Episode [1.13] – “Fall Weather Friends”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Welcome to the official coverage of the Running of the Leaves! You know, Spike, despite its name, the leaves don’t do any of the actual running. No, that’s left to my little ponies.”
“Why, yes, Pinkie, it’s the running of the ponies that causes the leaves to fall.”
“Ugh, those lazy, lazy leaves. But this year, the run is about more than the weather. It’s about the race to the finish and the two ponies who want to win it: Applejack and Rainbow Dash.”
“You know, Pinkie, these two ponies have a bit of a grudge match they’re trying to settle. Trying to prove who’s the most athletic.”
“Yes! And grudge rhymes with fudge!”
“Yes it… does. What?”
“And I like fudge! But if I eat too much fudge I get a pudge and then I can’t budge.”
“So… no fudge?”
“Oh, no thanks, I had a big breakfast.”
To settle an argument over which of them is the most athletic, Rainbow Dash and Applejack hold a series of physical contests to prove once and for all who’s the best. Rainbow wins by a landslide, but Applejack isn’t satisfied, claiming Dash used her wings to cheat her way through most of the competition. The two decide to use the annual Running of the Leaves race as a rematch, but will their hyper-competitive nature get in the way of what the point of the run is supposed to be?
The rivalry between Applejack and Rainbow Dash is something that I’ve never particularly gotten tired of watching. The two are very much the most likely to butt heads over anything remotely competitive. Applejack mellows out over the course of the series and eventually doesn’t rise to Rainbow’s bait quite as much as she does in this first season, but the two never seem to shake the desire to one-up each other completely.
Part of what I like about the Iron Pony competition at the beginning of the episode is how it highlights where the two are strong in comparison to the other. At least until Dash starts to use her wings to give herself an advantage in the events, Applejack’s wins are mostly feats of strength (with the exception of the lassoing bit, which still requires quite a bit of strength regardless), while Rainbow Dash takes the events that are decided more by dexterity and precision skill. Both are notably athletic, and both are very physically strong ponies, but they’re entirely different types of strength (fitting for their careers, Applejack needs to be very physically powerful to knock apples out of trees on a regular basis and to pull farm equipment, while Rainbow Dash needs to be agile and precise to fly at the speeds she does and target specific areas to change the weather around).
Whether Rainbow is actually cheating or not in the Iron Pony competition is a bit of a “your milage may vary” thing. Some have argued that it doesn’t make sense for her not to use every part of her body to her advantage in a competitive event and that as she won her events by entirely her own physical ability, that it doesn’t count as cheating. On the other hand, her wings allow her to trivialize a good handful of the events to the point that Applejack simply can’t compete (which becomes obvious as once she starts doing it, the two go from a rough tie to Rainbow winning a vast majority of the events). Personally, I side more with AJ and agree that Dashie kind of stops playing fair at some point.
Running into a major wall this week (which sucks because I really like this episode), so some quick bullet points before tossing this episode to the others :
- We get a bit more world building as we get to see more of how the ponies transition between seasons. Having something of an organized stampede of ponies running through the woods to cause the leaves to fall is a really neat idea, and it being sort of just a thing that the residents of Ponyville are used to to the point of it being an annual run is awesome.
- Pinkie as an announcer is my favorite part of this episode, and is a great example of her actually very much knowing what it is she’s doing even when she appears oblivious, as she tricks Spike several times into setting up jokes for her by going on seemingly random tangents.
- Twilight’s runner number is 42.
- I’m shortchanging this episode like woah and it deserves a much better writeup than this but I just saw Rainbow Rocks for the second time and it’s ridiculously hard for me right now to try to keep focus on anything other than talking about how awesome Sonata is.
The deconstruction for this episode couldn’t have been more perfectly timed: the leaves are beginning to turn over here and the smell of fall is in the air, just like in the episode. And just like our equine friends, I’ve been doing some long-distance runs through gorgeous wooded trails and watching the leaves fall from the trees and swirl about in my wake. Last Saturday I woke up at 4:00 AM to prepare for a 14-mile run through the Metroparks at the absolute crack of dawn: I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning, and I couldn’t help but vividly recall the final scene of this wonderful episode where Applejack and Rainbow Dash set their differences aside and run side-by-side through the leaves as friends rather than rivals.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here… there’s an entire episode that happens before that!
This is very much the episode I had in mind when I was blathering about the Applejack-Rarity vs. Applejack-Rainbow Dash dynamics in the Look Before You Sleep deconstruction (during which I maladroitly strapped on the shipping goggles upside-down, inside-out, and to my butt instead of my eyes). While AJ and Rarity butting heads is cute, AJ and RD butting heads is thrilling. And whereas AJ/Rarity face-offs stem from contempt of character (okay, maybe that’s too strong a phrase, but work with me here), AJ/RD face-offs exhibit the kind of contempt and rivalry that two opposing sports teams feel for each other: intense, but good-natured. Put another way, I couldn’t see Applejack and Rarity sitting down and enjoying some fine wine together in the wake of a face-off, whereas I’d be downright surprised if the face-offs between Applejack and and Rainbow Dash didn’t end up with the two swilling cider together afterward. (That said, the Applejack and Rarity Friends Forever comic does a pretty good job at getting close: it’s not quite a wine date, but it’s perhaps the next best thing.)
Hats off to Ashleigh Ball for sparring with herself so well. If I recall correctly (which I may not be), I believe she voice-acted through her Applejack and Rainbow Dash lines for this episode all at once, as opposed to tackling just one character at a time. That must have been tricky at best and downright bonkers at worst. Very well done.
And as far as the Iron Pony face-offs go, I have to echo Tessa’s “your mileage may vary” statement here as well. While it’s not ever really explicitly mentioned in the series, I think the general consensus (at least in the brony community anyway) is that earth ponies tend to win in the brute strength department while pegasus ponies win in agility. Since the competition is to see who is the “most athletic pony,” and athleticism includes both strength and agility, then at least in theory the competition makes sense: it has events that challenge both strength and agility (ostensibly in equal amounts), so the true “most athletic pony” should be able to win out in at least a few of her “off-events” by using every asset she has going for her (which includes RD’s wings and AJ’s hind legs that could buck you to the moon). That said, there just seems to be something “unfair” about RD using her wings in certain events like, say, the long jump, whereby even AJ’s superlegs can’t beat RD’s ability to fly pretty much forever. Is it really athleticism if you can do something with near-zero effort that somepony else is physiologically incapable of doing? So one would think that tying Rainbow’s wings up (RD and rope don’t get along well this episode it seems) would level the playing field a bit for the Running of the Leaves, but then you could rightfully argue that now AJ has an unfair advantage since it’s an earthbound event. Who knows. I’m glad the writers left these two’s rivalry unresolved by the end: it keeps the sparring available for future episodes, and that’s a great thing because their spats are wonderful.
And as for the Running of the Leaves itself, what a great bit of Equestrian lore and world-building there. I love how we learn about all these weather/nature things that us humans “take for granted” but the ponies have to do themselves, and I love that they treat these things as opportunities to celebrate and have fun together. Winter Wrap Up, Running of the Leaves, heck even Summer Wrap Up: everypony is wearing a smile, and that makes me happy. It reminds me of the Running of the Leaves meetup I went to last fall with my local brony group. Had a cookout, played horseshoes, took a walk through the woods, sang MLP showtunes; what a great time.
Speaking of Summer Wrap Up, that must have happened sometime within the span of the last two episodes, as we go straight from the end of winter to the beginning of fall awfully fast. Episode reorganization, or unpredictable temporal anomaly? I’m going with temporal anomaly; inject some sci-fi into this, just because.
Oh, and Pinkie is random as usual this episode, and I love it. And while I too prefer mustard on my hot dogs over ketchup, one does have to think… why would the ponies be eating hot dogs? Isn’t that a little… morbid? Of course, they could be Manehattan hot dogs, which replace the gelatinous meat with carrots instead; that would make more sense. (They are delicious, by the way: boil the carrots a bit so they’re easier to bite through, then load ’em up with all your favorite fixins. Yum.)
So yes, two hooves up for this episode. What a fun ride. It doesn’t really remind me of any songs in particular, though, so here’s the first I was able to find that at least references it: Running of the Leaves (Testarossa Mode) by Seventh Element. Not bad.
I was more than a bit iffy going in as I saw Amy Keating Roger’s name in the credits, as her prior two episodes we’ve covered here left me more than a bit offended at some of her poor, misguided, sometimes outright nasty choices. Not so this time around, thankfully. This is a good, entertaining character piece with a solid momentum driving it along.
I only really have two issues. 1) I am among those who feel Rainbow Dash was being unfairly awarded points when she was taking advantage of privileged attributes. I like that she wasn’t doing so knowingly, for the most part, and her bristling at being called a cheater is earned, but I don’t know how Twilight and the others moderating the competition would still agree to slap a victory point on certain things where her wings are visibly giving her advantages outside of what the challenge is there to test. I do like how the two are initially played, though, with a nice even split between their strengths and weaknesses, as the others covered above. Gerf, I actually do get why Rainbow would win at arm-wrestling, as there’s a lot of shoulder muscle involved in that, and that’s right where her wings connect, meaning that is some highly developed and toned muscle up there. 2) Applejack and Rainbow ribbing Twilight for entering the race goes on way too long. I like the predictable yet apt reveal at the end that it’s setting up, but they drag it well past where their point is made and it starts to come off just darn mean.
But these aren’t major points, just quibbles. The initial competition is still staged really well, with the great development of more and more ponies showing up to watch as it goes from some friends pitting themselves against one another for laughs to a sprawling event that carries over into the Running of the Leaves. Which is itself a wonderful bit of wold-building and further explores this as a wondrous land the inhabitants have learned to control and manipulate, though in a way that still needs to be routinely maintained, and how they’ve taken this mechanical environmental reforming and made a fun, annual game out of it. And the race itself is great, with beautiful scenery that only Twilight is taking the time to appreciate. The gags themselves as the combativeness between Applejack and Rainbow ramps up can be a little harsh at times, but it does build to a lesson in respect and doing your best without tearing others down just to make yourself look better, and I like that both are still giving as good as they’re getting, and the little moments of shared smiles as they bond over their mutual thrill even as they’re angling for the next advantage each can gain. It starts with two trips, and Applejack, being the more level-headed, believes Twilight pointing out the rock. Rainbow is the more fiery of the two, so it makes sense that she doesn’t buy the tree stump, leveling a charge of cheating against the one who just made the same accusation against her. So it is still all in character, and I like they way neither wins, and then go off together to clear the leaves that still need clearing. They’re buds. They both slipped out of line, but make peace over it and go off to keep budding in buddy bud ways.
It’s a very well constructed episode, good character play, great animation and scenery, and nice world building. And I love Pinkie at her
most Tessa Pinkiest as she comments through the games, her diet, and whatever else tangents her fancy, and Spike (I love that she welcomes him aboard) tries his best to keep up.
It’s a good one.