Welp, time to start writing about season six…
In my honest opinion, season six of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was pretty awful in comparison to the rest of the series. In many fields of work, such as voice acting, the difference between a professional and most other people is that the former has spent years learning about and practicing the many subtleties that make for a quality performance. The work of a professional is seamless in that the audience automatically attributes the voice to the character on-screen instead of to an actual person in a studio somewhere trying feebly to get into character, an image that amateur work usually brings to mind. I feel this is an apt analogy to how I felt about season six – not in the show’s actual voice acting, which was perfectly fine, but in the visual presentation and writing in general. About 80% of the time throughout the season I felt completely disengaged with the story and humor because I could clearly see the hand of the writer behind the dialogue and jokes. It seemed to me that scenarios and characters were over-manipulated in an effort to meet the writers’ goals, whether it was to rehash plot points or make certain jokes or arrive at specific character developments, and as a result so much of the material in any given episode felt cheaply contrived.
For me this contrivance killed most of the humor. As an example, let’s compare a scene from Every Little Thing She Does with one from The Return of Harmony, Part 2. Right before Twilight enters to discover the situation Starlight Glimmer got herself into, Applejack appears floating across the screen on a table, giving another line of the running gag where she talks expressively about her photo album memories at inappropriate times. The joke itself isn’t bad, but for me the comedic potential is ruined by its predictability. What exactly AJ will say is unknown, but whenever she appears while under Starlight’s spell it's as if the writer is saying "alright, time for a joke", since we all know she’s going to produce some meaningless quip that doesn’t match up with the scene surrounding her. For me, that narrow scope of potential spoils the joke’s element of surprise and makes it as dull as story exposition. In contrast, here’s the other scene:
Spike: Ah! Brrr! What did you do that for, Fluttershy?
Fluttershy: 'Cause you just looked so peaceful.
We know why Fluttershy is acting cruel, but for Spike, that behavior is completely unexpected. We recognize that both Spike’s expectations and Fluttershy’s actions are “normal” relative to each character’s situation, but the raw incongruity between them is significant. This humorous contrast is plucked naturally from the story without need for further manipulation by the writers, creating a strong sense of spontaneity – which, if you think about it, is what most often characterizes quality jokes as they occur in real life (for example, fail videos). This is the sort of comedic genius that got me into the show and what I feel was almost completely absent in season six’s writing.
The show’s visual aesthetic also changed somewhat, though not as drastically as the writing. I admit that I loved the show’s adorably simple character models and was not pleased with all the extra detail put into the animations and new characters of the latest season. Aside from straight up making things less adorable (which is a terrible crime to commit in and of itself), it also made certain scenes harder to get into, as I’ll explain in two points. Firstly and perhaps most ironically, the extra detail made many scenes less realistic. The episode P. P. O. V. illustrated this fairly well – in real life, the brain tends to smooth over detail because the average memory just isn’t capable of storing all the minute information of the present. Character models, buildings, trees, backgrounds, etc. all had a fairly a mundane, “smoothed” appearance, which (unless you have a photographic memory) more closely represents one’s actual visual experience on a day-to-day basis. Secondly, with so little detail left to the imagination of the viewer, certain characters and jokes were simply impossible for me to engage with. For example, at one point in The Crystalling, a crowd is gathered (I forget exactly why) and three heavily-detailed characters start yelling in fairly stylized voices. Putting aside the utterly bizarre setup and dialogue (why are these three apparently older ponies talking like over-excited know-it-all teenagers, why would they doubt everything they’re told by those hosting the ceremony, and why are they the only three in the entire crowd who are interacting with the speakers?), the relative complexity of their character models suggested a level of detail in their personalities that was beyond what I could relate to. In other words, their appearances suggested that these were established characters, but since I didn’t know anything about them I couldn’t tell what character traits to assign them, and thus I was unable to put myself in the scene. Compare that with the bit in It’s About Time when Twilight is trying to warn a small crowd about the impending doom. If you’ll recall, the crowd goes from generally amused to worried to amused, and characters therein are generic stock models. Being part of the joke of the scene, the crowd’s behavior was very easy for me to relate to since both their appearance and reactions were simple enough to have no barriers of entry.
I’d like to touch on the season’s story pacing. In my opinion, writers would often make a central issue obvious early on without giving any meaningful development to it until much later: Gabby’s fake cutie mark, Town playing prank on RD, CMC sisters taking over cart building, Princess Ember turning out to be good, Zephyr Breeze being lazy, etc. If you’re going to insist that these plot lines take a big role in your episode, you’re best served by pacing their developments to keep things interesting. Any of those story elements would have been more engaging if the exposition had been more gradual, but as those episodes were, sitting through them felt like waiting for a toaster to finish. That said… man, a few episodes resolved plot points much too quickly to be believable. Spike stopping Rarity from falling to show he cares for his friends in Gauntlet of Fire, changelings turning from evil to benevolent in the finale, nearly all the interactions in the second half of No Second Prances… to name the most egregious examples.
This is a tricky one to make any objective point on, because it all depends on how you as an individual speak and interact with others. I imagine for some, the dialogue this season wasn’t particularly strange, but for me it often felt like I was watching a grade-school play from another planet, which is to say it seemed like the writers didn’t know how to communicate certain points to the audience via dialogue in a realistic manner. This also tended to make characters act incongruously with their previously established personalities, like Fluttershy’s sassiness or Twilight’s sudden inability to handle certain basic social situations. In an effort to shorten the length of this post I won’t go into any examples, but I’ll happily expound if anyone is unsure about what I mean.
The theme in season six was supposed to be “Explore Equestria”, which after a while I took to meaning “expand the show’s lore”. With the first five seasons, I felt like the writers understood how the lore was best taken as nothing more than a “suspension of disbelief”, and therefore mentioned it only as needed to continue with a story or joke, often with a tongue-in-cheek tone. A perfect example of this is the scene of Discord’s house in Make New Friends but Keep Discord; lots of lore could have been crafted from that scene, for better or for worse depending on your personal preference, but instead the writers chose to make a few good jokes and develop Discord’s character via witty monologue and brief interaction with the mail pony. I mean, for all we know he could still be floating in an endless sea of chaos, but the only content made from that bit was a joke showing Discord’s insensitivity. For me, the joke was entertaining, but an attempt at lore would have been too shallow and meaningless to generate any interest; moreover, it would have sold short the inherently mysterious and intriguing nature of the world. In season six, this seemed to be the most common route when it came to previously unexplored story elements, such as Pinkie’s cannon, spell mechanics, Alicorn creation, Chrysalis’s throne, “love” being an actual beam of energy (man that one killed me), etc. As in the visual department, the problem with adding so much unnecessary detail is that viewers like me, who consider such extra detail outside the realm of interesting and believable storytelling, are prevented from investing their own reasoning and experience into the scene. They didn’t need to add in so many specifics to the backstory and otherwise more mystical elements of the show, but since they did they narrowed the appeal to cater to a smaller audience, one of which I am not a part.
I think that about covers all the things I’d been thinking about. As I said, I believe there are a lot of subtleties in the differences I see between season six and the rest of the series, and I don’t suppose I understand all of them so I may at some point change my mind on a few things, but at the moment I feel pretty sincerely about what I’ve written. And also, to borrow from a previous blog post of mine, I realize I have no real right to complain or demand – I’m here by happy coincidence, and the writers’ obligation is to their target audience, or rather the target audience of their employers. That said, I don’t think I’m wrong in making a connection with the show’s original vision and my own tastes. In other words, whoever the show’s intended demographic was, it seems we had a lot in common when it came to cartoons about ponies.