Let’s talk about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Yes, that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The once revered and controversial show about cartoon horses learning the magic of friendship is still going strong with a seventh season and a feature film on their way later this year, but it seems to have more years behind it than ahead of it at this point. The viewer base and the overall enthusiasm towards the series has seen a significant drop-off, and most notable fandom personalities have moved on to other things (sometimes as in the case of Digibro much bigger things). There’s been a lot of reasons for this, both specific personal reasons and reasons that broadly reflect the current state of the series. Putting aside fandom drama I want to talk about the direction the show has gone in and how that’s sparked disinterest.
It can be broadly summarised in three words: What’s the point? A lot of people will say the show “jumped the shark” at some point around its third or fourth season and totally lost touch with what made the show great. That’s arguably true in a lot of ways. But I think the bigger issue is that the show has developed a bit of an obsession with big twists and epic moments, leaving its overarching narrative with less and less to do. Friendship is Magic starts with simple grounded character goals. Twilight Sparkle is a bookworm who discovers friendship and wants to learn more about it, so on the orders of her mentor Princess Celestia she starts to report her findings about friendship. Rainbow Dash is an athletic pegasus pony whose dream is to join the Wonderbolts, Equestria’s most famous flyers. Rarity is a fashion designer who wants to make it big. You get the idea.
The series gets plenty of mileage out of those goals, especially when it establishes how achieving lifelong goals can sometimes mean challenging decisions about your friendships. But by the end of the fifth season Rainbow Dash has become a Wonderbolt. Rarity has made it in the upper crust of Canterlot and the shining lights of Manehattan. Twilight is literally the Princess of all of friendship, and as a princess is virtually an equal to her mentor Celestia. Aside from the latter because “well there’s always something new to learn about friendship”, there’s very little that the show can do with those characters’ motives now that they’ve been fulfilled in rapid succession.
Possibly the biggest example of this comes in the form of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, or CMC for short. Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo are a group of late blooming young ponies searching for their special talents. This spins off into a fundamental concept of the show’s established lore: cutie marks. These glitzy flank tattoos are the symbol of a pony’s purpose in life, the skill that makes them unique and special. During the ponies’ younger years it’s up to them to naturally discover that talent. A point blank coming of age metaphor, expressed simply as a children’s show concept but implicitly building on the larger world the characters live in and what becoming an adult means within it.
The CMC spend the first four seasons trying to force their way to it, inching closer and closer but never quite fully realising it. Endless speculation ensued about when it was gonna happen, how it was gonna happen, what was gonna happen next. Then suddenly smack bang in the middle of the fifth season they all get their cutie marks at the same time in a single 20-minute musical spectacular. It was pretty awesome at the time, and people were excited. It felt like a real culmination of all the mileage I had put into this series, the grand climax of a several seasons long subplot that had carried some of the best episodes of the series. But then what? They become Ponyville’s resident cutie mark problem solvers, which slips them into an indefinite episodic loop. We get one good episode in the sixth season where the group briefly splits and Applebloom struggles to find her way without her friends, but aside from that they’ve essentially grown into a dry routine.
The underlying cause of this might be how its fandom developed an insatiable appetite for EPICNESS. The biggest insecurity underlying the chaos of peak Brony fandom was the desire to be seen as cool. The desire for their broadly young girl oriented hobby to be validated as adult, even manly. Many times fans spoke to the pure genuine quality of the show, but many more times fans put it on a pedestal for The Adult References That Only Adults Get Not For Children, The Dark And Mature Hidden Themes For Us Adult Fans, The Occassional Super Manly Kinda Sorta Almost Dragon Ball Z Action Scenes, and who could forget THE GRITTY FANFICTIONS. At its worst this mentality turned the fandom into a pinnacle of exclusionary macho geek culture, but that’s a topic for another day.
At some point, arguably around the season 2 finale ‘A Canterlot Wedding’, the series started to feed that hunger for Epic Stuff. Season 3 ends on a sweeping musical where Twilight becomes an alicorn. Season 4 goes full-blown story arc with Super Ultimate Friendship Conflicts (half of which are actually kinda lame) and then there’s a big battle a super evil demon from the literal gates of Tartarus. Season 5 is another story arc that ends with flashy time travel shenanigans, validating mostly every grimdark fanfic ever. And then Season 6 just kinda goes through the motions before it reaches a largely obligatory epic finale. After all the previous seasons tried to do there just isn’t a whole lot left to do that can be all that exciting.
Undoubtedly there are good things still to be found in Friendship is Magic. Starlight Glimmer is a compelling successor protagonist of sorts, as is her character arc with fan favourite character Trixie. But only a handful of the sixth season’s episodes focused on that, with the rest going to slice of life antics that no longer carry the sense of purpose and character momentum they once had. Moreover, even at its best Friendship is Magic just can’t keep up with recent animated shows like Gravity Falls and Steven Universe; shows that are simultaneously more capable at being endearing on a small scale and thrilling on a much bigger scale. It’s as if Friendship is Magic is the product of a bygone area, coasting along because it still makes a few bucks.
I still feel like I’m obligated to stick with this series in the long-run, especially with the movie on its way later this year. It came to me during a troubling time in my mid-teens and it gave me something to be happy and passionate about, and for that I still enjoy being around the show and its characters. But the true magic is long gone. Even the outrage about adults watching a children’s cartoon has largely perished. The clock is ticking on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.