Greetings and salutations, HJU faithful! Bookish is back, and as I warned you last time, we’re on our past and present retrospective through My Little Pony‘s last eight years… by way of mainly talking about current material. Seriously, the whole thing’s on Netflix, it’s worth catching up.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t read Part 1, you should go do that, and then come back here.
In a bid to stop problems like friendship-deprived supervillains before they start, Twilight Sparkle decided to open a Friendship School, much like the one her previous mentor, Princess Celestia, started for magically gifted unicorns long ago. Its reach had spread across Equestria and beyond, bringing in creatures who aren’t necessarily ponies amidst its student body.
Things are going well—or at least they would be if not for two overzealous rulemakers: Chancellor Neighsay of the Equestria Education Association, and Twilight herself. In this case, one problem informs the other: Twilight wants so hard to measure up to EEA standards that she sucks all the fun out of teaching or attending the school, with a boring curriculum and a paranoid attitude.
Chancellor Neighsay, however, is just plain prejudiced against non-ponies, his reasoning being that they always have and will be a danger to Equestria and the ponies who live there. Things eventually come to a head when Neighsay finds out about the non-pony students—as well as the disorganized and dispirited schoolteaching going on which leads to several of those students to cutting classes—and revokes its accreditation, shutting down the school.
And that’s where we come in for Part 2!
We all smiling yet?
With the EEA having rendered Twilight’s new school initiative a useless husk of a building, Twilight is in some very, very dire straits.
Spike, ever the faithful assistant, tries to cheer Twilight up by getting her to look at it as a vacation. Twilight Sparkle, ever the Twilight Sparkle, adopts the glass half empty” philosophy by pointing out that even though her royal designate is “Princess of Friendship”, she’s managed to make enemies out of nearly all of Equestria’s foreign allies and get the institution dedicated to her named discipline unaccredited.
Okay, yeah, make that glass empty.
Spike, knowing his limitations, calls in the big guns—the rest of the Mane Six—to cheer Twilight up. They all do their thing—Rainbow tries to get Twilight up and at ’em with the power of genki and spirit, Applejack and Pinkie bring snacks, Fluttershy somehow manages to coerce Angel, the Demon Bunny of Death (long story spanning seven seasons, next time, I promise) to actually do something for someone other than himself for once, Pinkie also tries to throw a party, and Rarity shows up with a new dress.
None of this works, either. Twilight is absolutely set on moping and dwelling on her failure. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking, especially when she looks at the school again, and is two seconds away from bursting into tears.
But there’s one more pony in the main crew who has yet to take a crack at Twilight. However, in the spirit of full context, we actually need to back up about… three years, for a feature-within-a-feature I have decided to call:
Starlight Glimmer: The Seventh Ranger
This is Starlight Glimmer.
Purely speaking as a character, and as a narrative attached to a character, there are very few ponies on the show that have had this much care and attention put into them. Her rivals in this regard would likely only be Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Sunset Shimmer, and Twilight herself—and in this fan’s eyes, it’s for good reason.
Starlight Glimmer was the Big Bad Villainess of Season 5, and for the most part, she was both refreshing and mind-boggling when she first showed up. After three straight seasons of adventure episodes that were all “power battles” that climaxed in magic, rainbow lasers and ponified Dragon Ball bouts, the show threw us a curveball by making the stakes personal and psychological, in the form of a single unicorn that had spent even more time by her lonesome studying magic than even Twilight Sparkle had pre-pilot.
Did I mention that this unicorn had also sprouted up her own cultish community based around a warped philosophy of friendship centering on completely avoiding what makes you unique? Did I also mention that it had its own conditioning room?
Yeah, we got Harrison Bergeron put to rainbow Flash animation. While necessary to the growth the show would eventually undergo, given the tone of things up to this point, it was a punch in the emotions for series fans.
Starlight led a town centered around not having cutie marks, aka the things you get when you find your true calling in life. Twilight and the others eventually joined with the rebellion forming under Starlight’s nose, and ran her out of town, but not after Starlight outsmarting our gals at every turn (save for Fluttershy, of all ponies) and managing to steal their cutie marks beforehand. Liberating everyone’s marks became part of thwarting Starlight, fortunately.
Fast-forward to the end of Season 5, where she came back with a magic spell that allowed her to rewrite space and time no less than a dozen times in the space of a single episode, with the aim of erasing the Mane Six’s cutie marks by way of making sure Rainbow never set off her original Sonic Rainboom. It’s up to Twilight and Spike to stop her, but Starlight has her outmatched at every turn, at all of Twilight’s strengths, while possessing none of Twilight’s weaknesses. She’s better at magic, and she’s willing to cross moral lines that Twilight isn’t. Their fight goes on and on, over space, time, alternate timelines, and time loops, giving rise to some of the craziest alternate pasts, presents and futures Equestria’s ever seen.
Eventually, however, when things are at their lowest, Twilight realizes that Starlight just doesn’t know what to live for, and also find out that cutie marks are what caused Starlight’s childhood best friend to be separated from her as a filly. Having tons of empathy and no other choice, Twilight offers the hoof of true, unconditional friendship in a compassionate bid to help Starlight rebuild herself. (It works a little better on paper than on screen due to pacing issues, but the core idea is still fantastic.)
Season 6 is then dedicated to Starlight’s rehabilitation, which is a long and tough process, since Starlight basically has to relearn things as an adult that she never got to as a child—something quite a few of us adults have had to go through, but would never care to admit.
Looking at Starlight from the right angle, one can easily see parallels with plus-one rangers and secondary Riders who start as antagonists and are coerced towards heroism over the course of their respective seasons, such as TimeFire, DiEnd, or even Abarekiller. Something in their upbringing sends them down different tracks from the heroes, until they eventually clash with those heroes and are able to match their every move. Usually it’s only though endurance and constant offers of friendship that the heroes are able to win these newcomers over. However, even once they join the team, they still march to the beat of a different drummer, at least for a while.
Starlight comes out the other side pretty well-off, but she’ll always be unique. In Season 6, while learning friendship, she mind-controlled five of the Mane Six rather than humor their presence for a few hours. Last season, even after her friendship training was over, she solved an argument between Princesses Celestia and Luna by force-switching their cutie marks so that they could live life in each others’ shoes. It was a brilliant plan, all told, but perhaps not one you’d assign to a role model.
And so it goes. Love or hate her for her effect on the show’s overall narrative (and the fandom is evenly split on this), Starlight stands a beacon of hope and solace for those who feel disaffected by how society treats them, as well as those who may not feel themselves to be very socially skilled. She’s also an easy way to jolt some life into the show whenever it gets a little too predictable, since she tends to get the pragmatic lines that the audience is thinking.
And now in Season 8, she’s the guidance counselor for the School of Friendship. Which is genius, but also the scariest thing ever if you think about it for more than five seconds.
Have fun, kids. I know I will.
Anyway, Guidance Counselor Starlight isn’t here to try and cheer Twilight up. She’s here to tell Twilight where she messed up.
What follows is the MLP equivalent of every time a Showa hero shows up to school the Heisei heroes when the latter are at their lowest moment. I’m not kidding. The only way Starlight vs. Twilight differs in any way from Retsu vs. Geki (outside of in this case it’s the new school schooling the old) is that instead of Starlight smacking Twilight across the face, she hits her right in the rulebook.
And then Starlight gives the Righteous Speech. Twilight gave up too easily, and she shouldn’t have. Twilight didn’t give up on Starlight when the former took the latter as her friendship student two seasons ago, and said latter pony was a problem child for 26 whole episodes. But now, she’s going to give up on her dream? A dream that didn’t troll her for an entire season?
That downright insults Starlight to watch. To Tartarus with all of these pleas to authority! Fight the power, fight the system, go ahead and indulge your inner supervillain, place your bets on the one you think is right! She’s the Princess of Friendship, and this is a friendship matter if anyone ever saw one!
Twilight wrote the book on friendship. In a way, that’s how she became its princess in the first place. This is her school. She can write her own rules.
This time, things go over way better on the show itself than on paper.
“Thanks for convincing me to go against my government-appointed board of directors. I always knew there was a reason I liked you.”
Full of happiness and newfound energy, Twilight rushes to tell her friends the good news! The other Manes, however, fail to see the positive side. Especially since teaching at that school was boring them out of their minds. Looks like Twilight’s going to have to fix that too. New plan: instead of listening to the EEA, and instead of only listening to herself, she’s also going to listen to her friends to help make the school he best and most fun it can be. They’ll run the school like friends should—together.
You can probably hear the theme song just slightly in the back of your head at this point, but don’t go anywhere yet—this is only the first act of how this show lives up to its title with style.
With the decision to reopen the school made, it’s now up to everyone to get the student body back. Easier said than done, of course. The Manes put up several good arguments, but all the parental dignitaries summarily say “no.”
Because all their charges have run away.
WHAT A TWIST
The dignitaries are all falling over each other to blame each other for these disappearances, for… some reason. Except for Thorax—seriously, I love that guy’s super-chill worldview, but if the lands ever actually all do get brought to waging war with each other… well, he’s lucky he’s the head of Team Worm, because I otherwise don’t think the dude’s got an aggressive bone in his body.
The students, however, left notes before disappearing. Turns out they all became so enamored with one another that they couldn’t bear to part after the school closed. So, they ran away with each other. This is why we saw all of that happy-sappy friendship time in the first episode—so that this makes sense now, even if just barely. I mean, in the end, they’re kids. Possibly teens. Whaddaya gonna do.
Of course, since they just proved in a roundabout way that Twilight’s school actually worked… well, that squeal you just heard outside your window was Twilight receiving Validation(tm). It’s just as dangerous as you think.
However, there’s still the matter of why they haven’t been found yet. They’re being hidden, somehow, and suddenly the dignitaries are at it again, practically ready to go to war with each other so they can get their students back.
…I’m starting to question the necessity of Neighsay as an antagonist.
The Manes hold a meeting at Sugarcube Corner—Ponyville’s local bakery and Pinkie Pie’s place of employment. (Yes, it is pretty much like having a video game addict work at a GameStop.) During the meeting, Sandbar comes in to pick up a suspiciously large order of cupcakes. The Manes also realize that Sandbar has been buying large amounts food and provisions all day. After realizing that 2+2=8, the chase is on!
The students, meanwhile, have actually picked out a pretty cool Neverland all their own: the Castle of the Two Sisters—Celestia and Luna’s original castle hundreds of years ago. It’s demolished to the point where it doesn’t have a ceiling anymore, but some questions are best left unasked.
We get to see more laughing and playing, and here’s where the magic starts. With all of the students having gotten comfortable with each other last episode, we now get an absolutely adorable display of children—much like the intended viewership—at play.
You have all of these creatures from all sorts of lands, with all of these different abilities and backgrounds and heritages… and it’s made to not matter in the slightest. None of who they are, or what they are, is erased—in fact, it’s all praised and allowed to be put to the forefront (especially in Ocellus’s case—girl will change at the drop of a hat) but they’re all finding different ways to play and live with each other, while occasionally snarking and quipping about those differences, while everyone takes it in good stride.
And that’s it. That’s all they’re doing.
In stark contrast to their older counterparts.
(Also, Silverstream—if you’ll remember, is practically a mermaid—learns what stairs are, and this changes her life forever.)
This all sounds exceedingly simple on paper, but think of how many Very Special Episodes you’ve seen that have dealt with things like prejudice, racism, or any number of “touchy subjects”, even now. Even after Cheesy Piano Music and Shouting of the Lesson went out of vogue, think of how many children’s shows you’ve seen stumble over said message. Meanwhile, MLP always goes in the other direction, showing how friendship, love and forgiveness benefits the world, and showing us what happens when someone, every once in a while, loses sight of what those things are. Friendship is Magic shows, not tells, friendship, and that is incredibly hard to do, especially in a compressed 3-to-22-minute format.
And it’s been doing this like a blind swordsman for eight years.
After a short sequence of “wow, you guys are all right, what were our parents going on about anyway?” the students’ love-in is interrupted by killer Sanics.
There’s an in-show name for these things. Nobody remembers it or cares. They’re Sanics.
The students put up a good fight for about five seconds before they’re cornered. They’re about to make a brave stand with nothing but the Power of Friendship on their side, which will likely result in their demise… but since this isn’t a shonen anime, the Mane Teachers come to their rescue instead.
“Is that Professor Egghead?”
And on that day, Gallus’s teacher-spite turned into a teacher-crush.
Saving their lives instantly wins the students over with the teachers, which helps when the teachers ask them to come back to school. Everyone’s on board now—friendship school, run the best ways the Best Friends can think of.
This is how “combat” works in MLP.
In The Movie, Fluttershy wins by holding a literal psychologist session with a baddie.
If any of this interests you, it’s not too late to join the herd, as it were.
So, all’s well that ends well, and the day is saved, thanks to the Powerpuff Ponie—wait a minute. The school’s still locked and the dignitaries are still mad. The students put their appendages down and say they’re going, no matter what—which everyone’s okay with outside of the school still being locked.
It’s time for Twilight to Fight the Powers That Be. In front of the Powers That Be, no less.
Chancellor Neighsay had that lock on speed-dial, apparently, and is back to say his piece and defend his decision. Twilight stands up to him, but Neighsay puts on a shockwave-producing show of defense. It’s unstoppable force versus immovable object time. Yona, being BEST, is ready to all but run him over the moment he shows up, but Sandbar holds her back.
Neighsay goes through his whole spiel about how the school wasn’t run up to snuff, and that was before the “dangerous and unpredictable students” were factored into the equation. You know. Just insulting creatures all over the place, which of course gets the dignitaries riled up.
They’re like light switches at this point. If a war started, no one would be surprised.
But “The Board of Education started it” makes for a hilarious story in the history books.
As the dignitaries start in on Neighsay, however, Celestia asks everyone to hold on just a tick.
This would be where a normal show would have someone in Princess Celestia’s station put her hoof down, and, I don’t know, fire Neighsay or something. Everyone would applaud, and half the cast would turn to the camera and talk about how Neighsay was totally wrong, but now justice was served. I know I was certainly expecting all of the above.
However, this episode—and a few others over the last couple of seasons—shows the key difference between the Princess Celestia we all thought we were originally dealing with back when this series started, and who she’s revealed to actually be over the course of the show. She’s not an all-powerful sun goddess—she’s a motherly monarch who has one really good trick. She’s Equestria’s mother, who just happens to have the sun on her Contacts List. And while being Equestria’s Mom means gentle nudging or standing tall sometimes, it ultimately means knowing when to stand aside, and allow ponies and other creatures to better themselves.
Less Master of the Universe, more Master Splinter.
So, instead of lowering the sunboom, Celestia instead asks everyone to let Twilight explain herself, even though Twilight arguably shouldn’t have to. She steps aside and gives Twilight the agency to dig herself out of her own troubles, but it’s also its own character test all the same. Because Celestia really likes getting ponies to learn their own lessons like that.
And Twilight’s lesson is that since there’s never been a formal School of Friendship before, and its curriculum is off the beaten path anyway, it can be its own thing, regardless of whether the EEA approves of it or not. The title doesn’t really matter, so much as the quality of the education of the subject that it’s teaching. This is a special case, and so the rules must be changed, and a paradigm shifted.
Just like the story of when Equestria was founded in the first place, which required the three races of ponies to unite as once, with literal survival of ponykind as the stakes.
Twilight promises that through teaching friendship, the school will do what Neighsay wants, and help protect Equestria in the long run. Neighsay isn’t convinced, but he leaves for now. Will he be back? Probably. This is basically how Starlight got run out of town in her first appearance. Meaning that this is only an intermission in the BATTLE OF WITS OF THE MILLENNIUM.
Cue a second singing montage of the school actually being run the way the Manes and Students want to, with friendship busting out all over. Even Gallus becomes tolerable, sort of!
I kid, of course.
The dignitaries of the other country are happy and proud, the students get to stay, cut, print, that’s a wrap. Also, Abarekiller is the guidance counselor. I’m not letting that go. It’s going to be great.
It’s a nice, heartwarming ending to an episode that would normally be one rife with sad piano music, and lots of stern glares towards the camera. Instead, friendship and love won, with differences being celebrated in the midst of boundaries being leapfrogged.
If there’s one word that sticks with me with this premiere, it would be “promise.” As I said earlier, there is so much loaded into this two-parter, already laden with themes and strong-but-silent messages, and yet all of it can easily springboard more of th e same, if not stronger, down the line.
In the time it took me to write this review, nearly ten more episodes have aired. The school and students haven’t played much of a part in them, though they’ve always been a high point of the ones they’ve showed up in. I still wait with bated breath for this season to follow through on what’s been set up here. It’ll be a shame if it doesn’t, but even if that proves to be the case, what’s on display here is why My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic deserves its status as a revolutionary staple of pop culture.
Anyway, if you’ve reached the end of this massive two-part feature, then good on you, and you have my sincerest thanks. Hope you had a good time. I’m not sure what future articles will bring, but the next one probably won’t be quite so pastel-drenched.
Or, you know. I could be ordered to toss up a massive wall of pictures and text about Pretty Cure. Who can say?
Until next time!