Hey there, Henshin Justice readers!
I realized I didn’t introduce myself proper in my Viewtiful Joe article, so let’s fix that.
I’m Bookish Delight, and I was grabbed by HJU from the mad, bad and crazyhouse that is the My Little Pony fandom to write about tokusatsu, one of my original loves—but with a twist. That twist being, things that go slightly out of the usual wheelhouse of UltraRiderSentaiDrama that toku fandom normally deals in. Tokusatsu-adjacent material, if you will—as well as and a look into the medium’s effect on pop culture.
I do a lot of writing, both professional and hobbyist, so my schedule of availability here is roughly every three to five weeks. However, when I show up, I promise to make the material meaty and memorable.
Like right now.
By writing a My Little Pony Article.
Because… it’s kind of unavoidable. We may as well get it out of the way now, right?
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (FiM), the fourth generation of the long-running MLP franchise (fun story: I was there for Generation 1, I try not to think about my age too hard), was originally helmed by Lauren Faust, a key figure of the animated series Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Foster’s was one of Cartoon Network’s tentpole shows back in the mid-aughts, dealing, much like FiM, with the concepts of friendship and navigation of social situations.
The show centers around six ponies (and a seventh, who we’ll get to later) who learn the lessons of embodying the specific traits of being a good friend. Applejack is Honesty, Rainbow Dash is Loyalty, Rarity is Generosity, Fluttershy is Kindness, Pinkie Pie is Laughter, and Twilight Sparkle is Magic—not only the literal magic that is seen in Equestria on a daily basis, but the magic afforded by connecting with others in friendship.
If you look through the writer, director and developer credits for most FiM episodes, you’ll see alumni from not only Foster’s, but also The Powerpuff Girls, which reached light-cultural phenomenon status close to the turn of the millennium. (We don’t talk about the reboot.) Lauren Faust actually left FiM after the first couple of seasons, but the show runs to this day due to the efforts of those aforementioned Foster’s/PPG alumni as well as lots of new blood.
A lot of you reading this probably know the story, if only via hearsay: FiM dropped in October of 2010, and over the course of mere months, not only became a hit with its intended young demographic but also massively so with older fans, to the point where multiple conventions dedicated mainly to this singular MLP generation are held around the world every year.
Even Henshin Justice went pony-crazy upon its premiere.
(Any chance of those HJU Radio archives, guys? ;))
Here in the distant year of 2018, it’s safe to say that it’s become a permanent mainstay of pop culture. It’s seen an entire generation through its childhood year. People who were its target age are now in junior high or even high school, where Equestria Girls—the Kamen Rider to FiM’s Super Sentai in terms of target demographic—awaits to indoctrinate with marketing mold their minds even further.
In fact, Hasbro and Bandai/Toei actually share a lot of DNA in this regard. Every week, in shows helmed by all three of these companies, we learn the values of friendship and camaraderie delivered by way of blatant, shameless toy commercials. 2012 was basically the golden age of this, with MLP, Kamen Rider Fourze, and Smile Pretty Cure! airing all at the same time. Sure, if you liked your entertainment dark and brooding, you had a year of torture, but if you loved color and sincerity, this might have been the best year of your life.
Pictured Above: The Best Year Of Bookish Delight’s Life.
(And a Super Sentai which proves that no good deed goes unpunished.)
HJU’s conversation is one to go back to, though, because it’s emblematic of the myriad questions asked by brand new fans in its first season. Not only was the magical land of Equestria revealed in the pilot, but we were given several characters with distinct personalities, hopes, and dreams. Eight years later, there’s been so much worldbuilding and characterization going on that while I am driven to spoil as little as I possibly can, some spoiling is indeed inevitable. Still, from this fan’s perspective, I consider about 90%* of its nearly-200 episodes a must-view if you’re into watching interpersonal problems being resolved, with some fantasy adventure and magical shenanigans on the side.
(*The other 10%, I won’t lie, can be absolutely painful—this show is prone to its bad episodes just like any long running series, and when they’re bad… hooooooooooo boy. If nothing else, they serve as valuable case studies for writers if you can bear to watch them. Which episodes are lackluster varies by personal taste, however—try to avoid wading into such debates, especially as a new fan. They can be passionate.)
And when I say interpersonal problems, I really mean it—to call FiM a “slice of life” show would be selling it far too short. FiM is unique compared to most family shows, in that it’s not afraid to throw its most marketable “role model” characters under the bus, and have them do the absolute silliest things (which are still yet relatable to all viewers, even if so many older ones don’t want to admit that they too have made such logical leaps in life for emotional reasons whilst growing up) in order to teach its viewers how to navigate the waters of life.
Amidst all of the above, however, comes progress and continuity. This late in the game we’ve gotten the history and layout of Equestria, we’ve gotten the fates of our main characters, we’ve gotten supervillains, we’ve gotten natural and supernatural phenomena, we’ve gotten canonical alternate dimensions, and we’ve gotten villains coming back from previous MLP generations to do Dragon Ball Z battles with Twilight Sparkle.
Presented without context. Context would just dilute things.
Through all of the above, MLP has managed to reach its eighth season, which premiered a couple of months ago as of this writing, and it’s that season premiere, “School Daze”, which we’ll be looking into over the course of this blog post and the next. On the surface, it’s a low-stakes story about friendship blossoming in a school setting against all odds. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find one of the show’s better takes on how friendship is able to make the world better, as well as hints of what could possibly the most daring endeavor the show’s ever undertaken, provided the creative team plays their cards right. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to provide context where applicable.
Everyone ready? Let’s get things started!
This is the Cutie Map.
It showed up after the Season 4 finale as a big Round Table where all of our main characters sit at and ponder over the friendship levels of Equestria. Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking. Yes, that too. Seriously, the homages could not be more on the nose.
In show lore, the Cutie Map, as well as the big shiny castle housing it where Twilight’s treehouse library used to be, grew from the Elements of Harmony jewels, which some readers may recognize from early seasons. This late in the game, the Map is the Zordon of the show—it looks for ponies (or other creatures) who have problems in their lives that could be solved by making friends or fixing relationships, and calls on our main characters to go to those places, figure out just what’s going on, and then fix what’s going on, all in the space of an episode.
Kind of like Quantum Leap, except the Map at least lets you travel at your own pace.
Up till now, though, the Cutie Map has only been calling on a handful of ponies to go fix friendship problems, and that’s just not efficient, especially since the episode opens up on the aforementioned Cutie Map having expanded to make room for not only all of Equestria, but now the territories that the Mane Six explored in last year’s My Little Pony: The Movie.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, because of all of those territories, only one is much of an established civilization, and it’s underwater. The other locales are a desert city that nobody in their right mind would make a return trip to even if Taye Diggs does live there, along with a single pirate ship that’s always moving—though it is cute to see it circling, very much not to scale, around the Map like a little mobile. We also learn that the best non-Taye Diggs part of that movie, aka one Tempest Shadow, can’t come to the show because the movie was rendered using a different animation style than the show proper she wanted to spread the word of the Storm King’s folly throughout Equestria.
“Not bitter at all. Nope.”
However, in the wake of all this expansion, a good point is raised. Over the course of the last few seasons, the show has centered around a small group of ponies solving friendship problems both home and away, all by their lonesome, while also saving the world from catastrophic events. Equestria isn’t getting any smaller. Seeing as all of the antagonism in Equestria, supervillains included, stems from a lack of knowledge of Friendship as a concept, Twilight Sparkle does the economical thing:
“It’s time to open up a Friendship School, and let the unwashed masses come to me!“
I’ve heard a lot of pushback towards this new direction, especially in the wake of it being revealed that the school was a Hasbro mandate (hello shades of Bandai once again). I tend to summarily ignore all of this pushback, because quite honestly every time the words “school setting” are used in an announcement for a game, anime or other such series, the Internet has a conniption fit and so even now I have nobody I can talk about Valkyria Chronicles II with it’s an amazing game and you all left it to die—
I will love you, even if no one else will ;_;
What I mean to say is, a Friendship School is an idea I wholeheartedly approve of, and not only because I’m a big Equestria Girls fan, or because half of my family is schoolteachers. As I alluded to earlier, the Mane Six have actually made massive strides towards all of their stated life dreams from the first season, or surpassed them, and had several fulfilling arcs by now to boot. It’s been a long, hard road for them, and it’s worth watching it all unfold.
Still, during Seasons 6 and 7, you really could see them just raiding for endgame friendship gear while the show figured out what to do with them. It was fun, and it certainly stretched the writers’ muscles, but as things went on it was easy to wonder if this was “it”. There are certainly lots of secondary characters to base episodes on—Daring Do and Zecora are my picks—but again, marketing rears its ugly head. The Mane Six plus Starlight Glimmer are the main toy movers because they’re the ones whose stories we’ve been following for so long now.
So, what do you do with all that literal experience? Make them teachers. Making them teachers isn’t just a great use of characters that also allows for a “next generation” to show up if you so choose, but it’s just what you do in life. You gain knowledge, you pass it on, you retain your “role model for the little ones” status while the world gets all new toys to play with. The mains can still do adventures/have life lessons, but writers also now have new toys to play with so they don’t burn out on characters, story concepts or lessons. It just makes sense all over the place.
Princess Celestia, of course, being a teacher who runs a school herself, totally agrees with all of the above, and really likes the idea of Twilight being a teacher who runs a school, just like her. I’ve also heard a mild amount of questioning as to how the Mane Six sans Twilight are going to find time to run a school since they all have careers. The answer is, if Celestia can pull it off while frickin’ running a country, your argument is invalid. (The other answer, as posited by episodes that have aired beyond this one, is that schedule conflicts are the gateway to hilarious shenanigans.)
Anyway, Celestia, after seeing Twilight’s curriculum, says that while she has the utmost faith in Twilight, there’s still the matter of getting the school accredited by the Equestria Education Association—a group of learned ponies that oversee every school in Equestria and thus even overstep princess authorial boundaries in their chosen field.
Remember this, because we’ll come back to it. Oh, will we ever come back to it. For now, however, it’s here where we get My Little Pony’s most amazing and meta antagonist since that time Weird Al Yankovic voiced Pinkie Pie’s party rival back in Season 4.
This is Chancellor Neighsay. He’s played by Maurice LaMarche, who old savvy animation viewers may remember as The Brain of Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain fame.
In other words, what we’re looking at here is Twilight Sparkle vs. The Brain, aka the Battle of Wits of the Millennium. Of all of MLP’s celebrity guest stars to date, this may be my favorite, and that’s saying something given that John DeLancie (aka Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) has been a series regular since Season 2.
Between the two of them, we get the following exchange:
Twilight Sparkle: Uh, hello. My name is—
Neighsay: Princess Twilight Sparkle. I am Chancellor Neighsay. Equestria owes you a great debt. But princess or no, we expect you to do things by… the… book!
Twilight Sparkle: I think you’ll find my curriculum meets all your requirements, Chancellor.
Neighsay: And can we trust you to follow through with this plan? Will you leave the school unattended to gallop off on your… “adventures”?
Twilight Sparkle: My journey beyond Equestria showed me firsthoof that the threats out there are greater than we imagined!
Twilight Sparkle: If we want to keep our land safe and create a friendlier tomorrow, we need to teach the Magic of Friendship far and wide.
Neighsay: A school for ponies to learn how to protect themselves.
Twilight Sparkle: Uh, more like respecting differences and communicating.
Neighsay: The EEA concurs. Every pony should be prepared to defend our way of life. So, if your work is in order, provisional EEA approval is granted. We will need to observe your school up and running before it can be fully accredited.
Right off that bat, hearing Neighsay’s dialogue, you know he and the rest of the EEA have an agenda: Protection of ponies from outside threats. Empowering ponies with self-defense. “Every pony should be prepared to defend our way of life.” The verbiage is subtle, but telling, and some of you in the audience already know where this is going:
Equestria first. For ponies, first.
I know I sound like a broken record, but we’ll come back to this.
Provisional EEA approval is granted to Twilight’s school, and Twilight invites Neighsay to inspect the institution during Friends & Family Day, a canon-unspecified date in the future where parents, students and teachers can convene to check on students’ progress in the school. From there, the EEA will decide whether or not to fully accredit Twilight’s School of Friendship. Speaking of which…
Here’s this year’s playset! Look at that swank school! Not even gonna front: mad props to the design team. I actually want this thing! Let’s see where I can buy… oh.
It’s available… in… July. This season premiered in March.
Hasbro, you are Bandai in many ways, but merchandising punctuality is NOT one of them.
Well, I’ll trawl retailers later. For now, let’s get back to Schoolhouse Rock.
Because fashion rules everything around her, here’s School Marm Rarity. Have fun Googling that search term if you’re feeling, uh, adventurous. Pony fandom works fast, for good and for otherwise—ESPECIALLY whenever somepony gets a new outfit or manestyle going.
So, the Mane Six are officially going to be teachers now! Everyone except for Twilight, whose plan this was in the first place, has objections to this. The objections, of course, are because of their lucrative, time-consuming caree—oh hahahaha, no, that’s something we older fans who actually need to care about careers would say. The ponies, who are on this family show for kids, are concerned that they won’t look the part, or that the part right might not “feel right” for them, or in Rainbow Dash’s case, that she’ll look like an “egghead”.
This is after you legit attended a Daring Do fan convention two seasons ago, hon. Complete with pillows. Not only are you already one of us, you might actually have us beat.
Twilight, however, uses the You’re My Best Friends Please Help Me Out Clause to rope her pals into being faculty, and the game is on.
Oh, except for one thing.
Yyyyyep. Those of you who knew Twilight back in Season 1 remember her to be neurotically obsessed with order, checklists and rules, and while she’s gone through several fulfilling arcs over the past eight seasons, precious little has changed on this particular front. Twilight’s quirks kick into overdrive here, just like they do every time she’s presented with a large book and an appeal to authority. I’d say this girl has real problems defying orders and striking out on her own, but anyone who saw The Movie knows the not-pretty consequences of letting a purpose-filled Twilight take matters entirely into her own hooves, so let’s just move on.
As we were saying—the premise has arrived. The bell rings, heralding the first day of school. Bring on the pony students!
Except there’s one thing Twilight “forgot” to mention: it’s not just ponies.
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUN
Twilight’s opened a school for ponies all over Equestria, and creatures outside of Equestria, to learn friendship. Previous episodes have revealed that friendship is in short supply outside of Equestria, so this makes sense. I’ve run across fans who validly state that there are several races within Equestria that could stand have to have been explored as well, and while I agree, this point isn’t important to this episode’s plot, message or moral, for reasons to be discussed later on (and honestly, if anything, the issues around this viewpoint are best saved for their own episode where they can be more sufficiently explored). Outer Senshi students are what we’ve got right now, and you know what? What we’ve got ain’t bad.
All of the New Students are specifically crafted to be ready to learn certain character arcs rife with social lessons for viewers. Whether or not those arcs will take place given how massive FiM and its world have become is anybody’s guess, but that doesn’t nullify the skill that’s on display here. Let’s go down our roster of Next Generation Heroes and see if we can’t find out what makes—and what will make—them tick.
In order of who I have the least to the most to say about:
This is Gallus the Griffon. The griffons in MLP have so far, save for exactly two in the entire world, all been super-grouchy smartasses. This is well-explained in-show due to their homeland being in dire economic straits, leaving all of them to be mega-money-grubbers a la Scrooge McDuck, only without any of the money to actually show for it. It’s a heartbreaking story, to be sure, but that doesn’t exactly endear 99.9% of griffons to other races.
At any rate, Gallus is officially Too Cool For School(tm) and super-competitive. His first action in this episode is to tell off Sandbar (more on him in a little bit). However, his second action is to get in Rainbow Dash’s face and tell her how uncool she is.
This is what we call “putting your head in the lion’s mouth”.
Gallus is likely going to learn to get along well with others, possibly in an emotionally painful manner. Griffonstone is a hotbed of conflict by its very nature, so getting a few large doses of friendship, empathy, and humility will likely do well for him, even if he’ll have a tough time swallowing it at first. I find Gallus to be the simplest and most straightforward of the New Class, but he could come in handy someday.
Here, we have Silverstream. Silverstream belongs to a race of hippogriffs/seaponies which were introduced in the recent movie. The Movie gave us Princess Skystar, who was the genkiest of the genki, and Silverstream is her expy. High-spirited, ultra-hyperactive, and the tiniest bit of a ditz (but more in the literal fish-out-of-water sense than actual lack of brains, thank goodness), Silverstream is tied with Yona as the most enjoyable new student in my eyes. Likely her arc will end up having her learn to slow down, stop and smell the roses, while putting her love for new stimuli and learning about the world around her to greatest use. Also, to stop calling everything new to her “weird.” If she can learn to be a little more studious and analytical to balance what she’s already got going, she’d be one heck of an intelligence officer someday.
Smolder unfortunately comes with one of the most significant caveats out the gate. She’s not a bad character at all—on the contrary, she has potential to be a fantastic character, given that she comes roaring in with ego for days and a massive competitive streak. Girl certainly knows how to make an impression. However, not only does that mean she’s a different flavor of Gallus (or Gallus is a different flavor of her—or she’s the Rainbow Dash to Gallus’s Applejack, which means the both of them will just be cutting promos and arm-wrestling all season), but for two seasons now we’ve already had a more memorable dragon in the form of Ember who embraces those traits. Ember rose up to become Dragon Lord, meaning she rules all of dragonkind, and has also had arguably the best characterization moment of the previous season:
Yeah. Smolder has to follow this act. I believe in her, but I wish her all the luck in the multiverse. At least she’s adorable.
Dragons, by their very nature, are destructive, greedy, and lack about as much empathy as the griffons do, so her arc will likely be a different flavor of Gallus’s. Winning isn’t everything, there’s value in others who aren’t dragons, but also, most importantly, know your own strength, and how to use it.
Speaking of which…
This is Yona Yak. The Yaks hail from the land of Yakyakistan, and have traditionally been angry, stubborn, proud, strong as battering rams and closed-minded unless you’re Pinkie Pie. In short, they’ve been one of the most tiresome aspects of the show to date. Yona, however, replaces the anger with smiling boisterousness, the closed-mindedness with the ability to change her mind every once in a while, and, uh, the physical prowess with being unable to run for more than five seconds without tripping over her own feet (though she’s still a one-girl battering ram).
It’s with Yona that the potential arcs and lessons for this season start to get deceptively deep the more you think on them. Yona certainly invites lessons on poise and grace from Rarity, but also things like self-esteem and body positivity. Yona, more so than anyone on this list, has been raised to be super-prideful due to what kind of creature she is and where she hails from—but can she embrace the micro as well as the macro? Can she love herself not just because she’s a yak from Yakyakistan, but because she’s an individual with her own life and friends? I look forward to finding out.
Regardless, Yona is adorable, Yona is hilarious, Yona IS BEST. Seriously, hats off to the writers for making me love a yak, of all things.
This is Ocellus. Ocellus belongs to the race of changelings, beings who can take the form of anything they choose. Up until a season ago, their base forms were greenish-black bugs who took the forms of their victims and impersonated their lives while feeding on them.
You can see where I’m going with this.
It has been eight years and I have not seen a single Rainbow Dash/Kabuto opening mashup PMV. I am disappointed in the entire Internet.
Anyway, save for their old, exiled queen, changelings are good Worms now instead of evil Worms. Ocellus is super-shy, so Fluttershy fans should be happy. Would that she had anything else to her, but Shapeshifting Fluttershy appears to be it. However, that’s more than enough baggage to put on a young ‘un.
Odds are her arc will be Learning To Come Out Of Her Shell. Bonus points for some kind of butterfly-style metamorphosis taking place once she completes it. However, wrinkles in these potential lessons are added given the fact that… well, how do you teach someone to be themselves and show that self off to the world, when you literally have the power to change into anything or anyone to fit any social situation? If your true self is a sad shy person, and it’s arguably more convenient to just take on any other appearance, including the identities of others, and call it a day… how do you get around that? Don’t know about you, but I’m already bouncing with exploratory heart-to-heart possibilities!
And, finally, we have Sandbar. Sandbar is an earth pony and kind of nothing. No, really, through this whole episode he will be so much of a background pony he basically crosses the line from “character” to “metafictional concept”. Which is meta in itself.
But that hardly means he brings nothing to the table. Far from it.
The key to Sandbar’s potential lies in the fact that, as a pony living in Equestria, he’s the “default”. The “majority”. Given how unremarkable he’s been in these two episodes, it’s safe to conclude that he has known pony-Equestrian customs all his life, and there’s a very good chance he’s never seen anyone but other ponies. There’s nothing wrong with him, he seems to be a nice dude, but he’s about to do a lot of learning.
What I’m trying to say is, there are a lot of children in (ahem) certain countries who will be in Sandbar’s horseshoes and see him as the audience surrogate in multiple and multi-faceted ways. If Sandbar can gracefully navigate discovering and respecting cultures that aren’t his own—and he seems to be doing a bang-up, if naive, job so far—he could be the most subtle, and most important, lesson-bearer of the season.
After our introductions, school’s in session. CUE THE LONGEST MONTAGE WE’VE EVER SEEN IN THIS SHOW as seemingly months pass in minutes. Seriously, there have never been this many timeskips, especially of these lengths, in an episode, but at least they’re necessary. The classes get settled, the students get settled, the teachers and students find their grooves…
…and then Twilight’s Fun Sensors go off and she makes the school “by-the-book” and boring again, to the point where no one’s happy except for Twilight. Lapsed viewers in the audience, your eyes do not deceive you: “Master Killjoy” has indeed been Twilight Sparkle’s title for eight years. She’s grown as a pony in so many ways, yet in the biggest ways, she really hasn’t changed, and has even started to own her brand of crazy, regardless of the consequences.
(Why were folks—myself included—scared of her becoming a princess again?)
Anyway, as a consequence, the Spotlight Students are bored, and as we all know, bored people get into conflict. Except Sandbar, who’s all “love and peace” and stuff. But the rest aren’t having it, and a fight almost breaks out in the hall which Rainbow, Starlight, and Applejack have to break up.
Rainbow Dash says what they’re all thinking—the school’s having way too much trouble working out as it’s currently being run. Which is a problem, because Friends & Family Day—and the EEA inspection—are right around the corner. However, Headmare Twilight isn’t worried, because even if it’s got a stick-in-the-mud philosophy going for it, the school is still functioning to EEA guidelines, and especially during inspection, that’ll be all that matters. Even if the guidelines aren’t working for the school, the students or the faculty, everyone will just have to… try harder.
Yes, that’s an exact quote. Friendship lessons be darned—eight years and this mare has learned nothing.
As if hearing Headmare Twilight from across the building, the Spotlight Students are now so bored that they’ve decided to play hooky… on Friends & Family Day. Welp.
To get them past Professor Fluttershy, and onwards to freedom, Ocellus shapeshifts into Rarity and puts on the most hilarious impression act, over-playing the part to infinity and beyond. This wins Ocellus over with the others, and honestly, I think myself as well. Please, please, please let her do Flanderized renditions of the other Mane Six over the course of the season. Rainbow and Applejack first.
Past that small obstacle, everything’s hunky-dory. Over the course of several minutes of this episode the kids start having a bunch of fun learning about each other and all of the awesome things they bring to the group. Also, racing happens.
Unbeknownst to everyone, however, Neighsay decides to arrive at the school via insta-portal a few hours early, and all Tartarus breaks loose. The students are gone, and the faculty has to hide this fact. Which they manage to do, until the tour of the school is finished, and they head outside to the Friends & Family party at the lake—just in time to run into our wayward students.
Or rather, for our students—backed by Ocellus who’s morphed into a kaiju for kicks—to run into them.
Needless to say, this is bad for the evaluation. Even worse, it prompts Chancellor Neighsay to show his true colors, as he’s only now finding out for the first time that the Friendship School isn’t just for ponies.
Seriously, Twilight, you didn’t tell him? YEARS: 8. LEARNING: 0. It has officially stopped being cute. Neighsay appears to concur:
Neighsay: How dare you! This act of aggression against ponies—!
Twilight Sparkle: I-I’m so sorry, Chancellor. We clearly had some students get a little carried away.
Neighsay: Those are students? But you said you were opening this school to protect Equestria! To defend ponies from… dangerous creatures who don’t have our best interests at heart!
Twilight Sparkle: My school teaches for all of us to work together through friendship.
Neighsay: And how do you know these creatures won’t take what they have learned here and use it against us?
Twilight Sparkle: Friendship isn’t just for ponies!
Neighsay: It should be.
Prince Rutherford: Unicorn think yaks no need friendship? Maybe yaks no need pony school!
Neighsay: Well, perhaps you should return to your kind.
Ember: “Your kind”?! Smolder, let’s go!
Seaspray: Queen Novo will want to hear of this!
Grampa Gruff: Well, this place seemed lame anyways.
Thorax: It’s fine. We know not every pony sees us the way you do. We’re used to it.
Twilight Sparkle: Princess Celestia helped me reach out to all the kingdoms! When she hears you closed the school because—!
Neighsay: Because you failed to meet the EEA’s standards?
Twilight Sparkle: What?!
Neighsay: Irresponsible teachers, students skipping class, endangering ponies! Your school is a disaster. Perhaps if you had had higher standards for who was admitted, this could have been avoided. Regardless…
Neighsay: By order of the EEA, I am shutting this school… down!
THE STAKES HAVE ARRIVED
And with that, Neighsay chains down the school, roll credits. Hope you enjoyed your nice happy show for little girls, everyone!
Kidding, kidding. But let’s break this down.
What we have here is the makings of an episode about prejudice, and if the stock “your kind” line hadn’t been brought out, this would so far be one of the most graceful tales regarding it to date to grace children’s television. This isn’t the first time the show’s done episodes on this subject. The most blatant one goes all the way back to the very first season’s Bridle Gossip, where all the ponies are afraid of a very African-homaging zebra and her magic-practitioning methods, and said zebra, Zecora, gets possibly the best metatexual/social commentary line ever uttered in a cartoon:
“How dare you! You destroy my home, destroy my work, then rudely accuse me of being a jerk?!”
This, however, is Bridle Gossip on a much larger scale, with significantly less saccharine, and certainly involving much less dancing around the issue.
It does require a major caveat for it to work: that being that what Equestria’s education accreditation board has more power than Equetstria’s ruling government in its chosen sphere. While I can imagine some people for whom the educational system being placed above monarchal power would be a dream come true, there’s a lot of responsibility involved that with that position that you could argue Equestria is taking far too lightly. Those who control the country’s youth control the future of said country, and thus care must be taken in vetting who that power is given to. Institutions on Earth that lose accreditation can leave swaths of students out of education options—simply Google “district accreditation lost” for easy examples. The same applies to higher education schools as well, albeit to a lesser degree.
And the extra wrinkle is, if you’ve been a longtime watcher of the show, it’s easy to see how Neighsay got to this point. Barring a certain Everfree Forest, the majority of threats to ponies have come from outside Equestria. The changeling hive has invaded and near-conquered Equestria twice, for example, and griffons have always had antagonistic relationships with ponies, both in the show and in actual myth. Same with dragons. The yaks can barely control themselves around ponies when Pinkie Pie isn’t around, and, well, if you’ve watched The Movie, you know what Twlight herself did to the hippogriffs/seaponies That One Time. All of the students have historically antagonistic ties to Equestria and ponies, which is why they’re the best choices to use for this story’s parable, and the easiest way to get Neighsay’s goat. It doesn’t make Neighsay right, but it does make him deeper than your run-of-the-mill supervillain.
And it means not only that one’s mileage may vary when it comes to the reach and simplification of Equestria’s accreditation system, but also that it’s now being run by prejudiced ponies with governmental power. If you were into the idea of Equestria being a wonderful, ever-egalitarian utopia, the last embers of that hope died with this episode. Ponies and people have a lot in common.
Nothing else needs be said here. The rest falls to parents having discussions and answering questions from their children they probably didn’t think they’d have to address for a decade yet. But that’s how the best shows work.
At any rate, whoo, that’s a lot of words to say about the first part of the season premiere! In our next installment we look at what My Little Pony has done best for nigh-on eight years now: that being, take a premise that might look shaky, and turn it into a message that’s so profound and uplifting that the end justifies the means and then some. Take care, and see you then!