Friday, August 4, 2017

Rosie's New Look - Revisited

Yep, this is still a talking point, six and a half months after the announcement that Rosie was going to get a revamp. And of course, stupid, immature fans would rather recycle old topics than actually discuss something very few have brought up. And since Journey Beyond Sodor's American release isn't too far off, I decided to again talk about Rosie being painted red... or at least, specifically, a comment on DeviantArt concerning the matter, and the holes in the commentator's logic.

(For my full take on this from January, click here.)

Not too long ago, a new promo for the revamped Rosie was released on the official Thomas website (and good timing too!), so what're my thoughts on this? It definitely looks sharper than what we first saw, and the inclusion of rivets makes her look better. At the same time, it's a bit annoying if you put Rosie alongside Thomas and/or Percy; they look very plain and toy-like compared to her!

But of course, there are some fans who don't like this change, and one got so angry over it that he left the Thomas fandom - I, personally, left the fandom because some people can be intolerant idiots. (Not that the MLP fandom's any better, but still.) Basically, some fans can handle change the same way Donald Trump handles anybody who disagrees with his beliefs (yes, I compared the Thomas fandom to America's so-called "President" - deal with it).

But that's not what I'm concerned about; no, my real concern lies in a comment left by CCB-18 on DevinatArt on this submission.

Yeah, I think James' expression here sums up my reaction best; I'm calling BS on that user's comment, and I'm going to explain why.

If he's hoping that Rosie's new look isn't permanent, spoiler alert, IT IS. If they brought Rosie back in that garish pink livery, fans would be thinking about the Rosie in seasons 10-16, where she didn't have much personality to speak up. How is this upgrade "unnecessary"? Shows need changes in order to stay relevant, otherwise, they become stagnant and boring to watch. Take a look at Magical Mystery Cure and if you still think Twilight Sparkle should've stayed a unicorn, would we have had Starlight Glimmer? (Twilight being an alicorn may or may not have had a direct impact on Starlight's presence in the show, but it's something I thought people should think about.)

Next, he says red shouldn't be Rosie's color for three equally ridiculous reasons:
  1. The amount of red engines on Sodor - Is red anymore a dominant color than green or blue? I think not! Not only that, James is the only red engine in the Steam Team whilst everyone else (except Toby, who's brown) is blue or green.
  2. It risks making her a background character - She was basically a background character when she was pink; what makes you think red will make her more of a background character? She's going to have some roles in season 21, for goodness sake!
  3. She looks like Lily from Sodor: The Modern YearsRosie and Lily DO NOT look the same! Yes, they're red, they're tank engines, and they have NWR on their tanks, but that's it! Rosie is a 0-6-0 1940s dock tank engine, whilst Lily is a 0-4-4 1890s suburban passenger tank engine. Compare the two engines end to end and then say they look alike. It's like saying Arthur and Belle are the same engine despite the obvious differences; stupid and illogical. Also, Rosie has had her lamp since Percy's Lucky Day in season 17. Where was the complaining then?
I'd bring up the fact that pink is part of the rainbow, but... it's just a pigment of our imagination. Don't believe me? Read this article. I know some will argue she's lavender, but... potato, tomato.

Then he brings up the fact that we're reverting to the book illustrations, and thinks that we'll see Donald and Douglas will become blue, and the Skarloey engines red. What does that have to do with Rosie's revamp? Keep in mind that the Railway Series and the television adaptation are two different entities; they always have been, and always will be. By comparing the two, you're comparing an apple to an orange. The most likely scenario is that they'll stay in their TV series colors for the sake variety. (Before anyone brings up Arthur, he hasn't appeared since season 12.)

And lastly, how is Rosie "ruined"? She was basically a mess of a character from the get-go; season 10 basically made her out to be a creepy stalker and in seasons 13-16, she was interchangeable with... just about anyone. I'd rather have a reworked Rosie than be reminded of her roles in the Barlow era.

The bottom line is, that guy's just basing his opinion off of paranoia with the mindset of "OH NOEZ ROSY GOT A REPAINT; DA SHOW IS RUINED 4EVA!! BURN IN HELL, MATTEL!!!!!!" or something along those lines. I say shut up and wait and see for how the new Rosie will play out rather than come up with stupid, worse-case scenarios that have a 0% of ever happening. There are a few things that keep Thomas and Friends from reaching its full potential, and the redesign of a tertiary character sure as hell ain't one of them. Rosie will never go back to what she was once was, and if you can't accept change, then maybe you shouldn't be taking a goddamn children's show so seriously!

Oh, and if anybody's gonna make some stupid, pointless petition to change Rosie back - don't. You're just wasting your time over something meaningless. Grow up.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Thomas and Friends Specials: The Great Race

Finally, after almost a year's worth of waiting, I finally tackle the 2016 special for Thomas and Friends - The Great Race. Why it's taken this long is because of moving to Oregon, other projects, and more recently, a scandal involving some MLP fans on DeviantArt (and people wonder why I've made the decision to leave both the Thomas and Brony fandoms). Also, I want to focus on improving the quality of my reviews, especially the first five seasons of MLP where, for some reason, I made some huge mistakes on certain episodes.

That being said, here's the first monkey I've chosen to shake off my back.

I must state from the get-go that I like the idea of an international railway show for a Thomas and Friends story. I had some ideas on how it'd go, but I never got around to fully forming a story based on the concept. Then The Great Race came by and I was eager to see how it would play off. After watching it again for the sake of reviewing, how does it stack up?

Frankly, The Great Race is just downright stupid, even for a kid's film. The basic gist is that Thomas is whining because he feels he isn't good enough to go to the Great Railway Show on the mainland, so he tries to prove himself worthy but his plans all backfire, yet he ends up going to the show because Gordon doesn't have his safety valve. Couple that with some North American jerk attacking Philip, a plethora of pointless internationals, one who contributes bugger-all to a cliched plot, an actually somewhat entertaining Diesel subplot, and a brother rivalry that has wasted potential of being expanded upon, you get the Thomas and Friends equivalent to Friendship Games, Legend of Everfree, and the 22-minute "special" Mirror Magic all rolled into one.

Let's start with Thomas' story - a.k.a. the main plot. It's boring. He wants to be faster, he wants to look better, and he wants to prove his strength. This is basically season 11's Dream On all over again, except it was way better written, didn't need a runtime longer than seven minutes, and it came from the Barlow Era! Thomas is also terribly written in the special; for some reason, we're supposed to root for him, but all he does is whine about not going to the show (even though the promotional material says he'll be here anyway, but I digress) and even goes through the same tropes we've seen before when he meets Ashima - she bumps into him, nearly causing him to fall into the sea, and he acts like she caused a wreck on his branchline! Oh, and he gets mad when she takes Annie and Clarabel cause that's never happened before...

Actually, that brings me onto Ashima. Sure, her render looks lovely and Tina Desai is talented, but there's an elephant in the room regarding her - she's pointless. Her character's bland and she does nothing that other female engines (probably except for Daisy) couldn't have. Say what you want about Emily during seasons 8-12, but at least being bossy and sometimes rude gave her something to work with in her own episodes. Ashima? She's bubbly, positive, and a good shunter - not a lot of story-telling potential with that, is there? And what does she gain from Thomas when she helps him out? At least with Gator in Tale of the Brave, he taught Percy how to be brave, and in return, the latter helped the former face his fear of heights. Their relationship felt very genuine and it was a tear jerker when Gator left for his home. In The Great Race, Thomas and Ashima's relationship is forced; she's basically the Timber Spruce of the Thomas universe.

Speaking of which, there's Vinnie. Like Timber Spruce, Vinnie is a complete jerk and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. His subplot with Philip is also terribly written; the little guy doesn't even stand up for himself, and when Vinnie crashes into the pylon, Philip laughs at him even though it was Thomas and Ashima who helped him out! (He's also ungrateful toward the latter as she wins the shunting competition, even after she saved him from Vinnie's wrath.) Also, why does Sodor need a flag carrier, especially when no other country has one? And what reason does Vinnie have to pick on Philip? If he lost the Strength Competition and wanted to vent his anger on someone, then I'd understand. But no, Vinnie's a bully because... of course he is.

While I'm on the subject of international engines (excluding Flying Scotsman, who's fantastic), they barely have any personality between them. All I can get out of them is that Axel's a bit dense, Frieda's rather touchy, and Yong Bao gets jealous when he doesn't get the spotlight, but that's it. All twelve of them are the Thomas equivalent of the Crystal Prep Shadowbolts, only there's more than twice as many. Their introduction is also a complete mess; how did their ship's captain not realize Sodor wasn't the right stop? That's not even mentioning it was also a half-arsed way to set up Thomas and Ashima's "dynamic".

This bit's rather nitpicky as well, but I'll comment on it anyway; how could Ashima not know how to get to Vicarstown, especially when Thomas was coming from there? Would it really have hurt for her crew to check a map? Here, it feels like padding.

Actually, that's one of the biggest problems with the special; it tries to build up to the Great Railway Show, but it takes half of the run time to even get to that point, and even then, it's contrived as heck. You could easily remove all that half-arsed build up and "tension" (Thomas and Norman's crash - that we never see - that stupid, infamous bridge jump, just to name a few), and then spend forty-five minutes showcasing the main events (they don't even showcase the winner of the strength competition, for goodness' sake!). But apparently, that's not important as Thomas' story...

Another legitimate issue is the movie's moral. Don't get me wrong, being yourself is a good lesson, but it's shoved down your throat to the point you think that was what the movie was based around! Either that, or the toys, or a combination of both. (Not helping is that it's become a generic message by this point; why do you think The Emoji Movie has negative reviews?) At this point, characters should build the story, which in turn builds the moral. Instead, it's the other way around that the moral becomes the story's basis, which writes Thomas' character.

To further prove my point, there's Percy. Like, what happened to the poor little guy? It was only in Tale of the Brave that he learned to be brave, and later regained his confidence in Missing Gator, and suddenly, it's all taken away from him just to make Thomas look good, despite coming off as unsympathetic in the first half. Well, chronologically speaking, Percy was already there with Three Steam Engines Gruff, but again, I digress.

If there was one character I thought was very well written in the special, it's Diesel. I've really liked his portrayal and character development in recent years. He may not be as devious as he was during seasons two and three, but he's grown to the point he's a comic villain with a soft side. I'd rather have this portrayal of Diesel than the one the Thomas Creator Collective gave him as an over the top baddie. No, Diesel is cocky, and the reason he got back at Duck was because he thought the pannier tank humiliated him on purpose and wanted to get his own back. As it turned out, Duck hadn't been very specific about what trucks Diesel was to take, so both were at fault here.

I'm getting sidetracked. I have no issues with Diesel's subplot for what it is, but do we need to shoehorn the steam vs. diesel conflict just for the sake of toys? I think not. It's hilarious, yes, but it barely even affected the story. Sure, Thomas had his accident, but he still goes to the show anyway despite the damage he got. Heck, he still could've gone to the show (Gordon without his safety valve) and nothing would change. That being said, his musical number is funny and the mid-credits scene brings his story to a fun end, even if it's pointless in the long run.

I can't discuss The Great Race without bringing up the Flying Scotsman. It's great to see him in CGI - though the livery is a bit disappointing - and I like the persona he's given. Looks like Gordon got his own Gordon to put up with on a regular basis. :P In the books, Scotsman's character felt kinda bland, but in CGI, he's cocky and loves annoying his brother, which is way more interesting to see. I really wish that had been the main focus of the special; it'd give Gordon a different shade to his character (a bit like Gordon and Spencer in season seven), as well as justification for wanting to be streamlined despite disliking the treatment in the past. That being said, it is a shame that Scotsman chose to try and win the race and leave his brother to die...

As for what else I liked (which wasn't much), the animation is solid throughout. Sure, there's silly mistakes, but keep in mind that there's always going to be imperfections in the visuals, even if you're the best director in the world. It's a shame that Arc closed down, but lucky for them they were taken over by Jam Filled. If you ignore the lackluster story, it's among Arc's best animation, and it shows how far they've gone with animation since King of the Railway.

For his first Thomas production, Chris Renshaw did an amazing job with the music. He definitely captures the Hartshornes' music whilst adding his own flavor. "Will You Won't You" is a great start, "Streamlining" is something of a guilty pleasure, "I'm Full of Surprises" is hilarious, but "You Can Only Be You" and its partial reprise just come off as generic and preachy (though when Thomas sings in the first version, it does leave some suicidal implications), even if they have the best intentions at heart, and I appreciate that. Still, it's not a song I'd put in my top ten.

Final Thoughts
They are going to be personal, of course. The Great Race had all the potential to be... ahem, great. The premise is promising, the new characters could've had a chance to shine, but none of it mattered because Mattel wanted Thomas to have yet another lead role, despite that he's already got too many specials with him as the main character. I get that the show is called Thomas and Friends, but it's as much about his friends as it is him.

What's also sad is that, despite being made for toys, Tale of the Brave and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure were actually successful at telling a solid story. Why they couldn't do so for The Great Race is beyond me. I know that Brenner and co. have to work with some restrictions, but if they can't do so, that's on them. (The same applies to the TCC.)

But perhaps the most frustrating thing about The Great Race is that season 20 comes way too late for us Thomas fans. Seriously, season 19 did not feature any of the newbies from Lost Treasure, and the newbies from The Great Race (except for Scotsman, who will most likely appear in the future) won't be appearing in future seasons except (possibly) for Big World, Big Adventures! (More on that in a bit.) If season 20 was going to feature the Lost Treasure newbies and returnees, why would you have a completely unrelated special come before it? Just to remind us all, this is the timeline for the Arc/Jam Filled productions: (the last two are kinda debatable by this point; the letters indicate order of release)
  1. The Adventure Begins (E)
  2. King of the Railway (A)
  3. Season 17 (B)
  4. Tale of the Brave (C)
  5. Season 18 (D)
  6. Season 19 (G)
  7. Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (F)
  8. Season 20 (I)
  9. The Great Race (H)
  10. Journey Beyond Sodor (J)
  11. Season 21 (K)
With the over-promotion of The Great Race, there was a chance that kids won't even remember Lost Treasure or even care about the characters from said special featured in season 20, expecting to see the international engines. Then, when Big World, Big Adventures! is released in 2018 (apparently), two years after The Great Race, will kids even remember the international engines, let alone their names? This also reminds me; Dance Magic featured the Shadowbolts from Friendship Games, and the former came out in 2017, two years after the latter did; since the specials take place after Legend of Everfree, will kids even remember the Shadowbolts? I bring that up because, from what I heard, Dance Magic was meant to take place between Friendship Games and Legend of Everfree, but dialogue was tweaked so the special took place after the latter rather than before.

Never mind being yourself; I think the lesson we can take from here is that we should always plan ahead. There may be confusion and negative reviews if we don't.

As for The Great Race? I can say with confidence that this is the worst Thomas special. Yes, Calling All Engines is rather dull, yes, Misty Island Rescue is stupid, and yes, Day of the Diesels contained racist implications... but all three of them came from an era where you expected generic, poor writing. With specials like Tale of the Brave and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, you expect Brenner and co. to know better, especially with Thomas' character, who went through some great development in the latter!

If you want this plot done right, try either Best Engine Ever or Disney's Wreck-It Ralph. Both focused on the relationships between Emily and Caitlin and Ralph and Vanellope, respectively, and they had a stronger emphasis on storytelling and character development. The Great Race didn't do either, and even if it did well in UK theaters, it doesn't change the fact that the special's a total mess and it felt like Andrew Brenner bowed to Mattel's demands than actually do what he wanted.

Rating: 0 out of 10

Monday, June 19, 2017

Character Analysis: Juniper Montage

First off, I want to say sorry for a severe lack of updates on this blog; the school quarter's nearly done, my family and I are beginning to pack up and move to Oregon, and I'm trying to socialize a little more and maybe find myself a date, which is easier said than done. So I haven't been fully motivated to write up reviews unless I risk coming off as unprofessional as I felt back in 2014. Don't worry; the season seven reviews for MLP will be up soon whenever I can be bothered (next week, at least!)

All that said, and having seen the three Equestria Girls specials (yes, the English dubs have been released in Poland), I can share my thoughts on this year's token newbie - Juniper Montage!

The following post contains spoilers; reader discretion is advised.

You know, it feels like yesteryear when I said Starlight Glimmer had the worst bad guy redemption in modern MLP history; literally a watered down attempt at copying Sunset's arc, but it didn't work because... well, you already know my reasons by now.

But then Legend of Everfail came around and its "villain", Gloriosa Daisy, came off even worse. Not only was her villainy non-subtle and predictable, her motivations were all because she couldn't pay to save her camp, making her come off as unsympathetic and annoying. (Not that her brother was any better, but still.) Heck, Principal Cinch wanting to maintain her reputation was a credible reason for her actions, and she's almost universally despised.

Which brings me to Juniper Montage. (I'd have waited till the specials properly aired in America, but she annoys me so much that I had to get it out of the way, hence the spoiler tag near the top.)

I'm gonna say it right now; Juniper Montage is a worthless brat. Okay, to be fair, she does love her uncle Canter Zoom and is a bit of a Daring Do fanatic, but those are really the only positive traits about her, everything else about Juniper is terrible, and you better believe I'll get to why.

First off, she sabotages the set of the Daring Do movie, all because she was swept aside in favor of Chestnut Magnifico for the lead role and despises the actress. Really? That's it? Oh, but it gets better(!) - it's because the actress kept eating her favorite candy. It's like taking revenge because somebody else got an item off eBay that you wanted.

Second, there's her revenge in Mirror Magic (the worst of the three specials by a long shot), and suddenly, all her positive traits are thrown out the window for plot convenience. The Human Seven were doing the right thing, and she blames them for her failure. (Sound familiar?) And how does she get back at them? By sending them into a white void with a mirror! Yes, it may have been an accident, but all it does is make Juniper more petty than she was.

Then there's her character itself - it's boring! She's the type of villain we've seen many times before; appears sweet and innocent (Starlight Glimmer), became corrupt with power out of jealousy (Princess Luna/Nightmare Moon), wants to be adored (the Dazzlings), and transforms into some kinda supernatural demon (Sunset Shimmer, Sci-Twi). None of this is new or interesting at all!

And to solidify my point, Juniper is easily forgiven at the end... and it's also boring! We've seen it one time too many (both in FiM and EG) and it's gotten stale by this point! I may have said prior to season six that bad guy redemptions were starting to become stupid and annoying, but now they're stupid, annoying, and ridiculous!

Also, Pinkie's line about the group being forgiving is utterly groan-worthy. Whilst it's true, it feels like a half-assed way to acknowledge fan criticisms rather than actually working on the issues of storytelling. Aren't there better ways of taking criticism to heart than using the franchise's comic relief as a mouthpiece?

On a side note, I'm honestly getting sick of the show's sugarcoated "sunshine and rainbows" approach on friendship. I get it; the show's theme is friendship, but the reality is that not everybody gets along with each other, and friendship is a lot more complicated than just getting along. Heck, this is why I loved Amending Fences so much; Twilight and Moon Dancer's reunion wasn't just hugs and laughter. The former felt bad for unintentionally hurting the latter without realizing it, and wanted to do whatever she could to try and make up for her mistake. It felt real.

As for Juniper Montage? Her acceptance of friendship is forced and feels artificial. I know some will argue, "Oh, but the book gave her a friendless background and she showed remorse!" But A) I don't care that much for the books, and B) if it was true, they could've said a line or had a scene referencing it rather than just adding it in the book because adaptation or making up an explanation on Twitter (I'm looking at you, Indigo Zap!). The books and the episodes/films/specials are two different mediums, and you'd just be comparing apples and oranges.

Poorly written, and with motivations that are stupid and petty, I can only rank Juniper Montage as the worst villain in the entire franchise, if not animated media in general. At least Starlight has a bit of charm to her if you take a step back (especially after a few episodes out of season seven); Juniper is just a pathetic, immature brat to the core.

Friday, May 19, 2017

First Impressions: Journey Beyond Sodor

Once again, I'm so sorry for the lack of updates. Season seven of My Little Pony has begun airing, and in case you are all wondering, yes. I will be reviewing it here, as well as doing a couple of video reviews here and there. (On a side note, I'll also be including fandom reactions for the EG specials when they come out on Netflix in the summer despite an early Polish release this month.) But for right now, I'm going to be talking about the trailer for the upcoming Thomas special Journey Beyond Sodor, as well as the controversy it's caused upon release last week.

The following post contains spoilers; reader discretion is advised.

1. The Story
Right off the bat, the story is a bit... bog standard for Thomas. We've seen him leave Sodor before - to London, to Muffle Mountain, to Misty Island (frequently), to the mainland, and (in the books, at least) to York. Why retell what you've already done, especially in last year's special (which felt pointless overall)? 

Then there's him meeting with the Experimental Engines and the Steelworks Duo, who we'll cover in the next section - both have respective vibes from Misty Island Rescue and Day of the Diesels, and whilst I think they might be both specials done right, even then, they don't feel all that fresh.

All that being said, I am hoping that James does play a big role in this; he's on the poster for goodness' sake! Last time he played a major role was in Tale of the Brave and (to an extent) The Adventure Begins. Why can we not have the rest of the Steam Team play bigger roles once in a while and expand on their characters a bit? (Yeah, I do feel Gordon should've been the lead character in The Great Race, and it's so annoying that he wasn't.)

2. New Characters and Locations
Theo is just charming. Whilst we don't know what he's specifically based upon, it's been said that he is autistic, and I'm hoping that he'll become a character that, finally, the autistic audience (like myself) can relate to - more on that later.

Same thing with Lexi - now, I'm more or less familiar with cab-forward engines, but I never expected to see something like No. 21 "Thomas-Stetson". Yeah, her changing voices is a bit jarring at first, but it could be part of her personality, and again, I'll come to that later. So far, Lexi looks to be entertaining, but she's got nothing on...

Merlin. Just... everything about him, really. Straight away, he's gonna have tons of personality and charm to him. Oh, and he's got a song of his own, which might be fun!

I can't really say too much about Beresford (if that is his name). Hopefully, for whatever screen time he has, his voice actor will shine through. From what I can tell so far, he's a bit clumsy... but that's it.

I thought it'd be fair to discuss Hurricane and Frankie together. Again, their roles could be Day of the Diesels done right, and it'd be interesting for Thomas to finally have his first female antagonist in the show. I'm not usually one to discuss fandom theories, but it could be interesting if they were the villains of the special, and hopefully show Vinnie how to be a true antagonist.

The Steelworks are where Hurricane and Frankie work, and it looks really cool so far. It looks scary and intimidating, almost akin to the scrapyards in season five and Thomas and the Magic Railroad. I think it'd be nice to see it more often in future seasons.

3. Voice Actors and Celebrity Guest Stars
In the UK dub, it looks... uh, sorry... sounds like Rob Rackstraw will be voicing James in the near future. I don't mind, really. Keith Wickham, good as a voice actor he is, does voice a lot of characters already, so it's nice to see more diversity in the Steam Team's voices in the UK dub. It does look as through bit by bit, the voice cast in both the US and UK dubs are starting to become one, with slight narration differences. I kinda got that vibe when Keith Wickham starting voice Sir Topham Hatt in the US dub - he's more natural than Kerry Shale who just sounded a bit forced at times (just watch the second accident in No More Mr. Nice Engine to prove my point).

No word as of yet to who voices Hurricane, Lexi, Frankie, or Theo. Beresford, however, will be voiced by Colin McFarlane, the first African actor to voice Thomas in any English dub. Like I said, I'm pretty sure he'll do a great job for what little screen-time he might have.

But the true standout is Hugh Bonneville as Merlin. As I said, he looks to be a fantastic character, and Hugh brings it out perfectly - he even compared Merlin to his character Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey. To be honest, I haven't watched Downton Abbey, so I can't really make the comparisons. What surprises me, honestly, is how many big-shot British actors they're getting every year - Clive Mantle, Olivia Colman, Eddie Redmayne, the late John Hurt, Jamie Campbell Bower, the list goes on. I love it! It's like they're telling us, "yes, Thomas is big in America, but its origins have always been on British soil."

4. Jam Filled's Animation
Since Arc's bankruptcy, it's been taken over by Jam Filled Productions. I'm glad for those fortunate enough to have a second chance in animating for Thomas, so what problems do Jam Filled face?

For starters, the animation looks... unfinished at places. There are two possible answers for this:
  1. This is simply a trailer, and the final product will look better.
  2. It's Jam Filled's first feature length special, but the animation will improve over time.

Both possibilities are not out of the question, and we've only seen, give or take, about two minutes of the special, so we've got four months to wait for the DVD before making a full judgement. Other than that, the scenery looks really good.

Then of course, there's the experimental engines being able to move around, even when stationary. Really, what's the issue here? Yes, at first glance, it's a bit stupid and can be compared to Cars and Chuggington, but here's what most fans seem to forget...

We are no longer the target audience!

At one point, we were, but that was then, and this is now. We've all grown up the same way those who've watched seasons 8-16 have all grown up and moved on. Will this current generation of Thomas fans even remember Rosie in her lavender livery, Bill and Ben with black wheels, or even what Oliver looked like prior to season 18? Heck, we have retellings of classic stories in the current series like Old Reliable Edward, Bill or Ben?, Thomas' Shortcut, and even the Arlesdale trilogy being adapted for the first time.

Be honest, guys; do you really want everything to go your way? Thomas the Tank Engine is, and always shall be, a children's show. Yes, I dare say that, not as an excuse, but as defense. If an engine moving can appeal to kids, fine. If a story is well written, I, personally, could care less about an engine moving around. I will proudly continue to watch the show for what it is until either I die or stop being a fan, whichever comes first.

Honestly, all those complaints about the show's current state is making me feel that the model era these days is overrated...

5. Diversity - Good or Bad?
Remember what I said about Theo being autistic? There's complaints not only about that, but this rumor I heard of about Lexi being gender-fluid. For those who don't know, that means Lexi does identify herself as being male or female. And both implements have angered a ton of fans.

For Christ's sake, people, what is the bloody issue there?! As far as I'm aware, there's no issue with anyone being autistic or gender-fluid. If anything, I applaud the staff for trying to broaden their audience a little. The only reason they're issues is because over-sensitive people make them issues. This is why I defend Brotherhooves Social - it gave sympathy to those who felt comfortable with cross-dressing and it gave Big Macintosh some character development. It's also why I defend Diesel and the Ducklings - it gave Diesel himself an additional layer to his personality of having a soft side. Heck, it's even why I was all for LeFou being gay in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast - some characters are more complex than we give them credit for.

They tried giving diversity in The Great Race with the international engines, but that flopped because it gave Thomas a stupid, pointless, uninteresting story arc that he didn't need to go through after learning it multiple times in the past (not that Ashima was any better, but still). Basically, if we don't get enough sympathy for either Theo or Lexi, it's not because they tried including diversity. No, it's because the writers were being lazy with their characters.

Bottom line, if you're going to complain about a show or a movie including diverse themes, then why waste your time complaining if you don't like it?

6. Little Things
Finally, the trucks are becoming diverse once again! We did see vans with faces in Bradford the Brake Van, but up to that point, the only trucks to have faces were the gray seven-plank wagons. The fact that they even got faces on tankers for the first time since Toad Stands By feels even greater. A few complaints about standard gauge slate trucks, but I can let it pass, given his/her self-awareness, as well as the joke he/she made. Can we have the coaches with faces for season 22? That'd be nice to see for the first time!

Other than the Steelworks, there seems to be more locations for the mainland! That viaduct does look like the one between Maron and Cronk, only pink. When was the last time we saw the original? Season 15?

Belle is seen pulling the red branch line coaches, not dissimilar to her basis being a passenger engine. If we had an episode what showed her taking passengers, as well as giving her some development, that'd be great to see!

Final Thoughts
Honestly, I think fans are making a huge deal over absolutely nothing. It's quite ironic that the majority of them have autism or some other disability, and yet, when it's translated onto the small screen, suddenly, all empathy goes out the window. I don't get it.

I'm just hoping that Journey Beyond Sodor will at least be good enough to watch over and over again, or at least, an improvement over The Great Race. I don't think any future special will ever top Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure for me, but I'll be surprised if JBS can!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thomas and Friends Season 20: The Best and Worst

Wow, has it really been ages since I last posted here? Well, to be honest, there weren't too many subjects I felt like talking about, but since I've published my video review on the Extraordinary Engines episodes with Mike Nicholson on YouTube, I've decided to give season 20 one last lookover before we can move on to Journey Beyond Sodor and season 21.

Oh, and I'll get to The Great Race when I can.

Unlike season 19, I'll be doing two lists for season 20 - one with my Bottom 5 and another with my Top 10 (for episodes each, of course). Why a Bottom 5 and Top 10? Well, there are far more gems than stinkers, I felt, and because season 20 had so many good episodes, I didn't want to leave any of them out. Let's get to it, shall we?

Season 20's Bottom Five

Dishonorable Mention: Mucking About
At first, I rated this episode favorably - about 8/10 - but as time went by, I didn't feel so generous as the story suffers from lack of consistent focus as well as some contrivance. If the bridge was over railway lines, why didn't either Max or Monty see the tracks in front of them? Not taking notice of that just makes them look stupid, and the ending very much shows that they'll probably never learn from their mistakes, making it feel pointless. A weak effort from Davey Moore, I feel.

5. Saving Time
Kicking off the bottom five is the kind of episode that makes you resent that a character exists. Given that Samson was (mostly) absent for season 19, you'd expect for him to mature a little, especially since he was partnered up with Bradford.

But sadly, Bradford was nowhere to be seen, and Samson continued to be an overconfident idiot. Maybe if Diesel had played a trick on Samson rather than just being a background character, this episode would've worked a lot better. It's also telling that Samson is very much overshadowed by the side characters in his story as they're portrayed a lot better, but it makes me sad that the Skarloey engines don't get too much attention these days. Hopefully season 21 will work on that.

4. Pouty James
Speaking of working on certain problems...!

In retrospect, James did get better with All in Vain (which we'll get to later), but I still can't forgive this episode for making James more big-headed than he usually is.

And don't give me that "oh, it's in style of the Railway Series" crap, because that actually makes the episode worse than it is. James and the Top Hat and James and the Bootlace (or James and the Coaches if you prefer the TV version) work much better because A) the red engine was recovering from his crash in Thomas and the Breakdown Train/The Adventure Begins and B) he was younger back then and didn't know better! At the time Pouty James came around, James should at least be mature enough not to let his paint get to his smokebox. The same could apply to Philip to the Rescue about him showing off where he learned the same lesson, but I digress.

I honestly believed this would be the worst episode of the season (and not to mention the most overrated), and for at least two months, I was right...

3. Hugo and the Airship
2. Engine of the Future
Both Hugo-centric episodes are downright awful. Not only are they unoriginal and boring, the main character introduced in them is one of the worst in Thomas history! Sure, the Logging Locos are annoying, but then again, do you expect them to be? Hugo is unintentionally annoying and unsympathetic.

You see, whenever he shows up on screen, all Hugo does is constantly feel down just for being different from everyone else (he'd give Sci-Twi a run for her money), and he learns the same lessons that kids should know by this point. I don't know about everyone else, but I've no time to moan about the things I can't do. I try and live my life to the fullest and be happy with what I've got, and give my condolences to those less fortunate.

If both episodes are ranked together, why is Engine of the Future slightly worse? Well, Hugo and the Airship is just boring, and Future just retreads another older story - Thomas and the New Engine - by doing it worse with wonky pacing and a forced ending (in Neville's episode, it was never implied as to whether or not the engines accepted him at the end).

Do I want to see Hugo return? No. I wouldn't be bothered if he never returned, much like Ashima. He has no point except for toys, and his design? Don't get me wrong; I generally appreciate German engineering, but the Schienenzeppelin was simply crap. Its propeller was a danger to the passengers, especially if it went backwards which it never did, it was useless at pulling wagons, and it couldn't climb hills.

So yeah - Hugo's got no potential whatsoever and should be consigned to the scrap pile.

1. Three Steam Engines Gruff
Yes, I hate this episode more than The Other Side of the Mountain and Rocky Rescue. Why? To put it simply, it's character destructive for both Percy and Toby.

Let's look back on Percy's New Friends and The Christmas Tree Express, shall we? Do you really expect those episodes to be anything more than boring and stupid? In Toby's case, him being a cowardly wuss was to be expected after a while. Same thing with Percy being a braindead idiot - actually, the same thing could apply to most characters on the show by this point. On top of that, you should've expected terrible writing from those episodes by now, as well as the awful rhyming, alliteration, and unnecessary exposition from the narrator.

Since then, the writers have done much better with Percy and Toby, the former especially. His greatest achievement came in the form of Tale of the Brave, and it continued into seasons 18 and 19. Meanwhile, Toby had to get a bit of a head start in Signals Crossed, where his fears did make sense (somewhat), and he became stronger as a character in The Truth About Toby and Toby's New Friend, the latter of which aired in the same season as Three Steam Engines Gruff!

Also - and this is minor, but I'll call it out anyway - why is Trevor working near Thomas' branchline when he's commonly seen on Edward's? Wouldn't Terence had made a better fit?

Back to legit issues; in the video review, one of my viewers, Chris Bouchard (shout-out to him), didn't fully understand my complaints with this episode, so I'll clarify in case the video review did a poor job explaining my frustration. I said in the initial review that Toby should've taken Thomas' place; you see, in the original story, the third billy goat was the one who actually stood up to the troll and told him to go away. In the episode, it's Thomas. I get that he's the main character that kids should look up to, but... well, let me go on a tangent for a bit here.

Remember my complains about To Where and Back Again? It's the same problem shown here as well as in The Great Race. Percy (in addition to Toby in Engines Gruff) is made to look pathetic to make Thomas look good. Not only does that special continue to hurt his character development from season 18, it also wants you to think that Thomas is the good guy despite behaving like a brat in the first half. Needless to say, I find that most insulting.

In the classic era, Thomas was a bit of a brat, but he was effective in that role because whenever he was cheeky, he was almost always knocked down a peg or two - Thomas and Gordon being a prime example of this. If Thomas was cheeky to Percy after he got scared and then ended up being scared himself, it might've worked better. Which brings me back to the issue Chris had, as well as to how the episode could've been fixed with the characters involved. (Not saying that Mike's idea of different characters is bad, of course, don't get me wrong.)

After Percy gets scared, Thomas makes fun of him for it. Toby calls out Thomas for his rudeness and believes there's an explanation behind it. Then Thomas is convinced there's a troll, but Toby is skeptical. Percy goes first, followed by Thomas, and Toby last. And it's Toby who realizes it's actually a cow, and he and Percy (and maybe the coaches as well) have a laugh at Thomas' expense. Sure, it contains a few vibes from Cows and Ghost Train of season two, but I'd personally rather that than what we got. The story would've still been predictable, but at least the trio would've been in character and you may end up with an Awdry-esque story.

But as it stands, this episode is just a mess. It (and the bottom five overall, in fact) very much summarizes how Andrew Brenner lost some of his mojo as a writer. Sure, he's written some good episodes here and there, The Adventure Begins is a grand retelling of the first stories, and Tale of the Brave and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure are amazing, but a problem with Brenner's writing now is that it feels like he only focuses on one character trait and uses it solely to make the story happen - that, and his narrative tends to be forceful about the episode's message, as if it makes the audience look stupid. I don't think that's necessary; you can always build on the foundations left behind by previous episodes rather than just tearing them down because why not.

Until Brenner gets his act together, he'll be my least favorite writer of the current staff, and Three Steam Engines Gruff can basically be considered the Legend of Everfree of Thomas episodes. That being said, the nine-minute episode is not as tedious to sit through as that pathetic excuse of a film, but still...

Now that we've seen my personal worst of season 20, what are my personal best?

Season 20's Top Ten

Honorable Mention: All in Vain
This got right what Pouty James got wrong; it developed James' character. Rather than brag about his paintwork, he actually gets on with his work and does what he can to make the Fat Controller and the Mayor proud. It also helped that his dynamic with Edward was good, and seeing him imitate James was very funny and it shows that whilst Edward is wise, he's not above teasing other engines' quirks... as long as they're harmless.

10. Bradford the Brake Van
I still liked this episode for what it did. Bradford himself was a fun character, especially as he had a personality that nobody was expecting! There's pretty much little else to add what been's already said, really, and that can apply to just about every entry in the top ten.

9. Blown Away
Sure, this episode does have vibes of Toad and the Whale and Slow Stephen - all Helen Farrall scripts, which is kind of why this didn't rank higher - but there's enough in Blown Away to make it stand out against the season 19 episodes. And if a story is well-structured and has some great character moments, then it's good enough for me.

8. Henry Gets the Express
I (and many others) initially believed this would be season 20's best, but then, many other episodes, as we'll see, came by and blew this out of the water. It's still significant as it treated Henry with the respect that had evaded him during seasons 18 and 19, despite using his fear for a "joke" in Three Steam Engines Gruff, but again, I digress.

7. The Missing Breakdown Train
One thing I forgot to mention in the video review for Extraordinary Engines was that the episode... tends to be a bit slow in places. That's not necessarily a bad thing; I mean, considering that about a quarter of the episode consisted of Judy and Jerome reacting to everything they see, I suppose I can understand some of those complaints. And if there's enough humor involved, then a bit of slow pacing is a flaw I can live with.

6. The Railcar and the Coaches
Like Henry Gets the Express, I did initially think that this would be my favorite of season 20, and it was all down to Daisy's performance. I honestly cannot think of any better voice actress than Tracy-Ann Oberman to voice her (except maybe Tabitha St. Germain). For the episode itself, again, there's little else to say that I haven't.

5. Skiff and the Mermaid
Many of my recent favorites tend to be written by either Davey Moore or Helen Farrall, and this one for her (as well as three of the following) are of no exception.

4. Over the Hill
The more I look back on this episode, the more I appreciate what Helen did for bringing Glynn back to the fray, and with style. His interactions with Stephen are fantastic, and their dynamic is one of the funniest of the show. It also helps since they're old engines making fun of the younger generation and their behaviors.

3. Ryan and Daisy
Once again, enough people including myself have given it high praise, so let's move on.

2. The Arlesdale Trilogy
I know, I know, I'm kind of cheating there, but I honestly could not choose between all three of them. As the first adaptations since season four (and this is excluding The Adventure Begins for a moment), the Railway Series came back with a real bang. If there's anything all combined taught me, it's that you should never overlook a little engine - big surprises may come in a small package. But why aren't they at the number one spot?

1. Love Me Tender
It's believed that Duck in the Water and Duck and the Slip Coaches have the Great Western pannier as the lead character, but he was only secondary to James. Likewise in Toad's Adventure and Toad and the Whale, Oliver was a secondary lead role to the brakevan.

With this episode? Donald and Douglas are the lead characters, and they proved how effective they could be when in the forefront. Sure, their bickering could be akin to Bill and Ben, but siblings fight a lot, and Donald and Douglas are of no exception, yet they still love each other by the end of the day. My point is further proven in the third act when Donald realized his brother was in trouble and put his annoyances aside to look for Douglas, especially as he was the engine Donald was saving from being scrapped all those years ago.

And yes, whilst the episode has some similarities to Twin Trouble, the story in Love Me Tender flows a lot more naturally, and the ending felt more beautiful, making it better on every front.

Season 20 Overall

What can I say about this season that hasn't been? I absolutely loved this season! Oh, sure, it had five episodes I wasn't too keen on, but the best of season 20 was just as good as, if some are not better than, the best of seasons 17-19 previous. The animation gets better with each season, but it's a shame it was Arc's last before they went bankrupt; thankfully, they've been taken over by Jam Filled, so all is not lost. The music is fantastic, and Chris Renshaw definitely started off with a bang, especially when you hear themes featured in Diesel and the Ducklings, Bradford the Brake Van, Ryan and Daisy (for Daisy herself, at least), and even in Engine of the Future.

If there was a problem with season 20, it was related to the distribution of episodes. As I stated in my review for it, Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure takes place after season 19, and yet it aired first, resulting in said season being distributed very sporadically on UK television during 2015-17. Meanwhile, The Great Race takes place after season 20, and yet it was released the same day that Sidney Sings aired. Not only that, but because Lost Treasure and season 20 were a year apart, kids would probably forget who the likes of Ryan, Daisy, Donald and Douglas were, and the parents even complain about it on Amazon. At first, I thought the complaints were stupid, but The Unlucky Tug's season 20 analysis very much explains the issue better than I could.

Perhaps if The Adventure Begins - with about 15 minutes of extra content - had been the main 2015 special, and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure had been held back for 2016, this distribution thing might've worked way better as really, The Great Race pretty much added nothing for future seasons... except for Flying Scotsman and Vicarstown, who and which I hope turn up more often in season 21.

But overall, despite that distribution problem, season 20 was a season we all needed, especially after that marketing stunt known as The Great Race. Since Journey Beyond Sodor will be occurring immediately after The Great Race, and that it's coming before season 21 (hopefully), maybe then the distribution crisis can finally come to an end and we can look forward to all future specials and seasons without worrying about distribution errors. And there's even a rumor that Super Rescue will be made for CGI; that should be fun if it will be!

Final Rating: 9.5/10

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Has My Little Pony Lost Its Special Something? (ft. The Super Mario Brony)

Okay, my next post was going to delve into my thoughts on FlashShimmer, and I will get to that soon enough, but right now, I'm struggling to justify translating my thoughts without angering some shipping purists. So yeah, that'll be on the backburner for a while yet, not helping that I'm soon going to be working on a class final, cleaning up my room, as well as planning a few video reviews. So right now, there's a collab editorial regarding the current state of MLP.

As with us humans, nothing even in any forms of entertainment media seems to be perfect. Movies, television, video games, music, etc. Of course, if everything was perfect, then planet Earth would be a really boring place to be. Then again though when it comes to television, Friendship Is Magic didn't have to lose this much potential.

And that brings us to the question of this post - what happened with My Little Pony that caused it to lose the charm it had when it first aired? To answer that question, we'll be discussing everything that went on from the series after both season four and Rainbow Rocks; from season five to Legend of Everfree. (But to make things clear, we'll be doing them all in reverse order.)

Legend of Everfree is nothing short of the culmination of everything that's currently wrong with My Little Pony. That film was so bad that we're almost tempted to avoid the three specials, which are coming out this summer, like the plague.

In that sense, because of this disaster, we're really having less hope for anything in the EG franchise than we are for season seven and the upcoming movie of the main series of this fourth generation of ponies. But if Hasbro can surprise us in some way, who knows?

But let's be frank; not a single moment of Everfree made sense. Why wait until an hour in to make Midnight Sparkle relevant to the story? Why the emphasis on camp activities that have nothing to do with anything? Timber Spruce knew that his sister was doing something stupid, but why does he constantly hit on a student he'll never see again rather than make Gloriosa Daisy see sense? Why do Sci-Twi and Gloriosa put up with him at all? He's a terrible brother who'd rather have his own dreams than live up to family traditions. What was the point of Flash and Sunset's subplot if they didn't directly interact in the three films previous, and are probably never going to interact again? Is it simply to appeal to the haters (a.k.a. people not worth giving a damn about)? How come Gloriosa got away scot-free with scaring the campers? And most importantly, why didn't she think of holding a fundraiser to begin with?!

Actually, you know what? I don't really care about answers, especially for the last one.

And since everything considerably fell apart in the spinoff series after Rainbow Rocks, the one and only silver lining we can look at in both Friendship Games (more on that later) and Everfree is Sunset and her performances as she was equally as salvageable in both sequels as Discord was in season six's disastrous finale, as well Spike in the bankrupt season six premiere. Whereas Spike got at least a decent amount of development during his particular moments in the episode (with or without Starlight) whilst Discord was being, shall we say, his usual comedic self where he thankfully didn't go all OOC as to going to far with his antics like teaching a certain character about a horrible feeling like jealousy in the wrong way possible (I'm looking at you, What About Discord?), Sunset gracefully got both of these traits with some (if not more) development and thankfully never acted like something she wasn't meant to be. But to say the very least, you can remove them all in those sorry excuses of installments, and the plots would all be the same.

There are so many things we just can't get over in this season, that we still have so many particular questions for Hasbro: What happened to the Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash we both knew and loved? Why didn't Starlight get the development she deserved? Why did they air the finale this soon? The list goes on and on!

Season six may have been Hasbro's way of changing the show for the better, and yet, in an ironic twist of fate, it became the season that pretty much ruined MLP's positive reputation. Or at least, it tainted an otherwise good show.

When it comes down to our first question about Dashie and Twilight, we still can't blame them precisely for being either innocently tortured (*cough* Newbie Dash *cough*) or straight up hypocritical (that means you two, No Second Prances and 28 Pranks Later). This means it primarily comes down to how they're written, so writing for them is essentially how they develop. And sadly, based on that statement, it's easier for us to name enough good portrayals/episodes from both Andrea Libman's characters minus P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View) for Pinkie Pie (obviously) (since Fluttershy was literally the flawless one of the bunch) than it is for us to name enough good portrayals/episodes from Tara Strong's character throughout all of season six. Although to be fair, Ashleigh Ball's characters were more or less the case since Applejack was at least redeemed greatly by the end of the season with Where the Apple Lies whilst Rainbow Dash didn't do so well despite having Top Bolt to fall back on with Twilight. And Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain)? Well, let's just say she hasn't done herself quite enough justice either after P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View) and especially The Cart Before the Ponies (with Applejack and, separately, Pinkie and Rainbow Dash).

And then there's Starlight Glimmer, who... we've moaned about enough already.

But when it comes to the topic of To Where and Back Again, the episode, actually, isn't too bad on it's own, but it's still one of the worst because Starlight's development leading up to it was sloppy at best. They could've easily spread her story arc over two or three seasons to expand on the following: her friendship with Trixie, Thorax's character being expanded upon, explanation to the Changelings' history, an episode or two Starlight and Discord, and above all else, give us justification to why they'd be working together when To Where and Back Again came around. It might still have problems, but if it aired later, then maybe we'd give it a pass, but as it stands, it feels like the reverse Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? - more on that later.

So if season seven wants to be more conclusive of things like Starlight, an episode with her and Discord sounds like the best idea for her character arc (especially if it was Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco writing for it), or to bring back the real Mane Six, especially Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity, give them the same good development they had before seasons five and six (sort of), and most of all, take our letter of avoiding terrible writing into account, Hasbro.

Okay, so where do we start with Friendship Games? The idea behind the film was to showcase school rivalries. Great idea, right? However, that wasn't to case as instead, guess who hogs the spotlight in her official debut?

Yep! The human counterpart of Twilight Sparkle, or more commonly nicknamed "Sci-Twi"...

She could've had that possible potential for this sequel after that brief glimpse of her and her dog Spike after the credits of Rainbow Rocks. And we don't exactly know what those at Hasbro were thinking (or should we specifically say the film's writer Josh Haber), but apparently with Haber's idea of writing for the film and its characters (except maybe for Sunset to an extent) instead of the chairwoman of the show's writers Meghan McCarthy (and the less said about her writing 28 Pranks Later's story the better) something unfortunately went wrong.

They could've given focus to the quintet known as the Shadowbolts, but instead, they came off as one-dimensional and forgettable. I recently watched this video by Brass Polish, "Flash Sentry Outshines Timber Spruce" where he comments that with the exception of Flash, every character introduced in the Equestria Girls universe - and this is excluding the background humans for a moment - had no counterpart in either the human world or Equestria. He also adds that whilst Sunset and the Dazzlings were seen as humans for the majority of the first two movies, we had acknowledgement that they had Equestrian origins, as a pony and a trio of sirens, respectively. With the Shadowbolts, Cinch, Gloriosa and Timber, we don't get pony counterparts for them, almost as if they wanted to keep Friendship is Magic and Equestria Girls separate.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done as it feels like they're going against what they've established.

What other episodes do we have to blame for season five being the start of MLP losing what it once had? Well, to name the others besides that episode that season six's finale reverses; Bloom and Gloom, Scare Master, Slice of Life, Party Pooped, What About Discord?, and especially season five's finale that's practically good compared to To Where and Back Again known as The Cutie Re-Mark.

There's not a whole lot I can say about Bloom and Gloom, really. Sure, it's repetitive at best and downright disturbing at worst, but if you ignore that, the episode's just boring and forgettable. Kind of like most of the episodes we've mentioned, but mostly the latter.

With Scare Master, it's the prime example of why season six surprisingly did Fluttershy more than enough justice to get her back in the good character standards. I mean seriously, freaking out from candy?! Sure, her attempt to scare her friends in that maze was a lot more realistic than her attempt to scare them in her house, but derailing Fluttershy or just any other character who has loads of potential in store for themselves is never okay.

Then we come to Slice of Life - many fans wanted to see background ponies take the spotlight for once... Well, be careful what you wish for, am I right?

As we've stated before, basically everything about it was rushed. So much so, that it could very well be the most overrated episode of series in general. And not only will we say it's rushed, it's also confusing, uninteresting, unfunny, and convoluted. And really, we've already discussed this in our countdown of MLP Characters That Lost Major Mojo, but if Hasbro's really going to give them some charm, they're going to have to develop them one at a time. Don't cram them all together with various sections of nearly each and every single one of them in one episode next time, writers. Try again! (Or better yet, maybe not!)

Speaking of poorly written characters, does anyone remember the yaks from Party Pooped? If your answer is "no", then perhaps we don't need to spell out their problem, but we will for those who've no idea what we're talking about - they're stereotypical jerks who whine over little things. Not even Garble in Dragon Quest was this despicable! Not only that, but Party Pooped suffered from an extremely confused plot and Pinkie's journey led to nothing. The less said about an episode banned in Canada, the better.

But for those of you who haven't seen any of these episodes we're now discussing, if you thought the yaks were straight up awful, you haven't seen just how terrible Discord was in his only unacceptably bad role known as What About Discord?. (And Twilight's friends were terrible as well, but at least they came to their senses and sympathized with her at the very end.) And don't get us wrong. It did have one of the best ideas of a plot of showing my personal overall favorite character getting along more with those he hasn't got along with much (since he's only really come close to Fluttershy), and was honestly supposed to increase my favorite character's likability. Instead however, What About Discord? was an episode that nearly destroyed my favorite character's likability! (The same can also be said for Twilight in No Second Prances, the Wonderbolts in Newbie Dash, and even Rainbow Dash in 28 Pranks Later, but I digress.)

It's bad enough that we get an episode with sluggish pacing, untold humor that's far more questionable than it is funny, and an atrocious moral delivered in the worst way possible, but derailing a favorable, redeemed character into something cruel is a whole different story. If they're really going to make this kind of plot a good one (the next time they attempt to), they better show Discord's actual bondage with whoever he hangs out with. (One specific suggestion of a character that would make for something greatly interesting as we said would be Starlight, but let's move on...)

Then there's The Cutie Re-Mark - there are many, many problems with the episode which I've already described, but let's make it brief.

The various timelines were untold and completely confusing, Starlight's motives for being evil were absolutely pathetic, and to add insult to injury, Part 2 gave us an equally atrocious song of just how terrible her redemption was randomly pulled off and executed.

Now, don't get either of us wrong - I do genuinely believe there were good intentions, but it's one of those things, you know? Something ambitious starts off with good intentions, but the execution is extremely sloppy.

And last but not least, as the main example of why Luna lost pretty much all of her mojo she could've had by now if Hasbro would've treated her more properly instead treating her like some plot device or bad guy who's literally innocent on both the outside and inside, and is by far the most overrated princess of Equestria's royalty, Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? is one episode we could view as controversial based solely on its dangerous moral.

But you know the sad fact? It didn't have to be controversial!

Remember when I said that To Where and Back Again was the reverse of this episode? By the time Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? came around, Sleepless in Ponyville and For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils had already aired, the latter implying Luna had gotten over the Nightmare Moon incident. If Magic Sheep had aired during the second season, it still would've had problems back then, but if it led to her episodes with the Crusaders, showcasing how much she'd learned herself, that would've been fine, especially if Celestia had more involvement and if Luna didn't create the Tantabus!

But no. It came years too late and felt pointless that far into the show.

And both disasters are huge examples of why good episodes not only depend on how their plots are written and paced, but also when they're timed during one season or another during production. And these two were timed pretty badly. What else can we say?

Of course, final thoughts are going to be personal, and something tells me this will all be hugely controversial. For me, the major thing wrong with MLP at this point is that it feels like Hasbro has let the show's popularity get to their heads and cared more about selling toys and less about telling cohesive stories. Sure, the voice acting is good, the animation is almost flawless and the music tends to be spot on, but frankly, that's not good enough anymore. You can make bad episodes or films out of good scripts, but can you even make good episodes or films out of bad ones? It's very much like getting cats and dogs to breed - impossible, and downright ludicrous.

Then there's the fact that last October, Jim Miller shamed the older fanbase on Twitter, by saying it's for little girls and not them - well, that's funny since they dedicated Slice of Life to the older fans! (Calm down; this wasn't an insult to those who liked the episode, I just wanted to point out hypocrisy on Miller's part.) My guess is that he's more concerned with viewership and blindly thinks that everything's fine when, spoilers, it's not. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he had no concern for fan's criticisms at all.

And believe us when we say this is only the first topic we're discussing about the show's crisis. As next time we'll be discussing how 2017 can save not just the main series, but the whole franchise in general. On the other hand though, at the same time, we'll also be pointing out those things that could kill the series (and yes, even the smallest of consequences). So all I can say is I have the exact same thoughts, and above any writers who can't get either characters or plotlines in an episode right (or even both), I can also say that Hasbro's next move should be to fire Miller for his unreasonable insult on the fandom. Because really, if The Ren & Stimpy Show can do this with their creator for its controversial episode known as Man's Best Friend, then I think Friendship Is Magic can do the same with its creator (except this reason would be for how straight up rude he was to a fandom like us bronies instead of an episode that pushed itself too far, but that's beside the point).

Bottom line is, those at Hasbro need to get their act together and fast; if they can make a few changes that can bring back even one fan they drove away, then maybe faith in MLP will be restored.

Or at least, it'll be higher than it already is. This has been Zack Wanzer and Tyler Smith, and we'll see you next time!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Character Analysis: Timber Spruce

Alright, I made myself a promise that I wouldn't speak of Legend of Everfree again, but there are a couple of topics centering around that miserable excuse of a film that have been bothering me for the last three months, and since there's a lot of discussion on DeviantArt, I can't really vent out my frustrations there, so instead, I'm gonna be blowing off some steam here as to why they anger me so. The first on the chopping block is a character I ranked as the worst not only in MLP, but of all time. So let's find out why I feel that way about Timber Spruce, shall we?

Let's start with a question; what makes a bad character? No, I don't mean in terms of being an antagonist, but like, "bad" bad. Well, for me, what makes a truly bad character is if the character is an unlikable jerk without any redeeming quality whatsoever - Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter, for example - or the character is poorly written, like Hugo the rail zeppelin.

For other people, they may dislike a character because they're annoying along with one or both of the reasons I mentioned. Starlight Glimmer is a prime example of this, which I've already explained, but long story short, she was a discount Sunset Shimmer without any idea to how the latter's story arc worked.

Within MLP, there are characters such as Quibble Pants, Zephyr Breeze, and (yes) Gabby that people find annoying, but I have no issue with them because there are at least reasons for why they act the way they do - Quibble Pants is stubborn and snarky, Zephyr Breeze is a smart-aleck, and Gabby is a bit of a child. On top of that, they actually have reasons to exist in their respective starring roles in season six.

Which brings me back to Timber Spruce. First thing I'm gonna say about him is that not only is he a jerk, he's annoying and poorly written, and you better believe I'm gonna explain why he's all three.

First off, his "role" in the movie. Apparently, he serves two purposes for Sci-Twi - a "love interest" and "security blanket", I'm gonna get to the former in a bit, but as for the latter? Any character could have taken that role! If you gave it someone like, let's say, Rainbow Dash or Pinkie Pie, then not only would the plot be the same, but you'd also give one or two members of the Human Five some development that they desperately needed. I mean, why would you create a new character just to fill that role?

And that brings me onto the "love interest" portion of his role, as well as to why he's an annoying jerk. Whilst doing that, I'm gonna compare his dynamic with Sci-Twi's to Flash and Princess Twilight's, and how the latter gets right what the former gets wrong. To start with, here's two questions - what does Timber do to prove he's worthy for Sci-Twi and what does he actually do to make us root for him?

The answer for both questions is "nothing".

Whenever he interacts with Sci-Twi, rather than talk about her problems, Timber talks about himself, and it becomes grating. (Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Brian Doe's a nice guy, but after halfway through watching the film, I began wishing I'd rip his damn vocal chords out.) And it takes a few seconds to fall in love with her. A few seconds. Keep in mind that it took about a day or two for Flash to get a crush on Princess Twilight, as well as the fact that it was just that - a crush. Meanwhile, Timber just wants to go for it, because that's how you start relationships(!)

On a side note, I'd like to say that I hate characters who are self-centered for no reason whatsoever. With someone like, let's say, Diamond Tiara, at least there is a reason to why she behaved like a brat in the first four seasons; she's part of a wealthy family, and that's fairly reasonable, but it doesn't excuse her attitude. Timber constantly goes on about himself and never gives Sci-Twi a chance to give her opinion on him, and she agrees to a relationship after three days, because the ending demanded it.

Getting onto the Flash/Princess Twilight moments in the first movie, whilst both had interest in one another, they don't force it down your throats, and it genuinely shone when he saved her from being framed and asked her out. I liked that because Flash does care for Princess Twilight, even if she came from nowhere; he doesn't care if she isn't from his world. He wants to know her and doesn't want to draw much attention to himself. Oh, and even though the crush is plainly obvious, it doesn't overshadow the plot, and that's fine.

With Legend of Everfree, Timber's lust for Sci-Twi is forced so far down your throat to the point you'd probably puke it back out again, and you're like, "Okay, we get it; he's in love with her" instead of "Wow, he'd be a great boyfriend to her." The final nail in his coffin is that instead of thanking Sci-Twi for saving the camp, he calls himself the "hero" just for saving her from falling, which anybody could have done!

Which brings me onto how Timber did nothing to make us root for him. I know some of you are going to say, "but he tried to get Gloriosa Daisy to stop trying to save their camp; he wanted her to be okay, and it totally made him a hero!" But guess what? His constant flirting with Sci-Twi actually makes that worse! Why? Because he keeps doing so instead of actually caring about his sister's actions and made up a story to cover up what she was doing! And when they reveal that fifty minutes into the film (or however long it was, I don't give a damn about LoE), that was a point of no return for the movie, where it became unsalvageable (although, to be fair, it was at that point when Flash and Sunset first interacted in the film, but I'll get to that in the next post).

And I know I already mentioned that in my actual review for the movie, but Gloriosa was just as awful; not only does she come off as a cliched MLP/EG villain, but her motivations are completely stupid when you realize she should have held a fundraiser in the first place! (I know some will argue that if she did, then there wouldn't be a plot. But that's the point; if you know how the story is going to end before you even get there, you should scrap the story before reaching that point.)

For both characters, there are many unfortunate implications surrounding their actions. Who would ever want to go to a camp with incompetent counselors like them? Students just wouldn't feel safe! And on top of that, Gloriosa gets off scot-free with her actions because a happy ending demanded it, and it's almost like a police officer with a sibling who has a criminal background - would the officer let his family go because of bias? I certainly wouldn't! I'd have them arrested on the spot, regardless of their intentions!

Unlike Starlight Glimmer, who could actually be a great character with a few personality tweaks, Timber Spruce does not fixing whatsoever; it's not possible. Instead, they should've given his role to Flash, a character who is in desperate need of development. The film would still be bad, but at least Flash and Sci-Twi could've had a good chemistry with each other, and maybe you'd have a more heartfelt subplot with a point.

But no. They had to create a "new" character in response to some haters (a.k.a. people not worth giving a crap about whatsoever) and give that other character more flak, making poor Flash more sympathetic than the leading "characters" (I say it like that since they don't have any whatsoever). And when you couple that to the atrocious personality they gave Timber Spruce, I stand by my statement that he is the worst character in all of My Little Pony, and I hope to Celestia he never turns up again...