Bronies documentary, season 3 was where I got a more involved with the fandom and all its extreme oddness (and fundamental similarity to the much-mocked Sonic the Hedgehog fandom I used to be on the very fringes of when I chatted to artist J.Axer in the old days of the Internet because of his Final Fantasy VII fanart). Indeed, writing about that there rather than having to take the space to talk about it here is partly why I wrote about the documentary at all. But I quite enjoy that I’ve seen a fandom as its bubble bursts, and this season has certainly been divisive.
Season 3 has forced its fandom to reign in its more extreme rhetoric – no horsey pun intended. Just about every disappointed fan has been one who forgot that this is just one of many, many cartoons. That the writing is still for cartoons. That even if Lauren Faust wanted sprawling Avatar-like adventures, by season 2 they were out of the question and she’s no longer even involved. This is just one strong cartoon amongst numerous others, with good characterisation and visuals that remarkably manage to pull off the bubblegum-coloured flash world and not look plain obnoxious – at least in the context of cartoons in general. That the season was only 13 episodes rather than the 26 of its two predecessors was a clear sign of that – the cartoon is fitting the syndication pattern, where episodes can largely be rerun in any old order with only minor continuity contradictions. Character development is largely stunted and if they learn some important lessons, they will be back to their old sitcom selves next episode – because the episodes are written by different people side-by-side. Pets, villains-turned-good and new friends will have gone without a trace in the next episode, though may show up again soon – and honestly, I think it’s only because the writers know how much scrutiny the fans put this show under that we had a little photo-montage of what happened to the little phoenix hatchling Spike rescued last season.
One element that changes the minimal continuity is the big finale, which will have to bring with it a very visual change to season 4 (more or less confirmed, first by a payment – though arguably that could be for heavily-rumoured humanized spin-off Equestria Girls – and then by a writer saying the first two episodes of s4 will follow on from the s3 ending). Yes, Twilight has upgraded to immortal princess status, in a rather bizarre half-episode with a whole lot of singing that will amusingly bring with it a whole lot of theorizing that she died and everything from now on is her idealized afterlife. It was leaked months early through posters, new toys and sticker sets, and really is at the core of what is so ‘divisive’ here. It’s amazing how many fans think it a step too far, how it will change the dynamic from now on and ruin the show, and so on and so on. Again, I feel far less invested than these people, but I personally am interested to see where it will take the next season but largely see it as inconsequential, as it’s not like writers can’t come up with exactly the same stories, only Twilight has wings and more respect.
Otherwise, while accepting it’s been very uneven, I’ve greatly enjoyed this season. The opening two-parter, very much following on from the two-parter closing s2, was a bit shaky, with a daft non-character as a baddie and a saggy middle part, but the second episode picked up with the main ponies being very entertaining trying to distract a crowd, adorable scenes of Twilight and Spike having to face their fears, and a very daft spectacle to end it. The episodes that followed were largely throwaway, as befits a character-based comedy cartoon, and if they had a uniting fault, it was poor pacing, with a lot of rushed endings that often became the focus of the excessive scrutiny of the crowds. They loved taking things too seriously – clones of Pinkie Pie were sent back to a magical pool in apparent pain, so some idiots thought it acceptable to spam the show writers’ Twitters claiming children were being shown a mass slaughter of sapient beings. Trixie enslaves a whole city, but her apology is heartfelt so that is all that’s needed. An inspector is shunned but makes an unexpected decision based on some stranger’s word. Discord is the embodiment of Chaos and has been imprisoned in stone for a millennium, but realizing he might lose his one friend (of a day or two) makes him completely change his nature, with naught but a short ‘most of the time’ aside to hint that he can’t reverse his personality quite so easily – and no further hint (yet) of what Celestia had planned for him.
I can’t say I enjoyed every episode. ‘Apple Family Reunion’ I found decidedly dull, ‘Wonderbolts Academy’ rang false for me as I couldn’t believe Spitfire was such a poor manager or that a drill sergeant would just roll over like that, and ‘Spike at your Service’ saw Spike randomly totally useless – almost as if it had been planned as a Derpy episode but in the wake of some ridiculous campaigning that claimed Derpy was politically incorrect (as if most of classic Warner Bros or Disney aren’t) was changed without it really managing to fit. Derpy herself was never seen clearly until the very last episode.
But season 3 brought with it some favourite episodes of mine. I enjoyed seeing the Cutie Mark Crusaders fleshed out from annoying kids to loveable multifaceted individuals, with Scootaloo in particular endearing herself to me forever in ‘Sleepless in Ponyville’ – though I already liked her enough that she was key to bringing me into the fandom looking for speculation about that episode. I liked the idea of the pony Olympics, and while the episode about the pony inspector wasn’t at all clever, I liked the sidekicks episode and the way it ran concurrently. For all their flaws, the Trixie, Discord and alicorn Twilight episodes had me smiling throughout. And they are definitely making efforts to make the show look more and more impressive.
The lesson is simple: relax and treat this as any other show and you will enjoy it. Take it too seriously and treat it like it’s life-changing and every little change or experiment will ruin it, and you are going to have a bad time. Simple as.