I HAVE WATCHED THIS PILOT EPISODE TOO MANY TIMES.
Nevertheless, if my series of recaps is going to achieve liftoff, it is inevitable that I watch it some more.
You may be wondering about the title – FiM Chronicles X. Let’s just say I’m taking some notes from the Megaman X series. I want this review series to be bigger, badder, darker, edgier; to rock harder and have more firepower. Hence the X.
So let’s get watching!
We open with the neat little storybook art-style the show uses to give us exposition about stuff that happened in the distant past. And indeed, we get enough of these references to eventually produce the illusion that there is some sort of Silmarillion-esque mythos undergirding the events of the show. There isn’t, but it’s kind of a cool thing.
Anyway, you know the drill: a thousand years ago, Equestria was ruled by two sisters Princesses Celestia and Luna, who controlled the movements of the sun and moon respectively. Luna got envious at the fact that ponies would be awake during Celestia’s hours, but asleep during her own. So naturally she transforms into big bad Nightmare Moon and threatens to plunge the world into eternal night, etc. Celestia nabs the six Elements of Harmony and uses their power to banish her sister to the moon. Then she proceeds to spend the next millennium working both night and day shifts to make up for it.
Enter Twilight Sparkle, series protagonist and Celestia’s current student. She stumbles across a prophecy about how on the 1000th year of Nightmare Moon’s banishment, on the longest day (i.e. the Summer Sun Celebration), said villain will break free from her prison.
This kinda bugs me. Why would whatever spell Celestia used include that sort of fine print? Why not just lock her up for good, occasionally checking to see if she’s showing signs of repentance?
My headcannon resolution goes something like this: throughout the show, we’re given ample evidence that Alicorn Princesses aren’t quite the demigods they’re made out to be. We get to see them show some vulnerability. So – perhaps Celestia’s banishment spell was only powerful enough to last for one millennium. And after that, she would be too weak to oppose her (especially after doing double duty for 1000 years).
So Celestia decides to pull a Batman Gambit. She deliberately creates a legend about Nightmare Moon’s escape, knowing that her future student would read it, rediscover the Elements of Harmony, and save the day.
Still, why go through the whole rigmarole? Because it is important that she maintains the appearance that she is more powerful than she is. Sir John Keegan had this idea of the “mask of command”. Now, I’m only familiar with it through secondary sources, but I think I get the basic gist of it: being a successful leader means adopting a persona of authority. There is an inherent theatricality in wielding authority. A good leader needs to not only have leadership qualities, but also to be able to portray that persona.
Celestia could be viewed in this light; her personal gambit reinforces her authority by making her seem serenely above the conflict altogether.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. And quite possibly mincing what Keegan was attempting to say.
We also get introduced to Spike, Twilight’s pet dragon/personal assistant/abused serf. He can magically transport letters to Celestia by blowing them away….and magically receives letters by puking them out. I kinda have to wonder how he got talked into that arrangement.
Anyhow, after a brief back and forth, Celestia seems to brush off Twilight’s concerns about impending doom and sends her to Ponyville in order to oversee the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration, and to make some friends.
So yeah, we’re banging on the Friendship theme right from the get-go. But, to be honest, Twilight really needs it here. What struck me this time around was just how conceited and self-absorbed she comes off as. There’s a sense in which what motivates her sense of urgency throughout the episode isn’t just the impending doom, but also a desire to be right. I can understand her frustration at having to play the Cassandra, but it’s not exactly a flattering first look at her. And this hits close to home, because I’m pretty sure I’ve been that sort of
person pony at times (expect a lot of “hits close to home” stuff with Twilight).
Twilight and Spike arrive in Ponyville and are given a JRPG style greeting by being immediately approached by a random denizen – in this case, Pinkie Pie, who promptly runs away.
Our purple protagonist then gets on with all the overseeing stuff. Coincidentally, the ponies handling the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration are all main characters. We get introduced to our caterer Applejack and her extended family of apple puns.
Then we get Rainbow Dash, who has been left in charge of the weather, and who knocks Twilight into the mud and….you know, I’d be pretty pissed if someone did that to me too. Anyway, she really wants to be in the Wonderbolts, who are these elite air cadet types.
And then there’s Rarity handling the decorations and she’s, well, in the zone right now, so we can’t bug her. But it’s also worth noting that Spike gets and instant crush on her, thereby adding “doomed romantic” to his list of titles. And I can actually relate – from Rarity’s perspective. I’ve been more, um, crushed upon than crushing in my life; and while on one level it’s flattering, on another its just really awkward to deal with someone whose feelings you can’t reciprocate.
Finally, there’s Fluttershy, left in charge of the music, who is in the middle of channeling Snow White with some birds (if it hasn’t been made yet: Fluttershy and the Seven Bronies. Do it.)
Then Twilight returns to her new home (the Golden Acres Library) to find that Pinkie Pie has thrown a surprise welcoming party for her. This begs the question: just how public does the Library remain after Twilight moves in? Can just anyone go in and browse the stacks, or do they have to put requests through to Twilight? Was it a private library to begin with? Does this technically qualify as breaking and entering?
Twilight tries to go to bed, but all the dubstep keeps her up, and the Summer Sun Celebration is about to begin anyway.
We get briefly introduced to the mayor (whose authority will be quietly undercut by the events of season 4, but shhh for now), who gets shunted aside in favor of the predictable climax: Celestia has gone missing, and Nightmare Moon has escaped.
I really like how her introduction here plays out a lot like Maleficent’s introduction in Sleeping Beauty, in that, “hey no one invited me to the party,” sense. It could even be seen as derivative, but I don’t mind; more lady villains should aspire to be like Maleficent. Haughty, vengeful and full of spite, paired with a flair for theatrics and fabness. This would reach its apotheosis in the comics with the creation of NIGHTMARE RARITY, but for now we’re still in pretty good hands.
(It’s a two-parter, so you’re not going to find any resolution here. I do like how they play bongos during the credits.)
POSTSCRIPT: In spite of the fact that I have been wallowing in MLP more than any other fandom recently, there hitherto hasn’t been a lot of MLP content here. This seems to be the path of least resistance (and most fun) in terms of addressing that. Also, it will make a helpful tonal counterbalance to my Shadow of the Torturer series, which I hope to revive before Monday (it can also now be found in one convenient location: click the “Reading Wolfe” link above).