• Best Animations of 2015: Lullaby for a Princess

    I feel like I’m tardy to the party, but now is better than never. The story of Nightmare Moon is a tragic one that’s been told over and over. Both the fandom and staff have waxed poetic for years about Princess Luna’s downfall and Celestia’s guilt for not being able to prevent it. But how does Lullaby for a Princess differentiate itself from a story that’s essentially over and done with? Let’s talk about Lullaby for a Princess and what makes it one of the best animations of 2015 after the break.

    Luna’s story is engaging and tantalizing considering how much is left unanswered. From fanfiction to songs to an animation such as Children of the Night, Luna’s depression and downfall have been catalogued since the end of the pilot. Our questions over Luna’s integration into the society as well as what happened all those years ago remained fresh in the background while Twilight learned about friendship. Even I was a victim of the headcanon brigade.

    Everyone knows the anger and loneliness that Luna felt as she fell to the Nightmare and was imprisoned. But what about Celestia’s side of the story? Was Luna mistaken as to Celestia’s intentions? Could Celestia have prevented the Nightmare or her sister’s banishment? Did she raise the moon every night with the same elegance and care as her sister? Was Celestia emotionally unaffected? With all of these questions lurking in the background, a new animation aimed to answer them.

    In a way, Lullaby for a Princess is a response to Children of the Night. Both animations focus on the single perspective of their Princess, both are presented in a musical animation, and one seems like it could take place before the other. Of course these animations were their own separate entities, but this feeling of continuity is indicative of a project and “fanon” that is so ironclad, it could compete with our current canon. While Children of the Night points towards a different universe (and possible sequel) where Luna established an empire with her followers, Lullaby for a Princess could easily be the sequel after Celestia’s intervention.

    Fans ask the show and comic writers at panels and interviews why they think of certain ideas for episodes or jokes. The simple answer is that an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters spawn these reactions or narratives. Celestia’s perspective in Lullaby for a Princess is dense because it is clouded with guilt, anguish, and the unreliability of a first-(pony?) person narrator. As I said in my editorial on depression in Season 5, Celestia’s unreliable (or perhaps reliable) telling of Nightmare Moon’s inception is riding a fine line between being overblown or relatable. I believe they succeeded in being the latter.

    While it is true that Season 4 has provided us with the canon flashback of Nightmare Moon’s creation as well as the (very similar) fight scene that ended with her banishment, what happened beforehand is shrouded within a legend. Some say that history is written by the victors, but after Celestia’s story in Lullaby, did she truly win? Celestia doesn’t seem to give herself much credit and only wants to dig a deeper hole under what-ifs and hindsight. Her depression permeates through the chorus:

    Lullay moon princess, goodnight sister mine

    And rest now in moonlight's embrace

    Bear up my lullaby, winds of the earth

    Through cloud, and through sky, and through space

    Carry the peace and the coolness of night

    And carry my sorrow in kind

    Luna, you're loved so much more than you know

    May troubles be far from your mind

    And forgive me for being so blind

    The song’s structure is simple, yet effective in showing Celestia’s struggle. The chorus sounds like something she would mutter before crying herself to sleep, night after night. The rest of the song portrays the story in hindsight, from beginning to end while Celestia degrades her judgment with each passing chorus. Her emotions paint the song as one she would never sing to her guards or those around her, which the animation conveys by having her sing to the moon (Luna) or herself. It’s these types of structural choices that separate a good project from an excellent one. If the lyrics, animation, and scenes all feel like the mournful and guilty Celestia that Lullaby wants, than nothing on the inside (structure, themes) or outside (tone, song pitch, animation scenes) seem jarring or out of place.

    Keeping this continuity in the animation is just as vital. Sometimes, it’s hard for a reviewer to separate improvisation from intent. A good example of this would be the saturation of color, which permeates through the entire project. Is it an example of an intentional split between the present day (which lacks as much saturation) and the past to show Celestia’s hindsight or possibly altered memories? Or is this saturation a way to bring life to parts of a scene that otherwise wouldn’t be there? It is not my place to say what is the case (since I don't know WarpOut), but it could be either or even both.

    With a framework as excellent as the song, it makes the animation easier to stand out and not drift off-course. With each changing verse that shows Celestia’s building pain from “being so blind”, we only need to see the few scenes which drive the important points home. Luna yelling at Celestia, their magical fight, and finally Celestia crying after Luna’s defeat. These events stab the dagger deeper into our hearts, while the fallout from the tragic events helps give the audience time to calm down while still dreading the consequences. We’re now on the level of a demigod, because we can empathize with these type of losses. These narrative choices are part of what makes Friendship is Magic so timeless and relatable. The dramatic scenes could have been the entire animation and it would have still been raved as one of the best of 2015, but this project had more effort put into it to stand out.

    Snowdrop’s cutie mark hides on one of the wall scrolls (references). Celestia raises the moon in the beginning and lowers it in the end (timeline). Celestia visits the same realm that Twilight did in Magical Mystery Cure (more continuity). These choices bring together canon and fanon to not only make this story seem believable while “in the moment”, but show the project’s research on the fandom. It is possible that Snowdrop’s story takes place before Lullaby for a Princess. But like with all fanon, it’s up for the fans to decide.

    What do you guys think? Is Lullaby for a Princess’ story the unreliable telling of a sister who bears more guilt than she should? Is it “the other story” to Children of the Night? Let me know in the comments. Thank you very much for reading, and I’ll see you guys soon.