Sunday, May 11, 2014

Twilight's Kingdom Reaction and Season 4 Review (spoilers)

Spoiler Alert
Twilight's Kingdom marked the end of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Season 4, and never let it be said that it did not go out with a bang. The two-part episode featured world-threatening danger, sacrifice, betrayal and atonement, and Twilight and her friends taking a large step toward realizing their destinies.

Oh, and a full-on Dragonball Z-style battle.

In true My Little Pony fashion, it was not the epic clash of Twilight wielding the alicorn magic of all four princesses vs. Tirek and his stolen power that solved the problem. It was not until Twilight sacrificed the power she'd been given for the sake of her friends that the true solution revealed itself. It set up a strong parallel with what Discord had done earlier, though in the opposite direction: Discord sacrificed friendship for power, and came to regret it. Twilight sacrificed power for friendship, and in doing so was able to defeat Tirek and save all of Equestria.

There was too much going on to really pinpoint a single moral or lesson to take away from this, but aside from the obvious issues of betrayal, forgiveness, and making amends, there is the issue that was addressed in the two-parter's only two songs: Twilight's uncertainty about what her role as a princess of Equestria means, and what she is meant to do.

When she first brings this up, the other princesses assure her that her time is coming, which is the kind of "you'll understand when you're older" non-answer that children are spoon-fed all the time, and they hate it. After defeating Tirek and gaining her own castle, Twilight realizes that she had been looking for the other princesses to tell her what to do. After all, her entire life has been spent following Celestia's teachings and the destiny that was laid out for her. It was only after truly coming into her own as the Princess of Friendship that she realized that her destiny is what she chooses it to be.

That is one heck of a lesson.

To address some potential issues:

It does seem that, when Tirek betrays Discord and steals his magic, the draconequus goes down a bit too easily. I know that I, at least, wanted to see what would have happened if Tirek and Discord threw down for real.

Upon further thought, however, I came to a realization: Discord has never used his magic offensively. He can create things, change things, warp physics and bend reality, but he has never actually unmade something. Tirek, on the other hand, is a force of pure destruction. I am not certain that Discord actually knows how to "fight." He has never had to. The only things that have ever defeated him are the Elements of Harmony, and now Tirek, and in all instances his defeat was so quick and so complete that the thought of fighting back did not even seem to occur to him.  

The other major complaint I see regarding the season finale is the Mane Six's new "rainbow power" forms, seen by many fans as a money-grab by Hasbro attempting to sell a new line of toys. Since Dragonball Z references abound in the wake of this episode, allow me to make a comparison: in DBZ, most of the main characters and villains get multiple transformations as their power levels soar ever higher. Goku alone has his starting form, Super Saiyan 1-4, Vegito, Gogeta, and Super Gogeta (including Dragonball GT). Even not counting the transformations not seen until GT, that is five different forms for the main character alone. Nobody batted an eye. 

The difference is that Dragonball Z is seen first as a show and second as a marketing tool. When Goku reaches his next level of power, people don't think, "oh great, another toy to buy." They think "wow, that was cool."

Or, "wow, saiyans should do the marketing for Rogaine."

When it comes to My Little Pony, even the most die-hard fans don't seem to be quite able to put aside the fact that it began as marketing for a line of toys. When new characters are introduced, when new outfits or accessories are shown, or when there is a pronounced transformation, there are always accusations leveled that it's just yet another chance for Hasbro to sell more product. 

Friendship is Magic may have gotten its start as the newest incarnation of a glorified toy commercial, but it has proven itself to be so much more than that. These new transformations are not a cheesy and cheap attempt to sell some recolored ponies, they are the payoff from a season's worth of buildup. 

If you don't want to buy new toys, then don't, but to call it a marketing ploy is an insult to the show, the company, and the intelligence of its viewers. 

With that, Season 4 came to an end, and what a wild ride it's been. Coming as it did after Magical Mystery Cure and Equestria Girls, each of which garnered a mixed response at best, the season started off strong and restored faith among the fandom with Princess Twilight Sparkle. From there it was a mixed bag as new writers got their first shot at the series and old favorites continued cranking out the quality we've come to expect. Season 4 may very well be my favorite, and it certainly included my two favorite episodes to date (Pinkie Pride and Twilight's Kingdom). It had its low points, perhaps more than other seasons (Castle Mane-ia, Daring Don't, and It's Not Easy Being Breezies come to mind), but it also took the series to new heights in terms of animation quality, music, and storyline.

Some episodes were quite reminiscent of Season 1, as the ponies explore who they are and what it means to be a good friend, as seen in Rarity Takes Manehattan or Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3. Others took the show in entirely new and unexpected directions, such as Bats! wherein we saw perhaps the first real disagreement between the Mane Six. There had been problems before, certainly: not being sure of how to solve a problem, being under spells or mind control, or being fooled by an outside force, but this was the first time when all six were on the same page but had distinctly different ideas of what to do about it.

Directed by Tim Burton

Overall, Season 4 was an intense combination of nostalgia and new ideas, highs and lows, and good and bad (but mostly good). The impact of the new writers was evident, but as the season went on it was obvious that even the newcomers were becoming more comfortable and proficient with the characters and the world. In Castle Mane-ia the characters sometimes seemed like caricatures of themselves, while by later episodes like Leap of Faith they were fully fleshed out as the ponies we've come to love. 

After Magical Mystery Cure and Equestria Girls, I entered Season 4 with cautious optimism. I will be entering Season 5 with full-blown elation.

But for now...