Sunday, 5 January 2014

Episode review: "Rarity Takes Manehattan" (S4E08)

Rarity offers a jewel during her song
"But Rarity, you promised me I could eat today..."
Ahoy there, me hearties. Ahem, sorry; I've been reading the IDW comics too much recently. (And so should you, hint hint.) But it's time to discuss the latest episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which was eagerly awaited by a sizeable chunk of the fandom. And for why? Because it's a Rarity episode! We haven't really had one of those since "Sweet and Elite" two seasons ago. As its title suggests, "Rarity Takes Manehattan" (written by Dave Polsky) would bring our ponies to a place we saw briefly in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" but otherwise knew only as a distant "big city". After the jump for more!

It's no secret that I'm not always the world's biggest Rarity fan – but I do find her an interesting pony. She's probably the most complex and layered of all the main characters, with flaws that bring her better qualities into sharper relief. One frustration about the lack of Rarity-centric episodes recently is that we haven't seen that explored very much, and that's made her into the sort of flattish caricature that she really (usually) isn't. Thankfully, "Rarity Takes Manehattan" mostly carried it off and ended up being an excellent instalment.

A big reason for this was that, despite the exciting new setting, we weren't just shown dazzling scenes of the city. They were there, and generally done well, but the most important thing about this ep was the characters. It's usually a good thing when an episode of MLP is character-heavy, and so it proved here. Even the new characters fitted in well, partly thanks to superb voice acting: Suri Polomare's unpleasantness was a bit broad-brush and obvious, but it served the plot, while Coco Pommel had some genuine development late on. I wouldn't mind Coco being seen in the show again.

Suri Polomare and Rarity
"And it's Fluttershy who runs the knitting circle; you got that, Polomint?"
Rarity herself, though, was naturally at the very heart of things throughout. Right at the start, she showed the less attractive side of her character at the station – Twilight said nothing, but her expression spoke volumes – and that foreshadowed Rarity's stressed-out slave-driving of her friends later on. ("Congratu-pony-lations, fillies!") But that was balanced out by her enormous generosity: giving Suri far more of her new fabric than just the swatch she'd requested, or setting up an exclusive showing of Hinny of the Hills for her friends at the end. I want to see more of that show: come on, fandom!

The song fits into this as well. "Generosity" (no, not the Acoustic Brony track!) was something new from Daniel Ingram, in that it had strong echoes of Broadway and Sinatra. It repays repeated listening, and like so much else in Pony is much more thoughtful than the average song in a little kids' cartoon. To go back to my point, though: Rarity is indeed very generous throughout the sequence – but she does come across as rather ostentatiously so, showering ponies with jewels and even stating bluntly that she's "here to set the bar". I think the rain-soaked, sadder reprise helped to take off the sharp edges and bring us back fully on to Rarity's side.

This being a Polsky episode, we'd expect some jokes, and we got them. I was particularly amused by Rainbow Dash's line just before the song. The ponies' habit of breaking into song has been lampshaded on occasion right the way back to S1E02 ("Tell me she's not...") and it worked perfectly here, especially as it was such a musical-like number. I probably missed some of the billboard ad parodies as I'm not American, and I had to be told about the Mad Men ponies as I've never watched that, but I loved the Cats homage. Absolutely perfect. Later on, there was a nice nudge at the Rainbow/Applejack honesty thing.

Hoity Toity, Sapphire Shores and Photo Finish
Didn't see you guys lift a hoof to help Rarity, hmmm?
Once again in S4, we had an interesting ending. Not the moral itself, which was fine if a little unsubtle, but the very end. Since Meghan McCarthy made a winking tweet about it, I think we have to conclude that all these seeming loose ends are in fact going to prove significant. As someone pointed out, there were six cotton reels already on Rarity's shelf, coloured to match each of the Mane Six's coats. So what was this new, shiny, rainbow thread? Well, the ribbon at the fashion show flashed rainbow... Otherwise, who knows, but you could say the same about the Pony of Shadows, the disappearing comic and Fluttershy's fang retention.

There wasn't a great deal wrong with "Rarity Takes Manehattan", but there were a few niggles. The Grumpy Cat cutie mark somehow didn't fit, unlike Scootaloo's Nyan Dash poster in S2 and you can say that some of the story has been done before. "We overslept" was a rather weak, hurried explanation for all the others missing Rarity's show, and this is the second successive episode where Twilight hasn't joined in a song for no obvious reason. Finally, would it have killed them to sneak Derpy into the fashion show crowd? She attended the "Green Isn't Your Color" one, after all.

Don't take that to mean I disliked this ep, though, because that would be far from the truth. It was a satisfying character study, for a start. We had a great song (Kazumi Evans has a fine voice) and we saw some discord (though not Discord) get between friends. We learnt that "pony" is such a versatile word that it can even be used for swearing ("Congratu-pony-lations, fillies!") and there was a happy ending for a guest pony who'd been mistreated by her employer. The best Rarisode remains "Suited for Success", but this one is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

Coco Pommel gives Rarity her trophy
Isn't friendship magic? ...YES!
Best quote: Pinkie Pie: "I love jumping up and down!"

Yays
  • Rarity's complex character was satisfyingly explored
  • Really excellent song (and reprise)
  • The big city setting gave us a different feel...
  • ...but didn't overwhelm the story
  • Outstanding voice acting from all concerned
  • Guest characters were well introduced
  • Funny, occasionally self-aware jokes and references
Neighs
  • "We overslept" was a bit on the unimaginative side
  • Moral could have been a little subtler
  • The Grumpy Cat cutie mark felt like a bad OC's
8.5/10

3 comments:

  1. A really great review as always, and a lot of fun (don't even think about it...) to read. :) And I'd have to agree with pretty much all of it. I wasn't sure quite what to expect from an episode with that title, apart from the obvious (there was a reasonable chance it was set in Manehattan and would feature Rarity) but after "Suited For Success" and the legendary wedding episodes, there was a strong chance that there would be far more to the episode than just "Rarity makes a bunch of dresses for a show."

    And I thought it was a really enjoyable episode. There was so much going on, and as you say, some really good, spot-on character studies. I hadn't actually noticed that during the (fantastic) song, Rarity was somewhat laying on her generosity very thick, and on a rewatch of that scene, it does seem very much a case of "look at me, aren't I wonderful!" She did good things and it was generous, but you have to slightly wonder about her motives.

    Still, it all ended well eventually and although the moral was far from subtle, I think it worked well without being forced. And I'd certainly hope that Coco will be given another chance to appear later on. As for all those little subtle loose ends, that really is intriguing. Goodness knows there's going to be a snowballing amount of guesses and theories about that as the series continues.

    The actual city was stunning, I thought. The semi-3D effect when the carriage got nearer and nearer, from the horizon, was especially impressive and the buildings were very colourful and imaginative. And a suspension bridge too! :)

    For me personally, I think this has ever so slightly nudged in front of "Suited For Success" although I still prefer the song from that episode. But all in all, this was a belter! :)

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    1. I think someone on the show staff made a tweet that hinted that Coco just might have another appearance sometime. Whether that would be in this season, I have no idea.

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  2. Another great review.

    This is one of my favorite Rarity focused epsiodes.

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