Bold, brave, daring and tenacious...these are words that one would usually associate with Rainbow Dash in "Friendship is Magic". But how about adorable, innocent and, at times, insecure? Rainbow Dash may be the sporty member of the group and the most tomboyish female within the mane cast, but this does not detract from the fact that, like every other pony, she has a multi-layered personality that allows her to express all sorts of emotions, both positive and negative. Some are naturally the sort of temperaments that one would normally match Rainbow Dash with, but it would be a great injustice to merely suggest that Rainbow Dash is concerned with competitions and little else.
Of course, there are competitive elements in her personality. It is revealed early into the series that she and Applejack, although good friends, are also rivals. In "Fall Weather Friends" this is evidenced well, wherein Rainbow Dash and Applejack face off against one another during the Running of the Leaves, but there are a lot of subtle references to their relationship to one another. Even as early as the Pilot, Applejack has to hold Rainbow Dash back by the tail in order to prevent her from attacking Nightmare Moon, and during the conclusion of "Boast Busters" it is Applejack who manages to convince Rainbow Dash not to pursue Trixie. In "The Best Night Ever" Rainbow Dash is allowed to prove herself to the Wonderbolts, at least initially, by saving Soarin's pie...the very pie that was sold to him by Applejack in the previous scene. Whilst one could accuse a viewer of over-analysing the show during these circumstances, it would be difficult to deny that there is certainly a degree of interaction and companionship between Rainbow Dash and Applejack that doesn't exist between other characters. Rainbow Dash's impulsive nature is mediated by the level-headed Applejack on many occasions.
It isn't just Applejack who has a strong relationship to Rainbow Dash, however. In "Griffin the Brush-off" it is shown that Rainbow Dash really doesn't get along well with Pinkie Pie at first. This is interesting to a viewer, as apart from Twilight Sparkle, who has naturally just moved to Ponyville and is meeting ponies for the first time, we make the assumption that the remaining five ponies within the mane cast are friends already. But this episode really gets behind the fact that not all of the ponies get along with one another, creating a level of realism to the characters that would otherwise be lacking. Whilst perceiving Pinkie to be irritating and annoying at first, Rainbow Dash soon finds a mutual interest with her in pulling pranks on other ponies, establishing a friendship between the two ponies and resulting in the duo pairing up in later episodes such as "Over a Barrel". Rainbow Dash's, "Pinkie Pie...you are so random!" is a resulting meme-worthy phrase in itself and helps permeate the natural comedy between this delightful duo.
Towards Fluttershy, on the other hand, Rainbow Dash appears quite stern and strict at times. In "Dragonshy" she scolds Fluttershy on more than one occasion, putting her down as being scared of everything...including her own shadow, and she grows frustrated with Fluttershy's inability to cheer her on loudly in "Sonic Rainboom". Dash perceives Twilight Sparkle, on the other hand, as being an egg-head who has no natural talent for sport, laughing at her in "Fall Weather Friends". Clearly, Rainbow Dash is not the easiest character to get along with. Whereas one could blame the other ponies for irritating Dash, it's often the case that Dash can come across as being quite brash. So when Rarity locks herself in isolation after embarrassing herself in "Suited for Success" and the other ponies attempt to cheer her up, Rainbow Dash is the one to remark that she actually is the laughing stock of the entire town. Earlier in the episode, when Rarity shows off her first batch of dresses, Rainbow is the one to say what the other ponies were thinking by remarking that they're not as cool as she imagined...and later being difficult by suggesting that the dress must be subjectively 20% cooler. Rainbow Dash is certainly not afraid to express herself, and although this could be regarded as a character flaw, it is thankfully far more refreshing and rewarding than needlessly callous.
After all, Rainbow Dash may be honest and mercilessly truthful, but it means that she doesn't avoid subjects and teeter around issues. In "Griffin the Brush-off" Rainbow Dash's old friend from flight school, Gilda, shows up to hang around with her. Gilda turns out to be an aggressive bully who picks on Rainbow Dash's friends. When she finds out, she stands up to Gilda. Whereas some ponies, such as Pinkie Pie, would attempt to befriend Gilda and be reluctant to actually challenge her, the moment Gilda insults Rainbow Dash's friends and she sees what the Griffin is capable of, she orders her to leave. This shows a sense of loyalty to Rainbow Dash, and proves that messing with somepony as strong as her is a poor idea indeed. On the relationship between Rainbow Dash and Gilda, I will add as a point of observation that many fans seem to place these two characters in a relationship with one another, drawing homosexual connotations between the two of them. I will add my own opinion here for the sake of argument, as ignoring the assumptions about Rainbow Dash's sexuality in a review of her character, when such an issue is enormously popular in the fandom, would be wrong. Simply put, I think that although the two of them are close and both quite tomboyish, to insinuate that they are lesbians from the show itself is quite a contentious thing to do. Although fans have the right to create whatever fantasy they like from the show and infer whatever they want, I personally see no sexuality within the show at all, apart from the mild interaction between Spike and Rarity, and the approach of Prince Blueblood in the final episode, which clearly suggests that Rarity is heterosexual. As for Rainbow Dash, I personally believe that her and Gilda are just friends...on account that "Friendship is Magic" is, primarily, a kids show, and sexuality and relationships is not the focus at all. To argue that she is a lesbian is therefore possible, but difficult to provide a credible argument behind. Be my guest if you wish to try and convince me otherwise.
Quite why some people give Rainbow Dash a hard time is beyond me. She's a different sort of Pony, embracing her sportsmanship and tomboyish behaviour without allowing it to consume her. She is still distinctly feminine at times; she's happy dressing up when she needs to look nice, even if she is impatient and struggles to avoid flying for prolonged lengths of time, and she has an adorable side, especially whilst snuggling a parasprite in "Swarm of the Century". Even her girlish dream of flying with the Wonderbolts is a sweet side to her character, as it shows that she has a clearly defined dream that she is willing to work towards. Whilst some characters, such as Fluttershy, don't really have a particular dream as much as they wish to help animals and embrace kindness, Rainbow Dash is driven to succeed, even if it means working herself to the core. Whilst some accuse Rainbow Dash of being far too obsessed with the Wonderbolts, it would be unfair to say that this is her primary motivation. Sure, she frequently mentions the Wonderbolts as early as the Pilot, but this merely establishes a basis for why she is so conscientious when it comes to winning. She herself announces, "I hate losing", which gives a detailed insight into her character that would otherwise be lost. It's not the fact that she wishes to fly with the Wonderbolts that makes her a courageous and motivated character, but the fact that she just has a natural compassion for speed and victory, even from a young age, as the Pegasus Race in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" reveals.
Thus, the Wonderbolt fascination should be seen as something that she works towards with her natural talents, just as a young writer aspires to be an author like their great literary heroes. There is a lot of innocence in her wish to be accepted by the Wonderbolts; her little fan-girl squeal in "The Best Night Ever" when she realises that she's actually allowed to hang out with the Wonderbolts compounds the fact that she's a young mare who wishes to live the dream, but perhaps isn't entirely sure what to do when she gets there. Her competitive nature is merely because she has a target to achieve, something that I'm sure that we can all relate to. When she isn't able to meet this target, however, her world begins to collapse around her. Naturally, because she makes competition such a core part of her personality, when the stress of actually making her dreams come true becomes too much for her she enters an insecure state of mind. This can be seen in "Sonic Rainboom", where the often outwardly brave and outgoing Rainbow Dash becomes a nervous, cowering wreck. Out of desperation she switches numbers with the other ponies in the competition, just so that she can avoid going next, and when it comes to actually performing her nerves get the better of her. When she truly needs to succeed, however, in order to save both Rarity and the Wonderbolts themselves, she is capable of performing the ever-prominent Sonic Rainboom, which we are led to believe that nopony apart from Rainbow Dash can create.
This Sonic Rainboom is symbolic for a number of reasons. Although on the surface it is simply a talent that Rainbow Dash and nobody else possesses, and shows that she really is brilliant pony, there are greater significances to this action. As we see in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", Rainbow Dash and her very first Sonic Rainboom as a filly helped the other ponies in the mane cast get their Cutie Marks. Simply put, because of Rainbow Dash every other pony was able to discover their special talents, elevating Rainbow Dash to a point of absolute dominance. Although she isn't necessarily the leader of the group, she certainly has the bragging rights behind being the most awesome and, potentially, the most talented. Whilst Rarity is very good at making dresses and Applejack is a great apple-bucker, none of them have talents that cannot be emulated. The implication of Rainbow's Sonic Rainboom is that she is put into a position that nopony else can match. This is why Scootaloo admires Rainbow Dash to the point of adoration, and why Apple Bloom goes to Rainbow Dash for help on how to get a Cutie Mark. Of course, Rainbow's courage and charisma does not always result in her giving the best advice. Rather than helping Apple Bloom discover her one special talent, Rainbow Dash suggests that the best way to discover a special talent is to try as many things as possible as quickly as possible, which is hardly the best advice for a little Crusader.
Still, there are times when Rainbow Dash's hot-headed attitude and impulsiveness is required and serves the story well, such as in "Over a Barrel" where she takes the racial conflict between the settler ponies and the native buffalo into her own hooves, at first attempting to reap revenge on Little Strongheart, and then eventually siding with their stance on the conflict. Chief Thunderhooves' iconic line, "What would you have me do, Rainbow Dash?" is amusing in this respect, as he places the future of his entire culture in Rainbow Dash's grasp. Whilst Rainbow can be serious, she can also have moments of elation and joviality, such as when she teases the guards in "A Bird in the Hoof" by flying in front of them shaking her tongue in an attempt to get them to break their stoic stance. However, as mentioned on other occasions, she has a very short attention span, and quickly grows bored of such behaviour. On other occasions she shows a fierce commitment to helping her friends, whether it be defending Fluttershy as a filly in Cloudsdale, or helping Pinkie Pie in "Party of One" by dragging her to Applejack's barn. Whilst some ponies would give up helping Pinkie Pie, who was hardly in the most secure state to leave her own little world, Rainbow Dash proved to be the perfect pony to drag her out of her depression.
Through her enthusiasm, it is hard to accept that at times Rainbow Dash allows herself to show weakness, such as when she is bullied by the stallions in Cloudsdale and fails to fight back in "Sonic Rainboom". Seeing as she doesn't fear kicking a fully-grown dragon in the head in "Dragonshy", it seems initially odd that regular ponies would be able to belittle her, until we observe the deeper meanings behind this. The bullies once picked on Fluttershy for being unable to fly; in "Sonic Rainboom" because it is Rainbow Dash who fears failing to fly and impress the Wonderbolts, the same attacks that were made against Fluttershy are made against her instead. In a genius turn of events, in "Sonic Rainboom" Fluttershy rushes to Rainbow Dash's aid, revelling in "[Being] so assertive", contrasting with the way in which Rainbow protected her as a filly. Clearly, although Rainbow can often take care of herself and hold her own, she does need friends to look out for her, just as she looks out for them on numerous occasions.
Rainbow Dash is, quite simply, an awesome pony. With the natural cool factor her saluting pose is often used in motivational posters for revolution and mock-republicanism and her incredible speed and courage, she's the sort of pony that every other pony can aspire to be more like if they are feeling bullied or alone. It is no coincidence that in "At the Gala" she receives her own unique solo-spot at the centre of the song; her cool factor keeps her in a position of natural grandeur. She may be an impulsive, draconian pony, but she is incredibly popular due to her multi-faceted abilities. Whether she's flying faster than the eye can see, controlling the weather in Ponyville or simply telling a bully to accept her friends or leave her sight, she's definitely not the sort of pony that one would ever wish to mess with. And yet, for all of her graces, she remains a gentle and kind-hearted pony with a more touching, emotional side: a side that celebrates honour and loyalty to her friends, and at times exposes weakness when the prospect of losing becomes too much for her. In season 2, although there is a good chance that we will see more of Rainbow Dash's insecurities, she will remain the coolest and most confident pony; a credit to her friends, and a damn-fine fan-favourite.