Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Classic episode review: "Friendship is Magic, part 1" (S1E01)

Nightmare Moon appears
"What do you mean, not until season two?"
I've been thinking for a while now that it might be fun to go back and take another look at some of the older episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I've actually been doing it in one or two places on a small scale, but as I don't have to keep to a regular schedule here, I can fit things in with my other commitments rather better. It seems only fair to begin with the story that started it all: the Season One pilot, written by the great Lauren Faust herself. There's plenty to interest us, so join me after the jump for more!

The problem every new TV series has is that of how to introduce its characters without the first episode seeming dull and boring. MLP:FiM does quite well on this score: it's not quite the finished article, but the two-parter format does mean that there's space for both introductions and a proper story. And since it's the story that underpins the entire series, it's a good job that it is told well! "Mare in the Moon", as the first episode is sometimes unofficially known, gets us off to a decent start.

It's understandable that Faust chose to begin with an adventure story: it's well-known that her original preference was for the series to contain plenty of those, but it seems that Hasbro preferred more slice-of-life tales. I'm not sure either was wrong, but it does mean that this pilot is a little out of sync with the majority of what comes later in S1. In fact, there's a fair case for saying that the Mane Six don't come across a more dangerous enemy until Discord.

Luna and Celestia in the intro sequence
Luna and Celestia are about the same size here...
Having the introduction to this episode being done in a very different, storybook style of animation was an interesting and maybe quite brave move. I could imagine some viewers being turned off by the style, though those like me who love Watership Down will surely approve! At this point, of course, Luna is no more than another mythological character, very different from the pony we know from "Luna Eclipsed" onwards.

The Mane Six, and indeed Spike, are all introduced well enough, though in a few cases (Applejack being one) their voices aren't quite fully developed yet. Twilight, it has to be said, is a bit of a pain at this early stage, and you can certainly see why Princess Celestia feels she needs the corners rubbed off her a bit by making some friends. Note that Spike's crush on Rarity began way back here: the oldest and most canonical piece of shipping in the entire show!

We also get what was to become the first fandom catchphrase: Rainbow Dash's "ten seconds flat". With the attention to detail we expect from MLP:FiM these days, her cloud-clearing does indeed take that long. One oddity comes near the end, when Nightmare Moon makes her appearance: is that the CMC cowering in a corner? It is, you know! That was a simple mistake, by all accounts, but it makes me smile. No songs yet: that's for next time!

Twilight's "Rainblowed" mane-style
Rarity, if you breathe a single word about this, I'll say "Cadance's head-dress"
Humour is a major part of this series' appeal, including to the older fanbase, and there's a good deal of that right from the start. Twilight's "Rainblowed" manestyle provides some of it, as does her early mistreatment of Spike — though you do feel a bit guilty about the latter. There are also clever touches, such as the brief appearance of Nightmare Moon's head in the Canterlot library hourglass, as well as references like the Statue of Liberty costume Rarity briefly suggests for Twilight.

All in all, this is a solid start for the series, and although it does show some "piloty-ness" at times, especially in the way that all the main ponies have to get roughly the same amount of time devoted to them, that's a fairly minor issue. There are nods to the franchise's history, such as the mention of Moondancer, but it's clear that Faust has cleared the decks and is determined to make this new iteration of the Pony franchise just that.

Given that this is the first part of a two-episode story, it may seem slightly unfair to give it a rating. Nevertheless, my intention is to do so with every episode, while trying to avoid grade inflation: 5/10 would be an episode that was "meh", not one that was appalling. "Friendship is Magic, part 1" is by no means a great episode, but it did enough to keep me watching until we did reach the real gems. For that, I will always be grateful.

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