Monday, 31 March 2014

Episode review: "Leap of Faith" (S4E20)

Flim, Flam and their tonic
Flam's moustache looks suspiciously fake here...
"Leap of Faith" was an episode that I didn't have much feeling on, one way or the other, before it actually aired. So far, I don't think Josh Haber's My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic eps have produced a cast-iron classic, but nor have they produced a complete disaster. They've tended to emphasise entertainment, perhaps slightly at the expense of nuanced characterisation, and for me at least that worked better in "Castle Mane-ia" than in "Simple Ways". Onward we go!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

And a couple of fanfics of my own!

Title picture for "This Fragment of Life"
Twilight's just read "This Fragment of Life"
Yeah, I'm advertising my own stuff here again. As Twilight once nearly said: this is my blog, and I'm gonna write it! Anyway, since my Self-promotion is magic post almost a year ago, I haven't in fact become entirely inactive in the writing department. I've completed two (admittedly short) stories and I have a third project on the go. I'm actually in the early stages of writing a longer story, but that won't appear for quite a while so I won't go into any details here. These aren't marked out of ten: I do have some sense!

This Fragment of Life by Loganberry
Twilight and Rarity
Romance/Tragedy/Random; 1,927 words; Mar 2014; Everyone
This is a strange little piece, but it's proved to be easily the most immediately successful I've ever written: for a little while it was top of FIMFiction's Heat list for Tragedy-tagged stories. It's not a conventional Tragedy, but then it's not a conventional anything. It opens with Rarity comforting Twilight on the sudden end of a relationship – but even that elegant mare of the world is startled by what she's about to hear...

For an Angel to Pass by Loganberry
Angel, Fluttershy and Rarity
Sad/Slice of Life; 1,579 words; Mar 2014; Everyone
Quite probably the saddest story I've ever written, in any fandom. This is the gentle tale of what happened when the strange but strong partnership of Fluttershy and Angel was broken, and what it was like to be left behind. Unlike a lot of Angel-related fanfic, this story is very much sympathetic to the rabbit. Told in first person, which isn't something I've attempted in a ponyfic before.

And now I'm going to break my own rule regarding fanfic and link to an incomplete piece. But as it's one of mine, you can lump it. :P

Friendship is Poetry by Loganberry
Listed as Mane Six, though really it's just about everypony
Random; 2,313 words; ongoing; Everyone
This is a frankly completely ridiculous pet project of mine: to write a poem about every single episode of Friendship is Magic. And yes, that means a minimum of 91, with more to come if we get Season 5. So far, I'm about halfway through S1. Many of the poems are inspired by real-life poetry, though not all. As you read through, you may be able to work out which episodes I like and which I don't!

Friday, 28 March 2014

New preview video for Rainbow Rocks

Over two minutes long, yet just a single line of dialogue in the whole thing! Maybe the reason for all the music in the film is that this is going to be a silent movie. *cough* Okay, probably not. But a clip almost entirely consisting of Vinyl Scratch listening to dubstep (is that dubstep? I have no idea. But I've seen people say it is, so...) is hardly likely to pass by the fandom for very long. It's hard to tell from this whether the film's going to be in panda-throwing territory, but there were pandas flying everywhere in the original movie so I wouldn't be surprised!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ponyfic Roundup no. 1

After not having read much ponyfic for quite some while, I've really got back into it recently. I've written some as well (more on that in a future post) but here I'm going to be concentrating on what I've read. I'm hoping to make this a semi-regular feature, hence the number in the title, and I expect there'll be more posts once we get into the off-season of the show itself. Inevitably most of them will be positive reviews, since there's a limit to how much really bad fanfic I can stomach!

I hope way I've done the formatting here is obvious; months given are those of completion. Links are always to FIMFiction. All comments are welcome, as usual, and that includes any suggestions you may have for what I should read next. I won't read incomplete or non-public fics, and I'm very unlikely to read clop or grimdark stories. Dark is fine; just not full of gore. I'll also probably mostly stick to shorter pieces, though I don't rule out something longer if it really grabs me.

All right: here's my first selection. Marks are out of 10 as usual.

The Best Night Ever by Capn_Chryssalid
Blueblood, Rarity, Celestia and Luna
Romance/Comedy/Adventure; 53,935 words; Sep 2012; Teen
This is something you really don't see a lot of, especially these days: a Prince Blueblood story. Even more unusually, it's a story where Blueblood is painted in a largely sympathetic light. In essence, it's a retelling of Groundhog Day, but it's not really a crossover as the ponyisation is complete. The middle is stronger than the end, but none of it is bad. There's a sequel, "This Platinum Crown", but as that's closing in on 700,000 words and still isn't finished, I really doubt I'm ever going to read it! 8.5/10
The Games We Play by AbsoluteAnonymous
Rainbow Dash, Mare Do Well and Mane Six
Romance/Sad/Dark/Slice of Life; 137,602 words; Jul 2012; Teen
Yes, it's shipping. Novel-length shipping at that. Not at all a genre I'd usually read, but this was recommended to me. It's actually pretty good, and Rainbow's character is particularly well drawn, although the central mystery – just who is it under Mare Do Well's mask? – is rather easy to work out from a relatively early stage if you're paying attention. Worth a look even if you're not much into shipfics. 8/10

A New Perspective by ArgonMatrix
Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash
Slice of Life; 4,097 words; Oct 2013; Everyone
A short, simple but well told one-shot in which Rainbow Dash learns something about Fluttershy. In truth, it's something I'd expect such a close and long-standing friend already to know about her, and that means this doesn't get an exceptional score, but it doesn't really harm the story itself. This is a good fic to read if you have a little while to spare and want a well written one-shot that isn't going to stretch you too much. 7.5/10

The Numbers Don't Lie by shortskirtsandexplosions
Mane Six, CMC, Spike, Celestia and Cheerilee
Slice of Life; 20,101 words; Mar 2013; Everyone
Although this story is by one of the best known writers on FIMFiction, I don't think it's one of the great ponyfics. It's enjoyable, certainly, and there's one particular scene in a bar that could easily grow into a story of its own. Rarity fans will enjoy it, too. But the tale of the appearance of a mysterious "lie counter" above everypony's head suffers a little bit from a slightly unconvincing portrayal of Twilight. 7/10

On the Importance of Spelling by Softy8088
Cadance and Shining Armor
Romance/Comedy; 4,099 words; Dec 2012; Teen
Here we have a very funny short playing on the real-life confusion about how the Crystal Princess's name should be spelt. She and Shining play off each other very nicely, and they're entirely convincing as a couple who've just about settled down into marriage. The Teen rating comes from one f-bomb and the odd reference to the pair's sex life, neither of which feels gratuitous. A small nudge down in the grade for one slightly annoying stylistic decision. 8.5/10

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 17

MLP:FiM comic issue 17, cover A
Andy Price + comic cover = awesome. It's the law
We're back to the main series of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comic now, and the start of an story that's been pretty intensely anticipated. For the first time since issues 5-8, we have a four-comic arc to enjoy, giving us all plenty of time to enjoy each issue and to speculate about what comes next. This arc is being produced by IDW's widely-accepted "A Team" of Katie Cook, Andy Price and Heather Breckel. That means that everyone expects it to be great. At least. No pressure then, guys! After the break, let's see how issue #17 kicks the arc off.

Monday, 24 March 2014

My Little Pony makes it to Freeview – today!

Pop channel logo
Fittingly, we'll hear "Becoming Popular" on Friday
Something I've been hoping to see for a long, long time is the appearance of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on free-to-air terrestrial TV in the UK. And now the day has come! The Pop channel (Freeview 75) will start showing Season 2 later today, and will continue broadcasting two S2 episodes a day for the rest of the week. They'll go out at 11.30 am and 2.30 pm, and the synopses on Pop's website suggest they'll be showing the episodes in order, so we'll be up to "Secret of My Excess" by Friday afternoon.

There'll also be an extra showing of both parts of "The Return of Harmony" on Saturday morning from 10.30 am. I have no idea what will happen in the future, since I don't know how much of the show Pop has acquired the rights to. But as well as the wonders of Discord's first appearance, we're going to be getting the likes of "Lesson Zero", "Luna Eclipsed", "May the Best Pet Win!" and "Sweet and Elite" this week; let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. This development is undeniably good news.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Episode review: "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils" (S4E19)

Sweetie and Luna in negative during a dream
"Rarity's gonna go crazy trying to work with this!"
Right then: here we are at episode 19 of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The weeks really do seem to have flown by this season, which is probably a good thing. This rather oddly-named episode (and yes, it's definitely "Toils" and not "Tolls" in the title) was written by Dave Polsky. Most of his episodes have felt to me like being so chock-full of interesting ideas that they don't quite have room to tie the parts together. "Rarity Takes Manehattan" came very close to classic status, though; after the break, we'll consider his latest effort.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Farewell, then, JanAnimations...

The Cease & Desist letter sent by Hasbro's legal department to JanAnimations has caused almost universal disappointment in the fandom. By common consent, these were works of outstanding quality. We all know that the likes of Picture Perfect Pony, Don't Mine at Night and Button's Adventures will live on somewhere on the internet – but only as shadowy, unofficial copies. I don't think anyone disputes that Hasbro had the right to do this... but it still came as a shock, even after what happened with Fighting is Magic all that time ago.

Perhaps we're nearing a critical point where "rules of engagement" somehow need to be made clearer. Everyone, including Hasbro, knows full well that this fandom would not be anything like what it is without unofficial fan works. Indeed, the fandom outside the US might well barely exist at all. And even after this move, Hasbro is still cracking down less than some other corporations I might name. Intriguingly, Mike Vogel (Hasbro Studios' VP of development and scripted entertainment) made these tweets today, a mere 17 minutes apart:

That's not conclusive evidence of anything; an experienced industry professional like Vogel wouldn't make a mistake like that. But explicitly requesting fan works seven minutes after a tweet apparently responding to complaints over the treatment of fan works is interesting, to say the least. And suggestive. We've heard rumours in the past that some people on the creative side of Hasbro feels that certain of the company's legal team's actions aren't always... ideal.This may be one of those occasions.

All Hasbro's got out of this so far is a lot of unhappiness, and unhappy fans don't rush out and buy licensed products. I think it's qualitatively different from what happened with Fighting is Magic, since there you could reasonably argue that seeing the ponies beat each other up was worsening their image. With the possible exception of the bar-room sketch, I don't think you could say that of any of JanAnimations' videos. It will be very interesting to see whether Vogel has more to say in due course.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #3: Spike & Celestia

MLP Friends Forever main cover
Look under Celestia's hoof: Twilight Velvet and Night Light, methinks!
And so the My Little Pony: Friends Forever series moves on to its third installment. The first one was frankly pretty poor, but the second was a decent read. What will Ted Anderson (who wrote the Pinkie micro) and Agnes Garbowska (who drew the Spike micro) cook up for us here? This time, the team-up is between Celestia and Spike; we've seen them in Katie Cook's backup story in main-series issue #8, but this is the first time they've had a full issue all to themselves. Past the break we go!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Episode review: "Maud Pie" (S4E18)

Maud Pie and her pet rock
Shall I compare thee to a summer's rock?
The new episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, "Maud Pie" (that's "Maud", not "Maude" as quite a few people rather oddly seem to think) was written by yet another new writer: Noelle Benvenuti. I can't find out anything about her online, so I'm actually wondering whether it might be a pseudonym. I'm not sure why someone would want to hide her involvement with a show as good as this, but perhaps she has her reasons. Should she be proud of her work? After the break, we'll see!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Why Applejack and Fluttershy don't go well together

Consider the various possible combinations of two of the Mane Six. We've seen most of them used in the show at one time or another. Rainbow and Pinkie? "Griffon the Brush Off". Rarity and Fluttershy? "Green Isn't Your Color". Twilight and Rainbow? "Read It and Weep". You get the idea. One pairing we haven't seen very much of, though, is that of Applejack and Fluttershy. Oh, we got a taste of it in "Bats!" but that's really about as close as we've ever come to an episode written around those two.

Why is this? You might argue that Applejack would find the timid Fluttershy rather tiresome – but I think that underestimates the pegasus terribly. I think there's another reason, which is that AJ may actually be a little too wary of Fluttershy for them to become one of the great partnerships. This may sound ridiculous given Applejack's tendency to take everything head-on and Fluttershy's tendency to, well, not take everything head-on... but bear with me. My argument is that Fluttershy is too strong-willed for AJ to deal with for long periods of time.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Flutters, and that I think she's enormously undervalued by some fans of the show. One reason I didn't enjoy much of Season 3 was that I felt 'Shy was too often written as a pony who was either terrified or aggressively overprotective. "Magic Duel" saw her manage both at once, and this is a reason why that episode is not among my favourites. I'm a good deal happier with her portrayal in S4: "Filli Vanilli", for example, showed her character development. She's come quite a way since S1E1, because her friends have helped her on that journey.

But back to my central argument. Applejack – like the Apple Family in general – is brave and combative. "Faithful and strong", she's willing to charge into the fray for the sake of her friends and family. In "Spike at Your Service", she took on and beat the timberwolves. In "Somepony to Watch Over Me", she vanquished a chimera – and, so we can infer from the fact that she had the required items ready, she'd done this before. (As an aside, the last episode pleased me in that it reinforced the notion that Equestria is decidedly not a safe place. That continues a tradition stretching back to G1.)

So AJ is pretty awesome. But Fluttershy is even more so. In "Dragonshy" she shamed a huge dragon into moving elsewhere. In "It's About Time", she sorted out Cerberus. In "Stare Master", she out-stared a cockatrice that had petrified Twilight, an already notably powerful unicorn who was being cautious and whose knowledge would certainly have told her a cockatrice might be in the Everfree Forest. And 'Shy's more than once shown herself to be the best able of all the Six to cope with Discord – who is, as far as we know, the single most powerful and dangerous entity in the entire world.

But now let's return to "Bats!" Remember, this whole episode takes place squarely on Applejack's home turf at Sweet Apple Acres. Yet Fluttershy argues strongly for the bats' welfare during the song sequence, only giving in when every single one of her close friends has ganged up on her. Flutters doesn't quite manage to refuse the request to use her Stare (and regrets this in the episode's final scene) but I suspect she might have refused if the unspecified "more extreme measures" Applejack mentioned had ever been put into practice.

And what happens at the end of this episode? Fluttershy wins on every count. The bat sanctuary is set up, Applejack apologises profusely and 'Shy's closest friend (Rainbow Dash) is happy because of the promise of more cider. Applejack cares deeply about Fluttershy ("I just want my friend back") but that doesn't mean she wants to spend as much time with her as with some of the other Mane Sixers. AJ can deal with RD, since they're such kindred spirits anyway, but she can't deal with someone who is so shy and so strong-willed.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bronies gets a UK DVD release on 14 April

Thanks to ChrisDilke on UK of Equestria for spotting this: Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony is to get a Region 2 DVD release next month, on the Wienerworld label. The studio is best known as a supplier of indie music, but does also have a video division. Judging by the 90-minute running time, this is likely to be simply the basic film, without the various extra interviews etc from the Extended Edition. You can pre-order it for £9.98 on Wienerworld itself, or if you prefer for £10.34 on Amazon. Both prices include p&p.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Episode review: Somepony to Watch Over Me (S4E17)

Applejack hugs Apple Bloom
"Now don't yer do any o' that dangerous breathin' now, y'hear?"
It's the weekend, which means that it's time once again for us to return to the land of multi-coloured equines and review another episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This week, we had a brand new writer: Scott Sonneborn, who's written a whole heap of stuff but never – until now – turned his hand to a Pony episode. It's somehow mildly surprising to see a new name almost two-thirds of the way through a season, but as always the proof of the pudding was in the eating. Let's see!

Friday, 7 March 2014

DVD review: A Pony Party

A Pony Party DVD cover
Yes, I'm reusing the same photo. Go me
After going through quite a palaver to get hold of it, I can finally bring you a review of the third in Clear Vision's series of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic DVD collections. I bought mine through Amazon, where it's currently on sale for £8.78 – though remember that you no longer get free p&p on sub-£10 orders. I've been moderately pleased with the first two discs in the series, but neither has really set the world on fire. Will this one? There's only one way to find out: come on past the break!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #2: CMC & Discord

IDW MLP Friends Forever #2 Subscription cover
I bought the nice Sub cover by Lea Hernandez, also new to Pony
This review is late, I know, thanks to a combination of a comic getting lost in the post and my continuing poor health. Let's get to it, though! I was not a fan of the first Friends Forever comic, which I thought was underwhelming to say the least. This time round, we have a character partnership which almost everyone has been excited by and a different creative team. Writer Jeremy Whitley makes his My Little Pony comic debut, while Tony Fleecs is an established IDW artist who's drawn several others in the series. Past the break!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Episode review: "It Ain't Easy Being Breezies" (S4E16)

Fluttershy with Breezies in her mane
Talk about eye candy!
Ooh, what do you know, another Fluttersode! It's rather hard on the heels of the last one, but I suppose it's not the first time that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has done such a thing: in Season 2, "Putting Your Hoof Down" and the legendary "Hurricane Fluttershy" were only three episodes apart. This time around, we have Natasha Levinger on writing duties. She produced an outstanding debut in "Pinkie Apple Pie", so if she could come anywhere near that then we were going to be in for a treat. After the break, you'll find out what I thought.