Nostalgia can be a funny thing it's the sort of emotional impulse that makes a man do crazy things. Things like purchasing the "Sonic Underground" box-set, simply because I enjoyed it as a kid. But there's something inherently disappointing about nostalgia; the realisation that these experiences often remain a part of our childhood for a reason. Watching "Sonic Underground" as a 19-year old is a very different experience to watching it as a youngster on Saturday mornings. The once beloved show now appears to me as a train-wreck of embarrassing musical montages, repetitive pacing and rather dated animation. Getting old is no fun when it brings out the critic within.
Thankfully, I have re-ignited that joyous spark of infancy after watching "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic"; a show that for me is not mired by any form of nostalgic bias. After all, prior to "Friendship is Magic" I'd never even considered watching anything related to the My Little Pony franchise. Having watched some videos and seen some of the toys from the older generations, I do not regret having never experienced My Little Pony up to this point. That said, because, like many people, I have jumped on board with the franchise because of "Friendship", it's quite encouraging to know that my opinion won't be in any way influenced by a childhood love for the show. I can examine the latest iteration of the franchise as objectively as possible, having no reason to either criticise it or worship it as the next best thing.
However, the great truth is that all of the hype is completely deserved, and it actually is the next best thing on television. I'd even go as far as to say that it's the best animated show that I've ever watched. Yes, that means I'm placing the show above my beloved "South Park", "Futurama" and "American Dad". As extreme as that may sound, given the many seasons that these other series have under their belts in comparison to "Friendship is Magic's" modest one season at the time of writing, it in no way detracts from my point. For all intents and purposes, "Friendship is Magic" is the sort of show that deserves the massive cult following that it has attracted.
The greatest reason for this cult following has to be the characters of the show. A show cannot survive without interesting and, more importantly, likeable characters, and this is one area where "Friendship" really excels. The entire cast, from the mane (main) six to the supporting characters, are all lovingly rendered and expertly voiced. What is surprisingly refreshing is that these characters undergo often extreme levels of development throughout the series. Take the much-loved character, Fluttershy; in the Pilot episode, she finds it difficult to even communicate her own name to other ponies in Ponyville. However, by the end of the season she's come out of her shell, as it were, as result of both her experiences throughout the season and Twilight Sparkle's advice that she should be more impulsive.
Normally putting the words 'Twilight' and 'Sparkle' in the same sentence would make me cringe, thanks to the bastardisation of vampires by Stephanie Meyer. But Twilight Sparkle, the 'main' character of "Friendship is Magic" is a fantastic lead; an intellectual who shows that academia can be cool. The positive and studious message that she promotes to younger viewers is certainly one that I can support, and older viewers will love her for her quirky personality and random bouts of both elation and concern for always trying to be the level-headed member of the group. Nevertheless, like every character in the show, there is more to Twilight Sparkle than meets the eye; she does not wish to use magic in Ponyville for fear of ponies alienating her, and due to her rather isolated childhood studying the arcane under the benevolent Princess Celestia, she has missed out on some typical childhood experiences such as making friends. Thus, Twilight's actions are somewhat mediated by her desire to appeal to others and fit in, as well as to experience new and exciting challenges. There is a level of characterisation on display here that is rarely seen in animation.
What is more incredible with these characters is that their relationships are not definitively established at the beginning of the show. Take the spunky and mature Applejack, for example. She clearly doesn't like the Lady-like and regal Rarity very much early into the season, and the feeling is very much mutual from Rarity towards Applejack. And yet, after one fateful slumber party at Twilight Sparkle's home, they start becoming more friendly towards one another. More apparent is Applejack's competitive relationship with Rainbow Dash, the brave and bold Pegasus pony who is the self-confessed best flyer in Equestria. Because these characters are both very confident in their abilities, they come to blows at several points in the show. Whether it's hoof-wrestling in "The Ticket Master" or racing one another during the Running of the Leaves, or even just bobbing for apples at Gummy's birthday party, these two characters clearly have a competitive stance towards one another that gives the show an air of realism.
Similarly we learn early into the show that Rainbow Dash is not a fan of the playful Pinkie Pie, attempting to flee from her rather than become friends. Nevertheless, after finding a mutual interest in pulling pranks on other ponies, their friendship blossoms; they team up on later occasions to handle a rivalry between native buffalo and settler ponies building on their land, and it is noteworthy that during an emotional relapse that Pinkie Pie experiences near the end of the season, it is Rainbow Dash who pulls her out of her depression. These episodes take important and meaningful messages that affect all ages, and express them in a way that all audiences can appreciate, whether digging deep into the metaphorical significance or merely watching them as surface-entertainment.
Not only do the characters have great continuity in their mannerisms and outlooks, but the episodes themselves also embrace a sense of narrative coherency. In the third episode of the season, the characters all argue good reasons for receiving Twilight Sparkle's single spare ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala; a festival that they all have an incentive to attend. Aside from the Pilot episodes, this is the first proper episode of the show, and it comes as a great pat on the shoulder that the final episode of the season takes place at the Grand Galloping Gala; the first episode brilliantly sets up the last. Less subtle, but equally as impressive measures are taken to avoid plot-holes. For example, in episode seven, "Dragonshy", Fluttershy reveals that she's afraid of dragons. Before the audience can cry foul, knowing that Fluttershy has expressed immense satisfaction in speaking with Spike, a dragon albeit it a baby one the ever-hilarious Pinkie Pie is already upon the situation, asking Fluttershy exactly what the audience are thinking: how can she be afraid of one dragon and not another?
Pinkie Pie is arguably the best character for breaking the fourth wall within the show. She references things outside of the show, as well as delivers some of the funniest and most random lines. Fans will instantly find her erratic behaviour amusing for example, popping out of a bowl of sponges to croon "FOREVER!" at Twilight Sparkle before she can break a promise and she has easily become a fan-favourite. She is also responsible for many of the musical numbers within the show. Yes, "Friendship is Magic" has songs, and all of them are actually pretty fantastic. Songs like "Giggle at the Ghosties" are fun to hum and sing along to, although the real stand-outs are the melodic "Winter Wrap-up" and "At the Gala". The former is a pleasant song with acoustic strumming and a wonderfully sing-along chorus, whilst the latter is of a Disney production quality; orchestrated and divine. If one wishes to argue of the high quality of the show, they need only to link people to "At the Gala" to truly show off what "Friendship is Magic" can do.
It's not just the songs of the show that are excellent, either. Some fans have ripped the audio from some of the scenes, for example the battle with Nightmare Moon in the Pilot, to find that the music sounds wonderful. As a passive watcher of the show, the music would drift by without a second glance; it's nice to see that if the viewer wishes to dig a little deeper, they'll find a soundtrack competently composed with production levels rarely seen in an animation. Furthermore, the large variety of fan-made remixes, including the incredible 8-bit versions of the songs from the show and the Eurobeat remixes, are all very much worth a listen.
Not merely a feast for the ears, the show has earned its loyal following due to its incredible animation, which is easily the biggest draw of "Friendship is Magic". It's impossible not to find these characters adorable. With their wide-eyed, bright faces and simple, primary-colour based designs, they're the most charming combination of all. The ponies are drawn in a highly stylised way, but one that is simple enough to emulate, perhaps explaining why there are a huge amount of people drawing excellent fan-art of the show. The animators haven't gone for any sort of complex studio wizardry; the characters have a satisfying simplicity to them, but are also capable of expressing an enormous amount of emotions. Whether it's the unbridled joy in their eyes during a moment of happiness, or a particularly moving moment where the tears start streaming, every emotion is captured wonderfully.
Equally wonderful is the way in which the show reaches its broader demographic. A lot of non-believers and neigh-sayers excuse the pun seem to think that the enthusiastic response from older fans and bronies is because of hype and memes. They seem to struggle to believe that people in their teenage years and beyond can genuinely like this show. I find this rather disconcerting; it's the incorrect assumption that the My Little Pony branding somehow means that the show will be inherently bad. Quite why it's so hard to believe that an established franchise could be remade into something far better and more appealing is beyond me. Luckily, the haters seem to be in a minority, as most people that actually give "Friendship is Magic" a chance end up immensely satisfied.
Arguably the greatest achievement of the show in reaching a larger, older audience as well as younger viewers is that it never, ever feels cringe-worthy or patronising. Too many 'kids' shows have sickly-sweet messages and jokes that seriously miss their mark. But in "Friendship is Magic", the morals are not forced down the audience's throat, delivered at the climax of almost every episode by a short and sweet letter written by Twilight Sparkle to Princess Celestia, where she explains in brief what she has learned in that particular story. It's a great system, and even I was touched by some of these episodes and their messages. There are episodes that hint at greater social and historical events teaching against stereotyping and raising awareness for what can only be seen as the plight of Native Americans that will teach kids a thing or two about respect and understanding, and will permeate these same messages in the minds of adult viewers.
There is so much to recommend about "Friendship is Magic". Laugh-out-loud moments are frequent Spike the Dragon's daydreams of him being a knight in shining armour (Manly Spike) are incredibly amusing; Pinkie Pie's escapades are guaranteed to meet their comical mark and every episode has its own individual appeal. Some episodes are character specific, whilst some feature more prominently every character from the main cast. Every one of the main six gets a decent amount of screen-time even Twilight Sparkle, the supposed main character, often takes a secondary role - to ensure that none are neglected, and the adorable Cutie Mark Crusaders even get a good three episodes to themselves to win over the audience. These characters are three little fillies who are trying to earn their Cutie Marks essentially symbols that appear on a ponies' flank after they discover their special talent, representative of what they are good at and the audience will find themselves invested in finding out just what their special talents might be. That the show promotes genuine talent, rather than peripheral benefits such as beauty and clothing, is testament to the genuine heart behind it all.
This show, after all, has been lovingly rendered. It's been made for the fans, and the animators at the studio as well as Lauren Faust herself, have all made surprisingly noble efforts to address these fans. By drawing and then auctioning characters from the show to raise money for charity, the well-intended philanthropy of Lauren Faust is evident. By essentially re-naming one of the minor characters 'Derpy Hooves' at the behest of the sharp-eyed viewers who spotted an animation glitch on her model, the animators and writers of the show are doing their fair share in attracting more and more people to the show through a level of communication between viewer and producer rarely seen in animation. Not to mention that The Hub have put enormous effort into advertising the show through a variety of fantastic contemporary means: the "Equestria Girls" video, a parody of Katy Perry's "California Gurls", is in itself a stroke of genius, and the recent "There's a Pony for that" iPhone application parody advert is so well-made and fitting for an adult audience, that it's clear that they have some truly great people behind the advertising chairs for "Friendship is Magic".
Which is utterly deserved, might I add, for never have I seen an animation with as much verve and passion, and with such a loyal fan-base to make use of the shows assets. The show is immensely quotable, with memes such as Rainbow Dash's "20% cooler" growing in popularity. Furthermore, there are fan games being made such as "Fighting is Magic" and "Story of the Blanks" and there's even a Massive Multiplayer online game in the works. I've witnessed an incredible parody of Kanye West's "Power" featuring the Pony crew, and there are some truly inspired covers of some of the songs from the show.
The single most triumphant success of the show is how it has captured the hearts of so many people. Just a single glance over DeviantArt, Ponychan or Equestria Daily is enough to see how frequently people are drawing and exploring these addictive ponies. Artists of all sorts of talents and ages and backgrounds are uniting in creating these ponies; either making custom original characters or drawing the existing cast in all sorts of styles and situations. I can think of no other show that has become so popular with just about everyone who is willing to give it a chance. I have never before watched an animated series three times in a row in quick succession, just because I love it so much and can't get enough of the characters and the animation. The terrific voice acting and adorable characters suck you into this world, and the engaging narrative and loyal community keep you there.
But most importantly, for me and a lot of older viewers of the show, is that "Friendship is Magic" represents a chance to experience a modern show that does away with glamour and celebrity and arbitrary nonsense, and instead focuses on that greatest magic of all: friendship. Those ponies aren't lying when they talk about big adventures, tonnes of fun, having a beautiful heart and being faithful and strong. By sharing kindness, and sharing this heavenly gift that is "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" between one another, we can unite knowing that for as long as this incomparable show is being produced, we are lucky to be the ones to experience it together.