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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Every Little Thing She Does” Review

My Little Pony returns with an episode bringing back the season’s semi-main focus: Twilight training Starlight Glimmer in the ways of friendship. This character arc has been pretty good, even though redeeming Starlight in the first place was a questionable decision. “Every Little Thing She Does” isn’t a fantastic episode nor a particularly mediocre one either.

Starlight Glimmer is excelling at her magical studies with Twilight Sparkle, but she has been avoiding her friendship lessons. Feeling pressure to impress her teacher, Starlight attempts to tackle several friendship problems at once.

The episode begins with Twilight in a magic training session with Starlight. This was a fun sequence because we got to see the two in a kind of sparring practice. The main story starts when Starlight sets out to complete all of her friendship lessons at once. Based on the description it seemed like the plot would have Starlight go around Ponyville attempting to complete these friendship quests somehow at once. Instead of going that route however, the writing went in another direction. Sadly, this is where the episode falters.

The story wants us to accept that Starlight is totally okay with using spells to cheat her way out of completing the lessons. It can argued that she didn’t mean to mind-control the ponies, but once she saw what the spell had done, she decided to keep going. Yes, it’s shown she has grown desperate to complete the lessons, but she nonetheless appeared unreasonable throughout the middle act.

The message at the end is the best part and makes the episode slightly above average. Starlight states she’s afraid to do projects with each of the Mane 6 because she’s worried she might not be good at them. Twilight tells her that it’s not about the project; it’s about getting to know the person (pony) more. It’s about the company. This is especially true in real life. If for example I asked my hypothetical future wife to play a game of Super Smash Bros. with me, I wouldn’t be asking because she’d give me a challenge. (This is assuming of course that she wouldn’t be into the game.) I would ask simply because I like her company. We sometimes do things we’re not into/good at for the other person, whether it be to get to know him/her better, out of love, or simply for the company.

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Overall, “Every Little Thing She Does” is a standard episode made better by the excellent delivery of the message at the end. With a better middle act, we could have had one of the best of the show.

7/10

 

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Viva Las Pegasus” Review

This episode of My Little Pony brings back the Cutie Map. The plot of Season 5 centered around it, and it’s still a clever way to establish a story. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that it chooses two ponies not randomly, but for a reason. “Viva Las Pegasus” stars the unique team-up of Fluttershy and Applejack. While some aspects of it would have benefited from being a two-parter, it nonetheless is an entertaining episode and one of the best from Season 6.

The Map sends Applejack and Fluttershy to Las Pegasus where they find Film and Flam working in a resort called Gladmane’s, where suspicious dealings are going on.

One of the greatest aspects of this episode is the change of scenery. We’ve seen the suburbs and busy city, but never the casino hotel life of Las Vegas. “Fish out of water” is the popular saying, and it applies here as both Applejack & Fluttershy are uncomfortable in this kind of lifestyle. The pacing is excellent as we’re introduced to a bunch of characters. The most notable is Gladmane, whom goes on to be a great portrayal of a corrupt businessman. The writing by the team of Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt is excellent as they manage to tie everything together in the middle-to-last act in a coherent way.

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The Flim Flam Brothers haven’t been seen since Season 4’s “Leap of Faith,” so they were due for a new appearance. The middle and last acts are where they shine, because they get to put their deceptive practices to engaging use. Before that however is the problem. It is highly unrealistic that these two brothers would start to argue because one other pony tells each of them something negative: claiming that one Brother said something about the other and vice versa. The big turnaround also happened incredibly unnaturally. This is the main reason why the episode would have been good as a two-parter. More time was needed to establish the Brothers becoming enemies and reconciling.

The lesson isn’t “in your face” this time around, which is fine. Sometimes these type of lessons are best when the viewer can infer what they are. The verse “Love your enemies” best exemplifies what is seen here. When Fluttershy and Applejack see the Flim Flam Brothers are no longer friends, Applejack is totally fine with it while Fluttershy wants to help. This lesson treads difficult ground, because one can throw the analogy of “hey you wouldn’t help two mass murderers get back together right?” True, but are the Flim Flam Brothers truly evil? Deceptive yes, but evil? The lesson would have been more effective if the Brothers had renounced their practices, that way it wouldn’t have been Applejack and Fluttershy bringing together two “bad” characters. On the flip side, even if you help out an enemy there’s no guarantee they will all of a sudden become a hero. So, at the very least, the concept of putting aside hateful feelings and helping even an enemy is something the lesson succeeds at.

One more interesting thing about the lesson is that Applejack doesn’t help out the Brothers until it helps serve her purpose. She doesn’t express to Fluttershy that it was wrong not to help them. So, what does this mean? Is the lesson a well done one or not? It’s tough to say. In concept it’s good, and its execution seems to be aiming more for realism than trying to make a point. It seemed like the story was less about this message and more about the actual plot, which is definitely fine. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this episode one of the most well done in terms of writing.

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Overall, “Viva Las Pegasus” is a great episode. The writing is excellent (one of my favorite lines was when Applejack said, “So all his talk about friendship is just a load of applesauce”) and the story comes together nicely at the end. The subtle unveiling of Gladmane as the antagonist was fantastic. The Flim Flam Brothers are smartly utilized in the final act, which almost makes up for their mediocre portrayal during most of the runtime. It is disappointing that Fluttershy and Applejack didn’t get to interact with each other more, but that’s a minor thing. The episode should go down as a highlight of the Season.

9/10

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YONA OF THE DAWN SEASON 1 Review

There are a lot of fantastic entries in the Shoujo genre of anime/manga. Today’s show is Yona of the Dawn. It is similar to Garo in some ways, such as being set in a medieval-like time period and the journey to taking down a ruler. Yona however is a more engaging watch, which is mainly due to the focus of the story. The show explores the themes of betrayal, leadership, friendship, and courage. It’s a must-watch for any anime fan.

Upon her sixteenth birthday, the cheerful Princess Yona intended to tell her doting father of her love for Su-Won, but her life was turned upside down after witnessing the man she loves cruelly assassinating her father. Heartbroken by this painful betrayal, Princess Yona fled the palace with her loyal servant Hak. Now, she will take up the sword and the bow on a quest to gain new allies and protect her beloved people.

Yona’s first episode is standard, almost too standard. And that’s the point: to make the viewer think this is going to be something of a stereotype of Shoujo anime. The focus for most of the episode is on the Princess narrating her love for her childhood friend Soo-won. Romance is a primary factor of this genre, so the question always has to be, “what will make this particular show stand out?” The episode answers that question in the climax when Soo-won murders Yona’s father, King II. This scene 24 episodes later still feels like the most powerful of the show. Everything preceding it points to a happy adventure in the kingdom with Yona about to pronounce her love for Soo-won. This scene forces the viewer to rethink that assumption and changes the atmosphere of the story going forward.

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Episode 2 focuses on the Princess and her bodyguard Hak escaping the castle. The viewer is fully engrossed here, not knowing what to expect. In many ways Yona mirrors what the viewer is feeling. She’s shocked while trying to adapt to the situation. From here, the show becomes a survival, and then a journey both outward and inward. The outward part plays out much like an RPG. We have the main character going from village to village meeting diverse characters and “treasure searching.” However, instead of objects the goal is to find and recruit people in order to take back the kingdom.

The inward part of the journey is Yona discovering how to be a warrior and leader. It’s amazing to look back at Episode 1 and jump to Episode 22 when she makes her first kill to save her friend. The character development is fantastic. Yona never ceases to be a likable, engaging protagonist. This is enhanced by her ongoing narration as viewers get to hear things from her perspective, know her feelings, etc. She goes from being distressed to a person of courage willing to put her life on the line to help others. This is why the scene of her firing her arrow at Kumji is such a powerful one; it’s the culmination of her past development.

Aside from Yona, the greatest character is easily Hak, the “Lightning Beast.” His character arc remains pretty much the same, which is being a bodyguard for the Princess. The first few episodes were especially great in showing the unique relationship between the two. Hak is typically portrayed as rather serious, which is why it’s always a treat to hear his narration. Early on it was very interesting to hear what he was thinking about on Soo-won killing the King. He’s just as shocked as Yona, but doesn’t have the luxury of getting depressed because he has a scared duty to protect her. Later, he has to deal with the fact that he has feelings for her. As a bodyguard, is it a good thing to let those feelings take over? It’s a tough question he has to ask himself, especially since Yona doesn’t look at him in a romantic way. This subplot is never overplayed nor underplayed. The viewer is left wondering at the end of Episode 24 what will become of it.

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Soo-won is a fascinating character. He is the “antagonist” yet the writing rarely seems to portray him as outright evil. His killing of King II for “the greater good” and subsequent scenes gives the indication that he is genuinely concerned about the kingdom. We do see glimpses of a more deceptive side at times, but again he’s not a cackling tyrannical dictator. The fact that he has personal ties with Yona and Hak (as seen in the excellent backstory portrayed in Episode 3) makes the conflict all the more engaging.

King II isn’t around long but his presence is felt throughout the show. The interesting aspect of his character is that a lot of the kingdom didn’t like the way he ruled. A very powerful scene was when Yona ran into a dying man. He claimed that it was the King’s pacifism as the cause of the former’s village being in ruin. So, this gives the viewer an ongoing mystery: was II truly a good king? Did he really have a dark past, as Soo-won claimed? These questions the writing smartly leaves open-ended. This also has Yona question whether her father did things right as a king. It’s engaging to see her decide in the final episode that she has to go against her father’s wishes of complete peace and take up a sword to fight for the kingdom.

After the first few episodes the show focuses on Yona searching for the Four Dragon Warriors. This is where the RPG element comes into play. Each Dragon Warrior (aside from Zeno) has his own mini-arc as the Princess enters the villages. The writing does a solid job at making them diverse. The longest arc is Jae-Ha’s. Some might say it took too much time away from Soo-won’s story, but it helped cement Yona as a warrior princess. Plus, the heartwarming moment with Yona and the pirate captain was excellent. The most disappointing arc by default is Zeno’s. Of course, after the long pirate saga it didn’t make sense to have another multi-episode arc exploring another Dragon Warrior. This sadly then forced Zeno to appear basically out of nowhere and by the end he’s given no backstory. Hopefully in Season 2 he will be explored a little more.

The animation is excellent, as are the fight scenes. There aren’t many standout battles unfortunately, because a good number of them are just against hordes of minions. The best single battle might be early on with Soo-won versus Hak. This was a nice tease for a future showdown between the two. There are quite a few side characters, the most prominent being Yun whom becomes a main character. He’s definitely good, but the writing does sometimes take it overboard with his yelling. (Not to mention the tiresome self-calling “beautiful boy genius.”) Even though the plot is rather serious, the show does like to have fun with itself with comedic scenes. Sometimes they’re effective, but often they border on just being too silly. (Such as some of the bickering between Hak and Kija.)

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Overall, Yona of the Dawn is a fantastic watch. At its core it’s about a princess moving past betrayal and becoming a warrior. Yona is a great focus, and her narration greatly enhances the viewing experience. The cast of characters is nicely utilized, especially Hak. The ongoing plot with Soo-won is intriguing to watch unfold. While not perfect in some spots, Season 1 is excellent. Hopefully its sequel will be formally announced soon.

9/10

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks” Review

Another week brings in another My Little Pony episode. Like “28 Pranks Later,” this one’s title is a reference to another piece of media. This time The Fault in Our Stars is parodied, though the actual plot of the episode has nothing to do with it. The Cutie Mark Crusaders haven’t had much luck in terms of quality adventures this season. Both “On Your Marks” and “The Cart Before the Ponies” were on the mediocre side. Thankfully, this streak ends with their best installment in a long while.

An enthusiastic young griffon asks the Crusaders to help her get her very own Cutie Mark; the Crusaders encounter a seemingly impossible problem.

This episode is sort of the antithesis to the Crusaders’ general plots. The fillies’ mission is to help others find out their purpose in life and result in a Cutie Mark springing to life. This time however, the question is posed: “What if it’s basically impossible for someone to get a Cutie Mark?” In this case, a griffon by the name of Gabriella has shown immense interest in getting a Cutie Mark of her own. As viewers and the Crusaders themselves suspect, it’s incredibly unlikely for that to be possible since it seems like only ponies can have Marks. The Fillies are thrown in for a loop because for the first time they think a situation for them to solve is helpless. The viewers can feel their genuine sadness as Scootaloo proclaims to Gabby that the Crusaders “can’t help you.”

Gabby is a very fun character to have around, and in many ways the griffon version of Pinkie Pie. Depending on the viewer’s tolerance for the latter, one will either find Gabby cute or annoying. Personally, I thought her dialogue was good and once again the viewer can feel her genuine sadness when she learns that she won’t be getting a Cutie Mark. One of my favorite scenes was the early flashback, which recalled the events of “The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone.” It was a neat callback, but the greatest aspect of it was the fact that one’s actions (in this case Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash’s) can have unseen positive effects. Because of Gabby witnessing the heroic actions of the two ponies, she was inspired and that inspiration eventually led to her realizing her purpose.

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Overall, “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks” starts a little choppy but ended up being a great episode. The Crusaders face a problem that seemingly doesn’t have a solution, and the viewer can hear the despair in their voices when things seemingly take a turn for the worst. Writer Ed Valentine makes great use of Gabby as a fun character looking to bring light into her rather mean-spirited city. Twilight appears, though it would have been nice to see her offer some advice. She just explains the impossibility of a griffon getting a Cutie Mark, and that’s it. The song was very good, and all the voice work was especially great in this episode.

9/10

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Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time Review

Yu-Gi-Oh is a franchise most people have fond memories of thanks to the iconic 4Kids dub. (To this day, I can’t get Yugi’s iconic “it’s time to d-d-d-duel!” out of my head.) The original manga ended years ago, but has been continued by a show adaption and anime sequels. (Subsequently, there have been manga adaptions of the latter.) The animes have one coherent continuity, and Bonds Beyond Time brings the main characters of the original, GX, and 5D’s together for an adventure. The film is certainly a treat for longtime fans of the franchise. It’s impossible not to smile the entire time and is recommended to watch with other fans especially.

In the future, human civilization has been destroyed. Paradox travels back in time to prevent the destruction of his timeline from occurring by eliminating the source of that destruction: Duel Monsters and its creator, Maximillion Pegasus.

The film is fully geared toward longtime fans. And why shouldn’t it be? This is purely meant to be a fun crossover 10th anniversary celebration of the first anime. It’s not totally inaccessible to newcomers thanks to the extended intro, but it’s mainly for people whom have been following the anime/manga throughout the years. The story is very good, though sadly can’t be developed too much due to the rather short run-time. The idea of the three heroes uniting against a doomed future is an awesome concept, and for the most part it’s executed well. If the film had an extra half hour it would have been enough to fully develop the story and showcase better how the characters meet.

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The intro does a very solid job at recapping the three series. (The only negative I have is that the first segment doesn’t feature Bakura/Zorc, when they were the true main villains.) The film then jumps into a fantastic sequence with Jaden dodging blasts from Stardust Dragon in a ruined city. Since we’re so used to simply seeing the monsters in the dueling format, it’s a treat to see them in real-time causing destruction. This set the tone for the rest of the film. Jaden, along with Yusei and Yugi, get adequate screen time. Yusei has the most, mainly because this film was released during the 5D’s anime. Yusei is a perfect counterpart to the more carefree Jaden. They’re both heroes, but the latter is laid-back while the former more serious. Yugi is more of an amalgam of the two. All three personalities play off each other well.

Paradox is a pretty standard antagonist. The idea of someone from the future going back in time to stop duel monsters from destroying his world was a fantastic idea. This at first gave Paradox dimension as a character, but sadly he ended up being just another villain that enjoys seeing people die. It would have been far more interesting to see a more somber take, focusing solely on his goal to save the future which would have made the viewer question if he was truly evil or not. Instead, the film opted for the more generic route and just made him another bad guy.

The film’s middle to last act is basically one big duel. Longtime fans will have a blast following along, mainly of course to see how the different main characters battle together. The writing throughout the film is pretty solid and gives the impression of a summer blockbuster, much like The Avengers. The dialogue, to put it bluntly, is simply fun. The three characters meeting happens rather suddenly, but nothing bad. The only dialogue sequence I didn’t care for was when Yusei told Yugi that “it’s alright to destroy Stardust Dragon.” This is technically an emotional well done scene until you realize that Stardust wouldn’t actually get destroyed, because the card would still be there. So these lines are rendered irrelevant. The soundtrack is great throughout. Each main character has distinctive themes, and there’s a fantastic amount of choir accompanying the dragon summonings.

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Overall, as an anniversary celebration Bonds Beyond Time delivers. The characters are dynamic and excellent to watch together. The animation looks beautiful and there’s a lot of great monster cards to see. (From the newer Cyber End Dragon to the classic Dark Magician.) The tone is very good, having great balance of danger and pure enjoyment. The short run-time does hurt the development a little, making the film almost seem like just an extended episode. Also, while not a bad character, the motivations behind Paradox is a greatly missed opportunity. At the end of the day though, the film is a must-watch for all Yu-Gi-Oh fans.

8/10

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Buckball Season” Review

It’s always interesting when a new writer tackles the characters. Jennifer Skelly makes her debut with today’s episode, “Buckball Season.” This one continues the slice of life-centric storytelling Season 6 has been doing. Sadly, as stated in previous reviews, the writing has been more on the average side. The previous two had finally broken that slump. Today’s installment has a few notable aspects. For one thing, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie have rarely  starred together in a team-up, so this was a treat. Another is the sports backdrop, which is a fun take on basketball & volleyball. It’s not a great episode, but these parts make it pretty fun.

When Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy turn out to be Ponyville’s best Buckball players, Applejack and Rainbow Dash agree to coach them against Appleoosa. But when the pressure’s on and the players stop having fun, Ponyville’s newest star athletes lose their competitive edge and quite possibly the biggest Buckball game in history!

So, one has to ask why this episode isn’t particularly great. “Buckball Season” suffers from  a rather mean portrayal of Applejack and Rainbow Dash. (Which interestingly enough happened also in “The Cart Before the Ponies.”) Their portrayal wasn’t as extreme as in Cart thankfully, but they still seemed rather unreasonable. This was for the sake of the message, which was about why pushing someone too hard can/will suck the fun out of a game. This isn’t a bad message (we’ll address that momentarily) but character development should never be sacrificed for the sake of the lesson. Another negative with the writing is Applejack and Rainbow deciding that Pinkie & Fluttershy should compete instead of the former two. This just didn’t flow properly and it’s hard to picture Rainbow letting another pony take her place in a competition.

The actual ‘Buckball’ was pretty fun to watch. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie make for an excellent team, both on the court and just as friends walking around. The different personalities play off each other well. A surprising highlight was Snails. He’s typically seen with Snips and together they’re usually nothing more than the comic relief duo of the show. Today’s episode actually gave Snails some personality, which was certainly welcome.

Now, the message is a simple one. Aligning with the idea of overdoing it as coaches, there’s this concept of “having fun is what’s important.” This is definitely true in some senses, but one must be careful not to overdo that message and make it seem like fun is the only important thing. In real competition, winning is important and one should train hard to win. The other extreme is of course when the idea of winning consumes a person and makes them miserable when he/she loses. The episode’s message doesn’t go to either extreme. It does scratch the surface of the former, but only barely. The lesson is for the most part good.

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Overall, “Buckball Season” has some writing problems stopping it from being a great episode. Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s portrayals were off during the second act, and them deciding not to play was completely unnatural. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie make for an excellent focus. It was also good seeing Snails have an actual role outside of the comic relief realm. The message is a solid one that the episode thankfully doesn’t overdo.

6.5/10

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Dungeons & Discords Review

Another Saturday equals another installment in the ongoing My Little Pony saga. Despite Season 6 being more on the mediocre side when compared to the previous five, every episode always bring some kind of entertainment. Still, for awhile I was concerned because quite a few episodes this season were either just okay or average. This finally changed last week with “The Times They Are A Changeling,” a much needed emotional entry. Today’s installment has a unique backdrop for the plot. Plus, Discord always makes things extra interesting. “Dungeons & Discords” is definitely better than Discord’s last starring role in “What About Discord?” It isn’t a particularity great episode, but some parts were a lot of fun.

When the Mane 6 leave town, Discord decides to join Spike and Big Mac’s “top secret” Guys’ Night. Much to Discord’s dismay, it turns out to be an evening of fantasy role-playing.

At this point one has either wholeheartedly accepted Discord as a reformed antagonist or still openly against it. I personally think the decision is still a mistake, but for the sake of reviewing I’ve done my best look at his new status quo from the show’s standpoint. Some of his subsequent adventures have been effective, mainly in  “Twilight’s Kingdom.” It is however easy to notice that he’s been more on the lackluster side thanks to incredibly mediocre/average episodes “Make New Friends But Keep Discord” and “What About Discord?” Today’s entry definitely rises above those. How is the writing overall? It’s more on the mixed side, but never outright bad.

A tabletop game isn’t a bad idea for a slice of life story. If the episode had put more of a focus on the game’s inner workings it could have been better. The most fun parts are when Spike and Big Mac are actually in the game. Instead of the story going the route it took, Discord making the game “real” for the entire duration would have made for an immensely entertaining tale. The middle act isn’t a chore to get through, but at the same time some parts were just grating because the story at the time didn’t seem to have much of a point. While seeing Discord continually growing more annoyed with the game the viewer is wondering what the Mane 6 are up to in Yakyakistan.

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The final act brings things full circle with a solid message. It’s definitely a good thing to invite somebody whom is alone to come play. That’s part one of the message, the second is that no one is better than another. Discord drives the latter home. Of course, if one is still against Discord being reformed, this message will be painful to watch. Some notable aspects of the episode include the sequence with Discord showing Spike and Big Mac what he considers to be a real “guys night out.” Another is perhaps the most clever line from the show yet, (hats off to writer Nick Confalone) which was said by Rainbow Dash: “If he messes with us I’ll turn that Yeti into confetti!”

Overall, “Dungeons & Discords” is an entertaining episode. The middle act is sometimes grating because the viewer just wants the story to get to the point. The gaming parts are a lot of fun, and at least half of Discord’s lines were very good. The message was definitely solid. While not a 5 star episode, this one was pretty good, and if you’ve gotten past Discord being a good guy, it’ll be even better.

7/10