cartoon…but still couldn’t understand what was so great about it. My initial lack of enthusiasm could probably be blamed on the quality of the early season 1 episodes not being as good as the later ones since the writers were, in all likelihood, still getting used to the characters and setting and how exactly they wanted to portray them. At any rate, I watched the episodes until the middle of season 1, then I didn’t watch any for three months when I was getting settled into my new job and had little free time. It wasn’t until this past December that I had an inkling to watch the show again…and by the end of season 1, I was totally hooked. As of now I’ve watched all the available episodes, with the season 3 finale airing tomorrow.
So what is it that makes this show so enjoyable to me? Well, being the avid anime fan that I am, I can’t help but compare it to anime. And honestly, it’s not that much different from a moe/slice-of-life anime except with cute, talking ponies in a fantasy world instead of cute high school girls in Japan. Actually, the advantage it could have there is lack of fan service and hard-to-understand Japanese culture jokes XD But anyway, just like a good anime comedy, much of the humor in My Little Pony: FiM is character-driven, coming from the characters’ personalities and the flaws and problems that they have. For a show like this, liking it boils down to whether you like the characters or not. And I personally find just about all of them likable. Even though they have some negative qualities, for example, Rarity can be vain and Rainbow Dash can be arrogant, you see the good sides of their personalities over the course of the episodes and they become a lot less one-dimensional. I didn’t like Rainbow Dash or Pinkie Pie at first (the former being too arrogant and the latter being too…random), but I changed my mind when I saw how genuinely caring Rainbow Dash was to her friends in “Wonderbolts Academy” and “Hurricane Fluttershy,” and how grief-stricken to the point of insanity Pinkie Pie got in “Party of One” when she thought her friends didn’t like her anymore. Having good qualities as well as negative ones, and displaying a variety of emotions, are the makings of good characters and I’d say the My Little Pony cast fits the bill.
With the exception of the slightly darker two-parters, the show is episodic, but has enough ongoing subplots such as the misadventures of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Twilight’s magic studies, and Rainbow Dash’s admiration of the Wonderbolts, to bring a feeling of wholesomeness to its world. The fantasy setting that it’s in easily lends itself to both light comedy as well as cool action and drama. And because of the episodic nature, just about all of the reoccurring characters have had at least one starring episode to develop. Even side characters like the Cutie Mark Crusaders are likable – being “kid” characters, they could have been hyper and bratty, but instead they’re very sweet and endearing. Not every episode is good of course, but the majority are fun, engrossing stories with great moral messages for kids, yet I never feel like the show insults my intelligence. The dialogue is well written and not everything is spoon-fed to you the way it often is in shows aimed at very young children. Actually, sometimes the plots get a bit complex, especially in the two-parters, and the show is always using rather large words that little kids probably don’t know. There are also quite a number of short songs the characters sing in various episodes, which I think is great since kids need more singing in their life. While I personally don’t think the songs are that great as a whole, some are very good and I’m glad that the show gets creative enough to have them.
Another enjoyable thing about MLP: FiM is the design. Not only is it a very colorful world, but the designs of the ponies are a good balance between conforming to a template yet still being distinct from each other. The design of the world that they live in is also a lot of fun. I enjoy seeing the clever ways unicorns use their magic to move objects around or how the ponies interact with things in a pony-ish way (for example, using their mouth to write with a pencil). Another unique thing about the show is how the creators actually pay attention to what the fans like and will sometimes give them what they want, case in point being Derpy Hooves, who was nothing but a background pony that the fandom loved and thus the creators included her in more episodes, even officially giving her the name that the fandom made for her. I believe other originally one-time characters such as Trixie and Princess Luna had a return episode simply because the fans loved them.
But like anything, My Little Pony: FiM is not without its flaws, most of which come from what it is – a kids cartoon. Plot and character inconsistencies arise because the show is more focused on getting the story told than keeping those subtleties consistent. A character might develop a bit in one episode, then regress in a later episode if it’s convenient for the plot. I feel like I’m more in tune to this than most because of all the anime I’ve watched, with its stern focus on consistent character development, even in kids shows. There’s inconsistencies with how the world works too, such as the unicorns’ magic being able to do all kinds of amazing things and then not being used for very easy fixes. The inconsistencies could also have to do with the episodes having different writers. Magic can be used to explain a lot of things in the show’s world, but not everything. And again, compared to anime, its realism is much more often shattered by cartoonish tropes such as Hammer Space (characters pulling things out of nowhere if it helps the plot or gets a joke across). A handful of episodes left me with thoughts of “Why didn’t they do that?” or “They should have explained that.” Why didn’t they just ask a question only the real Pinkie Pie would know in “Too Many Pinkie Pies”? Why didn’t Twilight just use her magic to fix town hall and save Applejack all that trouble in “The Last Roundup”? Where did that conveniently placed bouquet of flowers come from in “A Caterlot Wedding part 2″? And this could be a personal thing, but I wish the show would have dramatic stories like the two-parters more often. So the show is not without its problems, but I found that while they were hard to get used to at first, especially coming from an anime-watching background, as the episodes went by the good qualities overpowered the bad. For every inconsistency or plot problem, there’s a satisfying consistency or clever touch to make up for it.
Moe versions of the characters? I would watch that! XD
But what’s probably most incredible to me about My Little Pony: FiM is the cult of older fans. While browsing through the media pages of Equestria Daily, I am absolutely stunned by the amazing variety and sheer quantity of fan art that exists for this show (Equestria Daily has over 700 fan art posts, each containing over 50 fan art pictures…you do the math XD) Not only fan art, but because Hasbro fails to release many brony-aimed merchandise, fans have opted to make their own; there’s tons of fan-made MLP plushies, figures, and other unique items such as stained glass windows, wood sculptures, and stitch art. There’s quite a number of fan-made computer games too, including the giant labor of love, Fighting is Magic (which unfortunately got shut down). And while I don’t have any interest in fanfics or fan made music and videos, there’s tons of those as well. I’ve been involved in a lot of popular animated franchises over the years, but I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a cult of fans as ravenously passionate and creative as the MLP:FiM fans. The love they have for these characters and their world is astounding.
Just because your show is for kids is no excuse not to try to make it good, and MLP: FiM is a shining example of a kids cartoon that’s smart, funny, sweet, and adorable for all ages, going beyond its basic goal of getting little girl toys sold. I’m glad I was willing to give it time to grow on me and I regret that I didn’t get into it sooner…but better late than never! While it’s a bit bumpy in the early episodes and it suffers from some consistency flaws, it’s still an overall well written show with lovable characters and memorable stories. The way things are looking, it’s likely that the show will end after one more season and I’m curious how its popularity will last after that. Will it have the timeless quality that only certain cartoons have had, being enjoyed and referenced for years to come, or is it simply a product of its time that most of its current fans will forget about once it’s no longer producing new material? Whatever it is, I’ll love it for what it has to give and I look forward to seeing what its future holds~
My Little Pony: FiM will be getting a Japanese dub this April! This video is of a Bushiroad event introducing the show, the characters, the merchandise, and some of the seiyuu. I can’t wait to hear the show in Japanese~
For those of you familiar with Internet sensation Doug Walker (most famous as the Nostalgia Critic), he shares a hilarious story about how bronies helped him out (the story starts about 1:15 in the video).