• Let's Review: Equestria Girls – March Radness

    Ha-ha! You thought were you were done with me for the day, but this is a double-release week.

    Equestria Girls may have ended production, but the comics carry the idea forward. Several short stories centering around the humanized pony girls.

    Check out the full review–with some spoilers–after the break.

     Equestria Girls was a strange journey. It faced a great deal of resistance from fans, including myself. It was mostly Sunset Shimmer–the most unique element in the series–that won folks over. So it's unfortunate that her solo focus in this one-shot is a reprint of "The Fall of Sunset Shimmer" from back in 2013. More on that at the end.

    How close was Celestia's school to a hospital?
    Asking for a friend.

    The new material comes courtesy of Danny Djeljosevic, Christina Rice, and Toni Kuusisto serving as both writer and artist. Kuusisto's style has often lent itself to detail. In the past, I've critiqued that some panels can have such an over-abundance of background detail that the characters look out of place. Equestria Girls offers a unique opportunity for his skill.

    Is that license plate a reference?
    I can't tell.

    Both Canterlot High and the surrounding town are not meant to be clean slates. So rather than concentrating all the detail in a few areas, Kuusisto gets to spread the details out to passing cars, imperfections in the sidewalk, or the long perspective of school hallways. Add to this that the Humane Seven's clothing needs details like folds and we have a nice distribution that brings the imagery together. 

    I feel like they'd snap in a strong wind.

    Kuusisto also excels at action as his characters are never static. He's one of the boldest artists in terms of tackling perspectives and exaggerated angles. Yet I got the impression he wasn't as practiced with the Equestria Girls' designs. In particular, facial expressions can rank from excellently drawn to unnervingly odd. For a positive, take a look at how we see the expressions of three characters, plus the way Sunset Shimmer's mouth is shaped to match her face's orientation.

    "That's my secret, Sunset.
    I'm always 'kind of'."

    Now compare that to Rainbow Dash biting her lip while making accusation. 

    I fully expect this to be memed
    alongside Kanye West.

    Equestria Girls already look odd due to the original designs and sometimes their torsos seem extra elongated or their frames too narrow. I realize this can reflect their adolescence age but it stands out when you witness Kuusisto draw characters who never had an on-screen appearance. The most robust example being Ms. Harsh Whinny. 

    Harsh Whinny seems more anime-proportioned.

    There are also moments of imbalance or perhaps miscommunication. One example being that colorist Heather Breckle didn't realize that Sunset Shimmer's dress goes over pants rather than bare legs. 

    "Slip?" I thought we were done
    with literal sound effects!

    Or there are some cases where dialog seems to weigh down a panel's side while the other is left empty. In these cases I wonder if the intended dialog shifted, forcing a rearrangement of word bubbles after the panel was already complete. 

    Stop talking, Rainbow! You will be crushed by the weight
    of your own words!

    And then there is a jarring error when thought bubbles lead to the wrong character. In cases such as this, I wonder about how much time the staff had to bring this all together, who facilitated communication, and what led to this mistake?

    Rainbow's thoughts in Applejack's head...
    She's a telepath!

    Yet despite my list of errors, I found that the further I read the less things seemed to stand out. Much like Equestria Girls the show, the comics might require an adjustment to the style. We have several stories to accomplish just that. 

    We don't get to see a lot of Rainbow's family life.
    Wonder what she thinks of the Apple family.

    Detention is Magic
    It's said that if you have 12 witnesses to a crime, you'll get at least 13 different accounts. Such as the case as the lead cast land in detention and play the blame game. We learn about a series of events with each character adding their own biased perspective. This is sometimes called a "Rahsomon" style story. 


    What's most fun about this is seeing how the cast's exccentricies influence the setting. High school–especially when idealized like in Equestria Girls–isn't that interesting on its own. Ponyville's residents could be up to any number of events as we witnessed them walking or interacting within the background. Canterlot High's students are less of a mystery. They're going to class or just hanging out. We know this because the setting is more a limit than an invitation. 

    Is it weird that I'm most interested in what Trixie did to land this cameo?

    So seeing something wild like Twilight building a pie-building robot or Pinkie choking the hallways with decorations is much more lively. It's part of the uniqueness that elevates Canterlot High above the mundane. It's also very telling as we see the presentations and their biases.

    Remember this for a later story.
    Rainbow's got ballet balance skills!

    We start with Pinkie, who's view is not only exaggerated but borderline absurdist. Next comes Fluttershy, who is more grounded in plausibility but still assuming malice. Perhaps the funniest image is Applejack's expression as Twilight assumes she intentionally activated the Lattice-Bot. Followed by Honest Applejack, who doesn't express any motive to Sunset Shimmer, but also fails to recount a giant balloon. 

    Applejack is getting her inner DeeDee on!

    Put simply, as we go down the line the perspectives shift from the absurd to the more factual, with Rarity providing the truth. It's a fun story and a nice look into each character's mind. 

    My fabulosity will pierce the heavens!
    Who the hay do you think I am?

    Dashin' Around
    From here on out, Rainbow Dash is the story's main focus. Given the short length, it makes sense to rely on the most extroverted and aggressive character. Problem is that with two stories focusing heavily on Rainbow, it's easy to feel like the other characters are getting shortchanged. 

    An interesting, but disturbing, tank cameo.

    The conflict relies on dramatic tension as Rainbow wants to attend an A.K. Yearly signing but promised to spend the day helping the Apples. While their goal is to enjoy some quality time, Rainbow is trying to reach an end point without expressing her desires. 

    Rainbow Dash's spine faces the ultimate test.

    Again, we get some nice insight into Applejack's character as she sits Rainbow down and explains how she might have honored the commitment without honoring the spirit. Applejack is a character who needs a contrast to show her best. It's part of the reason Applejack-centric episodes seemed to often go south. This is an example of how she can be at her best by being a anchor to someone else's eccentric nature.  

    Much like Harsh Whinny, this unnamed assistant
    is drawn with a different style.

    It's a sweet story but it has the least impact. There really isn't any intense moment beyond a leaf pile dive. 

    You think that A.K. Yearling is also secretly Daring Do?

    Getting Seconds 
    Funny enough, the Rainbow Dash/Applejack dynamic carries over into the last of the new stories. Long-time fans might remember a similar story in "The Last Roundup".

    A rare appearance by the principals.
    An even rarer moment where they seem competent.

    A new sports festival is a prime opportunity for the girls to compete against one another. I get why Applejack and even Pinkie Pie might want to test themselves against Rainbow, but I'm not so clear on the others. This seems like an event for which they'd want to help the others train.

    Told you! Mad ballet skills!

    Even so, this training is not strictly separate. Only Rainbow Dash attempts to excel at every event. What we witness is her confidence's erosion as she comes in as a consistent second. Just like pony Applejack, this version of Rainbow is so focused on not coming in first that she doesn't recognize the exceptional ability to score so high across the board. It's like the old saying, "Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one."

    Even madder ballet skills!

    Rainbow voices her self-doubt very explicitly, which I chalk up to the story's limited time. It's here that we get the most stand-out moment of Sunset Shimmer. She expressed earlier that she doesn't grasp Soccer rules and strategies well, but I can't tell if she's making the wrong decisions intentionally. Intentional or not, she manages to frustrate Rainbow enough into coming out on to the field with them. 

    I could make so many juvenile jokes with this...

    Each of these three stories has a moral about being aware of others and appreciating their goals or strengths. They're fun, short, and have varying levels of memorability. Having so much focus on Rainbow Dash can be a frustration, but that doesn't mean other characters lack a chance to shine. 

    Love the action in this panel, but the space to the left seems too open.

    But that makes the reprint more disappointing. 

    Intense competition... because... uh...
    Moving on!

    The Fall of Sunset Shimmer
    I talked about this during a retrospective but I'll reiterate some points. This story is part of the Katie Cook/Andy Price team that brought so many enjoyable stories. This one, however, is more a visual enjoyment than a character piece. 

    You have not paid attention to the Canterlot Guard, have you?

    The biggest issue is that it doesn't reveal much beyond what Celestia summarized in the first Equestria Girls. Sunset is presented as a talented but prideful pony who shuns those she sees as inferior while demanding more recognition. In her eyes, talent translates into station and quality of character is a distraction. 

    Can you summon a social life?

    This view is contrasted by seeing a filly Twilight playing with Cadance and Shining Armor in the background. A nice touch, which also sets the stage for a joke that's funnier in hindsight.

    Moondancer as Fluttershy... It kinda works!

    I wonder if Lyra, Minuet, Lemon Hearts, Twinkleshine, and Moondancer were the only unicorns established enough to have some kind of cameo. It's funny to see them serving as proxies for the Mane Six when we would later witness them as a group of friends with whom Twilight tried to reconnect. 

    Usually, it's the Princess' law that throws the book at you.

    The final confrontation between Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia is well done and filled with emotion. Yet I don't see this as Sunset's "fall". Something happened to make her set such high standards and we don't know what. Celestia is presented without any responsibility, even though later stories would emphasize her own mistakes. 

    We don't talk about the cake judging contest of '82.

    The one new nugget of info is that Sunset learned about dark magic. Another funnier in hindsight moment as the franchise hadn't yet introduced the forbidden wing in the Canterlot Library. This goes part of the way to explaining how Sunset knew about the Elements of Harmony and cross-dimensional rules, though it doesn't go into detail. 

    Honestly, with all the changes Sunset has undergone,
    I wouldn't mind seeing her team up with "Queen" Twilight.

    This was a story that relied heavily on the character, but it came out before Sunset really got to be anything beyond a one-dimensional bully. Given what we learned in Rainbow Rocks, I think another attempt at such a story would put more emphasis on the pressure Sunset might have felt, and the lack of friends is the real reason behind her fall. 

    Rare is the talent to make plants grow... with FIRE!

    Still, it's got great artwork and background jokes, plus it has a unique relation given all that came after. 

    Not for the first movie, it wasn't.

    All in all, I think this collection of shorts is a fun read and worth the investment. Hopefully, the comics might do what the show could not and explore what these human versions might do after graduation. 

    That "Crunch" is really Rainbow's hopes.

    Or give a Fluttershy-centric story. Never really got that either. 

    I cannot imagine her future career.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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