My Little Pony Rewatch Project

Deconstruction is Magic

Episode [1.06] – “Boast Busters”

This week, on My Little Pony

“There’s nothing wrong with being talented, is there?”

“Nothing at all, excepting when someone goes around showing it off like a school filly with fancy new ribbons.”

“Just because one has the ability to perform lots of magic does not make one better than the rest of us.”

“Especially when you got me around being better than the rest of us! …Eh, I mean, yeah, uh, magic shmagic. Boo!”

So very much am not amused going on here.

While Twilight Sparkle is practicing her magic, a traveling magician, Trixie, rolls into town, boasting her magic is the greatest and challenging down anyone who claims otherwise. Twilight is hesitant to intercede as she doesn’t want her friends to find her a braggart as well. But what happens when some real magic is needed?


Noel

I don’t have a lot to say about the plot of this one. It’s fine and entertaining, but it’s also pretty by-the-numbers filler that hits every beat exactly when you’d expect it to. Twilight is practicing her magic when a new unicorn rolls into town, boasting to be the most powerful magic user of all. It’s pop flash that wows the crowd but pisses of the Mane Six (or Mane Four, as Pinkie and Fluttershy are just in the background), especially as they’re upstaged one after the other. When it’s Twilight’s turn to stand up to Trixie, Twilight bolts, fearing her friends will see her as a braggart as well. Things of course go to pot when Trixie’s newest fans try to make a show of bringing one of her legends to life by waking up a giant bear and leading it to town, and she of course is a coward whose empty flash has no ability to stop the threat. So Twilight steps in, showing an amazing display of genuine magical ability as she sends the bear home, and is then reassured by her friends that they don’t find her a braggart and still love her. The end.

Trixie is every bit the flim flam pony you expect her to be, using whizzing fireworks and humiliation tactics to distract the crowd from realizing her tricks are really quite simple. Applejack does a splendid lasso routine, Trixie just floats the rope around and ties Applejack’s legs. Rainbow does a massive display of aerial acrobatics, Trixie just spins her dizzy. Rarity crafts a beautiful gown and styled do, Trixie just changes the hair color and musses it up a bit. There’s nothing she’s doing that’s all that impressive, especially up against the displays her opponents are putting on, she’s just relying on empty flash and getting in nasty jabs that’ll make the audience go “Oh no she didn’t WOOOOO!” It’s a bit disappointing that much of Ponyville goes in for how obvious it is, but hey, mob mentality and all that, and it’s pretty believable, sadly, to see a crowd just go with it.

This is carried to the farthest end of the spectrum by having two characters named Snips and Snails be the ones to fall in as her now die hard groupies. These two are… how to put it lightly… they’re portrayed as probably the two stupidest unicorns in town, who buy into everything and, when their beliefs are challenged, concoct a stupid scheme to justify said beliefs instead of accepting the possibility of questioning them. I’ll spare you a spiel about religion (I’m an atheist), but honestly, I do think they go too far out of their way to make these two into complete fools, as it would have said a lot more to have both or at least one be a more average pony, as everyday types who are otherwise smart, thoughtful people can fall into these reasoning traps as well, and more of a lesson could be learned than just planting it all on these knuckleheads. As it is, we just see them bumble about in rather obvious routines, fail obviously, and end on an obvious laugh.

I do like the Twilight/Spike dynamic this episode, where it at first seems like he’s giving into oneupsmanship by constantly prodding Twilight to show Trixie what for, but I like his statement near the midpoint where he says it’s about defending her friends from someone who’s humiliating and hurting them. She’s putting herself and the consequences she might face before the others, up until the point where a kaiju is rampaging through the town and she’s left with no choice. It’s a little forced that they push her so far against better judgment (though not nearly as far as Applejack a few episodes back), but it does still lead up to a nice hero moment where she unleashes the magic in an impressive, humorous, and thoughtfully strategic way, and her still worrying how they’ll think of her after such a big display is relatably human. I also like the tag where we learned that, during her retreat, she was actually reading up on Trixie’s scenario just to see how possible it would be, and that it only worked because they ran into a baby, not its mother.

The animation is particularly strong this episode, with lots of subtle touches and expressive character moments, and some fluid work on the eyes. I really like the idea of portraying the giant bear, an “Ursa Minor”, as a living patch of translucent night sky filled with stars. I have no idea how the mechanics of it work or what the world-building behind it is, but it does look neat. Rainbow’s stunt show is also amazing!

Overall, a descent enough filler ep. Aside from Twilight’s display of magic, there’s not much going on here and it does little to deviate from formulaic tropes, but it’s still entertaining and skillfully crafted enough to enjoy.

Tessa

There are episodes of this series that are honestly really hard for me to be objective about when looking back at them. This is one of them. Boast Busters is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and the reason why can really be summed up in five words : The Great And Powerful Trixie.

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There’s a weird phenomenon within the fandom in which certain minor characters gain massive fanbases even while only showing up for an episode or two, while others just don’t. There’s a decent handful of popular characters with minimal or no actual speaking role screen time within the show itself (“Background Ponies” like Lyra, Bon-Bon/Sweetie Drops, and Berry Punch have all left their mark on the fandom, although they’re characters we spend a lot of time with even if the focus is never actually on them), but fan content in Season 1 was really dominated by two characters who had relatively little screen-time competing for most fanfic and fanart generated from their appearance : Luna and Trixie. Comparatively speaking, Gilda has her fans and has shown up in a decent amount of fan-work, but her impact on the fandom is microscopic in comparison to how explosively popular the Great and Powerful unicorn in the episode that followed hers became.

I don’t know if I can adequately explain why Trixie took hold within the fandom as hard as she did, or why she became one of my absolute favorite characters in the show. I can say that her popularity wasn’t universal, there are people within the fandom completely baffled at why she’s as loved as she is and others who can’t stand her, but she seems to be one of those characters that either grabbed your attention immediately or didn’t. Her theatrical and showy personality along with her tendency to speak in the third person as part of her stage persona, with a genuine hint slipped in at the climax that there’s somepony not all that bad hidden under the fake grandeur make her stand out as one of the more memorable characters that will be introduced throughout the show. She’s all flash and no substance, sure, but that’s a decent amount of what I like about her.

I think part of what helps plant the seeds within the fandom to latch onto a character and want to know more is the hint that there’s something more complex going on with the character. Luna, for example, had oodles of foundation laid for people to really want to dig into and build off of. There’s not a whole lot we learn about Trixie, but there’s enough there to make me both really want to know what came before this as well as what happened after. Trixie is pretty clearly a stage magician, and she’s there to gain a crowd to entertain them, although her priorities are slightly skewed in that what she really is craving is attention and fame even though she doesn’t really have the means to back up her ambitions. She wants the approval of her audience badly, and her entire act is set up to get it by beating down portions of her own audience to make herself look better by comparison, rather than winning the entire audience over by a genuine effort to entertain. It really makes me wonder what went wrong in Trixie’s past attempts to make her decide that this was her winning strategy. She’s clearly used to having hecklers in the audience (again, her entire act centers around humiliating them), and I kind of think she probably had quite a few totally flubbed show attempts to make her decide they were an unavoidable staple and choosing to cope with them in the way that she does.

In addition to that, I really love that when stuff completely falls apart on her and an Ursa actually does show up in front of her, she still makes a genuine effort to do what she can to deal with it. It obviously falls completely short of anything remotely effective, but she still stands her ground and tries rather than turning tail and running immediately. I also really like that the habit of talking in the third person is part of her stage facade (it’s something that actually gets missed an awful lot in fandom portrayals of the character), and she completely drops it when she breaks down and admits that the whole thing was just an act. Of course, it immediately returns when the danger has passed and she makes her escape.

There’s also a rather major bit of world and character-building slipped into this episode, as the notion that Twilight is not by any means an average unicorn is slipped into conversation early on in the episode. Of course, we see her powers at work at the end of the episode, but slightly less attention is drawn to the idea that while unicorns all have magical abilities, most are very limited to what their special talent is (also unless I’m mistaken I think this may be the first mention of the whole “special talent” thing), and while some abilities are universal amongst unicorns (levitation being the most obvious), they’re very basic in comparison. Rarity’s talents lie in her ability to find beauty and bring things together into aesthetically pleasing pieces (her special ability isn’t actually “fashion”, although that falls into the overall whole of what she does), and is able to pull together a gorgeous dress out of a curtain, but we’ll never see her work to manipulate the weather (at least, not successfully), or teleport, or grow moustaches on dragons. Twilight’s talents, on the other hand, are in magic itself, and she has the capability to both learn to emulate other unicorn’s abilities as well as doing other things that we won’t ever see another unicorn do (such as the aforementioned teleporting). In other words, Twilight OP nerf plz.

The dynamic between Trixie and Twilight is interesting because it’s one between a stage magician and an actual sorceress. Trixie’s talents are, as her name implies, in tricks and illusions. She’s fantastic at presentation and tricking an audience into thinking simple slight of hand (horn?) actions are far more impressive than they actually are, but Twilight is somepony who can actually DO all the things Trixie pretends she can. The fandom loves to write Trixie as a rival character to Twilight, intensely jealous of the abilities Twilight has and bitter over a presumably ruined career. The two are also one of the most frequently shipped pairings in the series, with the two falling fairly easily into “Slap-Slap-Kiss” style situations and Trixie very easily being slipped into the tsundere mold.

…the two may or may not be my favorite pairing in the entire series.

In regards to Snips and Snails, it’s worth pointing out that the two are little kids. There’s not much attention drawn to that fact (aside from their relative size to an adult unicorn), but the two are roughly the same age as Apple Bloom (which will become more apparent when she starts getting more focus and we get to see them all in school together). Noel’s right in pointing out that they’re played as excessively stupid even with this in mind, and that may have been leaned on a little too heavily, but it is tempered somewhat by the fact that their dynamic in the whole story is one of two little boys immediately becoming die-hard fans of something they find cool (as they say at the end, all they really wanted was to see some awesome magic, and immediately switch camps over to Twilight as soon as she’s the one to deliver). Also, this marks Lee Tockar’s return to the show as the voice of Snips, who will be a more permanent fixture of the series than the flamboyant sea serpent from the second episode was.

During Trixie’s show, when Rarity runs off stage after her mane is turned into a literal rat’s nest (look closely and you’ll see the tails sticking out of it), the pony she offends is Golden Harvest (also dubbed Carrot Top by the fandom). Apparently she took the whole thing rather hard, since later in the episode (and in every appearance since), she’s swapped out her green mane and tail for orange. She’s actually shown up prior to now with orange hair, so presumably the green was a dye job that she ultimately decided against (and rather quickly considering it’s gone by the end of the episode).

Just to point it out, one of my favorite sight gags of the episode is Twilight conjuring a door to shut out Spike, him re-opening it to continue the argument, getting fed up, and slamming it shut, only to realize he has to re-open it again to actually leave. The look on both his and Twilight’s faces cracks me up every time.

Noel pointed it out already, but something often missed here are that Pinkie and Fluttershy are actually present in this episode, both during Trixie’s performance and when the Ursa Minor shows up later, but neither have any lines and don’t do anything to make their presence known (perfectly normal for Flutters, but actually rather odd for Pinkie). The two often mistakenly get written in Trixie fic as not having ever seen her before, but they’re definitely there.

A couple more behind-the-scenes tibits here involving Trixie, she was originally envisioned as male in the early concept bits of her character, and got gender-swapped at some point between conception and the episode getting written (I’ve never seen anything suggesting Executive Meddling about this, it simply seems to have been something that just happened in the concept process). Also, Kathleen Barr, who voices her, was very nearly cast as Celestia before Nicole Oliver got the part. To gush over voice actors a bit more, Trixie’s voice acting makes a decent part of why I find her so enjoyable, and her VA will be back later to voice a much more intimidating antagonist down the road.

Noel isn’t wrong when he says there’s not a whole lot of substance in this episode plot-wise. I couldn’t in good faith put it particularly high in a ranking of best episodes even in this season, let alone the series as a whole. But it’s the characters (specifically that of Trixie herself) that make it work so well for me. I’ve never successfully completed fanfic myself (although I’ve made several attempts to start before that I never did anything with), but all of the stories I’ve brainstormed and tried to work on have been spin-offs from this episode.

Gerf

Noel and Tessa hit on the two major takeaways from this episode: that as far as story goes it’s pretty cut-and-dry, but as far as characters go it’s a home run. Simple and predictable is usually how these episodes go, ostensibly because the target audience probably wouldn’t fully appreciate more complex storylines as they would get in the way of seeing the colorful ponies learn about the magic of friendship. While normally I’d be rooting for a deeper story to follow, I think the simple story works well here because it gracefully plays second fiddle to the spectacle that is quite possibly the best antagonist/protagonist pairing of the entire series.

First, Trixie.

Not gonna lie, Trixie looks pretty badflank. Also, "neighsayers" is such a wonderful horse pun.

Trolls. Don’t feed them. No, really, don’t. Not only that, but keep those who would unwittingly feed them at a safe distance. Even if you’re doing everything right by keeping your distance and not feeding the trolls, everything can still turn south if the next guy doesn’t get (or doesn’t care about) the memo. Unfortunately, this is stacked in the troll’s favor because there are so many out there willing to take the bait. And Trixie is an absolute bait master, what with her “anything you can do I can do better” challenge (Applejack, Dash, and Rarity take that bait) and outright lies of grandeur (Snips and Snails take that one). Remember what I had typed up last week about crossing the line? Trixie not only crossed it, but she danced on the other side and wiggled her butt tauntingly. Once again, we have a character who cannot be “switched off.” But whereas Pinkie Pie does what she does to get a smile, Trixie does what she does to get a rise out of everypony. And whereas I described Pinkie as “nerve-grating” for me last time, Trixie was more like “getting shoved through a spinning jet turbine.” Extremely arrogant personalities like hers frustrate me to no end, so much so that I find myself wishing ill upon them.

(Insert lame joke here about mobile home insurance.)

I know Tessa is going to put a hoof through my face for my admitting this, and I’m not proud of it, but the first time I saw this episode I was so fed up with Trixie that when the above scene happened I really wished that she hadn’t managed to escape from her cart before that giant foot came down on top of it. There, switched off. For good.

Now, this of course would not be at all suitable for a kid’s show, nor would it make for a very good episode, either. The only way I could see it sort of working would be where Trixie tries to stop the Ursa with her tricks while still in her cart (because Snips and Snails are stupidly blocking the only way out). When her efforts fail, she tries to bolt just as the Ursa comes down on the cart, and though she escapes becoming a flat blue pancake she does get injured and buried in the rubble. Twilight sends the Ursa back to its cave, then the town gets Trixie treated at the hospital, rebuilds her cart, and eventually sends her on her way with a smile and a big group hug. Everypony learns that kindness is its own reward, no matter how undeserving of it somepony may seem to be on the surface. Happy feelings, cue the credits.

But… nah, the not-quite-resolution that we get (like with last episode) is actually much stronger in my opinion, and it doesn’t involve any borderline grimdark to boot. Leaving Trixie “unresolved” like this leaves much open for interpretation, and if there’s one thing bronies love, it’s the opportunity to interpret things in all sorts of crazy ways. I absolutely agree with Tessa’s suspicion that perhaps the reason that both Luna and Trixie became absurdly popular characters despite their relatively short screen-times is because there are so many unanswered questions surrounding them, and being minor characters you never know whether they’ll be back to have some of those questions answered.

And I think it’s that intrigue that makes me like Trixie as a character at the end of the day, even after the whole jet turbine thing. Whereas I liked Gilda mostly because she was a griffon, I like Trixie because she seems like she somehow holds so much potential for good… if only she could get over whatever it is that’s eating her from the inside. I don’t think she’s the kind of pony I’d like to spend a night on the town with (I’d get tired of her trying to show off to everyone we passed), but were I to one day read in the paper that she established a successful school of stage magic for fillies and colts and that it helped her realize her purpose in life, I would smile and say “good for you, Trixie.”

Speaking of kindness being its own reward, there’s a wonderful fanfic called Kindness’s Reward that I’d highly recommend as a sort of coda to this episode. It features Trixie (best villain?) and Fluttershy (best pony; no question mark), and it’s so very heartwarming.

Also, speaking of fanfics, Tessa, you totally need to write that fanfic you were talking about. 😛

And now Twilight.

DAT OVERGLOW

We haven’t gotten into the whole system of destiny/profession yet, but let’s just say that Twilight being good at something thing that other ponies use to be good at other things is so delightfully meta that it makes me giddy. I guess that’s all I have to say here that Noel and Tessa haven’t already mentioned, other than the above screenshot does kind of sum up a lot of this episode: no, not that Twilight looks freaking awesome when she’s channeling massive surges of magic, but that while modesty is a virtue, there’s nothing wrong with stepping up to the plate in a time of need when you’re the best hope.

Looking freaking awesome while doing so is certainly a plus, though!

As a bit of an aside, this episode brings to mind a curious event that occurred last year during a brony convention: I was playing Dance Dance Revolution in the game room and someone swaggered up and challenged me to a “DDR duel.” I had no idea who this person was or why he was so intent on proving that he was better than me, but rather than duck out on account of my laundry calling, I took the challenge. He gave me first pick of song, so I started with something mild to test the waters (Holic heavy). When he noticed that his final score was lower than mine, he clenched his fist and proclaimed “I want to see you burn!” and selected what he thought was a quite challenging song (Matsuri Japan heavy). That round left him quite short of breath (and with a lower final score again), and he puffed something along the lines of, “Why won’t you just die?” I decided then to put him out of his misery with a knockout punch (MAX 300 heavy; he gave up after the first 20 seconds or so, I finished with an A). Now I thought this was all in good fun and all, but the guy seemed quite put out that I had handed him his own butt so easily; this sat poorly with me for the rest of the convention. I didn’t make the connection to this episode until just now after having watched it again, but it’s a pretty close parallel: a stranger shows up out of nowhere and throws down the gauntlet, ends up summoning an Ursa that comes down right on his/her cart (or lung capacity/stamina), the challengee steps up his/her game, and then the stranger runs off an undignified mess. Twilight wasn’t trying to prove anything and was just doing what needed to be done, and I wasn’t really trying to prove anything either and was just doing what one does when you play DDR (namely, go all-out and have a good time), but afterward both of us felt a pang of guilt and fear that those around us were going to dislike our us for our respective shows of skill. Not sure exactly how I want to wrap this one up, since I still don’t know entirely how I feel about it. Guess it’s just a kind of “yeah, I can relate Twi” moment for me, except my circumstances were significantly less dire and didn’t involve the imminent destruction of my surroundings.

Anyway, if you’re that guy and you’re reading this, let’s have a rematch sometime. I’m sure we both have new tricks to show each other. 😀

Assorted errata:

  • “There’s no need to go struttin’ around and showin’ off like that; that’s MY job!” is one of the best Rainbow Dash quotes. Also, if she would have started hiccupping after getting zapped by that lightning bolt (or just one hiccup immediately before the cut back to Trixie), that would have been a brilliant throwback to last episode.
  • Did you catch the Pinkie and the Brain reference between Snips and Snails? I’m surprised we haven’t had any similar references with Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle or something!
  • Listen carefully to what one of the cows says right as the water tower finishes its trek through the barn. LOL WHAAAAT~~!

As for a parting song… blah, there are so many good ones about Trixie, I can’t pick just one.

So I won’t!

  • Trixie in full-on troll mode: Trixie the Pony Troll by Alex S. (not the original; Alex S. took it off his channel, sadly)
  • Trixie in troll mode but with hints of something underneath: Trixie’s Good Side by PinkiePieSwear
  • Trixie with all her layers of arrogance and showmareship stripped away: The Apology by d.notive (highly recommended)
  • A villain’s song made as a parody of the fan-made theme of a villain who hasn’t yet been introduced… THE PERFECT CRIME! – Trixie by AwkwardMarina

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