My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Gauntlet of Fire” Review

Spike-centered stories are usually on the lower tier of MLP episodes. It’s not because they’re all bad of course. (Though a good chunk of them are mediocre.) Very few are listed in anyone’s top ten because he just isn’t written as a great focus. As the main supporting character he’s usually fine, but when he takes center stage we long for scenes with the ponies. (Such as in “Spike at Your Service” and “Princess Spike.”) This season however started off strong with the little dragon. In “The Crystalling,” Spike was written extremely well, almost abnormally good. If the writing there could translate into his own starring adventure we would have a winner. “Gauntlet of Fire” is perhaps his biggest episode yet, and a fantastic culmination of all his prior character development. With this episode the show has succeeded in making Spike just about a great a focus as any of the Mane 6.

Here’s the official episode description from Discovery Family:

Spike is forced to compete in a dangerous Gauntlet for the title of Dragon Lord in order to save his friends.

This episode serves as a sequel to the Season 2 installment, “Dragon Quest.” That story was more on the mediocre side, but it did bring up one interesting plot element in Spike’s character: struggling with his dragon heritage when he was brought up with ponies. It’s definitely a complex aspect that episode does a pretty good job exploring. So in today’s episode we have Spike returning to the land of the dragons. First, the scenery is a nice change of pace. It’s been said that Season 6 is looking to explore areas outside the normal Ponyville and Canterlot. We have a Lord of the Rings-like setting, giving the story a rather dangerous, exciting look.

The Dragon Lord Torch is a great character, so it’s a little disappointing in retrospect that after this episode he probably won’t be doing anything. (With a design like that, he would have made for a great antagonist.) Princess Ember is another new character, being the daughter of Torch. She is a lot of fun to watch, for quite a few reasons. For one thing, she seems to be the only really reasonable and competent dragon. (I hope in the future there’s a better portrayal of the creatures because most of them act pretty much the same.) Her character arc was interesting to get through because an aspect of dragon culture is put at the focus: dragons don’t do friendships. Spike in all his years of living with Twilight and joining with her friends’ adventures has of course a great handle of friendship. So to have him and Ember team up means the latter gets to see what friendship means. Her slowly starting to open up, and then finally realizing what it means was fantastic and easily a highlight of the entire show.

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Like in “Dragon Quest,” Twilight and Rarity are in the background carefully following Spike, whether it be in grass or inside a tree. It’s still a funny concept to watch be played out. Most of the writing is great, although Garble is still an annoying character to watch. (But I suppose that’s the point.) I particularly liked Rarity’s snappy dialogue in defense of Spike: “Only saving your ungrateful scales!” when Ember rebukes him for rescuing her. Speaking of the princess, I find it bizarre that no one, not even Garble, makes mention when seeing her in the contest. Torch told her specifically not to enter, yet no dragon seems to be surprised when she’s there. (Unless they didn’t know Torch said that, the episode isn’t clear.) Later in the story we see Garble confronting Twilight and Rarity while smirking. The problem with this scene is that Twilight is backing away in fear. This doesn’t make any sense when she could literally obliterate probably a hundred Garbles at once.

Overall, “Gauntlet of Fire” was an excellent surprise. Spike has another stellar portrayal, so hats off to writers Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco. The story is exciting and always on the move given the “race to the finish” nature. (The background music, which has been absolutely fantastic this season, also adds to the excitement.) Princess Ember is a great character. Her arc with Spike was perhaps the episode’s best part. (Not to mention another part of her arc was showcasing that being small doesn’t equal weakness.)  Hopefully the two get to team up again in the future.

9/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “On Your Marks” Review

Since my very first exposure to My Little Pony was a Cutie Mark Crusader episode, (“Call of the Cutie” to be exact) I’ve always looked forward to episodes starring the fillies. For the most part each installment has been filled with quality and development for the young characters. Last season in “Crusaders of the Lost Mark” featured the biggest development for them: they finally acquired their Marks. It was the end of an era for the show, and everyone would be looking forward to seeing what comes next. “On Your Marks” is the direct continuation. Unfortunately it’s all over the place in terms of focus and probably the most mediocre of the CMC episodes.

Here’s the official episode description from Discovery Family:

With their cutie marks finally acquired, the Cutie Mark Crusaders struggle with the question of what to do now. Apple Bloom suggests they embrace their destinies, but she and her friends don’t exactly agree on how.

The first 25% of the episode was a bit on the slow side. We see the fillies contemplating what they should do now that they don’t need to be searching for their destinies. The problem is they had already established in “Lost Mark” that their mission would be helping other ponies get their Marks. When they finally come back to this realization in the title episode, in theory the story should flow smoothly. From here on out the episode takes a bizarre path. They go in search of Cutie Mark problems, even questioning Big Mac. (Keep in mind Apple Bloom has lived with Mac her entire life, so she asking him if he wasn’t content with his apple Mark was pretty off.)

Next, apparently it’s nearly impossible for the three fillies to find something for them to have fun with together. (Which in itself is hard to fathom.) So Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle come to the conclusion that it’s okay for each of them to do things on their own sometimes. Sounds reasonable, but this upsets Apple Bloom for almost the rest of the episode. We must suspend disbelief that Bloom does nothing by herself. Unfortunately, suspending that disbelief is too difficult.

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Apple Bloom spends most of the episode moping around. The turnaround comes so unnaturally later because she apparently mistook what Scootaloo said when the latter’s dialogue was extremely plain and clear.  At the very least, the first song of the season sung by Michelle Creber is very heartfelt. It makes you forget for a few minutes how unreasonable Bloom is. Before we get to the climax, the story takes some more right turns. It brings in Bulk Biceps and makes the viewer think he’s going to be a focus. Then Zecora’s first appearance of the season and she has no lines to accompany it. By the time the story dives into the actual helping of a Cutie Mark problem, the viewer has to ask, “Why did all this happen before we got to this part?”

Overall, Dave Polsky delivers perhaps his worst episode. There’s no reason why we had to endure Apple Bloom learning it’s okay to do stuff on her own. The best part besides the song is the final act when she and the others help a shy pony overcome his fears and realize his destiny. This is good stuff and should have been the focus for the entire story.

5.5/10