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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.

More Blog Posts139

  • Monday
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #30

    Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this week’s Monday Musings sailed by most folks, what with Hasbro and Netflix, in their infinite wisdom, dropping nearly three hours of G5 content across eight Make Your Mark episodes on us today. I’ll certainly be watching at least a few of them. Regular readings know of my expectations, but I’m gonna continue to largely keep them out of these Ponyfic

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    8 comments · 135 views
  • 1 week
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #29

    Another mild milestone this week! First story reviewed to be over 35,000 words long, if not quite a novel (apart from having fewer conflicts than one, it doesn’t hit the loose 40K cutoff threshold), and also the longest review week yet, with 50K worth of writing across these five stories.

    And also the shortest story, at less than a thousand words. Yeah, I don’t know how that’s a thing either.

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    18 comments · 206 views
  • 2 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #28

    September really is a rather quiet month once you’ve no new year of education for it to mark. Not close enough to the holiday season for the media blitz to start (sans the last week, of course, and not just in the world of MLP), hardly anything at the cinema* or in gaming (I’m sure Splatoon fans would like a word on that), rarely any big intended events – not like the Queen planned

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    19 comments · 149 views
  • 3 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #27

    In lieu of much else to note this week*, I will content myself with the observation that I’m coming up on my 5th anniversary of my induction to MLP, which occurred with the G4 film on October 31st. Not the same as my fandom introduction, which didn’t come until January of the following year, after I’d binged the series, but it’s something.

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    21 comments · 180 views
  • 4 weeks
    Ghost Mike's Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #26

    Yeah, so my statement of reverting to a random menagerie of fics this week wasn’t quite true – after my first Author Spotlight back in Ponyfic Review Monday Musings #19, I’d agreed to myself to make them a semi-regular thing going forward, perhaps in the range of one every month or two. Well, last week

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    9 comments · 149 views
Apr
8th
2022

My Little Pony: Tell Your Tale – Review, Thoughts and Impressions · 8:29pm April 8th


Zipp: "That better not be your attempts to provide non-verbal summaries of your reactions to our new webseries. So help me, if it's a joke…"
Hitch: "What, this? No, no no no no, no. We're just, ah… admiring the artstyle! Yep, gotta love these curved chins and bean mouths. And these pencil legs? Genius!"
[somewhere, an orange earth pony is turning in her grave]

So. Here we finally are.

Unless this show ends up quite different to both what I expect and what the marketing and adverts have indicated is forthcoming, I will not be looking at every episode it makes. But I think, at the very least, it is fair to give what thoughts one can give on a snack-like webseries like this.

You can rest easy – I’m not going to return to full-fledged reviews like I used to do for episodes way back in the day, or the 7,000-word essay on A New Generation. It was clear right from the start that this show would not provide content conducive to that kind of discussion. When you’ve got 5-minute episodes purpose-built for the YouTube algorithm, designed to keep the brand active in kids’ minds and little more, that’s going to be a given. This is more just my thoughts after each episode, than as a whole for the show’s general aesthetic and what I think it will be like going forward. Not quite a livestream reaction, but not too far off.

Episode 1 – A Home to Share

Our intro episode’s basically a vastly compressed redo of “Sweet Sweet Castle”, not the first episode I’d have chosen to shamelessly remix. After the clip from the Hasbro presentation (we literally open on this, they’re pulling no punches with Generation Z kids’ attention spans), the bulk of the thing’s basically a song of the Mane 5 doing DIY work around the replacement lighthouse (the structure’s already complete), where they’ll all be living now. Everypony bar Sunny is getting it messed up; Izzy is spreading glitter everywhere (this is not a good first impression for her), Zipp is getting tangled from overflying, Pipp’s getting too into making everything beautiful and filming the process, and Hitch can’t reign in the crab (McSnips-A-Lot, apparently) from busting stuff up in his attempts to help them. When vibrations almost knock down the photo of Sunny and her dad, she retreats to the repaired observatory, soliloquies about needing her best to the photo, realises she can bring them together to work in coordination. Once Sunny projects Twilight-level command, a brief reprise gets the place looking better, though McSnips-A-Lot is still bashing things in. Oh, and Cloudpuff shows up too, in a design much less adorable than his CG counterpart.

Almost all the comments I could make here write themselves. Rushed frantic pace that leaves nothing for characterisation that isn’t just regurgitated summary notes, forced “comedy” moments of which maybe two got even a slight smile, and a very desperate “look at me!” feeling about it. I hope the characters being very dumbed down isn’t a trend with these. That said, while the song is generic boilerplate, the tune’s catchy and upbeat enough. A couple of lore moments – most notable, Sunny’s cutie mark flashes when she starts taking proper command (I guess that’s her talent, leading or something), our first cutie mark moment in this generation – plus the continuity with the photo and Sunny being alone, though even here, there’s basically no nuance to that slight emotional scene, mostly because of the pace (one need only compare this short’s redo of the “I wish you were here” line and the lack of a pause afterwards to see this).

With a few minor details excepted, this is exactly as fixated on the seven-and-under set to the exclusion of anyone older as I’d expected. I will say this, it’s not nearly as reliant on beating the viewer into submission through saturating them with frenetic wacky nonsense as much as Pony Life was.

Episode 2 – Zipp’s Flight School

Bit more Maretime Bay in this one. Zipp’s a natural flyer (and Pipp handles herself fine), but the other pegasi are fumbling constantly. Zipp gets roped into doing a flight school – a one-day crash course as she puts it – the four pegasi involved (Zoom and Thunder from the film, a smoothie delivery mare and a new character unnamed here who may or may not appear again going forward) mess up at every turn, Zipp excuses herself, has a flashback to Haven encouraging her to never give up, and one montage later, the class has graduated. Cue her quipping she’ll run it again when crabs fly and the seagulls lifting McSnips-A-Lot through the air.

This is more tolerable than the previous episode, mostly due to having ideas that are, on paper, reasonable directions to take for this “pegasi needing to learn to fly” problem after the film’s conclusion. Even the raw character idea with Zipp, that she doesn’t go for leadership because she’s largely worked alone, fits. And there’s quite a few more broader indications as to changes following the film’s end, between a pegasi being a delivery pony for Sunny’s smoothie stand, and more intermingling between the towns.

However, the pacing mangles this episode more, forcing it to rely on lame cheap gags as regards the four training pegasi screwing up (one of them gets scared from approaching a daisy, to give an indication), and on the sidelines, with Hitch getting splattered with food. And even for minor characters, the characterisation for Thunder and especially Zoom doesn’t remotely mesh up with their film depictions – it’s much like every example of Pony Life reusing a FiM character without caring if the role fits the personality, except here we lack a decade of viewer goodwill and returning voice actors that know the characters. And the mangled pacing makes the “character reflects on the situation and resolves to try harder” moment, the best moment last time, barely register here, despite a flashback to Haven with Zipp as a baby. The transition from wacky screw-ups in the first half, to 20-second confidence gathering moment, to over-before-you-know-it successful training montage… on top of the structure being distractingly foregrounded, it’s pure whiplash, especially fused around the moral.

Credit is due, this is a better episode than the first one, largely due to having more interesting things and not being a redo of a FiM episode, even if it fares only marginally better at the execution. The story idea is fine too. Put it this way – it’s quite easy to see a full-length episode made out of this that respects the audience’s attention span.

Oh, and you can tell how solid the QA for these things are – the voice credits mistakenly say Zoom’s VA voiced Thunder (apart from the gender, you can tell because she also voiced the Fruit Deliverer, who sounds quite like Zoom here – come on, G.M. Berrow’s in the Hasbro office, she can record for this). Smooth, lads.

Episode 3 – Sisters Take Flight

This is our designated “sisters largely don’t get along but do care about each other” episode. Centred around a royal goodbye thrown for Pipp and Zipp in Zephyr Heights (which already has some ponies of other races present too) as they move to the new lighthouse in Maretime Bay, even the conflict for this one is awfully muddled, like the episode realised even it couldn’t squeeze the plot it was working towards into this runtime. We have Zipp being photogenic and not liking home/being a royal, Pipp overpacking Rarity-style, Haven being her proud, theatrical self, pegasi still struggling to fly and setting off some balloon chaos, and then the royal family laughing  it off and the two sisters sharing a few words as they fly away, with the by-now expected final gag to make sure kids laugh (that being Zoom and Thunder carrying Pipp’s dozens of suitcases – guess they’re the Spikes of this webseries).

Coming from someone with far less attachment to Zipp and Pipp, I will admit, much like last episode, there are interesting ideas and throwaway facts about the status quo changes and such. Even the dynamic between the two sisters feels somewhat reasonable, and there’s not nothing here in the depiction of one sister wanting to make the most of the last moment before moving away while another would rather just move on with it. It would not remotely surprise me if this one was many people’s favourite, especially for those who quite like the royal sisters and want more of them, especially their dynamic which was rather underplayed in the film.

By now, the usual complaints – a conflict that knows its half-assed and doesn’t bother to cover it up, plugging in film characters lazily like its nothing (though the newscasters, Silver Skye and Dazzle Feather, do nearly as much here as in the whole film), cutting to largely-lame gags at most emotional moments (though Izzy’s flashback was quite probing, even if the forced “it was yesterday” gag ruined it) are just the same old, same old. Guess when you’re churning out episodes this fast, you reuse the same structural episode template with little variation.

I’m guessing the voice credits follow the template of not crediting other roles done by the Mane 5’s actors, as this is another episode where only some of the incidental roles are credited. Logically, we can assume Hitch’s VA also does Hitch, a financially safe decision, as he’ll be in every episode anyway. And also only mentioning two roles, as Haven’s VA was credited here and not last time, despite the actress being in both.

Episode 4 – Nightmare Roomate

Is having only one “m” in “roommate” an acceptable American spelling, or does the ruddy episode title itself have a typo that slipped through QA? Wouldn’t surprise me.

Once I saw the episode titles, this was the one I dreaded the most, expecting Izzy would get flanderised into a lame Pinkie clone without any of the nuance present in the film. That was more or less the case, even if the end twist that her insensitive misuse of everypony’s accessories was because she was trying to fit in with them does colour her actions differently. Though it does also make the early scene of her sleep magic keeping the others from falling asleep not even really matter to the plot at all. Thus, more than the rest, this is the most boring short, since it can only muster up enough energy for Hitch to be the voice of reason, have a nice moment with an inmate at the station, let the other three mistake them not speaking up as lying when they gift Izzy duplicates of their things so she’ll leave theirs alone, and so forth. Also, the vocabulary got really repetitive even for the runtime here, with the moral ringing the most hollow of all four episodes.

Also, does Hitch not live with them? I mean, he does have a paid-off mortgage, but I hope this isn’t the start to him becoming a background pony, though given his more grounded, reactionary personality, he is harder to make do with in a sugar series like this. It’s equally possible he’s got a separate room in the lighthouse, but given his absence from any scenes there, I doubt it.

Voice Acting and Visuals

So, a few things I didn’t really discuss during the individual episodes.

The voices are quite decent, once one does their best to isolate the performances from the pacing, editing and scripts. And though the voices don’t 100% match, they often feel close enough as to feel right, at least given the totally different vibe to this webseries marks them out as different anyway. Zipp is the only replacement that feels just as solid as her film performance, perhaps even more (granted, she was the weak link in the film). Helps that her voice actress is a live-action actress, and thus doesn’t overplay here, even if she is mostly saying stuff in a low voice with a side of deadpan (pretty much like with her character in Turning Red). Pipp’s okay, and probably the closest match to her film voice, despite being not as deep. Sunny is the most affected by the scripts’ lack of nuance, so she’s hard to judge here, but she’s serviceable, if bland. Hitch is one where the voice difference is actively distracting, though he’s the least-present in these four episodes. Izzy is… I’m sorry, Kimoko Glenn did such a great job with her in the film that the more standard shrill voice for her here just isn’t the same, and the characterisation gives her little nuance. But overall, the voice cast have little to be ashamed of, and they did fine. And much better than expected.

Of course, I will have to reevaluate the cast once the more grounded Netflix special and series comes along, once they have scripts that give them proper “acting” to do – every actor here says this in a flat tone that betrays how little voice directions is going on, par the course for shorts like these. As a side note, Queen Haven’s replacement is actually doing the best job here of voice matching her, though the scripts don’t call for much from her beyond her showy crowd-facing flamboyant attitude.

As for the animation… look, we’ve all said it looks misguided from the moment it was revealed, and it’s played out just as we figured. That I stopped focusing on the bad aspects after a while does not mean they ceased to be bad. The weird design decisions, especially the pencil front legs and the lazy application of the bean mouths, have been noted by everyone, and they remain odd. One has to expect quickly tweened animation and different layers “floating” in front of each other on budgets this tiny, I’m made my peace with that. But the decisions made in the 2D character designs are just bizarre.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve seen bargain basement animation, webseries or otherwise, aimed at this demographic, and outside of bizarre character design choices, this is serviceable for what it is and the constraints under which it's made. And there are some good visuals – the critters are pretty cute (Cloudpuff less so, he’s a downgrade), some props are nicely eye-catching, the idle static faces/heads of the ponies in the ¾ view are rather cute, and so forth. And some backgrounds, especially the outdoor ones, are nice enough, and do their job as being recognisable instantly as film locations. It’s just hit by the inevitable comparison to the film’s style, and the visuals calling attention to their deficiencies. At least some characters look better, what with Hitch and especially Izzy lacking the pencil legs.

And, of course, the pacing, tone and stripped-down character animation means there’s no subtlety to the actions, which matters – again, comparing similar film moments to those here shows how much good direction and breathing room makes a difference.

Overall Thoughts

It’s probably not super evident from the above, but let me make it clear: this is much better than Pony Life, a good point of comparison given they’re both 5-minute episodic series. The big difference is that the obnoxiously psychotic, high-on-sugar vibe of that series is massively diluted, and combined with stories that are down-to-earth and not nearly as cartoony, this is tolerable in a way Pony Life never was. I cannot apply the descriptor ‘insufferable’ to this series, that much is clear. And my praise doesn’t end there; for all that the tone and style of this is massively different then both the film and (presumably) the forthcoming special and series, it does feel of the same place and characters. Well, somewhat; it’s straddling a line, but Pony Life plummeted into the gutter. There’s continuity, and the characters feel largely true to themselves, with Izzy’s depiction in Ep. 4 being the one notable blemish there. Some cute and character moments work somewhat in the experience of watching this, even if they fade from memory really fast.

That being the case, the format, budget and schedules put a low ceiling on this and keep it in mediocre-to-weak territory. The issue isn’t the 5-minute runtime by default, but that the stories and show direction are not adjusted to fit that. Craig McCracken once said of 10-minute cartoons that you only have enough room for 3 minutes of plot, with the rest taken up by proper structure, jokes, gags and so forth, to give it personality and make it entertaining (he said this when talking about the changes made with the switch to 22-minute episode in Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends over The Powerpuff Girls). There’s none of that restraint here: all the episode plots here could sustain 10-minute episodes with minimal or no expansion, and to fit the shorter time, they’re compressed down such that the shorts have to simplify and race through their stories. And by reducing every plot point to its bare essence, they end up being somewhat boring to watch (in particular, Ep. 4 hits this hard, given Izzy’s sleep magic keeping the others awake has no bearing on the plot), 300 seconds be darned. It’s actually kind of a shame, because there is some effort poking its way through the scripts with traces of genuine energy in places too. Alas, it means these are the literal definition of an appetiser; you take it to shorten the wait for the main course, it’s mildly diverting while you’re chewing it, and you forget it the moment you’ve swallowed.

A few other isolated points: the continuity is appreciated, but as it and what minimal world building is present are just side details enforced by the main stories from the main series (presumably; this really feels like it should have come out after the special, but got moved up to appease Hasbro’s bottom line), and they are never highlighted, it elicits little past the “I guess that’s neat” reaction (and I strongly suspect much of those moments here were invented for the main series, even if we’re seeing it in this first). I am a supporter of effective world exploring, to clarify, placing uncommented details at the margins of a fantasy world that make it feel lived-in, but this isn’t doing that. It’s appreciated, but a far cry from the laboured, proper worldbuilding FiM gave us that the fandom adored oh so much. And I don’t mean to harp on the animation style, pacing, editing, and so forth, but those technical aspects do leech most potential memorability, characterisation, subtlety, and so forth out of this.

I’ll admit, for five-minute hyperactive snacks built for the YouTube algorithm (to the point there’s no title sequence and the credits are compressed into ten seconds), this is better than I expected, mostly because of the reasonable-given-the-constraints voice acting and removed psychotic vibe, though other factors contribute too. So I’m not disappointed, but the result is still a mediocre-to-weak processed product about which I have virtually no feelings. Only thing I actively dislike is the character designs, but there’s nothing I have proper positive feelings about either, though some aspects I admire and appreciate.

So, not terrible, not even bad. Its quality level is thus that reading a wiki summary, script or transcript of any given episode provides more or less the same experience as watching one (you lose the voice cast, but also lose the visual style). Make of that what you will. But I can totally understand people finding this blandly unobjectionable enough to casually watch it week after week (on a scripting level, it’s about the same as most EqG shorts, but does showcase the effect a cheaper and less cohesive visual style and execution has). That’s something.

And thus, Tell Your Tale starts off somewhat better than expected, but still in the same wheelhouse. Assuming the CG content is much better and able to hold an adult’s interest, Hasbro really should have released the Make Your Mark special first, to get the G5 shows off to a stronger show. But oh well, them’s the kicks. Catch you again in seven weeks time, folks.

Comments ( 9 )

I feel like the writers are having trouble keeping pace. Nightmare Roommate and Zipp's Flight School both were the best in this regard, feeling like they made the most use of their allotted time. On the other hand, A Home to Share felt like it was stampeding through its material way too quickly to leave any real impact. Going the other way, Sisters Take Flight felt like the writers had no idea what to do with all the time they had and thus created a bunch of nonsense shenanigans unrelated to Pipp and Zipp just to fill up extra space. The whole episode seemed designed more around making pegasi in general look like bumbling buffoons than anything else. Would have been nice for them to create and resolve some sort of conflict between the siblings or, perhaps, between the sisters and their mother in all that wasted time.

...

Yeah, Sisters Take Flight was my least favorite of the bunch.

Also, on the one hand I am surprised that in this day and age they didn't make it so Hitch lives with the girls, but I can certainly understand their reasoning for doing so. I completely approve of this decision. In fact, I'm mildly opposed to the idea of all the girls living under one roof, although again, I understand the logic behind it both realistically and plot-wise. That being said, I won't be surprised if Hitch does take on the role of Best Background Pony. After all, he's a guy (gross!).

...although he did regularly amuse me in the shorts.

Zipp's episode was the best one, IMO. But then, I know think Zipp is G5 Best Pony, so that may be my bias talking.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I hope the characters being very dumbed down isn’t a trend with these.

I expect it will be.

I shall be satisfied with your summaries and reviews. :B Still have no interest in this.

5649529

I hope the characters being very dumbed down isn’t a trend with these.

I expect it will be.

I mean, yeah, probably, to a degree. But in this sampler, it’s such much less egregious than with Pony Life, with Izzy in “Nightmare Roomate” being the only instance on that level, and honestly, not even that bad. They’re simplified depictions with no depth, of course. But it could be worse.

I shall be satisfied with your summaries and reviews. :B Still have no interest in this.

Oh, I don’t intend to do another dedicated post on the series. Even four episodes in, the broadstrokes of the show’s strengths and weakness stay largely the same, and almost nothing from any individual episode lingers in the mind, sans the odd continuity or status quo lore thing. It would get stale fast, unless one goes for the sort of livestream comment reaction kind of review, and apart from only working for one who’ve seen the episode, I don’t suspect they’d be a strong suit of mine. Best wait until the inevitable Friendship Is Card Games blogs from FoME. :raritywink:

I dunno, I won’t rule out commenting on a recent episode in the Ponyfic Review Monday Musings, but even that’s not likely.

5649500
Yeah, I found thinking about the individual episodes hard enough that I didn’t say some points there I could have. They just don’t linger. Though for me, setup difficulties and the worst compression by far leaves “A Home to Share” as the weak link, with the plodding conflict and poor Izzy characterisation of “Nightmare Roomate” putting it in 3rd. “Zipp’s Flight School is definitely the least problematic of the bunch here, I’ll spot that. When I said I thought many would most value “Sisters Take Flight” the most, I was having to gauge how much others like Pipp and Zipp, something I don’t have a strong opinion on.

But yes, unlike the other episodes, “Sisters Take Flight” doesn’t divide itself between a wacky conflict, a moment of self reflection to gather resolve and then quickly fixing the issue. No, it spends the whole time in the first mode, then laughs it off, making it feel weirdly plotless. I still call this a symptom of the runtime, as someone like that comes from knowing longer plots wouldn’t work and assuming light plotless hijinks with some themes and recurring gags strung along the way will do. I mean, they can do, but not really here.

I will say that thus far, Zipp and Pipp are served by far the best in these shorts – they had the smoothest VA transition, they’ve gotten the best plots and most effective and consistent characterisation, and so forth. I suppose their personalities and royal positions are well-suited to 5-minute blasts of sugar, or at least to the writers making sketches out of them rapid-quick. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them continue to get a higher than 40% share of the featured episodes, and they could go either way with Sunny and Izzy.

About the only thing I’m pretty sure of is that Hitch will have less featured episodes then the rest of the cast. Not because he’s a guy, but because he’s a reactionary type who’s got his life in order, and his personality quirks (critter magnet, law and litter-collecting obsessed) don’t lend themselves to sketches as easy. Sure, he’s capable of having vignettes or moment that are funny (his mountaintop soliloquy, the fake moustache/wings disguise, terrible dancing, etc.), but that only takes one so far. So, I would not be surprised to see this Background Pony prediction of yours come true, at least for Tell Your Tale. For the specials and series proper? Too early to say, though I hope they keep a good balance there.

Comment posted by Justinprice20 deleted April 9th
PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

5649531

Oh, I don’t intend to do another dedicated post on the series.

and I shall be satisfied

iisaw #7 · April 9th · · ·

I pretty much agree with your reaction with the exception of being more repulsed by the character design. I mean, I don't fundamentally object to the "bean-mouth" style, but...
i.ibb.co/TPZKkwN/Hitch-Derp.png
...there's absolutely no frikkin' excuse for that! A good turnaround is a critical part of character creation, and if a design that looks like this from 3/4 rear gets though the approval process, there is something fundamentally wrong with the team. I could go on about the badly designed rigs that make for insect-like movements in some cases, but I hate ragging on artists and it may not even be their fault. With MLP such a hot property, I imagine a lot of artistic decisions are being made by marketing creeps and veeps with all the artistic taste of a concussed opossum.

I probably won't stop watching these deliberately, I'll just realize some day that a bunch have been released that I haven't seen yet, and I'll say to myself, "I ought to watch them sometime." And then I won't.

5649612

A good turnaround is a critical part of character creation, and if a design that looks like this from 3/4 rear gets though the approval process, there is something fundamentally wrong with the team.

Oh, I was referring to a front 3/4 view, and only when the characters aren't talking and have their mouths closed. I agree, that rear angle's the pits.

Don't misunderstand; I do have a strong dislike for the characters, and do feel uncomfortable having to focus on them. I just didn't devote too much energy here to that, it's been done everywhere the past two months.

I probably won't stop watching these deliberately, I'll just realize some day that a bunch have been released that I haven't seen yet, and I'll say to myself, "I ought to watch them sometime." And then I won't.

I think that'll be the case for many of us. This'll certainly hold people longer than Pony Life did, where everybody except forgiving sorts and rabid completionists gave up four or so episodes in. But baring some fundamental change in how they operate, their quality, or them actually proving timeline-important to the main series, most of us will drift off at some point or another. There's 66 more of these things, after all.

Hat
Hat #9 · April 10th · · ·

A good write-up and an interesting read for someone who has not been following G5. I was not impressed when I saw the art style (for the first time) in the image you put at the top. During an online convention, I watched the artist for the orange pony draw her with skill and enthusiasm, but I guess that's just limited to the concept art and the 3D version. I am glad to hear it is better than Pony Life at least. I didn't know it would be a YouTube series; it is probably good enough content for kids handed a screen to occupy themselves with. Overall, it sounds pretty harmless and not interesting enough for me to watch. More enjoyable is reading your and others' thoughts.

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