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Ghost Mike


Hardcore animation enthusiast chilling away in this dimension and unbothered by his non-corporeal form. Also likes pastel cartoon ponies. They do that to people. And ghosts.

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  • Monday
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #101

    Just before Christmas, something interesting came up. Completely breaking major company convention, Netflix has released viewing hours for the period of January-June 2023 for every title that had at least 50,000 watch hours. Which is over 18,000 titles. Several of which are a property to do with colourful pastel magical equines.

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    11 comments · 120 views
  • 1 week
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #100

    The big #100. Honestly, I was never doubtful I’d hit it, least after the first few months: my backlog was substantial enough that my reading pace would have to slow fast to not get here without a break. I don’t have any big sentimental feelings or sense of celebration associated with it – I associate that mentally with the first Monday of March, the anniversary of Monday Musings – but yeah, it’s

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    17 comments · 137 views
  • 2 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #99

    In what is an actual first for this series (just before hitting three digits too!), I am not here to post this week’s blog. However, thanks to the magic of tab synchronisation and Google Docs, Fimfiction’s lack of an upload scheduler altogether and a New Blog button on the mobile layout is no issue. Huzzah for careful planning!

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    7 comments · 153 views
  • 3 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #98

    Okay, well, after three weeks of fun year-in-review stats, no real news today. Just moving out of the January doldrums. Not that it’s been a bad month: outside of the royal pain from last week, it’s actually been pretty good, as January tends to go. And I have a weekend with friends coming up centred around a Bank Holiday next Monday (new enough in Ireland, only its 3rd year). But

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    6 comments · 141 views
  • 4 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #97

    Well, I had a bit of a crummy week. Ended up taking my first sick day off work since… since ever, I think (I’ve taken chunks of days off before). Had no choice, as a particular problem I’ve had twice in the last year reared its head on Tuesday, got more intense than ever before on Wednesday, and on Thursday, left me unable to sit without proper pain. With all the fever symptoms and regular

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    7 comments · 183 views
Nov
27th
2023

Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #90 · 6:00pm Nov 27th, 2023

Good Thanksgiving, I hope, my American comrades? All full from the turkey and familial reminiscing? Nothing like that here, but I did have the first organised Christmas dinners/parties that tend to start up around now. This one being at work, to facilitate easier flights home for those coming in for it. First time on a boat on a canal, of all things. Fun to see the locks opening and the water level changing when you’re on the thing!

Also freaky how anniversaries can overlap, for the 25th year of the launch of two of my favourite media properties were recently. On November 18th, 1998, one of my favourite cartoons, The Powerpuff Girls, debuted on Cartoon Network. And a week later, on the 25th, A Bug’s Life was released for the Thanksgiving window. Not the best Pixar film, not with as many of their really-for-adults-masterpieces as they would go on to make, but criminally underrated and one of the Great Generic kids’ movies.

Of course, it’s not my 25th with either of them – though peripherally aware of the show, due to not getting Cartoon Network until 2005, by which point it was only on occasional late-night reruns, I didn’t properly watch and get into Powerpuff until 2009. Though Bug’s does have the honour of being the first film I ever saw in a cinema, when it released here in February ‘99 for the mid-term (the common practice for Disney/Pixar’s Thanksgiving animations up to the early 2010s when the internet made a 2.5-month wait unfeasible). Counts for a lot, that, even if it was also off my radar from like 2003 to 2009.

Yeah, not much else to say this time. Business is ramping up, with my Jinglemas story added to the pile of things to do in the next month. Though it’s something I’m energised about and already have inspiring material gestating for, not stuck on initially as usually happens. Not bad! In any case, here’s some horse words for you all.

This Week’s Spectral Stories:
Seeking Answers by bats
Veneer by Pascoite
A Tale That Wasn't Right by Equimorto
Fluttershy's Secret Kissing Story by Ara
Ladybugs Awake by Uz Naimat

Weekly Word Count: 36,207 Words

Archive of Reviews


Seeking Answers by bats

Genre: Romance/Slice of Life
Applejack, Twilight
11,207 Words
April 2016

An ordinary day of farmwork for Applejack turns sour when a relaxing Rainbow Dash, annoyed at AJ not vibing with her jokey attitude there and then, suggests Applejack needs a partner, thus stirring feelings which she is normally good at surpassing. Namely, her feelings for her friend Twilight. They’re stirred enough that when she next sees Twilight, she blurts out that she’d be interested in a nighttime picnic watching the meteor shower before she knew what she was saying.

Being that bats wrote this, it is of course a genuine, natural and believable approach to TwiJack, despite the setup bringing with it not just “suppressed feelings for ages”. And we also get two occasions of crucial moments for the characters that happened years seasons ago in this story’s verse, that most characters were privy to, and only get mentioned now, revolving around both featured ponies turning out to like mares. Though that’s only an obstacle as far as not knowing if the other is interested in them, thankfully.

The main selling point with this story is that it is Applejack, not Twilight, who is the flustered one, but in a way that feels fitting to her. Anxiety, uncertainty, excitement and anticipation blend together to a narrative flow that fits, from her hardened stubbornness after her argument with Dash (which has Dash come across as a little petty, but is largely believable), to her trying and failing yo gather thoughts to get out of it, to the way both ponies approach and get through the event itself. Relative to her, Twilight is kind of meek and a little too conveniently written to mirror Applejack’s questions back at her during the event; ambiguity as to whether she had feelings before now or not does make it hard to get a bundle on her character inferiority. But as Twilight’s only really the focus for the last third, this isn’t a huge issue.

It’s slow and lingering, arguably too much (this is effectively a 8K fic in an 11K body even with the breathing room such a thing needs), prone to tangents that only marginally feed into the main thrust (I'm sure the leads mulling on how Starlight's faring as Twilight's student, and her mental state and being able to let their guard down around her, resonated at the time of publication, but now it just seems a needless digression) Being honest, even off how genuine and smoothy breathable it was, I found it worth appreciating without getting swept up in it much. Perhaps it does still fall into that genre for dedicated romantics or shippers (not necessarily of this ship, just in general), leaving it merely reasonable on balance for everyone else.

Rating: Decent


Veneer by Pascoite

Genre: Drama/Slice of Life
Spa Ponies, Rarity, OC, Other
2,766 Words
September 2014

Reread

For Aloe and Lotus, interacting with a customer and seeing their reaction to their spa treatment or makeover is one of the most satisfying things about being a Spa Pony. And when the customer is just as satisfied, everything’s right as rain for them. But it wasn’t always so smooth, and when they get a difficult customer, it can take them back to their training, when such high standards and callous dismissals were more commonplace. As was perceived friction Aloe felt from her sister.

This fic places much of its weight and impact at the margins, so it does demand at least a semi-attentive reader. For that reader, it’s quite rewarding. Actually probing character studies of the Spa Ponies are rare (for whatever reason, a lot of their fics are rather smutty; fully half are M-rated, anyway), so having one with some friction between the two is interesting. Here, that takes the form of Aloe letting the criticism of their trainer wash over her, while defending some of her sister’s slips, with some pointed reflections painting a seemingly rough picture of what the teens’ association has been like since gaining their cutie marks. Then a present-day scene mirrors that with an actual customer is both a contradiction and a payoff, but not in an expected way.

The restrained mode of storytelling did make the occasional piece of information fly over my head on initial read – though to judge from some comments, my confusion was on the mild side – but by and large, this did make the twists and turns and valuable nuggets land effectively enough. Certainly, the more positive material of the spa ponies knowing their happy customers all too well and rolling with their preferences while encouraging slight steps out of the comfort zone, all while making pleasant small talk, is expertly crafted and purposeful in the parallels to the dicier ones.

This may be expanded from a write-off fic, but I cannot tell where, for everything feels purposeful and needed, and that’s no mean feat even for a 2.8K fic, if it leans towards implying over direct statements.

Rating: Pretty Good


A Tale That Wasn't Right by Equimorto

Genre: Dark/Random/Tragedy (Alternate Universe)
Sunset, Celestia, Twilight, Other
8,364 Words
July-August 2018

Sunset Shimmer had it all. Celestia’s most successful student ever, the very Element of Magic itself, and now an alicorn and the Princess of Friendship. This was her destiny, the life she was always meant to have.

…So why did it feel so wrong? Why did everything around her seem alien, out of place? Why did the very physical space she occupied, the way others ponies moved, even her own actions, feel artificial and pre-mandated? Why did it feel like she was being watched and prodded into this?

AUs where everything went right for Sunset, yet she feels or comes to be aware that it wasn’t meant to be this way, that somepony else was meant to have her successes, aren’t unheard of (I’ve read a few as one of the Alternate Timelines during Twilight and Spike’s crusade to stop Starlight). But I’ve never read one remotely like this. This isn’t just Dark, it’s practically a Horror, even just in the first chapter where everything feels physically wrong for Sunset, before she uncovers what it is. The prose is to credit for this: it’s prone to be overstuffed and a little flowery, but it does a workman’s job of letting the content inform the execution in a not-overtly-showy manner.

Once Sunset uncovers the root of why and how things were changed, it gets somewhat surreal, but never loses sight of a kind of operatic character tragedy – for Sunset, for Twilight, even for the perpetrator. One that only intensifies as Sunset tries and fails to fix things. And that’s not even mentioning the ending that turns things on their heads, amps up the surrealism and discomfort tenfold, and adds so many intentionally-unanswered questions to those we didn’t get fully solved.

I don’t often find myself fully behind those stories that disturb me as much as or more than they entertain, but this work keeps the tragic horror as it pertains to the characters in the spotlight enough for that to not be an issue. Quite a standout in pony Sunset tragedies.

Rating: Really Good


Fluttershy's Secret Kissing Story by Ara

Genre: Romance/Slice of Life
Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie, Celestia, Luna
11,064 Words
November 2013-June 2014

Reread

Most ponies remember the most crucial kisses in their life. The ones of a lost love never reciprocated, the first with the one who would go on to be their special somepony. But ultimately only a small sample of the whole. Not Fluttershy: she remembers every kiss she’s ever had, for both at the shyest points of her life and in her less timid modern disposition, they are the method of communication she’s most at home with. And reflecting on them all tells a much fuller story on how she’s changed as a pony.

The cover image is certainly deliberately off-putting to an extent, but it is mostly reflective of the story’s actual content, once you get past how Fluttershy’s typical disposition can make it seem somewhat less uncomfortable. Only somewhat, mind: this story really does ride the concept of memories via kissing out to its full extent, embracing the weirdness of Fluttershy’s obsession in a manner that makes it almost seem normal. It’s a balance that makes a story that is an experience, and sometimes a disturbing one, totally engrossing, even as it remains visceral and disquieting.

It’s a very hard one to describe, but on some level, this is warping the structure of a romance story into something altogether unrecognisable: ponies coming and going as frequent kissers may bear some similarity to brief flings in a typical romance, but the story doesn’t posit anypony as the one at any point, nor does it end that way. It’s a similar story with the prose, deliberate discordant style that could read like some kind of jokefic but is totally serious. Where a reader will stop instinctively resisting this and give over to it varies (for me, it was about halfway through the first chapter), but once one does, there’s a lot of depth here. And it straddles the line of going along major show events in the back half without being showy about it.

It never stops being a weird fic that does feel a little sickly, and the last chapter (written after a hiatus) feels somewhat disconnected, especially off Fluttershy’s obsession turning out to speak to self-reservations that didn’t read as such beforehand. But so much of this story is very insightful, and full of powerful moments that really sell. And it is all tied together with an earnestness showcasing that all damaged goods can turn out okay. Even if it still sounds horribly unappealing, it’s really worth trying.

Rating: Really Good


Ladybugs Awake by Uz Naimat

Genre: Slice of Life/Drama
Twilight, Cadance, Shining Armor
2,806 Words
September 2023

Everypony in Canterlot Castle is sound asleep at two in the morning. Everypony, that is, except Twilight. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t get the threats and words Chrysalis said out of her head. Even though she and her army were soundly defeated mere days ago, it still haunts her nightmares. It’s in the middle of making herself some hot cocoa to calm herself down that finds Cadance, who feels much the same. Cue getting some things off both their chests.

This fic does a few things to freshen up the well-trodden territory around “A Canterlot Wedding”. It keeps itself absolved from being a blame game (except by ponies to themselves, naturally), organically extends the wedding’s re-preparation to allow for a nighttime chat like this, and has a light touch on the trauma and how to deal with it. It’s certainly pleasant and sweet as the characters talk things out, later joined by Shining, with the hot cocoa providing a workable backbone to the proceedings.

The fic never quite sails above being mildly pleasant, though: it seems caught between a Slice of Life and a Drama. There’s plenty of ways to do the two together in a fic like this, of course, but as it stands, the focus on cosiness and resolving things with hugs means, outside Chrysalis’ words echoing for Twilight (which are great, but dry up after the opening), the trauma and PTSD aspects feels like little more than surface-level lip service. And consequently, the lighter tone the fic clearly wants runs up against the matter of the conflict.

Pulled punches on both ends do put rather a low ceiling on this beyond being a diverting mid-episode extrapolation, but the ideas and sentiments within are captivating for the duration of the fic, so it’s not nearly a washout. Forgettable, perhaps, but functional.

Rating: Passable


Spooky Summary of Scores:
Excellent: 0
Really Good: 2
Pretty Good: 1
Decent: 1
Passable: 1
Weak: 0
Bad: 0

Comments ( 12 )

Aww... Two Really Good stories, and I've already read them both! :fluttercry:

5756868
Look at the bright side – you didn’t inflate your bookshelf of 23M+ words to read any further! :scootangel:

Thank you for the kind review! Itʼs by far my best work, and Iʼm glad you enjoyed it. As for why the trauma doesnʼt go deeper... truth be told, I am not equipped to talk about it. That, and I also really wanted the story to stick to the E-rating, so I didnʼt go beyond surface level.

But silver lining, Ladybugs Awake has been rated higher than the last story you reviewed, so progress!

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I'm so glad you liked Fluttershy's Secret Kissing story :D It's so weird and off-putting, it's really hard to recommend to people, but if you get it, hot damn.

I'm kind of surprised this got rated as high as it did. Not that it necessarily conflates with quality, but it's one I hardly ever reread just from not having much interest in the concept anymore. And you're right, it's one that has tended to confuse readers, even though in its original writeoff the other participants seemed to get it alrght.

Applejack deserves all the mares.

5756906

I'm kind of surprised this got rated as high as it did.

As inferred above, it might have scraped that Pretty Good just for being a story about the Spa Ponies (as opposed to just having them in incidental roles) worth a damn. Still, it was a unique view on the two, told a lot indirectly, and had a satisfying final note, so not one to undervalue too much either.

And while I’m no expert on what the writeoffs were like, I reckon that nearly everyone reading them are also dedicated writers means they were largely playing to a slightly different crowd. Just my retrospective thought.

it's one I hardly ever reread just from not having much interest in the concept anymore.

That’s fair. Should I take this to mean you do reread your works (that you continue to think highly of) a decent bit? Didn’t occur to me, mostly off how you rarely have the time for much new rice, especially if they’re anything longer than about 20K.

5756900
Hey, I liked it once, was a fair chance I’d like it again. :scootangel:

Obviously, there is weird stuff that doesn’t click with me (Goats of Summer recently was one that didn’t quite), even once we shift out a lot of the more perverse stuff I’d never read. But I’m pretty good at telling from the outset if it’ll be the right kind of weird. And if I can’t, hey, got legacy reviews from folks like yourself and Logan to check! :raritywink:

5756911
I do reread a fair amount. Years ago, I'd go back every other day or so to read a one-shot or a chapter of a longer story. It's much less frequent now, but still regular, but often at times I don't have to concentrate on it much, since I already know how the story goes, like on my lunch break.

5756873
That’s all fine, knowing your limits. I’d probably stick to an E-rating too, were I writing it. It more just fronted in that direction enough to make it not going further stuck out. Sticking purely to the fallout for the characters and picking up the pieces as regards their interpersonal relationships, might have done the trick. Hard to say. But it worked for you, and for some others too, so that matters no less than my experience with it. 👻

And a week later, on the 25th, A Bug’s Life was released for the Thanksgiving window. Not the best Pixar film, not with as many of their really-for-adults-masterpieces as they would go on to make, but criminally underrated and one of the Great Generic kids’ movies.

When I was a wee bab, I asked my parents for A Bug's Life on VHS, since I loved that movie -- and they got it mixed up and instead got me Antz. Which is an understandable mistake, and I'm sure as an adult, Antz would be interesting to revisit (I haven't watched it since I was, like, 10), but dear god. I hated Antz so fucking much. I saw it as ugly and unfunny and unappealing. A Bug's Life has remained my white whale ever since. I love that movie, exclusively cause I could never have it. So, I'm surprised to hear it's Generic? In my head it's always been, like, Uber Top Tier. Massive bias on my end, I guess.

Anyway, interesting batch of reviews here. Fluttershy's Kissing Story is the most interesting one to me from a purely technical standpoint; it sounds like the kind of thing I'd be interested in. I know Ara personally too -- ain't the name coincidence fun? -- so that's enough of an excuse to check it out.

5757070

I asked my parents for A Bug's Life on VHS, since I loved that movie -- and they got it mixed up and instead got me Antz.

:fluttershyouch: Oh dear. Aragon, you have my undying sympathies. Antz is the kind of movie I find hard to imagine playing well for a kid period: as far as I can tell, most of its acclaim at the time, apart from the excitement over this new-fangled thing called CG animation, seems to stem from being more "mature" (of the Hollywood kind) than the classical family entertainment animated movies were then. At the very least, relative to then, it has rather muted user scores on IMDb (6.5/10) and Letterboxd (2.8/5), indicating it is largely thought of with a collective "eh" these days.

Hm. Now I'm wondering how well it would even translate to Spanish (or any language) – Woody Allen's neurotic humour and voice doesn't strike me as an easy thing to localise…

Myself, I didn't see the ruddy thing until I was a teenager, and knowing full well the history of Jeffery Katzenberg rushing it to release ahead of A Bug's Life, I was primed to hate it, and thus I did. I can look past that now, but Jesus, I just don't find anything there. It's the template for Shrek in many ways, and the damage that film wrought on animated movies for kids (being snarky, pop songs, references, celebrity casting where it doesn't fit, different jokes for kids and parents that are equally broad and desperate, etc.) still looms large today.

And apart from everything else, there's just so many things going on: a satire of military dictatorships that's a kids' "be yourself" flick and a Woody Allen comedy is too many plates to spin. Thus, the car pile up is inevitable. I will tip my hat to poor Pacific Data Images' animation work – the film suffers mightily from the ants being somewhat realistic and rather ugly, as you note, but as I am an animation historian, I greatly admire the varying things they doing, from water distortion to different arrays of lighting techniques to the crowd animations (conformist ants would move similarly).

So, I'm surprised to hear it's Generic? In my head it's always been, like, Uber Top Tier. Massive bias on my end, I guess.

I suppose Generic is one of those words that is typically interpreted negatively, isn't it? I suppose what I mean, the story is a very common set of stakes and boilerplate characters arcs for a kids' movie to utilise. And even as much as I adore it, between the complex psychological depths Pixar would plunge not just in Toy Story before this but in every film thereafter for their Golden Age (1995-2010, as I consider it), I can see why many feels it lacks emotional substance. It is purely and utterly a kids' film, and the only other Pixar films to be just that wouldn't come until much later, with The Good Dinosaur and Luca.

But there's a reason I lead with a capital-G Great. The humour is fearlessly corny in that early, breezy Pixar manner that makes even their polished scripts feel so affable and non-processed, like the folks up at San Francisco were just trying to make each other laugh. The quirkiness of the characters makes them immensely endearing as a collective even if they might feel "shallow" individually (most obvious with the circus bugs, though I am too close to the film to not think the bee's knees of them individually too). Thematic shallowness be darned, it still manages to feel deeply humane in the desire for better lives and making a difference. Randy Newman's score is appropriately stirring in its evocation of Westerns. The impeccable voice cast or largely sitcom veterans are impeccable at making even the obvious jokes feel like they're coming naturally from the characters, helped by the same in the writing and the animation. And of course, Hopper is a dastardly bastard of a manipulator villain.

Oh, and it's aged immensely well visually. Even parts the technology clearly wasn't ready for, like dirt and grass, take on a different feel at this small scale (ditto for the water in the endgame) that helps the film still feels like an animation cartoon and not a realism chaser. The crowd animation is a bit of a drawback, but otherwise, I think you'd have to go all the way to 2005 with Robots to find a non-Pixar CG film that looks visually better.

Did I say too much? Probably! Maybe I should make a blog on the flick altogether sometime. :twilightsheepish: My initial words were more objective, and it does remain my favourite Pixar film. I did have some turbulent years around it in my early teens, when a period of awkward self-discovery meant I watched it like every week, and so the rest of my family were rather sick of it. Especially my brother, who gave me no end of bashing about it. I probably wasn't the easiest on the matter, I'll concede, but it still stung (similar debates were had about Powerpuff Girls being presumed to be for little girls: thank goodness this kind of teasing had mellowed out by the time I got into MLP, eh?).

These days I don't reach back to watch it much, maybe once a year at best, but even if my infatuation with the film isn't what it once was, it's effect on me remains too strong to ignore. Personally perfect for me!

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