• Episode Followup: Friendship University

    Twilight, how could you?! That's not how you spell "drools!"

    But I must admit, you make a compelling argument. The School of Friendship does indeed rule, so newcomers have quite a lot to measure up to. 

    Does Friendship U pass the test? Are there only so many school-related puns I can make? Let's find out below the break.

    (My apologies for the followup mix up yesterday. Miscommunication on my part lead to the switcheroo. Go back and read Borg's excellent followup on The End in Friend if you haven't already, or bookmark it for the US release if you'd prefer!)

    Dang, why can't we open more episodes like this?

    A reminder that Chris Britton outclassed nearly all expectations for what Starswirl should sound like. As much as we all would've loved Tim Curry, Kelsey Grammer, or even Picard himself, I think Chris provides a very fitting voice, without being too overly recognizable.

    Judging by the horned poles, this is on the outskirts of Yakyakistan. 

    Is he a guide to the northern mountain ranges operating out of the Crystal Empire or some more remote outpost? A fellow adventurer in over his head? 

    Either way, this snapshot of character development is brought to you by Powersauce: Unleash the awesome power of apples!

    Not that this mountain top looked particularly claimed, but did you even check if this land belongs to the yaks before you stabbed your flag in it?

    Oh hey! Treehugger has a job! This episode is full of unpredictable twists already.

    "The aura coming off the waterfall was so alive! So, like, magic manifestation."

    How's that aura looking on the way down, Treehugger?

    I always liked Seaward Shoals. Nice colour scheme, and well, for all I know the design team was thinking generic sea-shanty-town, but it reminds me of Nova Scotia:

    There might be an influence there, what with DHX being Canadian and all (of course, they're on the other side of the country from Nova Scotia, but you never know). Who can say?

    And they say changelings don't have culture.

    Well aren't you just an adorable father of the amniomorphic spell. D'aww~!

    Come to think of it, I see what you're doing. That pony out of time schtick was cute when Luna did it, so you think you can just waltz in here and win my heart too, huh? Well you're right.

    In fact, I kinda wish you were less well-adjusted for the rest of the episode. I'll get to examples of how and why later on.

    You know, say what you will about how the show's changed over time, but if you were to tell the 2012 fanbase that someday Starswirl the Bearded would be writing friendship letters to Twilight instead of Twilight writing to Celestia?

    We would've screamed. I'm screaming now. Eternal screaming. It's not exactly on a mentor-student basis, but still, rather squee worthy.

    Hey Darla Dimple Neighsay Junior Actually Innocent Pawn in Someone Else's Plan ... Cozy. 

    It's quite a shame the leaks are a thing, for many reasons. Would we have suspected her so instantly? Would we only now be catching on that she may or may not be all that she claims?

    Either way, at least it's still not entirely clear exactly where her true alliance lies at this point. I like a bit of well-laid mystery, especially in a show that frequently makes its mysteries a little too easy to solve for the kiddos' sake. Who knows what she could be up to?

    Obligatory adorable Rarara.

    Out of her own pocket? Aww, Rarity, how sweet!

    See, this is exactly the sort of thing you'd think Rarity would do once her fashion empire was successful enough. Give back to those around her. Well, that, and hiring a servant monkey to wait on her hoof and hoof but she already has Spike so why bother?

    Now, here's the thing with this scene, and it's not a complaint but it's gonna sound like one at first: it doesn't seem entirely in-character at first.

    On my first watch-through, I thought this was a bit of a forced reaction. When they get to Las Pegasus and see that it's Flim and Flam running the show they have every right to be suspicious, by all means, but here? 

    By the way, there's a real Friendship University. The Peoples' Friendship University of Russia. Look it up, it's in Moscow.
    Wouldn't it make more sense for Twilight to initially be happy there's another campus on the other side of the country teaching the value of friendship? Her mission is to spread the good word of friendship far and wide to every pony and creature. Wouldn't she want to collaborate, or at least see if this school is worth endorsing?

    But, I think there's some subtlety at play in this scene. Look here. Twilight's first reaction isn't horror and anxiety, it's disquiet. I don't think she knows what to make of this. 

    I think there's some insecurity here. The very same we saw in the season opener when Chancellor Neighsay shut down her school. And, for that matter, in the movie when she felt saving Equestria was all on her shoulders.

    It's interesting to me how Twilight's developed in absence of a teacher. She's progressed quite far from when she was worried about passing tests and living up to what she thought her mentor expected of her... but, at the same time, this is clearly the same mare. She still wants to live up to expectation and takes her responsibility very seriously, she just has to deal with things on a bigger scale now.

    The Failure song is still her anthem.

    I deeply enjoy the little details like this that make a world come alive: characters having recurring tics, like Rarity's tendency towards pffts. It's also cute, so cute bonus.

    This episode brought to you by Chris "Doc" Wyatt and Kevin Burke. Previous episodes include The Times They are a Changeling, Viva Las Pegasus, and PPOV.

    It's neat that they were able to write this episode since the Flim and Flam of it all makes this sort of a continuation from Viva.

    Smolder's very impressed it's a university, which by the way, confirms higher education is a legitimate thing. Was Twilight expecting a degree when she graduated and got princesshood instead?
    Okay, these kids clearly haven't spent enough time in Professor Rainbow's loyalty class. That, or school moral is at an all time low. Time for a pep rally! Rainbow Dash, lead us in song!

    And I do get that they're here to make the conflict seem a little more... shall we say, stakes-ier, but I'm just a wee bit bummed they weren't proud enough to be students to at least try to steal Friendship U's mascot before the homecoming game.

    ... I'm just now realizing we should have a (platonic) homecoming episode. But then again, that's just The Best Night Ever, huh? Nevermind.

    I love that mustachioed tower over there. If Flim and Flam belong anywhere in Equestria, it's here, so I'm oddly proud of them for making their mark.

    On another note, welcome to their sleazy scam school! Nicely lit up from the outside, but from the inside isn't all that much to look at, besides their office and secret vault. I bring this up because we spent a little too much time in hallways and uncreatively designed classrooms—which isn't a problem, the setting's supposed to be a school they haven't been operating for very long.

    But I would say the episode could be a little more visually interesting with its backgrounds in this one. If it takes place over multiple days(?), you could've included more of Las Pegasus, even. But I'm definitely nitpicking now, so let's move on.

    This is exactly the kind of stallion that would've fallen for Starlight's utopian village, just so y'all know. Sort of reminds me of Double Diamond, in fact.

    I love how offended Rarity looks. It's beautiful.

    That mare on the right giving them the stink-eye has every right to do so. There was no need to shove themselves to the front of the crowd apart from shot composition. And maybe Rarity getting her sweet, sweet revenge for shoving her.

    Oh cool, a song! Aptly titled Friendship U!

    As far as Flim Flam brothers songs go, this probably ranks above Fixer Elixir but below the classic Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, for me. It's more catchy and memorable than the former, with greater varying rhythm structure, but it's hard to beat out the latter for fun.

    Although Cider Squeezy has a clear advantage since I've listened to it enough times to commit every single word to memory, as I'm sure many of you have. So I guess we'll see if Friendship U ages as well with replays.

    Twilight's already tired of their bullcrap and we're not even 10 minutes in.

    While we're here, a note on the Flim Flam Brothers and their various redesigns.

    It's subtle, but they've changed the eye-shape and muzzle length with these two over the years. They made the con-men look cuter for their second appearance and have since mediated between the two designs, depending on what angle you look at them.

    You'll notice now they look closer to season 2 from a side view, but as we go, you'll see the return of the square muzzles and rounder eyes. It's a nice compromise and includes the best aspects of both designs.

    Gosh this castle has such a good design. It even looks great covered in mist! Makes up for the treehouse castle in my books, but maybe that's just me.

    Flim clearing the mist is a nice visual, made even better by the fact that we know this isn't just a non-canon representation for the music. He's likely using an actual smoke machine for this, as we see him pull up the backdrop a few moments later.

    Best screenshot. Tag yourself, I'm Flam.

    This episode is full of great transitions (I'd be here all day trying to gif them all), but I so enjoy stuff like this

    See? Square muzzles, rounder eyes. Very adorable, for conniving little cheats that is.

    I see your foreshadowing. Well done, Doc and Burke.

    Apple times 2-horseshoe equals horseshoe? I'd buy it, I don't know how to math.

    They have the symbol for pi on the next line. I wonder if horseshoes are legitimately incorporated into their Greek alphabet. Or, ancient Pegasine, I guess? 

    I really like seeing this spell come in handy in more ways than one. Proves its usefulness and makes it feel less like Twilight's always learning new spells at convenient times for individual episodes and then never using them again. Points for realism!

    Squishy cheeks. (I provide such riveting commentary)

    Oh look, a good visual metaphor for what's going on. To the crowd, it looks like Twilight's defensive for no reason and Flim's offering a bouquet of pretty flowers, but it's all for show. These two brothers have a knack for the art of misdirection and pageantry.

    I know I'm not the only one who loves me some disgruntled Twilight. Harkens back to the cynic she used to be.

    Wow, maybe there is something to this pyramid scheme. By which I of course mean a scheme designed to teach random strangers how to choreograph a multi-layered pony pyramid in no time at all.

    Forget friendship school, Flim and Flam should be teaching ponies how to dance and put together a convincing musical number. They'd make a killing! ... If all Equestrians weren't capable of amazing choreography when music comes on (how the heck is Tender Taps going to make a living?).

    Scrunchy nose screenshot, for all your scrunchy nose needs.

    Oh yay, the friendly neighbourhood racist is here (the word species is more accurate than race, but then again fantasy races often include orcs, elves, etc. so I'm just gonna use the word race; plus speciesist sounds odd). And this time there's even less of doubt that he's specifically got a problem with other races. Hooray?

    Before, you could make an argument that he was more concerned with keeping order and the rules established in his little EEA upheld, and just happened to also throw in some racist-sounding phrases. After all, he was only concerned with protecting ponies, right? It was a clever rhetorical tactic.

    But now the implication from his last appearance is explicit when he starts talking about how dangerous the other creatures in Twilight's school are. 

    And yet, Twilight's still on the defence with him. That insecurity showing through.

    Calm down, Snape.

    This episode is aging Twilight about, oh, five or ten years. Poor girl's been through so much stress, worry lines are almost a guarantee.

    The competition for best face starts now.

    Ooo, the dreaded double-pout technique. They're gunning for that Best Face prize hard.a


    The fact that he's not entirely wrong that she's a little threatened by the competition is cool, though.

    Evidence that book smarts don't guarantee street smarts.

    Yep. This is the guy you've idolized for years, Twilight. Drink it in.

    Okay, so, here's the thing with this episode and I've seen it said, so I know I'm not alone and rambling for no reason (this time):

    With characters like Celestia, Luna, and now Starswirl, they have some amounts of mystique and history built up around them in the lore of the show, and with that comes the expectation that when you use them, you're using them for something important. Whether that's to combat a threat against Equestria, or just something with a lot of emotional weight to it.

    Or, even just to dive into that character's history a bit. I've definitely seen a demand for a flashback Luna and Celestia episode, and with a character who's got a history of creating 200+ spells like Starswirl, there's bound to be more to him.

    But here and in Horse Play, those figures were used in lowkey, slice of life episodes. That was the point in Horse Play—that they could consider Celestia a friend, and that she's missed out on civilian things like acting in plays due to her prestige and duties—but not so much here. He's just used in a story with smaller stakes than you would expect of hm.

    And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but... at the same time, I kinda want Starswirl to be reserved for more emotional stories. At least, for the first few he's in.

    After having him built up for quite sometime and his excellent role in Shadow Play, it's almost an anti-climax in and of itself to have his next episode be one with very low emotional and/or physical stakes.

    Another thing to consider is that Starswirl's strong suit hasn't been comedy so far. Pairing him with someone like Discord might change that, but Chris Britton's wonderful voice talents have so far lent themselves best towards the epic and the emotional. Putting an epic character into the mundane can be funny, but it's not really played for laughs here, so with that and the lower stakes, it sort of feels like an ineffectual use of the character.

    The adventurous intro helps combat that for sure, but I think it's a valid complaint you can argue against the episode. Some will enjoy the inclusion in a lowkey story so it's not a total mis-step, just something that's up for debate.

    Should we give Starswirl something more weighty, or do you prefer to integrate him into the slice of life? Should we let him be in more comedy-driven premises, or would you rather epic adventures and/or the feels-y, dramady mix MLP is best at? Basically, how should Starswirl be used and developed?

    This is glorious. Wow. I love it.

    Gotta say, I also appreciate that they've never pulled any punches with Rarity just because she's supposed to be a beautiful character. They're not afraid to get wild with that marshmallowy face.  

    I would say winner of best face but:

    Geez, it's like he's being sucked into a black hole! Between that and the cape, he really isn't outfitted for combat, is he? How he ever defended Equestria against anything is beyond me. 

    Holy smokes, the phrase if looks could kill doesn't even cut it. More like if looks could banish to the depths of Tartarus.

    Twilight facing an authority figure she trusts and respects acting the fool? Interesting indeed, although that aspect of the episode could have been explored more. 

    Last time, Twilight wasn't sure her idol was in the right, and ultimately after siding with him, had to go with her heart (though he wasn't exactly in opposition to her in the final moments before she decided to save Stygian, which, come to think of it, would've made for an even more tense climax).

    This time around, it's plain to see he's making the wrong call, but he just won't listen. There's less of a choice for Twi to make and more of a point to prove to save Starswirl from student loans. The most serious stakes of all!

    Okay, yes. Plainity.

    What I love about Plainity (among the many things I love about Plainity), is that you can clearly see Rarity's thought process throughout this whole thing. She spent so much time accessorizing her own get-up (and mussing up her mane slightly for that I don't care about fashion what are you talking about look) because clearly, anypony who knows Rarity would be completely thrown off by this unstylish affair.

    She doesn't even disguise her face, she's wearing the same make-up, but just the implication of being too cool for fashion is enough to camouflage her entirely.

    Oh, and Twilight gets an eyepatch.

    You can practically feel the hoof-wave when it was Twilight's turn. Almost as if she got so involved with her own disguise that she's like, "Hm? Oh, yes, take this eyepatch, dear, that should do the trick. Now help me decide which careless way to angle my hat. Ooo, backwards! Yes, of course! Nopony will suspect a thing!'

    ... I love Rarity.

    Remember how I said I love seeing snarky, annoyed cynical Twilight show up now and then? She's alive and well here and it feels like something torn straight out of the early seasons.

    Bonus for the fact that the sticky note doesn't event cover all of Twilight's cutie mark if you give it anything more than a passing glance, and her special talent is wearing an eyepatch.

    I mean she is pretty great at it, look at her go.

    I can't tell if Twilight's nervous they'll be caught here or endeared that Rarity's... well, Rarity. I like to think a bit of both. I always enjoy catching moments where the girls aren't the one talking and just have these looks about them like they adore the hell out of each other. It's a treat every time. 

    And what's not to adore about this? I was going to say that's another Rarity tic, but I would actually say that's more of a Pinkie Pie move. You ever hear that you become your friends the more time you spend around them? This. This is what that means. Picking up small gestures, ways of speaking, and senses of humour.

    Something about the self-assured look on Rarity's face is supremely funny to me. Like you can hear her Shadow Spade-esque inner-monologue going "And nopony suspected a thing~"

    Because the best part is nobody does—because literally nopony there knows Rarity enough to recognize her, so for all intents and purposes she's right and gets to feel like an undercover agent. Plainity is best pony, you guys.

    God, that lean back, though. 

    Call me what you want, but I was genuinely thinking at this point that the scam was that they'd get the students to do stuff for them. Pamper them, give them gifts, the works. But I should've known Flim and Flam are more devious than that.

    And so is Twilight, apparently. Is it character development if she's not scared enough of rules to break and enter? I guess she's been able to do that since season 2, so maybe not.

    Nice ominous lighting on this shot. Sets up the sting to come later.

    It's great that Twi doesn't even explain the eyepatch thing. She's mostly concerned with saying she had no illusions that it was a stupid disguise. Smart book horse doesn't like ponies thinking she's dumb.

    Busted. It's not the worst thing you've been caught for, Twilight, but it's still not looking good.

    Okay, so another Staswirl rant, but I'm getting to a point so buckle up and bare with me: I said earlier that I think it could've been interesting to have Starswirl a bit stuck in the past still. Not in the way Luna was, because we've done the whole thines, thous, and blaming herself for her past thing. 

    But if, for instance, he referenced the ponies he knew from over a 1000 years ago a lot, that could've been a cute quirk that also carries a lot of weight. Like, this reminds me of a time when a young Celestia did this, or young Luna would say that to all this paperwork—it would demonstrate that he's still getting used to the time that past. And what he maybe missed out on.

    Plus, with a quirk like that, you could make reference to how Celestia was as a student in comparison to Twilight and then, at this point when the feels get real. I bring this up now because this isn't the first time Starswirl's been disappointed by somepony he had faith in, if you go by the comics. 

    Debatably canon, but I still love it.
    But that's just one way to do it, right? My point is that we've kinda skipped out on seeing Starswirl adjust to the modern world and that's such a shame. 

    Maybe they were worried he might repeat what they did with Luna, and okay fair enough, but seeing as we have an upcoming episode with Rockhoof adjusting (which should be called Rockhoof's Modern Life and you damn well know it) maybe not. Either way, I think it could've been done in an interesting way and mark Starswirl, the creator of time travel, a pony out of time.

    Rant over, back to the episode as is (a note: I don't blame the episode for what it's not, but I like pointing out the potential of things because the discussions can be different).

    This is extra sad because I don't think he was disappointed in Twilight as a pupil, as Flim assumed she was to him. I think he was disappointed in her as a mentor. 

    Starswirl was dismissive and angry with Twilight in Shadow Play, but this is a whole new dynamic. Since then, in his travels to acquaint himself with modern Equestria, he wrote to her about what he learned, and though she isn't his teacher, I think he looked up to her. And from his perspective, she couldn't even stay true to the moral that she taught him.

    Starswirl's disappointment in her breaks Twilight's heart again. He's gotta stop that, it's a nasty habit.

    They're quite literally holding it over her head, thanks to the framing of the shot. Very nicely done.

    God, I love Rari—I mean, Plainity.

    I told you, this episode's aging her. Good thing she has her beauty expert on hand to calm that anxious mind.

    I would've liked it if we saw the students roaming the halls with these stacks of paper before now, but to be fair they've done an excellent jobs foreshadowing this already, so I can't complain too much.

    Too real, DHX. Too real. Sorting through the finances for how I'm gonna pay for next semester feels a lot like this sometimes. But, better to give them the shirt off your back now than to promise to give them one from your closet with interest later and next thing you know you've given them a whole wardrobe.

    Fun fact: 3:05 is dismal time in the Canadian schools in my area (Ontario), and DHX is just a few provinces over.

    Little Canadian trivia for you, I guess.

    I really like the pictures turning thing. It's not something that could happened accidentally, or that somepony else could figure out without them there. Very clever.

    They should really save up for seperate a money vault. I hear you could break your neck diving into it Scrooge McDuck style (he's a pro, of course, don't try it at home kids) but the swim lessons would sure be fun.

    Anyone else reminded of Emperor's New Groove? No?

    You know it's Twilight's because it's colour-coded.

    There's a subtle filter over Rarity when she reveals herself. I think just to emphasize her beauty, or something, after that hideously plain disguise. Farewell, Plainity. You will be missed.

    It took until now for me to remember Flim and Flam haven't met Rarity one-on-one and probably wouldn't remember her as one of the ponies helping the Apple Family. It makes the entire Plainity sub-plot so much funnier. 

    You'll be happy to know they gave the begging college student his sweater back. Now if only my university could give me back some of that tuition money...

    He's kinda learning the same lesson twice: LISTEN TO TWILIGHT FOR ONCE.

    All of this could've been avoided had he trusted his friend to tell him the truth. But hey, he's new at this here friendship thing, and it's nice to see a lesson that isn't about always redeeming villains. If you've been cheated multiple times by somebody, it's good to have some healthy skepticism. We've been asking for this nuance for some time.

    And so, the friendship school takes on some new students! Although, now I wonder if it's separated into grades or ages, because we typically follow teenagers and all of these ponies look to be at least young adults.

    Either way, you're never too old to learn about friendship! 

    A shame those post-cards weren't in previous episodes like Hearth's Warming Club (I checked), but I hope to see them going forward.

    Again, would this have been the first time we'd be picking up on Cozy Glow's... vaguely, undefined possible evilness? We'll never know. But at least we can appreciate the foreshadowing ahead of time.

    Because Starswirl sure learned his lesson about healthy skepticism and who to trust, but Twilight's might be just beginning.

    And that was Friendship University. Not the tightest episode, too much of it took place in the same hallway for me, and I think we could've used more of Starswirl's history rather than him taking history tests, but I think there's certainly some good elements in here and a fair bit to enjoy. A net positive for me, but what about all of you? 

    Thanks for reading, everybody! WeAreBorg's The End in Friend followup over here for those who missed it!

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