Thursday, 2 January 2020

My Little Repeats 16: "Sonic Rainboom"

Seriously, did you think I'd use any other picture here? On this blog?
S1E16: "Sonic Rainboom"
Written by M. A. Larson
18 Feb 2011

My original rating: N/A
IMDB score: 8.8

The one with the rainbow factory

Thoughts: The highest IMDb rating so far – though we'll go even higher before we reach the end of S1. This is a generally great episode, with only one real downside: Rarity. After being great two episodes ago, she's a major pain in the rump for large stretch of this one (plus not very grateful for sort-of beating Twilight to alicorn status!) and she's lucky to escape with her life as a result. I do like her recognising stage fright, but she goes downhill thereafter with her vanity and stupidity. Thankfully Rarity's Icarus act allows Rainbow Dash to be entirely awesome with her sonic rainboom to rescue her silly friend (and the Wonderbolts). We earlier learn that Rainbow has done a sonic rainboom – long ago. Soon we'll discover just how important that moment really was! Fluttershy's supporting role is great fun, and I like that she's able to be moderately assertive at times, especially in Cloudsdale. Talking of which, I really enjoyed seeing around that city. Pinkie's "You really need to get out more" to Twilight is great and – at this point – still fairly true. Rarity being so annoying hurts this episode a little, and the irritating stallions are just that, but it's still a very good watch, especially the thrilling rescue sequence. And yes, that cold open does have a bit of a bearing on my feelings about it too! :D

Choice quote: Fluttershy: "Rainbow Dash, you rock. Woo-hoo." (At least at one time, this was Andrea Libman's favourite Fluttershy line.)

New rating: ★★★★

Next up is "Stare Master", the first full CMC episode. I watched this fairly recently, as it happens, and quite enjoyed it. Let's see whether I do so this time, too.


  1. This episode in general would be jam-packed with memorable takeaways, plenty of which fans would enjoy and others... Not so much. To get the negatives out of the way: I felt like Rarity going the 'vanity' route, her being granted wings drawing attention away from Rainbow Dash, who was already stressing about bucking up in front of Celestia, not only really hurt the character progression she had going for her but I felt this was only done as a plot convenience (It almost reminded me why Rarity wasn't my favorite member of the group, initially). Also, the fact that those 'Three Stallions' were really giving Rainbow Dash a difficult time just because she decided to leave Flight School for some reason was a real 'slap' in the face as it would remind me why 'male' characters don't get any respect in this show. To my chagrin, this wouldn't be the last time we see these jerks but thankfully they slowly disappear from the series in general and would be used less than 'sparingly'.

    But to focus more on the positive aspects of the show, Rainbow Dash's journey was pretty relatable and proving that it's not just Twilight Sparkle who freaks out about letting others down. Throughout the series, Rainbow Dash has made it clear just how 'awesome' she truly is but having not done a Sonic Rainboom since 'years' prior to the first season (Which comes up in another episode) show it's no wonder why she fears her routine won't go as planned. That fear of messing up would initially come true when she nearly flops her routine in front of the gathering crowd, but it's only when one of her friends is put in danger (Though to be fair, Rarity put herself in that predicament) it's only when she's able to channel that long bottled up energy to finally ignite that 'Sonic Rainboom' and thus giving us one of the most breathtaking sequences in MLP history. And this would not be the last time we see the 'Sonic Rainboom' either.

    Overall, it's not a 'flawless' episode, but just for the journey itself and to see Rainbow Dash prevail (While Rarity also learns a lesson about stealing the spotlight for her own image) makes for a satisfying episode and a way to foreshadow her initial relationship with the 'Wonderbolts' (Which will be touched on in future posts).

    1. why 'male' characters don't get any respect in this show

      Big Mac? Spike from "Gauntlet of Fire" onwards? (I realise that's a way off yet.) Okay, there aren't many, but the gender imbalance to begin with was a conscious decision. I've never really gone for the "there should be more strong male characters" mindset with this show. I like it female-heavy.

  2. Rarity's depiction in this episode has always made me reluctant to agree with all the fans who used it as a gateway episode. It's full of awesome action and strong character arcs for Rainbow and Fluttershy, but it's at the cost of another character entirely. Given how much time it took for me to value her as a cast member from the start, beginning someone in a place where she's the literal villain of the piece is just going to make that process all the harder. Which is a shame, as this is otherwise iconic.

    1. Looking through these comments, there's a clear split between those (you, me, Pascoite) who find Rarity's behaviour off-putting and those (Impossible Numbers, Mike) who think the criticism is itself over the top. I think if I'd had a bit more space than one para, I'd have said that while Rarity being flawed in itself is not only reasonable but pleasing, I feel it's laid on with a trowel here.

    2. This is precisely how I feel. I think what choices she makes in this episode are entirely consistent with her character. I can definitely see her getting caught up in the pageantry and letting her inner beauty queen take over. It was just too much of it, though, and when it was having a very overtly negative effect on her friends.

  3. Oh, I love this episode. Season One was a case of escalating realization of how good this show can be, starting with an impressive two-parter, then kicking things up a notch with "Dragonshy" and "Call of the Cutie", and then hitting me with a double-whammy of "Suited for Success" and this little number. And this is arguably the best episode of them all.

    This is an episode for which the much-abused term "awesome" could've been specially coined. I went into more detail as part of my Royal Canterlot Library interview, but in brief this episode is nigh-perfect in world-building (Cloudsdale and the pegasus weather duties have always been highlights for me), cheerfully silly jokes ("Yay!" is an easy-to-pick example, but I also quite like Pinkie's and Rarity's antics in this one too), and especially character.

    Most notably, it's the episode where Rainbow Dash earned some serious likeability points from me. Before this one, she was mostly OK with some annoying moments, especially since "Fall Weather Friends" was not far away. But her gradual mental breakdown and fear of failure made for a potent combination, especially when you also add the climax of this episode into the mix.

    On that note, I strongly disagree with the Rarity criticism, to the point I find it baffling to have to make the case at all. It not only made sense for a beauty-conscious and somewhat obsessive character to have such a flaw, it also felt natural in context (merely going up to Cloudsdale is a noteworthy event for a non-pegasus, to say nothing of gaining butterfly wings - who wouldn't get carried away?).

    Plus, it complemented the main confidence issue nicely, in a way that made her unintentional antagonism more welcome than the generic bullying of those three pegasi. They even drew some decent comedy out of it ("Look upon me, Equestria, for I! AM! RARITY!").

    If it makes her look a bit selfish, then I say: so what? Flawed characters are more fun, interesting, and relatable to watch. It's one of the ongoing fascinations of her character that she does fluctuate between selfishness and magnanimity.

    If I had to complain - apart from the bullies being boring and superfluous - it's that the currency of pulling off a sonic rainboom was diluted pretty damn fast after this. I can understand the usage in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", but then it's used as a "nuclear bomb" visual gag in "Lesson Zero", and by the end of Season Two, Rainbow's capable of pulling it off on request like lighting a firework. Both of which I thought were cheap.

    Especially compared to the highlight this episode ended with. I can do no better than quote my own response in that aforementioned interview:

    "Inevitably, the ending makes this episode a landmark, and caps all these points perfectly. Yes, the episode has problems: the bullies are one-dimensional and kind of unnecessary, it starts slow, and there are some awkward bits of animation here and there. But nothing — I mean nothing — tops the moment when Rainbow sees Rarity falling, and immediately and spectacularly dives down and rescues her, pulling off the eponymous meteorological marvel in the process while Fluttershy screams her head off. I watched this episode again recently, and the beautiful combination of awesome, cute, funny, and heartwarming in that scene still gives me chills even five years later."

    1. And this is arguably the best episode of them all

      It's high on the list for me, but not quite that high. I think "Suited for Success" shades it in my estimation, and certainly at least one forthcoming S1 episode does.

      I strongly disagree with the Rarity criticism, to the point I find it baffling to have to make the case at all.

      I can understand the strong disagreement, but "baffling" seems a bit odd. For me it's fairly straightforward: flawed characters are interesting, absolutely agreed -- but I think in this episode they laid it on so thick that it threatened to suffocate the excellent story beneath.

      Rarity being a bit vain and selfish? Yes, absolutely, especially given that this is S1. I actually like her Icarus act in in-universe terms. But as an example of where she goes too far for me, changing the music for the routine seems just plain unkind to Rainbow. I think I'd have preferred the episode with Rarity still vain and a bit thoughtless, but not so that way that she overpowers so much else.

      the currency of pulling off a sonic rainboom was diluted pretty damn fast after this

      Can't really argue with that: "A Canterlot Wedding" was the first episode I saw as it aired, and I remember being slightly disappointed even at the time. I'm not sure the "Lesson Zero" one is really a rainboom, though it's arguable.

    2. To maybe shed a little light on my headspace back when I was bingeing season one:

      Yes, a flawed character is good. But Rarity was nothing but flaws.

      The way I saw her, she was the prissy, self-absorbed, vain "glamour girl" who only cared about her looks. I had zero appreciation for her until A Dog and Pony Show later on; that's fifteen episodes of not liking or caring about her at this point, and having an episode that solidly villifies her only made her look like Worst Pony.

      Until, y'know, I realized that she was very aware of who and what she was and used it for good effect against the Diamond Dogs. But that was to come. And I think, when trying to get someone into the show, showing them this Rarity is a really bad idea. She's such a nuanced character that it's probably hard to give a fully positive first impression (the pilot certainly didn't for me), but you could do far better than this episode.

  4. I of course loved seeing Derpy in this one, and at the time just thought it was more meant as a joke. Perhaps it was. She could be interpreted as someone with delusions of grandeur, or someone who simply entered on a whim because why not. It's not until many years later we learned that Derpy actually was a champion racer once. She's very cheerful here, and of course many fanfic writers take her as someone irrepressibly happy, so I like to think she's doing this just for the fun of it rather than trying to relive prior glory.

    I'd already taken quite a shine to Rarity from the early episodes, and she really shines in "Suited for Success," but I agree that she's mostly annoying in this one, and that's a questionable move to make for one of your lead characters in an early episode. You don't want to alienate viewers to her when they've barely gotten an opportunity to know her. In the upcoming "Dog and Pony Show," it suffers that same fate for me. At least she's shown as clever in that one, but she's still mostly annoying, deliberately so, but she's not acting all that different than she usually does, which would seem to make her pretty self-aware of it. And I should probably be holding this discussion until that episode.

    Anyway, I'd already decided she was one of my favorites, so this and "Dog and Pony Show" were, fortunately, things I decided to endure rather than shape my opinion of her, and they thankfully returned to giving her a more nuanced and agreeable character later on.

    Though maybe that's not true? About the evolution of my opinion about Rarity, that is. The first two episodes I actually saw were this one and "Green isn't Your Color," though before I watched any of them, I'd already read over the character bios on the wikipedia page.

    1. Great point on Derpy and her past -- I hadn't even thought about that. I don't know if much of her character had been thought through when this episode was written -- given it's only one ep since her first deliberately-derped appearance, I imagine not -- but I like the idea of Derpy just doing the contest for fun.

      In the upcoming "Dog and Pony Show," it suffers that same fate for me.

      I've had a very mixed relationship with that episode over the years, though it's admittedly a very long time since I last watched it. Like you, though, I'll save more details for when we get there.

    2. Ooh, and this is a nuanced reaction to go alongside mine! :D

  5. Gotta agree with Impossible Numbers that Rarity isn't so insufferable here as others feel, though Perfect Present does have a point in that perhaps being a detriment to an episode otherwise perfectly well suited to being a gateway episode for new viewers.

    It's obviously a pretty great episode; its our first to largely take place outside of Ponyville and its surroundings, in a way that lends Cloudsdale a sense of grandeur as the audience delights in the world-building on the tour sandwiched in alongside Rarity's ego inflating and Rainbow's anxiety skyrocketing. Couple with that all the usual MLP Season 1 strengths and an effective redemption for Rainbow Dash as a character - at least, for those that had yet to warm to her - and you've got a classic episode.
    Oh, and this had plenty of popular meme-worthy fandom moments too; much of everything involving Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash's "OhMyGoshOhMyGoshOhMyGosh" fangirling, and so on. That's always neat.

    As an aside, one amusing anecdote I remember from one of the litany of interviews M.A. Larson has given, where he compared the level of executive notes between early episodes and later ones, concerned this episode: compared to Slice of Life with a note for almost every line, this whole episode only had two, both of which were genuine things coming from a honest place and one of which was an obviously good idea. How things changed once the show actually aired and Hasbro executives realised they had a hit on their hands and felt the itch to exert control, eh?

    1. As far as Rarity's behaviour goes, I'll simply reiterate what I've said in other comments: flawed is good, but I think she's too much here, even for mid-S1.

      an effective redemption for Rainbow Dash as a character

      Yes... a shame she then wastes that improvement during a lot of early/mid S2, but we'll get there in due course! :P

      the level of executive notes between early episodes and later ones

      Oh yeah, I remember reading that (I assume from Larson) years and years ago. It was another S1 episode he mentioned in the interview I read, though: "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" -- which he said had one note.

    2. Gah, it WAS that episode, though I am sure about the two notes thing. I got them mixed up due to both being sonic-rainboom-heavy episodes. Still, it made for an amusing anecdote all the same.