• Let's Review: 2017 Holiday Special

    A fresh holiday special has hit the shelves. Are our ponies in a winter wonderland or shall we all cry "bah, humbug!"

    Check out the full review after the break, but beware the Spirit of Spoilers Yet to Come!

    I approach this holiday special with some trepidation. Not for anything that's been advertised but because of what's come before. The Equestria Girls holiday special showed the world's nastier side courtesy of online gossip. The 2015 Holiday Special was more aimed towards satire, but the humor was harsh and relied on everyone being unpleasant.

    The lesson is "attitude solves everything."

    It's a strange idea that My Little Pony seems to take the more cynical route with holiday specials. Maybe it's a reflection of how fatigued we've become with the messages presented every season. In no particular order they are:

    1. It's better to give than to receive.
    2. The holidays are about family, not presents.
    3. Gifts from the heart and better than gifts from the wallet.

    So what message is this comic trying to convey and who is presenting this tale?

    "Buy our stuff!"
    A message inherent to any holiday.

    Well, the visuals come courtesy of Brenda Hickey and colorist Heather Breckel. Although this comic features a cast taken from the show, it's got to convey a lot of energy. From ponies getting hyped for the latest craze to Twilight and Applejack's reactions and finally the over-the-top solution; everything has to be at 110%.

    And now murder will happen.

    Thankfully, Hickey's work meets this goal as ponies are nearly bouncing off most panels with energy. Sometimes this involves exaggerated proportions or expressions, which is a mixed bag. Some views are funny and memorable. Others will keep me up at night for fear they'll haunt my dreams.

    Something about Applebloom and Spike's faces just creeps me out...

    There are also some pop-culture ponies to be found. Never thought I'd see a Futurama reference in a holiday special. Although I'm distracted by how Twilight's doing her best Packman impersonation.

    Shut up and take my bits!

    An interesting color choice is the abundance of deep violets in the early pages. To me, this signifies a late, cold night the is sometimes interrupted by bursts of bright background and energetic moments. Yet about a third of the way through this setting disappears. Either the temperature warmed or the rest of the comic takes place in brighter hours. It's an interesting shift.

    We present our opposing "teams" for this issue.

    On said evening, Twilight and Applejack are trying to keep perspective on what Hearths Warming is all about. No small task when Spike, Applebloom, and Pinkie Pie are all hyped for presents. The arrival of the Flim Flam Brothers is no help.

    Princess' personal space, buddy!

    Yes, Flim and Flam return once again to test ponies' virtue. At this point they're second only to Nightmare Moon as recurring antagonists. It's funny to see them roll into town singing a song given what's come before. Even if their part in the Crystal Empire's siege is non-canon, they nearly got Granny Smith killed and Twilight witnessed them as the Equestria's penultimate doom.

    Well, almost every holiday has a mascot.

    Yet for all their wrongdoing, they've not done anything truly illegal. The Flim Flam Brothers always have an out. This time they're not even trying to run anything false. Rather, they're trying to push the Hearths Warming celebration to an entire season by selling off thematic kick-knacks. Central to this is Windy the Windigo.

    Still makes more sense than the Easter Bunny.

    Pretty bold, taking a yuletide terror and trying to turn it into a cutsey mascot. For the Equestrian version of Easter, will they try to make a Cockatrice-themed mascot? And since ponies are suckers for a song and dance routine, suddenly all of Ponyville wants Windy merchandise.

    The newest Christmas gift: eliminating personal space!

    We haven't had a musical from the comics gain much attention since Pinkie Pie's micro comic. In fact, I'm not sure we've even had an attempt. I'll be curious to see if any musical fans try to adapt this piece as they did for Ponyacci. 

    Wait, isn't that "X" pose an anime trope?

    This new craze is part of the Brothers' plans to forcibly extend the Hearthwarming celebration to an entire season. Before you ask, this is indeed a satire of our current market, right down to talk of lining up the moment Nightmare Night is concluded. It wears on Twilight and Applejack's patience rather quickly, to where they seem to be out for blood by the following afternoon.

    Now magical murder will happen!

    What ensues is a duel of hoofgagging and merchandise-themed warfare. The Flim Flam Brothers want to use Twilight's status to promote their campaign, so Twilight decides to play into it. I will give Twilight props for hitting the Brothers where it hurts, but surprisingly we're not done yet.

    This is Rarity and Fluttershy's main cameo this story.
    It's like getting storytelling coal!

    A by-the-numbers story would have everypony snap out of their craze and celebrate Twilight and Applejack. Instead, everypony is pissed off. Our two leads actually ruined Hearthswarming for many. Pinkie, Spike, and Applebloom basically speak for the town and the moral: don't assume you know what's best for others.

    Save Equestria? Take 'em for granted.
    Spoil a holiday? Lynch mob.

    I have a mixed reactions to this. On the one hand, I appreciate that this comic doesn't go for the normal morals we've witnessed in so many Christmas specials. Though aggressively marketed, there wasn't anything inherently harmful about Windy the Windigo. If anything, Twilight and Applejack could have adopted its presentation to help reinforce the holiday's positive values. After all, My Little Pony itself was created to market toys but gained a following by doing more than the minimum.

    A unique position for Spike.
    Trying to talk common sense from a nonsensical position.

    At the same time, Spike and Applebloom's claims that they know what's best for themselves rings hollow. They're young and jump on the bandwagon far too easily. If anything, Twilight and Applejack have a responsibility as guardians to look after their well-being. As for the idea that they had to have something new to fill out the extended holiday season, that too was the Brothers' invention. So, this filly and baby dragon weren't really thinking for themselves from the start. And Pinkie Pie was just being... Pinkie.

    C'mon, Twilight. It's a list!
    You love those, right?

    Of course we have a reconciliation by the end, but only in the nuclear family. Twilight and Applejack are still very unpopular with Ponyville. Couple that with very minimal appearances by Rarity, Fluttershy, and Rainbow and this comic ends with an awkward feeling.

    I can't keep track of Equestrian timeframes on a normal day.

    I don't know why, but My Little Pony holiday specials seem to make the characters more hostile or cynical, as if to counter the holiday mood we're supposed to expect. This is going to vary from person to person, but I am not a fan of this shift. Though I understand how tiresome the same message can become, presenting all these characters to be insensitive, hostile, or unpleasant just feels sour.

    Spike, are you thinking of a certain dragon as you make that?

    When I work through the pros and cons, I still think this comic is worth a read and see how its message impacts you. Perhaps we'll agree or we'll be on polar opposite ends. Regardless, there's nothing inherently negative about this story and nothing that I think will repulse fans. It's more that I scratch my head at how in trying to divert from the norm, I feel like this story is more negative than intended.

    This is an adorable scene, regardless of context.

    With that in mind I'd like to propose a companion read. The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett is also a satire of Christmas set in a fantasy land but with a different kind of commentary. It speaks to how these holidays can shape our view and what that means for the rest of the world. It has little to do with this comic, and yet the way this comic approaches the holiday reminded me. I'm weird like that.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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