<![CDATA[Scyphi Productions - Blog]]>Sun, 06 Dec 2015 13:21:21 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "The Cutie Re-Mark:" A Review]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 04:45:02 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-the-cutie-re-mark-a-reviewIf you were to ask me what my all-time favorite MLP episode is, the answer has always been season two's "It's About Time."

The reasons are many. To sum up most of them, it's a fun episode with a well-written plot that is logical and balanced, comical, and tells your staple MLP story about character growth, etc. But I confess that the prevailing reason why the episode has so long remained the unchallenged most favorite is the more bias one.

I'm a sucker for time travel stories.

Why do you think I'm a Whovian, among other things?

It helped that the very idea of MLP telling a time travel story struck me as such an unlikely one that, when it did happen, and was so wonderfully rendered too, I was rather blown away that it had taken place. It had struck me as the one episode where MLP opened a can of worms it normally didn't, and the implications and full ramifications of that were...intriguing. As such, the episode has always had a special interest with me, and still does.

But the one thing I thought the show needed to do, it was come back to it; "It's About Time" opened that can of worms that is time travel, yes, but it was clear it would take a whole new episode to explore where that can of worms could go next.

So in a way it kind of figures that the episode that can actually rival "It's About Time" as the top favorite is the one that does precisely that.

But c'mon. Anybody who's read some of my fanfiction should've caught onto what really catches my fancy even more than the sheer element of time travel.

It's the what-ifs.

I love a story that posits the question of "what if this had happened instead?" and then explored how very different things could be because of it. "Alternate histories" is one term for it. However this goes further than a retelling of actual history, because this certainly applies to the histories of fictional stories as well, and it's canonical storyarcs. It's fun seeing how different your favorite story could've been had that one key event gone totally differently.

And MLP is no exception. I'm sure you've all seen the comic or fanfic that explores the idea of what might happen if one episode of the show had ended differently before, and this is basically what this episode is, really. I almost wonder if the show's crew means this as something of a salute to us bronies who have already gone and explored those "what-ifs."

Whatever the case, this episode's very existence says loads about how far MLP has come, as it reveals that the show has been around long enough and developed enough of it's universe's history that it can actually afford to go around and positing these "what-ifs"; that it has enough of a timeline established that should some variable in it suddenly change, there's enough of the "hereafter" to show in full the consequences of that change.

And, oh, the implications of those consequences. Things do not end well for Equestria when you go meddling with those key events, as Twilight and Starlight Glimmer quickly find out. As such, this is easily one of the darkest episodes in the whole show's run up to now, as it's the first time the show has really touched on the less utopic elements of reality; on what would happen if some of the members of our gallery of villains actually had won.

I mean, it shows a flat-out war taking place...twice.

And it heavily implies a war having taken or taking place...twice more (trice possibly, pending on how much force Discord had to show to win in his timeline).

And I don't know what happened to cause the wasteland version of Equestria, but it certainly wasn't anything good.

Maybe that's the one where Trixie won...maybe let her ego do something that resulted in a nuclear wasteland sort-of outcome?

Although if I'm honest, that wasteland really reminded me more of Ceti Alpha V as it appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of K--

Oh. Snap. Shouldn't have had that thought, I do not need more ideas on how to cross Star Trek over with MLP.



...



Picture

  "Twilight...are you sure these are the right coordinates?"

Picture

 "Starlight...this is the garden spot of Ceti Alpha VI."

Picture

 "I can barely see it."




...okay, okay, couldn't resist.

Anyway, it was pretty cool (well, relatively) to see what becomes of Equestria should all of these villains had won their battles, and how it would effect everypony else, in no special order too, I note. It was also great fun to see all the little things associated with these villains appear again too, all the little details the crew surely had to flip back to past episodes to get straight (such wonderful attention to detail, in fact) especially the musical motifs and themes associated with them, and I suspect the show's crew had plenty of fun making it all happen to. So much so, I was a little surprised Discord didn't get more screen time for that very reason. But then again, I suppose we've already seen much of whatever Discord would do if he emerged as the victorious villain several times before.

Besides, if it meant Queen Chrysalis actually got some screen time again, I'm all for it! Oh it was great to see her back in action again, and awesome idea to make her reveal being disguised as one of the mane six, to boot! She's a proper villain after all.

Of course, Sombra proves himself a capable villain too in this episode as well, and Nightmare Moon proves she's got a dastardly wicked streak that was pretty cool to see too.

And again, there's the attention to detail. For instance, I noticed that in a number of these "bad" futures, the Ponyville area seems overrun with forest life...suspiciously similar to that found in the Everfree Forest. Perhaps implying the expansion of the Everfree Forest from the season 4 premiere was allowed to run rampant, or was at least irreversible, in some of these bad futures?

I also noticed that when Nightmare Moon spoke of banishing Celestia to the moon (not the sun...huh), she explicitly states that Celestia had been there for "years" now.

Years. PLURAL.

Thus proving that years have passed since the series premiere with "Friendship is Magic" on to this episode, years implying more than two or three. So maybe a broadcast season of MLP does equate to roughly a year of Equestrian time after all?

Yikes...that would mean the CMC were without their cutie marks for upwards to five years...

But of course there's more to the episode than the time travel and the alternate timelines that compel me so, because there's also Starlight Glimmer's little revenge seeking that starts it all, and Starlight really proves herself as a villain here too, much more than most others, in fact. MLP is no stranger to the revenge stories, but Starlight's seriously takes the cake, not just because her's is the most inventive, but her's is the most emotive. Starlight is extremely passionate about how much she wants her revenge and how far she'll go to get it, and boy howdy does she ever sell it. More than once in the episode her taunting was infuriating me so much I wanted to reach in and strangle her...which is good because that's exactly what you want your audience to feel when watching these villains act. And it helped you could see the same in the expressions of other characters, Twilight especially, who I think showed a lot of self-control in not recklessly lashing back at Starlight more of the time. Proves Twilight has the self-control that somepony pushing her buttons isn't going to be enough to cause her to lose control...but then she's had plenty of practice with Discord, who seems to love to push specifically Twilight's buttons as often as he can, especially as recent episodes proved.

But it was in this episode where I really got sold on the idea of Starlight being a villain, because rile her up enough and she delivers. She is easily the best villain MLP has introduced to date, one I would love to see recurring encounters as such a villain again in the future.

...and then they reform her.

...goshdarnit!

I mean seriously, I'm not against the reformation, but at least let the villains get a few episodes (more than two at least) to really get to go about and shine as the villains they are! Starlight would've been an excellent villain to do this with, as she's sort of Twilight's "evil twin" in many ways, everything I think Sunshine Shimmer was supposed to be (but didn't succeed to achieve), and she seemed like the excellent sort of villain who can pop up, cause a ruckus, and then craftily slip away again so to come back again at a later date and do it all over again.

But then again, the plot was set up in such a way that the only way out really was to reform Starlight. I mean, Twilight said it herself, Starlight had her either equally or completely outmatched in every other way, so Twilight really couldn't win the fight by sheer brute force or even wit or strategy (yet more proof of how much Starlight could've rocked as a long-term villain, but I digress). The only way out was to convince Starlight to end it, and to do that you had to reform her, or she would've had no real motive to end it herself, at least none that would really be that convincing.

So as much as I'd like to, I really can't argue that the reformation was still the right thing to do. I mean really, I can't see any other way out of that mess than to reform Starlight, though I'd be happy to consider any alternatives others might come up with.

And the song...I confess it didn't leave any lasting impression on me, but regardless, it appeared at exactly the right spot in the episode. Didn't feel forced or trampling on the storyline, hindering the overall tale the episode is telling. It is exactly how I want MLP to use the songs. To put them when they feel natural, where they don't hinder the story, and aren't overbearing or too numerous. I want every episode of MLP to use it's songs in exactly similar manner, not necessarily at the end, mind you, but where the episode is best suited for it, and still be able to carry on the plot the episode is trying to tell at the same time. If MLP did this more often, I would have far less to complain about the songs.

But yeah, this was a wickedly great episode, and one that has an almost...ending...feel to it. I mean, as I was watching that ending, I literally had to stop and remind myself that MLP was not ending with this episode, and that a season six has already been confirmed to be oncoming. Which is good, because I certainly do not want MLP to end just yet, nor do I feel it has to just yet either. I think it's got a couple more seasons in it still...perhaps more. Only time will tell, but always, I remain optimistic about the future of seasons upcoming we now have to look forward to.

But that said...if MLP did have to end here...I confess that this would've been a great way to have ended it all with.

And I think that sense of satisfaction alone says oodles about this episode.

Few final things for your consideration...does this mean Starlight is effectively Twilight's student now, like how Twilight had been for Celestia back in the day? If so...does that mean Starlight's possibly alicorn material too? I'm not sure how I feel about that...

Also. Zecora. Knows time magic. And is startlingly fluent in it, and it's complications. She speaks of it with a air of...experience.

...is there something you aren't telling us, Zecora?...
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows:" A Review]]>Sat, 17 Oct 2015 22:04:26 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-the-one-where-pinkie-pie-knows-a-reviewWell...this certainly has been the season for fanserve, hasn't it?

Actually, I can relate to this episode, because last I heard, my little brother (who's also a brony) had not watched last week's episode when he normally would have by then, so I've had to stay tight-lipped about what had transpired in that episode. Which also meant no bragging about how I had so totally called it (but that's okay...he actually listened to me when I did said calling, so he's probably going to side with me on that one). I'm still not sure if he's actually seen it yet, so I emailed him a link to last week's episode with explicit instructions he watch that BEFORE he watches this week's, as way of precaution.

Because...y'know...it's sort of important.

Of course, so's this week's episode.

Luckily for us, they make the big reveal right off the bat in this episode.

But then that's when the fun begins...

So...Cadance and Shining Armor are going to be having a baby.

I'm sure a lot of you are probably thinking "finally!" and to a certain extent so am I. But from a writing point of view, I'm actually kind of glad the show's put it off until now. I mean, sure, it's the natural direction to take those two, and move them on to building a family of their own. But it's not something they really had to introduce straightaway. Give the show some time to explore Cadance and Shining as just the happy couple for a little while, especially since we had none of that leading up to their wedding, before you distract them by making them parents.

But whatever the case, we're crossing that bridge now, so this should be interesting. Especially as it's obviously going to be a while still before we see said baby (possibly not until early next season? Season finale seems too soon), which was actually the one thing that surprised me about this episode. The fact they were having one I had already figured out; saw a brief synopsis on the episode a couple days back and while it technically didn't reveal "the big surprise," it gave me enough to piece it together (a heck of a lot faster that Twilight did, I might add)...though that said, hearing it confirmed is still very exciting.

No, I was actually fully expecting that baby to already be born and in hoof when Cadance and Shining turned up in Ponyville...much like how the Cakes own foals were handled. I didn't think it was going to more of an announcement that they were actually pregnant and it'd be a little before the foal actually appeared because...you know...too many details. For shows that are directed for the kiddies (and yes, MLP still counts...bronies aren't the only ones who watch it y'know), pregnancy is a potentially touchy subject to address, to the point they rarely even name it as such on the screen. In fact, MLP did exactly that you will note.

But yeah, announcing it now, and will show off the foal at a later date is the name of the game here, to my mild surprise. I wonder, are they going to just announce it now, and then hide at least Cadance away for awhile, and then the next time she appears, the foal's already born? Or will it be an ongoing thing, and we'll see snippets of the time of Cadance pregnant before said birth? I suspect it'll be the former, but I admit I'm kind of hoping still they'll do the latter...if only to see the show actually do it and out of curiosity to see how it's handled without touching too many taboos.

Well, we'll find out in due time, I suppose.

At any rate, the oncoming baby is not the episode's story anyway. It's the ingenious idea of forcing Pinkie Pie to have to keep it secret.

As we all know, Pinkie's all about secrets and keeping them exactly that when asked, because a promise is a promise. But she's honestly a bit of a motormouth, ironically, and so it's easy for her to tell other ponies to keep their secrets safe, but to ask her to follow her own advice is...something of a challenge for her.

Admirably, she succeeds. But watching her doing it was absolutely hilarious. Thus I heartily approve of the writing choice to just reveal the baby announcement right off the bat so to focus instead on Pinkie trying to keep it secret. It is true that by doing that, we know all throughout the episode what the secret is, and thus kind of ruins the surprise for the rest of us, but as the episode so accurately conveys, part of the joy of keeping a secret such as this one is seeing the surprise when it's finally revealed. Thus, we may already know what the reveal is, but watching everypony else figure it out was is great fun and builds a sort of suspense of its own doing so. And watching them finally figure it out and realization dawn on them...that's when you know the whole effort was totally worth it.

It's especially fun watching Twilight gradually piece it together, seeing those gears of hers turn as you wait for her to make the connection.

...it's made even more fun by watching Pinkie work to restrain herself while Twilight very slowly do this.
Picture

  "FortheloveofsanityTwilightHURRYUPANDFIGUREITOUTBEFOREIEXPLODEANDTAKETHEUNIVERSEWITHME!!!"

On that subject, normally I would say that for a pony who's supposed to be really smart, Twilight took an awful long time to figure it out...but in this instance it's done for a reason, so to make us relate with Pinkie Pie as she restrains herself from just blurting it out. And they achieved exactly that, and made it funny, so I'm ignoring that detail for it being a storytelling device, especially one well executed.

In fact, the whole episode it wonderfully rendered. Not only does it make the viewer relate with Pinkie's situation very well, it's also just a fun episode. Nothing's at stake. There's no trouble. Save for Pinkie and the plans to announce a surprise, its largely business as usual, and given the past couple of episodes haven't been quite that, it makes for a nice reprieve and a chance to take a breather before we're thrown back into the thick of things as the season builds for the season finale (and I am feeling a building sensation here...like the show's trying to get other things out of the way first before it reaches that finale...hmm...).

In short, this is one of those episodes where I'm reminded why it is I watch the show in the first place. Because it tells fun stories like this one.
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "Crusaders of the Lost Mark:" A Review]]>Sun, 11 Oct 2015 20:21:21 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-crusaders-of-the-lost-mark-a-review*ahem*

To quote from my review of "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone"...

"...Speaking of, I'm going to take a gamble and jot down one last thing before I go, so I can have it on the record that I said it: I'm calling it now; the Cutie Mark Crusaders will have their cutie marks by season's end..."

*regards the new episode for a moment*

Yep.

I so totally called it.
More After The Break

But I before I gloat further about doing that (and I've already put it off for about for a full day), let's talk a little about the episode on a whole.

As I've conveyed several times before, I've never been a big fan of the more musical side of MLP. There are, of course, exceptions to this; songs that even I particularly like. But regardless of even that, I find the songs are more detracting than helpful for the show, because they usually end up as filler for an otherwise weak plot, or even more often, take up too much time for a story that otherwise would've been very strong...had they not wasted time to focus on the song and giving the story the short end of the stick as a result.

As such, I've usually been very dissatisfied with the "musical" episodes of MLP because of the multitude of songs crammed in ultimately hurt the story more than benefit it. Thirty minutes (really more like twenty-five actually, removing commercial breaks) just isn't enough time to have all those songs and a decent story at the same time. Furthermore, because you only have thirty minutes to work with, having all those songs in there end up going very back-to-back and become very...wearying...by the end of the episode. Especially if the songs are more generic than standout, another issue MLP has with some of its musical episodes; the songs end up turning out more forced and aren't usually their best.

Let's go back to season three's "Magical Mystery Cure" for example, the first real example of a "musical" episode, and though the ending managed to pull it together decently enough, I've found it's an overall very weak episode. In my review of it, I had commented that they had more sang than said that episode, and I still stand by that. The songs are okay, but rather generic for most of them (there are a few standouts, still; "Celestia's Ballad" for example) but more importantly all those songs crowded out what was supposed to be a very key story that ended up being rather vague and rushed, and to this day a little hard to follow. And this for the episode where Twilight becomes a princess, a landmark episode in the series? It was an episode that promised much but didn't deliver and I say the crew's approach to writing that episode was all wrong from the start because of it.

Then there's season four's "Pinkie Pride," which did a little better in that it managed to squeeze out a satisfactory, if simple, story in-between the many songs...and I do believe it had more than "Magical Mystery Cure." Since the guest star was Weird Al, it made since to do a lot of songs (darn it, if you get Weird Al into the mix, of course you're going to have him sing as many songs as you can get away with) but it left little room for story, one that, looking back, could've been actually pretty good, but instead turned out more generic and forgettable. Like when I initially viewed it, I still find it a sort of episode you could skip over and practically not miss anything (except Pinkie's obtaining of her key to the box).

And I confess that I still haven't watched "Rainbow Rocks" all the way through...but a large part of that is because I just can't stand the movie long enough to do so. Of all the examples I could name where the songs hurt the story, it's probably that one, and it's probably the "climatic song-fight" that is most guilty of it. It just blows away all of MLP's credibility at that point...and considering that MLP's credibility always has been more...optional...that's saying something.

So there's a clear trend with the musical episodes and it's not really a good one. So when this episode started off with a song before the opening titles had even rolled, I was thinking with some dread "Oh great, another musical episode." My expectations were not high.

Yet, as musical episodes go, this one wasn't bad.

The songs were fair, with "Light of Your Cutie Mark" being the real standout, and were much better paced. Unlike in previous attempts, the songs didn't feel like they were quite so stacked on top of each other; there's breathing room between each one. And in-between those songs, the story gets a chance to shine.

The story of redeeming Diamond Tiara as a character, no less.

It was pointed out to me just today by another user on deviantART that I had commented earlier in the season that I didn't think Diamond Tiara would be successfully redeemed in the show "unless they pull a Pacifica Northwest with her," and was playfully jabbing at me that they had done exactly that.

Well, Pacifica Northwest still did it best (I'm still floored at how convincingly they managed that).

But Diamond Tiara's redemption is still quite satisfactory and believable too. If you must redeem her character, this is a good way to do it.

But I'm also kind of disappointed that they did redeem her too. While I'm not against the change for her character or think that she can't be redeemed (far from it!), it's also furthering the trend in MLP where the antagonist gets redeemed in the end, regardless of past choices. And while that's an excellent theme to explore, it's now gotten to the point that MLP has more redeemed former antagonists than antagonists who have not (I can only think of four off the top of my head, and one's dead, one's in prison at Tartarus, one's missing, and one hasn't appeared on the show since season 2) and it's getting hard to take the show seriously when it does that because it's just not realistic. Some antagonists really don't ever change, even when you give the chance to do so. It's not that they aren't capable of it, they just choose not to for whatever reason, and a part of me kind of wishes that was the case with Diamond Tiara because that seems in line with her character. She learns a lesson, and then promptly opts to ignore it with little change.

Furthermore, she's a bully, and writing-wise, served an important role in the lives of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Boiling it down into the simplest of terms, if you needed the CMC to have an antagonist for whatever situation they found themselves in, Diamond Tiara was your gal. Now that she's redeemed, the crew's inevitably going to have to come up with some kind of replacement, which runs the risk of ending up with a character that either doesn't work as well as Diamond Tiara had, or is basically a carbon copy of her with a few minor tweaks. So from a writing point of view, I question if that's something the show's crew really wanted to do. Call it writer's intuition. It could mean nothing. Or it could not.

But that said, I don't want to downplay the significance of Diamond's redemption either. This is a significant breakthrough for her character and from a personal point of view, one to be cherished and rewarded, most especially the very important message it conveys, so it's something I'll be rolling with regardless.

Besides, it does serve as a means for the Cutie Mark Crusaders to receive their cutie marks.

...which I so totally called, by the way!

Okay, okay, so you're probably asking (wearily by now, I imagine) how I managed to call it.

Well, I myself am only just realizing it, but it turns out I was already on the right track as far back as season one.

See, way back then, I of course had no idea when it would happen, or even if it would happen at all, but I knew why; namely, why the Cutie Mark Crusaders didn't have the cutie marks yet. It was actually their own doing; they were going about it entirely the wrong way. Even as far back as season one, they were quick to note their talents with each other, but utterly failed to recognize or acknowledge the significance of it. In short, they already knew their special talents, but simply wouldn't realize it. They were actually more interested in exploring everything else they wanted their cutie marks to be, rather than what they would be. So back in season one, I figured that until that changed, they would remain blank flanks.

And, it turns out, I was right, because it was the CMC resolving that among themselves that caused them to get the cutie marks.

So that got me on the right track...but when did I start to suspect their receiving of cutie marks would be imminent?

Fast forward to about season four. During this time, I had thought much like other bronies, and wondered if there was no plans CMC to ever receive their cutie marks during the course of the show...but unlike others, I was okay with that. I took it to be as just one of the constants of the show's universe, something that never changed and was never meant to. Sort of like how Arthur on PBS has been on the air for about 15-20 years now (I've lost track) and yet the titular character is still eight years old and in third grade. The show's just, to borrow a phrase, timelocked. The CMC wouldn't get their cutie marks because them doing so would mean a shift in themes, or so the theory went, and some stories don't actually need that.

Or so I figured until season four's "Flight to the Finish" in which there's a scene right towards the end where, after receiving some praise from Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo looks back at her flank to look for a cutie mark. And in that moment, I suddenly and fully expected one to appear. Obviously, none did, but it was in that moment that I suddenly had to question if the show's crew was serious about the CMC one day successfully receiving their cutie marks.

But were they really? And if so, when?

"Twilight Time" a few episodes later was what settled that question, because it was in that episode Sweetie Belle started seriously using magic for the first time and the other two crusaders also grew and developed in compelling ways. What this proved is that the characters were growing within the confine so of the show, and the crew not only saw that, they were addressing it. I was now more convinced than ever that their cutie marks would be just right around the corner (I even commented as such in my review of said episode).

But I knew it wouldn't happen in season four; we had too much other stuff happening to look ahead to, including a certain puzzle box we still needed to figure out before season's end, and season four was really more Twilight's season anyway, and the timing didn't feel right. Putting off those cutie marks until at least next season seemed like the right thing to do, writing-wise.

I had figured I had received confirmation when season five began, and, right off the bat, put strong emphasis on cutie marks and their nature right with that premiere. Then, only two episodes later, brought the CMC into the matter by positing the question before these fillies on the potential downfalls of getting their cutie marks. This served to address their fears about cutie marks, and whether or not they would get a "bad" cutie mark, whether or not one of them would get their cutie mark before the others, etc, all important subjects that needed addressing, and were done all in one, actually kind of crafty, fell swoop.

...as if they were planning ahead for something...

Furthermore is the very telling reveal in that same episode when Apple Bloom dream-received that potions cutie mark was the reaction that this was the sort of cutie mark she expected to receive. Plus, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were later revealed to having talents they figured likely for themselves too. This showed that the the CMC already knew their talents, AND acknowledged them...they were just afraid it might still end up being something else altogether. A matter which that episode consequently resolved as well, leaving even that matter clear.

So by that point I was convinced the CMC would be getting their cutie marks very, very, soon.

But try telling that to the rest of you bronies!

Immediately following the episode in question, "Bloom & Gloom," discussion broke loose, naturally, about the CMC and their cutie marks, and I was downright shocked to see that most bronies were still convinced that the show had no intention of giving the CMC their cutie marks anytime soon, if ever, and were, if anything, stringing us along with false promises. When I tried to jump in and point out what I thought to be the very obvious pattern that said otherwise, a few even came forward and shut me down on that matter.

So, when it came time to write that faithful review for "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone," I decided to do something I normally wouldn't, and said "you know what? Forget this! I'm calling it now" (because I was convinced by this point in time those cutie marks would appear this season) "so when it does happen, I can point those naysayers back at this and gloat."

So.

This is me. Gloating.

Gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat...okay, okay, I'll stop that and try to be more modest about it from here on out.

But yes. I nailed that one on the head.

What I didn't expect was that it would happen mid-season like this. I was actually expecting to be a season finale sort of thing, because we all know Starlight Glimmer's going to be back to try again at her anti-cutie mark nonsense, and that sort of theme seemed like the perfect chance to also get the CMC their cutie marks. But...looking back...that's pretty much the only thing I missed. Heck, I even correctly figured that the CMC getting their cutie marks wouldn't be the end of the Cutie Mark Crusaders; they'd just turn around and start helping other ponies with their cutie marks.

Of course, the most shocking thing about this episode wasn't those cutie marks or Diamond Tiara's redemption...it was Applejack verbally acknowledging her and Apple Bloom's absent parents, pretty much all but confirming that they ARE, in fact, deceased. Why Hasbro won't just come out and say it straight up and instead must continue to beat about with this heavily implied thing though is beyond me. And I know it's all Hasbro too, because I know several of the show staff have said that they figure this to be the case with the late Apple parents, but the authorities at Hasbro have stopped them from making it show-canon.

But that's a gripe for another day.

Anyway, did like this episode. Very satisfactory. Especially as I totally called it. But also because it's just a good episode overall, too.
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "Amending Fences:" A Review]]>Sat, 04 Jul 2015 21:36:05 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-amending-fences-a-reviewMLP's come a long way since that faithful premiere back in October of 2010.

All the monsters fought, the letters to the princess that have been sent, weddings attended, mysteries solved,  changeling invasions stopped, star characters becoming alicorns... and so on. And I think we've all learned something about friendship along the way.

Yes, it's been a wild ride getting to this point, and looks to continue on for a while longer still.

But with the series having just recently hit a landmark of one hundred episodes, it does seem like the perfect time to come full circle, and reflect back on that faithful day that started it all...

...and the ponies who had inadvertently been left behind because of it.
More After The Break

We've long known that prior to coming to Ponyville, Twilight was quite an introvert and wasn't one for socializing. As such, most fans have long presumed that, though there were ponies who had attempted to befriend her, none succeeded, and Twilight didn't really have friends prior to coming to Ponyville. The fact that Twilight herself seemed to believe this supported this belief.

But this episode turns this on its head when it is revealed that, though Twilight didn't seem to see the significance of it at the time, she actually did have friends back in Canterlot, and now, after five seasons, a casual comment from Spike makes her realize she had more or less abandoned them when she left for Ponyville, and decides she was past due to make amends, and goes back to the beginning to do so.

It's actually a lovely and delightfully nostalgic premise, so much so I'm actually a little surprised this one wasn't the 100th episode, as it actually seems to fit the commemorating theme a bit better with it's retrospective attitude. It was wonderful for the show to go back and revisit these settings that it had all began with, in addition to giving new insight at what Twilight's life was like before coming to Ponyville.

But that said, I was actually kind of touched by this episode overall, not just for reflecting back on things like that, but also pointing out that Twilight had left unfinished business in Canterlot that needed addressing still, and that even Twilight wasn't so much of an introvert back then that she couldn't still make friends...even though she seems to sort of done so without meaning to do so, but in a way I like that even better, because that's really how a lot of friendships start. You don't ever really go into a first meeting with the deliberate intent of making them your friend by the time you walk away (unless your Pinkie Pie).

I also liked the fact that shows that, princess of friendship she may now be, but even Twilight Sparkle still has more to learn about friendship. The fact that (most of) her old Canterlot friends had both kept track of Twilight's progress and supported her from afar and has intermingled and befriended her Ponyville friends all without Twilight realizing it demonstrates that Twilight may have come far, but she's not perfect, and still has further to go still. Which for the show testifies that it believes it still has plenty more friendship lessons to teach and doesn't intend to stop soon, a comforting thought.

Most touching of all, though, was the idea that Twilight's sudden departure from Canterlot, without even looking back it seems, actually had significant repercussions on these friends. Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and Twinkleshine all shrugged off Twilight's sudden departure as understandable and hadn't taken it personally, but it did result in a significant disconnect so that, even though they had continued to support Twilight in various ways from afar, they had been brushed aside and that support had been given but not returned by Twilight, something Twilight feels justifiably guilty about.

Then, of course, there's Moondancer, who we know had been verbally mentioned before, but had never actually appeared on screen until now, and see that, unlike the others, she had taken Twilight's departure personally, because she was much like Twilight; an introvert more interested in studies than friends. But she had connected with Twilight that could've changed, and was willing to come out of her shell with that famed party Twilight was invited to...only to be crushed when Twilight not just failed to show up, but dismissed it entirely and in the same day, left Canterlot altogether without even saying goodbye. And thus through Moondancer we get the chance to see what might have happened to Twilight had she not discovered friendship herself...and it's not pretty.

So Twilight, of course, wants to make amends. But she is then faced with a problem: how do you make amends for something like this, something Moondancer is perfectly justified in being rather, shall we say, miffed about?

Eventually, though Twilight gives it her all, even she eventually has to concede that you can't; at least not fully. You can just smooth it over. Nothing really could quite make up for that, and the fact the show, which has long built it's reputation on showing there is no problem so big it can't be fixed, readily admitted that is perhaps the best part of all, and was very grown-up of it to admit. The emotions that were demonstrated when all of this discussed was also wonderfully portrayed, and you can't help but let your heart go out to these poor ponies, both for Moondancer who feels abandoned and hurt, and for Twilight for her enormous guilt for being the pony to blame. It's almost a tearjerker for me, even.

Yet despite that and the damage that one event back in the beginning of MLP had been for more than one pony, it's still heartwarming to see that even though there wasn't really anything Twilight could do to make up for it fully, she's still able to smooth over the damage she had foolishly wrought enough that peace is still found, things are put back on track for recovery, lost friendships restored, and Twilight is able to do for Moondancer what had been done for her; that there's more to life than dusty old books, and manages to introduce her to the joys of friendship much like Twilight herself had been given.

I have to admit though, I was kind of surprised that Twilight's old Canterlot apartment (for lack of a better word) had been left untouched since her departure, as I find this a little unrealistic. At the very least, I would've thought Twilight would've at some point gone back to collect at least the books from the apartment (especially after the destruction of the library, may it rest it peace). But even more so, I would've thought somepony else would've moved in and claimed it as there own, giving yet another pony Twilight had to work through during all of this in order to gain access to this old setting, which I think would've been very interesting to have, and I think was a bit of a missed opportunity there, writing-wise...but so much for regrets, right?

I also thought Minuette, Lemon Hearts, and Twinkleshine came across as just a little too...peppy. I mean, I get the fact that they forgave and forgot and actually find it perfectly believable, I just thought they came across as...I don't know...a bit too quick to pick up from where they left off after being apart for so long. It was bad enough that early on, I was questioning whether or not their friendly behavior was actually genunine to Twilight (initially making me assume a different plot was in mind until the subject of Moondancer popped up), so maybe they should have been handled a little differently. I would've really liked it if Twilight had various things she had to make up with even them too, as it would've helped to drive the point home further still, but there probably just wasn't time for that and Moondancer's storyarc as well.

I also thought Lyra's inclusion as one of Twilight's "old" friends a little shoehorned as Twilight is around Lyra on a regular basis yet never seems to socialize with her ever, so the fact she's supposed to be a friend when the two have never reacted as such to each other seems a bit hard to swallow. But at least it does give an explanation as to why Lyra was there in Canterlot on that same faithful day back in the pilot:
...and I have to give it props for the fact that, by doing this, it does give a canonical explanation as to why these background ponies are always appearing in both Canterlot and Ponyville, as they simply have friends in both locations that they come and go to visit. Utterly simple, but effective. I like it.

...though the fan conspiracy that all of the ponies of Equestria are actually just following Twilight around Equestria certainly was a fun one...

Finally, I also found the fact that Moondancer is basically just a recolored Twilight with Harry Potter glasses (because they're all taped up, see?...never mind) a bit cheap and overall unnecessary. I suspect the reason it was done was so to give a visual clue that Moondancer was much like Twilight in many ways, but if so, I think it was unnecessary, and that her manner of behavior was more than enough to give us that same clue. Thus her being a lookalike just seems like both overkill and that they're freakishly twins who have no need to be.

But all in all, a wonderful episode, the best of the season thus far (yes, better than "Slice of Life"!), and definitely one of the best of the whole show in my book.
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone:" A Review]]>Sun, 24 May 2015 05:17:34 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-the-lost-treasure-of-griffonstone-a-reviewFive years.

It took the crew of MLP five years to expand upon griffon culture beyond Gilda.

Five years during which little ol' me was left wondering just what griffon culture was actually supposed to be like.

And as one who loves some good world building, five years is an awful long time to wait and get answers for.

Thus I, like the rest of the fanbase, was left to spent the last five years just having to guess what griffon culture is like in MLP, with nothing to go off of but Gilda, who for all we knew, was a poor representation of her species and that the average griffon was nothing like that.

And that was really the best we had on the subject of griffons for five years.

Before finally, after five years, they release this episode, answering those questions.

...

It was worth waiting five years for.
More After The Break

I had heard a smattering of faint rumors about this episode going in, but nothing really too solid and all rather vague. And as my rather strong dislike for spoilers meant I was avoiding any details that might come up about the episode, I went into this episode with little foreknowledge of how it was going to go.

The best kind.

And because I hadn't really been keeping too close an eye on the episode listings and their titles for this season either, I wasn't even aware of this episode's title until I pulled it up for viewing on the web, having forgotten that "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone" was next in the line up.

All I really knew was, again, the rumor that Gilda would be making a comeback after such a lengthy absence. Which I certainly wasn't against; as many fans had already explored in their various fan works, there was definitely potential to do more with Gilda. My big concern though, was that the show would treat Gilda much like they treated Trixie in season 3, who I feel was brought back more by popular demand than because the writers actually had something to work with and really wanted to. And while they still pulled it off in the end with Trixie, I couldn't help but walk away from her return episode feeling like something was missing, and that the whole thing was...muddled. To say nothing of the fact that the ending was kinda cheesy (though Trixie faceplanting it in the closing shot certainly helped, if for all the wrong reasons). My fear, then, was that a "Gilda returns" episode would end the same way, and result in a really unsatisfying episode.

But not so.

Though the show approaches Gilda in a similar manner as they did Trixie, they ultimately pull it off much better with Gilda, and it probably helped that they had the past friendship between her and Rainbow Dash to explore, deducing that both would still be bitter with the fallout from that. With that as a nice setting, this helps give a more emotional and personal dynamic to Gilda's return, something Trixie's return had sorely lacked.

And it pays off, because when it came down to the wire and Gilda was put in the position of choosing between her friend(s) or a short-term gain (the lost goblet), you feel the tension of that choice and are inwardly rooting for Gilda to make the one you know is right, even if you also suspect there might be a price behind it. In fact, I found that scene rather moving...even though it was totally parodying Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (I can almost hear Sean Connery's voice now). You can visually see Gilda making that choice in her head, and its that choice that makes all the difference, paving the way for a significant and needed change in her character, and as a result, makes it all the more believable.

Additionally, we also learn more about Gilda as a character, and though it's not explicitly stated on screen rather more implied, we can walk away from this episode with a far better understanding of her character. Best of all, one can make deductions on why she is the way she is. In that all-so-telling flashback where Gilda and RD are first shown meeting, it's worth noting that Gilda there was rather shy and submissive...more of a follower than a leader. This is in stark contrast to how she is now, so we're left with the question; what caused that to change?

Answer: Rainbow Dash. Because note what RD's personality was like at that age. Brash, upfront, unrepentant, and if she had a bone to pick a pony, she was very outspoken about it. When you think about it, Gilda's like that now, which tells me that her friendship with RD resulted in RD's personality rubbing off on her, helped by Gilda probably deliberately trying to emulate it herself in an attempt to insure that friendship kept going. What went wrong with all of that was that Gilda latched onto the brash, outspoken upfrontness in spades, but not the friendly loyalty that Rainbow tends to have that balances that brashness. Compound this with the griffon culture's decay into selfish bitterness that is implied to have been taking place at the same time, and you get the bully attitude we know Gilda for sporting. Thus, now I have a much better understanding of how Gilda ticks, and as a result, can actually sympathize with her. I don't think she ever actually meant to be a bully. She had just permitted herself to become one because she had mistakenly let herself believe that was what was expected of her. Thus, when it came time for "Griffon The Brush Off," she comes to Ponyville expecting this from Rainbow Dash only to find Rainbow Dash and those around her not wanting that at all. Confused and feeling betrayed, she lashes back, and the rest is history.

But now at least Rainbow and Gilda have managed to make peace, recognizing that it was time to let bygones be bygones and not dwell on what had happened in the past, for whatever reason. It's better to forgive and forget, and both make excellent steps towards repairing the damage and moving on as better griffons/ponies, Gilda especially. To be sure, they aren't in the clear yet, and the road ahead looks to be bumpy still, but that's perhaps the best part of all, because MLP has had a bad habit in the past of just overlooking all of that and going straight for the end conclusion, which is very unrealistic. So by doing it this way instead, we are shown that these reparations are no overnight thing and take time, and it gives the repentance process Gilda is sent upon a very realistic and relatable feel to it, and that's excellent. This is precisely what MLP strives to do as a show.

But the episode's not just about Gilda, Rainbow, and Pinkie Pie (who proves to be the smart one in this episode, as she's the one who sees what's really happening here and why, and pieces together what needs to be done to correct it (with friendship and baking soda!), while Rainbow recklessly pursues the symbolically most obvious plan of action, wanting to act than think as is usually her character, and Gilda goes around moping and being bitter, hiding it with her tendency to bully), but rather griffon culture on a whole. The show has spent the past five years giving us pretty much nothing on the griffons, so almost as if to make up for the lost time, it breaks that trend all at once and gives us a crash course on MLP griffons to the point that it's almost a moment of information overload. Indeed, I suspect some fans are just going to be overwhelmed by that sudden flood of data and will criticize the episode for being "talky," and this is probably not an unfair assessment.

Nonetheless, where there was once nothing, there is now plenty, and it shows that at least the past five years seem to have been spent developing these griffons, resulting in a well-formed and lush culture that is actually a joy to behold, even with them not currently being at their height. During those five years where we knew nothing on griffons, the fans have taken the time to develop their own backgrounds for the griffons, and some have put some considerable thought into them. But while I certainly don't want to downplay those efforts nor to suggest they aren't great in their own right...none of the fan headcanons on griffons can quite compare to what is now presented as official canon. Visually, the griffon land is actually fairly imaginative and my new favorite, with Griffonstone being a network of tree perches and almost birdhouse-like cottages and nests with a bit of a northeastern, Russian/Ukrainian, approach in design...especially with the hats, yet the griffons themselves don't match with the stereotypes you would expect to come with that, which I have to give the show praise for resisting that temptation (unlike the fans with some of their own portrayals of the griffons). Culturally, the griffons are shown to all be like Gilda as would be expected from a first glance at present time, but it's revealed that they weren't always like that, and that at the height of their culture, they were once an proud and honorable race that was to be respected. Furthermore, we have indications that they were once both wise, intelligent, and courteous if not friendly, much like their Equestrian neighbors, if a bit more robust and rough around the edges.

I almost want to liken them to that of the Roman Empire, which at its own height was many of the same things (well...maybe not so much on friendly, at least when it came to anyone who wasn't Roman themselves, but you get the point) before it too simply gave out and gradually crumbled until one day, somebody looked around and realized it was all gone, replaced with something that seemed to be a far cry from what they had before. Gilda at one point asks "do we look sad to you?" while her grandfather (speaking of, I loved her grandfather; he was delightfully kooky, and while he too fell into the same entrapments as the rest of the griffons, he at least understood they had lost something important, and needed to get it back) scrabbles through literal ruins, to which you want to respond, without hesitation, "yes, yes you do."

It's not so much that the griffons look physically sad; they largely seem to have accepted their lots in life and thus more or less content. But they are in a sad state, and what makes it worse is the fact that they've accepted it. It's like they had lost the ambition to do anything else, and can't even be bothered to lift a talon to keep their own capital from decaying into rubble. They even seem to have shunned development or changing for the better and have backpedaled into a much less, at the risk of sounding degrading, educated. That library of theirs, for example. It's implied to have at one point been one of the greatest in the land (perhaps part of a "trifecta" with the impressive libraries of the Crystal Empire and Canterlot both are known to have) but now lies as rubble with indication it was brought about by more than mere decay; the ruins of that library suggest it was vandalized into that state. In other words, the griffons have fallen into this pitiful state, a mere shadow of their once proud kingdom and culture, but just don't care enough to get it back, and seem to even shun it. I would even go so far as to say that they've suffered a complete societal and governmental collapse and it's become every griffon for themselves in near anarchy.

Then you've got Gilda who's been put into the position of encouraging change. It's a daunting task for one griffon and just like the collapse of griffon culture was gradual, it's restoration will inevitably be gradual as well...but I think that's what I like the most about it. It's not something that's going to be instantly fixed with one way of some magical artifact like what's normally done. It's something that going to take some hard work and a lot of time and effort to pull off. You wouldn't be able to just stand idle and let it happen for you, because that would only result in nothing happening, and nothing changing. Like Gilda's restoration of her friendship with Rainbow, the restoration of the griffon society will be a lengthy and wearying one. But I think Gilda's going to be up to the challenge, and she's really not so on her own anyway. Not only will she have her pony pals to back her up, but being a friend to another is catchy; other griffons are eventually going to follow her example, and then she'll have plenty of other griffons helping to further her cause as well, whether they realize it or not.

All in all, this was a wonderfully in depth, down to earth, and realistic episode, at least as much as it could be given the medium and time constraints, and continues to show still that MLP's very blessed with a very capable team of writers working on it. It's also blessed with a drew that cares very much about the world it's set in, and has gone out of their way to put some thought into it, for which I am utmost thankful for. Though overdue by five years, they've pulled through finally and done a great job with the griffons, and hope we'll continue to see more in the future (hopefully before another five years has gone by).

I almost half-expected Pinkie to have come home to find that cake of hers was indeed inexplicably all made and ready by the time she got back, to the point I was a little disappointed when that wasn't the case.

Twilight's reaction to not being able to go to Griffonstone too is a familiar one to me. People give me that same sort of look when they realize I've been to England (as well as Ireland and technically Wales too) sightseeing and they haven't.

---

Anyway, I suppose this sudden review is probably a bit out of the blue, as I just sort of stopped part way through season 4 without warning and never did another until now. Basically what happened is that I came to find the reviews too much effort with too little reward, and that I found I had little important to truly to say with most episode and I was being redundant. Eventually, I just burned myself out. So this season I'm changing my approach, by only writing reviews for episodes where I feel I actually have something worthwhile to say. Today's episode proved to be one of those episodes. That said, though, I have been enjoying season 5 thus far. This is probably my favorite episode of the group that have aired at this time, but I can't say there's been any I really didn't like, with the only lackluster episode for season 5 thus far being "Appleloosa's Most Wanted," which I get what they were trying to do with that one, but they didn't quite succeed.

At the moment, though, I'm looking forward the most for the season's end. Speaking of, I'm going to take a gamble and jot down one last thing before I go, so I can have it on the record that I said it: I'm calling it now; the Cutie Mark Crusaders will have their cutie marks by season's end; emphasis on season's end. I could even guess what their cutie marks will be, or at least what their special talents will be, but really, I think this is all so obvious I'm actually kind of shocked the rest of you lot seem so oblivious to it...but let's see how things go for the rest of the season before I elaborate much more on that first, shall we?
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<![CDATA[Graduated!]]>Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:06:14 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/graduated
Guess who's graduated with his bachelors in English?

This guy!
Actually, I officially graduated in July, almost a month ago, but I held off announcing it until now, because my college is one of those where they go through the usual ceremonies and stuff, but don't give you your actual diploma until they've sat down and gone through your records to insure you've actually earned it and stuff and then mail it in to you. As such, I wanted to wait until I had my diploma actually in my hand before I announced anything, just in case. And a good thing too, because there were a few minor complications I had to resolve first, but resolve them I did, and yesterday I at least received said diploma.

So I'm a graduate with his bachelors now...what's next?

This is a good question, and one I have been giving a lot of thought as of late. You know how they say you've got your whole life open to you? Yeah, the truthfulness of this statement is really starting to sink in now, to the point that it almost feels surreal. Assuming I can successfully support myself doing it, I can quite literally go wherever I want next with my life at this point. So now I have to figure out just where that exactly that is...and it determine how it might affect the practices I'm already doing...like how I use my accounts on the web...like how I use deviantART, for example, which is why I'm telling you guys all of this because this could effect you too.

First and foremost on my to-do list is to find employment. Getting pretty tired of being four years unemployed straight now, and now that I no longer have to keep classes into consideration, that frees me up for a whole lot more possible jobs that I had to overlook before. So hopefully I will be able to find employment here soon and be getting the funds to better support myself as I look to the future. So I'll be busy with that.

In the meantime, I hope to put that degree in English to good use by seeking to become a novelist, and I've got a whole little notebook and a half sitting here just full of notes for possible stories to prove that I'm serious. Which leads me to the second thing on my to-do list; those notebooks are meant for only temporary storage of little footnotes for much larger ideas which are then to be transferred to my documents on my computer, organized, and fleshed out further accordingly...and I've fallen terribly behind on transferring said notes.

Hey, I just graduated. I was busy.

Now I'm trying to get caught up on transferring those notes from notebook to computer when I can find the time, and it's slow going. This is largely what I've been working on since the graduation ceremonies in July whenever I'm not job hunting.

Once I'm done with that, I'll switch gears and work on writing the more complete tales and make them the novels I imagine, and when I have something put together fully, I intend to start looking into publishing. While I'm doing that, I also intend to try and get my "foot in the door" as it were by seeing if I can put together some briefer short stories to get published in like a magazine or the likes thereof, and if so, of course I'll let you all know. I also plan to put together a small e-book, possibly with accompanying pictures, to distribute through the appropriate mediums, and if successful, I will obviously be promoting that through my accounts on the web, like my blog, dA, etc.

But this is all stuff I know all of you guys see or hear very little of on the web from me, so what about the stuff you DO see and hear about from me on a regular basis?

Well, there are only so many hours in a day, so I have to...reshuffle...some of my priorities on that. Prior to now, its safe to say that I'm recognized mostly for the fan art and fan fiction that I've produced, which has been great fun. But that will now be changing, because while the fan art and fanfics are all well and good, I think it's past time I started putting these skills to serious use and that means using them for something more than the fan stuff.

For example, Super Pup, that ever delayed comic project of mine that I keep teasing but still have little to show for it. But actually, it's still progressing onward; remember those notebooks with story notes in them I mentioned? Many of those notes are for Super Pup, ranging from individual comics to (usually) whole storyarcs. I've also been working at finishing the writing for the first few storyarcs for Super Pup as well, gearing up to begin actual production of the comics...and I'm seriously getting close. In the past I've treated Super Pup, usually without meaning to, as a mere side project, and that largely explains why it's been so delayed, but now I plan to make it more of a priority than before, more akin to how I had treated Infinity back in the day. Hopefully that mentality will help me to start producing results.

But of course, I also still have a backlog of partly completed projects that I wish to see through, so you'll be seeing that as well. And while I am cutting back on the fan stuff, you'll probably still see me do it from time to time, as it makes for a good distraction whenever I'm burned out on everything else (time permitting). Furthermore, when I first joined deviantART, it was with the goal of using it to experiment and learn more about art and how to best do it...but lately I feel like I've kind of lost sight of that goal, and wish to get back to that. So expect more experimental projects to appear in the future.

But yeah, that's the plan. Hopefully I can make good on it.
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<![CDATA[How To Train Your Dragon 2: A Review]]>Wed, 13 Aug 2014 02:10:04 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/how-to-train-your-dragon-2-a-reviewSomething I have recently learned with writing reviews for, well, anything is that there isn't much point in doing one unless you actually have something worth while to say about it, more than just regurgitating the same things everybody else is saying. Gotta bring something new to the table, see, or at least that's how it is with me, or I start to loose interest over time.

That's what happened with my reviews for every episode of season 4 of MLP, by the way, and why I abruptly stopped after "Trade Ya" (actually, what REALLY happened was that I got caught up with school work that I couldn't set aside, thus resulting in me switching gears to focus on that, rather than things like MLP reviews, but the lack of interest was what kept from going BACK), though I do still plan on going back and covering what remaining episodes I haven't reviewed at some future date (because that finale is just screaming it) even if its so...after the fact.

But basically, I've decided that for future reviews, I'm only going to write it if I feel I genuinely have something to discuss, or something new to add to the overarching discussion on the subject.

Which leads me to why I'm writing all of this now; today I saw "How To Train Your Dragon 2" for the first time.

So now you're asking, what did you think of it? Was it as great as the hype promised, matching or exceeding the success (in terms of storytelling) of the first one? As great as all the other fans claim it to be, and that there is little to nothing you'd change, or even needing changing?

Well, actually...

...no.
More After The Break

Don't get me wrong, it's still a great movie, and I walked out of the theater feeling pretty satisfied with it nonetheless. You get the feeling that the crew making it were giving the film their absolute all, trying their darnedest to try and get this film to at least be equal to the last one, and considering how steep an order that must've been, a lot of credit and respect must be given to them in spades for trying so very hard and earnestly.

But at the end of the day, I don't think this sequel quite matches the quality of its predecessor.

The reasons why are all mostly technical. And first of all is that the movie carries itself like the sequel that it is; it is under no uncertain terms a number two movie, and indeed, operated entirely under this assumption. Usually what is done with a sequel movie is to try and spend at least sometime re-introducing the audience to the characters and the universe, OR rig the story in such a way that it can stand on its own enough that you only need to know the basics of the first movie so to be able to follow along. This is done mostly for the benefit of those who may be watching this one before they've seen the one before it (or those with a weak memory), so they can still be able to follow along without getting lost.

"How To Train Your Dragon 2" (henceforth referred to as HTTYD2, because I'm getting tired typing out the whole title again and again), however, does not do this. In fact, it scarcely tries; the only real recap you get is Hiccup's traditional opening "this is Burk" narrative (which on another note, are starting to get a little cheesy, overdone, and melodramatic. I get its a staple of the movie, but I think it's gotten a little unnecessary now when you could present the same info in normal, more natural, character dialogue) and that barely covered the basics. Beyond that, the movie completely and entirely assumes that you have seen the first film, know everything about what's going on, and that there is no need to update you. You could even say that it picks up from where the first left off in a way, even with the notable time difference.

This is quite a gamble though, because HTTYD2 does not standalone from its predecessor and is in fact very reliant upon it. Because the first film was such a huge success, it manages to get by, so its a gamble that largely pays off, but if you're seeing this film before you've seen or at least heard what happens the first one, then heaven help you! It will be hard for you to keep up with what's happening, because the movie is so presumptuous you know what happened in the first.

The movie also meanders a bit in its first half, even despite not wasting time and jumping right into the heart of the story (helped by the fact it did take so little time to recap) and then rushes a little in the second half, so the movie has some pacing problems; nothing crippling mind you, just enough to make some stop and wonder where its going, or if its going to get on with things. In other words, the story sags somewhat in that beginning, and at other times feels almost like it's gotten itself...distracted. There's a few examples of this, but the best is Stoick and his wife, Valka's impromptu song and dance number about halfway through the film. As sweet as it was, it offered next to nothing to the film; at least nothing that couldn't have been done and said in far less time. It feels fillerish, in fact, but I suspect that, given how the movie is built, it was not intentional. The writers were trying to accurately portray the raging emotions of this abrupt and unexpected union of family, and this had all the right parts for that. They just...got carried away, I guess? It at least brings up the question of whether or not the movie is right to put focus on something like this for so long a time when we've got bigger issues out there, like a madman building a dragon army (which was how it all started, by way of reminder) or fellow Burkians who were waiting anxiously for their return and presumed the worse when they failed to turn up at the expected time, and so on.

Character balance is also of issue. Hiccup and by association Toothless are the stars, and that's all well and good, but it's the use of the side characters that feel a little...unbalanced. Hiccup's friends really do not feel like they have the same presence in this film like they did in the first one. To keep things interesting, they threw in this convoluted love triangle with Ruffnut that got really overplayed before the film had even gotten halfway through, and then ultimately spent all that time on it to no avail as that subplot gets no real resolution to it at all, and in fact scarcely even progresses in any notable direction. Astrid feels underused, and her relationship with Hiccup does not make any new developments, and indeed, is barely acknowledged and more just largely implied. Gobber is just there, typically for the comic relief, a step down from before when he was also a source of unconventional wisdom and advice. The dragon trapper, Eret, gets little development, and you never really get the chance to get to know the character or care for why he's there, he's just along for the ride and often the source of even more comic relief and feels largely unnecessary, not earning enough purpose to justify having around. The dragons themselves are the source of many visual gags and while cute, playful, and expressive, seem to loose some of their double-edged feel they so proudly presented in the last film.

I even have a few gripes about Hiccup's newly introduced mother, namely in the fact that little tidbit was revealed early in promoting the film and lost a lot of its edge in the process, and then there's the fact Hiccup just accepts her as his mother, despite having never known her, without much protest or questioning at all. She's just all "a mother never forgets" and save a brief moment of heightened breath, Hiccup's attitude to that is "that's cool, so where've you been all these years anyway? Just asking" on complete faith of her word, even though he ought to have little reason to without a heck of a lot more proof, and the movie just runs with that. It doesn't feel believable to me, and a little rigged to ensure the plot goes in a specific direction. Valka gets more expressive bonding time with Stoick than she does with Hiccup, and Hiccup ought to have been the priority character in that matter, and the conflict with Stoick resolved more quickly. So it's sort of backwards.

And there's the villain, Drago, who honestly feels flat and unexplored. Why is he the way he is? Dunno, save a few faint clues, he just is. It's not really explored why, and his motives are equally flat and even unoriginal. I mean, he's creative in the sense he uses dragons as his army, but his use of it is very shallow and somewhat blunt, not even that tactically creative. He also has an army of human followers, but their unimportant because they pretty much vanish and are ignored altogether by the film's end, which makes you wonder why he even had them when dragons were clearly all he really needed. Don't get me wrong, Drago had potential, but it goes largely unexploited and he could've been explored much more and given much more motive for his actions besides "just because I can."

And I have to question if giving the movie such a clear villain was really even needed anyway. Part of what made the last movie so great was that there WAS no clear antagonist, save to give a focus to the end fight. It was about misunderstandings and misconceptions in each other that was the "enemy" so to speak, and I would've thought a sequel would've continued with that trend. Instead, they go with the more common and familiar storytelling troupe of that one bad guy who wants all the power and control because it'd be cool to have it and he's just that stereotypically evil. So it seems like that's a step backwards in the end.

And the movie was somewhat overhyped, too, which also doesn't help. A good movie can be made even better if you can save enough of the details to only be learned once you're in the theater and watching it, not beforehand. Reveal too much in advance, though, and you start to wonder what is there left to watch? All the neat and important stuff has already gotten teased. In the case of HTTYD2, this was a fear I started to have early on in its promotion. But my dad, who got to see the film before I did, assured me after he did that they had not spoiled too much in trailers and the such. Now that I have seen the film for myself, though, I have to respectfully disagree on this matter. Save for Stoick's untimely death and the end fight, all the rest of the important stuff in the film to see had already gotten teased and revealed in advance, and thus becomes just "going through the motions."

Speaking of the end fight, it was satisfactory, but felt like it was missing something all throughout. Maybe it was just my expectations, the hope of finding Burk in disarray and miserable, which you get, but not to the same degree I guess I had hoped for. I feel like it could've been much more...grandiose, yet fell short of that. Way short. But maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing; grandiose endings are fun and all, but sometimes the story just doesn't need one, and maybe HTTYD2 was one of those.

But that and other things left the movie rather predictable, and I accurately predicted pretty much all the twist and turns the movie had to throw in advance of their actually happening, or even real indications that they would happen. I had guessed Eret's switching to Burk's side well in advance, I knew Toothless would break free of the alpha dragon's hypnotism, was unsurprised by Toothless's achieving of a "super form" (seriously, they might as well have given him seven chaos emeralds and started playing "Open Your Heart"), expected Hiccup to briefly blame Toothless for Stoick's death and then turn around and forgive him and recognize it wasn't his fault, and yes, I even predicted Stoick's death way, WAY in advance to it actually happening.

And speaking of said death, while I don't want to demean it any because it is pulled off very well...I do have a few issues with Stoick's demise, but not a whole lot. Namely, the fact Stoick dies pretty much the same time Hiccup is reunited with his mother who survives makes the whole death a little hollow. And then there's back to the fact that I found Stoick's death predictable and had guessed it well in advance, figuring somebody was going to die at some point in this movie and Stoick was the best candidate to bump off for reasons I'll explain further in a second. It's so much so that I think the movie's crew actually missed an opportunity to bump of a character that would've doubled the emotional impact, which is the biggest reason I'm doing this review.

So what character do I think would've been better to kill off in HTTYD2?

This guy:
That's right. Toothless.

I know what you're thinking, but at least hear me out first:

As I already said, fairly early into the movie I suspected someone was going to bite it, so all that left was determining who exactly it might be. My most likely candidates were Stoick, Toothless, and Hiccup, in roughly that order. Others were considered, but were considered increasingly less likely from there.

We can rule out Hiccup
pretty quickly because he is THE star character; without him, the franchise is basically over, unless you can come up with some replacement for him, which the movie pretty clearly showed it had absolutely no set up for such a goal to do so, so yeah, it wasn't too likely, and I recognized that fairly early on into the movie.

Stoick, on the other hand, was the obvious choice. Would've created emotional turmoil and a sense of loss and "a price" for the actions taken, given Hiccup conflict and opposing motives to deal with, disrupted the leadership of Burk, and best of all, since Hiccup was already set to rise into the position as the new chief, would've forced Hiccup into that position and have to rise to challenge for the good of everybody else, and so on. It's a tried, true, and common storytelling tactic in such types of story, but it works well if you can stir enough emotions with the death. And on this point they succeed; Stoick's funeral was a bit of a tearjerker, not going to lie. But Stoick's death was so obvious that I'm not at all surprised they went that route, it was the natural course given the course of the story, created an emotive character death, but without eliminating any characters too important to keep around for the franchise to continue. He is, in essence, the "safe" choice. Set up was all right for it, so little risk taken in going that route.

Which is why I think bumping off Toothless would've been much more powerful.


I had predicted Stoick's death pretty easily, but if Toothless had bit it, I would have been stunned. Absolutely stunned that they had the gall to do it, and would've been even more impressed if they pulled it off convincingly. And knowing how popular a character Toothless is with the fanbase, I know all of you would be too, to the point that some of you are probably a little miffed at me for even suggesting the idea, but that's just it. Given Toothless was on my list of possible dying candidates, it's possible I and others would've predicted his
death too, but predictability plays a much less role for a character as popular and key as Toothless. Everybody loves him. No one would want to see him die, and the audience would have a very hard time accepting his death. So would the characters in the movie. I can only imagine that Hiccup would be absolutely devastated. And Toothless isn't a character you can just go on with things and do without like Stoick, which means there's probably at least one of you going "but wouldn't that spell 'franchise over' and be in the same boat as Hiccup earlier?"

No, actually.

It was repeatedly stated in HTTYD2 that Toothless is believed to be the last of the Nightfury kind, but we don't actually have any proof of that. In fact I don't believe it for a second; I fully expect there to be another Nightfury out there somewhere and that at some point in the franchise, Toothless and Hiccup are going to encounter it (calling it now; the other Nightfury will be female), so much so, that there were several times in watching this movie that I fully expected another Nightfury to suddenly pop up. If one had, then in theory that Nightfury could've stepped into Toothless's role should something happen to him. Or, if I'm right that the theoretical other Nightfury will be female, had Toothless live just long enough to start a little Nightfury family from which Toothless's legacy could live on.

And it didn't have to be another Nightfury even, given Hiccup's appreciation for dragons and his way with them, it could've just as easily been a different breed of dragon too, perhaps a new breed introduced as of that movie that had the same sort of exotic mystique as Toothless. Of course, this isn't to say Toothless is replaceable. Obviously, he is unique
enough of a character that if he were to die, you couldn't just have some other dragon step into his shoes; there would always be part of Toothless that would be gone forever and irreplaceable...just like Stoick.

But that's why the idea appeals to me so much. I definitely don't WANT to see Toothless come to any harm either, but from a writing perspective, surely you can see
the potential of the idea, just how much magnitude such an impact would have, especially if done convincingly in such a matter the audience can accept it. Think about what your own emotions might be like if you saw such a sequence take place in the movie. Sad, yes, but you'd be moved by it, and that's what every good movie seeks to do. Hit their audience right in the feels. And this tactic could do just that, don't tell me it wouldn't.

You wouldn't even have to bring in the new dragon right away either, if at all. HTTYD2 could've ended with Toothless's death and that being that, then the eventual "How To Train Your Dragon 3" could've picked up from there and explored whether or not Hiccup would be capable of accepting that death and finding it within him to be able to move on without his greatest friend.


And the set up in which to theoretically kill Toothless already exists in HTTYD2; right before Stoick's death, when Hiccup is cornered by the hypnotized Toothless and Stoick's running to the scene to intervene, I wondered just what it was Stoick planned to do. It quickly occurred to me that, from a tactical point of view, it'd be to fight Toothless...to kill. In fact, I am convinced that had Stoick arrived on the scene just a little bit sooner than he actually did, that was indeed what he planned to do. He may have come to accept dragons into his life as allies and friends, but I cannot believe he wouldn't be above killing one if the situation demanded it so to save the life of another...especially Hiccup. It would've been a tough judgment call to make, and indeed, Hiccup could never forgive Stoick had that happened, but that just adds another layer of intrigue to the whole idea. That whole event could have easily ended very differently, and part of me wishes they had been brave and done it.


Would it have been risky? Ohhhhh yes. Do it wrong, and you've just alienated all the Toothless fans, and let's face it, that's three-fourths of the fanbase right there. But this movie wasn't afraid to take risks; it took others and succeeded. And the fact that it had succeeded in similar areas already in the franchise (that's part of the reason its been so successful already, and you'd have to be blind not to see that) I have the utmost confidence that they could've pulled it off admirably.

But I digress.

Ultimately, I feel HTTYD2 didn't quite reach the same level as its predecessor. It comes very close, but I can't help but feel they could've pushed it just a bit further still. Yet at the same time, I cannot with a clear conscience doom this movie in anyway. It is still a good movie that was well worth seeing...and at the end of the day, I think that's all we'd really want.

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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "Trade Ya:" A Review]]>Sat, 19 Apr 2014 20:27:30 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-trade-ya-a-reviewThe gang returns to Rainbow Falls where a trade exchange is being held. Twilight, as princess, is to be the exchange's official representative and mediate any disputes with trades, but as such disputes haven't happened often in the past, Twilight and the gang view this as a chance to participate in the exchange themselves and trade some of their stuff for items they desire. All in all they expect a good day.

But problems soon arise that show that expectation was good in theory, but in practice...not so much.
More After The Break

So this was a fun episode where the stakes were low and things were mostly rather chill, actually. A sort of interlude episode, to be honest, but of the best kind, where there's nothing really at risk or any real threat other than the characters going about their day being themselves, but still proves to be an entertaining and worthwhile episode to watch.

But first, Twilight gets to do something princess-y! And, better still, there actually IS a community in Equestria that cares about Twilight being a princess now! Actually, on that subject, I figure Equestria care a lot more than is commonly portrayed. It's just Twilight has hardly ever been shown outside of Ponyville this season, and so doesn't get out where the ponies who would say they care would be around TO say so. The Ponyvillians don't react much, because for one, they already know Twilight, and two, Twilight has made it clear (and did so again in this episode, so you can't deny it) that she REALLY doesn't like the special treatment that comes with being a princess and is quick to discourage it. And since she's always in Ponyville, the Ponyvillians learned quickly and have largely opted to respect Twilight's wishes, or so my justifications on the matter goes. Pretty much the lack of attention Twilight gets for being a princess now for the whole season.

The only exception would obviously be "Rarity Takes Manehatten," but I argue storyteller's prerogative there; Twilight and her princesshood was not key to the story that didn't even focus on Twilight anyway, and thus was overlooked so to spare time to give the true tale adequate focus (and since that episode turned out so well, I say it paid off).

Of course, maybe the Manehattenites really don't care if Twilight is a princess or not. It's Manehatten, after all.

Anyway, this was one of those episode where the writers send the Mane 6 off somewhere and let the characters tell their own story, to see what these characters will get themselves into. And in the end it all pays off in terms of writing, because though few of the characters actually got what they had hoped to get from the trade exchange, they all learned something more important out of it.

Rainbow and Fluttershy, the storyarc of greatest focus, learned that friendship is more important than any physical item (even one you bend over backwards trying to get), Rainbow more than Fluttershy. Rarity and Applejack learned much the same, but in a different way, as they both sacrificed what they really wanted to get so the other friend wouldn't have to miss out. Because of it, they wound up having to settle for something less, but their friendship remains intact and if anything, strengthened. Twilight learns that just because something isn't really needed anymore, it can still have sentimental value, and that has true worth to it too. Pinkie and Spike are perhaps the only two characters present that didn't seem to gain all that much out of it, though I suppose Pinkie learned that one shouldn't put your expectations too high for something, otherwise you'll never meet it (and will likely backfire on you) and maybe that Twilight is more than capable of handling her own trades herself (even though she ended up not trading anything in the end).

Spike just lucked out and ended up falling off the side of the episode in the end, but at least he's shown have gotten something he wanted out of the trade (though we never really learn what. I assume it's some mint comic, but I would've liked to know, if only for curiosity's sake).

Aw, but it was an episode you walk away from feeling very satisfied and a little moved even by getting to see these bunch of ponies continue to learn and grow in various ways and continue to strengthen their friendship. Best of all, they walked out of it happy and satisfied at the end of the day and that's what matters. Hopefully you, the viewer, did too.

Apparently Discord-shaped lamps are a thing now in Equestria. I suspect Discord is somehow involved with this. Don't know what makes me think that... *wink*

Maybe that's how Discord passes his time now that he's been reformed; making lamps in his own image. It's constructive at least, if that's really the case.
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM -- Double Episode Review: A Review]]>Sun, 06 Apr 2014 03:57:12 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-double-episode-review-a-reviewRedundant title is redundant.

Anyway, due to school work that needed to get done, I didn't get a review for last week's episode out, so to get caught up, I'm doing it now and doing this week's episode together in one post!
Picture

-- "Dun dun duuuuuuuuuun!"

So, without further ado...

Last week the Flim and Flam brothers make a reappearance in Ponyville, this time attempting to sell a supposed and doubtfully miraculous "curative elixir." Granny Smith, feeling nostalgic for her youthful days, tries it out and it seems to work, but Applejack, having her doubts, quickly uncovers evidence that it's all a fraud. But since the elixir seems to be making Granny Smith happy regardless, Applejack is now faced with an ethical dilemma; keep quiet and let Granny Smith stay happy, or end that by calling the whistle on Flim and Flam?

This week, however, Rainbow Dash is set to take a Wonderbolt history test that will help bring her ever closer to her goal of becoming a Wonderbolt. Only problem is that she knows absolutely none of the history and none of the study tactics her friends come up with to help her seem to work in helping Rainbow learn a subject she isn't terribly interested in to begin with. Her friends really want to help...but how?
More After The Break

So...the first episode I still need to review, "Leap of Faith." Since it's old news now, I'll try and keep this short.

First off, I was tickled pink to see Flim and Flam back again to try and swindle Ponyville out of it's hard-earned bits. However, even I have to admit, they're definitely a bit more obvious and, shall we say, heartless about it this time around. I mean, when you really get down to it, it was pretty obvious they were swindlers from the beginning in "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000," so much so I really don't see why it's a point of such debate among the fans (a subject for another day, though), but that time they were crafty enough about it that it was hard to be able to legally stop them. This time, they are much more obvious that it's all a facade that it's a bit surprising that the ponies of Ponyville don't call them out on it themselves sooner.

In fact, why are the ponies falling for Flim and Flam's trickery again? Didn't they learn from their last encounter? For that matter, why are Flim and Flam back in Ponyville anyway? Last time they got caught and chased out of town for it. Didn't they learn that coming back to Ponyville was a bad idea because there were higher odds there of getting caught again?

But I guess if they did, they wouldn't be back for another episode, now would they?

Also liked their song. Obviously attempting to repeat that of the first song, but they aren't quite as successful with it as they were the first time around, but hey, it's still catchy. And best still, unlike most MLP songs, in which the whole episode halts progress so to have the dang song, this one does not, and furthers the overall plot of the episode at the same time. So it's both a fun song and helps tell the story at the same time. All of the MLP songs ought to be like this in my opinion.

As for the episode's plot, it is somewhat generic and overdone, being the same-old, same-old snake oil story, but I do have to give it credit it that it gave it some of a twist in that Applejack catches on to the charade quickly, but then opts not to reveal it to everybody because she saw that, fake or not, it was making her Granny happy, could in theory do the same for other ponies, and was otherwise not causing much of any real arguable harm for anypony, and was instead seemingly making ponies happier than they were before, and Applejack is faced with the ethical dilemma of whether or not messing all of that up was really for the greater good.

As usual, Flim and Flam should've left it at that, but being the opportunists they are, they use Applejack's silence to their advantage to sell more elixir, start making claims that it could do far more than it actually could, and were making false claims about Applejack's support to it. And Applejack can't stand for that, comes clean, confesses that in a manner she had lied about, apologies, and sets things straight before anypony gets hurt believing the elixir could do something it couldn't, yadda-yadda. But in reality, it was Flim and Flam who had lied, taking Applejack's words and skewing them for their own benefit, and Applejack, somewhat unfairly, gets more of the blame for that than she probably should've.

But Applejack, for her credit, takes it in stride anyway, and never brings the subject up, either truly believing the blame wasn't unjustified, or figuring it was easier to just take the blow for the greater good rather than trying to muddle up the matter by explaining things in full and possibly not helping in the end, so maybe there's a lesson in that as well.

Overall the episode was, I'd say, average. Definitely not a bad one, but nothing really worth writing home about either (in fact, I almost decided not to review it at all (seeing I was late to do so and all) and hope nobody noticed). I was amused to see Granny Smith's swim wear to be period-accurate (yes, people used to SWIM in outfits like that back in the day) though, because I'm the history buff that I am, and I'm glad to see somebody on the show's staff was doing their research.

Now, the second episode, "Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3"...

This one I like more, if only because, again being the history buff that I am, it promotes there's a need to know your history. Which there is, but that's another story.

But trying to get Rainbow Dash to see that is a whole different matter, especially seeing that she struggles to learn it the traditional ways. To be honest, I can't blame her. History CAN be dull sometimes, and reading it (or getting it lectured to you) can get wearying after awhile (and I speak from experience). Furthermore, and more importantly, not everybody learns the same way, and this is something the world at large likes to forget something for the sake of convenience. It can cause problems because at times people struggle to learn what they need to under the norm, and then they seem...well...stupid. But as Rainbow so kindly proves by the end of the episode, this isn't true at all, they just absorb the information in different ways. The trick is figuring it out.

So the episode is really one long trial and error session figuring it out, and I'm sure everybody could relate with Rainbow and these failed attempts at times. I myself could relate with the highlighting (if I highlight in my studies, I end up highlighting everything like RD did) and the flashcards (which never really worked enough for me to be worth the effort of making them). The end solution Twilight comes up with in the end is, to be sure, unique, but every effective.

So basically the show is a friendship episode; friend A is in a pickle, so all of the other friends try to help in their proper way, so everybody makes an appearance. It's nicely balanced too; Rainbow and Twilight are the two of most focus, but everybody gets a chance at the spot light, and it leaves things feeling nicely balanced, and that's something you always want when writing anything, so if you do that much, you've succeeded (also spoken from experience).

Pinkie's rap song caught me totally off guard. I seriously did not see that coming. I'm not really a fan of rap, but it's definitely not the worst rap song I've ever heard (though generic) so I could roll with it too. Reminded me of the nineties I grew up in. Mixed feelings about that. But Pinkie did rock that fedora.

Didn't really know where Rarity was going with her approach to studying, but hey, it had fashion, so I suppose it covered the Rarity stereotype accurately.

I'm sure the Applejack fans are a bit miffed that she came off as pretty much useless in this episode, but while I won't deny that, I did find that and her apple trivia fit her character. She's by no means stupid either, and much like RD, as her own way of learning info, but it just wasn't applicable to the situation, and AJ's not really one who'd know a diverse number of alternatives. So I'm rolling with it.

I loved Rainbow, Owlicious, and Spike's little ditty during Twilight's lecture. That was fun, cute, and original, and worth seeing.

Helicopters are now canon in Equestria.

Liked the backstory the episode gives for the Wonderbolts, for the universe building it provides for the show. Every show needs some universe building now and then, and MLP is certainly no exception. Overall I say the episode was not stellar too, but less average than the one before it at the end of the day.

So apparently we aren't getting a new episode next week, but the week after. So 'til then, fillies and gentlecolts.

Poor Spike and his unappreciated playwriting and directing skills (I personally thought it wasn't bad, it just needed more rehearsing and maybe better actors).
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<![CDATA[MLP FiM - "For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils:" A Review]]>Sat, 22 Mar 2014 21:54:07 GMThttp://scyphiproductions.weebly.com/blog/mlp-fim-for-whom-the-sweetie-belle-toils-a-reviewSweetie Belle wants to be able to do something to go out into the world and shine brightly for something she herself has done on her own, but finds this is curiously hard when walking in the shadow of Rarity. For Rarity's fabulous-ness proves to be quite large, and has a bad tendency of outshining whatever Sweetie Belle seems to try to do.

So finally, after getting seemingly outshined one time too many and enraged by it, Sweetie decides to get even on Rarity and sabotages a key headdress piece for a series of costumes Rarity is making for her important client, none other than Sapphire Shores. Going to bed satisfied, Sweetie Belle at first has no regrets for this choice.

Until Princess Luna shows her the error of her ways...
More After The Break

Seems like we've been getting a lot of Cutie Mark Crusader love this past season (looking back, though, its not really much more than usual), but I've largely loved every episode and the new added focus on developing the CMC characters and letting them grow a bit more than they have been permitted in the show in the past. So, since I've been enjoying that trend and have no want to see it end just yet, I had high hopes the trend would continue with this episode as well. I was also drawn to the episode because, as an English major, I caught what its title was referencing ("For Whom The Bell Tolls," by Ernest Hemingway, a novel that I have heard of, but now that I think about it ironically have never read, and as usually the case with the titles of MLP episodes, has actually nothing to do with the episode itself, so now I'm not sure why I'm even bringing it up...except maybe to brag that I caught the reference, which isn't all that impressive when you consider how famous the book is, and...never mind).

Anyway, the episode's major theme is one of sisterly bonding, much like "Somepony To Watch Over Me" earlier in the season, but this time focusing on Sweetie Belle and Rarity, what is probably the show's favorite for this theme. Most of the episode is focused on Sweetie Belle, who has to learn that not only is Rarity not deliberately trying to outshine her, but that it wasn't really as bad as she was making it out to be, and that lashing back wasn't the way to resolve it. This leaves Rarity as the episode's means-to-an-end, and thus the developing is left mostly on Sweetie Belle and not Rarity, who remains mostly the same as before.
A bit of a pity, because I would've liked to see Rarity get something out of the episode as well too.

However, given the story the episode tells, it is perhaps understandable as to why that did not happen, which I'll get to shortly. To begin with,
the episode is built on a somewhat obvious Dickensian display of "past, present, and yet to come" events to teach a lesson, so much so that the moment you catch onto it, the episode becomes rather predictable. Some fans have already started to criticize that cliche use of storytelling, and probably rightly so, but at least one can't overlook the fact that the episode does use it to teach an atypical lesson associated with this style of storytelling, and it isn't deliberately obvious about it, like many other cartoon shows that make use of this same tactic. It tries to be subtle about it, so to make the parallels seem merely incidental. It doesn't quite succeed, but the attempt is appreciated nonetheless.

Besides
, I can overlook the cliche if only because it results in Luna appearing with a key role in the episode, which I will NEVER say no to (unless it is a spectacularly bad episode, which MLP has not yet done during its whole run thus far, IMO) and better still, grants Luna a chance to be a bit more open than usual about her dark past. It has not escaped my attention that since her return, Luna (and Celestia too, incidentally) has been very tight-lipped about said past, and not without understandable reasons. No doubt she wants to move past all of that and not be stuck dwelling over events she can no longer change. In fact, she still pretty discreet and indirect about it even here in this episode, but the fact it comes up at all strikes me as something important to note.

The last time Luna visited one of the CMC in-dream, "Sleepless In Ponyville," it was basically just to tell Scootaloo to face her fears. This time though, it's much more personal for Luna, because she can relate to Sweetie Belle's situation, having been precisely there before and as a result made some mistakes she's lived to regret (Nightmare Moon) and now is here to try and keep Sweetie Belle from doing something actually frightfully similar. In so doing, this gives a rare insight of what was no doubt going through Luna's mind via Sweetie Belle when Luna no doubt made her own choices to lash back at her own sister's perceived upstaging, eventually giving rise to Nightmare Moon. Since the details of this time has been left in the dark for so long, I can't help but latch onto this insight for the clues it provides, and also gives one a better ability to see the whole matter of Nightmare Moon from Luna's side for a change. For from solely her perspective, it wasn't entirely unjustified. But like Sweetie Belle, Luna probably didn't stop to consider the whole story, and ultimately made mistakes more than just her had to suffer for.

With that in mind, you can't blame Luna from doing all she can to keep other ponies from so foolishly making the same mistakes. She's already been there. And probably wouldn't wish it on anypony else.

Furthermore, it also suggests to me that whatever it was that brought on Nightmare Moon all those years ago, it probably wasn't done through one great event like is sometimes suggested to be, but rather a slew of smaller events that ultimately culminated in Nightmare Moon. It started with something small, something petty (like, in Sweetie Belle's case, sabotaging a headdress) and built from there the longer the situation went unresolved until it blew up and became something as drastic as Nightmare Moon (this makes me wish more than ever that the show's crew would hurry up and give an in-depth, canonical, retelling of the rise of Nightmare Moon from the beginning, because it's clear to me there's quite a tale that could be told there if they'll just do it. Maybe for their next pseudo-movie release? Would rather see that than another Equestria Girls, to be honest).

This isn't, of course, to say that Sweetie Belle was at risk of becoming a Nightmare Belle (or whatever you prefer) had she been allowed to pursue her petty revenge on Rarity and probably was never in any danger of anything like it. That's not the point, though, the point is that Sweetie Belle would've regretted it in the end, but by then it no doubt would've been too late, and would've left a lot of damage for probably more than one pony that would probably never be totally resolved. That's what the episode is really about. It's Luna's way of proving this to Sweetie Belle, and that this one action literally could lead to so much sorrow, and her attempt to try and prevent it entirely before it was too late, again so to spare Sweetie Belle that grief Luna no doubt knows all too well.

Problem is that Luna can't just tell Sweetie Belle all of this, because Sweetie Belle's too irate (and she's seriously angry too, perhaps angrier than we've seen her get in a long time) to listen. Which leads me back to the episode's Dickensian methodology which now seems much more justified to me after going through all of that. Cliche as it was, showing Sweetie Belle the dangers and consequences of her actions was perhaps the most effective way to do it, and kudos go to the writers for perhaps recognizing that. It's possible even that the cliche really was only incidental initially in its writing, though I doubt it. Point is that the
display of "past, present, and yet to come" events to teach a lesson the episode employs is perhaps more fitting and works better than you might want to give it credit for. And gave the animators a chance to have fun and be creative portraying the Equestrian "dreamscape" as I've heard many fans call it and was overall fun to watch.

So, maybe a better episode than you first thought, eh?

Still, there is one downfall to this episode's tactics and that's simply the fact that because of those tactics, it had a lot of material it needed to cover in a very short space of time. The writers handle it pretty well and use their time very well (better than in a lot of other episodes, in fact, where said episode wasn't even in as pressing a need for it) but despite their efforts, the episode does come out somewhat rushed, particularly towards the end. Some details get overlooked, though thankfully mostly just minor ones. Some examples I thought of: how did the CMC pay for their train ride to Canterlot (it's been well-established now that there is a fee), and better still, how were they able to board without a guardian looking after them without drawing attention, as past events suggests they are still young enough to require one (I count Spike as a guardian for their unplanned train ride to the Crystal Empire in "Just For Sidekicks" and he feels mature enough to be one to me whereas the CMC do not)? In fact, it seems like they all got a "get-anywhere-in-Equestria-without-question-for-free" pass because save for Sapphire Shore's studio, they seem to be able to get pretty much anywhere with ease in this episode without any pony hardly batting an eye at it. Then there's also the wish for Rarity to learn something to that I mentioned earlier. They're pretty minor issues, and given the time constraints, not important to explain, but still, I would've liked an explanation, no matter how simple, to them if it were possible.

Still, I'm quite pleased with this episode, and would personally change very little about it. Luna was probably my favorite character in the episode,
and I rather like her subtle and behind-the-scenes manner of addressing a problem, unlike Celestia, who strikes me as more the kind who'd get involved more directly (or just send Twilight to do it *eyeroll*). It fits her character pretty well. Though this episode does give an instance of where we see Luna active both in the day and night. Does she ever sleep? Or maybe she does the dreamwalking while sleeping herself? Inquiring minds wants to know! Mostly mine!

Also, we get a clue as to the age of the CMC in this episode for the first time; they're older than five in pony years. Since their current age is notably a few years afterward, I would guess that, at the very least, they're two-to-three years older than that. So...seven or eight in pony years? Though personally, I'm leaning closer to ten. Give or take on which one of the CMC it is, of course as they probably aren't all the same exact age (like how we know the Mane 6 aren't all the exact same age either)

I would also guess that when Sweetie Belle turned
five, Rarity had not yet moved out (because the house the party is portrayed taking place in is quite clearly the family home and not the boutique) but probably would soon do so.

And one more thought on the episode's dream sequence; I figure that the "bad future" Luna showed Sweetie Belle stopped after the sabotaged headdress was revealed, and that the rest with Rarity going loco was Sweetie Belle's imagination being permitted to envision the worst from there. Because let's face it, that bit was a touch far-fetched.

Who attends a play and enjoys it only for the costumes?

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