Thursday, 29 May 2014

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – season 4

Possibly because the third season was too short for the effect to happen, the fourth season of MLP:FiM feels like the point at which the fandom finally snaps out of its apparently-newsworthy fever and realised that this is, after all, just another cartoon. A nice, colourful, fun one – but still just a cartoon, with the same limitations as any other. It is not going to unveil some epic overarching storyline that Lauren Faust kicked off before she departed. It is not going to push the boundaries, deal with being disabled through a flightless young pegasus or tackle dead parents head-on. For all the lessons that the characters have learned, they are not going to stick, because this kind of sitcom set-up requires characters who don’t change. In short, season 4 makes it clear that the show is not that special. Which of course isn’t to say it is not good.

I don’t think we’ll be seeing another Bronies documentary. This was a fandom that peaked and is now on its way down. The fan works will also dwindle, I feel sure. Which actually suits me rather well, because I stopped being fascinated by the rabid, often twisted fandom and watch this like any other cartoon. It’s a little bizarre, too, to have any attempt to say that I like My Little Pony because I like animation in general, and watch literally hundreds and hundreds of animated shows/films, yet to get the response that no, liking My Little Pony means that fandom must outstrip all others and I must be a brony.

Accordingly, this season has some episodes that feel like the barrel of ideas is running a bit low. The transformation of Twilight into a princess changed very little except for a few episodes exploring the tension between ‘I have a public role and want to feel adequate’ and ‘I am still a normal person (pony) and don’t want people treating me differently’, though these are usually only sideline – for example, Twilight might find it awkward to be presiding over a glorified car boot sale.

There are some episodes that I’m sure had some of the fandom screaming about the worst episode ever. In one, the ponies are sucked into Spike’s comic book and take on the identities of the superheroes there, which is as cheesy as it gets. In another, Rarity has to compete for a stallion’s affections when he falls for Applejack, and ends up imitating her in the most cringe-inducing ways. Then there are the times Fluttershy becomes a vampire fruit-bat, and the unlikely concept that Rainbow Dash has an incredible memory for things she perceives peripherally while flying. 

All the characters can be positively nor negatively exaggerated to fit plot moments or jokes – Twilight can be smart and responsible or an obsessive bore; Rainbow Dash can be a leader figure who cares deeply for her friends or an insensitive, brash halfwit, though remains the one I find the most likeable no matter how unfashionable that opinion; Rarity can be a thoughtful, elegant beauty or a superficial drama queen; Applejack can be the voice of reason or a stubborn, short-sighted idiot; Fluttershy can be a caring, loving sweetheart or a doormat; and Pinkie can be hilarious or incredibly annoying, and is often downright creepy. Rarely do they sit comfortably between the two poles. Yet that is how stories are written, and I don’t mind it at all – even if the perception of mistakes leading to growth never really leads to any lasting changes. That’s how cartoon sitcoms work.

The series introduces some new ideas, including funny little pixie things called ‘Breezies’, the Olympics-derived ‘Equestria Games’, and the evil centaur-minotaur thing Tirek, who is the bad guy in an amusingly Dragonball-ish season finale, involving much flying about and shooting of giant laser beams. But more than that, it seems to seek to repeat the (apparent) success of last season’s returning to old character Trixie, bringing back The Flim Flam Brothers, ‘Flutterguy’, as much Discord as possible and an unashamedly foregrounded Derpy – no longer deemed offensive, it seems. Thankfully.

This season very much felt ordinary. Some episodes I didn’t care for, mostly the ones where Rarity or Pinkie became neurotic, as they are the most annoying in this state – even when Weird Al is making a cameo – and the Cutie Mark Crusaders episodes were all a little more superficial and unlikely than they have been in prior seasons, especially when it came to Scootaloo, in spite of one episode where she desperately tries to prove she’s a worthy pegasus by flying.

Perhaps oddly, given the old impression that the series would get epic and episodic, it was the more low-key episodes I tended to enjoy. Fluttershy dealing with stagefright but yearning to perform, the kids’ ‘Twilight Time’ getting out of control, Sweetie Belle getting jealous of her sister getting all the attention – though the latter was much less affecting than Scootaloo’s dream episode last time. Rainbow Dash preferring to compete with friends on her team rather than abandoning them to win more easily. Simple, cute stories about characters, with a touch of magic. I usually applaud attempts to experiment, but the more this season tried to branch out to comic books and Indiana Jones-style adventures, the weaker it seemed. The season opener, involving flashbacks to the past, had some much-needed fleshing-out of authority figures, but it also lacked anything much to drive the plot along, whereas the finale, while brainless, was at least high-energy.

Nothing about season 4 of My Little Pony went drastically wrong. Nothing was a big risk. And sure, this may be upsetting for those militant fans who want this cartoon to be more than it is. For me, it’s actually refreshing. Because it fits with my view of MLP – something nice, pleasant to watch, but far from life-changing, or a particular stand-out in the animation world.


  1. I found the episodes of season 4 to be kind of lackluster as a whole; still fairly good except for a few that I thought were more bad than not, but not many that I especially liked and would want to watch again and again like many episodes from the previous seasons. I loved Pinkie's Pride (so many songs, I loved it XD) and the opening and closing two-parters the most (I personally like when the series takes a break from being a sitcom and goes the fantasy-drama route for a while). A few other episodes I enjoyed a lot too, like Bats!, Maud Pie, and the Sweetie Belle episode, but the rest ranged from "pretty good" to "meh." I think some of it also has to do with the fact that I'm not quite as obsessed with the show as I was last year when I was blazing through seasons 1-3 and had total pony on the brain! I still like it a lot and consider myself a fan, but my obsession died down a bit since and I guess I watched season 4 with more or less the same mindset as you - that it's a fun show with decent effort put into it, but ultimately nothing extremely amazing or ground-breaking (besides inadvertently bringing about such a unique fandom).

    Oh, and once again, great captions XD

    1. Thank you m'dear! I think this change in attitude is pretty widespread and contributes to a much healthier fandom overall.