• Editorial: Ponies of Action!

    No new comic this week but instead there's a topic that's been making its way around the net. There has been an assertion that non-comedy action is not successful in today's television market.

    Is the era of action-based cartoons at an end? And how does this reflect upon the show we enjoy, even if it's not labeled as an action show? 

    Catch the full editorial after the break!

    I'm gonna call you Lion-Uh-Oh.

    So let's break down the chain of events first. The Thundercats Roar reboot of the 1985 series featured a trailer announcement on Youtube. Fans of the older series voice a sense of betrayal and liken the change to Teen Titans vs Teen Titans Go. Others caution not to judge the show until it has actually aired and point out that tastes and animation styles change with the times.

    I don't know how much weight to lend to down votes.
    They offer no feedback or perspective, and sighting a number seems like a half-story.
    Yet the sheer number of down votes is at least worth attention.

    One of the more interesting insights came courtesy of Lauren Faust, whose Twitter post on May 20th focused on the appeal of action. Specifically, the idea that studios do not consider non-comedic action successful. 

    I'm betting that Faust's new DC Super Hero Girls show 
    will be a good balance of comedy and action.

    A Common Understanding
    The tweet opens with "It's common understanding". In debate circles, this can be labeled an "Alleged Certainty" fallacy. It's asserting a conclusion without offering evidence or support. We're meant to take her at her word.

    The 2011 show's greatest accomplishment?
    Making Snarf less annoying.

    Replies in the same tweet thread have noted the success of Voltron: Legendary DefenderMiraculous Ladybug, and Troll Hunters. All of which feature a greater emphasis on action. Other people noted that the 2011 Thundercats series–which was even more action-oriented and story driven than its predecessor–suffered because Cartoon Network gave it a poor time slot and failed to advertise. 

    Talk to the hand!

    Yet two questions arise. Did Cartoon Network hesitate to advertise the 2011 Thundercats because they felt the action wouldn't appeal to a wider audience? Does the fact that Voltron: Legendary Defender and other action-oriented shows appear on Netflix factor into this discussion? I think there's a strong argument that Netflix can be bolder in its programming because it's not bound by the same constraints. A viewer can binge Voltron any time while kids coming home from school have a very set timetable for when they can watch TV. Stations must compete for this attention and comedy may be the surer bet. 

    Miraculous is airing on Nickleodeon. I think its main appeal is the
     teenage drama a bit more than the action.

    It's very possible that Faust's assertion is accurate. I'd like to see some extra commentary from other members of the animation industry. Perhaps studios feel safer with comedy-based action. But that leads to the next topic: word choice. 

    Action vs Violence
    Faust is very particular in her word choice. How different would it sound if the topic were "non-comedic violence"? Yet "action" is an all-encompassing term. When Fluttershy dives to catch a falling bird, that is an action. When Pinkie Pie bounces about while painting a banner, that is an action. Twilight teleporting out of nowhere to check on Starlight Glimmer's progress is an action. 

    Are parents at all worried this will lead to extreme painting sessions?
    I think not, but who can predict?

    I try to imagine a show that only has the characters acting solely in pursuit of humor and I find the concept boring. All the shows I have or will mention have moments where we might find humor, or excitement, or possibly an emotional appeal. I've certainly felt all those while watching Friendship is Magic. I think the real concern is when action translates into harm upon another. 

    There are surprisingly few fights like this in the G1 Transformers.

    Parent and watchdog groups have sharply criticized the use of violence well before the 1980's. Many of the shows I watched focused on beating up the bad guys with some humor for a group laugh at episode's end. A quick search online yields plenty of arguments for and against how such cartoons can influence children. 

    I think I'm supposed to take this seriously,
    but it really does look funny.

    A article on Psychology Today stressed that children who watched pro-social, non-violent cartoons tended to be less aggressive than children who watched more action-oriented shows. Yet the article doesn't outline how these children behaved more aggressively. Where they physically violent or outspoken? Did they talk back to their families? Is this the parent's perception of the children or is it based on direct observation? Details in this study are critical but are in short supply.

    Who has the pointiest hair?
    The question of our times!

    Some psychologists and other commentators point towards Japan, where anime is much more violent than American television yet Japanese children do not exhibit so much aggression. Again, there needs to be more detail to this argument. Are the Japanese more observant about television rating or viewing times? What messages accompany Goku fighting an opponent? There's a whole culture of influence involved while we only talk about one aspect. 

    The 80's Culture
    All of this strikes close to home for me as I grew up watching shows like Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers, and so on. These were action-oriented shows despite some of the more outlandish ideas. Fish-like Atlantians could invade with water bowls on their heads and the characters would treat this as a very real and serious threat. 

    Did you think I was joking about the Atlantians?
    I was not!

    Yet when it came to the actual fights, "cartoonish" is a good description. There were very few actual blows traded. Hero and villain alike had the weapon accuracy of a storm trooper. More often than not the victor was the one who used the environment to their advantage. It was never a killing blow. Just chase the opponents off. 

    Truly, this will only encourage the young to run over handguns
    with semi-trucks!

    It's also funny to look back and realize how little violence often took place. It was more the music that drove the sense of battle. Swords were for firing magic bolts or chopping up an opponent's weapon. Villains would sometimes run head-first into a wall and knock themselves unconscious. The goal was often to blow up the other guy's vehicle, and of course they'd parachute to safety. 

    It's rare you get to see a villain serve as a round of hot potato.

    If I had to criticize the culture I witnessed growing up, it's that the combat held no consequence. We rarely saw a character walk away with reminders of battle. They could sustain several blows without so much as a bruise. The heroes I celebrated used violence as a tool against those who wouldn't listen to words, but there was no consequence to either side. 

    Who is going to clean up all those stones after the fight?
    Didn't think about that did ya, you hooligans!

    But I think I criticize that because those shows asked that I take the action seriously, regardless of the fantastic elements. If the show's aim was comedy, such as Loony Toons, I never worried about lasting harm. Which leads us back to the ponies and my final point.

    Context is Critical 
    Friendship is Magic is no stranger to a tussle. Season 1 featured the lead ponies confronting a Manticore and we witnessed Rainbow Dash and Applejack duke it out in Fall Weather Friends. Season 2 featured all the characters battling Changleings. And many remember Twilight's battle with Tirek.

    I dare you to find a frame in this video that isn't awesome.

    But here's a question for you all: how many punches or kicks did we actually see land? The manticore fight involved a spinning rainbow trail, Applejack riding it like a bucking bronco, and the ponies charging. The only hit was the manticore flicking Rainbow Dash away.

    Lucky that thing didn't use the stinger portion.

    Tirek never laid a hand on Twilight, using some kind of magic to lift and throw her rather than physical contact. By the same notion, Twilight only attacked with magic and never tried for a physical strike. 

    Throw her into a mountainside? That's fine.
    Have the villain physically grab her? Nope!

    Rainbow Dash has gotten to land some physical punches on Changelings, but that's it. Even during the height of the Canterlot Invasion, we often saw a punch's aftermath. It was all quick editing and sound effects that implied the action. 

    Take a close look at this.
    Do you actually see the hits connecting?

    We don't expect this in a cartoon themed around friendship and comedy. Which is why it works. Because we don't go into an episode expecting a show of force, it comes as a surprise. It also helps that any violence employed doesn't yield a result. Twilight and friends beat a whole swarm of Changelings, but were still outnumbered. Fighting Tirek to a standstill accomplished nothing. There's that consequence I didn't see in the 80's. Fighting is an option, but the show demonstrates that it doesn't guarantee success. 

    Comedy in a fight scene.
    Why not have a good fight scene in a comedy?

    In the end I think labeling a show as comedy, action, or otherwise isn't as important as the core idea. We go into certain shows with an expectation, and often we come away tricked. Cartoons have always walked the line of violence and entertainment. Whether it be a safe landing on a character's head or a KO punch, we've witnessed some form of violence. Yet sometimes we only witnessed violence's suggestion and took it for fact. My Little Pony is no exception.
    A laser that lifts you rather than, you know, killing you.
    Because that's practical.

    It too is labeled as a comedy, but it delivers more. I don't see why shows with a similar brand can't do likewise. Call it whatever you like; as long as it shows an effort and passion. Allow us the chance to connect with its characters as we have with others. If studios need to cater to a perception, then I hope the production staff can find ways to subvert it. Because that's some of the best entertainment out there. 

    No matter what happens with the new series,
    it can't be as underwhelming as Mumm-Ra and Lion-O's final battle.
    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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