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...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thomas and Friends Season 20: Canada, Eh?

Thomas' twentieth season is ending much sooner than we all expected! It's amazing that Thomas lasted as long as it did, even though there are shows that ran with more seasons like The Simpsons, but... meh. And sure, whilst the episodes haven't aired in the UK or been released on a UK DVD yet, I don't feel it's worth holding them back until then. Let's get these guys outta the way so we can all look forward to Extraordinary Engines in a couple of weeks!

 The following post may contain spoilers. Reader discretion is advised.

Cautious Connor
Written by Andrew Brenner
An episode where a big engine has a confidence knock after a mishap? Now that sounds like an interesting premise, but does it play off? Personally, I'd say it did so greatly... if it weren't yet another example of Thomas being shoehorned where the role doesn't fit him at all! Seriously, that is getting very annoying, and when fans are saying something like "In Salty All at Sea, Edward could've taken his role" or a variant, then you should know something is wrong with the titular character; he's become so boring and generic it doesn't make him appealing as a character anymore.

This episode very much reaches the nadir with Thomas' interchangeable roles - it was the perfect opportunity to build on Connor and Caitlin's friendship, and it could've shown there was more to them than just racing. But no, it has to be Thomas because marketing reasons for children, blah blah blah, and that came from the same person who wrote Best Engine Ever!

Of course, that isn't to say the episode sucked. Connor and Stephen were great in the episode, the latter especially. I really liked when he makes a comment about Connor's youth, very much like old people commenting on younger peoples' actions being similar to theirs in their youths, but Stephen really shone through with his pep talk near the end. Who knew that Sodor's Rocket could be so badass like that at his age? And of course, Connor's situation is completely relatable; as I've said, an incident similar to what he had can really knock one's confidence down a peg.

Other tidbits are really nice like Millie's role, the POV shot of the bolt on Connor's siderod (I know it was said as coupling rod, but still), and this line of dialogue:
"It would've been quicker by camel!"
Ah, Grumpy Passenger... I love you so much.

Whilst the episode on whole is great for the most part, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to dock a couple of points due to Thomas' disposable appearance. Had it been Caitlin taking his place, Cautious Connor would've been Brenner's best effort for season 20 - at least, for an original story - which is shocking since this season also contains three more of Brenner's worst efforts - specifically, the Hugo two-parter and Three Steam Engines Gruff, which I'll get to soon enough.

Mucking About
Written by Davey Moore
For the first time in eight seasons, we finally get to see the Pack (or at least, five of its members) appear in the actual Thomas and Friends series. Is it grand fanfare all around?

Well... yes and no. The Pack members are generally portrayed how they usually are, Oliver (the excavator, of course) in particular. I like how, at this point, he appears to be the leader of the Pack vehicles, especially when he scolds Max and Monty. Jack and Alfie were... pretty good, and despite being younger vehicles, they get on with whatever job they're given. Sure, getting characters right is a standard for any episode, but I really like it when they're written correctly.

And yeah, I do include Thomas in that since it (arguably) takes place on his branchline, and whilst he likes to have fun, there are lines he won't cross, so to speak. Max and Monty mucking about on the railway tracks is so suicidal, that Thomas' reactions are priceless. Edward, however, felt a little out of place; maybe if they had their talk at a station (maybe Knapford?), it'd probably work better. And of course, his advice to Thomas felt... off. It's almost like something you'd be told when it comes to dealing with internet trolls, not people in real life.

There's also the problems storywise; how did nobody even notice there was rubbish on the track under the bridge? Heck, you could even see the tracks from Max and Monty's point of view, though, again, it's debatable. Also, where's Miss Jenny? Did Arc/Jam Filled not have a render for her ready? That said, the policeman was pretty good and the dialogue from him felt very natural.

I know this next bit is minor, but I'm gonna comment on it anyway; Judy and Jerome. I'm so happy that they haven't been neglected, and the fact that they're given a position on the North Western Railway makes me happier. However, since this episode aired in Canada before The Missing Breakdown Train had been released on DVD at the time, their presence does feel a bit awkward as kids would be wondering where they come from or who they are (in the case of the latter, if they haven't seen The Adventure Begins yet).

Overall, whilst the episode felt awkward and disjointed at times, it was overall okay. It's nice to see the Pack officially a part of the TV series once more and I'd love to see them more often, but hopefully, they'll work on storytelling for them in the future.

All in Vain
Written by Helen Farrall
I was rather nervous about this episode before it aired. I didn't like Pouty James at all because of the red engine's narcissism being taken up to twelve, and that the humor felt like it was trying too hard to be funny. If you wish to be funny, then my advice is that you don't force it down our throats - there's a difference between humor that is genuine, and humor that comes off as annoying and repetitive.

As for the episode itself? This took Pouty James' basic elements and improved on them by... a lot! Not only is James' character more genuine, he actually shows there's more to him than thinking about how important he is. Plus, he's been given an important job, and he really wants to make a good impression for the mayor. When he gets dirty, rather than freak out like you'd expect, James does what he can to take those mishaps on the chin and when Edward offers to help, the red engine politely declines as he wants to please the Fat Controller by doing all of his jobs himself.

Speaking of which, Edward was great here. We haven't seen him and James star together for years, and to expand on their relationship after Old Iron was great. It was even funny to see Edward imitate James when he picked up the mayor and the Fat Controller. On the whole, it's a great episode with funny moments, and it managed to salvage James' character by a bit. I really do think Helen Farrall would be better as head writer than Andrew Brenner; she really does understand every character she writes for.


Buckled Tracks and Bumpy Trucks
Written by Lee Pressman
This one's a little more... well, weird. For one thing, based on the initial description, I'd thought Whiff was gonna have a major role, and I was so disappointed that it wasn't the case. He only shows up for, like, ten seconds, and that was it. The only thing he contributed was that one of the glass bottles from one of his trucks falls off and sets fire to a field, making Whiff feel a bit like a plot device.

There's also a subplot about the Fat Controller, which, to be honest, is actually kind of funny, even if it takes his butt monkey status up to eleven. Of course, there's funny moments like the Magic Railroad reference, doing his best Oddjob impression in the car and failing, and then there's the goat. Just... the goat. I don't think words need to be said about how funny the goat is. And then there's this:
The Fat Controller: "Oh, the indignity!"Gordon: "That's my line!"
Amidst the humor, there's the scientific aspect of the episode - white reflects heat, and black absorbs it. Though if that were the case, why is the Fat Controller still wearing his black jacket? Did Dowager not think of telling him to take it off? And despite what many would think, rails being painted white, actually, does happen on the railways. Check out this article for reference.

The other characters were really good in the roles they have; I certainly like how Belle reminds Flynn that there's a fire nearby, and it took priority over her derailment. Toby was great at the end too. It's nice to see a more cheeky side to him as opposed to the coward he was in Three Steam Engines Gruff, and his snarky side is something I feel Toby should display more often - see Dirty Objects for context.

On the whole, whilst slightly disjointed at points, Buckled Tracks and Bumpy Trucks is a good watch, but it could use some tweaking.

Tit for TatMike's Whistle, and Useful Railway
Originally written by The Rev. W. Awdry
Adapted by Andrew Brenner
So why am I reviewing all three together? Well, it should be obvious! All come from the same book, Small Railway Engines, which I reviewed a couple of years back. My views are very much the same as they were back then. And regarding the story Ballast, no, I'm not put off by the fact that they didn't adapt it. Well, they sort of did in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, and the original story is very dialogue heavy.

Anyway, the episodes themselves! Instead of talking about each individually, I'm gonna be talking about their general similarities. First off, there's Thomas' presence. In Tit for Tat, it makes a lot of sense since it occurs on his branchline, and the jibes against him for Toby actually felt very funny. In Mike's Whistle, at first it bothered me that he was taking ballast for his branchline himself, but now that I think about, Thomas is actually well written and cheeky like he's meant to be. Maybe if it had been Donald and/or Douglas, it may not have been as comedic as it is. But as for Useful Railway? Thomas felt useless there. It could've been Duck, and the intro would be the same.

(On a side note, I really liked Duck's role in Mike's Whistle; he does feel embarrassed about his mishap, and at the end, he does sympathize with Mike, but probably couldn't resist a small chuckle himself.)

Okay, getting that outta the way, let's talk about the Arlesdale trio themselves. In Lost Treasure, we got small glimpses of their personalities, but in the trilogy? They're there for all to see - Bert is rather sensitive and tends to get things mixed up like moving pictures and wool traffic; Mike is hot-tempered, tends to act before he thinks, and dislikes passenger trains; Rex is cheeky, occasionally over-confident, and even comes up with a few rhymes of his own. They shine through in their respective episodes and it makes for great humor.

Speaking of which, the humor is seriously nailed there and it feels very natural. Whether they be little things like the old guy losing his false teeth, the cow licking Mike's face, the "toy engines" remarks, the teasings being given to Duck and (later) Mike, whatever, there are laughs all around. Probably the best of them is in Tit for Tat at the end where Bert references not only the Railway Series, but the TV series itself as well! Mike and Rex laugh it off, thinking it's never gonna happen, but the real icing on the cake comes from the narrator when he tells the audience...
"But it did happen, didn't it?"
...followed by Bert winking at us. That was presently perfectly. Perhaps now, I should bring this up.



In all seriousness, it's a damn good thing they did, and they're voiced brilliantly too by Rob Rackstraw and Tom Stourton, respectively. Before the episodes aired, many were worried that they would be replaced - I don't know why they'd be substituted, really - but thankfully, that was not the case, and now Awdry and Boston have a place in Thomas' CGI world.

As long as I'm discussing the human characters, the drivers, happily, also got a great role, and it's something we need more of. Probably my favorite moment was when Bert's driver cleans up his engine's face, and goes into parent mode trying to get Bert to cheer up. That was very sweet and funny at the same time. The passengers also get a mention in Mike's Whistle, and their roles were done down to a tee.

But, for me, the best human character was Mr. Fergus Duncan, a.k.a. The Small Controller. I love how they mention his real name, something never done in the books, and his personality is spot-on. I swear, his strictness really puts the Fat Controller to shame; he should take notes from the Small one about how to deal with his own engines!

I know many of you would kill me if I didn't mention this, so I'm going to; Rex's accident is probably one of the most dramatic the show has ever had, right up there with James' from The Adventure Begins. The slow motion works in the episode and you really get to see all the detail put into making it look good. And the end result comes off looking serious in the end with his derailment. Visualizing an accident yourself is tricky, but to see the actual thing? That could put one's imagination to shame!

So yeah, overall, they are among season 20's best and they're an absolute joy to sit through from start to finish. There's not much else I can say, really, though I do think Brenner is simply better off adapting RWS stories as his originals, as of late, have been very hit or miss. And on that bombshell, I'll just leave you with this...

Thomas and Friends Season 20 Scorecard
1. Sidney Sings: 8
2. Toby's New Friend: 8
3. Henry Gets the Express: 10
4. Diesel and the Ducklings: 9
5. Bradford the Brake Van: 9
6. Saving Time: 3
7. Ryan and Daisy: 10
8. Pouty James: 1
9. Blown Away: 10
10. The Way She Does It: 8
11. Letters to Santa: 9
12. Love Me Tender: 10
13: The Railcar and the Coaches: 10
The Christmas Coffeepot: 8
Over the Hill: 10
Cautious Connor: 7
Mucking About: 6
All in Vain: 9
Buckled Tracks and Bumpy Trucks: 7
Tit for Tat: 10
Mike's Whistle: 10
Useful Railway: 10

Season Rating So Far: 182/220

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rosie's New Look

Happy New Year for 2017! Well, it would be happy if we didn't have the idiot known as Donald Trump for American president, but pfft... whatever. Anyhow, for my first post of the year on the Railfan Brony Blog, we've got a topic that just spawned on Twitter! Rosie the (formerly) lavender tank engine has a new look!

Yep, that's what she'll look like for season 21 onward.

But before I delve further into my thoughts on Rosie's new appearance, I'm gonna briefly summarize what she was like during the past ten seasons at the time of writing: in her debut in season ten, she was a stereotypical fangirl in an equally stereotypical livery. Then in the following season, she was... there, whereas in the season after that, she had a starring role alongside a stronger female character (Emily, in terms of personality). But then during the Nitrogen era, she became a cameo engine to the point that in the previous three seasons, she did literally nothing worth talking about, and so far in season 20, Rosie hasn't turned up at all.

And there may be a good reason for that, which I'll get to later.

Now, how do I feel about Rosie's new appearance? I'm gonna cut to the chase and say that it is a vast improvement. Most would've thought that she'd be better off in black, gray, green, or (a possible nod to The Extended Railway Series) blue, but red? That was so out there, and yet... I think it fits Rosie much better than that stupid pink livery she wore during seasons 10-19 (again, we don't know if she'll be in season 20, but chances are very thin).

What I find interesting about that red livery is that it feels rather close to what steam engines wore on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway - which is odd since Rosie is of Southern design, but I digress - but I find it a bit disappointing that her wheels weren't repainted black to match.

Another intriguing aspect about her redesign is that they used the initials for North Western Railway on her side tanks. That's kind of odd when you consider that from day one, no other steam engine had those initials on their tanks or tenders and so Rosie sticks out like a dented buffer. Even though we can't see her cab sides, perhaps the animators are giving Rosie a number as well? Maybe.

As for why Rosie is getting a repaint? Well, I'm thinking that there will be an episode based upon that where Rosie goes for a repaint (perhaps to James' chagrin?) or they'll simply give an explanation as to why she's in a different color.

But that brings me onto my biggest concern - the merchandise. Since 2007, Rosie had been depicted as being painted pink (or lavender, if you prefer) and for nearly a decade, many young Thomas fans will know that is her livery. Since Rosie will end up becoming red on TV, this could, at best, lead to confusion among the young fans. Unless they know their Thomas faces, some would think this was a different engine altogether! And then there's the matter of changing her livery for the toys, which creates its own list of problems.

Now, it's fair to say that since 2014, whilst the show got better, the toys have gotten worse. Actually, that sounds rather unfair. Sure, they're not as timely as the older models, but some of them, actually, don't look too bad. (I'm thinking of getting a few Adventures models myself *gets shot by angry purists*) But for Rosie's toys, they're going to need a repaint, and paint costs money. The fact that you may end up replacing the pink/lavender Rosie might not help matters a bit. Some of you may even be tempted to repaint your own toys to save money!

That begs the question; why didn't they paint Rosie red from the get-go? Red appears to be a likable color for girls, plus it's more inclusive than pink (not that the color is bad, of course) and much less stereotypical. So... why are they doing it know when they could've done so eleven years ago?

Regardless, I like this new look for Rosie (maybe except for the red wheels; they should be black), and the fact that she'll actually be getting character development makes the situation better. Considering Daisy's roles in season 20, Rosie may end up getting a similar treatment in season 21, and quite possibly get the love she's been begging for in the last decade. Is it not too late for her?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top 10 MLP Characters That Lost Their Mojo (ft. The Super Mario Brony)

As my final post of 2016, I've done a collaboration with the Super Mario Brony Blog. We've already done one on his blog about how to avoid bad writing, but this time, on my blog, we've done one about ten MLP characters (or character groups, in a few cases) that lost their mojo over the past six seasons.

I'd like to start off with a question; you've got a character you've loved since you were younger, but what does it take to make you lose interest in them? A general lack of interest? A couple of bad starring roles? Or maybe the writers have done something so bad it makes you dislike them?

In that sense, this is a post dedicated to those that apparently just slipped overtime. Those that we feel have slowly lost their charm, potential, or special something at this current point onward. The Top Ten MLP:FIM Characters That Have Lost Their Mojo.

A couple things to point out:
  1. Characters from Friendship is Magic and Equestria Girls only. So characters that were featured in the comics won't be considered.
  2. We're basing them primarily on mix mashup of the all good character traits that made them a lot more successful with true potential, awesome, and interestingly more popular than they are at this current point.

So what puts Discord on our list? Three words - What About Discord.

We can't really blame him for being the unlikable jerk he was in that atrocious Twilight torture porn rehash of Three's A Crowd though, as we primarily have Neal Dusedau to blame for that. (Since it's obvious that fictional characters are who they either still are, or become depending on how specific writers write for them.)

And as for why he's so, so low? Season six managed to fix him up and make him a highlight in the otherwise disastrous finale. Too bad that a number of other characters got screwed over in season six. Speaking of which...

At the very start of season six, Rarity gave great performances as to being her true character in episodes like The Gift of the Maud Pie and Spice Up Your Life (both of those of which were collab episodes of both her and Pinkie, but anyway). But for some unfortunate reason, (alongside both of Ashleigh Ball's characters) she suddenly went in the opposite direction after the first half of season six.

Case in point, The Cart Before the Ponies; she, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash (more on her later) are supposed to act like adults, not the children they were in that episode! It's also rather telling that the Crusaders, who are actually children, behaved more sensibly and maturely than they did.

Rarity ranked slightly higher than Discord because she's a major character, but again, she's lower as other characters have had worse portrayals in recent episodes.

And believe us, Applejack would've made our countdown (as to only starting it off with Discord and Rarity) as well if not for Where the Apple Lies. Too bad Rarity didn't have a redeeming installment unlike AJ after the sloppy P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View).

No, Shining Armor and Cadance don't count; just everypony else
Oh, this isn't gonna be a fun one, I can tell you that much...

And we have three simple words for this one as well: Slice of Life. Yes, it's an obvious fact that they're just in the background as to not playing major roles in pretty much every other episode, but how they could've worked as if they were each done one at a time (basically one episode per pony; like Octavia and Vinyl Scratch together, or Bon Bon/Sweetie Drops and Lyra Heartstrings together... not to mention others like Dr. Hooves). Cause even minor characters really deserve a lot of development instead of just being crammed into one so-called "100th special" as to getting only 1/10 of it.

That was a big problem with Legend of Everfree (more on five of its "stars" later) - too many subplots that resulted in a confusing mess. The only difference is that Slice of Life is practically harmless enough for children whereas Legend of Everfree sends out some dangerous messages.

Getting back to the background ponies, are they all bad? Not really; some have a bit of potential for storytelling based on the established traits they have - see Amending Fences for context - and they could do with an episode or two... just as long as you don't cram it all into a single episode where it becomes a convoluted mess, but I digress.

We've both rambled on about this Sunset wannabe countless times before, so for a real explanation on why, read here for her current character nowadays, and here (under the section "DON'T Overuse Certain Characters") for just what Hasbro can do to give her at least some decency. Moving on to...

You might disagree, but during season six, Rainbow Dash somehow became 20 percent less cooler. It started off with her being bullied in Newbie Dash, and then there was the aforementioned Cart Before the Ponies and 28 Pranks Later.

Luckily though, the airings of Stranger Than Fan Fiction and Top Bolt gave her some credibility as to having at least some reputation she had back in previous seasons with other installments before Season 6 like Season 2's Read It and Weep and Season 3's Wonderbolts Academy.

We're halfway through the list, but there's one other Mane Six member that got off worse than Rainbow Dash...

That's right. Even Friendship is Magic's main protagonist lost her charm. And with reason, we feel Twilight is slightly higher than the Mane Six character we feel got the worst treatment above any other element of the six in season six.

Where do we start? Well, let's take a look at The Crystalling, shall we?

Twilight believes here that friendship is easy as "following a list" when it's actually more complex than that. However, I'd forgive that since she's getting used to be Starlight's teacher, but in the next episode Glim-Glam (yes, even I am not immune to using fandom nicknames) appeared in, Twilight... she was just as bad a teacher as she was in said premiere, coming off as a biased hypocrite. Not only that, but No Second Prances was also completely regressive for Friendship is Magic itself, going against everything the show is supposed to teach. And because of that, FiM has become a show with potential to be great, but it can only be seen as good at best.

We both still have serious respect for the character who was at her finest in masterpieces like Amending Fences and of course Twilight's Kingdom... and she still has given us great performances like with Rainbow Dash in Top Bolt. But please, Hasbro; bring back the Twilight we both knew and loved back then from the first four seasons (with some of season five also but still).

Two months have passed, and we still can't get over how rushed the Changelings' turn-around was. Where do we even start with them?

Thorax is already a character we're both neutral towards, and every other changeling of Queen Chrysalis herself was good (with A Canterlot Wedding being the prime example of this factor, whilst in the painful The Cutie Re-Mark she and her minions were just highlights), but then the most recent season finale (or as we both like to call it; the worst episode of the show to this day) happened.

And then there's the designs... sweet mother of Celestia, what is up with them?! If you thought Twilight becoming an Alicorn was bad, the new Changelings' designs take that up to eleven... thousand.

While Twilight randomly receiving new wings may not have been the best idea (since we were all used to her original unicorn form at first), she still has been written greatly throughout seasons four and five. Compared to the newer Changeling designs though, which were all completely unoriginal (mostly like "Final Fantasy villains" unoriginal), it practically was the best idea of the show despite that it technically wasn't.

Yeah, good idea done in one of the worst ways possible. Three more entries to go, and we may have controversy...

Speaking of Legend of Everfree, these five human counterparts of all of Twilight's friends have unfortunately lost their mojo even beforehand with Friendship Games.

Personally, I'm thinking of doing a post about the Human Five. Sure, they were pretty good in the first film, but perhaps one of Rainbow Rocks' most significant issues is how they regressed to being whiny, petty teenage girl stereotypes once more when it came to being a rock band. In fact, I can't believe even I missed out on that in my review!

Ah well, no one's perfect, I suppose, but never mind.

And don't get us wrong, we still love Rainbow Rocks as it's undoubtedly the best in the spinoff series, but another reason we felt they've been bruised badly is the fact they've also been overshadowed by the whiny Kim Kardashian of MLP characters (except that she doesn't take countless saucy selfies) known as Twilight's real human counterpart Sci-Twi, which is really just as bad as how Starlight overshadowed everyone in you-all-know-what.

The Human Five are possibly the most frustrating characters on the list, but we're basing them on how much they lost their mojo, so keep that in mind. So... who's number two?

Now this is where crap's really hitting the fan...!

Even despite her highlight of a role in Top Bolt (as both Twilight and Rainbow Dash obviously had), we just can't deny that this leader of the Wonderbolts still hasn't gotten any better over season six. I mean, this is the Pegasus who stood out and shined in breaths of fresh air like Wonderbolts Academy and Rarity Investigates!, but then, along with the other Wonderbolts, she went completely out of character in the cartoon abomination known as Newbie Dash.

You know, it kinda feels like the writers don't know what to do with her; is she really that jerkish or does she actually have a heart? C'mon, writers, make up your minds about her, will ya? If you're not interested in telling a story, then at least try to get the characters right! Is it that hard to do?

But then, of course, there's the number one contender for someone who'd totally lost her mojo...

You all know why we feel she's lost more mojo than any other MLP character in general, right?

Six words: Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?

I know it's a rhetorical question, but my answer for that would be "no" if the princess in question is committing self-harm, therefore endangering her subjects in modern Equestria, and potentially coming off as a bad leader to said subjects. That's Luna in a nutshell.

Pinkie slandering about her in Luna Eclipsed is bad enough, not to mention she's often treated like Starlight when it comes to turning characters into nothing but pointless plot devices, but the fact that Magic Sheep completely wrecked her true character is honestly proof enough that even die-hard Luna fans really need to look more clearly at her personality, and not just (and only) the things that she's capable of doing. (Because really, we obviously blame Scott Sonneborn for ruining her).

Yeah, we're also looking right at you, Maleficent! But, again, I digress.

We'll see you all in the new year, and this is Zack Wanzer and Tyler Smith singing out.