• Let's Review: Princess Celestia's Micro

    Princess Celestia is difficult to figure out. Equal parts mysterious and under-developed, she’s often the target for criticism and parody. 

    Having engaged in both, I feel the need to show Celestia at her best. How convenient that the My Little Pony Micro series offers just that. 

    Catch the look back after the break, but watch out for spoilers!

    Celestia’s greatest opponent isn’t Discord or Tirek or Chrysalis. It’s contradiction. What she’s meant to be and how she’s presented are often at odds. She is a powerful, magical being but is constantly bested or ineffectual. She is meant to be the caring ruler for a nation but all her attention is limited to Twilight and those associated. She is a wise rolemodel but many a reviewer has had a field day noting the flaws in her plans. This comic manages to overcome that struggle by reducing the events’ scale. And it starts with a tea pary. 

    It’s been pointed out that the artwork in each issue deserves special attention as much as the story, and I’m happy to praise Amy Mebberson’s work. I see Celestia as the most difficult character to draw in the show. Between her jewelry, unique body design, and perpetually-flowing mane she is more subtly difficult than even Discord. Mebberson renders Celestia’s poses wonderfully, giving her a far more dynamic set of expressions than in the show. Other ponies are bright and expressive with unique designs that help them stand out. Inkwell in particular stands out as a stern looking pony who nevertheless has a soft side. You can also make a game of spotting the background references. 

    The only criticism I can offer is the strange coloring around Celestia’s mane. To reinforce the ethereal flow, her mane has a bright yellow border while the rest of her body is outlined in black. Rather than creating a glow, it looks like her mane isn’t a part of her. I’d point towards Andy Price’s artwork for an example of how to create fluidity within a static image.

    Rather than go through this comic scene by scene, I want to highlight what this comic does right in regards to Celestia. Starting with:

    Within the TV series and most comics, Celestia is defined by her relation to Twilight. She is the young unicorn/alicorn’s mentor, friend, teacher, and inspiration. Yet while Twilight has grown, Celestia’s role has not expanded. What is Celestia to the rest of Equestria?

    This comic was revolutionary at the time because Twilight Sparkle isn’t even mentioned. Celestia is able to interact with other ponies, albeit the Canterlot elite and the school staff. Three teachers in particular stand out. Giddilee is a brand new teacher and overflowing with excitement. Gingersnap has been on the job longer and is becoming bored with the familiarity, as indicated by her snide humor. The aforementioned Inkwell is the oldest teacher in the school and subject to much ridicule behind her back. On their own these characters don’t stand out far, but taken together they mean something important to Celestia. How many teachers has she seen transition through these phases: novice to familiar to veteran?

    Confound you three! Now I have that theme stuck in my head!

    Celestia herself shows greater emotional range as she notices ponies disrespecting Inkwell. Her scowls speak volumes but her actions are not to punish, but to counterbalance by showing Inkwell due respect. That’s her maturity on display. Why is it so important that Inkwell be respected? Because of what came before.

    After the Disaster at High Tea, Celestia has to contend with calls for Inkwell’s retirement. We witness a flashback that shows Celestia in a very different battle. With Canterlot beset by dark forces, Celestia could only hold the line. It wasn’t until Inkwell and others joined the struggle that the ponies could repel the invaders. In doing so, Inkwell became a national hero but also suffered a lasting wound. Suddenly this paranoid old mare’s quirks seem understandable, and we recognize why Celestia cares about Inkwell’s legacy. The life-and-death struggle was years ago. This is a conflict to recognize a life well lived.

    Example #1,326 of why everyone wants to be a unicorn.

    None of this would be possible if Celestia was all-powerful, and yet it's clear that Celestia's power bridges the gap so the rest of the ponies can gain ground. She is the foundation from which they advance. She doesn't have to solve the problem alone, nor does she have to be bested to increase tension. By putting forth her best but not solving the problem, both Celestia and the ponies who aided her look stronger as a whole. 

    How will Celestia handle this new problem? She has to figure that out.

    One question fans often face is how much Celestia really knows. She has prophetic dreams but how accurate are they? Is she a wise leader because of her own wit or because she read the script ahead of time? 

    In this case, Celestia doesn’t immediately know what to do. But she is smart and experienced enough to know where to look. With the right information, she’s able to create a learning opportunity for every one of Inkwell’s detractors. This is Celestia’s own knowledge on display. No one is giving her hints. There is no magical knowledge pointing her in the right direction. If Destiny is indeed a factor, it’s not making itself known. Within this comic is Celestia at her smartest, and her most compassionate.

    My greatest issue with Celestia’s lessons and tests for Twilight is that they often come at others’ expense. By limiting Twilight and reducing her chances for victory, Celestia in turn endangers all the other ponies. I get the impression we’re not supposed to dwell on this since Twilight is a main character and background ponies are interchangeable, but I don’t accept such an argument. Celestia has flat-out said she is responsible for all Equestria's well-being and care. While one can argue about the long-term benefits, I’m eager for a sign that Celestia cares for Equestria outside of Twilight’s development. 

    Lo and behold! Celestia sets up a hearing for Inkwell, but real challenge is to the ponies' memories. Without risking anyone’s health or future, Celestia creates a scenario that calls each to remember how Inkwell helped them and how her life has benefited their own. There is no alicorn magic at play. No demonstration of world-shaking power. There is only gentle encouragement to see another's best self. That is something Celestia has learned over 1,000 experience and she is sharing that with others.

    This comic is the best representation of Celestia in the franchise. She is strong but not isolated. Intelligent but facing uncertainty. Decisive and compassionate. There is no world-endangering conflict yet as a reader I very much cared about the outcome. 

    On the other hand, I do think the lower stakes will not draw in some and Celestia’s separation from Twilight and Co. makes me wonder if she can ever have this strong a presentation working with the rest of the cast. There’s also the recurring theme that Canterlot’s nobility are lacking any inherent virtue. Fancy Pants has long been the only likeable noble in Canterlot and even he’s begun to slacken. I would very much enjoy seeing the ponies working with a Canterlot noble who has Equestria’s best interests at heart.  

    Last week I presented a satire of Celestia’s teaching methods that represented the most cynical interpretation. This week I offer a more optimistic view. This is the style I want to support for Celestia, and I hope future stories will learn from this Micro’s example.

    Twitter: Silver Quill