And so, after much waiting, we are finally here at the new season. I'm excited to get back to my episode reviews, but before I start, there's something I want to get out of the way. Those of you who have read my reviews before will remember that I had a tendency to give a point-by-point description of everything that happens in the episode in question. However, from this episode onwards, that isn't going to happen. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that, after a while, I felt that they just didn't add anything to the review other than what those who watched the episode already knew.
So, from here on out, I'll just be giving a brief synopsis and then just getting down to my thoughts on the episode. However, as the review will still contain a discussion on what goes on, there will still be spoilers for those who haven't watched it, for which I give my traditional warning. With that out of the way, let's get on with the review.
The story of this opening two-part episode of the fourth season is that Twilight Sparkle, now a Princess and alicorn, is in charge of organizing the summer sun celebration. Things go awry fast when Princess Celestia and Luna go missing before the celebration, and if that wasn't bad enough, the Everfree Forest, a dangerous woodland on the edge of Ponyville, begins to spread and take over everything. As such, it's up to Twilight and her friends to find the Princesses and save the day once again.
As is the case with most two-parters in this show, the scope of the story is far larger and more epic than what we normally get, and it delivers very well in that regard. The threat presented here seems to be far more widespread than what we've seen in other two-parters, as all of Equestria is at risk from the threat of the Everfree. And, on a side-note, I like that this forest is being used in this way. Aside from being used in the pilot and being the place where Zecora lives, the forest hasn't really had that much of an impact on the show as a whole, and that always struck me as odd.
It was established very early on in the series that it's the only place in the ponies' world that acts in a way we would recognise as natural. As the ponies themselves said, "animals take care of themselves, rain falls and plants grow" all without the influence of the ponies, making it a unique place in their world. That always struck me as an interesting thing about it and is something I've wanted to see explored more, so having it become a sort of antagonistic force in it's own right makes sense, given it's status as something that is inherently the opposite of the ponies' world.
Something I think ever fan of this show will be discussing after they see this episode will be the reveal of the events preceding Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon. It is, after all, the event which started off the show to begin with, the prologue of the two sister and how they came to wage war on each other. This backstory has fascinated many of the shows fans since it began, and there has been much speculation on the subject. So much so that, if an outsider to the franchise were to see the vast amount of fan-art, fan-fiction, and general discussion about the event, they could be forgiven for mistaking Luna and Celestia as the main characters. Needless to say, this backstory has been something fans have wanted to see for some time, including myself, so on that basis I can't help but appreciate that it's finally been shown to us.
However, I will say that there will be many out there that will be upset by this. The story of these two and how they came into conflict with each other has been speculated on so much that many will have come up with their own "canon" ideas as to what really went on a thousand years ago. Because of this, it is very likely that the story we've been given here will contradict the ideas that many fans will have come up with in the three years the show has been on the air. While I understand this frustration, and even share it as I too felt contradicted, I don't think it's worth getting upset over as the show's writers are the final word on what is and isn't official in this show. Besides, if I can see the cast's human designs in Equestria Girls and not feel bad about how it differs from my own interpretation, then I can handle this.
Yet another point of discussion will be, of course, the return of Discord as Twilight's ally in this episode. After his previous episode, "Keep calm and flutter on", I was worried that being made a good guy might mean that they would no longer use him as a character, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him make a return here, and john De Lancie, as always is clearly having a tonne of fun with this role. His use as a good guy was interesting to watch and it reminds me quite a lot of De Lancie's other famous character, Q from Star Trek. Like in that show, Discord has gone from an outright antagonist to being an ally of sorts, even though he's often still mischievous and sometimes irritating to the main cast. I do wonder if that similarity was a deliberate move on the part of the writers as I watch this episode. Still, his character still works and, in-keeping with his role as a spirit of chaos, it makes sense that his involvement would be both a help and a hindrance to the characters, so on that count he works well in the story.
The story as a whole has a lot going for it, both in terms of it's scope and in what it does with it's characters, and a lot of it is stuff that I like. It's clear that a lot of effort has gone into it, even when compared with other two-parters. In addition to that, this is a very emotional episode. There are many tug-at-your-heartstrings moments here, from Twilight's worries regarding her friends returning to Ponyville, to her trying to cope with them thinking she should leave the journey to them. But by far the biggest surprise emotional moment was twilight's return to the past, where she cries over the body of Celestia. I know this show has ventured into dark areas before, but having it's protagonist crying over the seeming death of her beloved mentor was a step I never thought they'd take. Nevertheless, it was very well handled, even though it may not reach the same emotional heights of other episodes.
As with all two-parters, this episode is largely about Twilight, with most of the other cast playing supporting roles, and as such I'd like to discuss her here. With the exception of the Equestria Girls movie, this is Twilight's first story as an alicorn, so we finally get to see how her character is being handled now that she's changed. And it seems that, despite the fears of many fans, her character and personality have largely been unchanged. She's still the same Twilight we've always known and loved. She's just got a fancy new pair of wings now.
And what they do with her here in this episode is a really good direction for her to be put in. Now that she's ascended to princess, it makes sense that her stories now would involve her trying to cope with her role as a leader. She's always led the main cast, but now that she's a princess, her leadership now extends to many others, which is something made even more apparent in this episode. With Celestia and Luna gone, Twilight is made more-or-less the de facto leader of Equestria as a whole, and she clearly struggles with that kind of responsibility, which s perfectly understandable for someone in her position, who's new to this sort of thing. They handled her character brilliantly and you can see her struggles and doubts as she's thrust into this unexpected situation. So, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that her change didn't "ruin her forever" as many fans were worried it would.
Also, in a nice touch, they have it so that she is still struggling with her new position, worrying about living up to the expectations others have for her as well as adjusting to her new wings. All of these things make her a very believable character in this story, just as she's always been. As for the other members of the main cast, they all do their parts well even though they may not be the focus of this story. Little touches like Rarity being the one to encourage Twilight to embrace her role as princess, or Rainbow offering to help her learn to fly, were all great moments that served to remind me just why I liked these characters to begin with.
The use of the elements of harmony is something else I feel needs to be discussed in this one. These things have often been branded the "mcguffins" of the series, the objects that are sought all the time to solve whatever problems come along. But when you stop and think about it, these things have only ever been used to thwart the characters' challenges twice, once at the start of the show's first season, and again at the start of the second. And while they have been referred to as a potential solution to various problems, such as the changeling invasion or Discord's reformation, they haven't been as overused as some might have claimed they have. As such I have no issue with their use in this episode, especially since they are, at the end of the day, an important element, no pun intended, of this show's mythology.
What I was definitely surprised about however was that this story has seemingly decided to do away with them on a permanent basis. By returning the elements to the tree of harmony, it seems that they can no longer be used in future stories as a solution to whatever troubles lie ahead. While this surprised me, I can understand why they did it, as the character will now have to adjust to defending their homes in new ways. And the teaser of the locked gift from the tree, with six keyholes, will undoubtedly be the story arc for this coming season. I cannot guess how it will play out, but I look forward to seeing what will be inside.
When it comes to animation, I am well aware that there are many who look down upon the use of flash animation for being "cheap", or otherwise incapable of doing things that other types of animations can do. And while I can understand those views, the animation in this episode really did impress me. The use of flash in MLP over the course of the last few years has just been getting better and better, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this story. From small images, like the sun and moon in the same sky, to big effects like Luna's transformation, it's clear that the animators have pulled out all the stops to make this episode as good-looking as you can get with the tools at their disposal.
The vocals in this one are also pretty great. The usual cast, like Tara Strong all do very well in their voice performances, giving us the range and ability that we've come to expect of them. Even though it's been quite a while since they've voiced these characters, I cannot even tell, they're that good. A special shout-out also has to go to Tabitha St Germain and Nicole Oliver as Princess Luna and Celestia respectively. Although both are important characters, they haven't been given the chance to really take the spotlight that often in the show, and now that their full story is revealed to us, both actresses do a great job at capturing just how dark and dramatic this moment is. Germain in particular does well, especially since she hasn't had as much time voicing her character as much as Oliver has with Celestia, and like with her other character, Rarity, she's giving her all with that performance.
When it comes to humour, this story follows the tradition set by pretty much every other two-part episode we've had so far. By that I mean that, while there are jokes here and there, they tend to play backseat to the main story as opposed to driving the whole thing, like with regular episodes. So while there were plenty of funny moments, such as the regular Pinkie Pie absurdities being funny as always, there isn't really that much to comment on.
Usually I would discuss songs at this point, but this time there were none to mention, which was a disappointment. Still, if they make up for it with good songs in future episodes, it won't bother me.
So, overall, how did I think this episode fared? In all honesty guys, I loved every moment of it. Like with most two-parters, it was a real cut above the usual MLP episodes we're treated to. The characters were still likeable as ever, the stakes were higher than we've known them to be in quite some time, and it shows just how Twilight's character will be handled now that she's ascended. It will be difficult for me to say this early on just how this two-parter will stack up against some of my established favourite episodes, but from what I've seen of it, I'm impressed, and it definitely surpasses the season three two-parter by a clear mile as far as I'm concerned. If they manage to keep up this kind of quality with other upcoming episodes, I think we'll have little to worry about.
Join me next week as the main cast find themselves in a dangerous ruin in "Castle-Mania".
See you then.