• Let's Review: MLP #80

    Fresh comic today with a little bit of real-world culture on display. The ponies are engaged in Live Action Role-Play. So how well does this LARP engage the audience? Let's take a look.

    The full review is after the break but roll for perception first. You don't want to roll a failure with a spoiler.

    Today's comic features a unique idea. Not the roleplay, as that's something with which I'm well familiar. Though never having larp-ed, I've noticed how much the idea of role-play has ingrained itself into the world culture. I'd wager many of you have seen an episode of a favorite show that somehow brought role-play into the story.

    I discovered The IT Crowd while recovering from having my appendix removed.
    Good times.

    No, the unique idea on display here is how the setting affects the artwork. We've not seen Kate Sherron's work since MLP #74, in which Zephyr Breeze took center stage. Sherron often adjusts the audience's point of view quite literally based on the setting. One example being a low-angle shot to highlight the scope of a mane styling conference.

    This is the feeling I hope to capture at Bronycon!

    This issue features the ponies attempting to storm a tower. So naturally their world-view and our own is going to be framed by either looking up at a goal or being looked down upon to stress the vulnerability. Sherron seems uncomfortable with pony anatomy because sometimes the facial elements seem stretched or off-center. That actually increases my appreciation that she's willing to draw the ponies from a variety of angles that even long-time artists don't often tackle.

    High angle to show them before the challenge.
    Low angle to empower as they start to act.

    Yet something has changed since issue #74. When you often look down at the ponies, their snouts and ears are likewise pointing up. The strange result is that rather than having a muzzle protruding from their faces, the ponies look as though they've been squished. This is very different from the high-angle panels in #74, where the ponies and other creatures were more three-dimensional.

    Maybe it's just stallion muzzles that point outwards?

    There are some other elements within the artwork that I'll comment upon as we get into the story. In many of the role-play stories I've alluded to, there's usually an extra factor. Perhaps a character is dealing with some personal problems and the role-play becomes a kind of therapy session (The IT Crowd). Or an external power asserts itself to make the game more real and increase the stakes (The 2012 TMNT episode "Mazes & Mutants"). Neither idea is present here because much of it is based on Pinkie's imagination and strange role as the dungeon master.

    Making a tree hold a candle.
    There's something sadistic about that.

    Sherron does a good job of establishing Pinkie's constructed setting against MLP's usual visual style. The cardboard trees are nearly perfect circles while the "real" trees have the cresting branches we've often witnessed. The paper-and-tape moat is an especially nice touch.

    This was part of the preview, so I think it's okay to post the full image.

    Though I have to give Pinkie credit on the realism. Setting up tomato cannons in lieu of fire traps is a step above and beyond. I imagine many players would dream of this level of interaction. However, Pinkie does something strange by establishing a prize for completing the tower. Whoever reaches the goal first wins a cake. Instead of providing a unifying quest–which seems to be the trend in role-play games–she's instead encouraged competition.

    Honestly, I've seen Pinkie make bigger cakes.

    The goal? Rescue "prince" Bulk Biceps. This role reversal of the "damsel in distress" trope isn't as surprising as one might think because much of a humor around Bulk Biceps is based on subverting stereotypes. This hyper-muscular, loud, embodiment of testosterone is often presented loving flowering dresses, screaming and fleeing from butterflies, and getting hyper-emotional. It's funny, but it's part of a joke set that I've seen often.

    I like to imagine Bulk's voice raising an octave or two.

    Having someone needing rescue is an instant conflict, which is all this story requires. Yet that can also work against the story as there's little need for the characters grow. Because this story isn't seeking to address any character issues or defects, it's going to rise and fall based on the spectacle.

    Were Clerics fashionable back in the day?
    Rarity's is the only choice where I doubt it fits.

    Spike is nowhere to be seen nor mentioned, which brings up two sets of continuity issues. Given his role in the show as an Ogres and Oubliettes fan he seems a natural choice to include. His absence is an uncomfortable question. Yet let's say that this continuity is separate from the show. Within the comics, we know that Twilight used to play Oubliettes and Ogres with her brother, so now it's a question of why she not the DM or how she forgets some important steps. It's one of those cases where being a long-time fan actually raises barriers towards enjoyment that a newcomer wouldn't consider.

    I would really like to see Gaffer and the others
    make a return. Oh well...

    What is fun is seeing each character's reaction. Though not big on introspection, each pony tackles this challenge in a way that fits. Most of the ponies approach the challenge with enthusiasm, expect for Rarity. She seems disinterested in the whole affair. Rainbow Dash employs the same direct approach she uses in everyday life, getting foiled by traps out of the gate. Twilight is more thorough but undermined by the aforementioned ignorance of important steps.

    Please tell me that's an easy roll.
    It's just stairs.

    Applejack's approach is the most meta. She chose a class that closely fit her everyday life, hinting that she hasn't much imagination. Yet her class allows her to recruit woodland critters' support. We see this happen with the artwork supporting the imagined scenario. Yet disinterested Rarity wonders aloud how Applejack can steal Fluttershy's style. So, is this really happening? Are the animals really supporting Applejack? They're not there when the view snaps back to reality, but that begs the question of how Applejack is accomplishing her larp.

    Either Rarity's own imaginaton broke her own mind,
    or Applejack's stubbornness has warped reality to allow her to see this.

    It also shows how this story can actually undermine the artist. Depending on the culture, people tend to view pages in a certain order. For American audiences it's usually left-to-right and top-to-bottom. A full-page spread that show's Applejack's ascent has to fight against this flow, asking the reader to start at the bottom-left and go to the top-right. Instead of allowing the action to lead the reader like a dance, the artwork is sequentially numbered like a traffic director. Given the story I'm not sure who to make this flow but the numerical signs decrease the fun.

    When I first read this the first thing I focused on was Pinkie.
    Her word bubble is the highest and mostly centered.

    I find that Fluttershy's role as a thief makes a curious sense. She's able to work alone, provide her own narration, and hype herself up before making an attempt. Nopony to talk over her or ignore her ideas. I can see why she went with this idea even if she's not physically suited.

    "She will write about this in her gothic diary tonight!"

    Pinkie adds to the tension by including a time limit, which actually makes me wonder if she laid out explosives in advance. I wouldn't put it past her. Given the show's themes, I don't think the climax or resolution will come as a surprise.

    Tomatoes? Pinkie is going hard-core here!

    Reading this comic conjured up memories of past role-play stories and it thrives on shifting between what is happening in the physical world versus how it looks to the imagination. Though not a deep insight into any one character it does present them well. Their individual and group approaches to the problem make sense and it is entertaining to witness their failures.

    That bird is freaking me out with that one eye!

    This comic is a fun one-shot that's light on substance. Check it out if you're looking for a quick read or something lighthearted. I'm more intrigued by next week's issue and its promise to flesh out more of Equestria's history.

    "I'm not a Changeling!"
    "That's speciesist!"

    I won't get to chance to recommend this anywhere else, so I'm going to take advantage. The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a funny, well-written but low-budget film that does a lot with the idea of role-play. Though not afraid to have a laugh at role-playing's stigmas and quirks, it's a very human story. Give it a look even if you're not into things like Dungeons & Dragons. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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