I'm diving into an opinion piece since it has become such a hot button issue lately. The fandom is completely polarized, with many loving what we have gotten these last few seasons, and others disliking it. That's what online communities are for though! Debate and discussion on something we all feel a huge connection with. It's a sign that we care!
What has changed in pony? What has changed for us? Are we getting less amazing episodes over time, or are we just jaded? There are so many questions to answer here, that I've decided to split this into a series for the sake of getting a good amount of research done. This will be part one of either two or three depending on how much there is to write on each category.
Lets dive in below!
Fandom Expectations Keep Rising
Most of us have been here since either the beginning, or at least the earlier years. Outside of the rapidly rising fanbase of kids over on Youtube growing into the show, the oldschool "Brony" fandom has been consuming pony far longer than most cartoons ever hope to last. In almost an uncanny valley way, we see every little imperfection an episode throws at us, as we've been bombarded by both fan content and official stuff that does hit that rising bar of need quite a bit.
Pony has never been perfect. We loved to say that the writing was stellar and the plots were incredible back in the early days, but there were plenty of stinkers and generally unloved episodes. I bet if I told you to convince someone Friendship is Magic is great with a season two episode, with the caveat that you could only use one of your three least favorites to do it, you'd struggle. We sometimes forget that no season has been anywhere near flawless, even if a few come close.
On the fandom end, we are one of the most creative groups of people out there, taking the source material far past what it was originally intended for. Our fanfiction scene is one of the best on the internet via two Goliath sites quality checking and giving you the pinnacle of pony writing with both ratings and voting on Fimfiction and a dedicated pre-reading group here on EQD. If you want an excellent story about pretty much any character you can probably find one in a minute or two, and with the lack of a 22 minute time limit we can flesh these ponies out far more than the actual show.
Going along with that is the rise of the analysis and review communities. They are incredibly entertaining if done right, but they have come with the side effect of essentially training people to view episodes with a more critical eye. It adds yet another layer to what we expect this show to accomplish each week. When someone hears their favorite analyzer say "the way they handled X is wrong", they are influenced with an extra layer of "if they do X, it's bad" when watching future episodes. Analysis is inevitable in any fandom, but this one has taken it to an entirely new level with how successful Youtube has become for this sort of thing, and while it brings in a LOT of new fans as kids wander into their recommended videos at record rates, it removes a lot of the innocence that said fans would usually watch an episode with.
Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, lets dive into some of the issues people had with the last two seasons!
The Bad: Character Evolution is Wonky
This is something that has been said a lot over the last few years, and probably one of the points that causes most of the episode specific grief. We've gotten to know the mane 6 really well and watched them learn countless lessons. Friendship is Magic has always had a running theme of teaching our primary horses how to respond to society, and after such a long time with them, it can be pretty jarring to see a Rainbow Dash still annoying everyone with her hot-headedness or Applejack derpin it up. The mane 6 do a lot of socially bizarre things that wouldn't have been surprising at all in season one, but retroactively make zero sense with how much we have watched them to learn.
A lot of us were much younger when we started gobbling up the show. We've all (probably) matured a lot, and most likely see ourselves of six years ago as dumb or inexperienced. There is an expectation that the ponies that have grown with us would do the same. Twilight is a good example of a character that has quite obviously matured a lot since her beginnings. When we see her do something that makes absolutely no sense for an adult princess mare with 100+ episodes of experience to do, it throws us off.
This also leads to repeated plots, where a pony that learned something back in season two ends up learning it again in season six. Rainbow Dash during Mare Do Well was the same Rainbow Dash we got again in 28 Pranks Later. It made no sense to see her torturing Ponyville with pranks and being oblivious to how everypony else was reacting after she has learned countless times that being an overbearing douchebag bothers everyone.
A good example of a recent scene that surprised me was in Buckball Season, where the two most competitive ponies on the show made the very adult decision to give up their spots in representing Ponyville for their obviously superior friends. I went in expecting it to be moral about jealousy, and they proved me completely wrong. That's the sort of thing we'd expect from a more adult mane cast, and they delivered. We still got obliviousdash in the end, but the buildup was refreshing.
Obviously, this is a show primarily targeted at little girls, and many of said girls are actually growing into pony as we speak. This could just be a case of DHX needing to avoid any super long-term characterization for the sake of newer fans. We've heard them say countless times that their scripts are sometimes changed out of the need of keeping it in-line with what Hasbro's vision of an easily syndicated kids show is. They do need to sell toys, and the best people to sell to are the brand new fans that don't own any yet.
That being said, with the rise of Netflix (or digital viewing in general) creating an easy path for watching episodes in order, and Hasbro's obvious interest in producing content for it, I wouldn't be surprised if they opened up on letting things stick for multiple seasons. For now though, season 7 will definitely be airing on Discovery Family, meaning they still need to expect everything to be watched out of order.
It could also be a case of new-to-pony writers, which I'll cover more of in part two!
The Good: Pony Dialogue Continues to Shine and Improve
For a lot of us, when someone said "Friendship is Magic has amazing writing!" back in the day, it wasn't really the plots or morals per say, but the actual characters interacting with both one-another and the world. It's something that this show does incredibly well and the reason a few of us have grown so close Equestria's varied inhabitants. The back-and-forth with it's sarcasms, jokes, and supportive words helps make the mane 6 and ponyland feel real.
Many a cartoon has failed horribly in this sector, and died quickly because of it. The emotional connection between Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash thanks to their foal years, or the hilarity of Discord screwing with Twilight really keeps the episodes light and entertaining. We all come here to see cute ponies doing cute things, and both the negative and positive feedback they throw at eachother is done masterfully.
In season 6, we've seen the leftover Cutie Map influence provide a shift from primarily full-cast episodes to duo-cast with support, and I personally think they are doing a great job of it. This lets us focus on two wildly different personality types solving a problem, and a lot of times it's a pair of ponies that really haven't had a lot of one-on-one time in the past. Fluttershy teaming up with Applejack for Viva Las Pegasus was a great characterization chance for both of them, as the two rarely do much together. Watching them solve a problem together with Fluttershy's kindness and need to forgive holding back Applejack's dislike of Flim and Flam while combating her stubborn attitude created a situation not usually explored in pony.
Twilight and Rainbow have always been entertaining with how polar opposite they are, and getting more of those two bouncing ideas off each other is a joy to behold. Top Bolt really rocked it in showing how well polar opposites with completely different solutions can come to terms on something, and Testing... 1.2.3. is still one of my favorite slice-of-life talking focused episodes yet.
Of course, it wouldn't be an editorial from me without some Trixie. Starlight's dialogue with The Great and Powerful One was superbly written. The way they traded lines and joked about their past experiences is really the great example of how the small talk in FiM shines. Neither of them are the perfect friend with plenty of baggage on each, and that was communicated superbly by the writers.
Onward to Part Two!
We have a lot more to cover on this topic. I didn't realize how much there was to write on it until I started gathering ideas over on Twitter and my various Skype and Discord rooms. Expect a lot more to come in part two! Hopefully this set a pretty good foundation.
I'm looking for more ideas, so feel free to drop whatever you loved or hated about season six in the comments!