• Let's Review: Ponyville Mysteries

    Guess it's time to hang up that Sherlock outfit, huh?

    For five months we've followed the Cutie Mark Crusaders solving mysteries. Now that the series has run its course, how did it shape up?

    Check out the full review after the break, but be aware there may be a spoiler or three.


    Five issues is nothing to dismiss. There's a lot to cover and so let's tackle this in pieces. Starting with...

    Art Style
    Agnes Garbowska handled the artwork for each issue and the consistency is welcome. It helps give the mini-series an identity. Not only did she integrate many of the show's background characters but also created new characters that looked like they could be part of this world. It was very rare that I felt like a character was too distinct to blend, such as Jagged Clamp with his massive 'fro and red eyes. Other new characters, such as Distemper, really mesh with the show and I could see them appearing in an episode. This is especially welcome since Garbowska gave us our first view of Scootaloo's aunts.

    Nice to see Scootaloo's aunts taking a role in all the fillies lives.

    I forget when Garbowska traded her usual watercolor style for more hard-border, cell-style shading. In many ways I think the new style works better as it helps the characters stand out from the background and adds a more solid feeling to their actions. There are also plenty of drawn backgrounds with only a few gradient panels to emphasize emotion or action. I don't recall many cases where the characters were in a white void.

    "We've been captured and sent into a void!"

    Rising Stakes
    As a series progresses, audiences often look for an escalation. Ponyville Mysteries did this though the process was subtle. Often it was an escalation with intentions. The first issue had no malice or even a pony culprit. The second and third issues featured trespass and possible arson, yet we discovered the perpetrators meant no harm and had simply erred. It wasn't until issue four that true malicious intent came into play.  

    When Flim and Flam are involved, the intent is always malicious.

    The impact of the crimes also spread further. That's not to say stealing medical supplies in the first issue doesn't impact those recovering. Yet after that we had possible cheating, a fear that a pyromaniac might strike again, the Apple family being disgraced, and then Ponyville's reputation being tarnished due to theft.

    This would doubly impact Rarity,
    since the Albatross was in her care.

    Unfortunately, the cases weren't always a brain tease. One of the more frustrating aspects can be summed up in one word:

    In terms of mysteries, the Crusaders Super Sleuths enjoyed marvelous good fortune. Any time they hit a small roadblock, another character would offer the needed information right away. This happened several times and in the final issue it seemed like the Sleuths need only be present for the culprits to incriminate themselves.

    The first issue taught about not judging by appearances.
    Yet I can tell she's guilty just by her looks. Mixed messages!

    I think the third issue was the best balance of proactive investigation and helpful information. The Sleuths had all the information they needed without having anypony spell it out for them. They just needed a bit of context to finalize the conclusion. Compare that to the first issue where Fluttershy (best support!) almost wrote the conclusion for all to see.

    The first comic appearance of Sweet Feather Sanctuary.
    Land of convenient animal-related information!

    The problem with this is that it can create a sense that the Super Sleuths didn't earn their victory. Part of the fun of a mystery is getting to look back and see all the clues that might have been missed. Elements that were present, but easily overlooked. I'm not good at mysteries, so if I can figure out whodunit at the very start just by looking at them or being handed the answer, I certainly feel cheated. I imagine it's the same for other fans.

    Funny thing is that though there was no thief,
    Redheart really wasn't doing her job right.

    This leads to one of the biggest questions about this series.

    For Kids
    The show, the comics, the books; everything is intended for a young audience. Of the three mediums, I find that the comics like to test the bounds the most. Don't believe me? Just wait until I talk about King Sombra's Fiendship is Magic story. But with that acknowledgement comes a question. How much can you simplify a story without talking down to your audience?

    This pretty much spells out who did it, but maybe not why.

    Of the various side stories this show has produced, this series feels the most geared towards children. Though threats are present, they are never life-threatening and even the most dangerous actions, like setting a fire, turn out to have very innocent intents. Even when an antagonist captures the Sleuths, he only rants at them before ducking off. I never sensed they were in real danger, which is actually good.

    Still impressed by Applebloom's dedication to the bow.
    Rarity would be proud.

    Yet there were points where I felt that this was not respecting their audience. Case in point, even though the first issue had no malice, it didn't address the fact that the staff was careless. Redheart really was failing to take proper care of the medical supplies, and that issue is never addressed. Kids won't forget that stuff. If anything, they'll ask a ton of questions and likely spot the flaws. Same goes for when the Sleuths receive critical information gift-wrapped. It feels like they didn't earn it, and I think a young audience wants to know the characters they follow earn their victories.

    Take a victory dance, girls!

    The one doubt I have is that a comic book forum is very limiting. A single issue to have a self-contained story with perhaps a teaser at the end. Mysteries often require more time to lay out subtle details. This might not have been the best medium. It was, however, a great way to express the Crusaders' strength.

    Mind, Heart, Body
    Not the Super Sleuths. This series showed how the Crusaders work as a team. Each member represents a part of the whole, giving the group a sense of fullness. The first issue featured Sweetie Belle solving the case by connecting the dots (albeit through very overt dots). The second issue focused more on Applebloom's reactions, eliminating suspects through emotion rather than thought. Scootaloo was the only Crusader willing to take a risk to gain information, and thus she led the way to the solution.

    Never try to out-dare Scootaloo!

    These are the traits each Crusader has brought to the group throughout the series. Without any one of them, the Crusaders are incomplete. Yet these same traits aren't always a strength. The latter two issues showed the toll this can take. Applebloom nearly lost her drive when she thought her family might be guilty. On their own, I think Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo might have given up in the final issue due to all the obstacles.

    Applebloom has already bottomed-out.

    The key dynamic here is that the Crusaders push each other forward. Each member wants to live up to the others and each offers support if a friend falters. Even in the weaker moments the three never truly throw in the towel because each wants to see the others succeed. In this way I think this series can serve as a great example of the CMC. Though this can backfire.

    If he's here, he must be automatically guilty!
    Due process indeed!

    Enthusiasm vs Experience 
    When I say that the Sleuths make mistakes, that is not bad storytelling. It's because these characters are young that one expects them to make missteps. At first it was their assumptions that a pony who acts mean must be the culprit. Then their line of questioning often sowed dissent rather than glean information. Follow that by openly talking about a mystery where eavesdroppers could spread misinformation.

    Considering how these two contributed to the second issue,
    their gossiping feels a bit ungrateful.

    All of these are missteps that novices would make. That's the Sleuths' status. It's not bad that they have to learn from these experiences. Sadly, I don't think the final issue showed how far they'd come since the first issue. If I could make one addition to this mini-series, it'd be the presence of an older mentor. Possibly a retired investigator. Friends Forever already claimed Prancy Drew as a character, but I see no reason why the Sleuths couldn't learn from a Nancy Drew-inspired pony. As it is, the Sleuths learned a lot by trial and error but I can't say how far they've come.

    That is certainly valid given the Sleuths'
    line of questioning.

    Journey's End
    It always feels strange when a series concludes. Weighing expectation vs realization and trying to see the big picture. In terms of mysteries I think this series fell short. Too many convenient moments or easy answers. Yet in terms of celebrating the Cutie Mark Crusaders as a team, I think this series holds a lot of merit. It's a good example of the strengths each member brings. So I'd say this series could be a fun read with the third issue as my favorite, but one has to accept that it's not going to keep the older readers guessing and the younger readers will have plenty of questions.

    Education can wait... for adventure!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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