• Editorial: What Does Equestria Girls Do that Friendship is Magic Doesn't?



    We'll just pretend there's a sick nasty mashup of Equestria Girls and Friendship is Magic songs blasting through your speakers.

    Why? Forgotten Friendship's coming out tomorrow and we finally got some Hasbro approved teasing for season 8, of course! What a time to be alive.

    While the hype eats away at my insides, I wanted to take a look at our canon magical (horse) girls AU and just how it differs from the main show. Not really to determine the better series (although if you want to make your case in the comments, go for it), but instead to answer the question of what this spinoff/sister series has to offer that you can't already get with the ponies they're based on.

    To be blunt, what's the point, almost 5 years in, of Equestria Girls?


    World-Building

    To start, there's a huge difference in how these two approach worldbuilding, let me tell you. I could stop right there at the superficial "world v.s city" observation and it already speaks volumes.

    But let's look a little bit deeper. Or farther, in MLP's case.


    Friendship is Magic has always embraced classic high-fantasy world-building. Equestria (and its neighbouring countries) is a land with lore, histories, internal logic, monsters, magicsyou name it! We always want to see more of it because it's so well-established that there is more to see.

    Shadow Play, aside from being a well-written, well-paced finale, was lore porn. And it was glorious.

    Almost as glorious as these creative and gorgeously designed settings that I just want to dive into.

    And people were surprised this place has its own tabletop RPG
    Equestria is well suited for adventure and exploration. Why would an ensemble comedy need to be? It doesn't, but setting an ensemble comedy in a high fantasy world opens up more opportunities for the kinds of moral-driven one-offs (with the occasional two-parter) Friendship is Magic wants to tell. Just ask the Friendship Map.

    Then there's Equestria Girls, that isn't focused on filling bestiaries or ancient tomes at all. There's not nearly as much incentive to explore a world so similar to our own. Instead, EQG specializes in one thing and one thing only: unpredictable, undefined, and terrifying magic.


    The question is simple. What happens when you bring magic (even when it's Equestrian magic and it's based largely on friendships, feelings, and desires) into a world like our own?

    Why fear, trauma, and personal demons given real world destructive power of course!


    When even the protagonists don't know how to control or cope with this new dangerous force, it leads to discussions on embracing it, releasing it, what it means for who you are, how you can protect the ones you love from it, etc.

    Even better, the best Equestria Girls stories pair the inability to understand what's going on with an insecurity, so as the characters work on saving the day, they work through whatever's been destroying them inside.

    The worldbuilding may be limited here, but what worldbuilding they do is always in service of the characters.

    Continuity


    Callbacks certainly happen in Pony. More and more as the series goes on. But if we're talkin' story arcs, the long-term stories are built as the staff goes along.

    This is often retroactive, by looking back to see what's already there naturally instead of trying to set up and foreshadow events to come seasons later.


    This active construction of the story can lead to some interesting turns, and gives the show staff the freedom to pursue any arc they so choose, like giving Twilight a student, or heck, I dunno, a whole friendship school. It can be as character-driven as they damn please.

    When your favourite ship is associated with a motif that shows up during all the most important moments of the series, you go a little insane when you realize the story-telling potential inherently built in...
    On the other hand (ha), there's a quote I like by Sherilyn Connelly (film critic and author of Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony 1981-2016) and it's about the Equestria Girls franchise:
    "I find them to be thoughtful, character-driven stories in which nothing is taken for granted, and actions always have consequences."
    Every major Equestria Girls story is its own, contained thing, but everything comes back, and setup always leads to payoff down the line.

    Far more so than even the main show.


    Rainbow Rocks starts during the climax of the previous movie; Friendship Games is a result of both EQG 1 and Rainbow Rocks; The Legend of Everfree took what the characters went through in the previous movie and dealt with it in full (not to mention the catalyst of the whole story was revealed to be the portal damage in Friendship Games).

    Even the specials do it: the first two are set-up for the next special and/or a later story (so the leaks foretold), and the third is clearly caused, again, by the portal breaking open in Friendship Games.

    Heck, Equestria Girls deals in so much foreshadowing and continuity it even foreshadows Friendship is Magic.

    Can't be the same Limbo Starswirl and the gang were trapped in, but EQG introduced the concept of a place outside time and space a few months before the season 7 finale
    No spoilers, but even one of the shorts has already foreshadowed a big element from the season 8 finale. I won't say what, but if you know who's coming, you might know what I'm talking about.

    So, Connelly nailed it. The Equestria Girls series values the effects of each story as much as the story itself. Which is where the reforming of it all comes in.

    Theming: Redemption and Redemption and Redemption and


    Alright, aside from the power of friendship, which is a given, there's the other obvious, but deeply fundamental message in both the show and its spinoff:

    (Potential) FRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEENDS
    It's been a debate for a few seasons now whether or not the show redeems too many antagonists, whether there should be somebody who's just plain irredeemable (check out Algernon's excellent editorial for more on that), and certainly if they've been done right in the past.

    From Nightmare Moon, to Discord, to Diamond Tiara, to Starlight, to Trixie, and on and on it goes.


    We even have a current will they reform/won't they reform arc going on: Chrysalis is bound to return, which to us now translates to she's going to be redeemed or not redeemed. Even after she so thoroughly rejected redemption, we still talk about it that way because redemption and villain are linked in our heads.

    But that's only one half of the equation. FIM isn't just about Starlight and the other reformed villains (Seth's petitions keep getting lost in the mail).

    The show's heroes are redeemed, too, in a sense.


    I once made the argument that, especially in hindsight, Twilight herself was the show's real first redemption story. She's by no means an antagonist, but she's given a second chance at life by discovering the power of friendship, in no small part thanks to the Mane 5.

    And we see this in all the girls, in small ways. No matter what the personal failing is, whether it's a huge, obnoxious ego, or a crippling social anxiety, each of our heroes is always defined by their flaws and how they grow from them.


    So, the show posits that whether you're a villain or a hero, with friendship, you can become a better person (pony, dragon, draconequus, griffon, etc.) and make up for lost time and past mistakes.

    Friendship is as much a tool for personal growth in this show as it is just something to value in and of itself. We see that in every episode a character learns a moral thanks to their friends, every goal they've achieved because of their friends' support, and in every redemption where they acknowledge and overcome who they used to be, before those friends.

    So, even if it's less catchy, maybe it's more appropriate to phrase it like this:


    Then there's Equestria Girls.

    Equestria Girls, at its heart, is even more about the redemptions than the established friendships.

    You thought that wasn't possible? That's cute.


    We already know the Mane 6's dynamic and relationships, so the Humane 5 aren't the focus (although, that's what the shorts are for; filler to flesh them out so even if you didn't keep up with the main show, the girls aren't too undeveloped). Sunset, the Twilights, and the villains are.

    The plot mattering long term takes the focus away from the depth of the relationships within the whole ensemble and puts it squarely on how that depth is felt by one or two main characters going through redemption arcs.

    It gives them more time to focus on those redemption arcs to the point that they're some of the best developed within the franchise.


    Sunset Shimmer's shift from flat, one-dimensional, forgettably evil villain to outcast on a journey of bettering herself and making up for her past is now the heart of the series. And while not as masterful as Prince Zuko's arc from Avatar: The Last Airbender (because who can really live up to that?), Sunset's arc is so well-received because she's allowed to be the focus.

    Friendship is Magic has its heroes to focus on first and foremost, so the vast majority of its villains' arcs are secondary to them. Sunset is the protagonist. Or, rather (like Zuko), the deuteragonist.


    Likewise, Sci-Twi is a less experienced, more anxious (not to mention traumatized) version of Princess Twilight for a reason.

    These reforming characters face consequences for what happens to them and have to answer for what they do, on top of trying to navigate an unexplained, and at times (for them) extremely scary world.

    While I love Friendship is Magic to no end, the increased focus on one or two characters, continuity, and world-building that emphasizes their arcs in Equestria Girls is something wonderful. Plus, Sunset is just objectively best character, so there's that.

    To think: all this from a spin-off.

    Marvel's Blog: Here

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