Thursday, December 19, 2019

End of the Line?

Has it been two months since I last posted on this blog? Wow! Well, to be honest, I did think about doing a season 23 overview, but I ended up choosing not to. Then I decided to try revisiting Thomas and Friends overall and putting out fortnightly revisits of my thoughts toward each season and special, but then I decided that it probably wasn't worth the trouble. Not because of some of the backlash I received in reviewing MLP's last season, but mostly because... I just don't have the gumption to post reviews here anymore.

When I first did reviews for the Railfan Brony Blog, I never imagined having to last five years, and I'm actually kind of glad that I did, and I'm grateful for the comments and views I received.

But now, it's high time I finally put this blog to bed. Will I still do reviews? Oh, certainly, but they'll mostly be on DeviantArt and they probably won't be lengthy as what you're used to seeing from me. As for blogs, I've still got Strawberry Peppers which has taken my focus for the past two months, and honestly, I'm having far more fun working there.

Maybe this blog will come back one day, but for now, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Thomas & Friends Season 23: The Last Episodes

Digs & Discoveries and Steam Team to the Rescue! might be behind us, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss the remaining episodes out of series 23! Can we end things on a good note?

I'll admit I was a bit disappointed that Tim Bain didn't return to write for Australia this season (at least he's still voicing Aiden), but it was still kind of surprising that the lady writers wrote for more than one country. And despite having one dud thus far (Thomas Makes a Mistake), I think Camille and Rose are good writers.

There's not much to talk about with the story, which is basically Shane not filling up on coal and paying the price for it, but the character moments really shine through.

Shane, for example, seems to have gained a slightly cocky personality which, honestly, isn't too bad. It adds a bit more depth to an already likable character, and it helped that he had three other characters to bounce off of.

Although Shane's the story's lead character, Thomas is present as expected, but unlike most appearances where he's pretty vanilla, he does express concern when Shane doesn't bother refilling on coal and even offers to share his when the big engine finally runs out in the middle of the desert. It's a good character moment for him, even in the current era, and the reference to Banjo and the Bushfire was a nice touch. (It's when he mentions Tamika, for the record.)

That being said, is this Thomas' first visit to Australia or his second? Considering that from this season onwards, he's been given new details like step ladders on his tanks and rivets all around him, it's never really made clear. I mean, it's easy to figure out when episodes like Kangaroo Christmas, Tiger Trouble, Thomas and the Dragon and Batucada take place if you do a bit of research on the smaller details.

Anyway, back to the story, and the characters that I felt stood out the most were Aubrey and Aiden. Seeing them get frustrated with Shane ignoring their concerns was funny, and when they arrive at a coal hopper without coal, they call him out for his ignorance, which was awesome. They may like a good joke once in a while and find non-Australian accents funny, but they know when to speak up when something is wrong. Little moments like that add a lot of depth to the story.

I can't talk about this episode without mentioning the fantasy sequence; it's not very over-the-top, but it's still funny. It also shows what happens when you're stuck in the desert with limited supplies. A situation like that can mess with your mind.

Rating: Excellent (9/10)

It looks as though the writers are about to give Nia more prominence, and considering how much attention Rebecca got last season, as well as the previous two episodes I covered, it seems fair. Her dynamic with Paxton was really good, and it's nice to see that she doesn't fall for Diesel's prank. It could be after Thomas and Ace ditched her in the Grand Canyon that she's sort of wised up a bit.

Speaking of wising up, is it just me, or is Paxton starting to become wiser? I mean, after Diesel bumps him, Paxton calls him out for it and says that he gives diesels a bad name. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but it's a nice bit of character growth for Paxton.

But the real star, of course, was Diesel. He still wants to be appreciated by his peers, but pulling petty pranks on the other engines is a habit he just can't shake off. And of course, he gets karma for pulling a joke on Nia and Paxton by being scared by their disembodied faces (at least, that's what he thinks they were) and doing his work as a response. And Diesel's reaction at the end where he realizes he'd been had was funny.

It's a fairly simple story that relied on the characters and humor, but it worked for the characters involved. Oh yeah, and Owen spoke for the first time since Long Lost Friend in season 18, now voiced by Rob Rackstraw. After Ben Small's departure, I thought Owen would never speak again, but I guess I was wrong. Though it does make me feel sad that the Skarloey Railway barely gets any focus these days...

Rating: Good (7/10)

Well, this is most unusual. No, not a dragon boat falling off of Yong Bao's train; that I can believe, but it's the fact that all of a sudden, Thomas misses Percy during one of his international adventures. In Big World! Big Adventures!, he never once thought about Percy or anyone back on Sodor until the end of said special, and heck, throughout the international half of season 22 and those from season 23 I've seen up to this point (it was seventh to air in America), Thomas seemed just fine. So why did they have to bring this up now, of all times?

To be fair, that's pretty harsh of me, because this episode's heart is in the right place. It shows that no matter how long it's been since you've left, you're bound to miss the friends you've got either back at home or at your previous hometown. That is something I can understand and relate to.

After being given a somewhat raw deal in season 22, Hong-Mei seems to have been given more character as opposed to just being competitive over being a blue tank engine with the number one. Seeing how much Thomas misses Percy, she tries to make him feel better by inviting him to the Dragon Boat Festival and even suggests that he send his best friend a postcard. That's what I've been liking about the international half of season 23 thus far; they're giving the international characters some more personality. (That being said, Ashima's personality is still quite dry.)

The fantasy sequence was also really good too; it's simple, but it works in that it delves into Thomas' thoughts about missing Percy and how much he wants to show him the sights of China, but it does raise questions as to why he doesn't get postcards from his international friends. I mean, it's an effective way of communicating with others, but why can't they have international episodes where he doesn't appear at all? It's not as if the international characters can't hold a story on their own.

Overall, I like this episode well enough. The story is relatable to the target audience, the implementation of Chinese culture didn't feel forced, and the characters were nice.

Rating: Good (8/10)

Jeez, what have they done with Percy? You'd think by this point he would've learned A) to take care in snowy conditions and B) not to jump to conclusions. I swear, they're making him excessively paranoid and completely forgetting what he learned in Tale of the Brave and season 18. And that's not even mentioning that he's never once freaked out before about working in snowy conditions before this episode. Can we at least have consistency with character development from previous seasons? All Percy had to do was ask one of the workmen where Thomas was and that would be it.

I know that this episode had good intentions, but if you can't make the story work with the character involved, use someone else instead. This could've worked much better if we had someone like Luke or Peter Sam being involved. Also, and this is nitpicky, but why is Nia acting like this is her first winter on Sodor? We saw her working in wintry conditions in Thomas' Animal Ark and Hunt the Truck!

Rating: Terrible (-1/10)

So here we go with the last episode of season 23, featuring Emily after not getting a lead role in the previous season. And it's... fine. Nothing particularly complex or compelling, but if you're looking for something to fill seven minutes, you'll get it here.

The story is basically Emily wanting to have an adventure of her own and then getting herself stuck. Nothing more to say. The fantasy sequence parodying Big World! Big Adventures! was a nice touch with Emily in Thomas' place, but those references to The Great Race are starting to get a bit old. Emily's situation about wanting her own adventure feels very relatable, and I should know; I don't like being cooped up at home for too long and so I long to venture outside for at least a few hours.

The ending lesson was really good; adventure can take on any form. Another smaller one (through the rangers) was working the situation you're in, especially after Emily derailed trying to move the fallen tree branch, and so the Sodor Rangers set up camp and even used the heat from Emily's smokebox to make tea. That was a nice touch.

I wish I had more to say, really. It's not Davey Moore's most exciting story, but there's not really a lot to hate either. It's a nice little slice of life story, and seeing Emily and Nia share a story together was great.

Rating: Good (8/10)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thomas & Friends Season 23: Steam Team to the Rescue!

Season 23 of Thomas is airing once again in the United Kingdom! Alongside that, we've got Digs & Discoveries (which I've already covered) and it's begun airing in Australia. So let's tackle the 11th and 12th episode, as well as the third and final mini-special of the season, Steam Team to the Rescue!.

I'm going to get this out of the way; the concept of the Steam Team is redundant. It's almost as if Mattel likes to treat Thomas, Gordon, James, Percy, Emily, Nia and Rebecca like they're the only engines that the audience is expected to care about. Heck, in the first quarter, we see the diesels (well, seven of them, anyway; we don't get much from Arry, Bert, Mavis, Daisy or Philip) getting trapped because of a mishap. Yes, it's treated seriously because of the impact it can have on the railway, but why would you worf one group of engines in favor of another?

Not only that, in universe, the New Steam Team is the only group of steam engines we get focus on. We don't see if it's impacting the likes of Edward (side note; this is the only time this season he appears physically, excluding the fantasy in The Other Big Engine), Henry, Stanley, Rosie, etc. It's not like the Steam Team are the only other engines on Sodor outside of the diesels!

Case in point, why didn't the dock manager at Brendam Docks consider asking Bill, Ben and Timothy to help Percy? Heck, Porter gets very much forgotten about after his accident with the flour (but considering how little attention he got after Tale of the Brave, this doesn't surprise me). Are they really trying to make us forget certain groups of characters for the sake of storytelling? In this season (for the Sodor episodes, at least), we get heavy focus on the Steam Team, the Pack and Diesel, with a couple of episodes focusing on Bulgy (Free the Roads) and Toby (Heart of Gold). Compare that to season 22, where we got episodes featuring Duck, Merlin, Philip, Rosie, Sidney, and Bill and Ben getting their own episodes.

I really hope this was unintentional and stays a one-off, because if it keeps up, then season 24 onward will probably end up repeating seasons 8-16 in which all seven members of the main cast get most of the focus (if not all of it) with other characters being pushed to the side. And if that ends up being the case, then the likes of Oliver, Donald and Douglas were rendered in CGI for absolutely nothing except a few cameos.

Okay, onto the actual mini-special itself. The story itself is about an accident at Brendam Docks (a very silly one if you ask me) leading to a domino effect resulting in a locomotive shortage on the North Western Railway. I have to say, that's a great concept to work with, and despite my problems with the Steam Team, I feel like this mini-special handled the concept a lot better than The Big Freeze, in which the railway was somehow managed without problem by a group of diesel shunters. Especially when you consider the lack of diesel muscle and the ratio of steam vs. diesel.

A lot of the character moments really help the mini-special to stand up on its own merits; Paxton crashing into his own partially opened door and weakly saying "ow" was a real highlight. Oh, and we see Sir Topham Hatt with a teddy bear. Who can't relate to that? But it's when he tries to do his job as a controller that he really shines; there's so much to do and he keeps forgetting about sending another engine to help Percy until it's too late. And also forgets that seven of his diesels are still stuck... Ah well, at least it's better than how he was treated in Confused Coaches and The Big Freeze.

But the best characters here were Thomas and Percy. In the case of the latter, you got to admire how determined he was to try and handle the docks himself, but he ends up overwhelmed and scared when piles of crates stack higher than he. Definitely far more understandable than how he acted in Panicky Percy, and I'll get to that soon enough.

As for Thomas himself? There's not a negative thing I can say about him here. Considering how inconsistent he's been portrayed as of late, seeing him act as an actual leader is just satisfying to watch. It's also nice to see him remind Gordon that he's almost left the express behind at Vicarstown, as if he remembered his own mistake when he was younger and didn't want Gordon to suffer from that embarrassment (I dunno if that was the intention or it's just me interpreting that moment).

However, Thomas shines the most when he voices his concern about helping Percy at the docks. It's obvious he wants to help his best friend, but so many other jobs keep him from doing it, eventually culminating in the accident at the docks. It's probably his best performance yet in the current era, and John Hasler's vocal performance just adds to it.

"Don't Stop" was a great song; I've listened to it several times and it just gets better each time. You really get the feel for how determined everyone is both times. The first time is for when everyone is determined to get all the jobs done, and the second time is for when everyone works to clear up the mess at Brendam Docks. The rock vibe to it helped as well.

Oh, and Big Mickey spoke again since New Crane on the Dock. Cool, I guess.

Final Thoughts
This is a really tricky mini-special to rank. The entirety of the plot is almost contrived in favor of the Steam Team, a concept that should really be kicked, but the character moments within are some of the best of the current era. It's also especially nice to see Thomas act like a mature leader and not a brainless twit, which raises my opinion on the mini-special by a fair amount. And "Don't Stop" is one of the best songs the show's ever made. The humor was hit or miss with a few gags that fell flat, so it's fair that Steam Team to the Rescue! has a rating to reflect my overall feelings; it's good, but pretty frustrating at moments.

Also, we've finally discovered who our new headwriter will be; David Stoten, who directed the first ten episodes of season 18, the 2015-2018 feature length specials, and also co-directed three episodes of season 19 (Best Engine Ever and the Philip episodes). How will he do as the new headwriter after Brenner's departure? I don't know, but Stoten's done a really good job as a director (yes, even in The Great Race), so he might actually do really well as a writer. Only time will tell if that's the case.

Rating: Good (7/10)

Saturday, October 19, 2019

My Final Thoughts on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Consider this the season nine overview, as it's the closest to one I'll bother writing. I just don't have the energy nor the time to write one out. By the time I got to The Last Problem, I had completely underestimated how disinterested I'd been in the show. There are a lot of reasons as to why, but there are three big ones.

The first one is the fandom. And in case anyone comments, I do believe that not every fan is awful, but there are those who attack people because they have views that don't agree with theirs; in fact, I received a chewing out over what I said about Sparkle's SevenFrenemiesThe Last Crusade, Between Dark and Dawn and The Summer Sun Setback. I have absolutely zero regret in tearing them apart (although in hindsight, I felt I was too generous towards The Last Crusade; since the review was posted, I decided that it now deserves an Atrocious score (-10/10) because of implications regarding child neglect), and I stand by what I said about each of those episodes. Regarding those who can't accept that everybody is different, including their opinions, they can fuck off for all I care. The same applies to those who attacked Jim Miller on Twitter over the early Dutch leaks. How can they be expected to preach "love and tolerate" if they don't even follow that philosophy?

The second reason is the content distribution. For the the last few seasons, it's been absolutely dreadful, especially with seasons eight and nine. For the latter, episodes were leaked early in English in China, sometimes two episodes a week, and by the time they've properly aired in America, the hype will have been pissed away and there won't be anything new to talk about. And then what? The only thing I can think of is Equestria Girls, and even then, shorts come out once a week (unless they were leaked early elsewhere).

And then there's the last (and possibly most controversial) reason: the show is fucking boring. I mean, my God, season nine was an absolute slog to sit through. If I wasn't dedicated to writing up weekly reviews, I'd have quit watching at The Point of No Return. It got so bad, I thought I'd be better off watching season six again; at least that was able to keep my attention for the most part! It did have good episodes - Common Ground and The Big Mac Question being the best of the season - but the majority of them were forgettable at best (Going to Seed) and downright horrendous at worst (A Trivial Pursuit), and some even presented some of the most toxic lessons that the show had ever taught. Episodes like The Last Crusade are a prime example as to why you should proofread your scripts; if you don't, you're going to end up implanting unfortunate implications without knowing it.

The point of season nine, from what I understand, was to have Twilight taking over for Celestia and Luna, but even then, it barely got any focus from half of the season and a lot of the episodes felt like those you'd see in seasons 1-7 (as well as parts of 8). There has been a lot of wasted potential for tying up loose ends in the series; are there other zebras like Zecora? What became of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon after Crusaders of the Lost Mark? What were Babs Seed's fellow Crusaders from Manehattan like? (There's more I'm probably missing, but you get my point.) But instead, they focus on boring as piss rehashings that it gets to the point you end up comparing them to older episodes.

It'd be easy to blame Jim Miller and co. for the problems season nine had faced, but it's on the writers entirely to make their ideas work, and they haven't cared in the slightest about telling an interesting story with the ideas thrown their way. It takes a lot of thought and effort to make something entertaining to everyone. Instead, they gave us the worst season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. As much as I've been critical towards season six, I felt that they were at least trying to tell entertaining stories and in some cases, they failed spectacularly. Is season nine the worst of any kid's show? No, it's the laziest and most boring, but it's at least in the range.

So where will things go for me in the future? Honestly, I'm not sure, but whatever it is, there's no turning back; I've been enjoying new things like the DC Super Hero Girls reboot (also created by Lauren Faust), I'll continue to enjoy Thomas and Friends for as long as I allow myself, and there's the likes of 101 Dalmatian Street I'm thinking of checking out. Life is too short to think about the things you don't enjoy; as of now, I don't enjoy My Little Pony anymore.

I don't like dealing with shitty fans and their shitty behavior, I don't like the idea of early content only to wait weeks for the next episode to air, I don't like seeing the writers rehash ideas that have already been done in the past, and most of all, I don't enjoy watching something that's supposed to be entertaining that's boring me to death. I'd much rather watch Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice or hell, even Foodfight!. Watching either would've been far more entertaining than the garbage that MLP had put out this year.

And... that's that. My last ever take on a franchise that's gotten worse since 2015 (despite some improvement with 2017 and, to some extent, 2018). And no, I'm not going to bother with Generation 5; good, bad, or in-between. These days, companies like Hasbro don't seem to care about the quality of the content they distribute just as long as they're making money. If you ask me, the franchise ought to be put to bed for good; there's nowhere left for it to go except... just sell toys, I guess. It's like it doesn't know what it wants to be in the future.

But that's just my two cents on the matter. If the kids still enjoy it, especially since it's aimed at them, more power to them. Same goes for the older fans who liked Generation 4. After venting all my grievances, I feel like I finally have some closure with my relationship with the show, and now I can look forward to the future.

Farewell, and thank you for reading and putting up with my rambling for the past several months.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

MLP Season 9 Finale: The Last Problem

So here we are at long last; the final ever episode of Generation 4 of My Little Pony. This could also be my most anticipated review yet - I've waited since the English dub got leaked early for it to be published - and I even sounded off against it as the worst episode of the show. Let's see why I think that, shall we?

The Last Problem
Written by Josh Haber

Literally the first thing I said after watching it was, "that's it?" I'm not even joking. But where do I begin with the problems I have?

As we've known from the beginning of the season, Twilight was going to take over for Celestia and Luna in ruling Equestria. As the season progressed, I starting thinking that this was a stupid idea from the get go, even if it was Lauren Faust's intention when she was in charge of the show. Firstly, why would one princess take over for two? And secondly, why can't Twilight have her own kingdom to rule over? Cadance is ruling the Crystal Empire alongside Shining Armor, and they have a daughter who will one day take over for them when she grows up. So Twilight taking over for the royal sisters makes no sense at all.

While I'm on the subject, why did Twilight move to Ponyville in the first place back in the premiere? I know that it's to learn about friendship, but moving back to Canterlot almost feels like a spit in the face, and she only gets to see the rest of the Mane Six once a moon, almost as if the writers were making the entire series pointless! I know I kind of sound like that pony from Fame and Misfortune saying Twilight's "character" would've been more interesting if she'd stayed in Canterlot, but that's literally what this episode is implying! Oh, and her new design just looks laughably bad.

And then there's the time skip. If they want to imply that things have changed since Twilight took over, fair enough. Except they shoved in so much into the last episode that it almost felt like they didn't even try. By using the time skip as a part of the story, it hurts the episode by going for "tell, don't show", which is a bad idea in storytelling in general. How did Pinkie tie the knot with Cheese Sandwich and had a foal with him? How did Granny Smith die? What became of Spitfire and the other Wonderbolts? Who's the foal of Big Macintosh and Sugar Belle? None of this is explained at all! At least when SpongeBob SquarePants uses time skips, they're used for a joke. Here, they just shoved so much into one episode that it just becomes a jumbled confusion.

We're also given flashbacks as to how Twilight's coronation went... and you know what? That's actually a decent idea for an episode. Except they screw it up by having a framing device with Twilight telling her student (I'll get to her in a bit) about it! Seriously, the time skip just makes this episode worse than it is! If you simply focused on the flashbacks themselves and then ended with the song, the episode would largely be the same. Hell, it'd probably be even better! It would've been mediocre at best, but still.

I hate Luster Dawn. She's literally Twilight Sparkle from season one in all but name, design and voice. It felt like they weren't even trying, and this episode gives me no reason to care for her, nor does it tell me anything about her that makes her stand out from Twilight. In fact, she's less of a character and more of a plot device to allow this episode to happen! Say what will you about Moon Dancer, but at least she stood out from Twilight enough to be her own character in Amending Fences.

Not only that, Luster Dawn just enforces another problem I've had with the show; simply put, there are far too many characters in the series and not enough time for all of them to get screentime. Yes, I get that the Mane Six and Spike are the main characters, but the show is as much about their friends and families as it is them; no less, but no more either.

And while I'm on the subject, wouldn't it have been nice to see how Babs Seed was doing with the Manehattan Crusaders before the show ended? Or Coco Pommel with her fashion business there? Or what about Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon after Crusaders of the Lost Mark? Hell, why not give Zecora some focus so we could find out if there are other zebras in Equestria? All of them are great ideas that the show didn't even bother to focus on, much less in this season, because they'd rather give us stories like 2, 4, 6, Greaaat or A Trivial Pursuit, stories that nobody probably wanted to see!

Back to the flashbacks, and the thing I don't like the most - big surprise - is the callbacks to previous episodes. All of them. Whether it be Twilight telling Luster Dawn about her own personal struggles (Celestial Advice), Twilight undergoing a second coronation that goes horribly wrong (Magical Mystery Cure crossed with The Best Night Ever), the Mane Six shrugging and laughing off everything that went wrong that day (again, The Best Night Ever crossed with The Mean 6), a forced display of sadness over the fact that Twilight won't be in Ponyville when she takes over (The Last Crusade, except this time, it's actually happening), or outright ripping off the very first episode of the show (which pretty much tells me they gave up three-fourths of the way through), this episode may as well be Frankenstein's monster! Hell, even the damn title is unoriginal! There's other episodes that I feel this one has copied from, but let's continue.

It's been said in the past from the creators that Twilight will not outlive her friends, but this episode implies that she will! Her friends will eventually die of old age and the only constant companion she'll have is Spike (assuming, of course, that dragons age differently from ponies) unless she makes a new set of friends for her council and they'll die of old age as well, rinse and repeat. How is this a happy ending for Twilight, based on that? I could only imagine how Celestia and Luna felt when they had friends that eventually passed on!

There's a lot of fans accusing the likes of Josh Haber, Nicole Dubuc and Michael Vogel as the reason the show went into a decline of quality, but I'm not one of those people. Yes, it's on them to make the ideas that Hasbro hands down to them work, but it's also on them to put in their best effort to make them entertaining, even if they sound like bad ideas on paper. Heck, there could've been a meeting between this season's writers to figure out how to go out big with the show. It's not as if Hasbro was blackmailing them to make terrible episodes!

But as it stands, what I hate most about The Last Problem is what it represents. It, for me, shows that Hasbro didn't care about the world Lauren Faust had created and put toy sales and making as much money as they could over making quality entertainment for TV. (Yes, My Little Pony started off as a toy franchise, but even that's no excuse.) I've already brought up how stupid the overall season arc was, but the fact that the events of this season as a whole barely got a look in within this episode just feels like a massive insult. You might as well watch The Beginning of the End and The Ending of the End back to back before this one and it wouldn't make a difference.

Were there any positives I could find to this episode? Well, all I could think of is the animation, voice acting and music, but they're practically a standard by this point, not a freak occurrence. I'd just be scraping the bottom of the barrel finding positives. They end this episode on a song, but it's so bland and generic that I can't even remember the title.

Final Thoughts
For Generation 4's finale, The Last Problem does not even feel like there was any effort put into it whatsoever. It's basically what happened if you took every finale between Magical Mystery Cure (or, depending on who are, A Canterlot Wedding) and School Raze and ramped up the negative traits up to eleven; that's the episode in a nutshell. I genuinely feel sorry for the voice actors and animators that all of their amazing talent was wasted on this.

The sad fact is that it could've actually been a decent episode. I'm serious; if they removed the time skip gimmick, kept Twilight in Ponyville, fleshed out elements of the flashbacks (making them the main focus here) to fill the runtime to 22 minutes and removed Luster Dawn altogether, it could've been an ideal sendoff to the series.

Instead, what I feel we ended up with feels like a complete lie. The post-season four finales - The Cutie Re-Mark, To Where and Back Again, Shadow Play and School Raze - plus The Movie and Best Gift Ever feel more like series finales than this. Even if I find their combined quality mixed at best, at least they understand how to make something feel like an extension of Lauren Faust's vision. This does not.

I was going to end this right there, but a little more than a week ago, there was an announcement from IDW Publishing that starting in April next year, there would be a My Little Pony comic series dubbed Season 10.

Just... what do you even say to this?

First of all, this is an extremely blatant way of stretching Generation 4 out for as long as they like before Generation 5 comes along. Second, this is made to be a continuation of season nine, possibly leading up to the timeskip in The Last Problem as a way to explain the elements they couldn't bother doing so in animation form. Third, it's yet another sign that the franchise is creatively bankrupt and needs to be put to bed, not stretched out as a desperate way - and I really mean a desperate way - to maintain relevance. It's utterly pathetic.

I will not bother with Season 10; good, bad, or in-between. But then, I never really followed the comics to begin with. But considering how shocking the writing for season nine was to me, not to mention the last ever episode being a failure on every level, the fact that Season 10 is a continuation of it and a desperate attempt at maintaining relevance is something that I don't think I will ever get over.

Let the show end on its own terms and stop milking it to death just for monetary gain. Leave it in the past with any dignity it might still have.

Rating: Atrocious (-10/10)

Combined Rating with The Ending of the End: Terrible (-5/10)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

MLP Episodes 924 & 925: The Ending of the End

That's probably the most redundant title for any episode I've ever seen. Why can't they just simply call it The End? Oh, wait, it isn't the last episode of the show. I get it.

The Ending of the End
Part 1 written by Nicole Dubuc
Part 2 written by Michael Vogel

Yes, people; you read that correctly. The penultimate story for the series is actually a two-parter; the true finale will be a sort of epilogue. Onto The Ending of the End itself...

Throughout the season, they've set up Grogar to be a big threat to Equestria. But guess what he's done at all this season? Nothing! He doesn't go outside threatening ponies' lives, he doesn't send a message to anyone (not directly, at least), and overall, he's completely underwhelming. Is Grogar the worst villain of the franchise? No, he's the most boring and uninspired. Hell, the Storm King's a bigger threat than Grogar ever was; at least he actually did something in The Movie!

Except, guess what? It wasn't Grogar! Nope, it was Discord the whole time! And he impersonated Grogar just to test Twilight.

All I have to say is... WHY?! Why would he bother reviving King Sombra only for him to be killed off again? Why would he let Tirek and Cozy Glow out of Tartarus and force them to team up with Chrysalis just to cause chaos and fear among all ponies? And why would he have planned for the terrible trio to attack Canterlot on the day of Twilight's coronation? That was, hooves down, the stupidest plot twist this show has ever spewed, and this is in the same season that gave us A Trivial Pursuit!

And what does he get for his actions? Nothing! No punishment. No comeuppance. He's just free to cause chaos like nothing happened. Discord's actions make him feel like the bigger antagonist than the terrible trio, and they nearly destroyed Canterlot! That being said, Discord imitating the terrible trio was kind of funny, and to be fair to him, he probably wanted to get his own back at Tirek, but it doesn't explain why Chrysalis and Cozy Glow (as well as Sombra, before he was killed again) were there either.

Speaking of whom, at the end, they end up being turned into a statue. Thank goodness. I was getting sick and tired of villain redemptions (especially after Daring Doubt), so to see Chrysalis, Tirek and Cozy Glow forever frozen was pretty satisfying. Mind you, that won't stop people from saying that they should've been redeemed by embracing friendship in the end, even though there's evidence that it's a terrible idea. Even if they did get redeemed with guidance from Discord, it would still be terrible.

Also, their plan to take over doesn't feel like it was well-thought out if they had actually succeeded. What could they have done next? All I can think of is that they'd end up destroying each other until one of them remains (most likely Tirek), and whoever survives will end up ruling over nothing alive, making their entire plan pointless.

I've focused so much on the villains that I forgot the story was about Twilight. As I've said, we never saw an obvious transition from freaking out over petty things to trying to keep her stress under control to being the adorkable methodical pony we knew from the first five seasons. Granted, this isn't as bad as it was in The Summer Sun Setback, airing right after an episode where Twilight was at her worst, but it still leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. When she finally takes over, is Equestria expected to prepare itself for when their new leader has her mood swings?

The final battle with all the tribes (pony, Changeling, Griffon, dragon, yak, etc.) fighting against the terrible trio was nice and all, but even then, it didn't really stick out to me. It almost felt like it was there just to make this finale feel like a huge deal.

Final Thoughts
For the final ever two-parter, it was extremely weak and unsatisfying. I know I'm repeating myself, but considering that a lot of season nine was forgettable at best and awful at worst, you'd think an amazing finale would make it all worth it, right? Nope! I think the writers stopped caring about the show by the time season seven ended and then just did... whatever. This so-called finale was very blatant about it, and the less said about that stupid plot twist, the better.

The End of the End takes every grand finale cliche, smashes them all up and throws the remains into the hotel swimming pool. It's a completely underwhelming anticlimax for a finale, but the epilogue episode that came after it was even worse, and I'll get to that tomorrow.

Rating: Bad (1/10)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Thomas & Friends Season 23: Digs & Discoveries Part 2 (Episodes)

Last time, we talked about the mini-specials of Digs & Discoveries. This times, we're talking about the five episodes of Digs & Discoveries; two based in Italy, and three back on home territory.

According to the DVD release, this episode and Too Loud, Thomas! are an extension of All Tracks Lead to Rome and Mines of Mystery, becoming one feature length special broken up into four (or six, depending on your mileage) episodes. That's pretty different, to say the least.

Even more so is how Thomas is barely present in the episode. He appears in the first minute at most, but that's literally it. Heck, he doesn't even turn up at the end of the episode. This allows for the other characters to stand up on their own, and it pays off.

Carrying over from the two mini-specials, the characters once again shine through. Whether it be Lorenzo's enthusiasm and overconfidence about wanting to perform with Dame Bella, Gina snarking about their similar personalities, and heck, even the human characters like Dame Bella's musicians and the station porter struggling with her baggage get to shine through. This episode is never short of fun character moments.

Lorenzo and Dame Bella also shine through when they realize how much they took their companions for granted; you never know what you're missing until you realize it too late. And them singing together was a great moment for both of them.

Admittedly, I did focus more on the character moments than the actual story itself, but the former really lifted up the latter in my eyes to help see it through. I don't know whether or not it's sad or ironic that the two best international episodes thus far (Crowning Around being the other) didn't feature Thomas playing a big role, but if future international episodes are like them, then that should be good enough for me. I just hope they keep that in mind for season 24 onwards...!

Rating: Excellent (10/10)

We go from amazing to average. I mean, Thomas' attempts at trying to sing opera just come off as hard to listen to, not to mention how jarring it is since Thomas has sung really well in the past. Then again, it could've been because they were musical sequences conveying how he felt in The Great Race, Journey Beyond Sodor and Big World! Big Adventures!. Either way, it's still jarring.

That being said, there are funny moments to be found like - in a kind of dark way - the little girl's balloon popping after Thomas sings badly again, and Thomas trying to convey a message to Stefano despite his sore voice. That's a nice little message being conveyed here; work around a problem you've brought upon yourself to get a message across.

Overall, it's a very average episode and a kind of anti-climactic way to end the Italy adventures. The message is a good one for kids to learn, but only if they can tolerate Thomas' awful singing.

Rating: Okay (5/10)

So now we're officially introduced to Brenda the bulldozer after her premature debut in Mines of Mystery. And honestly, from day one, I thought it was a missed opportunity to bring back Byron into CGI. Maybe it was because he didn't have much to work with in the original Pack episodes of 2003? (Yes, I know they were released in 2006, but they were produced in 2003, so that's what I'm sticking with.) Would've been nice to see more depth to his character, but alas, we can only dream...

This other issue I have has nothing to do with the episode, but more to do with the fact that Tom Stourton is now voicing Alfie. He was voiced by Nathan Clarke in 2015 and 2016, but Tom Stourton has been part of the show since 2014! So why didn't Stourton voice Alfie from the get go? Perhaps they couldn't afford to keep Clarke in the voice cast? Given Mattel's track record with financial problems, it seems likely, which could explain why Bill and Ben are no longer voiced by Jonathan Broadbent.

Nitpicking aside, it's a nice enough story about misunderstandings and learning to work with your team (a pair of themes that should've been put to bed by now, but I digress). It was nice seeing Miss Jenny finally return to the show (why she didn't return with the Pack in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure or season 20, I'll never know), and there were lots of funny moments like Max and Monty being stuck in the muddy field and Brenda commanding "None shall pass!" Not what she said, but the delivery reminded me of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Rating: Excellent (9/10)

Does anyone remember that Trackmaster toy of Darcy when Digs & Discoveries was first announced to the public? Well, thank goodness that her actual render looked nothing like the toy, but there's something about her design that strikes a visual image that I don't even want to think about...!

That being said, Darcy is quite reckless when it comes to her surroundings. I mean, she nearly caused harm to Cranky (whilst she was being lowered onto her flatbed), James (whilst she was on her flatbed) and Max, and even nearly took out Miss Jenny at the end! For the last one, it's shrugged off like you accidentally bumped into someone! So many alarm bells are ringing to this nonchalance of personal safety and awareness.

However, there are still some good moments to be found; Nia relating to Darcy being a newbie to the team was great as they're maintaining their sense of continuity, and her sympathizing with Darcy after nearly causing an accident at the site was just sweet. Oh, and that fantasy with the Roadinator; so ridiculous it's funny.

Overall, it's one of the weaker episodes of this season. I wouldn't go so far as to calling it the worst as there are some genuinely good moments, but the concerns over personal safety and the unoriginal plot really dragged things down as a whole.

Rating: Bad (3/10)

The third Pack episode of the season, and it's the only one where Thomas actually interacts with any members of them. In the model episodes, he seemed to be kind of there half of the time, but in this episode, Thomas' appearance makes perfect sense. He's taking Jack and Alfie to the lead mines on the branchline and he even remembered the time he went past the danger sign. That was a nice touch.

There's... not really much to talk about in terms of story. It teaches the target audience about listening to instructions and staying safe in dangerous places, and it works for Max and Monty, especially when the latter gets trapped and ends up being rescued by Darcy, whom he and Max teased at the start. Now that's good karma right there. And what's even nicer is that the lesson stuck for both of them, unlike in Mucking About where they revert to where they once were at the start of said episode.

Oh, and that fantasy sequence where Monty ends up in Australia; that was so ridiculous and funny.

Rating: Excellent (9/10)

Thomas & Friends Season 23: Digs & Discoveries Part 1 (Mini-Specials)

Well, here we are at long last. We get to finally discuss two of the three mini-specials of season 23; both of them being released as part of Digs & Discoveries. They first premiered in theaters in the United Kingdom for a week in July, got a premature and unannounced airing in Canada in August, had an actually announced airing in the United States in September, and finally, this month October, they got released on DVD. How do they stack up?

I'm gonna review these two mini-specials together in parts; the first will be about the general over-arching storyline, and the other will be about the new characters introduced in them (and yes, I'll count Gina as new despite being introduced in The Great Race, where she was more of a prop than an actual character there).

Starting off is the fact that they're a pair of 22-minute specials, and along with the yet-to-be released Steam Team to the Rescue!, they seem to be replacing the hour-long specials, which is a fair move as the format of releasing a yearly special has been getting stale. Not to mention that every special post-Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure has the unfortunate - and inevitable - problem with trying to live up to its standard. It's like trying to make a Toy Story film greater than the third; don't attempt it. Just let the next special stand up on its own. But I digress.

In theory, the 22-minute format - at least for international stories - can allow for more time to develop the setting and characters, and the fantasy sequences won't come off as big time wasters, depending on how they play out. The characters introduced in Italy are great for the most part, and I'll get to that later.

The story itself is fairly simplistic; the first half is about Thomas trying to learn about Italian culture and archaeology, and then he learns from Gina and Stefano about the lost engine and wants to find him despite being told that it may not exist. The second half is about Thomas wanting to make a discovery of his own and finding the lost engine for real.

The first half isn't particularly original, especially as it's a story that Thomas has already been through with Outback Thomas, what with him acting like he knows better about a culture he doesn't understand that well. The second half, however, was what I thought to be the more interesting of the two, though not by much, mostly because of Lorenzo. Again, more on that later.

The flashbacks of how Lorenzo and Beppe ended up being lost were really well done with the mosaic art style, fitting given the Italian setting. I thought it was the best bit of animation in the duology. And both fantasy sequences were fun to watch as well.

And after the Pack turn up in Italy aboard Stefano, Jack tells Gina about the time Thomas fell down a mine after she reminds him about his first mine incident in Italy. That I thought was also funny, and gave Thomas a bit of motivation to want appreciation... except this is something he should've outgrown by now. I know he's the main character, but constantly re-learning the same lessons just spits in the face of his character growth.

In fact, that's a problem which plagues the international stories whenever Thomas is the lead character. It would've been great if other Sodor engines went around the world as well, like James going to India, Gordon to Australia, Percy to China, Duck to Brazil, and here, Oliver to Italy. Yes, I know none of them have expressed travelling beyond the United Kingdom and Sodor, but it could've at least resulted in some more interesting storytelling and character moments and those alone would've distracted the audience from the contrivance. That being said, we still got this gem from Gina at the end of the second half:
"Thomas, stop talking."
-Gina; it's also almost what many fans wish Thomas would do as well.
A couple of other nitpicks, though; wouldn't Thomas have had enough time to stop before he went into the second mine? If he had, then he'd have never found Lorenzo and Beppe. Heck, Thomas practically noticed within a few seconds that he was on the wrong track and was in no danger, so surely he'd have stopped and gone back. Also, how did Lorenzo and Beppe get restored to working order in record time? Though I will admit that the ending shot with them was pretty funny.

Now let's talk about the characters introduced here, from least interesting to most. Starting with Ester the excavator; she just seems to be there and almost exists as a plot device to justify the Pack's presence in the second half. Despite that she was announced for Trackmaster Push Along last year, I don't think anyone will remember Ester in a year or so.

Brenda also seemed to come from nowhere and was introduced as the Pack's 24th member and their second bulldozer. I put her above Ester because at least she'll be getting more screentime on Sodor (I'll get to her sort-of debut story Out of Site in the next part).

So now we get to the more interesting characters, beginning with Stefano. I thought he wasn't going to play a huge role at all, but I was kind of surprised. He's a bit of an eccentric storyteller from what I can gather, and he even played a role in Thomas finding Lorenzo and Beppe by telling the blue tank engine the story about the duo. It's also funny how Lorenzo describes him as having the strength of Hercules in his own song, and that in here, they played with Stefano's unusual appearance.

Lorenzo and Beppe are such a fun duo; I bet Vincenzo Nicoli had fun voicing both of them, as well as singing "Lorenzo's Song". The former is wildly eccentric and curious whilst the latter is more reserved and is the straight-coach of the pair. I know some will get annoyed by their singing after a while, but I find it hilarious whenever it happens. I almost want to sing along at times despite that I don't know Italian at all!

But Italy's MVP was truly Gina. I just love her sassy personality and how she chews out Thomas when he gets puffed up in the smokebox. Out of the characters from The Great Race, Gina has perhaps the best personality out of them. She's smart, knowledgeable, proud of her heritage, and adorably hilarious, especially when she makes her pouty expressions. Speaking of which, why wasn't she the one who got stuck on Sodor instead of Ashima? I mean, all the Indian engine did was basically sweet talk Thomas no matter how much he griped and just looks pretty most of the time. Meanwhile, Gina just cuts to the chase and Thomas shuts up almost immediately.

Final Thoughts
This was a really good duology for the most part. It's got problems - namely Thomas acting childish for the umpteenth time - but there's nothing outright major that makes me want to turn it off and never watch it again. After a decade's worth of feature length specials, I think it's a nice breath of fresh air to get a trilogy of 22-minute specials (the third of which I'll review when it comes out) instead alongside a twenty-episode season. If this is how the content for future seasons will be like in the future, I'm game. But maybe an extended break between producing two seasons wouldn't hurt.

Also, can we have Gina come and visit the Island of Sodor in the future? We've seen her chew out Thomas for his behavior, so why not an episode where she has to put up with someone like James or Gordon? I'll bet there's loads of story potential you could create with Gina or another international engine visiting Sodor!

Rating: Good (8/10)

Saturday, October 5, 2019

MLP Episode 923: The Big Mac Question

218 episodes down (including Best Gift Ever), only four more to go before the show comes to the end. It's so close, and yet it feels like it's been so far away...

The Big Mac Question
Written by Josh Haber and Michael Vogel

This overall premise felt a lot like The Saddle Row Review, except I thought that this episode handled it a lot better; in the former episode, there were far too many characters and subplots to keep track of that it all just felt like a jumbled confusion of a story. Not to mention that that episode was an intentional comedy, and the humor just came off as cringey and not that funny. Here, however, there's a more restrained cast (Big Mac, Sugar Belle, the Crusaders, Spike, Discord, Granny Smith, and Mrs. Cake), and the humor is a lot more spot on.

There's too many funny moments to list, but the ones that stick out to me is any time Discord's talking apples appear. I mean, come on; how can you not love them?! It's so ridiculous I love it. Oh, and that apple monster. Peter New must've had a blast doing their voices.

I also like how the episode's structure plays out; the first two acts take place alongside each other, but are taken from different point of views, but it's the third act where the episode shines. Big Mac is frustrated that his plans with Sugar Belle haven't worked out the way he intended, but she isn't bothered by that and both end up proposing to each other, leading to a satisfying (and heartwarming) ending. Seriously, them talking things out before the proposal is one of the best moments of the entire show; no hyperbole.

What makes the ending even better is that all of their close friends and family (Night Glider, Party Favor, Double Diamond and Grand Pear, to name but a few) were there for the wedding, especially Applejack, who's finally onscreen with her new sister-in-law! It's a crying shame that it's only now we see her and Sugar Belle together, especially as we've never seen her or Granny Smith react to Big Mac's new marefriend (now wife)...

Final Thoughts
This isn't really saying much, but this is one of the best episodes of the season, as well as the first since Common Ground to get a full 10 rating from me. In fact, I think this might've even toppled the latter episode as best of an otherwise awful season. It's funny, sweet, charming, and has a great ending and moral. Honestly, if a lot of season nine was more like this, I'd still be sticking around. It's been such a frustrating season to me, but it's kind of relieving that it's ending before it has a chance to get worse.

Rating: Excellent (10/10)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

MLP Episode 922: Growing Up is Hard to Do

Well, that was unexpected! Ed Valentine seems to have had one last hurrah before the show ended as it's his first contribution since The Fault in Our Cutie Marks. Considering his track record, can he go out big?

Growing Up is Hard to Do
Written by Ed Valentine

Well... not really. But it's not an awful episode either. It was... adequate, to say the least.

If you've heard of the 1988 movie Big starring Tom Hanks, then you probably already know how the story goes. Some kid wants to be an adult to impress an older girl but gets more than he bargained for. Except this time, it's three foals and there's no crush involved.

While the Crusaders end up being kids again, all this episode does is raise questions as to why we don't see them physically age. At this point, they should be teenagers during their final years of grade school, and yet they're talked down to like it's season one or two. Heck, they've walked around Ponyville without adult supervision in previous episodes and they turned out fine.

Actually, now that I think about it, that's a huge problem the show seems to have faced throughout its run. We never see babies grow up and go to school, we don't see the kids getting older, and Twilight's parents have looked to be about the same age as their children throughout the show's run! You'd think we'd see more wrinkles or their hair getting a bit gray. Sure, there's flashbacks with the likes of the Mane Six and the Apple family, but still.

That being said, the Crusaders were enjoyable throughout, but it's no surprise considering that every one of Ed Valentine's scripts (with the exception of Three's a Crowd) featured them. The trio embracing the joys of being an adult through song was fantastic, and the moral they learned about growing up being a long process was really good.

Final Thoughts
The overall result was just... fine. It's not Ed Valentine's best work, but there's not a lot to hate about it either. The story and theme are relatable enough to anyone about growing up. It's tolerable, that's good enough for me.

Rating: Good (7/10)

Saturday, September 21, 2019

MLP Episode 921: Daring Doubt

My God, this season constantly manages to out-stupid itself and give me something else to hate about it...

Daring Doubt
Written by Nicole Dubuc

Seriously, what this episode is telling me is that Dr. Caballeron, one of Daring Do's greatest archenemies, is misunderstood? After four episodes prior to this one across eight seasons, all of a sudden, his villainy does not matter anymore and instead, he's a mere researcher? That's literally what people accuse Garble's twist "misunderstood character" status from Sweet and Smoky as being; something pulled out of the writers' collective ass just to allow the story to happen! At least Garble had somewhat of an excuse (though he still should've been shown apologizing to Spike, but I digress).

They even double down on that godawful twist by calling Ahuizotl misunderstood by trying to protect his jungle and the artifacts that Daring Do and Caballeron take from him. Ahuizotl tried to kill Daring Do several times during the course of the books, especially in Daring Don't back in season four, his last appearance, where he almost caused the world to burn for 800 years! How is that misunderstood?

The continuity overall with past episodes is just a mess. Ignoring that A) this episode will likely pander to the Daring Do/Caballeron shippers (yes, they do exist), B) the twist with Caballeron is Groom Q. Q. Martingale is blatantly obvious, and C) Fluttershy's interest in Daring Do seems to come from nowhere, how did the ponies of Equestria not learn back in Fame and Misfortune that A. K. Yearling was Daring Do herself? The Friendship Journal's been out for at least a couple of years, so you'd think they'd have learned about that by now!

Also, the plot is basically Daring Done? (only it was Caballeron trying to tell his side of the story, which makes it worse) mashed up with The Hooffields and McColts (Fluttershy involvement by helping both sides understand each other). I know you're probably sick of hearing me talk about that, but believe me; I'm sick of talking about it as well. If you're low on ideas, take a break for a while and refresh your mind.

Final Thoughts
The writing for this season is just unacceptable at times. If they're not destroying one of the main characters to the point you want them dead, they're throwing continuity out the window. If it's not that, they're rewriting characters just to suit the plot. If it's not that, they're throwing away what made these characters popular to fans. And if it's not that, they're reusing the theme about communication and understanding both sides, something this show has already done multiple times!

Seriously, this was a terrible way to conclude the Daring Do saga. And when the only character that's actually well written is Fluttershy, a character who's never been involved in a Daring Do episode, then you really have a problem.

Rating: Atrocious (-8/10)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

MLP Episode 920: A Horse Shoe-In

Well, here we go; the home stretch of the last season of the show. Six reviews to go (starting with this one) and then that'll be it for Generation 4. My expectations are through the floor at this stage.

A Horse Shoe-In
Written by Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheim

I'll start off fair and say that this episode does at least acknowledge who will be running the School of Friendship when Twilight moves back to Canterlot, but three-quarters of the way through? This just shows how off the pacing in season nine is. Frankly, I'd have gotten rid of filler episodes like The Point of No Return so that the first half would've focused on the Mane Six making adjustments to properly prepare for taking over for Celestia and Luna, and then have the second half focus on everyone adjusting to their new roles.

And speaking of new roles, did it never occur to Twilight that she would need a contingency plan with the teachers? Yeah, A Matter of Principals made that obvious, but this episode was more blatant about it.

Back to this episode, and there's the main premise; Trixie wants to become Starlight's vice-headmare. That's a huge problem with Starlight/Trixie episodes. Both ponies bring out the worst in each other post-redemption. You'd think after Road to Friendship that Trixie would've become more humble, but here, she's just unbearably selfish and it makes you wonder why Starlight is even friends with her at all. Oh, and Trixie becoming the school's new counselor? I'm pretty sure that's not going to end in disaster(!)

There's other (albeit smaller) problems as well, like Starlight saying that Twilight's friends are competent. Why would she say that? Are we suddenly forgetting what happened in Non-Compete Clause? Heck, in this season alone, we saw Rainbow Dash clearly unqualified for the cheerleading teaching job, and even Starlight herself let Silverstream do her report on cockatrices without adult supervision! So Starlight's in no position to call the Mane Six competent teachers.

Then there's the ending where it's decided that Sunburst be Starlight's vice-headmare. I almost feel like there was no thought was put into it whatsoever, especially when they handwave it by saying Flurry Heart's getting older and doesn't need a crystaller. Show, don't tell! Sure, she said her first word in The Beginning of the End, but that's not really enough to say that she's growing up. Surely she'd get slightly bigger in size and no longer be in diapers? I mean, Pound and Pumpkin Cake aren't wearing diapers anymore, so why not Flurry Heart?

To give the episode credit where it's due, the episode as a whole did at least try to be entertaining. Big Mac trying to speak with Sky Beak about Silverstream's achievements was perhaps the biggest standout; I genuinely laughed at it just for how silly it was. As was Starlight talking to and naming her plant like it was a child, especially her reaction to Trixie throwing it away. Yeah, it was kind of a cliched and stupid joke but... eh, they tried at least.

Final Thoughts
Starlight gets a rough deal in so many of the episodes she's in, and this can be added to that pile. The fact that this could potentially be her last starring role makes it all the more frustrating. She deserved so much more than what she got in the latter half of the series' run, with A Royal Problem still remaining her best starring role to date.

Rehashed story elements, fanservice for the sake of fanservice, and apathy towards potentially toxic implications down the road. A Horse Shoe-In follows that formula down to the letter.

Rating: Terrible (-5/10)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Thomas & Friends Season 23: Week 2

Here's the second week of new episodes! This time, we're going back to Brazil, and making some brief stops to India and Sodor along the way.

This episode was enjoyable, although slightly dull in places. The music that Thomas' cargo made during his travels was pretty fun to listen to (why the engine parts were on a flatbed, I'll let it slide), and it was nice that the band used it as a beat for inspiration. I almost thought that someone in the episode was going to sing along to the soundtrack. Also, was it just me, or did they show the Brazilian Carnival without actually saying the name? Yeah, it was simply called a carnival, but it did feel like it to me.

The only real issue is that the foreman would simply let Thomas take the tanker to the carnival when it was obviously in poor condition, but it was funny seeing his crew wince at the noise. Other than that, it's pretty enjoyable. Nothing spectacular, but kids will probably enjoy it.

Rating: Good (8/10)

Well, well. We meet again, Miss Overton. Last season, her scripts were mostly misses, especially the infamously hated Apology Impossible to the point that many even called it the worst episode of the show's history. But does Overton's first episode of the season turn things around in her favor?

Well, a lot of people, from what I can tell, dislike the episode, but I don't think it's as awful as many make it out to be. If anything, I think of it as a step in the right direction.

In a lot of the Brenner era, Gordon has usually been depicted as being grumpy and/or boastful, and often condescending to the smaller engines. But lately, they seem to be giving more depth to his character. In The Great Race, he has a sibling rivalry with Flying Scotsman, Forever and Ever showed him being paranoid over the changes before learning they weren't all bad, and a Meet the Steam Team video implied there's something going on between him and Rebecca...

Here, we get to see Gordon show his more comedic side when he sees Rebecca covered in honey and vegetables (which she looked adorable covered in) and tries to contain his laughter over it. It was also nice to see him show concern when Rebecca almost ran Thomas off the rails. Oh, and Gordon calling himself Big G was just funny; is that a nickname he gives himself or does someone else?

The passengers must've been incredibly tolerant of their engine stopping randomly until he turned up at the Steamworks at the end; that one passenger deserves his own mention, seriously. And I wonder why they didn't bother complaining to Sir Topham Hatt when he turned up? Then again, it wouldn't be the first time that people on Sodor have had skewed priorities...

There's... not much else to talk about here. I'll bet Keith Wickham and Kerry Shale both had a blast in the recording studio when it came to recording Gordon's lines in their respective dubs; they really hammed up his character there. It's also incredible how one writer went from writing one of the most infamously hateful episodes of the show to one of the funniest. Rebecca seems to bring out the best in Gordon.

Rating: Excellent (9/10)

Here we go again with another infamous episode episode in this season. Heck, the generic title alone is enough of a sign as to how hated it is. Actually, I don't think it even qualifies as a title; just the most generic premise you could come up with.

However, the title is the least of this episode's problems. It's basically a three-strikes script except based in India - if it was on Sodor, it'd be exactly the same result. Not only that, it's a lesson that Thomas should've learned by this point. If you gave Ashima the lead role and have her panic over maintaining a spotless record, it could've been more interesting and taught kids that nobody's perfect. I mean, they gave Rajiv a lead role this season, so why not give Ashima one too? Or did Mattel think that The Great Race was enough?

Also, that fantasy sequence was completely random and added absolutely nothing to the episode. It's just an excuse for Thomas to get distracted from his job. And this is nitpicking, but why did they put goats in box vans instead of cattle wagons?

There are some good little moments, albeit minor. The interactions between the farmer and the grumpy stationmaster were funny, and the usage of having monkeys help to recover the silk was a nice touch in getting everyone involved. Plus, we got to see Noor Jehan show a bit of wisdom in her character. Not entirely original but... eh, it's at least something.

All in all, I wouldn't call it the worst episode ever made, but it's definitely bad. It's got a storyline that they should've consigned to the scrap heap by 2013, it's repetitive, and Thomas comes off as an idiot. At least this episode didn't outright state that you shouldn't stand up to bullies, nor did it try placing culture before story.

Rating: Bad (2/10)

Davey Moore seems to have lots of fun whenever he writes for Diesel and Rebecca, doesn't he? Their dynamic in this episode was just loads of fun with her naivety and his trickster persona, all because he doesn't want to be blamed for causing trouble. Diesel nearly succeeds, only for Rebecca to spill the beans and the episode ends with him about to be chewed out again. Interesting book end for the episode; it begins with Diesel being called out for something we never see (we're only told about what he did), and it ends with him being called out for causing trouble today despite doing a good job with his duties today.

Something that was surprising was that Norman actually spoke and had something to do... very late into the Brenner era. If they weren't going to do much with him at all, then why was he introduced in the first place? Wouldn't it have been simpler to bring back Dennis?

That aside, it's a really funny episode that fitted Diesel's character, and the fantasy sequence parodying the new intro was a highlight in my books. It does almost make me wonder if they're planning a Diesel spinoff based off of that sequence alone, but I doubt that would happen. Would be nice to see, though.

Rating: Excellent (10/10)

Yes, I know; the sequence with the engines playing with the ball was a bit dumb, but then again, the show's done stupider things. If I complained about that too much, I'd be questioning why the engines have faces at all. You've heard that before, I'm sure.

That being said, the little ball game does tie nicely into Raul's competitive nature; after losing to Thomas in the Shunting Challenge, he's desperate to try and beat him before deciding that winning isn't always everything. Nothing the show hasn't done before, I know, but it was definitely a lesson he needed to learn. I also find it ironic how Thomas nearly fell into the sea after being bumped by an international engine (Ashima) in The Great Race, and yet here, he rescues another (Raul) from falling into the sea.

Speaking of said special, the stock footage of the Shunting Challenge sticks out a lot like a dented buffer in terms of lighting and with Thomas' physical appearance. Just compare him from both the special and this episode and you'll see what I mean.

Also, this is sadly the only episode in Brazil thus far where we see Raul. Given that he was Brazil's representative in The Great Race, you'd think the writers would give him more to work with. Instead, it's Gabriela turning up in every episode. And if that's the case, then why wasn't it Gabriela taking part in the Shunting Challenge instead? That doesn't make any sense at all if you ask me.

Overall, I give this episode the same rating as The Other Big Engine. It's fairly enjoyable for the target audience. But if you're not a fan of the unrealistic moments, you'll probably hate this episode because of them.

Rating: Good (7/10)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

MLP Episode 919: Dragon Dropped

I sometimes wonder if Friendship is Magic should've lasted as long as it did, but then I watch episodes like this and decide that it should've ended earlier.

Dragon Dropped
Written by Josh Haber

The story is just a stereotypical "someone gets jealous when their close friend hangs out with someone else" plot. Yeah, it's the same plot we've seen in the likes of Uncommon Bond and Make New Friends but Keep Discord. There's nothing interesting about it, and it almost makes Rarity look selfish about wanting Spike for herself.

Speaking of whom, why does Spike hang out with Gabby, of all characters? We've never seen them interact once in The Fault in Our Cutie Marks, so why are they close friends? This could've made better sense if Sweetie Belle was the one hanging out Gabby given that the griffon is an honorary Cutie Mark Crusader. Sure, it would've bordered on retreading Forever Filly, but at least it would've worked somewhat better for Rarity's character.

Also, this is minor, but isn't it strange that Rarity would get a starring role so late into the season? I mean, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Applejack had a bit of spotlight during the first half, and Pinkie's first spotlight role was the first episode of the second half. So why did it take them this long to give Rarity something to do?

Final Thoughts
It's another short review, but season nine is barely giving me anything to work with. Actually, much of the episodes in this season have barely given me anything to talk about, and this episode can be added to that pile. It's so boring and cliched that you'll end up forgetting about it six hours after watching it.

Rating: Terrible (0/10)

Friday, September 6, 2019

Thomas & Friends Season 23: Week 1

Wow, it has been nearly a year since I last reviewed anything related to Thomas and Friends on the blog. With a lot of focus going into revisiting the first six seasons of My Little Pony, as well as reviewing its ninth and final season, the Thomas side of things seems to have been neglected. Well, to be fair, there wasn't much for me to talk about, but with season 23 finally airing in the United Kingdom, I think it's high time we got back to the popular show about talking trains. Beginning with the first week of new episodes.

Ever since Bulgy made his surprise comeback in Unscheduled Stops, fans wanted to see more of him, and I was certainly one of those fans. The roads seemed to be a little too friendly, so to have a road antagonist like Bulgy would be a good way to shake things up. This episode makes him so twisted, I love it. Heck, that fantasy sequence proves just how messed up he is in the head. Who else would ever think of Percy being an over-the-top supervillain?

The plot is pretty simplistic; Bulgy taints a water tower and then gets his comeuppance by being overloaded with passengers. It feels like something from Awdry's pen, and it follows the three-act story formula perfectly; actions, consequences, and resolution.

There's... not really much else to talk about here. According to Michael White, George was intended to be in Max and Monty's place when Bulgy accidentally taints the water tower. That's a missed opportunity right there as it would've been nice to see two significant road antagonists together in the same episode. At the same time, it's frustrating that Mattel couldn't be bothered to render a new character from the ground up just for one scene, but it's nice to acknowledge that those we haven't seen in a while haven't been forgotten about.

Rating: Excellent (10/10)

It's fair to say that I practically tore the India-themed episodes of season 22 a new one. With two episodes in particular, it felt as though the story was an afterthought to facts and exposition about India; Thomas and the Monkey Palace was basically a Miller-era script based in India and nothing happened in Thomas Goes to Bollywood.

And then came this episode. I won't be beating around the bush; I absolutely loved it.

For a start, they practically focus on a character that's not Thomas - in this case, Rajiv - and it allowed the other characters to shine through on their own (some episodes out of season 22 did, but that's beside the point). Though Ashima still feels incredibly bland and Noor Jehan's character is a bit dry, but she does seem to show a bit of character expressing concern about her poor brakes. It's nice how a seemingly random line from her tied into the climax; that was way more than she did in all of season 22.

You also feel for Rajiv when he loses his crown after some monkeys play with it. But it's still really hilarious how he treats it like it's the end of the world, but he learned after rescuing Shankar from a runaway Noor Jehan that he didn't always need his crown to be useful and he was rewarded by having it returned to him. Rajiv might've still felt proud of it, sure, but the ending seemed to push his character in the right direction by promising to be useful regardless.

This was also probably the best use of the fantasy sequences, right next to An Engine of Many Colors. They're simple, but they show how proud Rajiv is of his crown; first is after it's been polished at the start, and the second is after he loses it. It's funny how he imagines the trucks, birds and a tiger reacting to him.

All in all, it's the best India-themed episode to date, even more so than Tiger Trouble (which, I'll admit, I was pretty harsh towards in retrospect; if I had to re-review that episode again, I'd give it either a 6 or 7/10) - though, to be fair, the bar wasn't that high to begin with. It felt a lot like a Thomas story and the moral was great.

Side note: Camille Ucan and Rose Johnson are rather lovely...!

Rating: Excellent (10/10)

This episode is all over the place; the flashbacks to Dirty Objects and Percy Takes the Plunge were fine, but I can't help but feel as though they were included for the sake of pandering. (It's the same thing with the Thomas and the Trucks portion of The Adventure Begins.) Not only that, the two incidents from said episodes were practically repeated twice - once in the fantasy sequence with Rebecca, and again with James, Thomas and Percy going through similar incidents.

Yeah, the overall premise is fairly thin for the most part, but the flashbacks/recreations/callbacks/etc. are said laid so much it's almost as if they overshadow the episode itself. Heck, it's not until halfway through the episode that Rebecca pulls her first goods train... which is simply taking trucks to Vicarstown. That being said, the trucks' reaction to Rebecca's goodbye was really funny; they're so used to success against engines not used to them that they've been thrown off of their game!

If I were to write this episode, I'd have one of the engines (maybe Gordon) tell Rebecca that mishaps with the trucks are no laughing matter, and when she's pulling the goods train, she'd ask the trucks why they enjoy doing this and they'd tell her that it's because most of the engines mistreat them every day. Still not the most exciting, but it could've had the episode stand up on its own without relying on flashbacks too much.

Rating: Okay (6/10)

Here's something I'd like to get out of the way; we never got a clear introduction to Gabriela, hence we don't see how she and Thomas met. Because of this, it almost feels as if she was just introduced with no explanation, and it's not made clear as to whether or not this or the other two episodes based in Brazil is Thomas' introduction to said country. With China (Number One Engine), India (Trusty Trunky) and Australia (Outback Thomas), we could at least tell with these episodes that it was Thomas' first time in those respective countries, but Brazil? Nada.

Okay, that issue aside (this won't affect my views on the Brazil episodes, but it was something I wanted to point out), how on earth did Thomas not know right off the bat that Gustavo reminded him of Gordon? He's a big engine that's painted blue (with some light gray on the side), has the number four on his sides and pulls an express train. That should've been obvious from the get-go! Not to mention how random the mentions of Edward, Henry and Toby are. It almost sounds like they're saying they're still around, but it feels like padding.

Still, Gustavo seems like a nice enough character, especially when Thomas realized that he wasn't as boastful like his Sudrian counterpart. That does remind me; every country he's visited thus far seems to have at least one Sudrian counterpart. Rajiv is an Indian James, Yong Bao is a Chinese Edward, Shane seems to be an Australian Henry (they're both big green engines and are very friendly; that was pretty much the best comparison I could make), and now there's a Gustavo as a Brazilian Gordon. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just something I feel like pointing out.

It's also funny how the closing segment calls back to Thomas, Terence and the Snow as opposed to Terence Breaks the Ice, the episode that included the CGI recreation. That's probably the longest gap between an older story and the newest story since the Thomas' Train callback in Confusion Without Delay.

Rating: Good (7/10)

Is it just me, or did someone at Mattel listen to Neil Young's Harvest album after reading Michael's script, and when "Heart of Gold" came up, they said "that should be this episode's title!"? Don't get me wrong; I like Neil Young's music, especially with Crosby, Stills & Nash, but the writers and/or Mattel seem to have a habit of using song titles for their episodes if Love Me Tender from season 20 and Wish You Were Here (yet to be released in the UK at the time of posting) from this season are anything to go by. But I digress.

Toby has never had the best track record when it comes to starring roles. For the first four seasons, he was very well written as the voice of reason in the branch line trio (himself, Thomas and Percy). But beginning with season five, his personality took a nose dive for the worst. Every once in a while, there was a good episode like Toby Had a Little Lamb and Toby's Afternoon Off, but the majority of roles up to season 16 sucked, whilst Signals Crossed two seasons later was... almost good. And the less said about Three Steam Engines Gruff, the better.

So it never really came as a shock to me when Toby was removed from the Steam Team along with Edward and Henry; you'd have to rewrite their character just to work within the story when they're best off as secondary characters. Yet Toby remains in the reworked Engine Roll Call; perhaps just seven engines wouldn't have worked?

Then comes Heart of Gold. It's Toby's greatest starring role since 1984, no exaggeration. A story about him being mocked by passengers just for his appearance wouldn't have been that great if it had aired during the Barlow era. But Michael White perfectly manages to mix Toby's self-doubting persona with the classic brave persona we know and love. It's the best of both worlds, and add to Toby's occasional stubbornness, it makes the tram engine more three-dimensional, proving he still has a place in the series despite being demoted. (Though I wish they'd do more with Henry than just shoving him into the background...!)

But it's not just Toby who shines as a character. Glynn and Millie's collective small role in giving him support after he was mocked for his appearance shows why they (and Stephen, despite being absent) continue to have great moments whenever they turn up, and one of the passengers who mocked Toby earlier standing up for him against Diesel's teasing was a good little bit of character development. It also helped that he and his colleague both apologized for their remarks.

Some would say that Diesel didn't add anything to the episode and to be fair, the most he does it make fun of Toby for being a museum piece. That being said, him not understanding the message "don't judge a book by the cover" was really funny. As was the thieves simply handing over the crown to Sir Robert after he commands them to. They knew they were in trouble and had no choice but to surrender. Now that's a humble failure after an exciting chase sequence.

Overall, this is the best episode of season 23, buffers down. The characters were on top form, the story flows well, the humor and action were great, and the moral was excellent. You cannot ask for more than that. Even more surprising was that no member of the current Steam Team (if we exclude Toby) turns up physically. Nothing to do with the episode itself, but I thought it was noteworthy.

Rating: Excellent (10/10)