Episode [1.01] – “Friendship is Magic, part 1”
This week, on My Little Pony…
“Take a note please, to the Princess.”
“My dearest teacher, my continuing studies of pony magic have led me to discover that we are on the precipice of disaster!”
“Hold on. Preci… preci…”
“Uh, brink? Ugh, that something really bad is about to happen! For you see, the mythical Mare in the Moon is in fact Nightmare Moon, and she’s about to return to Equestria, and bring with her eternal night!”
There’s something about this first season in particular that’s just magical to me. In a way, I do think the series improves overall the further in you get, and yet more than any season that comes after this one, I get instantly pulled back to feeling like I’m watching it for the first time. I’m really happy that we’ve started this project in part just because it means I get to make a point of watching all of this again.
I realize I’m falling into hyperbole with this, and I will actually have some things to say against this opener once we get to Part 2 (it really isn’t perfect), but really I have very little to say about this episode that isn’t going to be just full-on gushing nostalgia.
I love the visual style we get for the story-book introduction, the entire thing has a textured parchment look and the art is simplistic but fitting for a fairy tale picture book. Quick note, the music going on in the background is a slightly tweaked variation of the original My Little Pony theme song (not the last time they’ll make use of variations of that tune, either).
Immediately following storytime, we’re introduced to the first of the main cast, Twilight Sparkle. If any one character can be pointed to as the “main character” of the series, it’s her (and her arc is arguably the focus of all of the “major” episodes of the show). We don’t get to spend an awful lot of time in Canterlot with her before she’s shuttled off to Ponyville, and it’s kind of a pity, because watching this time around made me realize how much I sort of wanted to see more of her life there. I adore her library in Canterlot, and the city in general just has a look that I really find appealing. We’ll be back to the city itself multiple times throughout the course of the series, but unless I’m misremembering I think this is the last time we’ll see Twilight in her study room.
Twilight starts out as a bit of an Insufferable Genius in the series (and it’s a trait she never manages to completely shed). Her favorite past-time is studying and learning new things and she’s an archetypal bookworm, so she’s used to at least having a by-the-books answer for things and being right. While it’s somewhat up in the air to what extent she suffers from social anxiety (she’s definitely socially awkward and is clearly uncomfortable at the idea of other ponies wanting to become friends with her or spend time with her), I think it’s more that she sees socialization as a distraction from what she considers a higher priority for her. Once she’s booted out of the castle to go run errands and told to make friends along the way, she laser-focuses in on the actual work she was given and treats the entire thing as a no-nonsense task to complete (which causes her to come off as something of a jerk in her early interactions with the rest of the main cast). I prefer to think that she’s an introvert in the actual definition of the word, in that she avoids social interaction out of preference rather than fear (in contrast to the other introvert of the cast, Fluttershy, who very definitely suffers hard from social anxiety).
The introduction to the rest of the cast as Twilight meets them each in turn as part of setting up for the celebration are still really fun to watch all this time later, and they’re all a pretty good crash course in their personalities, even if it’s somewhat surface-level at this point (Fluttershy’s introduction is so iconic to her character that the movie will eventually call back to it in an almost word-for-word recreation of the scene).
Applejack is a hard-working, family-focused country pony who basically has the run of the farm that supplies the town with food; Rainbow Dash is a sporty-yet-lazy pegasus responsible for helping control the weather but who would rather be working on improving her own flying abilities; Rarity is a design-obsessed unicorn enamored with the high-society life going on in other, larger cities; Fluttershy is an animal loving, soft-spoken pegasus with crippling shyness who still opens up immediately when presented with a new type of animal for her to gush over (even then, her interaction is almost entirely with Spike, she barely even acknowledges Twilight’s presence once she notices him); and Pinkie Pie is… well, Pinkie Pie.
I could dig way too deep into all of the characters already here, but there’s going to be plenty of time for that when they get more focus on themselves down the road, so to finish out for now I just want to hit on a few more points.
- Spike and Applejack are both expies from G1, while Rainbow Dash and Pinkie are from G3. While Applejack and Spike bear more than a passing resemblance to their former gen selves, Rainbow Dash is almost entirely different from the G3 character bearing the same name, and Pinkie is somewhere in the middle. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity are all new characters to the franchise, although they were based on characters from former generations (and would have been named after them if not for Hasbro losing the copyright to most of the G1 pony names). It’s worth mentioning that even Pinkie and Rainbow Dash are based in character (if not in name) on G1 ponies also. There’s a lot about G4 (especially in these opening episodes) that’s a throwback to G1.
- Speaking of Spike, we get a microcosm of his relationship with Twilight in just the library scene alone, but also across the whole episode in general. The two have something of a older sister/younger brother relationship, although occasionally it tends almost towards a mother/son relationship. Also interesting is the implication that he may have been more social within Canterlot than Twilight was herself, considering he was about to head out to Moondancer’s party (which she actively took steps to avoid) when she returns to the library.
- Also speaking of the library scene, I love that they manage to make Twilight appropriately wordy by using Spike as the little kid proxy to force her to explain her vocabulary.
- Keep an eye on the hourglass in the library as Twilight is dictating her letter to Celestia.
- It feels weird saying this, considering how big the crowd is even in this episode, but the Apple Family gathering in Applejack’s introduction scene is going to feel oddly small as the series goes on. Likely they hadn’t quite worked out in the writing yet that the Apples have a Genghis Khan-level spread among Equestria’s Earth Pony population.
- On the note of not having things worked out yet, a certain Captain of the Canterlot Guard is conspicuously absent from this episode.
- The CMC won’t become a thing until half way through this season, but this episode technically contains their first interaction with each other, once Nightmare Moon appears the Comic Trio wind up coincidentally all hiding in the exact same spot under one of the curtains.
- Background pony animations in this episode are really rough. For the most part when the main characters are having interactions with each other while a bunch of other ponies populate the background, they consist of mostly-static images of them that make minimal movements like blinking. This will get much, much better over time, and it was the only thing that was really jarring to see on this most recent viewing of this episode, having watched the (at the time of this writing) most recent season not too long ago.
- Speaking of background ponies, I do really like that when they are fully animated, the animators did go out of their way to inject some variety to their personality. Lyra’s gleefully bouncing and ecstatic grin right before the Summer Sun Celebration is set to start is one of my favorite things about this episode.
- On a final note, while Lauren Faust is the executive producer of the entirety of the first season and the creative consultant of the second, this is the first of only three episodes in the entire series that she’s credited with having directly written.
Once upon a time, oh, about four years ago, a television series began that would change the lives of many a viewer for the better. And it all started right here! At least, it did for some people. Others (all here present included) got their first taste of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic via another episode, then only later came back to start from the beginning. It has been so long since returning to square one that is almost feels like November 2011 (my first exposure) all over again, except now I know what I can be looking forward to. That and it’s 90 degrees outside rather than 40.
I mentioned in the introductory post that I wanted to try and figure out what it was that drew me in so much to this show, and one of those things is the subtle world-building that goes on beneath your nose from time to time. First case in point: books appear to sometimes be written left-to-right (like American books) and right-to-left (like Japanese books). The storybook Twilight is reading in the opening scene appears to be read from left to right, but when she is tearing through her encyclopedias trying to research the Elements of Harmony we see her flipping through the pages “backward” to what we’d normally expect (unless Twilight just happens to always search for things in reverse-alphabetical order). Throughout the series we will see this crop up time and again, and while one could say they are just animation errors or oversights, they occur so frequently that I like to think it’s a deliberate depiction of one facet of Equestrian literature: some books are written one direction, some books another, and you learn to read them either direction. Keep an eye out for it throughout the series and you’ll see what I mean.
“She said to check on preparations. I am her student, and I’ll do my royal duty, but the fate of Equestria does not rest on me making friends.”
Hold on, I have to catch my breath from laughing. Oh Twily, you have no idea.
Actually, I can relate to this more than I care to realize sometimes. Back in 2004-2005, I spent my junior year of college studying abroad in Japan. I adopted that same laser-focus for my assigned work that Tessa mentioned above, and at times it got in the way of me getting out and exploring my host country for all it was worth. In fact, I kind of looked down in derision on the folks who seemed to be spending more time goofing off and hitting the town than actually studying, which, after all, was the whole point of the study abroad (hence the word study). Except, it wasn’t. Not entirely, anyway, much like Twilight’s task wasn’t entirely to do research: the character-building that comes from interacting with those around you is so much more valuable than what you can find in any book. I’m glad I eventually realized that while I was over there… and hopefully Twilight realizes it as well! (Not-so-spoiler alert: Friendship is Magic.)
Also as I previously mentioned, the characters in this show really make this series special to me. It is therefore with mixed feelings that I say my initial impressions about the main characters the first time I saw the show were… er, mixed. In order of appearance, we have the stereotypical nerd, the stereotypical crazy one, the stereotypical farm girl, the stereotypical tomboy, the stereotypical fashionista, and the stereotypical quiet one. Stereotypically one-dimensional characters for what is obviously going to be a stereotypically one-dimensional young girls’ show. Had my first introduction to MLP:FiM been this episode on its own without any knowledge whatsoever of the rabid fan community it had spawned, I may not have stuck around. Don’t get me wrong: everypony’s introductions were fun and clever and all, but they did little to shake the “Hey look at me, I’m the X one!” where X is the stereotype du jour, and that has never really been a good way to hook me in. Better for me are those characters who start out believably “normal” and then develop into somebody extraordinary (or even still normal, but at least more mature); the approach here starts with… well, I think Twilight says it best: “All the ponies in this town are CRAZY!” It reminds me of when I started writing a Jurassic Park sequel where each of the main characters started out as some kind of extreme stereotype (one of them was a flippin’ ninja), which left me little in the way of further character development. (It also didn’t help that I was about 9 at the time, didn’t actually know what character development meant, and hadn’t even read the book or watched the movie to boot, but I digress.)
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while the character introductions are enjoyable on the surface, they did little to make me think that these pastel equines would ever evolve into the decidedly not stereotypically one-dimensional characters they become as the series progresses.
Except for Fluttershy. Love at first sight. Best pony.
More on character development as the series progresses. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the show, and it shall be revisited. Cross my heart and hope to — oh wait, we’re not there yet, I won’t spoil it for Noel.
Another thing we are introduced to in this episode is that everypony has a part to play (choice of words deliberate, for those who have watched the series already) in Ponyville, and everypony understands, accepts, and embraces this. This is yet another world-building aspect that will be explored in more detail in future episodes, but for now I’ll just say that subtly introducing this concept early is a great way to set the stage for the series. It’s not a focal point (yet), but it’s something that underlies a lot of what goes on.
So, anyway, the storyline finally moves forward, and we get a glimpse of the first real signs that not all is well in the magical land of Equestria… Nightmare Moon has arrived! For some reason I found Spike’s fainting in this scene to be absolutely hilarious: he (quite gracefully) rolls off Twilight’s back and she barely reacts beyond a flinch when he hits the ground. When put into context, this would be a truly terrifying scene to behold and is certainly freeze-in-place-worthy, but for some reason Twilight’s complete lack of reaction to her number one assistant falling off her back just makes me laugh.
Cliffhanger! We’ll see how the story (and our characters) progress when we let go of said cliff and go from hanging to falling. We’ll be okay, honest truth.
A parting song: My Little Pony Intro (Alex S. Glitch Mix). Not the first remix of the opening theme and certainly not the last, but one of the first I came across that I really enjoyed. The brony community is yet another major reason why I love this show so much, and there’s a fan song, piece of fan art, or fanfiction for just about everything!
I knew going in that the bulk of the series would be focused on small town shenanigans, with the quirky Northern Exposure cast of Ponyville going about their daily lives and interactions as an outsider is slowly drawn into their fold. What I didn’t expect was to have a bit of Twin Peaks going on, that of something darker and larger looming beneath the surface which needs to be dealt with so it doesn’t get in the way of said quirky folk going about their daily interactions.
I didn’t know we’d open on a creation myth, explaining a fantastical tale about how this world came to be in its present form, complete with a powerful figure who fell into evil and was locked away, and a series of McGuffin jewels tied into everything which I’m sure will come into play down the road. By revealing this storybook tale is pretty much true by the end of the episode here (unless they pull off one heck of a psych out twist come the next), they’re also setting up some larger conflicts the lives of this small town might play out against and likely get swept up in from time to time. (On that note, I highly recommend the painfully overlooked anime series Erin, currently available in full on Crunchyroll.)
Instead of the trope of the bookworm, as Tessa states, or the nerd, as by Gerf, I’d argue Twilight Sparkle is a “priest in training” of sorts. She’s a young keeper of and devotee to knowledge, but a very narrowly focused and devout knowledge based around service of the mystical hierarchy of this world and the creation myth origins it arose from. She has a very religious drive as she pores through old tomes, not to absorb pure data, but to take what she finds and hold it against and build further support for her beliefs. And she almost has a little too much zeal, as when she goes to her mentor, she’s promptly shipped away to get her head out of the books and live a little in the interactions of a small town community. And even then, it’s her beliefs in structure and ritual that find her clashing with the ponies she encounters, not only as they keep getting in the way of the mission she’s bound to follow through, but in how they leave her stunned by the lively ways in which they go about their expected tasks, like Applejack providing food through free-for-all sampler jamborees, or Rainbow Dash kicking through clouds like a punk rocker in a mosh pit, or Rarity mapping out decor like a stressed but delighted contestant of Project Runway. I like that Twilight’s aghast isn’t so much out of disgust as it is these people approaching their lives and tasks in ways which are so completely outside her wheelhouse. It’s the typical “big city in a small town” culture clash, and adding the “young priest who has things to learn” aspect is refreshing.
Since I’ve already brought up religion, let’s bring politics into play as I’m very impressed at how socialist this society is. They’ve mapped out the specific needs this world requires to function, but do so with vibrancy and personality instead of purely stale mechanics, as each pony has a role to play in the overall function of this society. Why it works here is because, instead of being forced into roles they’re not suited for, each is directly tied to their personality and tastes, so they all live happy lives dedicated to doing what they love. Applejack the farmer, Rainbow Dash the clearer of clouds, Fluttershy the friend to all animals, Pinkie Pie the baker, Rarity the designer. It’s a very idealized form of commune socialism, but it functions because it’s about everyone being able to express themselves individually through their tasks instead of just being about the tasks themselves. Sure, it’s a pipedream, but what’s wrong with letting this old socialist have a dream now and then. 🙂
I also like the quiet aspects of worldbuilding Gerf mentioned, and I’m kind of fascinated by this world lacking in hands, let alone opposable thumbs. What we’ve seen so far of the wingless/hornless variety of ponies is they’re dedicated to labor tasks, like baking or farming. Those with wings, the pegasi, are also labor based, albeit of more fantastical varieties, like managing weather or animals, which added mobility more freely allows. Those with horns make up for their lack of hands through magical telekinesis abilities (and the occasional small dragon servant) and seem to fill bureaucratic roles of higher prominence, which gives them freedom to focus on decor or pouring through dusty tomes as they don’t have to do the grunt work. And the highest of all, the deific figures, have both wings and horns, giving them both extra mobility and magical strengths. This is interesting in that it actually runs a bit counter to my previous paragraph, and could potentially raise issues. Those who are able to compensate for a lack of hands, instead of being the ones doing labor tasks which they could pull off with far more ease than those stuck with just hooves and teeth, are rather the ones managing all the laborers beneath them as they’ve used their extra strength to make themselves more prominent figureheads. And about everyone having a task best suited to their personality, what if what someone deeply loves to do is considered beyond them due to a lack of wings or a horn? These are interesting questions to consider and potentially create a society at odds with itself, but I trust the cleverness of the show to either address it as it goes along, or do some quiet sweeping under the rug with a few Pinkie Pie “ohmigosh”-es.
Overall, I really enjoyed the episode. The thought behind this world is much deeper than I expected (though probably not as deep as my overanalysis is taking it), and I’m really curious to see where it goes. Both Tessa and Gerf have expressed issues with how this episode holds up against what the series builds into, but as a first-timer, I have no complaints. Tessa, I didn’t even notice the backgrounds ponies, but that’s probably because I’m just not used to it yet and haven’t met any of the characters we’ll later get to know better. I’m a fan of Flash animated cartoons – love their crisp, flat graphic fluidity – and thought the style and execution came off very nicely here. Gerf, I see what you mean by introducing the characters as stereotypes, but I’m already seeing enough beneath the tropes to pull me into them. I’ve gotten into Twilight above (to put it mildly). Applejack as the country girl is deepened by the instant intensity of her sizeable clan, all built around their generations-perfected practice. Rarity’s sense of fashion and decor is balanced by her compassion in helping others as, instead of a snobbish turn of her nose at seeing Twilight’s disheveled appearance, she instantly shows concern. Rainbow Dash is the rowdy punk, but instead of confrontational rebelliousness, it’s about spunk and gusto and a can-do attitude. Fluttershy kicks the shyness up to such an extreme degree it’s impossible to not feel for her, even as the situation hits its awkward peak. And Pinkie Pie. Tessa… Pinkie Pie… I get it now.
I very much enjoyed my first taste of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and can not only already see what all the fuss has been about these last few years, but am very eager to dive more fully into that fuss myself.