Okay, so now that I’m done gushing and I’ve had time to calm down a bit, let’s talk about that scene — the battle.
I’ve written before about the fears of pandering in this fandom, and how I think they’re generally misplaced. And I still believe that. But even I got nervous about this scene. As thoroughly holy-shit-awesome as it was, I definitely had to wonder whether it was appropriate or fitting for FiM.
See, part of the reason I wasn’t really concerned about pandering is this; generally, appealing to the kids and appealing to us are not mutually exclusive. So when Flutterbat showed up or callbacks to previous episodes occurred, my questions were; “Is this show still a good cartoon?”, and “Will it still appeal to the target demographic?”. In virtually all cases, the answer to those questions was “yes”. So I wasn’t worried. If McCarthy & Co. could make an entire episode based around superheroes or flesh out the world’s backstory while still providing quality entertainment for the kids, then so much the better (seriously, so much the better!).
But this — this was something else entirely. Dragonball Z has been mentioned by basically everyone with respect to this scene, and the comparison is completely justified. If this had been a fan-work it would have been considered a very well-done parody. Twilight gets thrown through a freaking mountain and then rainbow atomic-bombs Tirek.
And just to reiterate; holy shit it was freaking AWESOME!
But would a 10-year-old girl think so?
This is the first time I’ve seriously wondered; can the kids enjoy this? Or will they lose interest, or actively dislike it? Is the show still catering to us and the target demographic? Or is it now catering to us instead of the target demographic?
In many respects, this fight was the realization of both my greatest hopes and worst fears for Friendship is Magic. I was fanboying the hell out the whole time Twilight and Tirek were blasting the crap out of each other. But at the same time, a little voice in the back of my head was gasping in horror; “Oh god, what have we done? It finally happened; we’ve ruined this show for the little girls.”
I’ve argued before that FiM‘s changes might be an attempt to grow up with its target audience:
…[E]ven if the adult demographic didn’t exist for this show, we might still expect to see this sort of tonal and plot shift — because the target demographic is aging as well. It’s easy to just say “target demographic” and envision a monolithic and unchanging collection of 6-11-year-old girls, but this is a mistake. Remember; it’s been over 3 years since this show was first released. And 3 years is a much longer time for a kid than an adult, both in terms of perception and in terms of cognitive development. Those 6-11-year-old kids who started watching this show when it was new are now between the ages of 9 and 14. Roughly half the original target demographic is no longer in the target demographic, and many of them are likely starting to develop a taste for more complex, long-term, and high-stakes storylines. And from a pedagogical point of view, this should probably be encouraged.
And like I said before, Cerebus Syndrome isn’t unique to FiM. ReBoot did it, Avatar did it — and when you think about it, Dragonball itself did it. The original Dragonball started as an adventure-style show aimed at a young audience, and got progressively more action and fight-focused as it progressed. So it’s not like this is completely new territory as cartoons go.
But even if we accept that argument fully, and we consider the “new target demographic” to be roughly between the ages of 9 and 14, the question remains; would this sort of scene appeal to a group of 9-14-year-olds, particularly when most of them are female?
Conventional wisdom would say “no”.
But of course, conventional wisdom would say that we — a group of (young) adults, most of whom are male — wouldn’t enjoy this show in the first place. For the guys, this show was supposed to be anathema, and the ladies were supposed to have “outgrown” it.
But once we stopped worrying about what we were “supposed” to like, and just sat down, relaxed, and watched the show, we found that actually yeah, we did like a show with a 90% female cast. Yeah, we did enjoy stories about emotions that many would call “sappy”. Yes, in fact, we did (still) like ridiculously cute things. And no, we were not too old, too male, or too whatever to be singing along to a song about cute pastel ponies changing the seasons, thank you very much.
That’s old news by now. But here’s an important point that’s easy to forget; we weren’t the only ones doing that. The show was also experiencing phenomenal success among its target audience, who were demonstrating that Faust was right all along; yeah, they did enjoy stories with real conflict, yes they were smart enough to understand complex plots, and yes, Rarity could kick a freaking manticore in the face without them pissing themselves in terror, thanks for asking. Much like us, all it took for them to enjoy those things was for someone to, y’know, try it.
The changes in FiM over its four seasons have frequently been attributed to the Brony demographic, and there’s clearly some truth to that. But let’s be careful not to overstate our impact; this show has been pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for a “little girls’ show” since Episode One.
And with that in mind, Twilight vs. Tirek just seems like a continuation of that process:
“Little girls will never enjoy a series with actual conflict. Wait, they do? Okay, well they’ll never go for a full-on cartoon brawl with the characters actually hitting their enemies. Wait, they did? You’re going to show a full-on magical duel between two demigoddesses for the fate of the world? Good luck with that. Wait, they liked that, too?”
“Well, I guess we can try the next step up…”
Much like us, the youngsters — especially the young girls — have been demonstrating that conventional wisdom about what they like is just wrong. And with Twilight’s battle with Tirek, McCarthy & Co. may just be asking them “hey, is everyone wrong about this, too?”
I guess we’ll see what they say.
EDIT 2014-05-17 9:23pm: Welp, guess that’s a “yes”.