At times it seems as if the character of Rarity in "Friendship is Magic" is unfairly treated. Some accuse her of being self-obsessed and shallow, whilst others contend that she is their least favourite pony. And sure, Rarity may not be the most adorable of ponies, but this does not mean that she doesn't have an appeal entirely of her own. Fans are rightly divided when it comes to Rarity, but few could deny the maturity and elegance that she conveys at every opportunity.
Her obsession with fashion and looking appealing can be both blatant and subtle. At times, such as in "A Bird in the Hoof" Rarity is seen leaving the party whilst demanding that other ponies remain away from her, as to prevent her dress from getting touched by their dirty hooves. Similarly, in "Dragonshy" Rarity packs an extra scarf, presumably because, regardless of the situation, she wishes to look good. These are just two examples of Rarity at her most extreme, but they are by no means the only situations where Rarity's personal cleanliness leads her into somewhat far-fetched situations; in "Look Before You Sleep" she refuses to duck from lightning under a table because the mud beneath it will get her dirty, suggesting that she would rather risk her own health than appear unclean. This sort of behaviour has unfairly led some viewers to judge her, and quite a few fans after one viewing of the show seem to judge Rarity in a somewhat negative light because of these sort of actions.
But is Rarity's behaviour really that irrational? After all, in "Look Before You Sleep" she has the moral high-ground over Applejack, insofar as her behaviour is certainly more polite. If she has worked hard making a dress, why should she not wish to flaunt it? What can be perceived as boastful behaviour could be regarded as anything but Rarity may be prideful, but this hardly makes her a poor character, or even a selfish one. One need look no further than "Suited For Success" to see Rarity in her element, offering to make dresses for her friends. We, as an audience, get the feeling that making these dresses is as much a treat for Rarity as it is for her friends, given that she loves to make beautiful things. When the others rudely reject her first offering, however, and begin to selfishly make her alter the dresses to their own ideas, Rarity generously accepts this and does her best to please her friends. This particular episode is perhaps the first episode wherein Rarity's true colours are revealed.
Near the beginning of the season, Rarity is not the most glorified of characters. During the Pilot we learn that she cares a great deal about looking good, offering to give Twilight Sparkle a makeover, but much of her deeper personality remains a secret. Her natural compassion is apparent in that she offers the dejected sea-serpent Steven Magnet her tail in order to cheer him up after losing his moustache, but her action quickly returns to her appearance by her suggestion that 'short tails are in' at that time of the year. Her under-representation during the early parts of the season are unlikely a deliberate action of the studio, but they are noticeable. She makes a minor appearance in episodes such as "Boast Busters", challenging Trixie with her beautiful creative skills, but it isn't until the eighth episode that she gets the main focus of attention alongside Applejack. It isn't until over halfway through the season where Rarity really gets her chance to shine, and by then viewers have already established their favourites in characters such as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.
If this sounds as if Rarity is getting the short end of the straw, then fear not, for although it takes a while for her character to be explored, when it is she proves to be incredibly interesting. Potentially shallow elements of her behaviour, such as wishing to attend the Grand Galloping Gala in order to meet a handsome Prince, are exchanged in favour of wishing to appease her friends. "Art of the Dress" is a brilliant song sung with style and a great, almost Cabaret vocal, exploring Rarity's mature behaviour, and acts as a homage to fashion designers everywhere, who can certainly relate to Rarity's plight during the difficult task of satisfying her friends, all of which want very different things from their dresses. The fashion show that Rarity puts on at the end of this episode makes one feel immense sympathy for the talented unicorn, because her potential is not instantly recognised by Hoity Toity, who fairly criticises her dresses. That Rarity puts her friends before her career during this particular point in the plot satisfies the notion that she isn't at all selfish, and is in fact more than willing to act as the best friend possible to the entire group. Luckily for Rarity, by the end of the episode Hoity Toity is convinced to see her real dresses, and is understandably amazed by what he sees.
All of the ponies within "Friendship is Magic" are talented, but it is Rarity who allows her talents to flourish in the public limelight. Whereas Twilight Sparkle is nervous about using her own talent of magic in Ponyville as evidenced in "Boast Busters" and "Winter Wrap-up" - Rarity is more than happy to flaunt what she's good at. By throwing fashion shows and attempting to pursue her career, she is the most driven character within the show. That she has permanent employment also portrays her as one of the oldest characters of the mane six; that she speaks in such a refined dialect and has an interest in more adult themes, such as getting married and earning money, leaves no doubt in my mind that she is the oldest pony of the group. It is Applejack alone who works as hard as Rarity, and to put the two up against one another in "Look Before You Sleep" is an act of genius; after all, seeing these two otherwise mature ponies in an immature situation, acting far younger than they like to portray themselves to others, is a recipe for success.
And, as the season continues into its latter half, both the best and worst qualities of Rarity become apparent. "Sonic Rainboom" does not do Rarity many favours, unfortunately, as her selfish behaviour almost causes Rainbow Dash to fail in the Young Flyers Competition. Rarity gains beautiful wings due to a spell by Twilight Sparkle, and, although she is warned that they are very delicate and should not be flaunted, Rarity ignores Twilight's advice and shows off to everypony, whether they be male or female, in Cloudsdale. In a parody of the story of Icarus, Rarity swoops too close to the sun and almost plummets to her death. Luckily for her, she learns her lesson after Rainbow Dash saves her, and this is perhaps the drastic alteration that needed to be made to Rarity's character. Because, although she never loses her grasp of all things gorgeous and appealing, after "Sonic Rainboom" she seems to become a lot more down-to-earth.
Consider "A Dog and Pony Show". Whilst searching for gems for pop sensation Sapphire Shores, Rarity is kidnapped by the Diamond Dogs due to her ability to locate gems easily. It is interesting that the daydreams that the other characters have about Rarity being imprisoned involve her being meek and needy, even though Rarity is clearly in a position of dominance once down in the caves. By using a mixture of her natural cunning and refined title of 'Lady', as well as through driving the Dogs insane with her whining or complaining, at that she ends up briefly running the entire gem-harvesting enterprise that the Dogs have, having them bring her drinks and fan her down when she's hot. It is certainly amusing seeing Rarity in this position, and compounds the notion of high-class that she embraces in that she has what can essentially be called slaves acting on her every whim. Although her command is short-lived and she ends up bursting into tears after being struck by a Diamond Dog and insulted this is likely a deliberate action by Rarity to frustrate them further she clearly strikes a chord with an audience here, and many fans of the show who were not the biggest supporters of Rarity will learn to like her. Her ability to maintain her dignity in the face of danger and then comically convince the Diamond Dogs to pay the mane cast just to get rid of her is no easy feat and does a lot to make Rarity a more convincing character with a lot to love about her.
It's not just the audience that will love Rarity if they give her a chance, either. Rarity is the only character within the show that has some affiliation with love and relationships. From the moment that he sees her, Spike develops a crush on Rarity, which is explored in further depth throughout the entire season. Although relationships are clearly not the main focus of the show, and Spike's affections are not returned by the looks of things, Rarity isn't entirely aware of how Spike feels it is certainly interesting that she is presented in this light. Arguably, this unrequited romance is necessary, as it reminds the audience that these ponies are realistic characters capable of feeling an array of emotions across a broad spectrum. Just because "Friendship is Magic" is friendly for children, it doesn't need to shy away from more mature topics such as crushes and love, which results in her appealing to older viewers whilst refusing to patronise younger viewers.
Moreover, as mentioned previously, Rarity wishes to meet her Prince Charming Prince Blueblood in this case and have the Fairytale lifestyle of her dreams. Although this can be seen as being an unrealistic proposition, it shouldn't detract from the sincerity of Rarity's wishes. She doesn't wish to attend the Gala in order to benefit her business, or to meet the Wonderbolts; she merely wishes to meet somepony who can sweep her off of her hooves. This reveals a vulnerable side to Rarity, and one that should not be mocked. Love is an incredibly important aspect of existence, arguably more important than anything else, and Rarity's head is firmly on her shoulders when it comes to attempting to find love. That she finds out that love isn't what she built it up to be in her head, and that her Prince Charming is anything but chivalrous, is so true to life the genius is in the fact that, whilst many cartoons may have those unrealistic, flawless, love-at-first-sight relationships with the 'Happily-ever-after' conclusions, Rarity's own relationship and extended interaction with a male is anything but. Because of this, we not only feel empathy for Rarity's situation, but understand her disappointment. And, when she shakes dirt all over Prince Blueblood, it's enough to cause an audience to raise their fists in triumph; it's a true moment of girl-power when Rarity, a usually pristine, clean pony, comes face-to-face with her worst enemy dirt (or cake in this case) and then sprays it all over a regal, pompous individual, the likes of which she would once have aspired to be like.
The Grand Galloping Gala, then, serves as an incredibly potent scenario in altering Rarity's perception of love and life. It may take until the end of the season in "The Best Night Ever" to reach this point, but like many characters during the season, it is this particular episode that shows the greatest change in Rarity. Not to mention that Rarity is responsible for one of the funniest lines within the season: when Pinkie Pie mentions that Rarity's glass slipper has fallen off and that now her Prince Charming will be able to find her, Rarity quickly lets out an exclamation of horror after her unfortunate night with Prince Blueblood and proceeds to smash the slipper with her hoof. Rarity is no stranger to humour and somewhat out-of-character acts of behaviour. On several occasions, when in confrontations, she exclaims "It. Is. ON!", with a close-up of her face, ensuring that some ass-kicking is about to go down. Furthermore, she has melodramatic moments where she wallows in...whatever it is ponies wallow in, and wraps herself up in a black cloak in order to go into isolation. Her voice cracks when she's of a particularly emotional disposition, such as remarking to Sapphire Shores "You...know my name!" and she's more than capable of referring to dangerous looking beasts as 'ruffians', before delivering a powerful kick. There is nothing weak about Rarity, even if she may appear on the surface to be overtly Lady-like.
Even as a filly she was distinctly prudent, sounding in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" exactly as self-assured as she does in the present day. When she is explaining to the audience about her destiny in finding her special talent it is funny to watch her being dragged by the horn up and down hills, across deserts and so on, and, when finding that she's been led to a mere rock in the middle of nowhere, her explosive response of ,"DUMB ROCK" is well-timed. For a character who embraces femininity and fashion, Rarity is certainly not afraid to speak her mind or embrace challenges. She walks right up to a Dragon without a trace of fear in "Dragonshy" and almost succeeds in stealing from the beast, and it is only when she risks offending her friends, such as in "Green Isn't Your Colour" that she keeps tight-lipped with the truth. This episode reveals that Rarity's best friend is Fluttershy, perhaps an odd choice in that Rarity loves the public spotlight, whilst Fluttershy hates it. When Fluttershy captures the attention of the eclectic Photo Finish, Rarity grows jealous and struggles to tell her friend the truth. It is Rarity's inability to vindicate her friends that makes her similar to Fluttershy, and ensures that she is, ultimately, a likeable character.
And so, although Rarity may appear to some viewers as not the deepest of characters I myself was not the greatest fan of her until watching the season a second time through it cannot be denied that she has a completely original appeal. She's not a perfect example of behaviour: she can be selfish, she can be fussy and she can be melodramatic. But, similarly, she can also be incredibly thoughtful and generous, and tackles issues that other ponies simply would not. Both career-driven and searching for that special someone, Rarity is a mature pony who demands respect. Her Lady-like beauty and her natural grace are second-to-none, and throughout the season she proves time and time again that she is no push-over. She is caring towards her little sister, Sweetie Belle, and does her best to encourage her, proving that she also considers family to be important. And although she may be strict with her younger sibling, everything she says to the young Cutie Mark Crusader is ultimately for the best. Rarity is a beautiful, articulate and talented pony who will one day, without a doubt, shine all over Equestria.