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Mike Cartoon Pony

Hardcore animation enthusiast who discuss it in video format. Also likes pastel cartoon ponies. They do that to people. And ghosts.

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Mini Re-Reviews: "Just For Sidekicks" - Season 3 Episode 11 · 10:39pm May 12th, 2020

SPIKE: "That Angel Bunny. Up to no good as usual! And here I thought Discord caused chaos."
DISCORD: "You rang? Oh, all these pets sow plenty of chaos, you know. Why, I should stick around to see it -"
SPIKE: No, Discord. We're not doing that."
DISCORD: "Oh, that's a shame. Because, I was planning on compensating you for what's sure to be quite the show..." [conjures up a gem which he twirls around his finger - it literally spins around his finger, sticking right through it harmlessly.]
SPIKE: "Well, um... maybe I can make an exception this one time."
DISCORD: "Atta dragon, Spike!" [hands him the gem] "Just watch out, he doesn't exactly sit still."
[The gem promptly sprouts legs, and starting running around excitedly, with Winowa joining it in its dog-like behaviour, Opel scratching at it, Gummy getting bowled over, Tank sent flying, and Owlowiscious taking flight to avoid it. Spike's face as he realises Discord's gem in a seventh pet to watch that will only become a reward when the day of petsitting is done - it's too good for words.]

Can we just stop for a moment and thank the DHX staff for caring so much about this show? Upon seeing this episode's script, they twigged that an episode where Spike looks after his pets was absent his own pet baby phoenix obtained from the end of "Dragon Quest" It probably hadn't struck them as odd to that point, as Gummy hadn't appeared since "May the Best Pet Win!" (Tank would equal this were it not for a cameo in "Too Many Pinkie Pies". But here the lack of Spike's pet was bound to stick out. And not just to them, they knew the huge adult fandom would notice such a thing. Unable to change the script, what do they do? Insert a story in photos at the start of Spike playing with Peewee a bit, then realising he's too much and deserves to be returned home, ending on him with his parents again. They didn't have to do that, and just as much as all the visual work they put into the show, it shows they cared. All too often on shows like MLP, where the studio animating it had no script authority, staff get dispirited from this level of care because they're forced to work with typical kids' pablum. For this to happen, you know this show meant as much to them as it did to us.

Em, yes. Anyway, we have "Just For Sidekicks", a mere two episodes after out last Spike episode. And there's plenty to admire about it, for on top of being a Spike episode, it's also an especially good showcase of weaving in multiple layers of things without said things being disparately under-developed, or the episode feeling overcrowded. While Angel is the only pet with anything resembling character growth or an arc here, they all get delightful moments throughout, from Winowa and Owlowiscious helping out while remaining true to their excited and observant selves, Opal being a snarling cat and Gummy and Tank mindlessly causing destruction (Rainbow seriously needs to work in some time showing him how to pilot his li'l beanie propeller).
It doesn't stop there, with the Cutie Mark Crusaders showing up a bit before the middle, seemingly just for the first obstacle to Spike, but also later for bits of the episode's climax too. They're so them too, playing and enjoying the adventure, as they can only see the chance to go to the Crystal Empire, and remaining committed to their Cutie Marks while also being smart enough to see right through Spike's ruse and wrangle him back as much as he wrangles them.

Lastly, the episode manages the delicate act of largely writing the Mane 6 out of the conflict, but doing so in a delicate why that both strengthens the episode's main conflict, alongside setting up the parallel events of the next episode (must have been quite the experience to see this and "Games Ponies Play" when they were new, I'll bet), while giving them brilliant little moments all their own, mostly in the scenes where Spike negotiates watching their pets, with Fluttershy's, Rainbow Dash's and Pinkie's scenes being the standouts. The game of sorta-charades where Spike tries to have Pinkie guess what Gummy, or really him, wants, is just too good. And which Brony's heart wasn't melted by the affection Dash shows for Tank and her adorkable attempts to hide it off? Dash pulling a quick nuzzle with him before leaving put me in mind of Drake and Josh having a quick "Hug me brother!", of all things. Which is a good thing to be reminded of for sure.
And as for Fluttershy: Ha! Six and a half years before "Rainbow Roadtrip", Fluttershy was showing gentle but devious manipulation already, with the way she talks making it quite clear she'd know Spike would want a jewel and would mind Angel for it. It doesn't even feel out of character for her; given how quickly she adored Spike from the series' start, it would be more believable at this stage of her development for her to be able to do it with Spike above another pony. Fluttershy's got some deep knowledge of mind games here, that would probably read as mean were it not for the way in which it's expressed.
Only problem with all that I her putting him somewhere between pet and friend, but that's not specific to her or this episode. There's also this episode having no reason for him to not be invited to the Crystal Empire for the next episode.

With all this going on, from a technical standpoint, this episode is every bit from the same writer that gifted us with "Sleepless in Ponyville" - Corey Powell's second script is every bit as economical and densely-yet-perfectly-paced as that episode, even if it's largely content to be hijinks and shenanigans, without any of the raw probing character moments of the former episode. Which is not an issue, necessarily, not every episode can and should be like that. The episode's biggest sin is that it's slight and doesn't linger in the mind a whole lot (this review was tough to put together, incidentally). But it's hecka fun to watch. Just not a lot to say, especially on Spike.

But "not a lot" isn't nothing, and it should be noted that his almost hypnotic greed for his jewels throughout seems like a subtle callback to the concept of dragon greed established in "Secret of My Excess". He carries around the pot of diminishing jewels with his tail all episode, after all. And while I liked "Spike At Your Service" more then most and only found a middle 5-minute chunk hugely problematic, he is in his better mode here, or rather then being the problem, he's causing it through being a kid and being slightly conniving on occasions, plotting his way into a hole and digging himself deeper and deeper as he tries to fix the mess he's in. And the episode's resolution and lesson hit home fine, and do so in a way that it feels kind of right that Spike, though having gotten away with getting caught, isn't fully free as his habit of eating his jewels while baking still goes unchecked. Those two elements and the way the episode ended gave me an Animaniacs vibe, of all things.

Much like "Sleepless in Ponyville" the episode has a gentle Season 1 vibe and atmosphere, just with expanded Season 3 production values, locations and characters, so I'm more then curious to see whether that holds true for Powell's two other episodes (why she only wrote four, I don't...). "Just For Sidekicks" is a filler episode if ever there was one, as least as far as an episode can be "filler" in a series like Friendship Is Magic. But it's a good kind of filler, the one where it not being superbly memorable isn't a slight on its quality and entertainment value, despite how self-centred Spike is for much of it. Something about the episode's execution make those moments fit. The pet are great, all the content packed it makes it a dense one by just the right amount, and overall it turns a uninspiring premise that seems destined for junk kid shows into another minor winner. Which is what Friendship Is Magic does best. Let's go with an 8/10 here (I err'ed on a 7.5, but went up for now, though that could change later).

- Apparently a lot of fan discussion with this one at the time centres on debates about whether Spike deserved or didn't deserve to abuse he received throughout. Um, okay, yeah, I can see this fandom obsessing about that. Pity it obstructed a fun if slight episode. That's and people's general "eh" feeling towards Spike episodes.
- I'll have more space to discuss it next time, but the weird experiment of this episode and "Games Ponies Play" really ends up benefitting both, though perhaps this one more, oddly enough. Despite how much I don't care for Spike getting excluded from the Mane 6 for no reason whatsoever, it works here.
- Spike singing a sad song, only to be interrupted by a knock on the door, with Owlowiscious piping up "Whoo" and Spike following right up with "is it?", right in tune with the song that just cut out - if that's isn't hilarious verbal poetry, I don't know what is.
- Rarity: "I know - it's a chilly 81.2 in here!" Sometimes you forget American shows operate on the Imperial system rather then the Metric, especially in kids' show where such things hardly ever pop up. Okay, this is Fahrenheit rather then Celsius, but same point, really. Just something that struck me. That, and the way Rarity said it. We can never get enough of fashion horse.
- Pinkie yells "I love you more!" to Gummy over and over. That is all.
- For no reason at all, I love how the other pets all glare whenever Spike has reason to at Angel, and participate in the chase, with even Opal being obedient in later shoving Tank under the train seats, Gotta love how even they know Angel can be nothing but trouble and deserves a visual scolding. Even Winowa, Tank and Gummy, who never glare. Angel is serious business, folks.

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