Monday, 5 September 2016

Episode review: S6E18: "Buckball Season"

Fluttershy balancing balls on her tail
I knew those tail extensions would come in handy one day!
Another week, another new writer on My Little Pony. This time around, it's Jennifer Skelly, about whom I knew absolutely nothing before the announcement. And on a sport-themed episode, something I often find a little dull in cartoons. This goes double if they're based on sports I find boring, such as American football; I've been dreading a full-on "hoofball" episode for some time, actually. This was about "buckball", though, a sport never mentioned in Pony before. How did it go? I'll be back after the break.

This is an episode which does not lend itself well to overanalysis. Think of "Winter Wrap Up" – in that episode, we're told that Canterlot uses magic whereas Ponyville doesn't... but what happens in the zone between the two cities? How do the boundaries work? And so on. It's a considerably more satisfying episode if you simply kick back and let its small-town homeliness wash over you. Much the same is true of "Buckball Season", which – perhaps not coincidentally – has something of an early-series feel about it.

The game of buckball itself is a nice addition to the Equestrian world, so long as you don't question too closely why you actually need the unicorns, given that the practices with fixed baskets seemed to work fine. I like the fact that it requires one of each pony tribe to play; I guess that's why Rainbow Dash has no split loyalties this time, as all-pegasus Cloudsdale is going to have serious problems raising a team! I rather suspect that a human-playable version of buckball will emerge, as happened with quidditch.

Snails catching balls like a boss
The star of the episode. Yes, this guy. Who is only CMC age...
Fluttershy has one of her best episodes this time, those rather over-the-top gurns perhaps excepted. I don't have any difficulties with her buckball skills: for one thing, they're defensive; for another, they're more reliant on poise and positioning than power and raw speed. She's nicely in character throughout, and I particularly appreciate that (unlike S1 'Shy) she's okay performing in front of others in practice in her home town... but still gets scared when put under too much pressure to perform in (what AJ seems to think is) a high-stakes away game in Apple(l)oosa.

Pinkie is also good, and it's nice to see that Skelly understands that she's not a pony who is just a carefree party planner no matter what. I can buy her getting unhappy when she feels the fun has gone out of proceedings. I particularly enjoyed the all too short scenes in which she and Fluttershy discussed their worries – not so much the amusing interlude in the train, but more when they were walking together in the wood. I'd have preferred a bit more of that, maybe at the expense of a minute or two of practice montage.

And then there's Snails. My goodness: after all these years, it turns out he actually has some depth to him! Not only can he sing (admittedly not that well), but he has far more skill with precision levitation than we've seen in most unicorns short of Rarity. It was interesting that he, unlike Pinkie and 'Shy, was able to keep his cool about the big game thanks to the entirely believable explanation that he doesn't think about it! I suppose this is actually one way of being "in the zone" that I can accept the other two managing.

Rainbow, Applejack, Fluttershy and Pinkie
Rainbow Dash Impressions returns. This week: a dishcloth
Applejack and Rainbow Dash are imperfect, but that's not entirely a bad thing given that flawless characters are dull. Had Rainbow (who seems to be being called "Dash" an awful lot by others lately) stopped to think back to "Hurricane Fluttershy", she might have been able to show a bit more sensitivity as a coach. AJ, meanwhile, learned back in "The Last Roundup" that there was no shame in not winning, but seems to have let her familial rivalry with her cousin run away with her.

I didn't like everything about this episode. The one thing I really would have liked to have seen more of is direct interaction between Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. This is their first real team-up episode, so it's a little disappointing that they don't do a bit more bonding, though understandable in the context of the story. Although I said I liked buckball, it does seem that the unicorns are a bit of an afterthought compared with the earth ponies and pegasi. Finally, not even a single jokey line for why Rarity wasn't considered for the unicorn role?

Most of my comments here have to do with the actual ponies, and I think this show is usually at its best when it's character-driven. That's certainly the case here. It's an episode with no huge external threat – but it doesn't need one. What it does pretty well is to provide the charm that S1 and S2 often did, yet without pretending the characters haven't developed since then. I'm not sure I've enjoyed a "traditional" episode more since "Amending Fences". That was outstanding, while this is merely very nice. But I'll happily take very nice.

Pinkie and Fluttershy smiling
Fluttershy smiling and Pinkie with an absurd manestyle. What's not to like?
Best quote: Snails: "Seriously, I don't think about anything. Ever."

  • Nice small-town, early-series feel to proceedings
  • Fluttershy and Pinkie both enjoyably characterised
  • Snails finally gets some actual character
  • AJ and Rainbow realising their mistake before the very end
  • Buckball looks fun – and ripe for human adaptation!
  • Some nice animation, eg the pseudo-3D on the train
  • Rainbow's coaching was less understanding than in "Hurricane Fluttershy"
  • A bit more Fluttershy/Pinkie team-uppery would have been nice
  • Fluttershy's angry faces were a little too much
  • Where was the Looney Tunes joke? :(


  1. That scene with just Fluttershy and Pinkie in the woods was rather special to have. If only we could have a proper episode for just those 2.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice the 3D-ish animation in the train! I've been meaning to mention that.

    Also agreed about the conflict being resolved in good time before the end.

    1. I'd love that -- though maybe Andrea Libman would find it very hard work! And I have no idea how you do that 3D-ish animation in Flash, but it worked pretty well.

  2. I think the idea for the unicorns is that the goal-defending pegasi and the goal controlling are on opposite teams. It would be like having someone behind the soccer goalie who could move the next back and forth to give their team a better chance of scoring. The goalie would be the obstacle to that. I think that is what they were going for the in the game. Makes it more exciting that just having an immobile basket on a pole.

    1. That makes sense -- so until/unless it's contradicted in the show, I'll go with it!