• Member Since 3rd Sep, 2011
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PresentPerfect


I review horsewords and stuff. :B

More Blog Posts2263

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May
23rd
2018

Present Perfect vs. White Box · 12:31pm May 23rd, 2018

I started off this week's reviews with a story that had been in my "Old Favorites" folder for a long, long time. At long last, I am emptying that folder with the review of today's story: White Box by Chromosome.

First, I need to mention the reading. It's by Nohbdy, with Rina-chan as Twilight Sparkle, and it comes in two parts. Sadly, there's a third part missing, that will likely never be made, but what's here is worth talking about. Make that three. It's animated. Sure, it's not amazing animation, not on par with Children of the Night or even some of the less adept animations that have come out of this fandom. Most of the time, it's just a moving comic. But I've seen those fanimations, and I've seen animated comics as well. When was the last time you saw an animated fanfic? In that way, this is amazing, and it's worth using to experience at least part of the story.

Now, the review.


I remember when this story came out, it caused a huge stir. Not everyone liked it, but everyone had an opinion on it. "Read White Box!" was the advice of the day, and Chromosome's name was on the map. Colored text had never been used this way before; though just a gimmick to some, it was truly groundbreaking, at least in our fandom, and paved the way for later stories like [Blank Space] by Super Trampoline and Aquaman's I Am Demon.

The fact is, we write our stories not with pen and paper anymore, but as lines of unseen code on a computer screen. Hypertext is the medium of the information age, and some posit we need to be making the most of it. When physical novels like House of Leaves can be called "printed hypertext", it seems a shame that we aren't writing more choose your own adventures, interactive stories, and stories with the images, Youtube links and, yes, colored text that many writers and reviewers decry.

White Box is not, perhaps, as grandiose as all that, but it is distinctly a step in the right direction, as far as hypertext is concerned. Colored text is used to demonstrate an extremely sheltered, broken pony's gradual realization of concepts beyond those of the prison he inhabits. And it works marvelously well. (For the full effect, you'll need to read the GDocs version, linked in the description, as the color was completely removed from the Fimfiction version.)

Let's step back a second. White Box is the story of Canvas, who has been imprisoned in "the white box" because he's a criminal. He doesn't remember why or what he did, of course, but he gets fed, he wrote his name on the wall so he won't forget it, and he can count the steps from the cot to the wall. Canvas's world is turned upside-down when Twilight Sparkle visits the white box and starts asking him questions. Once she realizes there's a lot about the world he simply has no understanding of, she starts trying to teach him about things like colors and "outside".

It's the colors that do the brunt of the work here, and honestly I'm not sure the story has the same kind of impact without them. They pop against the black background of the original version of the story, gradually taking up more and more of the page as things progress. And they aren't just colors: Canvas associates each one with a particular feeling, akin to the colored text of I Am Demon. By the end, he's shouting in color as each line runs through the gamut of emotion, and the contrast between that and the blank, white-on-black text makes his emotions all the more visceral.

Lest I give the impression that colored text is all there is to this, it's also a great example of an unreliable narrator. Granted, one can argue that Canvas has a fairly expressive vocabulary for someone who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'outside', but at the same time, his voice is so strong and consistent that that disparity didn't really impinge on my reading. Watching him learn about colors, the world and himself is one of the truly marvelous experiences to find in this piece.

On the note of negatives, the one really big criticism of this story involves a character who's barely mentioned, let alone actually appears in the text: Canvas's existence is predicated on Tyrantlestia. And for the longest time, I just had to sort of accept that, shake my head, and say, "Well, this one time, it doesn't bother me."

But on this reread, I'm honestly not so sure this is the case. Yes, the Celestia in the show isn't prone to building prisons to house 'dangerous' ponies. But rather than locking up poor, innocent ponies because they said something threatening to her rule, what we see here is something that can be taken as an honest attempt — and perhaps not the best — to keep truly dangerous ponies under control. The prisoners are, essentially, two ponies capable of mass mind-control, a pony who can bring paintings to life, and a pony who can do literally anything another pony can. We've seen bad ponies in the show; the risk with these four is great.

How I know Celestia isn't being tyrannical is Twilight's behavior. If her mentor were a tyrant, would she have let Twilight visit this prison? Would she have allowed a visit without first warning Twilight thoroughly about how dangerous the inmates are, and how much she shouldn't try to get to know them much? Would Twilight risk loosing a dangerous pony on the world under such a tyrant's nose? No. Lesson Zero had already happened prior to this story's release, and if Twilight could freak out that much about potential punishment for being late with a report, she wouldn't go behind Celestia's back for something like this unless she truly thought she was giving a poor, misunderstood pony a new life because it was the right thing to do.

(And as for the way the guards treat the prisoners, they're either following orders or acting out on their own because A) they have the power to do so and B) they really believe the prisoners are dangerous enough to warrant harsh treatment. So again, it comes down to "Celestia is or is not a tyrant", and isn't proof of one or the other.)

This does leave room for one more criticism, though, and it's mostly a matter of personal preference: cutie marks are sort of like super powers in this story. (See also: Antipodes.) Granted, most of what we know about how they work came in seasons long after 2, and very little of it makes sense, anyway. But it is somewhat odd to think that a pony could forget their special talent, or that it would be so powerful and uncontrollable.

White Box is, on review, a more cohesive experiment than even I ever gave it credit for. It is a tale told through a slowly widening lens in a very natural manner. It presents a memorable scenario in a unique way, allowing us to exult in the discovery of colors, life, and purpose alongside Canvas. It is one of if not the first great experimental fics in the fandom, and it truly deserves its place in fanfiction history.

5/5

A remarkable piece that is more than just the words on the page.

I'm not done, of course! Who can talk about White Box without also discussing its sequel, True Colors? :V Insert page break here.

True Colors picks up where White Box left off, with Canvas pondering his newfound freedom and what he might do with it. Then it goes right the fuck off the deep end.

Yes, this is a trollfic, which Chromosome wrote to silence the voices clamoring for a real sequel. Canvas paints himself some shades, blows up the white box, and goes on a spree of vengeance with a newly-painted minigun. There are so many memes. It's epic.

(Interestingly, it also justifies my analysis of Twilight's behavior. While ironically painting Celestia as nothing but a tyrant.)

It's just such a great self-parody, I can't help but love it. :D Is it a fandom classic? Well, hardly, but it is the White Box sequel we deserve.

3.5/5

Troll Recommended

And with that, Vs. Week comes to a close. :D I hope you've enjoyed the ride!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a clopfic to write...

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Comments ( 13 )

Tension

Apprehension

And dissension

HAVE BEGUN

I think you're stretching to justify the story's take on Celestia, honestly. It comes across a lot more Arkham Asylum to me, with Twilight given access to research the magically defective.

Well, I guess I'll have to actually read the damn thing now. :P

The author seems now to be known as "chrumsum". No idea whether that's a short-lived change or a permanent one.

4867800
This is actually good news. Chromosome had a failing out with the fandom way back when (a second falling out actually, but whatever), renamed his account to "The Maverick", then gave it to some mysterious third party, who never did anything else with it. At least chrumsum is closer to the original name.

4867800
He gave up his account for a while after he left FIMFic, then got it back at some point. It’s the same person.

4867820 4867825
Thanks for the explanations. I am famously (well, not famously, but whatever) out of touch with this kind of thing. I didn't even know he'd left Fimfiction in the first place.

When physical novels like House of Leaves can be called "printed hypertext"

FTFY :trixieshiftright:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

4867800
He's a silly boy. :B

Comment posted by kits deleted Jul 25th, 2018

4867825 It's not The Maverick person anymore?

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

4872859
Nope! Chromosome is back, and he's actually messaged me once or twice.

wow, look at me stalking your page and finding this. reviewing white box in [current year], what are you, old?

all truth told, this was honestly a fair (if nicer than I would put) review of it. it's hard for me to read through my old shit without wanting to take a lead aspirin, though, so i may be overly harsh. that said, it's super cool that people took it and ran with it. good stuff.

also omg kits remembers me holy jeez :heart:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

4902078
see, you are a good

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