And so unlikely but undeniable Internet hit My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic got through its second season. Not without those typical second-season bumps and hiccups - particularly as head creative honcho Lauren Faust took a back seat and served only in a supervisory role - but overall with enough of its idiosyncratic charm to entertain, amuse and guarantee itself another season, and probably several more. As well as keeping most of its bloated, bizarre fandom on-board.
And never have I seen a show so influenced by its fandom. Sure, Avatar had scenes and whole episodes noticeably affected by the writers discovering online fandom and shipping debates, and Lucky Star’s director even got dismissed as a result of fan pressure in Japan, but MLP has been a whole new level. The most obvious example is Derpy Hooves, a fan-character based on a cross-eyed animation error, actually getting a speaking role and characterisation in this season, but more than that, it was the way staff members actually involved with the production would respond directly to the fans – including one animator expressing disappointment that the fandom detested an episode he liked.
And with that sort of powerful fandom has come analysis just about no other cartoon comes up against. Each individual writer is given a great deal of attention: Meghan McCarthy and M.A. Larson emerged as favourites (something I’d agree with), while a new writer named Merriwether Williams – whose previous work had been on SpongeBob Squarepants and Angry Beavers – got totally savaged after one episode the fandom hated.
I didn’t think the hate was justified, but I fear my emotional response to My Little Pony isn’t as ardent as that of some fandom members (and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way); I was willing to imagine an off-camera scene that made the episode work, but which the writers really ought to have included. With the much-hated episode ‘The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well’, for example, most of the more vitriolic complaints could have been solved with one scene where the gang actually try to talk to Rainbow Dash about her going too far. Similarly, ‘MMMystery on the Friendship Express’ would be vastly improved with a single scene showing the Cakes were actually pleased with the outcome, because it felt like a significant omission, and while at least the falcon got a moment of acknowledgement in ‘May the Best Pet Win!’, I wouldn’t have minded a line showing why Rainbow Dash couldn’t have had two pets, after that much hard work.
However, characterisation is. In this sort of sitcom – for it is indeed a cartoon sitcom – that is paramount. I don’t mean that characters ought not to have their foibles exaggerated: that’s to be expected, and very much in-keeping with the first season’s writing, in which the ponies tended to obsess over a problem to the point of having mental breakdowns. That continues very nicely here, most obviously in the hilarious ‘Lesson Zero’, in which Twilight wholly loses the plot and pulls some of the scariest faces you’re likely to see in a cutesy animation. But it’s the little issues that bugged me – and totally ruined the show for others. Would Fluttershy really go behind her friend’s back, ruin something another person worked hard on because it seemed tasty, then deceive her friend? Would Pinkie really bug a stranger who wants to be left alone so much that she is loathed, only able to fix the problem because she just so happened to know the right people? And while I can totally accept that Rainbow Dash could go on an ego trip that makes her lose touch with what’s important, that doesn’t mean she’s some kind of stroppy stereotyped jock: before, she was insensitive, even cruel, but it was balanced by gentleness, kindness and a desire to see her friends improve themselves. Here, most writers got it (see ‘Hurricane Fluttershy’), but Williams definitely didn’t.
The two-part specials that bookended this season were highlights, although both felt a little disconnected from the larger season. The first two, centred on mischievous god Discord, voiced with aplomb by John de Lancie essentially repeating his role as Q in Star Trek, were very entertaining but with their randomness and fast-paced action seemed rather different from the usual character-based situations, while ‘A Canterlot Wedding’ suddenly introduced two very important characters to Twilight who it seemed ought to have been mentioned before. In itself, that is no bad thing, but for all its awesome payoffs and satisfying conclusion, it felt a bit poorly thought-through: trying to imagine the baddie’s plot makes her seem not to have thought through the best way to accomplish her aims at all.
On the other hand, the songs in those last two episodes were great, and indeed, songs have been a strong point this entire season. Though they moved away from the Sondheim reworkings of the first season and were generally simpler and more pop-based, they were also catchy, charming and adorable.
Season 2 has had its faults and difficulties, but it was still remarkably strong and it remains entirely comprehensible to me why so many adult males would without irony express love and admiration for this show.
Season 3: link
Season 3: link