When should *Friendship is Magic* end?…And what happens next?

We have a confirmed 5th season, and apparently Pony (in some form) will be lasting another 5 years, so it seems like a good time to ask:

“When should Friendship is Magic end?”

Never!“, I hear many of you exclaim.

I admit, my gut reaction is a similar one.  But I have 2 words for you: Dragonball Z.

Well, I guess technically that’s 1 compound word and a letter.  So it’s kind of more like 2 1/2 words.  Look, the point is, Dragonball Z, okay?

The Season 8 premiere of FiM will consist of 44 minutes of Empress Twilight and Queen Chrysaluna staring at each other and grunting threateningly.  Meanwhile, Neo-Nightmare Discord races to break the magical seals imprisoning time-shifted Princess Platinum.

DBZ is a classic case of a series going way, way, way longer than it needed to.  Those of us in our mid-twenties probably remember the point at which we realized that the show had become the same storyline repeated roughly 7 times with progressively larger explosions.  It was kind of like when we learned that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Any show, given enough time, will jump the shark.  The question is just whether it ends before then, and whether it does so in a way that makes for a satisfying end to the story.

For example, the end of Season 3 would have been an appropriate place to end the series (though I’m extremely glad they didn’t), because it was the conclusion of the series’ first major plot arc — Twilight learning about friendship and ascending to royalty.  Season 4 so far seems to be a mix of “forging friendships with new ponies” (e.g. Coco Pommel and Cheese Sandwich) and adventure-type episodes, with the much-ballyhooed season-long story arc somehow involving the rainbow motif and the Mystery Box of Plot Importance(TM).

Where it goes from here, of course, remains to be seen — and will largely depend upon what’s in that chest.  Maybe Season 5 will involve Twilight learning to run her own kingdom.  Maybe the Mane Six will take the lessons they’ve learned and the strengths they’ve acquired and start applying them to helping other ponies or stopping some major threat to Equestria.  Maybe it will be something else entirely.  But at some point, the story has to end.  And preferably, it will be at a time when a) it can neatly wrap up all the storyline threads, and b) we’re sad to see it go, rather than relieved that it’s over.

Those of us who are invested in the show and the fandom might find that thought troubling.  I highly doubt the Brony fandom will dissipate after FiM ends, though.  There are 2 main reasons for this:

The first is that the fandom is simply big enough and talented enough that it’s probably self-sustaining at this point, especially when one takes fanfiction into account.  We’ve seen similar phenomena with other fandoms, e.g. the Whovians.

But there’s a more intriguing reason I think the fandom will continue.  Notice my exact wording above; “When should Friendship is Magic end?”  I didn’t say “when should My Little Pony end?”

What will Generation 5 look like?

To me, that’s a very interesting question.  The most obvious move would be to simply go to a new set of characters and possibly a new setting, while keeping the overall spirit, tone, and (hopefully) quality of the show.  There would, of course, be some significant differences — otherwise, why not just keep FiM going? — but the goal (ideally) would be to appeal to fans of FiM, young and old.

But then we hit a conundrum; “young and old” — that’s a tall order.  They obviously managed that with FiM, but no one really expected that, and no one’s really certain what made it happen — yes, the quality is exceptional, but there are plenty of excellent cartoons that haven’t come close to FiM in terms of adult audience.  Neal X has started an entire series devoted to this question, in fact.  It’s doubtful that Hasbro will neglect either the adult audience or the children — they’re making too much money off both of us for that.

To make things even more difficult, the “kids-adults” divide might become much less clear than we’re used to.  Remember how I said that the show’s changing tone might be an attempt to appeal to the target demographic as they age?  Well, let’s assume for a moment that they manage to pull that off (which is a big “if”, I realize).  If FiM lasts for 6 or 7 seasons, the original (2010) target demographic will be between the ages of 13 and 18 — in other words, a bunch of teenagers/young adults who, despite social expectations, enjoy a show about cartoon ponies.

Remind you of anyone?

So at that point, the demographics wouldn’t be so much “split between kids and adults” as “ranging from age 6-24+”.  And “Suited for Success” got it right — one of the surest ways to please no-one is to try to please everyone.  Hasbro/whatever-studio-they-have-working-on-G5 will then have an unpleasant choice:

a) Target G5 toward the kids and just hope that it still appeals to adults.
b) Target G5 toward adults (the least likely and worst option)
c) Try to appeal to the entire range and just hope they can do it again.

Or…

d) Spinoff.

I asked earlier “what will Generation 5 look like?”.  Maybe a better question would be “what will Generation(s) 5 look like?”.  Could it be worth it to start 2 separate series — one for the kids, and one for the (young) adults?

This fandom has always had questions that couldn’t really be addressed within the context of the original show.  A spinoff might be a way to investigate those, and get some very good stories out of it:

  • How does the longevity of Celestia and Luna affect their psyches?  How do they deal with the fact that they’ve had to watch at least ten generations of their subjects die?
  • How did being imprisoned for 1,000 years affect Luna’s mind?
  • What drove Luna to rebel in the first place?  Were her grievances completely imagined, or was Celestia at fault in some way?
  • We know that Ponies understand the concept of war — when was the last war, and what finally made them give up on the idea?  Did they give up on the idea?
  • What relationship does Equestria have to the other kingdoms of the world?  How does the fact that their monarchs control the celestial bodies influence that relationship?
  • How long will spike live?  If, as is common for fantasy settings, dragons have very long life-spans, how will he deal with the “early” deaths of his friends?
  • Logistically speaking, could Spike and Rarity- okay, I think you get the idea.

It might seem like addressing all these ideas would be completely incompatible with the tone of FiM, but this isn’t necessarily true.  Several fan-works have tackled these ideas, and investigated their disturbing implications, while still ultimately maintaining FiM‘s sense of joy and optimism.  In fact, this is basically the theme of Fallout: Equestria (well, the first half, anyway — I still haven’t gotten around to finishing it).

And while canon material has tended to shy away from these topics, when they have addressed them, the results have been promising.  Probably the best example of this is the “Nightmare Rarity” arc of the official comics, which shows how the forces of Nightmare manipulated Rarity and Luna’s fears to control them.  This shows that Hasbro at least knows how to hire people who can write good stories that deal with these themes.

Whether this idea is economically viable will largely depend upon whether the adult demographic is large enough to make a show profitable on its own — which seems likely, but isn’t certain.  But in keeping with the Avatar comparison, I’ll leave you with three words that might jog your imagination:

Legend of Clover“.

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2 Responses to When should *Friendship is Magic* end?…And what happens next?

  1. handyj443 says:

    I’d just like to say thanks for a very thought-provoking post! In a rather Zen-like way, I think if G4 now tries to target the adult audience it would probably make the show worse. We certainly don’t want FIM to turn into “The Brony Show”, which would entirely subvert Faust’s vision for the series. I actually think the best mindset for the writers is to more or less ignore us (aside from the occasional nod) and continue to write for the target demographic, which has worked to everyone’s benefit thus far. It will be very interesting to see which strategy Hasbro will take.

  2. Prince Aligorna says:

    The simple answer is when they’ve run out of ideas, they should end it. Season 4 is the first major sign of seasonal rot they’ve had, but they’ve tried to make up for it with heavy experimentation. Said experimentation has been extremely hit or miss, but they are willing to try new things to keep it fresh. And by doing so, probably afforded themselves one more good season if they can hear and listen to what people think is working and what isn’t. I’m not sure if they should continue after season 5 or not though. I would be happy if the current show ended after next season, and we got a series 5 with maybe the children of the current cast, or something with the Background 6 or some other format that takes the current world and expands on it and on the secondary and background characters in some way.

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