» I’m a Brony, and… I’m Sorry

As fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it’s easy to get caught up in the self-sustaining fun of it all—of being part of a cultural phenomenon that was more or less dropped, gift-wrapped, in our laps.

We’re nearly through three seasons’ worth of the crazy, breakneck development both of the show’s canon and the fandom’s vibrant extended world, and for many fans the heady days of the show’s first season, when we fought to justify to ourselves that we were watching a little girls’ cartoon and loving it, are dimly remembered artifacts of the past. By now the Pony show is a juggernaut: the engine of worldwide conventions and fan gatherings, of gape-mouthed media attention, of an underground fanwork economy, of dozens of Internet personalities emerging from obscurity to find their unique voices against a backdrop of colorful toy horses. Every day we wake up to new fanfictions, new PMVs, new revelations of fantastic developments in the canon of the show to come. It’s an exciting time to be a fan, as a show like this enters its phase of comfortable maturity and proves itself capable of sustaining its quality over the long term. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to.

But in the process of getting to this point it seems as though we’ve forgotten something. Something important. Something so important that I hesitate to hide it behind the cut.

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» The Difficult Third Album

It’s now less than a week until the premiere of Season Three of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Boy, how far we’ve come.

It seems like only yesterday that we all were unhappy, cynical, entertainment-consuming Internet denizens who would never have given a second’s consideration to watching some new My Little Pony cartoon, no matter how edgy, ironic, or tongue-in-cheek its modern, Shrek-inspired incarnation might purport to be. Irony in 2010 was itself old news.

But that’s just two deceptively short years ago. For many of us, it’s difficult even to cast our minds back to the age Before Pony. Ever since then our familiarity with this immersive, earnest, magical show has deepened so fully and so rapidly that we can barely imagine our lives without it. And it’s all happened in less time than it takes many college students to decide on a major.

What’s next for the show? Some speculation inevitably follows the jump.

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» The Very Models of Modern Cartoon Individuals

Animating My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in Flash was meant originally as a cost-saving measure. By doing all the character design work digitally and developing a library of pre-rendered motion assets, the animation staff could theoretically save a great deal of time and money by re-using everything from run cycles to facial expressions over and over.

What’s more, each of the Mane 6 ponies is built on exactly the same physical model—peel away their manes, tail, and distinguishing eye shapes, and they’re all identical.

How is it, then, that the show is so widely praised for its strength of characterization—the wide and believable variety in each pony’s (for lack of a better word) humanity? How is it that a cast of characters that were specifically designed to be as physically interchangeable as the plastic toys that represent them on store shelves are so vividly, unmistakably unique in all our minds?

The answer lies in what animation iconoclast John Kricfalusi calls specific acting—the careful use of custom-designed facial animation to convey individual unique personalities rather than just using stock faces from a model sheet—and in an animation team that cares enough about its subject matter to take a newly developed digital tool set and make it sing and dance, as you’ll see after the break.

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» Playing It Close to the Vest

Boy oh boy, we sure do love us some worldbuilding, don’t we?

As fans, few things turn our cranks like seeing more tantalizing details of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic world fleshed out and made real. We love seeing the details of how the pegasi control the weather or how the earth ponies grow their food or how the Royal Pony Sisters came to defeat Discord and rule the land of Equestria. When a new episode airs that delves into details like the founding of Ponyville or the existence of a mysterious ancient figure named Star Swirl the Bearded, excited speculation runs rampant from one end of the fandom to the other.

Yet the show always stops short of giving us all the details on these subjects that we would need to fully understand what they’re talking about. It always leaves us hanging. And therein lies its cruel, tantalizing secret: Ambiguity.

The FiM writers, knowing the power they hold over their fans, judiciously refuse to elaborate on the hints they dangle before us, and the ambiguity that creates makes us so desperate to know more that we’ll create it ourselves if we have to.

Not being a FiM writer, however, I will elaborate ad nauseam. Read on.

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» Stacking of Tolerances

Perhaps nothing has done more to solidify to me what a remarkable, thoughtful fandom this one is than the response to Love, Tolerance, and Other Myths from earlier this month.

It was a fairly straightforward concept—there were really just two points in it that I was trying to make, namely that 1) the “Love and Tolerance” meme is something created by the fan community to capture its own unique dynamic, and not something directly preached by the show; and that 2) the show’s message of friendship is centered on rather different principles—indeed, profoundly different—than many other shows that have more directly espoused “tolerance” as a theme.

Yet the response has been tremendously widespread and energetic, both to agree with it and in many cases to take issue with specific parts of the piece’s premise. All this feedback is invigorating, and a lot of it warrants some specific responses and clarifications. Yet ultimately what it’s told me, at a high level, is that the fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are a well-reasoned bunch of folks who genuinely relish the chance to apply some serious analysis to this inspiring, thought-provoking show.

Hit the break for more. I promise I’ll try to make this worth the read.

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» Emotions Running High: BronyCon 2012 Review

Lauren Faust is a perfectly articulate woman. Anyone who has seen her give interviews about her career in animation knows her to be vivacious, opinionated, and unflappable—the only kind of person who could have pulled off the soup-to-nuts execution of a show like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the first place.

Yet to see her at the opening ceremony of BronyCon June 2012, you’d think it was her first time in front of a microphone.

Taking the stage to thunderous applause following the introductions of all her VIP colleagues, Faust found herself struggling to find the words to describe how she felt at that moment. But then, perhaps anyone would have gotten tongue-tied facing down an enraptured crowd of 4,000, a sea of swaying blue and gold and pink t-shirts and costumes packed into the main hall of the Meadowlands Exposition Center for the merest chance to meet the person responsible for creating what has become the most meaningful and inspiring part of so many of their lives.

It’s enough to choke anyone up—but they’ll be smiling all the while.

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» Love, Tolerance, and Other Myths

With documentary films about the pony fandom ramping up and more and more media outlets taking notice of the strange culture of adults who enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it’s almost inevitable that they all try to grab hold of some kind of comprehensible catchphrase or theme on which to base the pictures they paint for their audiences. Some journalists mistake “brony” as meaning an inebriated frat-boy who makes a show of liking ponies out of rebellious irony. Some focus on the raucous net-savvy 4chan roots of the fandom as a kind of self-mocking meme that got out of control.

But virtually all the exposés that attempt to understand the fandom as a sincere, self-supportive community of like-minded fans of a show about pink cartoon ponies latch on to a recurring mantra that survives today stronger than ever: Love and Tolerance. To hear fans tell it, that’s what FiM is all about, and that’s why everybody loves it so much.

I’ve just got to ask: Are these people watching the same show I am?

Hit the break to see what I’m on about this time.

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» A New Kind of Cinderella Story

What makes a fantasy universe unique enough to become an archetype? Why do so many classic fairy-tales all seem to take place in the same broadly familiar setting, without establishing unique rules of their own? What does it take for a brand-new member of the genre to stand out, rejecting its common well-worn tropes in favor of all-new ones that excite our imaginations with the thrill of novelty, and showing enough staying power that newer works might use those ideas for their own inspiration?

And how has My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic put its own ambitious potential at risk, pulling a few key punches that could have put it—artistically and culturally—head and shoulders above any of its recent competition? Read on to find out.

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» Let’s Hear It For the Creators

One of the first published items that drew grassroots attention to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a now-infamous post on the animation blog Cartoon Brew by prolific author and commentator Amid Amidi entitled “The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation”. This post appeared on October 19, 2010, just after the very first episode of FiM aired, and Amidi used it as a piece of evidence in a thesis that seemed to suggest that the best days of modern cartoons were behind us.

Perhaps it’s time, after two full seasons and with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, that we take a look back at what the animation blog world’s take on the nascent show was and what it portended for the industry—and whether those predictions have, in fact, come true.

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» Raising Cute to a Science

Quick: it’s word-association time. What adjectives immediately leap to mind when you think of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?

If “cute” isn’t among the top three words you think of in the first five seconds, you’re probably a statistical outlier among the fan community. It’s just so damned cute.

Cuteness is so ingrained into the show that you can’t avoid watching it for the adorable factor. It basks in the immersive warmth of a world that incorporates hearts and rainbows into its architecture and in which terms like cutie mark and cuteceañera are thrown at the audience for us to take in stride. It’s inseparable from the show; kids and fans wouldn’t think of demanding it to be less cute than it is. The show’s visual design and texture of writing has confidently staked out territory in a traditionally low-rent corner of the commercial artistic world—and the property values there are skyrocketing.

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