Monday, 1 August 2016

Episode review: S6E13: "Stranger than Fan Fiction"

Rainbow Dash and Quibble Pants in the rock/ball pit
I suppose it makes sense that Dash would get that extra hour in the ball rock pit...
The shorter than expected mid-season hiatus is over, and new My Little Pony is back on our screens. We kicked off the second part of Season Six with an episode that many were cautious about – though I was simply pleased to have fanfic referenced at all! The episode was jointly written by Josh Haber, making his first appearance in that role since joining Dave Polsky on the solid "On Your Marks", and Michael Vogel, who had written "Spice Up Your Life" and for whom this was his second successive episode. After the break: is it a hit or a miss?

Happily, it's a hit! This has a good deal to do with the fact that it's one of Rainbow Dash's best episodes of late. Now, unlike some reviewers, I like "Newbie Dash", but I'd place "Stranger than Fan Fiction" higher. The writers take Rainbow's friendship with Daring Do, her devotion to A. K. Yearling's books and her love of real-life action, and run with it to great effect. We already know how much of an action hero she can be, after all, so we believe this too. Dash can be a real pain sometimes, but this time around we're most definitely on her side throughout.

The convention hotel's grand staircase
This looks scarily like the UK PonyCon 2015 venue's main entrance :P
Another factor in the episode's favour is the casting of Patton Oswalt as Quibble Pants. FiM seems to have a real knack for casting its guest stars: so far there hasn't been one who's been a dud. QP is both an excellent foil for Rainbow and a fun character in his own right – not least because he's just the sort of guy that exists in every long-running fandom. He's not all bad, either: his obsessive knowledge leads to him solving real puzzles, after all! And it's probably just a coincidence, but this "the early stories were better" pony appears in the ep that marks the precise point where Alicorn!Twilight has been around longer than Unicorn!Twilight.

The Daring Do convention we're shown is inspired by the real-life San Diego Comic-Con, which perhaps explains why it's so much bigger than any con I've ever been to. Even so, there's a lot I recognised and chuckled at, from the somewhat variable cosplay outfits, through the pointless arguments to the... interesting merch sold at some vendors' stalls. It's a shame that we don't get to see a bit more of the event, though: I'd love to know what panels a Daring Do con might offer, and given the title of the episode a little fanfic reference (like the one in "Spike At Your Service") would have been nice.

Rainbow Dash making a very weird face
Only somepony as brave as Daring Do could resist running for the hills at that face!
The transition from affectionate fandom dig to action adventure is generally pretty well handled, with Quibble Pants' dogged refusal to believe it's any more than a setup being very nicely judged. There's perhaps a slight choppiness in the pacing here, but nothing to get too worried about. I particularly like Caballeron having to deal with the way he's portrayed (or not!) at the convention. A bit of a shame we only got a passing mention of Ahuizotl rather than an actual appearance, though; I can only surmise that the con couldn't afford his fee!

There aren't that many things here that I really don't like. It's maybe a little bit convenient that the monster just happens to be exactly behind a very weak wall at the end, and one or two of Rainbow's facial expressions seem a little bit exaggerated – shades of "Castle Mane-ia" at times. I'm rarely entirely keen on episodes that shiptease as much as this one did. And, yeah, let's say nothing at all about that merch stand, eh? But there's nothing really bad here, and any little niggles are more than outweighed by the good stuff. Not least a solid, relatable moral of the sort FiM does best.

Ponies at the Daring Do convention
I shall be sorely disappointed if someone hasn't made this cosplay within a month
The end credits round things off brilliantly, and even mention fanfic! This all-talking ending was a first for the show. Big Jim Miller has said that Oswalt improvised the whole thing, which is really impressive – and makes you wonder how much was left on the cutting room floor! "Stranger than Fan Fiction" is a strong start to S6B, one which gives me a good deal of optimism for what's still to come. This season has had too many "eh, it's okay" instalments, not fully recovering from perhaps the weakest premiere in the show's history, but this ep is far better than that.

Best quote: Daring Do: "How did I miss that?" Quibble: "I've been asking myself that ever since Book Four!"

Yays
  • Very funny almost throughout
  • Quibble Pants is a pain, but isn't just stupid
  • Fun yet affectionate convention/fandom digs
  • Excellent, if standard, moral
  • Patton Oswalt's brilliantly improvised talk over the end credits
  • Rainbow Dash is at her most relatable
Neighs
  • Would it have quite the same impact on non congoers?
  • No sly reference to G. M. Berrow's DD books? Missed opportunity!
  • Poor Twilight gets a bit of a raw deal
★★★★

4 comments:

  1. Rainbow was sooo good in this episode :). So many wonderful facials expressions. And her cockiness was definitely dialed down, to the point where she showed real humility. I wish we could have had this version of her in 'Newbie Dash'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oddly enough, way back in S2 I was getting sick of Rainbow in mid-season... and then I got to "Read It and Weep" and she started redeeming herself again. Clearly Daring Do episodes have that ability!

      Delete
  2. Loved this episode to death! The humor was both broad and sly, and the dynamic between the three main characters was excellent. The Aztec-style temple, murals, and monster were a delight. I'd give it a full five stars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gah, I meant to mention the Aztec designs! It's at the top of four-star territory for me, and it may end up being revised when I do the end-of-season rankings. Depends how it goes on rewatching a few times.

      Delete