Ready or not, the ponies return this Saturday
The Bronies (the chosen name of post-adolescent My Little Pony fans) rejoice as a second season of the hit cartoon show Friendship is Magic begins tomorrow on Discovery Channel's cartoon channel The Hub (9 AM EDT). But before it comes out, it might be a good time to reflect and review what made the show such a hit in its first season.
An unusual partnership
Before the show grew in massive popularity, some of the cartoon community had criticized that Laurn Faust's career move to a partnership with Hasbro was a sign that independent cartoonists who created original content were on the collapse. Particularly when the My Little Pony cartoon franchise had a history or creating characters that were just about as plastic as the product itself.
However, after looking through these first season myself, I can honestly say that the fears of these initial criticisms were not well founded. In fact, the concern should probably be inverted. It's not a toymaker saving the cartoonist in this case, Hasbro probably got much more out of the cartoonist then the other way around. It seems to me toys are in far more danger as an industry then animation is in this day and age where children are more computer savvy (entertainment, there's an app for that) and parents can't buy as many toys as they used to.
Ultimately, the success of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comes down to one simple principal. When you have well rounded and complex characters, the stories will write themselves. The cartoon starts out simple enough with one main protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, who is a bookworm complete with the introvert tendencies as she is told to go off to Ponyville to help with a festival there. She is also told to make friends, something she is very not happy with doing as she finds more comfort in her books then hanging around with other ponies. I guess that's why I shouldn't be to surprised that I got her on the pony personality quiz, I suppose. It might also be why I was able to relate to the show early on, as I could already see reflections of my own personality in the, at this point, main protagonist.
Through Twilight we meet the other main characters of Ponyville. Each of their personalities are easily identifiable, and at first glance we certainly get their main qualities. The randomness of Pinkie Pie, the boldness of Rainbow Dash, the shyness of Fluttershy. Though as we hang out around the characters more, we learn that while they may have a signature trait there are interesting quirks to those traits which can surprise people. On our introduction to Fluttershy for instance, we note that while she has trouble speaking to other ponies with any sense of forwardness, around other creatures she seems to come out of her shell. Certainly that isn't the only quirk she has, and in my opinion her quirks were the most surprising of the group as the episodes went forward.
Many of the episodes deal with how the diverse cast overcome their differences, sometimes as a whole group dealing with one situation, or in some episodes highlighting a particular one of the six ponies dealing with an issue. Sometimes its interesting to note how even characters set up to be so different have so much in common. For instance while Rarity and Applejack clash in one episode over one being a neat freak and the other being more rugged, they each outwardly show a "workaholic" nature and how it gets the best of them in two separate episodes.
Finding One's Way
Also, a recurring event in each show is of course some kind of lesson that was learned by the characters involved. While some of them are obvious ones that most adults know such as "Not judging books by their cover" and the like, some of them are very good ones to take away even for adults.
My favorite one was actually from one of my least favorite episodes (Dressed for Success), as I'm not a huge Rarity fan: "If you try too hard to please every pony, you'll end up pleasing no pony, especially yourself."
One of the main themes of the show in the first season, through the Cutie Mark Crusaders (young ponies who become main characters in the show who go an a quest for their "cutie marks") and the episode Winter Wrap Up, is trying to find one's place in the world;a very strong theme to have, and certainly pertains as much to adults as it does to children. We all try to find something that we're not only good at, but enjoy doing, and while sometimes we may not see what we're good at, we certainly know what we enjoy doing. I know many people, including myself, who sometimes go about doing random things trying to find something that will leave a mark on the world around us, sometimes ignoring our strengths to try something new. So in a way we can all relate to being in their shoes, trying to find that thing we're good at, that we can use to establish stability in our lives.
In essence, though, it all comes down to the Wear Sunscreen quote:
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
It's interesting to see how quickly a show can have an intimidate impact on the social dynamics both within and outside the fandom. Certainly one could write an article in and of itself revolving around the furries and non-furries that love the ponies, and furrys that hate ponies. The reasons for the later are usually highly variable. One I spoke to for instance didn't like MLP because of it's nod to /4/chan with the introduction of Derpy Hooves (an animation mistake cross-eyed pony who became a "Where's Waldo?" type character in the show after people noticed it).
My response to this was that one should probably not base their like and dislikes based simply upon the likes and dislikes of another. I like the show not because it is popular, because /4/chan likes it, because furries like it, because my nemesis hates it, or to be part of some fangroup or anti-fan group. I like for being a children's show with depth. I like it for painting women as the complicated creatures they are. I like it for being a cartoon with animals that seem more human then certain cartoons with human characters.
But in the end it all comes down to lesson from Dressed for Success. The show will not be everyone's cup of tea; some like cartoons that are more random than coherent, or more aesthetically gritty rather then pretty. For those individuals, MLP:FiM would likely not be your kind of show.
On the second season
In that regard I do hope the nods to the internet fanbase remain just simplistic like the Derpy Hooves cameos. For instance, what happened with Fluttershy in the final episode has me raising a caution flag as the motive for her behavior seemed a bit outside the bounds of her character. I won't go into why that is to keep spoilers low for those who hadn't seen the episode. It felt like an attempt to have her character do something just for the sake people wanted to see more of it, to me anyway. It made me question if her quirk had become so adored in memes that it completely changed the purpose of her character. However, since it was the last episode, this question has yet to be answered.
While I loved the first season, I come into the second with caution. They started the first season being themselves like Rarity creating the first batches of dresses for her friends. As they've grown a diverse fanbase, each having their own tastes, they run the risk of getting too much feedback or taking too much of it to heart. Or being worried about maintaining the fanbase rather then concentrating on the original formula that made the show good.
The other concern of course being not of the fanbase, but of the corporation Hasbro itself, as Laurn Faust has stepped down as Executive Producer for the second season (the rest of the team remains intact). The article writer for Equestria Daily seems to believe that the toymaker may try to take the successful show in a more "marketable" direction.
So as the second season begins, and many bronies start to watch, it will certainly be interesting to see if the show overcomes the outside pressures to retain "ze Magics" that made the first one entertaining, fun, and thought-provoking.