Friday, 28 February 2014

This took quite some getting!

"A Pony Party" DVD front cover

The A Pony Party DVD was pre-orderable on Amazon for a little while, but then it mysteriously got deleted almost instantly after the release date. For a few days the only seller was charging £199 [sic] for a copy... thankfully another third-party seller appeared a bit later, offering the disc for a slightly less ludicrous fee. Even now, the official Amazon-fulfilled option is out of stock, so you'll have to pay £15 or so (inc p&p) to get hold of it.

There will be a proper review of this DVD in due course, but I'm pretty ill at the moment and so it's likely to have to wait until next week at the earliest. My health is also the reason I haven't made a proper post about the fact that BUCK tickets go on sale at 6pm GMT tomorrow, and that I haven't yet reviewed the second Friends Forever comic. Again, a proper review for that is in the works; it'll just be a little bit later than sometimes.

Also: Clear Vision, if you provide an email address for customer enquiries, maybe you could, you know, answer them?

Edit: the Amazon-fulfilled copies are back in! At under £9 a go (+p&p unless your total order is over £10), I'd recommend taking this route now.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Top 10 pony tracks of 2013, part two

Yes, same header picture! Partly because I'm lazy but mostly because it's just so perfect for this. Last week, I posted the first part of my personal Top 10 pony tracks of 2013. I did promise that you wouldn't have to wait an excessive amount of time before I brought you my top three, and thankfully I'm actually keeping that promise! A quick reminder of the rules: no show music (or remixes thereof) and only songs with a 2013 YouTube datestamp are eligible for selection. Numbers in square brackets are from the Everfree top 100.

3. Hard Knocks (Griffinilla & Alex Cole, ft. Cats Milly) [N/A]
Given this song's association with the enormously popular Sherclop Pones, I'm really quite surprised it didn't make Everfree's list. It's the at times disturbing story, told in first person, of a pony toy. To be more specific, a pony toy who's had a really quite hard life, in the way that small children's plastic toys tend to. It's also extremely catchy!

2. Never Alone (TheDashDub, ft. Feather) [98]
This is an extraordinarily beautiful song. Feather's ethereal vocals are perfectly suited to a song about Pegasi – and even more so to a song about a very special bond between two such ponies: Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. It's easy to imagine this being set just after the end of "Sleepless in Ponyville". I won't deny to having damp eyes once or twice.

1. Someone Like Me (Aviators) [N/A]
I've tried and tried, and I still can't make sense of this song not placing anywhere in the Everfree top 100. Yes, I know I'm biased when it comes to Fluttershy, but this is just wonderful. (The recent acoustic version may be even better, but misses the cutoff date.) Set before she met the rest of the Mane Six, it really captures the essence of 'Shy. Soft, gentle, melodic and perfect.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Episode review: "Twilight Time" (S4E15)

The school ponies get upset
There may not have been an angry mob last week, Pinkie, but...
I didn't get to see yesterday's new episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic live as I was at an (excellent) meetup in Birmingham, but I made sure to catch up when I got home. After last week's superb story, Dave Polsky had a great deal to live up to with "Twilight Time". Pre-episode speculation had revolved around whether it would be Twilight's "key" episode. Was it? Was it any good? Were there zombie ponies? For answers to three or fewer of these questions, come past the jump!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Blind commentators

By this I don't mean commentators who can't see! (Unless Sherclop comes out with a "Sees Bad reviews Pony" video, which would be hilarious.) I mean commentators who record themselves responding to an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that they haven't seen before and post their reactions for all to see on YouTube. (Or Dailymotion, if they've got sufficiently fed up with attracting YT strikes.) Sometimes they also do blind reactions for episosde from other gens or fan-produced content.

Probably the best known blind commentator is Soundspeed. He's built up a following of almost 15,000 subscribers thanks to his comic timing, open reactions and sheer enthusiasm for the show. He's also become personally popular, as could be seen recently when he encountered serious problems in his personal life and received great support from viewers. On the minus side, he's not the quickest uploader and can occasionally make some pretty off-colour jokes.

Then there's The Awkward Reviewer, with a little under 6,000 subscribers. His major selling point is the detailed review he provides after each episode – including an on-screen summary of the ep's pros and cons, as well as a mark out of 10. Like many commentators, he started out doing MLP commentaries almost as a joke and stayed when he realised how much he liked the show. TAR's downfall is that he makes far too many unfunny sex jokes, and that this aspect of his commentaries has become so prevalent as to become very tedious.

I personally prefer CobaltSky, with close to 7,000 subscribers, who dials right back on the dodgy humour and concentrates on providing an actual commentary. This is almost always both entertaining and perceptive, while also pulling off the trick of knowing when to speak and when to shut up. Cobalt also gets a point from me for, on the one occasion I made a comment saying I'd found an off-colour joke disappointing, not only re-editing his video but sending me a personal PM. He didn't have to do this, but the fact that he did speaks volumes.

A relatively new name to me, though he's actually been doing this for a while, is TPrower. He's one of those who's decamped to Dailymotion, so his apparent total of 15 "followers" isn't remotely representative. A mild irritation is that his commentaries are split into two parts, I guess because DM makes him do so, but it's worth putting up with. TPrower has a fantastic voice, he very rarely swears, he doesn't make pathetically crude jokes and he's always ready to be happy for a pony who achieves her dream. Much as I still like Cobalt's videos, I think I have a new favourite commentator!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Top 10 pony tracks of 2013, part one

Yes, mea culpa: this is horribly, horribly late. But I did promise it would be along eventually, and here it is! If you were around when I did this last year (part 1 | part 2) you'll already have the idea. If not, or you need a reminder: these are my favourite 10 pony-related songs from last year. I define that as having a YouTube upload with a 2013 datestamp. Show music, including remixes, are not eligible for selection, though remixes of other fans' original songs are. Numbers in brackets refer to the song's place in the Everfree top 100. All title links to go YouTube.

As a note, all this means that songs which are not listed on YouTube are unfortunately unavailable for selection. One that might have had a shot at the top 10 was "Be My Fluttershy" by The Shake Ups In Ponyville. Some of their other tracks are on YouTube, but sadly not this one. You can hear it on Spotify, but I'm afraid that's not sufficient here! Oh, and I considered the wonderful "Don't Mine At Night" to be an animation, so it didn't qualify for this song list. Anyway, let's get started:

10. Shimmer On (MandoPony) [24]
MandoPony isn't fond of his music being included in ranked lists, since he thinks that's rather missing the point. I tend to agree with him, but I'm afraid this is going in here anyway! This is mostly a rap, which is a musical genre I don't like much, so why does it make my list? Mostly because of the horrifically catchy chorus.

9. Pegasus Device (SylphStorm) [1]
This synth-heavy number is effectively a sequel to the classic "Rainbow Factory", and it's a very dark song, probably even more so than its predecessor. It disturbs me too much for me to follow Everfree's listeners and place it top of my chart – but it's so very well done that I can't deny it a spot in the top ten.

8. Harmonize (Marcato Sound) [N/A]
Now here's an unfairly overlooked piece. I'm astounded that, at time of writing, it has under 1,400 views on YouTube. A thrilling instrumental, full of energy, about the great confrontation between Discord on the one side, and Celestia and Luna on the other. It was written before S4 appeared, but it still works.

7. Shadows (Aviators, ft. Glaze) [87]
Most of you know already that I'm a big Aviators fan, so you were probably waiting to see something like this in my list. Another Discord-themed song, but this time he's decisively rejecting reform and letting the shadows in his mind claim him. Why only 87th in the Everfree list? Maybe listeners were scared off...

6. Magic Duel (Night Breeze) [N/A]
Classical music really doesn't get much of a look-in in this fandom, which is an enormous shame when it's as good as this. With its strong hints of a Mozart piano sonata, this lovely, lively piece really brings to life the energy and tension surrounding Twilight's battle with Trixie.

5. Princess of the Sun (Evening Star) [N/A]
Evening Star actually had four songs in the Everfree Top 100... but this wasn't one of them. Maybe it's because it's a little different from what he normally does, being a slice of unashamed upbeat synthpop. And yay for good pro-Celestia songs, of which there still aren't nearly enough!

4. Open Your Eyes (Aviators) [35]
It will surprise absolutely no-one that another Aviators track has made it into my top 10. I love the way this guy makes his music and this deceptively simple Twilight song, inspired by "Magical Mystery Cure", is one of the very best I've heard. But yes, there are three 2013 songs I like even more than this...

...and that's all you're getting for now! You're going to have to wait a little while for the top three tracks... but I promise it won't be too long. Comments are welcome as to what I should (or shouldn't) have selected... but remember, the song you love so much might be in my top three! All I'll say about those right now is that none of them are dubstep. ;)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Episode review: "Filli Vanilli" (S4E14)

Fluttershy, happy in the spotlight... ish
Star quality. You either have it or you don't
All right then! Into the second half of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the best way possible: with a Fluttershy episode! Well, it might be... the stakes are high Cheese Sandwich when 'Shy is at the centre of things since I'm very demanding. She deserves only the best. Writing duties for "Filli Vanilli" were handled by Amy Keating Rogers, which is interesting as she's never done a Fluttershy episode before – and I thought she mischaracterised our favourite Pegasus in "MMMystery on the Friendship Express" back in S2. After the break, we'll see!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Half-time report: Season 4 so far

MLP:FiM S4 opening titles
Photo Finish is the only one who hasn't been in an episode yet...
It seems like only yesterday that we were preparing ourselves for the start of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic after the long, long wait since the end of Season 3. Now, amazing as it may seem, S4 has reached the halfway stage and so it seems an appropriate time to take stock and reflect on how things have gone so far. It's no secret that many people – including me to a certain extent – found S3 something of a disappointment; has S4 continued that feeling of decline or have things taken a turn for the better?

In my opinion, at least, it's most definitely the latter. S4 has been wonderful so far, and I feel it now has a serious shot at ending up as my favourite season of the lot. I haven't rated a single episode lower than 6.5 – though, as we'll see in a minute, that may change when I reassess my scores after E26 – and there have been several eps that I feel will stand with the very best that FiM has offered us since its beginnings in the autumn of 2010. One thing is for sure: this ride has plenty of mileage left in it. So, looking at the 13 episodes so far, how have they done?

I think there's really only been one real mis-step: "Power Ponies". This is the ep that I suspect may end up with a lower score in post-season analysis, since it increasingly rubs me up the wrong way. It still contained plenty to enjoy, but the problem was that it didn't really feel like a My Little Pony episode. Admittedly neither did "Castle Mane-ia", which was basically Scooby Doo with hooves, but that one was a good deal more fun. I can't help thinking that "Power Ponies" three-writer combo might have caused a "too many cooks" situation.

Talking of writers, we've had several newcomers this season. Ignoring Betsy McGowan and (none other than) Jason Thiessen, who've only been co-writers with established scribes, S4 has seen the debuts of Josh Haber, Ed Valentine and Natasha Levinger. It's Levinger who's done best, writing the absolutely superb "Pinkie Apple Pie", currently my favourite S4 episode. Valentine's "Flight to the Finish" was pretty good, while Haber gave us "Castle Mane-ia" and "Simple Ways" and seems to write stories that are a little different from the norm.

This season's songs have been extremely good on the whole. I don't think there's been a poor track among them, and several are likely to stand as top-drawer material for many years to come. "Apples to the Core" looks likely to become a fandom favourite; it's surely going to get many outings at cons. "Stop the Bats" is quite a departure with its Tim Burton-esque feel, while "Generosity" is just plain wonderful. Then, of course, there are the songs Pinkie Pie shares with Cheese "Weird Al" Sandwich in "Pinkie Pride", all of which are very good indeed.

Talking of Pinkie brings me to one of the few real complaints I have about S4 so far. Rather too often, she's been rather flanderised: written as though all she did was to be crazy and random. You can see this at its worst in an episode like "Three's a Crowd", in which her balloon-chasing antics just felt wrong. "Castle Mane-ia" wasn't great in this regard, either. Levinger showed everybody how Pinkie should be written in "Pinkie Apple Pie", while the recent "Pinkie Pride" was also excellent. If you can make a sad Pinkie song convincing, then you're probably doing it right!

I could make some other small complaints: one is that Fluttershy has been a bit underused (except in "Bats!"). For the most part, though, I'm delighted by S4 so far. Most of the episodes have been very good to great, and even those which haven't fared so well (eg "Simple Ways") have generally made me laugh at some point. We have the "key" mystery to chew on, Scootaloo's non-flying has been (sort of) addressed, the animation has improved again and we've even seen the triumphant return of Derpy. If the second half is as good as the first, I'll be very pleased.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

IDW comics sales figures: a quick update

As you'll no doubt have noticed, it's been a while since I did one of these posts. I'm probably going to stop doing them as a strict monthly thing, as I'm really not sure how useful they are. If you simply want to see the month-by-month sales figures, I recommend using the excellent ComicChron site. These numbers don't always seem terribly representative for Pony in any case; for example, main-series issue #12, which at the time looked as though it had sold rather poorly, suddenly added over 7,000 copies in January!

However, what I will do now is a bit of analysis. First, let's look at 2013's overall sales. This was the first full year of the IDW comics, so we can get a reasonable idea. Unsurprisingly, the best-selling issue was the year's first, #3, which ended up in 407th spot with 48,900 sales. Most of the other issues also made the top 1,000 – and seeing as you needed to sell over 27,800 to do that, things look good. The first two Micro-series comics also managed that, with Twilight's debut hitting 38,800 copies sold. Pony wasn't top of the IDW list as Powerpuff Girls #1 sold 54,500, but the rest of the publisher's top ten was ponified.

On the book front, the first graphic novel anthology managed to become a top-50 book (no. 49) selling a highly impressive 10,300 copies to make it IDW's best seller, well ahead of the 7,700 sales for Lovecraft. The second volume was in 132nd with sales of 5,700, while the first Digest and The Magic Begins book based on the early S1 show episodes also broke the 5,000-copy mark. The third main-series anthology, Pony Tales volume 1 and the second Digest were the other MLP titles to make it into the top 1,000 books for the year.

In short? Although the My Little Pony comics are not doing quite as well as they did in their early days, they are still IDW's most popular titles – and by a large margin. Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack, which are newer, are now selling 8-10,000, far short of what MLP still racks up. The future of the comics seems assured for the time being; they remain, by IDW standards at least, a remarkable phenomenon.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Episode review: "Simple Ways" (S4E13)

Rarity loves being covered in mud
Has Rarity been taking sight lessons from Derpy?
Good heavens, we've got to the half-way point of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic already! Time flies when you're having fun, I suppose. Anyway, this week's episode had a suspiciously Valentiney feel to its synopsis, unsurprising given its air date. The writer was Josh Haber, who was responsible for the fun but slightly offbeat "Castle Mane-ia". Would he do a good job with this new ep? After the break, we'll find out the answer!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 16

IDW MLP:FiM comic issue 16, cover A
Rainbow, do you have any other favourite books?
Time we were reviewing a My Little Pony comic again, I think. This time around I wasn't able to get a physical copy for the review, owing to a meet being arranged for release date in a city with no comic shop. (Bad planning, I know. I will be buying a paper copy soon!) However, Comixology have ridden to the rescue before, and they once again have the new comic up for a pretty reasonable £2.49. I was only mildly impressed with issue #15, so let's go past the break and see whether its sequel did any better.

Monday, 3 February 2014

BUCK is back... at a price

It's official: BUCK 2014 will be held at Manchester Central over the August Bank Holiday weekend (23-24 August) with the Summer Sun Celebration taking place the night before. So, after all the talk that the con was going to be in Birmingham, and that there'd be a change to an earlier date, BUCK has actually ended up literally across the road from its 2013 home at the Bridgewater Hall and on exactly the same weekend! Promo video embedded above: if you can't see it then click here.

The big talking point so far has been the increased price of entry. The con's costs have gone up a good deal since last year – it's now big enough to be VAT-registered, for one thing – and that's been reflected in substantial rises in admission charges. Tickets aren't on sale quite yet, but here's the detail:

Standard: £80 (up 45% on last year's £55)
20% Cooler: £190 (up 48% on last year's £135)
Celestia: £335 (up 25% on last year's £250)
SSC: £20 (up 33% on last year's £15)

You can mitigate the impact somewhat, at least as far as Standard tickets are concerned, by getting in quickly and grabbing an Earlybird special. These will sell for £65, but rather irritatingly the organisers won't say how many are available: it's a case of "when they're gone, they're gone". (Edit: there are officially 200.) The full £80 is, whether coincidentally or not, exactly the same price as non-residential admission to ConFuzzled. That's in a hotel, so BUCK clearly wins on venue prestigiousness.

The SSC ticket looks like the best value of the lot, and I could see some people going only to that. At the other end of the scale, most of those who buy Celestia tickets dwell in another financial universe to the rest of us, so they'd probably pay £1,000 if they had to. The big concern for me is the 20% Cooler tier: that's suffered the largest increase (with no Earlybird discount) and is now very expensive. Using ConFuzzled as a comparison again, their broadly similar Sponsor-tier ticket is £130.

BUCK is an expensive con – and yes, it's still an expensive con even compared to other non-expo cons held in the UK. I've mentioned ConFuzzled, but another example is DWCon, for the Discworld fandom, where a full-rate Standard ticket costs £65. And of course there's UK PonyCon; they seem to leave it later than most to announce ticketing details, but last year a weekend pass could be had for £35, from memory. Sure, it's an altogether smaller-scale event and not specifically G4 focused, but it's still a pony convention.

Will I be going to BUCK? I'd like to, but Manchester is much more expensive for me than Birmingham would have been, and with the higher admission prices on top it's going to be touch and go for a while. I'm certain BUCK will be a great event, and I'd urge you to go if you can... but I think we may be getting close to the limit of what even our "throwing money at the screen" fandom may bear. Another similar increase in 2015 would take Standard admission into three figures – and that really would be too high.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Episode review: "Pinkie Pride" (S4E12)

Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich lead Rainbow's birthday parade
"Makes sense in context"? Well... no. Not really. Or at all
Here we are again with another episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to consider. This week's edition, "Pinkie Pride", unfortunately slipped out in advance, but I waited until the Saturday anyway. There was a lot of hype about this ep because of the presence of a guest VA: one "Weird Al" Yankovic. Some other interesting points: it was the first Amy Keating Rogers episode since "MMMystery on the Friendship Express" way back in S2, the story was by Jason Thiessen, and the score was written by Daniel Ingram and Steffan Andrews, not William Anderson. After the break: more reviewing!