• Let's Review: MLP #84

    While to Student Six face conflict from without and within during Feats of Friendship, Ocellus is facing her own challenges in the main series! How will the adorable young Changeling express herself?

    Catch the full review after the break, but beware the midterm spoilers! They're brutal.

    Before diving into this story, it's important to make clear my thoughts on the School of Friendship as presented in Season 8. While I loved the students and enjoyed the concept, I never thought that the Mane Six enjoyed a truly positive showing as teachers. We often checked in to see them at their worst, which only validated Neighsay's criticisms.

    It's a bitter feeling when you think,
    "Yeah, he might have had a point."

    This comic goes a long way to showing a more positive example. It also faces its own unique challenge.

    You're carrying the weight of the Changeling race
    but are you caring for yourself as an individual?

    How does one convey both dance and shape-shifting? Each has its own set of challenges. You might say, "Silver, you texting Tattler, dancing is easy in animation!" But I can recall some points where that was not at all true.

    Can't tell if they're dancing or...
    No, they're definitely not dancing.

    Now try to convey that same idea in a still medium like comics. Such is the challenge before Toni Kuusisto. Not only must he convey Ocellus' efforts to display Equestria's history in dance, but he must do so as she changes forms. Starting with the shape-shifting, there are many ways to do this. I recently re-read an old G.I. JOE comic which showed the character Zartan changing shapes through bubbles. Eeeeeevil bubbles. 

    You'd think the flash would
    tip everyone off.

    That's one way to do it. Others might show a morphing process as the character walks across a panel. Kuusisto takes a unique approach that follows the theme of a historical presentation. In some cases we see Ocellus standing next to the historical figures. A visual cue from bright orange magic conveys the shape-shifting, but in many ways the figures are standing alongside the young Changeling.

    Interesting that Ocellus shares Celestia's hooves .
    An error or a sign that she's losing stamina as she goes?

    A similar idea is to show Ocellus as the starting point in a line of figures, but each character represents a different dance stage. Thus we enjoy a fluid motion series with a visual variety and conveys the idea of representing Equestria's timeline. A few traces of magic between each figure helps convey the shifting forms.

    What do you want to bet Rockhoof could be just as graceful?

    While still a detailed artist, Kuusisto seems to be finding a balance between the characters and their backgrounds. There are panels with heavy detail on features like candleholders or texturing on grass, it's not as overpowering and thus the characters mesh better with their surroundings. I also enjoy that he adds some shading to Twilight's mane and tail, which makes her stand out while demonstrating the artist's own style. I don't see this applied to any other character. Perhaps the compromise lies in less detail on the backgrounds and a bit more detail on the characters. 

    I think the shading adds more to the character.
    Wouldn't mind seeing this style explored further.

    The plot for this is very direct, which is why I'm glad for Kuusisto's art to help add some energy. He does a great job of conveying the students' personalities through poses and expressions. My favorite set being the Student Six puzzling over what to do for a midterm presentation. I could envision the show presenting Sandbar balancing a quill on his snout while Gallus and Smolder play a game of table football.

    That empty spot is reserved for what Cozy Glow could have been!

    Gallus and Smolder present the most comedy. A younger (and kinder) Waldorf and Statler, their running commentary often enhances the group's reactions. While Sandbar and Yona have some fun moments, their role is less central. Ocellus' working herself into insomnia and later comatose also yields some humor, but it's a bit sour as we know she's self-destructing.

    You will believe a Changeling can make you cry!

    Just because I say the plot is direct does not mean it lacks meaning. Ocellus has taken on the burden of representing all Changelings not long after their reformation. This isn't something she got to explore beyond "What Lies Beneath" and a confrontation with her friends shows how much this means. Perhaps the most determined supporter is Silver Stream, who gets to take on a more serious approach.

    When Silver Stream is serious, 
    you know it's gotten real!

    But the crowning moment is when Twilight has a private talk with Ocellus. This is the kind of story I think the show never got to express. A member of the Student Six is struggling, and one of the Mane leads get to share her experience and insight. Twilight–so known for freaking out that "Twilighting" has become a verb and "Twilinanas" an adjective–turns that flaw into a connection. It's not saying that Twilight no longer struggles with such impulses. Rather, she's working on it and wants Ocellus to give herself permission to not take on so much. 

    If you go for three hundred forty-five,
    that's another story!

    We do also see other members of the Mane Six teaching classes, with Applejack's lecture on honesty being especially relevant. We got snippets like this in the show but rarely did they tie into the central conflict. However, I don't support Fluttershy's lesson on bear behavior. If something that big and powerful roars at me, I'm not inclined to wait and see if it's happy. 

    If it looks like a bear... You know what? That's all I need.
    If it looks like a bear, I'm gone!

    This is the kind of School of Friendship story I wish we could have seen in Season 8. It allows the students to struggle with a problem and express themselves before having an established cast member show how much they've learned and grown.

    Aw, no funny book titles?
    I'm guessing Kuusisto isn't a fan of easter eggs.

    So I have no hesitations recommending this book to all. It's a great presentation for Ocellus and Twilight, the supporting cast is fun, and the artwork conveys ideas and actions through innovation. If the "Season 10" version of the comics can follow this trend then I think there'll be strong support.

    I'd be more concerned if the students 
    didn't react this way.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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