Friday, 11 April 2014

Judgement is Magic - Thoughts on 'The Mysterious Mare Do Well'

Note: This article was written before I watched Digibrony’s video on The Mysterious Mare Do Well.

The Mysterious Mare Do Well is one of the least popular episodes of Friendship is Magic. While every episode of the show has its critics, the general dislike for Mare Do Well appears, from my observations, to be almost unanimous. To this day, I have come across a select few people in the My Little Pony analysis community who have openly defended the episode. To this day, even after the release of episodes such as Spike at Your Service, The Mysterious Mare Do Well remains a point of contention, with many fans citing it as one of the worst episodes of the show.

While there are a number of issues with characterisation which detract from the episode, making it one of the weaker outings of Season 2, I feel that there are quite a few positive elements that are often overlooked. I view The Mysterious Mare Do Well as a good episode with a number of notable flaws, rather than an episode which is truly terrible. With a few minor tweaks, it could be elevated from a mediocre episode to a My Little Pony classic. It would definitely benefit from a directors’ cut. Nevertheless, I must judge the episode as it stands, regardless of how I would have liked the episode to have been written.

Digibrony recently announced that he plans to discuss The Mysterious Mare Do Well very shortly, indicating that he might be intent on defending the episode. With this in mind, I would like to present a number of my thoughts on Mare Do Well. Hopefully, this will ensure that my eventual review of the episode is not seen as a carbon copy, should Digibrony present similar points in his video.

The Mysterious Mare Do Well is a very effective exploration of Rainbow Dash’s character. While the characterisation of the Remane 5 can be called into question, Rainbow Dash is written very effectively. The central conflict of the episode is perfectly suited to Rainbow, given her past (and future) characterisation. Rainbow Dash has been presented as having a sizeable ego right from the beginning of the series, and she makes no secret of this fact, being quick to boast about her talents. At the same time, Rainbow has demonstrated notable insecurities. She left (or was expelled from) school at a young age, and Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3 suggests that Rainbow has relatively severe learning difficulties. In Sonic Rainboom, is terrified at the prospect of failing to perform successfully in front of a crowd. In Read it and Weep and Ponyville Confidential, she displays a high degree of concern for her image, and the way in which other ponies perceive her.

The Mysterious Mare Do Well is, intended or otherwise, a prominent depiction of Rainbow Dash as the Element of Loyalty. Rainbow Dash loves being viewed as a local hero, to the point that it becomes a part of her identity. Rainbow Dash holds undying loyalty to the people of Ponyville, and her self-esteem is heavily predicated on the townsponies’ appreciation of this fact. Rainbow becomes so fond of this positive attention that she eventually loses sight of the real reason for her fame - helping others - and begins to emphasise the fame itself. When her place in the limelight begins to fade, her self-esteem takes a serious blow. She eventually goes looking for opportunities to display her heroism, but none present themselves, eventually causing Rainbow to hinder the townsponies, rather than help them.

This conflict is, while unusually cynical for Friendship is Magic, highly relevant. Modern culture tends to place a lot of emphasis on celebrity, to the extent that people often lose sight of the reasons that someone is famous in the first place. Celebrities themselves have been known to go to outrageous measures to retain their fame (e.g. Miley Cyrus), undergo identity crises as their fame diminishes (e.g. Justin Bieber and his new “bad boy” image), or let their lifestyles spiral out of control. This can, of course, apply on a smaller scale in any person’s life. People can become dependent on fame and popularity, to the point that their identity and self-esteem depend on it. While aspects of the setup and characterisation in The Mysterious Mare Do Well are notably flawed, this central conflict is well presented.

I will give a more detailed discussion of the positive and negative aspects of the episode in my full review. These are simply a few preliminary thoughts that I would like to publish before I watch Digibrony’s video concerning this episode.

~ The Almighty Atheist

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Draw Me An OC Pony

Good day.

I am looking to procure a set of OC slides, primarily for use in YouTube videos. If you are interested in providing such artwork, please do read on. If you are agreeable to the guidelines, please message me on YouTube with a sample of your work (in show-accurate style), and a sketch of how you would draw my OC; if I am agreeable to this, you have the all-clear to produce the full set of images. You will receive credit in videos where the images are used.

The artwork must be show-accurate, and conform to the following guidelines (image links provided as visual aids):

1) A set of various poses/expressions for the OC pony.

2) Optional: One image of the OC pony sitting on Zeus' throne from the game 'God of War 2', in show-accurate artistic style, using the following images as a guide:

3) I would also like an image of the cutie mark on its own (with no background).

4) OC Design Features:

a) A rough guide to the design/colour scheme of the OC can be found here (yes, the golden monocle is there intentionally):

b) A rough guide to the cutie mark design can be found here (must be golden):

c) The OC pony must wear a solid gold laurel wreath crown (a google image search should provide some inspiration).

d) The OC pony must wear a robe in the style of that worn by Zeus in the 'God of War' games (naturally, with some artistic license when adapting it for a pony), with careful attention paid to the gilt (gold) patterns. The robe can cover the cutie mark.

e) I tend to use more subdued, contemplative expressions, so preferably no massive grins or teeth showing.

f) For one of the OC slides: blue lightning crackling around the hooves, and blank eyes with blue lightning flashing within them.

Many thanks to any artist willing to participate in this project.

~ The Almighty Atheist

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Judgement is Magic - Season 4 Thus Far

Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has proven, thus far, to be fairly perplexing to many members of the MLP Analysis community, myself included. I would not say that Season 4 has been a bad season up to this point; rather, that it has been a very confusing one. While the episodes Princess Twilight Sparkle and Flight to the Finish have been fairly well received, the other four episodes released so far have been extremely contentious. I have noticed a number of recurring elements that have raised concern as to the direction of the current season, and I am not the only person to make these observations or draw these conclusions. Digibrony discussed the matter at length in his review of Bats!, and Tommy Oliver released a video dedicated to this topic. I happen to share many of these views, but I feel that my position requires further clarification.

In order to understand the issues that I have with Season 4 thus far, it is important to consider the nature of the show in its earlier stages. Episodes of Friendship is Magic tended to fit into one of three categories. Adventure episodes appear very rarely as a season premiere or finale, and are usually in two parts. These episodes are used to give an exciting start (or ending) to a season, and to develop the show’s setting and build continuity (most notably in the pilot episode). The stories in these episodes are notable for their use of an epic conflict and scale to deliver a narrative with a very grand theme and message. The adventure episodes establish the history and philosophy of Equestria, building the setting in which all other episodes take place.

The most common style of episode is ‘slice-of-life’. These episodes tend to involve a fairly realistic conflict, and a realistic resolution, with fantasy elements appearing as a complements to the core narrative. While the adventure episodes present Equestria on a grand scale and develop the setting as a whole, slice-of-life episodes show how the inhabitants of Equestria live on a day-to-day basis, while exploring more minor aspects of the setting. The appeal of slice-of-life episodes is derived primarily from the characters. The subject matter and events of these episodes tend to be relatively mundane, so the core appeal comes from the portrayal and development of characters. Character development in slice-of-life episodes tends to be closely related to the episode’s lesson, and it is here that Friendship is Magic excels. Every episode must convey a philosophical lesson, to be recounted at the end of the episode in a letter to Celestia. Because of this, the writers have to ensure that the events of the episode actually match the lesson at the end, so a lot of effort is expended on developing the characters by having them learn these lessons in a convincing way. By using this format, each episode became an exploration of philosophical ideas, with complex characters who developed over the course of the show. I know that many people are critical of the letters to Celestia, but I personally consider them to be a vital component of the show’s success. They are largely unnecessary to the narrative, save for The Return of Harmony; however, they serve as tools for the writers, ensuring that each episode develops a character and explores a philosophical idea. This aspect of Friendship is Magic sets it apart, not only from other cartoons, but from other media in general. Very rarely will a television programme place this level of emphasis on exploring ethics and philosophy, and do so consistently in almost every episode.

The third episode style is more a subcategory of slice-of-life, which I like to call ‘slice-of-adventure’. These are episodes which, for the most part, maintain the same format as a standard slice-of-life episode, but involve a more epic conflict or scale. A notable example of such an episode is Dragonshy. In this episode, a slumbering dragon is polluting Equestria by breathing out smog, and the Mane 6 are tasked with getting the dragon to relocate. This is definitely not the sort of conflict that occurs in most people’s lives; indeed, this conflict is inspired by The Hobbit, an epic fantasy adventure story. However, Dragonshy is primarily a character study of Fluttershy, much like a slice-of-life episode, with the epic conflict used as a catalyst for character exploration and development. The episode never attempts to create an epic tone or serious dramatic tension, as the focus of the story is not the dragon or the fate of Equestria, but Fluttershy’s internal conflict. The dragon is there to bring out that conflict, without being the focus of the episode.

Having established these three categories for episodes, let us take a look at Season 4. Thus far, we have seen six episodes of the season (including one two-part episode). For the most part, I enjoyed the season premiere and Flight to the Finish, though there are a few problems that I will discuss later. Unfortunately, I have a number of significant problems with the other four episodes. A number of patterns seem to have established themselves, which could have ramifications for the show if they become a season-long trend.

My greatest criticism of Season 4 thus far is the relative lack of focus on the lessons of each episode. The episodes certainly have lessons, made clear to the audience through entries in the journal, but these lessons feel very poorly integrated into the narratives of the episodes in question. In Castle Mane-ia, I would go so far as to say that there was no lesson to be found. Twilight Sparkle claims to have learned that reading about the history of the castle in the princesses’ old journal helped her to remain calm in the present, but this lesson falls apart given that Twilight never showed any signs of anxiety to begin with, nor did she attempt to use her newfound knowledge to reassure Spike, who was showing signs of fear. The lesson given at the end of the episode is not apparent in the narrative.

Daring Don’t was much more effective at delivering a lesson, but the execution feels very clumsy. The lesson is that by putting Daring Do on a pedestal, Rainbow Dash diminished her own self-worth and failed to perform to her full potential. Unfortunately, the episode accomplishes this by having Rainbow Dash act in an extremely idiotic and flanderised manner. Rainbow Dash is extremely obtrusive and disrespectful of Daring Do’s personal space; she talks loudly around the enemy campfire, risking exposing Daring Do; she stands around while Daring Do is under attack (twice), at most offering to throw Daring Do her hat (which results in her defeat and capture); all despite being an established hero who has saved other ponies, and in some cases the entire country, in high-pressure situations. The issue is not that Rainbow Dash underestimated her self-worth. The issue is that Rainbow Dash acted like an idiot, in a manner contrary to established characterisation. For this reason, the lesson does not work for me, because it was built around Rainbow Dash’s behaviour being forced and out-of-character. There is no serious exploration of the idea of diminished self-worth, because of the over-the-top silliness of Rainbow Dash’s character.

Power Ponies is the episode that really started to worry me about the direction of the season. The episode is set up as a Spike episode, in which he will grapple with issues of self-worth before realising that he is just as important as a member of the Mane 6. I was particularly pleased that the writers directly addressed the fact that Spike is perceived as a bumbling sidekick who primarily serves as comic relief, as it seemed as though the writers were planning to subvert this portrayal and start taking Spike seriously as a character. Unfortunately, once the main characters are sucked into the comic book, the episode’s setup is largely dropped. Most of the remaining time is spent focusing on the new superpowers of the Mane 6. Spike, not having any superpowers, seems almost irrelevant at this point, as very little effort is made to explore his character. Fluttershy’s character arc is given more focus in this episode, despite the fact that she is supposed to be a secondary character. By the end of the episode, it seems that the status quo is largely unchanged with regard to Spike, and in the following episode he is written in the same way as before; that is, primarily for comic relief at his expense. It seems that nothing has changed, despite the setup of Power Ponies indicating that this was the intent behind the episode.

Bats! was, for me, a perplexing episode. It begins with the kind of character-driven conflict that I love to see in Friendship is Magic. A conflict arises, two ponies have different views on how to approach it, and they must debate with one another in order to come to a resolution. The first half of the episode provides a fantastic setup, establishing a conflict with no clear solution and presenting the positions of Applejack and Fluttershy. At this point, the episode has a brilliant foundation on which to build a discussion about ethics, and an exploration of the characters of Applejack and Fluttershy.

Then, Fluttershy turns into a bat pony.

I cannot fathom what the writers were thinking when they chose this direction for the episode. How is this a logical choice for the continuation of this story? How does it contribute to the narrative of the Applejack vs Fluttershy pest control debate? The episode forgoes its opportunity to explore a complex ethical issue, in favour of wacky high jinks that have minimal relevance to the first half of the episode. The episode’s lessons about peer pressure and the risks of taking shortcuts are both very important lessons, but they are essentially glanced over to make room for the Flutterbat subplot. I understand that the writers wanted to have some fun, but when an episode is subject to time constraints, a writer needs to prioritise the most important content and cut content that is not needed.

I could go into a great amount of detail, but I will withhold further criticisms at this point. The upcoming episode, Rarity Takes Manehattan, looks to be extremely promising, and might well dismiss a lot of the concerns I have as to the direction of Season 4. For better or worse, join me in the next instalment of Judgement is Magic.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

MLP Season 4 Premiere - Spoilers and Speculation [LIGHT SPOILERS]

Over the past few weeks, a fair amount of information has been revealed about the Season 4 premiere for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And, with less than a week until Season 4 begins, I suppose it is a good time to start speculating about what we can expect to see in those early episodes. The newly available content includes a few short video clips, a number of screenshots, and one-sentence plot summaries for the first few episodes. It is not much, but it is enough to help me to generate a few ideas as to how these episodes are going to play out.

I must emphasise the fact that this article will contain spoilers for Season 4. It should be noted that they are not heavy spoilers, as they mostly concern the beginning of the season premiere. I have very little information about the middle, and absolutely no information about the ending, so I doubt that this article is going to spoil any of the major surprises. However, if you wish to watch the premiere with no prior knowledge about the plot, I strongly suggest that you stop reading from this point onwards.

By far the most exciting spoilers are delivered in the form of a collection of videos released both online and on The Hub. Personally, I consider two of these videos to be of particular significance. The first video is a 30-second clip from the early stages of the premiere, as seen below, courtesy of

The second video is a 30-second advertisement from The Hub Network:

We also have four new images, courtesy of Equestria Daily.

The first image shows that there is a new stained glass window in Canterlot Castle, depicting Twilight Sparkle’s ascension to an Alicorn. Over to the left, it appears that there may be a new window depicting Discord’s reformation.

The second image shows Nightmare Moon. Judging by her surroundings, it would seem that she has just completed the transformation seen in the animatics.

The third image shows Twilight Sparkle in a ruined castle, crying over what appears to be Celestia’s body.

The final image shows Twilight Sparkle and Discord in Ponyville.

The plot summary for the first episode of the season is as follows: “Now a Princess, Twilight Sparkle's Summer Sun Celebration plans are put on hold when Princesses Luna and Celestia go missing.”

The plot summary for the second episode is even more exciting still: “In order to save Equestria from the Everfree Forest, Princess Twilight and friends must bring their Elements to the Tree of Harmony.”

Obviously, these spoilers leave a lot of room for speculation. So far as I can tell, we do know the following details with relative certainty:
  • The premiere takes place during the Summer Sun Celebration.
  • Princess Celestia and Princess Luna mysteriously disappear.
  • The episode will involve Nightmare Moon (either in a flashback or the present day, or both).
  • The Everfree Forest tries to take over Equestria.
  • The Elements of Harmony will be involved in the story, and we will presumably learn more about them.
  • And, finally, Discord will make an appearance.

The Season 4 premiere is looking to be a fantastic two-part episode. By setting the episode during the Summer Sun Celebration, this episode is clearly a callback to the beginnings of the show. We will learn more about Nightmare Moon, the Everfree Forest, and the Elements of Harmony, which may help to answer some of the questions that many viewers had about the pilot episodes. Fans have been insistent on learning more about the history of Celestia and Luna, and it appears that the show is finally planning to deliver. Not only will the season premiere focus on these topics, the third episode of Season 4 will be spent exploring Celestia’s and Luna’s old castle; that is, the ruined castle in the Everfree Forest, which the Mane 6 visited during the pilot episode.

Of particular interest is the “Tree of Harmony”, which looks to be an important plot device in the season premiere. The plot summary for the second part mentions that the Elements of Harmony must be returned to the Tree. This implies that the Tree of Harmony may be related to the origin of the Elements. The Hub’s advertisement gives a brief glimpse of what appears to be the Tree of Harmony, pictured below. The tree appears to be made from crystal, with Celestia’s sun cutie mark on the trunk and a large crystal in the middle which is shaped like the Element of Magic. In the top-left corner, what looks to be the Element of Generosity appears in its original form, as seen in the opening to the pilot episode.

Given this image, it seems quite possible that the Crystal Empire will be involved in some way. The Crystal Heart is a similar colour to the large, Element-of-Magic-shaped crystal on the tree, so I would not be surprised to learn of the Crystal Heart’s origins in the Season 4 premiere. Given how little development the Crystal Empire has been given as a setting, this seems like to perfect opportunity to go into greater detail about its history.

The episode is called “Princess Twilight Sparkle”, so it is likely to devote much of its time to developing Twilight’s character, and exploring the changes made in the Season 3 finale. This is particularly important for the show’s canon. Magical Mystery Cure did very little to explain what being a princess will involve for Twilight, or what becoming an Alicorn actually changed beyond giving her a pair of wings. Equestria Girls did provide some character development for Twilight post-coronation, but it was fairly minor, and not the focus of the story. This places a great deal of significance upon the Season 4 premiere, which has the ability to make, or break, the show. Given the supposed emphasis on Celestia and Luna, I have a feeling that the topics of Alicorns and princesses will both be in the spotlight, so I have my expectations set high.

Other than the details mentioned above, I have no idea how this episode is going to play out. In particular, I do not know how the concept of Nightmare Moon is going to work its way into the episode. The Season 4 animatics seem to indicate that the Nightmare Moon transformation scene takes place in a flashback which Twilight Sparkle is somehow able to view. This might also explain the image wherein Twilight is crying over Celestia’s seemingly injured body. The image is set in what appears to be Celestia’s old castle, but it does not appear to be overgrown by the Everfree Forest at the time, indicating that the image is not set in present-day Equestria. Has Nightmare Moon returned, and captured Celestia once again? Or, is there a new enemy at work, kidnapping both sisters in the process? Only time will tell.

Of course, in addition to the positive speculation, I do have some concerns. I was not the only person to observe a noticeable decline in episode quality during Season 3 and Equestria Girls (see Byter’s reviews on DeviantArt if you need any indication). The most recent adventure-themed stories, The Crystal Empire and Equestria Girls, were noticeably lacklustre compared with the earlier two part episodes, and Meghan McCarthy, the writer of the stories I just mentioned, has written the Season 4 premiere, in addition to being the current show-runner for My Little Pony. I should point out that Meghan McCarthy is my favourite writer for the show, and she wrote some incredible episodes during the first two seasons, but a big improvement is needed in order for the Season 4 premiere to live up to The Return of Harmony or A Canterlot Wedding (which, incidentally, was written by McCarthy).

My other concern lies with the character of Discord. When he was introduced in The Return of Harmony, Discord was presented as the god of chaos, extremely powerful and extremely evil, and he was easily the most impressive villain the show. Unfortunately, the episode Keep Calm and Flutter On made some significant changes to Discord’s character, to the point of character derailment, and the Season 4 premiere is going to be Discord’s first appearance since he was turned into a good character. This has me fairly apprehensive about the approach the writers are going to take. If I were writing the premiere, I would make Discord the villain, revealing that he was evil the whole time, and only pretended to change so that he would not be turned back into stone. Sadly, it seems unlikely that the writers would take this approach, but I will be more forgiving if Discord retains at least some of his villainous qualities, even though he is working with the protagonists. We will just have to wait and see.

With less than 24 hours remaining until the Season 4 premiere, I would love to know your thoughts, so please do join the discussion, either directly on this post or on the MLP Analysis Subreddit. However, if you aware of any major spoilers not discussed in this post (particularly anything related to the middle and ending of the premiere), I ask that you withhold that information from your comments.

With that, I bid you a very merry season premiere.

~ The Almighty Atheist

Edit: I have recently learned that a full episode synopsis for the Season 4 premiere is now available. In the interests of courtesy to other fans of the show, I request that you do not post about it until the day after the episode is released. Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Doug Walker - The ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’ Vlogs

If you have been visiting the That Guy With The Glasses website over the past year, you might have noticed that Doug Walker (better known as the Nostalgia Critic) has been running two long-running series entitled The Last Airbender Vlogs, and, more recently, The Legend of Korra Vlogs. These vlogs provide Walker’s commentary on the acclaimed Nickelodeon television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (a programme that I hold in rather high esteem), and the sequel series, Legend of Korra (a programme that is the subject of my utmost disappointment).

Amusingly, these vlogs have become an integral component of my daily routine. I particularly enjoy sitting down to lunch and listening to Doug Walker discuss the merits (or demerits, in the case of Korra) of an episode. One can understand my dismay upon discovering that, with the conclusion of the Legend of Korra Vlogs, there may be no more daily commentary vlogs by Walker in the foreseeable future. This is a calamity that requires immediate remedy, and I believe I have just the solution.

In order to begin a new series of daily vlogs, Walker will require a programme of a very high calibre. A show with grand stories; dynamic, complex characters; an intriguing, creative setting; and mature themes and messages. Such a show does exist, and is waiting to be critiqued: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. With 65 episodes currently released, and a fourth season approaching in November, now is the perfect time to start a commentary series. Walker has signified his knowledge of both the show and the Brony fandom, and I am sure that he would be quite open to the suggestion.

It is for this reason that I have created a petition on If you would like Doug Walker to create a series of vlogs providing commentary on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, you are encouraged to sign this petition to signify your interest.

Thank you for your support.

~ The Almighty Atheist

Friday, 23 August 2013

Anita Sarkeesian Murders Randy Pitchford in Fanfic - Hypocrisy Exposed (Feminist Frequency Refuted)

In June of 2012, “feminist” blogger Anita Sarkeesian, better known to the online world as Feminist Frequency, became prominent on YouTube and online news media after launching a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for a new video series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This publicity was the result of a substantial amount of troll activity that occurred in response to the Kickstarter campaign; activity that has been cited on many occasions by Sarkeesian as justification for her perspective on the contemporary video games industry and modern gamers.

I am by no means a supporter of Feminist Frequency. A feminist myself, I consider the views and assertions of Sarkeesian to be antithetical to the foundational principles of feminism; Sarkeesian may call herself a “feminist”, but a close inspection of her videos will uncover a multitude of sexist beliefs about both men and women, rather than the promotion of gender equality that feminism is supposed to be about. Nevertheless, online harassment is never appropriate, regardless of the motivation behind it, and although I believe that Sarkeesian has misconstrued the nature of the trolling in question, it is unquestionably an unfortunate aspect of the Internet, and Sarkeesian’s complaints about online harassment are, for the most part, justified.

Well, that is to say, they were justified. For, apparently, Anita Sarkeesian has decided to embrace the online harassment and violent writing tropes that she once denounced so fiercely. In mid-August, 2013, a rather interesting post was made on the official Feminist Frequency Tumblr blog. This post contains a short work of fan fiction, written by a third party and preceded by a foreword by Sarkeesian, in which she says, “I kinda like it”. What, in particular, does Anita like so much about it? We shall soon see.

The story stars Anita Sarkeesian (and Spiderman, though his role has little relevance), on a quest to prevent the revival of Duke Nukem by Randy Pitchford, the CEO of Gearbox Studios. The early stages of the story are largely nondescript, but events become rather heated towards the end. Sarkeesian holds Pitchford at gunpoint, threatening him until he concedes that her point of view is correct. Anita then tells Pitchford that he does not deserve to die, allowing him a brief sigh of relief, before promptly shooting him anyway. With Pitchford dead, Sarkeesian assumes control of Gearbox Studios.

“I kinda like it” seems a peculiar response, Anita, for someone supposedly opposed to online harassment. The story is undeniably unpleasant as paraphrased above, but the original text paints a rather more disturbing picture, given the way in which the violence is depicted and Sarkeesian’s portrayal as a hero, with Pitchford cast as a villain fully deserving of his fate. To use Anita’s words from the Damsel in Distress - Part 2 video, Pitchford was “asking for it”. I was under the impression that Sarkeesian had denounced this excuse as reprehensible, but apparently she has changed her mind, and now deems victim-blaming to be a perfectly acceptable practice.

You might remember that, in the Damsel in Distress - Part 2 video, Anita severely criticises a scene from a Grand Theft Auto game, wherein a gangster impliedly shoots his female partner for talking about “stereotypically girly things”. Anita says that her death is “the punchline of a cheap misogynist joke”. In the aforementioned fan fiction, Sarkeesian shoots a man in cold blood for producing what might be called “stereotypically boyish games”, with his death portrayed in a comic light. One might say that Pitchford’s death is the “punchline of a cheap misandrist joke”, something that Anita’s “pop culture critic”-o-vision seemingly failed to notice.

I am not worried for the well being of the aforementioned Mr Pitchford. As an adult, I am sure that Pitchford would, upon coming across this post, dismiss it as yet another nonsensical work of fan fiction that no sane person would take seriously. My concern lies with Sarkeesian, and her impressionable supporters. Feminist Frequency has an incredible amount of influence, with over 105,000 subscribers on YouTube and substantial media recognition and publicity. Many of Sarkeesian’s followers are young and impressionable; for them, Sarkeesian defines feminism. Anita forgets that, as much as she might critique the media, she is also part of the media, quite a significant part at this point. She has far more influence over the mind of an individual than the average Hollywood film, as people are actively looking to her for philosophical commentary. And what is Anita’s latest insight? That, if someone produces media that conflicts with your personal preferences, feel free to create your own violent fantasy media featuring the comedic murder of said person. Just make sure that person is a man; if a woman is killed in your story, that constitutes misogyny, but if a man is killed, to use Anita's words from her Women in Refrigerators video, it makes "hardly a ripple".

Anita Sarkeesian has, it seems, thrown all subtlety to the wind, openly exposing herself for what she is: a charlatan and a hypocrite. She complains about online harassment, including the “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” game on Newgrounds, while endorsing media that depicts violence against those with an opposing point of view as both comical and justified. She protests the depiction of violence against female characters in media, and actively promotes media that portrays violence against a real man as laughable. There is a certain element of philosophical debate that Anita has seemingly failed to grasp: if you do not apply your principles consistently, critical minds will not take you seriously. Most of the complaints Anita has made about online harassment have been thoroughly invalidated; she has demonstrated that she is perfectly content with such behaviour, as long is she, and those she identifies with, are not on the receiving end. People have identified long before this incident that Feminist Frequency does not advocate gender equality. Now, it seems, Sarkeesian has decided to broadcast this fact without the slightest degree of caution. At the very least, this should help those previously in support of Feminist Frequency to see Sarkeesian and her content from a new perspective. Only time will tell whether this incident is to have lasting consequences.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Judgement Day: Sunset Shimmer's Redemption Arc

Judgement Day: Sunset Shimmer's Redemption Arc

Hello, and welcome to Judgement Day. I am The Almighty Atheist, and upon this day I shall rain down judgement from the heavens upon Equestria Girls. In particular, I intend to talk about the villain of this film, Sunset Shimmer, and express a number of criticisms with regard to the way in which her character is written.

During the events of Equestria Girls, Sunset Shimmer undergoes what is often referred to as a "redemption arc". She begins the film as a villain, and ends the film having been redeemed; that is, she has presumably decided to cease her villainy and turn to the side of good. The protagonists accept and encourage this change, and the audience is expected to have the same reaction.

Redemption arcs have a certain appeal when writing fiction. Rather than having the villain killed or incapacitated, or having them maintain their villainous ways, a redemption arc shows that the villain is both complex and dynamic; there are multiple facets to their character, and their character changes over the course of the story. This tends to make villains much more interesting, and far more realistic, as people in real life are both complex and dynamic. It also works very effectively in a show like Friendship is Magic, a show which is all about teaching positive morals, as it shows that although people do make mistakes, they have the ability to change and rectify those mistakes.

An example of a very effective redemption arc can be found in the Pilot of Friendship is Magic. In the prologue, the audience learns about the relationship between Celestia and Luna, and the roles that they played as celestial deities. Luna is given a very convincing reason for becoming Nightmare Moon: her jealousy, and deflated sense of self-worth. During the Pilot, Nightmare Moon demonstrates that she is very much the personification of Luna's darker emotions. She does not intend to bring harm to the ponies of Equestria, and instead demands their recognition of her as Princess of the Night, using intimidation and force instead of compelling the ponies to love her willingly. At the end of the episode, the Elements of Harmony destroy Nightmare Moon, leaving Luna as she was before her fall from grace. Celestia appears and invites Luna to join her once more, and Luna embraces her sister, having seen error of her past actions and realising that she is, in fact, appreciated for who she is, not by forcing other people to give her recognition. To this day, I consider Luna's story to be one of the most mature and effective character arcs in Friendship is Magic.

However, with these rewards come a number of risks. An effective redemption arc requires sound execution, and anything less can result in a very questionable story. Such is the case with the redemption arc of Sunset Shimmer. This character had incredible potential, and I was looking forward to seeing how she would be developed, but unfortunately there was very little development to speak of. So, to begin this analysis, I suppose we should take a look at what we know about Sunset Shimmer.

At the start of the film, Celestia states that Sunset Shimmer was her apprentice not long before Twilight, though the exact timeline is left ambiguous. Apparently, she did not get what she wanted as quickly as she liked, so she turned "cruel and dishonest". This brings us to the first major problem with Sunset Shimmer: the audience does not know what her motivation is. We can speculate that she is "power hungry", and we can come up with some very good theories as to the specific reason behind this. However, this does not change the fact that the film never goes into detail about Sunset Shimmer's motivations for becoming evil, and headcanon theories do not compensate for lack of information within the film.

The reason that Luna's redemption arc was so effective is the fact that the audience knew about Luna's backstory and motivations. The prologue of the Pilot episode does not go into extreme detail, but there is enough information to convey why Luna became Nightmare Moon. This is what makes Nightmare Moon an effective villain: not the mere fact that she is evil, but reason that she is evil. Luna is presented as a complex and dynamic character, because her motivations and actions can be understood by the audience. Sunset Shimmer, on the other hand, is portrayed as a typical high school alpha girl bully character throughout most of the film, with very little effort made to expand upon her character.

During the film's climax, Sunset Shimmer goes from being a generic bully to an evil maniac. Apparently, her plan this whole time was to use the Element of Magic to invade Equestria and overthrow Celestia. Why on Earth would she want to do that? I can understand that Sunset Shimmer wants power, but why would she want to take over Equestria by force? What does she plan to do if she succeeds? This is a very extreme goal, in contrast to the way Sunset Shimmer has been portrayed over the course of the film, and once again, no motivation is given for her to want to do this.

Finally, after being defeated by the Elements of Harmony (and yes, I will eventually cast judgement upon this Deus ex Machina), Sunset Shimmer undergoes a noticeable change. She explains her evil actions by saying that she did not know that there was another way; i.e. she did not understand the magic of friendship. She then receives Twilight Sparkle's forgiveness, similar to Celestia's forgiveness of Luna in the Pilot episode. This scene would work if Sunset Shimmer had been developed as a complex character up to this point. However, the audience is never given any reason to believe that Sunset Shimmer might have second thoughts about her actions prior to her defeat. One must remember that Sunset Shimmer just attempted to destroy Twilight Sparkle, while in her demonic form. It could be argued that the Element of Magic corrupted Sunset Shimmer, similarly to the Alicorn Amulet in Magic Duel, but this is never made apparent to the audience. Viewers are given no reason to take Sunset Shimmer's sudden redemption seriously, as she has never displayed any measure of complexity. The audience has no idea what is going on in Sunset Shimmer's head, so this sudden change has no context; thus, it comes across as forced character development.

I might have been more forgiving of this character arc if Sunset Shimmer had travelled back to Equestria with Twilight. Sunset Shimmer has an unresolved relationship with Celestia; thus, it is Celestia's forgiveness that Sunset Shimmer should seek, not Twilight Sparkle's. As Sunset Shimmer and Celestia never meet during the film, much of Sunset Shimmer's potential is not realised. Unfortunately, leaving her in the human world means that it will be very difficult to introduce her to the show, as the portal only opens for three days every two-and-a-half years. Not only does this decision appear to ignore Celestia's comment about upsetting "the balance" if ponies are in the wrong world, but it overlooks a character with great potential which will, presumably, never be realised.

In conclusion, an effective redemption arc requires a developed character. Portraying a villain as one-dimensionally evil over the course of a story, and displaying sudden repentance at the end, does not result in a very believable story. The audience must understand why the villain takes the actions that they take. There must be some measure of complexity, showing that the villain is not purely evil. Sunset Shimmer's motivations are not made clear to the audience, and she is not portrayed as a complex character until the very end of Equestria Girls. Viewers can speculate about Sunset Shimmer's character; I certainly have a few theories of my own. This does not, however, change the fact that the necessary aspects of Sunset Shimmer's character are not explored within the film itself. Thus, her redemption arc is does not succeed.

~ The Almighty Atheist

SDCC - MLP Season 4 Preview Footage (Spoilers)

The fall of Luna is finally shown.
During the My Little Pony panel at the San Diego Comic Con, a special preview of Season 4 content was revealed. You may click here to watch the video. At this stage, the footage is composed of pencil sketches without colour, but there is a certain degree of animated movement, in addition to full voice acting and a musical score.

Those who desire to read my commentary concerning the footage, I encourage you to continue reading. If you have not yet seen the video, I recommend doing so before you read any further. Please be aware that the aforementioned video and this article will contain spoilers for Season 4 of My Little Pony.

The Scootaloo/Disability Episode

It has long been apparent that Scootaloo is unable to fly, and many viewers have speculated about future episode revolving around this topic. This speculation was further aided by confirmation from the writers that Season 4 would involve an episode relating to disabilities. It appears that viewers' suspicions have been confirmed, and there will be an episode exploring Scootaloo's disability.

This episode has a lot of potential. I believe that the episode will be written by Amy Keating Rogers; Rogers has first hand experience with the disabled and is an advocate for those with disabilities, so I expect that she will be able to deliver a very effective commentary. This episode has the potential to develop Scootaloo's character in much greater detail than before, something I feel Sleepless in Ponyville largely failed to do. There is also the possibility to develop other characters, including Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy (in relation to the revelations of Hurricane Fluttershy), Luna, and possibly Lightning Dust (after the atrocious ending of Wonderbolts Academy, I certainly want to see her developed in Season 4). Miss Harshwhinny, the Equestria Games inspector from Games Ponies Play, will also be making an appearance.

The Superhero-themed Spike Episode

This footage is somewhat difficult to interpret, and I have no idea how this might come about. Spike wakes up to find himself, and the Mane 6, in superhero outfits. He calls them the "Power Ponies", indicating that this may be a Power Rangers reference (as I know very little about the Power Rangers franchise, I cannot make many predictions about how this might work).

As it happens, I do know that Power Rangers is often mentioned for its extremely camp and over the top villains, and it appears that this episode will have such a villain. If executed effectively, this could make for some excellent comedy (and perhaps compensate for Spike at your Service and Just for Sidekicks).

The Apple Family and Pinkie Pie Episode (and Song)

It appears that there will be an episode in which Pinkie Pie becomes involved in some way with the Apple Family. Very little is revealed about the plot in the preview footage. Instead, there is an absolutely fantastic musical number. I was not impressed by Raise this Barn in Apple Family Reunion, but the upcoming song sounds utterly fantastic. I am not fond of country-style music, but this song manages to have an enjoyable tune in spite of that. Applejack, Applebloom, Big Macintosh, and Granny Smith all appear to be involved in the singing. Daniel Ingram has stated that out of all My Little Pony seasons thus far, he is most proud of his songs for Season 4, and I can certainly see why.

With regard to how Pinkie Pie will be involved in the story, I do have a theory. Supposedly, Pinkie Pie will have a sisterly reunion in Season 4. It is possible that the Apple Family are journeying in the direction of the Pie Family farm, and are taking Pinkie to her family for a visit. The episode may then juxtapose the close family relationship of the Apple Family with the somewhat distant relationship between Pinkie Pie and her family. Of course, only time will tell.

The Return of Nightmare Moon

This is exactly what I wanted to see from the Season 4 preview. Further exploration of Celestia, Luna, and the story of Nightmare Moon is long overdue, having received very little development since the Season 1 premiere. Luna Eclipsed gives Luna some very important development in terms of her re-integration into Equestrian society, and Sleepless in Ponyville provides a small expansion of her abilities and duties; but, for the most part, the Nightmare Moon storyline has remained unexplored. The SDCC preview footage shows that the writers have not forgotten about Nightmare Moon, and intend to do justice to this aspect of the show's continuity.

In terms of the events shown in the preview footage, it appears that Twilight Sparkle is viewing a flashback from Celestia's point of view. This scene actually shows Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon. It also appears to take place in the Castle of the Pony Sisters (the now-ruined castle seen in the show's Pilot), which reflects Lauren Faust's comments about that castle being the former home of Celestia and Luna.

The exact manner in which this relates to explaining the Alicorn Princess Twilight concept is unknown at this stage. I was not impressed by the way in which this concept was introduced to the show, with very little buildup or explanation, so the way in which Season 4 approaches this concept will be an important determining factor in the quality of the season. Having seen the preview footage, I can safely say that I am rather optimistic about the direction of the show in Season 4.

Final Thoughts

Quite a few details have been revealed thus far, and, for the most part, I am fairly impressed. I was somewhat disappointed with the execution of Season 3, especially the implementation of Twilight Sparkle's recent changes, but it appears that the writers do intend to rectify these issues. In particular, the upcoming story concerning Nightmare Moon (presumably the season premiere) appears very promising, and I am rather excited about Season 4. My coverage of the other Season 4 details revealed at SDCC will be available in good time.

~ The Almighty Atheist

Monday, 15 July 2013

Everything Wrong with Magical Mystery Cure

Everything Wrong with Magical Mystery Cure

The imaginary "magic kindergarten" sequence from Lesson Zero is shown on one of the screens.
 Magical Mystery Cure is undoubtedly one of the most contentious episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Perhaps the most contentious of them all. The Season 3 finale was definitely polarising, with many viewers delighted, and many viewers thoroughly disappointed. Regardless of one's outlook on this episode, it is worth noting that Magical Mystery Cure does come with its fair share of problems. As it happens, I have something of a penchant for critical judgement of literature, and I could not help but notice quite a few of these issues when watching the Season 3 finale. So, without further ado, I present the fifty-two most noticeable problems in Magical Mystery Cure.
  1. Why does Twilight believe that nothing can ever go wrong in Ponyville, when something seems to go wrong there every other week. Apparently the Mane 5 are not the only ponies with altered memories.
  2. Why is Twilight dancing on a table where two ponies were trying eat.
  3. Why is Rarity attempting to control the weather, when Rainbow Dash's cutie mark signifies her love of speed and victory, as well as performing a sonic rainboom (and it is not a matter of Rarity's interpretation of the cutie mark, as Rainbow Dash regains her cutie mark after clearing away the clouds).
  4. Come to think of it, how is Rarity supposed to get inside Rainbow Dash's house, when, last I checked, it is made out of clouds?
  5. How is Rarity controlling this many clouds so precisely with her limited magical abilities?
  6. Why does Doctor Whooves have a crescent moon cutie mark? I thought that only the Mane 5 were affected by the spell.
  7. How did Rainbow Dash actually end up living in Fluttershy's cottage? Did she have to walk there, or did she just teleport there overnight?
  8. Why is Fluttershy trying to be a comedian, when Pinkie Pie's special talent and occupation both relate to hosting parties to make people happy? Pinkie Pie is supposed to make the audience laugh, not the ponies within the show.
    • Though, I must admit, Spike performing the Gangnam Style dance is very amusing.
  9. What happened to the rest of the Apple family, and what do they have to say about Pinkie Pie coming along and ruining their farm?
  10. Why isn't Applejack using any gems in her clothing designs when Rarity's cutie mark signifies her ability to locate gems with magic, and her love of using gems to make her clothing designs look spectacular?
  11. How is it possible for Rarity to cause sunburns or heavy snow? Princess Celestia controls the sun, so it follows logically that Celestia would be responsible for intense heat, or intense snow.
  12. Why does Twilight slam the door in the face of the courier pony without signing for her package?
  13. Why would Celestia send this archaic, extremely valuable, and extremely dangerous book via courier, when she could send it much more safely through Spike's dragon fire?
  14. Why does Twilight cast the spell without checking what it is supposed to do? The spell is written within a massive book, which presumably contains the notes that Starswirl wrote when he was working on the spell. Twilight could have been casting the armageddon spell for all she knew.
  15. Why does Starswirl's spell use an incantation, when Twilight explicitly states in Bridle Gossip that incantations do not work in the Equestrian magic system.
  16. Why, in Celestia's name, would Twilight store the Elements of Harmony, the only measure keeping Discord in check, in a display case in a public library?!
  17. How exactly was Twilight able to cast a spell on the Elements of Harmony in the first place? The Element are so powerful that even Discord cannot overrule their magic, so how is a spell cast by a Unicorn supposed to adversely affect Elements?
  18. On a related note, why exactly does the spell affect the Elements in this way? And why does that change the cutie marks and memories of the Mane 5? There is never any explanation as to the actual mechanics of the spell.
  19. Why does Twilight say that her friends' memories have not been altered, when they evidently have?
  20. Why does Twilight say that her friends' "true selves" have been altered, when clearly they haven't because the Mane 5 are terrible at their new occupations? If their "true selves" had changed, would that not give them the talents that their new cutie marks signify?
  21. Why does Twilight dismiss Spike's suggestion to use the memory spell from The Return of Harmony, when this sounds like perfectly plausible solution?
  22. Why does Twilight dismiss Spike's suggestion to use Zecora's cure for the cutie pox, when there is a possibility that this might actually work? There is no guarantee that it will work, but she has nothing to lose by trying.
  23. Why does Twilight go to mope in her bedroom without so much as trying to find a solution? This goes against everything we know about her character. Twilight is a problem-solver, arguably to an obsessive degree. Think back to episodes like Feeling Pinkie Keen, Lesson Zero, It's About Time, and A Canterlot Wedding. Twilight would stop at nothing to find the answer to the problem. Yet, in this episode, she gives up without so much as trying (quite ironic, given how effortless and simplistic the solution was).
  24. Why does Twilight start glowing when she looks at the photograph of the Mane 6? This is never explained or even mentioned again.
  25. Why would Fluttershy want to move back to Cloudsdale? She would still have the same cutie mark, but would no longer be surrounded by her closest friends.
  26. Why does Twilight refuse to help Rainbow Dash when she is clearly about to be murdered by Fluttershy's animals?
  27. Twilight Sparkle says that the Mane 5 are supposed to "help" the others with their newfound tasks, yet, with the exception of the restoration of Sweet Apple Acres, they just end up performing the tasks entirely by themselves.
  28. In addition, Twilight says that performing the tasks will restore their cutie marks, yet in reality, nothing changes until Twilight places their respective Elements of Harmony around their necks. Pinkie Pie doesn't even have to make any pony smile or laugh, as soon as the necklace is placed around her neck it has the desired effect.
  29. How was Pinkie Pie able to single-handedly kill most of the plants at Sweet Apple Acres within a single day?
  30. Why is it that the rest of the Apple family only show up when Twilight Sparkle and company arrive at their farm?
  31. How was Sweet Apple Acres able to make a full recovery so quickly? Was there a magical rainfall like the one that ended Scar's drought in The Lion King?
  32. Why in Equestria are the ponies of Ponyville being hostile to one another because of a day's bad weather? How is it possible for these ponies to survive the entire season of winter?
  33. How exactly did Twilight figure out how to complete the spell? We briefly see the "spark" from the Season 1 premiere, but there is no way of knowing what her thought process was. She rather spontaneously has the answer, but the audience has no idea how she acquired it.
  34. Why do the Elements of Harmony fire laser beams at Twilight? This does not seem related to the way in which they have behaved in the past.
  35. If the Elements of Harmony had not been in the room when Twilight completed the spell, how would the story have continued? This arrangement seems a little bit too convenient.
  36. Come to think of it, what was the spell supposed to do? The episode revolves around the spell, yet there is no indication as to what purpose the spell actually serves.
  37. What happened to the Element of Magic? Twilight no longer has the tiara in the astral plane, or after she returns to Ponyville, yet it reappears for the coronation.
  38. Why does the Element of Magic now have a different design (this is confirmed by Equestria Girls).
  39. What is this astral plane area? I only ask because it seems fairly important, yet there is no explanation as to what exactly this place is supposed to be.
  40. How exactly is Celestia able to play this cosmic slide show? What are those floating screens, and where are they getting their footage from?
  41. Why is one of the screens displaying an imaginary sequence from Lesson Zero?
  42. Why is Celestia explaining away the plot by quoting Darth Sidious from Return of the Jedi? When it comes to plot convenience, saying that something happens because of destiny is one of the laziest plot devices in existence.
  43. Why doesn't Celestia ask Twilight's permission before making her an Alicorn and a princess? This is a fairly serious thing to thrust upon Twilight without her consent.
  44. Why would a student of magic be appointed to the role of princess? That makes about as much sense as a physics graduate getting a job as a diplomat.
  45. Why does Applejack say "I've never seen anything like it", when she has seen three different Alicorns in the past? Apparently the Element of Honesty needs to find a new wielder.
  46. Why are the Mane 5 reacting so calmly to this change? Twilight Sparkle just turned into an Alicorn, yet from the way these ponies are talking, one would think they were complimenting Twilight's new shoes.
  47. Why is Twilight reacting so calmly? Her species was just changed and she hardly seems to care.
  48. Why doesn't Celestia explain to Twilight what being an Alicorn or a princess will entail? How can she expect Twilight to be happy with these changes when she doesn't even know what they mean? How can the audience be expected to appreciate the changes without knowing what they mean. This is important exposition, without which these changes are rendered utterly meaningless to the audience. All we know is that Twilight has a new title and a pair of wings. We need more information for this to make sense.
  49. I have no idea what the animators were thinking with Celestia's and Luna's dresses.
  50. Why aren't Shining Armour and Prince Blueblood standing in front of the congregation with the princesses?
  51. Why does Celestia expect Twilight to give a speech with absolutely no preparation? Oh, I am not joking. Twilight has absolutely nothing prepared to say to the crowd. Are we supposed to believe that Celestia did not tell Twilight about this before hand? That does seem terribly irresponsible.
    • I must say, the line about "liquid pride" was very funny.
  52. How is Twilight already able to fly like an expert, complete with loop-the-loops?
    • Thankfully, Twilight's response to the changes in this episode were retconned in Equestria Girls to be much more realistic.
  53. And finally, for the biggest mistake in Magical Mystery Cure: why, Celestia's name, is Miss America in the credits. Of all the ways to destroy any dignity that the episode might have had, this is definitely the worst possible thing! Now, see here. If an adult wants to engage in a beauty pageant, then by all means, that is their decision to make. But do not promote it to the young children watching My Little Pony. This is exactly the sort of thing that Friendship is Magic was supposed to avoid. To make it perfectly clear, I am not counting this as a mistake for Magical Mystery Cure. It technically isn't part of the episode, and it only appears on The Hub's initial broadcast. With that said, this little video clip flew in the face of my sensibilities, and I could not resist putting it in here. Without doubt, this clip is the biggest Magical Mystery Cure mistake.
And there you have it. Fifty-two problems, plot holes, and contrivances I found in Magical Mystery Cure. If you believe I have missed something, or you believe that I was mistaken some of my points, please do post a comment and join the discussion. Also, please do bear in mind that this is constructive criticism, and it is fully possible to enjoy an episode of the show whilst also acknowledging the episodes flaws. Indeed, identifying the less effective aspects of past episodes allows the writers to make improvements in future episodes. If you enjoyed this article, do keep an eye on the /r/MLPAnalysis and /r/MLPReviews Subreddits, as a video version will be uploaded to YouTube within the forthcoming weeks.

~ The Almighty Atheist