• Member Since 21st Jul, 2013
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comicfan616


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  • 233 weeks
    The Philosophy of Pie... Or "Things I Learned From Watching Pinkie Pie"

    1. Let your imagination get away from you; it will come back with cake.

    2. Sometimes, you cannot answer the riddle. And sometimes, that’s the right answer.

    3. When it comes to scrapbooking family memories, you don’t find the time—you make the time.

    4. Always ask the important questions, like “Is it ‘glowed’ or ‘glew’?”

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    0 comments · 374 views
  • 239 weeks
    FiMFic Reviews: Turnabout Storm Adaptation... Or "The Victim's Autopsy Report"

    From October 2011 to October 2013, a series of videos was released under the unifying banner of Turnabout Storm, a fan-crossover series between My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the Ace Attorney video game series, produced by NeoArtimus. The project as a whole was a success as far as fanworks go, inspiring plenty of fanart, pseudo-sequels, and reaction/commentary

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    0 comments · 417 views
  • 245 weeks
    The Cutie Map is Back... (Sequel Announcement)

    The Watchers of the Map are back in my latest story, "The Mission Begins Anew." Check it out here.

    0 comments · 371 views
  • 254 weeks
    FiMFic Reviews: Nightmare Night Special... Or "The Creature Double Feature"

    Before the introduction of Thorax in “The Times, They are A-Changeling,” speculation on changelings was everywhere: How did they live; were there many hives or just the one; was love the only emotion they could feed on; did individual changelings have personalities of their own; the list goes on. Luckily, the fandom never stops at simply asking these questions, and with a variety of mediums to

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    0 comments · 457 views
  • 258 weeks
    FiMFic Reviews: The Music of Ponyville... Or "The Alternate AU"

    If you’ve followed me for a long time, you’ll know I have a soft spot in my heart for the Alternate Mane 6 subgenre. Stories where the characters we know and love from the show are changed somewhat, if not outright replaced, have a lot of creative potential, giving both writers and readers a chance to explore a new perspective on the same basic outline. And while I could go down the obvious path

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    1 comments · 419 views
Jan
30th
2016

FiMFic Review: The Mailbox... Or "The Roleplay Heard 'Round Equestria" · 12:25am Jan 30th, 2016

In the summer of 2013, FiMFic user bookplayer got some friends together for an extended forum roleplay session. The premise: the Mane 6 are spending the summer apart from one another, so they write letters to keep in touch over that time. The FiMFic group where these letters were posted became known as “The Mailbox.” The project was a success, so much so that, in March of the following year, Skeeter the Lurker (with permission from the authors, of course) compiled the letters into one, single story, giving it even more of a following.

I first became aware of The Mailbox in the following year, when a reboot was still in the works, so I figured I should check out the original to see what exactly had inspired this then-upcoming story. What I found was a journey of friendship and emotions that was truly unique.

But more than a year after my first readthrough, and two years after the original postings, does The Mailbox still hold up as a story worth reading?

Short answer: Yeah, pretty much.
Long answer:

(Before I go on, I should warn you all that this review WILL BE SPOILER-HEAVY. Whether you read from the forum posts or the compilation, it’s impossible to keep all the plot-relevant details in the dark, at least for very long, so it will be difficult at best keeping things a secret here. If you don’t want to be spoiled, LEAVE NOW!)

As mentioned before, the premise of The Mailbox is that the Mane 6 are spending their first summer apart since they first met. Each character is portrayed by a different author, and each one tells his or her part of the story, as well as reacts to whatever the other characters are going through.

Twilight Sparkle, written by bats, has just become a princess, so she’s off on her first diplomatic journey through Equestria. And it’s about as exciting as it sounds.
Applejack, written by bookplayer, has been called been called by her Aunt and Uncle Orange to help manage one of their groves in Palomino Beach and train the new farmhoof who will run the place… a farmhoof who seems to have very little ambition for doing so.
Rainbow Dash, written by Jake R, got a summer job teaching pegasus foals to fly. The good news: she’s going to Las Pegasus! The bad news: the entire city has all but forgotten its Pegasoplian roots.
Rarity, originally written by AcreuBall but later by Steel Resolve due to time issues, was asked by Fancy Pants to design costumes for a theater performance in Baltimare. As if that wasn’t bad enough (she’s a designer, not a seamstress), working conditions in the city as a whole are not helping matters.
Fluttershy, written by Churchy, decides to take her own vacation to beautiful Whinniepeg: calm, relaxing, and nature and critters as far as the eye can see.
Pinkie Pie, written by xjuggernautx, after realizing that her friends will return from their trips eventually, decides she needs to throw the ultimate “Welcome Back” bash for when they do. And to do it, she’ll need materials from all over Equestria.

Now, these are just the starting premises. Over time, the stories evolve into something much bigger and start to connect in ways that no one, not even the authors themselves, could have predicted. This isn’t to say that these divergences become so convoluted that the original ideas ever disappear, but when the tensions start to build, those simple premises become more of a backdrop than the central focus (though plenty of focus is given where need be).

As for how things change over the course of the summer, it varies from pony to pony. Only Pinkie seems to make it through relatively unscathed, her biggest contribution to anypony else’s stories extending not much farther than helpful advice and doing what she does best: making ponies smile. By contrast, Rarity’s arc goes from commenting on Baltimare’s working conditions to her budding relationship with Fluttershy, waiting with bated breath for her response and what it will ultimately mean.

But the true stars of this trend of complicating plotlines are the interconnecting arcs of Twilight, Rainbow, and Applejack. Even if you don’t start reading from the letters between any of these characters directly, just pulling up any thread with any of their names on it will outright state that all three are dating each other. Even the compilation’s first chapter just barely gives it away, and outright confirms it by the third. And it all leads the reader to wonder: “How did three otherwise disparate stories lead to this?” But it’s that kind of intrigue that keeps the attention long enough to read more, if only just to find out not necessarily what happened, but how it happened.

And the amazing thing about all of this: it was completely unintentional. Aside from the basic premise for each character’s story, everything that happens was made up almost on the spot. The only element that was given any sort of forethought, according to bookplayer, was Applejack sending two, drunkenly written letters to the wrong ponies, and even that was only given the barest semblance of planning; which characters were involved in the switch and to what effect it would lead were otherwise completely unknown. (Though it should be noted that bookplayer also admitted that she, Jake R, and bats had shipped “various combinations of [their] characters,” so that might have played a role in the triad romance. In fact, they had all but intended to avoid shipping altogether and just see where it led them.)

Which leads me to the second strongest aspect of The Mailbox: the writing. Every character is written in a way that makes the reader believe that each letter is, in fact, that character’s own creation. Twilight’s letters, for example, are methodical and are usually governed by logic, though still social enough to make her feel real. By contrast, Rarity’s letters are filled with emotion, allowing the reader to feel her discomfort as she tries to cope with the task at hoof.

As a whole, the writing style is very easy to read and understand. It’s funny where it needs to be with characters who can believably pull it off, but it still manages to pull back on the comedy so that dramatic moments aren’t squandered by improperly placed jokes. And the whole project presents an air of happiness at just getting to talk to the other characters despite the distance.

That being said, however, some of the characters can be very uncomfortable to read at times. Pinkie and Fluttershy, especially, feel just a tiny bit flanderized. Pinkie’s oblivious nature is ramped up to eleven, and while this isn’t too out of character, it can be particularly annoying when things that would seem obvious to anyone go completely unnoticed by her. Just as the most extreme example, towards the end of the story, Pinkie goes to a town called Fort Trotterdale, which she heard described as a city-wide party; in reality, it’s like every bad college party stereotype combined. And she was completely unaware of the possible danger she was in. Needless to say, it’s very easy to facepalm at her antics here.

Fluttershy is probably worse off, though. I’ve heard many people complain that Fluttershy tends to be too submissive for her own good, a trope I’ve often seen more than enough of in fanfiction. And sadly, the trend does not end here. In almost half her letters, Fluttershy constantly apologizes for even the tiniest, most barely perceptible missteps. Even after being told that no offense could even remotely possibly be taken, she apologizes for making a fuss in almost the same way. Let’s face it; people who dislike Fluttershy are not going to change their minds here.

But by far, the character who will cause the most discomfort for the average reader is Rainbow Dash. Not that anything she does is out of character, though that may be due to the fact that the show itself would never go that far. Basically, her letters contain the largest amount of sexual references out of any of the other characters (not to say that she’s the only one; she’s just the most overt about it). And whether it’s her teasing or describing a dream she had, this can get on the uncomfortable side of graphic. So if you’re the type of person who isn’t into cute, magical, horses talking about sex, this may not be the story for you.

But even that isn’t enough to ruin the story as a whole. Sure, these flaws are noticeable, but when the characters start to exhibit their best traits, those flaws can be easily forgotten. While these last few paragraphs may have come off as negative, it was only because the rest was so spot-on. And to be fair, Pinkie’s still pretty amusing most of the time otherwise, Fluttershy’s letters are about as calm and relaxing as she is, and even Rainbow’s bluntness can be a little funny from time to time.

But I do have to make note of one more nitpick, one that applies more to the compilation than the project as a whole. As mentioned before, even if you aren’t aware of something like the TSxRDxAJ romance at first, you will be made aware one way or another. And that’s the main problem with the compilation. The letters are categorized by pairs, meaning one chapter contains all the letters sent between Twilight and Rarity while another focuses between Rainbow and Pinkie. Because of this, the story is not presented chronologically from chapter to chapter, so you will learn about big developments between the characters long before you actually read about them. And the pairs are set up so that those big developments will happen more towards the end, almost tormenting you with their mysterious nature for that much longer.

But compared to the character presentation issues as mentioned above, this is actually very minor and, in a way, helps to make the entire thing stronger. Very early on, you learn just vague details about things that happen, so you keep going through the letters just to get to those details and learn what happened straight from the horse’s mouth (no pun intended). And it becomes so satisfying when you do finally get to directly experience what exactly led to those moments.

And that’s what The Mailbox is: an experience. It’s a rather unique method of telling a story, a combination of forum roleplay and episcopal narrative. Whether you were there when the letters were first posted or starting to read it long after the final entry, going through this project is an emotional roller coaster. It’s not for everyone, certainly, but if you’re up for it, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will be glad you read it.


Before I close this review, I’d like to talk about some of the other works that were influenced by this project.

The most obvious is The Mailbox: Reloaded, an attempt at a reboot of the Mailbox concept. This time, with the success of the compilation proving the original’s worth, posted letters would be added to a larger story (published by bats) on a weekly basis. This meant that, unlike the Skeeter compilation, the letters were now in chronological order.

Sadly, however, “attempt” is the operative word. Or, as Jake R so eloquently described it, the project was “:yay: from the start.” Between trying to work with three new, inexperienced writers for Fluttershy, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie and real life continuing to be a nuisance, the project fizzled out within a few weeks. By the end, only Rainbow and Pinkie were sending and receiving letters, and the last chapter before its cancellation was just standard narration.

I can’t say I recommend this fic as something to read in one’s spare time, or even to see how the Mailbox concept could be reinterpreted. Maybe you could look at it strictly for curiosity’s sake, but in my eyes, something like this is best left alone.


Going back to The Mailbox proper for a moment, a separate thread was also created for side stories and posts that otherwise wouldn’t fit in the main threads. Aside from just the links to one anthology (more on that in a bit), there are also side letters. As one example, there are two letters sent between Applejack and Shining Armor discussing Twilight’s newfound relationship that adds a little bit of depth to the larger work. But aside from furthering interest, it really is just more of the same when compared to the main letters. Worth checking out, but not required.


Some side stories also exist—by my count, three. Two of them, Crashing (an AppleDash story) and Scribbled Notes (an anthology featuring the triad romance) are rated Mature, which means that I have not read them, so I can only advise reader discretion. The third, First Steps, is a RariPie story that takes place almost immediately after Rarity comes back to Ponyville. As of this writing, I’ve only read one chapter (which, honestly, feels like a complete story in and of itself), but what I’ve found so far is a story filled with emotion in all the right places. Pinkie’s character is a lot less oblivious here than in her letters, so she’s already more tolerable. And seeing Rarity actually enjoy herself is a nice change of pace from her melancholic mood as seen in her own letters. I’ll probably continue reading this one, and I see no reason why you shouldn’t start (unless RariPie is not your thing).

So, to briefly summarize, here are the final review scores for The Mailbox and its affiliates:
The Mailbox: :heart::heart::heart:
The Mailbox: Reloaded: n/a
Side Posts Thread: :heart::heart::heart:
First Steps: :heart::heart::heart::heart: (Though keep in mind, this is from only reading one chapter.)

This is CF signing out.

Comments ( 5 )

Special thanks to the authors who agreed to answer my interview questions in preparation for this review. As if writing this great story wasn't enough...

Hey man, thanks for the review! Nice to see someone offer appreciation for our efforts!

I just wanted to thank you for the review. It was an interesting read!

My goal with Pinkie at the onset of The Mailbox was to just have one little adventure per letter, but it sort of morphed into me trying to move the needle a little farther away from the sad end of the fic-o-meter. I do feel like I went a little overboard with the super-comedy at times, but my thought was the the story was getting to bleak in every other aspect. Each of the other characters was embroiled in drama, so the Pinkie letters were a place for people to just relax a little bit without all these tears and angst flowing out at them. If I had it to do over, I'd probably dial back some of her antics, but that was my rationale for them at the time. I just didn't want the story to be totally miserable.

However, I transitioned a lot of that angst over to First Steps. In that, I wanted to step Pinkie back from being hyper-comedy Pinkie to a more normal character. I didn't need her to inject so much silliness. Also, there are things that happened in The Mailbox that I think would personally hurt Pinkie, so I let that out some in First Steps. The characters are still trying to get their lives back in order in that story.

An excellent review, thank you. I have some very fond memories from this project.

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