• Let's Review: Spirit of the Forest

    Over three issues, the Cutie Mark Crusaders tried to save the Whitetail Wood. There were twists, unexpected support, and more than a little environmental preaching.

    Let's take a look at the series overall. The full review resides after the break, in a meadow of spoilers.

    This is a case where I think the mini-series length perfectly matches the story's scope. We are introduced to the problem in the first issue, escalate to the worst point in the second, and achieve success in the third. I don't think there's a wasted scene.

    Yes, even this has a purpose.
    It emphasizes that Filthy Rich is operating legally.

    Throughout this series, Brenda Hickey's artwork and Heather Breckel's coloring synched to deliver atmosphere, humor, and a great amount of detail. I'm not sure why, but these mini-series seem to place a greater emphasis on environments than the main series. Familiar locations like the School of Friendship and Town Hall are on-model and proportional to the surrounding environment. While Filthy's lumber mill is based more on real-life designs, it is solidly drawn with a many details.

    I don't know much about lumber mills
    but this looks legit.

    My favorite examples are the tin cans and strings that serve as an intercomm system, and the giant portrait of Diamond Tiara hanging behind Filthy Rich's desk. From the first issue they were emphasizing who the Crusaders needed to fix the problem. It was literally on the wall. 

    Is it any wonder Diamond Tiara
    got a more than a little full of herself?

    The second issue in particular allowed Breckel to have some fun with new images. Terrified workers and the fake Spirit were fun to see. Though again I wonder how often the Crusaders seem to find themselves faking a mythical creature. 

    I'm guessing it's Sweetie Belle who handles the disguises.

    Speaking of...

    The Cutie Mark Crusaders
    Whereas Ponyville Mysteries demonstrated how each individual contributed to the group, Spirit of the Forest sees the Crusaders acting as a unified group. That's not to say their individual personalities don't shine through. Just consider Applebloom's pride in her family's namesake. Yet the Crusaders act as one and often experience the same feelings.

    Panic: A universal trait.

    The first issue featured the Crusaders at their most preachy. Many declarations about the Whitetail Woods' beauty and the need to protect it. Not condescending but still very overt. It wasn't until the second issue that their views were properly challenged. They had to start seeing a picture beyond even the Woods' well-being and consider their neighbors' livelihoods. 

    See? We are all united in PANICKING!

    Throughout all of this, the Crusaders struggled with a concept that I think Stephen Fry summed up perfectly.
    "I believe one of the greatest human failings 
    is to prefer to be right than to be effective."

    The Crusaders face this challenge along every step. Sweetie Belle knew they were in the right about littering, but she focused her immediate anger towards the workers. While she might guilt one or two into cleaning up, it was Applebloom who realized the best method was to go to the top and try and affect change. 

    One might have to commit a rude action
    in service of a goal, but how far does that go?

    Once the larger conflict took hold, the Crusaders lost sight of the effectiveness and acted on the assumption their righteousness validated any action, including sabotage. Why is this not effective? Even if the Crusaders' don't yet realize how this is damaging their community, they are scaring ponies away from the forest they are trying to protect. Who is going to want to visit the Whitetail Woods and appreciate its beauty if they're terrified of an unseen creature? 

    Having fun sleeping tonight, ponies!

    So when they are foiled by their own sisters, we have a case of two groups trying to accomplish what they think is right. A much more balanced story than what I've often seen in environmental messages. 

    What seems right and what is right
    are often hard to distinguish.

    The Crusaders also struggle with their own binary thinking. If a pony has any reason to support Filthy Rich, such as blood relations or economic dependence, then they must be 100% on board with his operations. They aren't able to see the gray area between opposing viewpoints and thus they limit their own options. 

    They do care, but they're not absolutists.
    If you dismiss them, you shut down your own efforts.

    Yet a protagonist is only so good as their opposition. So let's talk about...

    Filthy Rich
    I'd argue that Filthy is the weakest element in this story due to his very basic thinking. He's certainly more personable than many of the "big business" villains I've seen in entertainment. Especially in programming for the young, there's a strong temptation to de-humanize a businessperson so that their enterprise is completely evil. Any action taken against them seems righteous.

    Tiara be like,
    "Did I inherit his brain? I hope not."

    Filthy is not pure evil, but he is pretty dumb. He wants to sell memories of the Whitetail Wood by cutting it down. He seems entirely oblivious to his own actions and for a time I thought there was a deeper wound. Within the second issue he became visibly upset when the Crusaders mentioned his Grandmama. This anger could have hinted at some unresolved feelings driving his decisions, but now that the series is over I think he was indignant that they were trying to use his Grandmama's memory against him. Not an unreasonable stance.

    His shifting between reminiscing about Grandmama
    and then dismissing the woods gave me an impression of
    something deeper. Turns out I misread him.

    Though his is somewhat dismissive, much of Filthy's antagonism towards the Crusaders comes from them trying to sabotage his efforts. That's not totally unreasonable. I think if Filthy had a little more development behind his motives he would have enjoyed a better showing. Applejack states that big money can distort someone's views, but that's placing the blame on an external factor. I think Filthy would have made a good example of how losing one's ideals as they get older can wound them. 

    His anger is justified, but shouting at children
    is not a smart or effective method.

    After all, he needed some moral guidance from his daughter...

    Diamond Tiara
    She is the highlight of this three-parter. Ever since "Crusaders of the Lost Mark", she's been relegated to a background pony and the occasional, adorable wave.

    Better than being forgotten, but not as good as this story.

    You might say, "Silver–you elated eagle–why is it so important that we check in on her?" Indeed, I've seen comments stating that there's no point because her character arc is complete. I'm not sure one could call it an arc but it is true she completed a journey from selfish brat to a redeemed soul. Yet there's a reason the hero's journey is presented as a circle. 

    This may seem mundane given how often it's cited,
    but read Joseph Campbell's works and you suddenly realize it's revolutionary.

    The completion of one journey is the start of something new. I think many of us are curious to see how Diamond Tiara's transformation has affected her daily life and changed her personality. What hesitations does she face? How is she integrating this change into her life? This comic offers us a wonderful glimpse.

    There's some of that old pride and maybe haughtiness.
    She isn't a new character, but rather evolved.

    She is still a commanding presence, even taking over motivation for the initial cleanup efforts. Yet she keeps secrets like knowledge of the lumber mill because she is afraid to lose what she has gained. This is somewhat justified due to how the Crusaders often keep her out of the loop for fear she's on Filthy's side. It isn't until she approaches the Crusaders with humility and openness that she affirms her goals and becomes their true ally. 

    Too adorable to say no!

    There's an idea I've been mulling over ever since "To Change a Changeling." Maybe every person can be redeemed, but not everyone can be the redeemer. The Crusaders were never going to sway Filthy Rich. This doesn't mean that they're useless. Their effectiveness lies in empowering Diamond Tiara and helping encourage her to take action. Only Diamond Tiara had this ability and she gets to demonstrate a new power: empathy.

    The idea can be real even if the entity is not.

    The old Diamond Tiara might have fought to keep her Great Grandmama's cabin untouched, but after her transformation she can now apply that personal connection to other ponies. She now sees a bigger picture and as a result knows just what to say to convince her father. It's a great example of how far she's come and an example of how completing one journey is only part of a character's story.

    One day, you too can learn the power of over-preparation!

    The Spirit of the Forest
    Given that it's been a week I think it's no longer necessary to keep the secret. Though we saw its silhouette in the first issue, we get confirmation in the third that the Spirit of the Forest is indeed real. This begs the question of why it didn't reveal itself to Filthy Rich and solve the problem faster. 

    That actually sounds pretty creepy.

    Before anyone proposes this as a plot hole, I think it's a smart move. I think this topic is worth its own post but for the moment I'll point towards what happened when the Spirit allowed the ponies to live their own lives. Diamond Tiara and the Crusaders formed a stronger bond. Filthy Rich awoke to values beyond financial gain. Everyone in Ponyville has an increased appreciation of the Whitetail Woods.

    She gets it! Diamond Tiara totally gets it!

    The Spirit would have been right to intervene, but it was more effective to watch and see how the young would handle this. The idea of the Spirit was the minimum amount needed to inspire the Crusaders and Diamond Tiara to action. They carry that idea with them moving forward. Had the Spirit stepped in, they would have only learned dependence.  

    Taking time to understand what you're fighting for
    can be just as important as the fight itself.

    Aside from shoring up the antagonist's presentation, I think this three-parter is a triumph. It's a great showing for the Crusaders, their families, and a former nemesis. It handles the theme of effective action with far greater skill than people might give credit. Though heavy-handed in its initial presentation I enjoyed how the story represented more factors than the Whitetail Woods alone. It shows that one can strive towards protecting the environment without casting aside the needs and well-being of others. 

    If this was Diamond Tiara's last hurrah, I'd say it's a grand success.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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