(Well, it happened. My three-part review of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has become a four-part review. If I tried to discuss the primary and secondary characters in one article, it would end up being a book. So we’re splitting this thing up.)
In my previous article, I outlined what I saw as the major reasons for the success of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Taking a cue from the show’s “Elements of Harmony,” I called these the Elements of Production. One of these was the Element of Characters, which I will be discussing today.
In the very first episode of the series (“Friendship Is Magic” parts 1 and 2), we are introduced to Twilight Sparkle, brightest pupil of Princess Celestia. Although My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is very much an ensemble affair, it would be fair to say that Twilight is the closest thing to a “main character” the show has.
Twilight is sent away from Canterlot to learn about the magic of friendship in a smaller town called Ponyville. In a move likely to endear her to much of the show’s audience, Twilight is initially much more interested in books than friends. However, the very first lesson she learns is how valuable the aid of a few close friends can be, and the format of the series finds her learning lessons about friendship in each successive episode and writing to Princess Celestia about her experiences.
As I alluded to in my previous article, one of the distinct strengths of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is that it features well-rounded characters. Our primary protagonist is no exception. Twilight’s strengths are pretty immediately apparent. She is studious and dedicated, incredibly intelligent, and very gifted when it comes to magical power. It initially seems that her biggest opportunity for growth is going to be a somewhat reclusive nature, but she actually overcomes this fairly quickly.
As we get to know Twilight better, we find one source of conflict in her character in the double-edged nature of one of her biggest strengths: how organized she is. This trait is first made explicit in “Winter Wrap Up.” Twilight’s new friends are all busy preparing for a really important event, and Twilight finds herself with nothing to do. But when preparations begin to break down, Twilight is able to step in and use her organizational skills to help keep everything going smoothly.
On the other hand, in the second season episodes “Lesson Zero” and “It’s About Time,” Twilight’s mastery of and dedication to organization shows its other side: extreme anxiety. In “Lesson Zero,” Twilight finds that she has nothing to write a letter to Princess Celestia about and becomes more and more anxious until she reaches a breaking point. In “It’s About Time,” Twilight forgets to schedule time for scheduling (yes, you actually just read that) and, after receiving a visit from her future self in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic scenario, starts a chain reaction of events that leads to her going back in time to give herself the message in the first place.
In both cases, it’s Twilight’s extreme need to have everything “just right” that causes the episode’s conflict. There are definitely smaller examples throughout the series, but these are the two episodes that showcase this part of her personality.
In other areas, however, Twilight ends up being much more level-headed than her friends. she’s the only pony who gives Princess Luna a chance in “Luna Eclipsed,” and similarly is the only one not irrationally afraid of Zecora in “Bridle Gossip.”
While Twilight ends up becoming great friends with the other five ponies who will form what’s popularly referred to as the “Mane Six,” the friend she starts the series with is a young dragon servant/sidekick named Spike. Spike’s most immediately-apparent strength is his loyalty to Twilight, and later to all of the Mane Six. He also has a massive crush on Rarity, which is especially apparent in episodes like “A Dog and Pony Show” and “Secret of My Excess.”
This quality of Spike’s serves as the conflict in the season three episode “Spike at Your Service,” when Spike feels he owes his life to Applejack and insists on “helping” her whenever possible. The problem comes when Spike actually lacks the practical skills to help Applejack with many of her tasks, and consequently his “help” ends up causing more harm than good.
Another strong aspect of Spike’s character is his dragon nature. This manifests itself in two main ways. One is in a strong desire to learn more about what it means to be a dragon, as demonstrated in the second season episode “Dragon Quest.” In this episode Spike is peer pressured by several teenage dragons into doing things that aren’t in his nature, until he finally stands up for himself and refuses to smash phoenix eggs.
The other manner in which this aspect of Spike’s character manifests itself is in his main flaw: greed. In the second season episode “Secret of My Excess,” Spike begins to grow larger as he grows more greedy, eventually becoming an out-of-control adult dragon. But it’s his relationship with Rarity (take that as you will) that shakes him out of it. He remembers his generosity toward her, and his heart is softened.
But Twilight Sparkle wasn’t sent to Ponyville to hole up in her library with Spike and her books and schedules (even if that’s what she wants to do most of the time). She was sent to learn about a new form of magic called friendship. To that end, she meets five ponies who quickly become her friends and trusted allies. Collectively, these ponies are known by fans of the show as the “Mane Six.”
She meets Applejack, who within one short scene quickly gives us a great deal of insight into her character. Applejack, definitely one of the most simultaneously industrious and “rough and tumble” characters in the show, personifies the idea of “work hard, play hard.” Twilight finds Applejack hard at work preparing food for the Summer Sun Celebration, but still very enthusiastically welcoming. She also summons her massive family (who will be a fixture of the show) to sample the food.
Applejack’s gruff, no-nonsense nature is one of her greatest strength, but it also puts her at odds with others more than once. In the season one episode “Look Before You Sleep,” Applejack and Rarity’s clashing personalities lead the two to have a rather significant quarrel. And in “Fall Weather Friends,” Applejack and Rainbow Dash have a feud due to the overcompetitive nature of both ponies. Furthermore, Applejack’s industriousness and self-reliance, though certainly often an asset, make it difficult for her to ask for help when she needs it in “Applebuck Season.”
Family is very important to Applejack, as she is often depicted interacting with her enormous family. One notable example is in the season 3 episode “Apple Family Reunion,” where Applejack finds herself put in charge of the eponymous reunion. Realizing how important the event is to Granny Smith, and the family in general, Applejack ends up going a bit overboard and has to calm down for everyone (including her) to actually have a good time.
Twilight Sparkle’s first encounter with Rainbow Dash finds the latter boastful and speedy as always. She also isn’t on screen for more than thirty seconds before she mentions her ambition to join the Wonderbolts. In the process, however, a series of mishaps end up badly messing up Twilight’s hair. Immediately, we find that Rainbow Dash is both impressive and perhaps a bit overly impressed with herself (which has never really bothered me because I’m at least as impressed with her, due to my rather obvious enormous crush on her). Also we find that though she’s very adept (as evidenced by her clearing the sky in “ten seconds flat” as promised), she’s also a bit of a klutz.
Rainbow Dash’s confident nature leads to the dual challenges of occasionally being a tad overly boastful and the tendency to occasionally “bite off more than she can chew.” The latter certainly happens in “Sonic Rainboom” when Dash needs to duplicate her eponymous feat and finds herself unable to do so until given the added motivation of saving her friend Rarity. In “The Mysterious Mare Do Well,” Dash lets hero worship go to her head to the point that her friends team up to knock her down a peg. (I should note that I’m not a huge fan of this episode because I think they could’ve gone about it in a less mean-spirited way and not let Dash become totally dejected, but I’m also an admitted fangirl so it’s quite possible I’m overreacting.)
This is going to sound paradoxical, but one of Dash’s other biggest surprising obstacles is that she is often quite insecure. Although her skills often impress others, she sometimes seems to go “overboard” to try to win their favor (especially in the case of the Wonderbolts). This also leads to her hiding things about herself–like her newly acquired taste for reading in the season 2 episode “Read It and Weep,” or the fact that she used to get scared very easily which she confides only to Scootaloo in the season 3 episode “Sleepless in Ponyville.” It also leads to her not always seeing the value of things that are not demonstrably “awesome,” such as in “May the Best Pet Win!” when she initially dismisses the turtle who will eventually become her pet.
The biggest lingering storyline with Rainbow Dash is her fierce desire to join the Wonderbolts. After a lot of buildup in previous season, this desire comes to fruition in “Wonderbolts Academy.” However, in what is easily the biggest example of her personal growth, Rainbow Dash is actually prepared to walk away from her dream for the sake of her principles. Naturally, this ends up being unnecessary and Dash is actually rewarded for her bravery, becoming the leader of the Wonderbolts cadets.
Twilight meets Rarity as the other unicorn is preparing decorations for the celebration, but the other unicorn quickly becomes distressed at Twilight’s hair problems which occurred in the previous scene with Rainbow Dash. With dazzling speed, she tries pretty much every conceivable mane style on Twilight, showing off both her generosity and her artistic flair.
As demonstrated in her previously-mentioned conflict with Applejack in “Look Before You Sleep,” Rarity abhors getting dirty in any way (but she’s able to get over it to an extent in that episode to help her friends). Perhaps the most important early episode for Rarity is “Suited for Success,” where we see both her serious dedication to her art (including during the exceptional song “Art of the Dress”). However, we also see Rarity fail to stand up for herself (and her art) when she allows her friends to pressure her into making dresses she isn’t satisfied with.
Rarity seems to have learned her lesson from this episode well, because by the time “A Dog and Pony Show” rolls around, Rarity is much more ready to stand up for herself in a much more dire situation when she’s kidnapped by Diamond Dogs. By the time her friends rescue her she’s actually managed to convince the Diamond Dogs into treating her like royalty.
The last pony Twilight meets up with Fluttershy (don’t worry: we haven’t forgotten about Pinkie; you’ll see), who is directing a songbird choir in her very softspoken way. She has trouble introducing herself to Twilight because of her very quiet voice and shy nature. When she sees Spike she suddenly becomes much more talkative and animated.
We quickly find out that Fluttershy’s interest in Spike does not hold true when it comes to adult dragons in the season one episode “Dragonshy.” Standing up for herself is an even bigger challenge for Fluttershy than it was for Rarity, however, and she finds herself dragged into dealing with the dragon whether she wants to or not. Fortunately, when the dragon threatens her friends Fluttershy finds her strength and actually manages to intimidate the dragon into leaving her friends alone.
Her difficulty standing up for herself doesn’t go away overnight, however, as she and Rarity have an enormous misunderstanding in “Green Isn’t Your Color.” Rarity becomes jealous of Fluttershy’s success as a model, while Fluttershy is actually only going along with it because she’s worried about disappointing Rarity.
This element of Fluttershy’s personality is explored most fully in “Putting Your Hoof Down,” when Fluttershy is encouraged to be less of a “doormat” by her friends and ends up enrolling in a self-help program taught by a minotaur named Iron Will. Fluttershy’s personality changes for the worse, going from shy to actually mean. When Fluttershy realizes she doesn’t like the way she’s changed, she shows a more positive form of assertiveness in refusing to pay for Iron Will’s lessons because she isn’t satisfied with them.
Two other huge episodes for Fluttershy are “Hurricane Fluttershy,” in which she overcomes her fear of flight and is cheered as a hero, and “Keep Calm and Flutter On,” in which she displays her assertiveness in dealing with the former villain Discord.
Pinkie Pie is actually technically the first pony Twilight Sparkle meets in Ponyville, but she doesn’t learn much from that encounter as Pinkie rather characteristically “spazzes out” and takes off for no apparent reason. We see her again after the other ponies have been introduced, however, when she throws a surprise party to celebrate Twilight’s arrival to Ponyville.
Pinkie’s episodes have been rather appropriately random, and out of all the characters she’s probably the one that has a least coherent character arc. In “Swarm of the Century” she seems to have rather nonsensical reactions to the crisis facing Ponyville. While the others try to figure out a way to drive off or capture the swarm, Pinkie insists she must collect musical instruments. Her friends write this off as her being incredibly random and unhelpful, but Pinkie ends up saving the town by leading the swarm away with her “one-man band” performance.
In “Feeling Pinkie Keen” we learn that Pinkie has a “Pinkie Sense” that many ponies in Ponyville rely upon, which confounds Twilight as it lacks any scientific or magical explanation. And in “Too Many Pinkie Pies,” Pinkie’s desire to have fun goes overboard when she finds a way to clone herself so she can spend time with all of her friends at once.
But by far Pinkie’s best episode is “A Friend in Deed.” When a new resident of Ponyville named Cranky Doodle Donkey arrives, Pinkie takes it upon herself to find a way to become his friend. She sings what’s essentially her character-defining song (“Smile”). I’m not going to spoil the ending of this one on the off chance that anyone hasn’t seen it (it’s a very important episode, and the clear direct cause of my grudging admiration for Pinkie Pie), but Pinkie ends up doing something really amazing for her new friend.
So, as you can see, the main characters each have a distinct enough personality that we were able to learn the core elements of their characters in their very first appearances. However, they are also realistic enough that they are constantly growing and we are likewise constantly learning new things about them.
Perhaps the biggest asset to this cast of main characters is its diversity. While I get positively giddy at a Rainbow Dash-centric (or Scootaloo-centric, as we’ll discuss next time) episode, there are probably others who groan and ask, “Another one?” Conversely, while I might huff in exasperation about a Pinkie Pie- or Spike-centric episode, there are probably other fans out there who are positively ecstatic about it. There’s something for everyone here.
And that’s just the main characters! Tune in next time for a discussion of the show’s enormous cast of secondary characters.