Hoo, boy — that just happened.
And…it wasn’t very good.
In fact — it was just bad.
The animation was good, the voice-acting was good, the music was good, the gags were good, the moral was good — but the storytelling was just a train-wreck. It was rushed, there were way too many sub-stories going on, conflicts were introduced and resolved far too quickly for the audience to get invested, and it relied largely upon characters who had never been developed.
I know that this was meant to be a different kind of episode — the goal here was to write a love-letter to the fans, rather than to tell a good story. But that goal is a problem, for 2 reasons.
First of all, I’d argue that telling great stories should always be FiM‘s #1 goal.
But there’s a more important reason; The FiM Team has already written tons of love-letters to the fans. From Derpy’s initial appearance, to the meta-commentary in “Daring Don’t”, to Discord’s reformation, to Derpy’s return, to the slew of cameos and inside-jokes in Rainbow Rocks, to (most recently) finally getting to explore the Griffon Kingdoms. All of these are fantastic tributes to the collective creativity of the fans.
But they weren’t great tributes just because they referenced the ideas of the fans — they were great tributes because they used those ideas to help tell great stories. And because of that, all of those little cameos, background gags, and sub-plots are far more effective love-letters to the fans than “Slice of Life.”
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, so let me be very clear; I love the fact that the creators of FiM engage so thoroughly with the fans. I love that the fans — collectively — have influenced the show. I love the fact that Meghan McCarthy, Jim Miller, M.A. Larson, Sibsy, Daniel Fucking Ingram, William Anderson, and all the rest of the crew are dedicated, creative, and insane enough to devote an entire freaking episode to a fan-tribute.
But a problem arises if the fan-tribute prevents them from telling a good story.
But you know what’s really weird? I actually don’t think that’s what happened here.
This is the most surprising thing about “Slice of Life”; I don’t think the real source of the problems was fanservice. Because within this episode are the roots for a lot of great stories. Matilda and Cranky’s wedding, Derpy’s search for a flower-replacement, Dr. Whooves’ emergency tailoring, Lyra and Bon-Bon’s spat, Octavia’s artistic frustration — all of these could make for a ton of fantastic stories.
But that’s exactly the problem; they could make for a ton of fantastic stories. But the episode only has room for one or two.
Ironically, in trying to do something different, bizarre, and unexpected, FiM fell prey to its most common problem; it tried to do too much in too little time. As a result, none of the stories have the time they need to be effective.
But imagine that they did — imagine that the primary actors in this were limited to (for example) Matilda, Cranky,
Muffins Derpy, and The Doctor, with all the others as secondary characters — a few lines and roles, but no scenes where they’re the primary focus.
That could have worked really well. We could have gotten to spend some quality time with these characters, while they try to handle a (comparatively) mundane crisis in the shadow of the Bugbear attack. That could provide a much better story, and would still communicate the episode’s moral. But as-is, there’s just too many story threads being crammed into this episode, and they all lose their impact.
All that said — for all its problems, all its flaws, and all the ways it breaks the rules of storytelling — I still praise this episode.
I do this for one very important reason; it shows a willingness to experiment. And with a show of this size, budget, and profile, that’s a pretty big deal; and it needs to be praised if we want to see more of it.
Those who regard “Slice of Life” as nothing more than pandering (whatever we decide that means) are viewing it in an oversimplified fashion. It’s also an attempt to collaborate — in some small way — with thousands of people. It’s an attempt to devote some time to “unimportant” characters. It asks the question “what does everyone else do while the heroes are saving the world?”, and actually tries to provide an answer. It features a one-note pet character delivering an existential monologue that is actually kind of thought-provoking. It invites the audience to ask ourselves; “which stories are worth telling?”
I want to see more experiments. I want to see more cartoons that do weird stuff. I want to see more big-budget productions trying things that are Simply Not Done(TM). And if the price is that 1 episode in 100 is a dud — well, frankly, that’s a hell of a bargain.
Great idea, execution was lacking. Keep experimenting, FiM Team. I’m stoked to see what you do next.
Want to know when I’ve thought of something new and interesting about the narrative techniques of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? Yeah, neither would I, probably. But just in case, you can suscribe via email at the top of the page (right side), follow The Pony’s Litterbox on Tumblr, or follow me on Twitter.