My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “The Times They Are A Changeling” Review

“The Times They Are A Changeling” (try saying that in one gulp) is finally an “important” episode. Now, this is not to say that every episode of My Little Pony has to be “important” in the sense that it furthers certain plot developments or establishes a new status quo. Slice of life stories is the show’s strong suit, and something the first two seasons in particular excelled at. The reason why I used the word ‘finally’ is because the last few episodes have been more on the mediocre side. The writing just hasn’t been quite up to the usual standard. The latest installment fixes this. It’s not a perfect episode but it’s definitely leagues ahead of what we’ve been seeing.

Spike travels with Twilight and Sunburst back to the Crystal Empire to visit Flurry Heart, only to discover that the entire Empire is in a panic due to the reported presence of Changling spy.

Maybe the comics have spoiled me, but I couldn’t help but think how cool it would have been if the lone Changeling had been the prelude to a grand invasion. The first act with the Crystal Empire being worried that the Changeling could be anyone was greatly effective. Of course, the overall point of the story isn’t one of grandeur. It’s meant to convey yet another message of friendship, though this time with a different backdrop.

The main idea of the story is lineage, or one’s association. The Changelings in their appearance way back in the epic “A Canterlot Wedding” appeared almost as mindless drones. When one thinks of a Changeling, it’s associated with the sinister Queen Chrysalis. Therefore, if one of them were to appear, everyone would think the worst. But what the episode conveys is that one shouldn’t be judged on lineage or a stereotype. The son of a killer for example shouldn’t be judged on association. Just because he’s related to a criminal doesn’t mean he has to be a criminal as well. Thorax’s (the lone Changeling) plot was engaging. The flashback to ‘Wedding’ was very effective since we got to see things from his perspective.

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Spike’s role this season has been his finest. All of his prior development finally transformed him into one of the show’s most engaging characters. He was pretty solid here mostly. The inhabitants adoring him and his giving orders to the royal guards was a bit on the silly side. Also, instead of approaching Shining Armor about Thorax, why didn’t he confide in Twilight about the situation? Some of the happenings in the middle act could have been avoided. With that said, there’s some very powerful moments. The viewer can see the sadness on Thorax’s face when the only friend he’s ever had doesn’t stick up for him. Spike going back and making it right was excellent & great character development for him. The climax song was fantastic. Cathy Weseluck had never gotten a full-length song to herself before, so hopefully starting here we’ll hear more with her.

Overall, “The Times They Are A Changeling” is a very solid episode. It packs fantastic emotion and a quality message which unlike the last couple weren’t at the expense of character development. Aside from a few annoying moments here, Spike continues to be a great product of the latest season. The writing duo of Kevin Burke and Chris Wyatt deliver a winner.

8/10

 

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “The Cart Before the Ponies” Review

It’s a nice thing to have My Little Pony back on the air. It’s perhaps one of the best ways to start the weekend. Last week’s episode put the spotlight on Rainbow Dash and brought back the Indiana Jones-inspired pony, Daring Do. It was also slightly meta, introducing a brand new character that represented a rather stubborn critic. Even though the writing wasn’t particularly great at some points, “Stranger than Fan Fiction” was still memorable. Today’s installment is also memorable, though for the wrong reason. It’s not the worst episode (though I’m having trouble thinking of a worse one) but it’s definitely on the lower spectrum of the show.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders are excited for the chance to race in the annual Applewood Derby – until their teammates Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash take over the competition.

So, what puts this episode as a lower tier one? Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash all are written very terribly for the sake of the lesson. Simultaneously these are their worst portrayals in the show. As stated in the description, the story’s main setting is a race, and the fillies are each allowed to ask for assistance from an older pony. The Cutie Mark Crusaders naturally ask their big sisters (well, sister in spirit for Scootaloo) which is of course welcome, and should make for a fun story. But, the three older ponies are written as unreasonable and stubborn. Almost from the start they take the race for themselves, thinking they’re the ones competing, not the fillies. To justify this, the writing throws in some backstory. The two biggest examples are Rarity’s, where she wants to win after dealing with a second place prize a long time ago, and Applejack’s, whom wants to keep with tradition. The episode really starts to falter here.

Throughout the middle act it seemed like the three Mane 6 members lost touch with reality and became downright mean. Every time the Crusaders would apply features (such as cardboard wings for example) to the cart, their older member would rudely remove them. Perhaps the worst scene was when Applejack threatened Apple Bloom with, “So are you an Apple, or are you an Apple?” when the latter wanted to make a more modern cart as opposed to a traditional one. Just about all the lines from the Mane 6 members were very jarring and forced for the story. It’s simple to see what the message was going for: saying that older people aren’t 100% always right and should listen to the opinions of their siblings/younger people. A message however should never be at the cost of quality characters.

This is not to say there weren’t some things to like. Writer Ed Valentine has a great handle of the Crusaders. The viewer sympathizes with them the entire time. The actual race was also fun. (It reminded me of Wacky Races.) The ending sadly is anticlimactic since we don’t see the actual ending to the race…which was the main part of the plot!

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Overall, Cart is definitely more of a mediocre episode. The message isn’t necessarily negative, but it’s at the cost of our favorite characters. At the very least, Crusader fans will be pleased with their portrayal.

5/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Flutter Bruther” Review

“Flutter Brutter” might be the most anticipated episode of the season. Unlike a lot of other episodes, this one was announced way in advance. (It was first announced that we would see Fluttershy’s brother at last years’s MLP panel at Comic Con.) Why does this deserve hype? Interestingly, despite having six seasons, we know very little of the Mane 6’s parents/siblings/relatives. We’ve seen some of them briefly, but the show chooses not to bring them into the fold that much. (We still haven’t seen Rainbow Dash’s parents aside from a brief flashback.) There’s technically nothing wrong with this approach, and for the most part the show has done a solid job showing us bits and pieces of the ponies’ families. This week, we not only meet Fluttershy’s parents, but her younger brother as well. This was definitely a big improvement over the last installment. It’s not as great as it could have been, but still not bad.

Here’s the official description from Discovery Family:

When Fluttershy’s self-absorbed brother starts freeloading off their parents, she encourages him to move out, but he moves in with her instead, forcing Fluttershy to stand up to her brother and help him get over his fear of failure.

Fluttershy has had a criminally minimal presence this season, so another reason why this episode was hotly anticipated was that it would be her first starring role since “Scare Master” in Season 5. She isn’t a challenging character to write. What is challenging is not writing her off as some timid side character in a given story. This episode doesn’t go that route. This time we see another whole side to her: a sisterly side. But not just the nurturing sister, also as a frustrated big sister with her younger brother’s childish behavior. She literally spends almost the entire episode being annoyed. Dave Rapp in just one episode proves he can write a fantastic Fluttershy.

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One of the big highlights was when Fluttershy kicked her brother out after seeing he wasn’t going to change his ways. This was powerful. Here we have her brother, family, mooching off of her. As painful as it is to do it, if someone is blatantly taking your space and completely unwilling to work when they could, well, it’s unfortunately goodbye. I was worried the episode would have her brother walk over her before she finally does something. Instead, the episode from early on establishes that Fluttershy has been dealing with this since they were fillies.

One of the problems with the episode is that it attempts to shove all this unseen backstory in less than 10 minutes. It’s similar to how Shining Armor popped up out of nowhere in the Season 2 finale. Putting that to the side, how is the character of Zephyr Breeze? Obviously, he’s written as obnoxious and annoying. Even with that in mind however, he’s a little too unbelievable sometimes. I believe the writing could have found a more realistic way to portray him without going in your face with how awful of a family member he is. Fluttershy’s parents were hard to watch sometimes too. Zephyr throwing away years of Fluttershy’s dad collection out the window, and the latter just rolling with it was too unbelievable.

A song was unexpected, but certainly welcome. Fluttershy has been part of some great songs in the past, and this one (actually her second duet with Rainbow Dash) is no exception. Unlike the last episode, the message isn’t blatantly in your face. In fact, it’s one of the show’s best. The thought of failure can be an immense deterrent to attempting to do something. But ultimately quitting is far worse than giving it your all and not succeeding. Whether it be in a video game, a job, or almost anything really, the fear of failure should be put to the side. I’m happy the episode incorporated this message into the great climax, even if Zephyr was hard to watch for the majority of it.

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Overall, “Flutter Brutter” isn’t the masterpiece Fluttershy adventure I was expecting. That’s not to say it was totally disappointing however. It features one of Fluttershy’s best portrayals, which makes up for her lack of appearing this season. The concept of her having a brother the complete opposite of herself is an engaging concept, but Zephyr could have been handled better. The climax is very good. While this isn’t close to being the best Fluttershy episode, it’s still a pretty solid one.

7.5/10

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