When it comes to Luna and Celestia, I’m a pretty typical Brony; I certainly like Celestia, but I don’t inwardly cheer when she comes on-screen, the way I do with Luna.
As I’ve argued before, much of Luna’s appeal comes from the fact that unlike Celestia, she is (sometimes) a primary character. But as I was considering “Bloom and Gloom”, something else occurred to me; I may have actually underestimated the impact of “Luna Eclipsed.”
Do me a favor; pretend for a moment that we’ve never seen Seasons 1 and 2. Our only exposure to Luna is Seasons 3 and 4, plus “Bloom and Gloom”. How could we describe her, if that were the case?
Well, in terms of personality, she’s very clearly royal. Compared to the other characters (even her fellow princesses Twilight and Cadance), her speech is much more polished, and her movements are more deliberate and refined. She’s certainly not cold to the other characters, she’s not really even distant, but she is…formal. If we had to pick a Fantasy archetype that she resembles, we’d find that her title is a bit misleading — she acts more like The Good Queen than The Princess.
But she is, undoubtedly, The Good Queen. She shows real concern for her subjects, and a kindness that, formality notwithstanding, is clearly genuine. She takes her royal duties seriously, and the show hints that she stays pretty busy protecting and supporting her subjects. We occasionally see her formality lapse, which helps to humanize (equinize?) her a bit. She’s likeable, admirable, and just plain cool, but also fairly flat and static (remember; we’ve never heard of “Luna Eclipsed”, and “flat” =/= “bad”).
In terms of her role in the narrative, she usually acts as a supporting character. She’s a source of both conflict and conflict-resolution; she forces the characters to confront problems they might otherwise avoid, but also supports them as they handle those problems. She will occasionally solve conflicts directly if the need arises, but mostly provides guidance and advice. In doing so, she helps the protagonists solve their own problems, and thus they grow and develop.
Remind you of anyone?
This is what “Bloom and Gloom” helped me realize, and it’s another reason Luna’s popularity is so intriguing; in most of her appearances, she behaves almost identically to Celestia.
The difference, of course, is that we have seen “Luna Eclipsed,” and so Luna’s poise, refinement, and wisdom aren’t just character-elements; they’re also narrative payoff. And this is one huge difference between Celestia and Luna. When Celestia aids Twilight with wisdom or guidance, it’s just Celestia being Celestia — that’s the way she is (so far as the audience has seen, anyway).
But when Luna helps, guides, and advises the CMCs, the effect is much greater. This isn’t because she’s a better teacher or advisor than Celestia — they seem roughly equivalent in that regard. Rather, it’s because we remember when she couldn’t do those things. We remember when Luna couldn’t teach, advise, or even communicate effectively. We’ve seen her struggle with her flaws, and we’ve seen her overcome those flaws and gain acceptance. As a result, Luna’s role in “Bloom and Gloom” isn’t just an advancement of Apple Bloom’s character arc — it’s also payoff from Luna’s character arc.
But for that payoff to work, Luna still needs to be recognizable, and here the show does an excellent job. Remember how I said that Luna behaves almost identically to Celestia? “Almost” is the key word of that sentence. Luna’s behavior does differ from her sister’s in a few ways. Notably, her flair for the dramatic is still present; she’s not riding around on a chariot pulled by bat-ponies anymore, but she’ll still indulge herself by slowly descending from the full moon, or emerging from the silhouette of The Headless Horse. On that note, Luna also seems willing to frighten her subjects a bit, if she thinks it will help them learn — which makes perfect sense, given how Pip and Twilight taught her to embrace the positives of fear. The enthusiastic, well-meaning, but socially-challenged misfit from “Luna Eclipsed” is clearly present; she’s just learned to adapt her characteristics to fill her role.
Here’s what really strikes me about all this; a single 22-minute episode focusing on Luna’s struggle and triumph is still paying huge narrative dividends, 65 episodes later. Apparently, when it comes to audience reception of a character, a little bit of time as a primary character can go a long, long way. That’s something any storyteller should remember.
Also, FiM Team: Celestia episode? Pretty please?