Since I started writing articles on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I've seen a variety of reactions. These range from praise and approval to distaste and, for lack of a better word, hate. However, a lot of people simply wonder what makes the show so great. What's the big deal? Why are teenage and adult men watching it? What's the appeal? So I'm here to do my best to answer those questions.
Warning: The following article is lengthy and filled with candy-coloured-cartoon-ponies. You may experience sudden joy, eye-opening or general mouth-smiling, none of which I will apologise for. If you are uninterested in the subject matter, feel free to leave now. Curious? Read on...
Not just for kids?
The lines separating things that are considered "for kids" and "for adults" are blurring more and more all the time. Even within the Whiskey Media family of websites, we have grown men building LEGO space ships and playing collectible toy-based video games. Still, many people can't get past the fact that this show was created for a young, mostly female audience. So how then, on the internet, has it amassed a predominantly male teen to young adult fan base?
Honestly? It's not at all what you'd expect for a "little girl's" cartoon. Think of it as you might think of animated Disney films. Were they primarily made for children? Yes. Can they also be enjoyed by adults? Absolutely. A lot of the confusion and distaste towards Friendship is Magic simply stems from the "My Little Pony" brand in general, which is actually quite understandable. What do you think about when you hear My Little Pony? You think of little girls playing with dolls, two-dimensional characters, and tea parties. That's not what this show is.
The main draw is inarguably the characters. They're different, they're interesting, they don't even always get along... they're actually flawed. At one point or another, each of the main characters basically has a full-on mental breakdown. Considering this is a cartoon all about friendship (which sounds corny as anything, I know) there's plenty of negativity thrown in, to the point where the show actually gets... kind of dark on occasion. Take this clip for example, suggesting the reason Pinkie Pie appears so happy and cheerful on the outside is because on the inside she's actually frightened of everyone laughing at her:
It's actually very easy to relate to the characters; Twilight Sparkle buries herself in her studies and as a result is initially quite anti-social, scoffing at the idea of making friends. Applejack works too hard and is often too proud to let others help her, to the point where she nearly works herself to death. Rainbow Dash can be a show-off and egotistical but deep down she's worried what people will think of her if she isn't the best at everything she does. Rarity... you get the idea. The characters actually have issues, they aren't perfect, and people can relate to that. Regardless of age or gender. It makes the characters much more believable.
Of course if the show was only about character flaws it would actually be pretty depressing, but it helps reel things in. The characters even develop a little over time, understanding and overcoming most of their flaws. Most of the time viewers love the characters for all their little quirks. The show is well-written and the characters are entertaining and in many cases just plain funny.
As for the actual content of the episodes themselves, they're not all tea parties, sleep-overs and pillow fights like you might expect. They actually revolve around the happenings in the ponies' home town and the rest of their world. They have families, friends and responsibilities just like anyone else. It's actually not so different to lots of the "slice-of-life" anime shows out there.
Lets not beat around the bush here: this cartoon is fantastically made in just about every aspect. From a visual perspective everything looks colourful, engaging and full of life. It's flash-based, which means it could have ended up looking quite static, bland and lazy. Thankfully the designers and animators give everything buckets of personality, especially regarding the facial expressions of the characters. It actually looks quite similar to Panty & Stocking, though considering that anime was based on things like The Powerpuff Girls, that's actually not a huge surprise (Lauren Faust, the creator of Friendship is Magic, previously worked on The Powerpuff Girls).
What's arguably even better than the visuals is the audio. Especially the voice acting, with talent like Tara Strong (Twilight Sparkle) at the helm--who's extensive voice work can be seen here--it's not hard to see why it's so good. Plenty of cartoons have good voice acting though, but how many of them have fantastic musical numbers like this:
There isn't singing in every episode, which is good because this isn't supposed to be Glee: The Animation, and honestly if they did do a song every week I doubt they could put anywhere near the same amount of effort and care into each song. Not only is the music great, but it's spawned an insane amount of remixes, mash-ups and original music on the internet, like this and this and even this.
Parodies, homages and references
Okay, this is where the show gets "geeky" and lots of this stuff is for the older viewers, or at least, it's appreciated by older viewers in a way that the "target audience" simply won't get. The writers of Friendship is Magic include dozens of references to celebrities, other TV shows, movies... stuff that just flies right over younger heads while still keeping the show entertaining for everyone. Listing them all would make this article a million miles long, but there's a list here you can check out.
Here's my personal favourite. Happen to be a Star Trek fan? This may blow your mind a little: the antagonist for the two-part season 2 opener is a character named Discord - the mischievous spirit of chaos and disharmony. Sound familiar?
Yes. That's the voice of John de Lancie who many of you know as the character "Q" from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager playing... well basically playing Q from Star Trek. To see that in any cartoon is awesome. If you're more of a Star Wars fan, check this out. To read about the I Love Lucy homage and The Music Man homage from recent episodes, check out my articles here and here.
All these references just top off an already very enjoyable cartoon, it's a bonus for the older fans.
Of course there's only so much I can say about a show and what makes it good or bad, so if you've read this far and you're interested, check some episodes out on YouTube. Still not interested? Then perhaps the show just isn't for you and that's fine too, it's not for everyone. Either way, don't let "society" tell you what you can and can't watch. Life's too short for it to matter.
I'll leave you all with a quote I've recently taken a liking to, which you may or may not agree with, but I actually think it's quite profound:
Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.