So, just what is it about ponies?
Culturally speaking, we associate them more with girls than boys, more with cuteness than nobility. And such was the mentality Hasbro adopted when they launched their toy line and animated series, My Little Pony, back in 1981. Since then, there have been no less than four “generations” of the franchise, each one trying to adapt to a new perspective on marketing to young girls and teens.
Now, let me make a few things clear before I give my analysis. Number one, I am not nor have I ever considered myself a brony. I watched the first season of the show online and wanted to see just how this show marketed for young girls had developed such a following among men on the Internet. My second point is that I don’t think there has to be a strict segregation between TV shows for boys and girls. I grew up watching shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that had lots of action but also lots of emotional tension and sensitivity in characters (that could be construed as “girlish” if you’re cynical enough). I don’t believe that only boys get to have the dramatic and action-oriented material while girls get stuck with an endless line of princesses and makeovers.
So, having heard so much about MLP: FIM and bronies, I decided to see just what the fuss was about. I watched the entire first season online and gave the show an honest chance.
The plot follows a young and gifted unicorn named Twilight Sparkle who is sent by Princess Celestia to Ponyville for two reasons: to stop a terrible menace from rising up after its thousand-year imprisonment and to make some friends instead of being nose-deep in books. Naturally, the thousand-year menace breaks free and Twilight struggles to make friends, but in the end, friendship not only encourages the ponies as they work to defeat Nightmare Moon, but also proves it can be weaponized and used to defeat her short-lived reign of terror. Order is restored to the land of Equestria and Twilight now has a team of fire-forged friends to call her own.
Now, as action-packed as all that sounds, that’s just the two-episode pilot. The rest of the season is the various lighthearted dramas and personal issues that the six friends get into during their lives at Ponyville. And I have to be honest, as trivial as that sounds, it’s handled in a very mature fashion.
I’ll admit that I kind of like the protagonist Twilight Sparkle. For one thing, she’s a good demonstration that, yes, girls can be nerdy and yet still have friends, and that girls don’t have to sacrifice brains for beauty (although I’m not sure that she’s meant to be plain or ugly in comparison to the other ponies). I also think that the morals at the end of each episode, while quite a bit saccharine, are still pretty decent and not as heavy-handed as one might expect. And above all else, I respect this show for actually having a sense of humor about itself. It knows it’s ridiculous, so every single phrase and name is a horse-based pun that’ll make you cringe and laugh at the same time.
Also, they wrote in a David Bowie reference in a show for young girls (Episode 19 if you want to know). Combine that with the fact that they cast John de Lancie as a mischievous deity who torments the heroes with his reality-warping powers (sound familiar?) and I have to give them points for style.
That said, I’m not always a fan of the songs, which tend to be so catchy that I need an hour or so to get them out of my head. My least favorite character was of the “mane” cast (he said with rolling eyes) was Rainbow Dash, who, while a good tomboy character, is also a rather flat character and just comes off as abrasive, even for a show about teens finding confidence to overcome challenges and work out issues with friends.
At the end of the day, I think Lauren Faust and Co. succeeded in bringing out a good animated series, regardless of whether it was made for girls or boys. They don’t seem to have missed how popular it’s become on the Internet, which itself is a powerful new venue for entertainment, so I take that as a good sign of better programming to come. And even so, there may still be critics who refuse to accept the idea that males can enjoy female-oriented shows. Well, to them I say this: who is the stronger man, the one who deliberately acts macho or the one who has no fear of being “girly”?
As a final addendum, here are two fan-made videos that I just enjoy and wanted to share with my readers (and yes, I realize they’re both about the same episode and character):
Bibliography: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Developed by Lauren Faust. Directed by Jayson Thiessen and James Wootton. Produced by Sarah Wall. The Hub. October 10, 2010 – present.