• Let's Review: My Little Pony The Manga Vol. 3


    Grab your Gi and dust off those henshin wands. It’s time to talk about the MLP Manga!

    The final entry on this three-year romp is out and is loaded with references, meta humor, and adorable ponies. Check out the full review after the break, but there will be spoilers. Gomenasai!

    This series has been a curious ride. The first volume was a collection of individual stories; high on silly fun without much of a unifying thread. The second volume was a singular story that still had plenty of energy but demanded much more attention from the reader. This volume is a compromise: a large-scale story broken up into the individual quests.


    Don't forget Derpy!


    One thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the artwork. Over the past two years I’ve praised how this series can be so lively even in a monochromatic format. Much of that comes down to the character designs, striking a balance between the familiar ponies and a more anime-influenced expression set. Personal favorite style is whenever a character is being extremely heartfelt, as their full eyes help convey the sincerity. 

    Every time I think Fluttershy can't get cuter...
    I'm proven wrong.

    This often highlights the humor a something terrible happens and that sincerity breaks into disbelief. There are cases where the expressions witnessed seem more like general stock. The kind of thing even a casual otaku will notice across a dozen shows. At the same time there are moments where the action seems unique to a pony and enhances this volume’s presentation. 

    Sweat drops. Always huge in anime.

    Given that we’re witnessing stories across a multiverse, character designs are going to be crucial. Not just for the lead cast but also their alternate forms and guest stars. Some are direct references to existing media, so it’s less a challenge to make something new and rather ponify an existing creation. The “Apple Lord” Dio is a prime example. 


    You thought it was Dio... But it was me, Apple Lord!

    In other cases the designs might seem original but utilize existing media. The Retro Mane Six from Rarity’s adventure are taken from Gamelof’s expansions. While surprising, this isn’t disappointing because the origin of the design isn’t as important as the effort put into its expression. This isn’t the same as copy/pasting vectors and pre-existing artwork into a story like in MLP #81. Nor is it lifting designs from the fandom’s efforts. As long at the artist themself drew the images and the design’s origin comes from within the same franchise, I consider it fair game. 


    I actually like those looks.
    Then again, fashion was never my forte.


    Opening Chapter

    Less appealing is lifting the characters from an early part of the series and presenting them in a later context. This story begins in a time period that could be just shortly after Season 3. Discord is reformed but it’s less respectful towards Fluttershy than he would be in later seasons. Yet the conflict quickly shifts forward to a period after “The End of the End”, with all the characters–sans Twilight–appearing as their older selves. 

    We never do see full-alicorn Twilight.
    Mixed reactions, there.

    Discord bungles yet again, displacing the Elements of Harmony in space and time and resetting Equestria to a Nightmare Moon-run dystopia. So it’s up to the lead characters to rescue Twilight and then cavort through alternate realities to reclaim their Elements. There’s a clear danger and a sense of limited time as the altered history will eventually become permanent. Yet the Manga is not meant to be taken too seriously. In a more serious story, we wouldn’t know how the imprisoned Celestia was doing. That lack of knowledge would be its own tension, as it was in the series premier. Instead, Celestia is a means by which the author breaks the tension.


    Let's not question how one tans a coat.
    Let's just recognize that they found a way to show Celestia fanservice. Again.

    This chapter highlights the struggle in writing a character like Discord. He is so powerful that he’s a convenient way to begin a conflict, yet then one has to figure out how to remove him so he can’t provide a quick fix. The problem with this approach is that he is repeatedly presented as an antagonist who doesn’t own up to his actions. Since this is hot on the heels of his Grogar impersonation, it’s pretty grating to see him putting everyone at risk again.


    Discord, you really need to work on your PR.

    The highlight of this first chapter is seeing Twilight’s situation after she lost to Nightmare Moon. We never witnessed her alternate fates in “The Cutie Re-Mark”, so this feels like an exploration of something we missed. We also get some speculation on what a world run by Nightmare Moon would be like outside her castle. Surprisingly, she made an alliance with Queen Chrysalis and Changelngs seem to have the run of everyday life.


    I sometimes hear people say that they don't think Nightmare Moon's rule would be so bad.
    I still don't understand why.

    In more serious stories this would warrant further development. But the Manga has always been geared towards comedy and spectacle so we only enjoy a glimpse of this darker reality before we head to brighter and sillier territory. 

    Yes, that statue looks completely unkempt!

    Fluttershy’s Adventure

    If Discord’s character has been regressed, Fluttershy’s character is flanderized. This is a pony who has learned to perform in front of crowds, found a love of singing, and become bolder and more confident than her early season presentation. All of that is gone now as she winds up in a reality where she is a superstar about to compete on the Equestrian version of American Idol.


    "Sign my baby" is a thing.
    Google it!

    With her alternate self injured, our Fluttershy has to step up and compete. Showing a sense of meta-humor, the Manga makes callbacks to the first volume’s Shed.mov jokes. Problem is that this humor comes at the further expense of Fluttershy’s character. The first volume showed Fluttershy facing a problem and finding a way to doge it, not confront it. This volume tries the same thing and–in a surprising reference to a Super Bowl scandal–forces Fluttershy to engage her worst fear. It then shows her failing the challenge and completing her mission more by lucky than effort. I can get that this can be funny; especially if one shares the critique that “Fluttershy gets over her shyness” has been played out. Yet “Fluttershy surrenders to shyness” isn’t a satisfying subversion. If anything, I find it discouraging. Part of why Fluttershy is my favorite character is that feeling of triumph when she rises above her limits. A story that reinforces them isn’t as fun. 


    The adorableness has been doubled!

    This frustration is reinforced by the best scene in this chapter. Celebrity-shy admits that she pushes her counterpart because she knows that–as the same being–both are capable. She is standing as an opposite to our Fluttershy, believing that she can bridge the difference. Again, I don’t think it’s fun to watch a character fail even if the end results are positive. 


    Sad that this pep talk gets cast into the void.


     Rarity’s Adventure

    Our fabulous fashionista is a stronger presentation, though oddly not the focus. Transported to a dimension where the 1980’s held the fashion world hostage, Rarity is in a constant reactionary state. And Rarity reactions are wonderfully extreme.

    Rarity freakouts: never out of fashion!

    Unlike Fluttershy, this doesn’t seem like a regression as Rarity never confronted her dramatics. If anything, she used them as fuel for success. The odd thing is that this story likewise features a sort to failure, but not by Rarity refusing to act. If anything, she exhausts all options as she steps in to fulfill a role meant for her missing alter-self… Whoa, deja vu. 


    I can vouch for this madness!

    This chapter is also the first taste of Manga-specific characters, especially the meta-named Plot Twist. As far as I can tell, there is no relation to our regular Twist. She is a cross between Diamond Tiara and Suri Polomare, acting as a minor antagonist whose defeat is pretty comical. 

    She's so non-fabulous!
    I love it!

    The main draw here is getting to see all these retro designs and having these alternate Mane Six play off Rarity. It’s one of the most comedic chapters and thus high up on my favorites. We’re not at #1 yet.

    Pinkie Pie’s Adventure 

    Having been a prominent role in volume 1 and overpowering in volume 2, I wasn’t keen on Pinkie’s chapter. Yet I found myself entertained and going with the flow much like Pinkie. It takes a lot to make her resistant to a situation. The opposite of Rarity and Fluttershy, Pinkie dives head-first into this new world and gets swept up in the spectacle. Problem is that doesn’t make for great conflict, so one could argue the real focus for this chapter is The Sombra Twilight. A Batman parody, she too is quick to adapt to the situation. Yet it’s not out of enthusiasm. It’s experience and fatigue that allow her to pick up on the stakes and act.

    Batman likely feels this way once a week.

    To further a personal conflict, The Sombra Twilight is at odds with her former sidekick, Spyke. That’s not a typo. That’s the 90’s asserting itself. Pinkie provides commentary as the Dysfunctional Duo attempt to defeat a Joker/Harley hybrid: The Pink Piester. Funny enough, this villainous Pinkie Pie is just as accepting of the situation as our usual party pony. There’s a theory out there that comedy is the act of forging a link between lack and excess. With Rarity, it was a lack of understanding leading to an excessive reaction. With Pinkie, it’s a lack of a resistance to an excessively silly situation. In other words, the parody we witness doesn’t affect her at all. 


    What plan?

    This chapter’s pretty fun and it’s especially nice to see another superhero sendup. It pokes fun at superhero tropes without dismissing the genre. Although “Power Ponies” tackled the idea of pony superheroes first, this has its own identity and style that make it a real treat!

    Rainbow Dash’s Adventure 

    This story is our third instance of a Mane Six pony filling in for their counterpart. Yet while we’ve seen the idea play out already, the presentation is unique. Whereas Rarity and Fluttershy attempted a ruse, Rainbow Dash doesn’t have to put on any act. Everypony knows who she is and what’s going on. It almost counteracts her enthusiasm in tackling the unknown, as this world is nearly identical to Rainbow’s. 


    Even Rainbow Dash can't stand herself.

    The only real difference is a massive (and grossly irresponsible) race track that hosts the biggest competition. If this story is meant to be a parody of racing tropes, I’m not well-versed enough to recognize them. Instead, a great deal of the humor lies in Rainbow’s pride and its frustration. Again, we connect a massive confidence with a lack of results and the ensuing fallout. Problem is that this is another case of character regression. Rainbow Dash has served as Wonderbolt, teacher, and team player. Now she suddenly so competitive that she can’t work with her own doppelgänger. This is something I’d expect from Rainbow Dash in Season 2. Not the veteran flyer we saw at story’s start. 


    I love that enthusiasm!

    That said, it is fun to see her brashness penalized without any lasting harm. This safety comes courtesy of an alternate-world Fluttershy, whose innocence and enthusiasm is a great contrast. I actually enjoy this Fluttershy’s role more than the chapter focusing on my favorite pony. 


    A black hole at the center of a race track.
    Can one even list all the ways that's a bad idea?

    It’s also worth highlighting that while Rainbow allows her ego to take control, she never loses sight that this race has consequences for two worlds. She’s mindful of the goal and practices a heroic self-restraint when needed. Plus the combined skills and knowledge of two Rainbow Dash’s is a sight to enjoy.

    Applejack’s Adventure 

    From Kaiju to Dragonball mentality, this story is a trip. Arguably the most anime-influenced story and the most bonkers. Very little of this spectacle has to do with Applejack’s reaction because she’s in familiar territory. Sweet Apple Acres: Ninja Style! Unfortunately, Applejack’s not aware enough to catch the rest of Japanese-awesomeness around her. 


    I hope "Kong vs Godzilla" is this enjoyable!

    Much of the spectacle at first is seeing the Apple family as a ninja clan. Yet a great deal of the humor revolves around blocking off anime tropes. A lengthy fight scene? Skipped. A trek into the most dangerous parts of the forest to recover a mystical scroll? Off page resolution. We should be grateful, for a true Dragonball Z-style pacing would fill up several volumes on its own. But as one conflict ends, another escalates. A strangely-specific prophecy dictates that Applejack will aid her counterpart in a battle against the aforementioned Apple Lord. This opens the door to some meta humor, as they poke fun at the continuity loop of Volume 2.


    It'll be a grand adventure!

    Thus the two Applejacks face off against the Dio-inspired Apple Lord. The core of this conflict revolves around seeding the story with as many Dragonball Z references as possible. Lots of screaming, powering up, false ends, and very dubious decisions by Ninjapplejack. That’s what I call her now. Don’t question it.


    "And is this even his final form?"

    Funnest part in all this is seeing how the mindsets of two worlds work. Our Applejack wants to talk things out, which seems like a very innovative distraction for Ninjapplejack’s assault. And while both get their chance to look foolish, both also help contribute towards the solution. 


    One often denounces duplicity before it happens.
    Afterwards... eh, that's debatable.

    I haven’t considered myself an otaku for years but even someone as out of touch as I can enjoy this story and all its references. It’s probably the most extreme of these else world stories, but it’s not my favorite. That one comes next.

    Twilight’s Adventure

    Why is this story my favorite? Could it be the interaction of a G4 pony in a G1 storyline? The visual conflict between the two generations that still works thanks to the art? The accelerated story that can best be described as “Rescue at Midnight Castle Abridged”? 


    Oh, you jinxed it!


     Short answer to all that is “yes”, but the main draw for me lies in the unicorn Twilight. Unlike the other Mane cast who came from a later timeline, Twilight is entirely unique to the Manga as a figure displaced in time. This is a Twilight who never got to live in Ponyville and instead spent time as a prisoner haunted by failure. So we get a character arc in this story that sees her rising above past tragedy and renewing her efforts. 


    The sight of G1 ponies fills you with determination!

    Granted, it’s not played too seriously. Even Twilight’s breakdown a fresh dark lord’s assault is interrupted by her own frustration. Yet the core idea is there and finds expression without any cheating. I’d argue that Twilight’s alternate timeline freed this story to have the most character growth and exploration because it’s not linked to the show’s outcome. 


    Every day is a gruel-ing day!

    I’m not sure how G1 purists would react to this story. It doesn’t necessarily put the ponies in a positive light as they’re very passive and a little dense. At the same time it does celebrate their innocence and positivity. Plus we get to end on the classic group laugh, as is only proper. 

    The Final Conflict 

    With all the Elements gathered and parallel dimensions conquered, it’s time to face Nightmare Moon. In the most slapstick manner possible. Anyone who is still expecting a serious battle between powers at this point has not realized this story’s spirit. Calling back to each chapter, the Mane Six appear one after another at various battle stages. With each entrance comes a carryover from the individual adventures. Whether it’s Rarity’s fashion phobias or Rainbow at the cusp of a Sonic Rainbow, there’s a payoff to each previous chapter. 


    Priorities, Rarity!

    Much in the spirit of Rainbow Dash’s struggles within this volume, Nightmare Moon becomes the model of offended dignity as she tries to be an intimidating conqueror beset by antics. Luna never got much of a chance to shine in this series what with Celestia fulfilling the role of a silly royal, but Nightmare Moon gets a brief period as the comedic center as she reacts to the various attacks. 


    Henchmen actually enjoy fantastic healthcare.

    We also get some payoff for Spike, who has had to sit most of this volume out. But Spike is a character who shines in bright moments, so a quick appearance as a resistance leader is better than a whole story on the sidelines. 

    He's somehow out-shouting Bulk Biceps. That's no small feat!

      There’s not much to say about the ending, for it is swift and a it jarring. We don’t get a lot of resolution or insight into how the timeline settles. Technically, the unicorn Twilight we’ve witnessed should no longer exist but this isn’t the kind of story that asks its reader to look deeply into such things. It ends on a very meta joke and wishes everyone well with some nice art pieces at the end. 


    Okay, I'm a little sorry we didn't get to see more of
    Luna in this style.


    It’s a bit sad to think this is the final volume but it’s been a fun ride. Lots of humor, a chance to see characters presented outside the norm, and every now and then there can be moments of short-lived seriousness. The comedy reigns supreme and so I wouldn’t encourage anyone to read this volume with the goal of a deeper character study. Sometimes the aim towards a joke can mess with the characters, but the story is fast enough that it quickly shrugs off any lost momentum. The overarching conflict keeps the reader going but each chapter provides a nice breath where you can put it down for a while and come back fresh. A good compromise between the first two volumes.


    Good to see y'all. Thanks for a second volume!

    Definitely recommend this volume for some light-hearted fun and a chance for the imagination to play outside Equestria’s usual context. I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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