So, I figure everybody's gonna be posting their reviews of the season 4 opener any time now. Why should I be an exception this time?
My impressions, in brief?
I think this could have been the MLP movie. Maybe even should have been, since chunks of it did feel rushed. But Hasbro's been down that road before, and it hasn't worked well. Instead, they make it the 2-part season opener that probably should've been 3, and we get Equestria Girls.
I know, I know, everyone hates Flash Sentry. Guess what, folks, when the frickin' thing came out, everybody talked about how it wasn't that bad after all. Then they started bitching about it after those comments cycled out of their visible blog. When you watched it, it wasn't that bad. Deal with it.
Similarly, Twilicorn is here to stay. Again, deal with it. The writing was on the wall since Episode 3 that Celestia still had plans for Twilight, and literally all of Season 3 was telling us that big changes were coming!
Well, they came. And, having watched the opener, they weren't so bad. They could've been much, much, much worse.
First of all - no matter how much you hated the season 3 ending, you must accept that it was nearly the series finale, not season. And that's our fault as much as, or more than, Hasbro's. The Last Roundup and its fallout told Hasbro that the bronies weren't just slightly embarrassing and overly willing to talk about things They Didn't Want To, but that we are made up of largely uncontrollable, possibly schizophrenic lunatics who take ourselves, and our fandom, way, way too seriously. We all know it. They were going to do the half-season, spin MLP off into Equestria Girls, and hope that we'd quietly be happy with the MLP comic and buying collectible toys.
Deep down inside, I think we all know this was the plan. At some point mid-Season 3, we received a stay of execution. We managed to earn back enough trust (or, more likely, throw enough money at the property) that Hasbro decided that, okay, it was still worth keeping the show going, at least for one more season. My personal headcanon is that the decision was made when we didn't all jump ship after Too Many Pinkie Pies, but that's my personal argument for worst episode of the show (and I can defend that argument clinically.)
But here's how things could've really been worse. Anybody here remember the Transformers, GI Joe, and original My Little Pony movies? The ones that were still hand-drawn, not CGI spectacles, released back in the 80's or so.
Two of those killed the franchises they'd been released for. Why? Because Hasbro, in a move motivated purely by the desire to release new toys and render the old ones obsolete, started rendering the characters obsolete.
By killing them.
I still have striking memories of watching Transformers: The Movie (which, for the record, has one of the best film soundtracks ever, and I will argue this to the death) and staring at the screen, slack-jawed, as the bad guys busted onto the ship and graphically blew the ever-loving shit out of the character I'd grown up loving. And, since they were all ROBOTS, they got to do so VERY graphically! For example, blowing holes in Ratchet's chest and letting us watch his eyes fade out and smoke pour out of his mouth. Brawn gets much the same treatment. Ironhide not only gets shot in the chest multiple times, but he gets the most heroic moment of the lot of them as he... well, why describe it when I can show you!
Thanks, YouTube, for letting me revisit one of my childhood heroes being shot in the face execution style.
This, by the way, happens within the first... oh... ten to fifteen minutes of the film. The next ten minutes or so feature us seeing even more of the characters we love being killed, and meeting our new toys heroes, a bunch of bots we've never met before, and have no particular emotional attachment to except to say "Jesus Christ, can't somebody make it out of this in one more-or-less functioning piece?"
But wait! They get a distress call out, and it's Optimus Prime to the rescue! Surely Optimus will manage to save the day!
And for the first two-and-a-half minutes, my childhood trust is well placed. Optimus shows up, the Dinobots kick some ass, but get beaten back a bit, and then Optimus himself joins the fray, to a song even more epic than Megatron's Instruments of Destruction! He and Megatron have the epic boto-a-boto battle every child in the audience was longing for! Optimus finally gets the upper hand and... and....
And the next forty five seconds define Hasbro cartoon movies for many of us. Just mention the words 'Out of the way, Hot Rod," and you can literally watch childhood die over and over again in the glassy stare of my generation, like we were playing a fatal car-wreck over and over, wondering if there was anything we could have done, anything anyone could have done to change the tragedy, wondering how there can truly be a merciful, loving God if such things are allowed to happen. For a brief moment, we are seven again, and the drunken joy of innocence passes away to leave us with our first hangovers.
To top it all off, we even get the following clip, our parents blasting an air-horn in our ears to get us out of bed, to continue my tortured metaphor.
Well... okay, that's got most every fan in the audience crying, but at least Prime died for a just cause, and took Megatron out with him, right? Megatron wasn't quite dead, but Starscream spaced the fucker, and that means he'll float through an infinite void up until he finally ceases to function, which is a suitably hellacious death for... for....
Fuck you, Hasbro.
Even at seven, I realized that this was the proof that we were in an abusive relationship. You bought me a dog, you let me play with him, you let me love him, and then, because you wanted me to love a new puppy just as much, you made me watch you take him to the dog fights and be savaged. Then you brought me home with the new puppy and expected me to not be upset when I saw the neighbor's dog, who killed mine in the fight, romp around the yard with a brand new shiny collar and a bigger dog house.
Seriously, were any of the bad guys going to meet an end even half as gruesome (robotically speaking) as what we've been forced to watch the good guys endure?
...Okay, I'll play with the new puppy and try not to think about it, but mostly because now I'm worried you'll just shoot it too if I don't.
At any rate, Transformers: The Movie bombed (I didn't see it until it was a rental, for the record and anybody doing the math to figure out how old I was when it was in theaters!) People didn't tune in to seasons 3 and 4, both pretty much half-seasons, because we'd learned a valuable lesson.
Everything we love dies. Even dogs. Even our grandparents. Even previously invincible transforming robots who have, in the past, been literally blown to pieces and rebuilt from only an intact brain case without any serious health consequences beyond needing to keep them powered while you built a new body. We learned our lesson, and we largely ceased trying to love.
Hasbro also learned a valuable lesson - people actually gave two shits about the characters they'd spend months or years getting to know!
So there were some VERY rapid edits to G.I. Joe: The Movie. Among them, while Duke still takes a snake-spear to the chest, he only goes into a coma, rather than dying. We get a throwaway line at the end and a couple of VA edits about how "Duke's going to be okay!" Otherwise, it's still pretty similar, they just couldn't pay the same loving attention to death with humans that they could with robots. So instead, we get a new crew and get to keep most of the old crew.
Of course, while doing these edits, they forgot to put something intelligent in place of the placeholder-name "Cobra-La" for the hidden civilization of snake men, but that's another story for another day.
Unsurprisingly, this also pretty much killed the series stateside. Not only did the movie flop, but the series afterwards went to that quaint little farm in upstate New York called "syndication" shortly afterwards, where it could play with Transformers and all the other victims of corporate cynicism. Honestly, I kinda think that the Joe fans, many of whom also loved Transformers, had simply seen the writing on the wall and decided that the best thing we could do to help Duke is to leave him be in that happier world known as 'off-screen'
My Little Pony actually survived the movie-era much more intact, probably because it was largely written for girls (not that you'd necessarily know it from the pilot, Rescue from Midnight Castle.) The soundtracks weren't quite as rockin' as Transformers: The Movie had, to put it mildly, but characters still kicked the bucket. Ponies who weren't pegasi fell down chasms, the Schmooze overtook victims, etc. But it wasn't quite the same, likely because while the show did have its darker moments, Megan didn't shoot Firefly in the back of the head because she broke a wing!
Now, what does any of this have to do with the opener of Season 4?
Well, folks have been bitching for some time about how the show has been driven by merchandise, rather than the show's creator. Guess what folks - ain't nothin' new, and you know it. The only reason Lauren Faust got to make the show was because Hasbro realized it would help revitalize the toy line, and it showed from the word go!
I said something like this back when people were whinging about Canterlot Wedding. Then the whining and the bitching continued through Season 3, only to culminate when the show did what anybody with a brain saw coming since at least the Season 3 opener.
And. It. Never. Stopped!
People have been complaining about Cadance, about Shining Armor, about Sombra being a lousy villain, about Twilicorn, about Equestria Girls, and about how they're all proof that the show's going down the shitter and Hasbro only cares about toys.
I've known that since I was seven. Literally more than three-quarters of my life have been spent with that drummed into my head before I ever met MLP and took it out on a date!
Maybe, since I wasn't a blushing virgin when it came to my rabid fandom, I already knew that I needed to use protection no matter how much Twily wanted me to go bareback.
Maybe it's because I was almost twice the age of the average brony when I was introduced to the show.
Maybe it's just because, having watched those two theatrical cartoon movies (for kids!), I realized that the equivalent action on Hasbro's part would be having Gilda brutally kill Pinkie and Fluttershy on-screen, only to rip out Dash's heart and eat it after an epic aerial battle. Oh, and then when Dash's last desperate act of bucking Gilda in the face results in her becoming the God-Queen of Tirek, Blue Bonnet (the mail-pony who delivered the telegram in The Last Roundup), Thunderlane, and Blossomforth are supposed to more-or-less seamlessly replace our beloved , , and .
But folks... it ain't that bad.
Lauren Faust's original vision for the show, from what I've come to understand, was colorful pastel horses who were also magical girls. Equestria Girls could've gone that way (sans the colorful pastel horses). Season 4 could still go that way, and at least promises to be much more epic than the first couple of seasons were! Hell, The Crystal Empire, oft derided as utterly atrocious, did more worldbuilding in two episodes than most of the first two seasons combined! Everything good in Season 3, half-season though it was, was dedicated to watching our favorite characters prepare to move on in some way or other!
Crystal Empire said explicitly that Twi was moving on to the next part of her studies! One Bad Seed shows the CMC's starting to find a calling beyond their own cutie marks! Magic Duel shows Trixie, fan-favorite villain of the ENTIRE SERIES coming back and being redeemed, giving us another pony to want to follow! Sleepless in Ponyville finally canonizes Scootaloo's "desperately wanna be a sister"-ly relationship with Rainbow Dash! Wonderbolts Academy shows Dash going off to literally train with her idols and enter the next stage of her life-long ambitions! Spike starts to learn about taking responsibility himself and not just being a follower/child in his episodes, even though they weren't necessarily really great episodes! Applejack got to recognize that there's more to her life than just what she does on Sweet Apple Acres, in the form of her family and her family's memories and lives together! Discord, Discord comes back and learns that... y'know... there's more to life than his own pleasures, and he kinda likes that!
Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rarity got the shorter end of things, largely because it was a half-season, but again. Most of the season was preparing us for changes, and then the biggest change of all happens as Twilight does enter her next phase of studies. Becoming a teacher herself, becoming what she's been groomed for since she was a filly.
And now we've been whining endlessly about it ever since.
Seriously, I can't have been the only pony who expected it. And we saw it continue in Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2. The biggest message I got from the season opener was that change is gonna keep happening.
But y'know what? Larson might just have been right.
Everything is going to be fine.
And if the clop artists now have more fuel for tentacle porn than a Lovecraft convention, then so be it.