• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic Annual 2021


    The 2021 Annual is out and it looks like MLP has gone to the dogs! Team Rarity is checking back with the Diamond Dog kingdom with a full crew in tow.

    Check out the full review after the break, with a few doggone spoilers!


    Just as our visit to Abyssinia takes place after a four year absence, revisiting the Diamond Dogs’ home has been seven years in the running. The last time we saw a version of this place was way back in 2014 with Friends Forever #6.

    From way back in the day! Might be a different location.
    Though I personally think it looks nice.


    A lot has changed thanks to Brianna Garcia’s artwork. I initially mistook Garcia’s artwork for Tony Fleecs’ style. The ponies are every on-point for the show, with the added bonus that the cutie marks are hand-drawn.

    This is why Big Mac prefers solo trips.


    Yet the real challenge is depicting an entirely new setting and new characters. As with Caper’s crew, we don’t get a lot of time with the individual new characters and thus the visuals need to convey a lot of their personalities. This often comes down to a study in contrasts such as between the twins Fiona and Amber.

    "Floppyears" is the best name. Period.

    Though their faces are similarly constructed, Fiona’s larger, floppy ears and simpler clothing suggest a more tomboy approach the elegantly-dressed Amber. Another contrast is between the conflicting queens Katherine and Jenn. 

    "Proudpaws" is not-so-great-a-name. Semicolon.

    Katherine’s rigid attitude and bristling personality find expression in her sleeker face and back-swept fur. The cooler color scheme provided by Heather Breckel further illustrates this viewpoint. Jenn’s fur emphasizes circles and forward-sweeping styles, reflecting her more open and at-ease attitude. At the same time, a bang often covers one eye. This can often imply a character is concealing something.

    In Brightest Day,
    In Darkest Night...

    Even the kingdom itself is a contrast between an antiquated, boxy castle that reflects a more brutalist period while the newer castle is stylized to emulate Canterlot and thus expresses an interest in the outside world. Of particular interest is that the common housing is arrayed to be out of sight of the opposite side. Either a mountain range or the castles themselves serve to keep the other side in the dark. It’s a good representation of two uncompromising perspectives.

    They're employing advanced hedge maze technology!

    Rarity’s crew consists of Maud Pie, Mage Meadowbrook, and Big Macintosh. Unlike Applejack and Fluttershy–who often had to reign in teammates–Ratiy’s approach to leadership is much more laissez-faire. She’s perfectly happy to let Maud run off and explore the local geology or to have Mage volunteer her medical services unsolicited. 

    That is... entirely factual.

    Instead of being a driving force, Rarity gets swept up in the meeting and greeting and seems content to let the socialization override any concerns. It’s only through Meadowbrook’s own willfulness that Rarity begins to probe the issue regarding the two segregated kingdoms. Even when reporting the events to Twilight, Rarity chooses to tease the information so that they can socialize later on. Rarity has often favored form over function, and so this feels in-character. She’s an excellent negotiator and representative, but she has to be paired with somepony practical to help stay on task. 

    Timing is important.

    As with the other groups, there’s at least one character who goes with the flow and does not have a personal agenda. Like Rockhoof and Pinkie Pie, Big Macintosh’s contributions are more subtle and don’t focus into any one moment. He’s there to support in any way possible, even if the spotlight shines on others. 

    I didn't say he lacked for any moments.

    Speaking of shared spotlight, this comic is facing a big hurdle. Zecora’s group of friends had about three issues for each member to demonstrate at least some individuality before receiving their element. Capper’s gang hasn’t even had a half comic to show their own personalities. This Annual comic is worth at least two issues, but that’s still a very limited scope to get to know six new characters.

    In this place, "No Littering" is the same as "No Hugging!"

    The royal Caninian family is split right down the middle with a conflict between two sisters. Given this, the source of the conflict demands the most attention. Thus four of the princesses we witness have a limited amount of time to introduce themselves. This is why the character designs are so important to conveying some sense of understanding and possible identification.

    Future of the country? Are you planning on hooking them up with suitors?


    Even though the core conflict is going to come down to both sides recognizing their own weaknesses and the other’s strength, the presentation feels lopsided. Queen Jenn is our first introduction to these two kingdoms. We witness her being generous, and the benefits of her progressive approach are expressed through a massive library, public education, and personal leisures. The only downside is a physical ailment that keeps the Queen from enjoying these benefits herself.

    Somewhere, Tom the Boulder is weeping rocky tears.


    Despite a warm welcome at Queen Katherina’s castle, the Regent herself is cold, abrasive, and quick to criticize Equestria’s perpetual conflict. She’s not wrong, but she also overlooks the fact that Equestria is still standing despite all the foes who railed against it. We see nothing of the state of her half of the kingdom, nor any benefits of traditionalism beyond the mining caves. Surely a traditionalist would help preserve artistic monuments, religious gathering sites, or historical significance. Given that Katherina is the second presentation and thus there is already a biased against her, I think too much focus lay on her faults and there wasn’t an equal showing of her strengths. 


    And here we have liquid tears. It all flows together!

    Team Rarity is the compromise between these two camps as they explore the dark unknown with some protection. Given all that has happened in 2020 through the present, seeing them walking around with masks was an understandable but uncomfortable sight. It’s here that we’re introduced to an external threat that will help reconcile the internal conflict. 

    Little guy looks like he had one bite too many.

    So far as I know, Carbunkappas are a species unique to this comic. Their turtle-like appearance gives rise to the Kappa of Japanese folklore. I wondered if the “Carbun” section was a reference to carbon or some other geolocical theme; but their role in spreading an illness might point more towards the infectious collection that is a carbuncle. 

    Big Mac be all like:
    "Why don't I get to help knit the family bonds?"

    Undoing the damage brings the conflicting camps together and a convenient fall places near this regions Tree of Harmony. It’s at moments like this where the groups centered around a theme can really distinguish themselves. Zecroa’s friends had shown their Elements through a journey similar to Twilight’s trek through the Everfree Forest. The Caninian Sisters face a different struggle: two of the Elements don’t immediately react. 

    We're a little broken in some way.

    Given more time, these characters could have explored the events that led to their disparate views or works to overcome whatever held them back. Yet time is not on this comic’s side and so a public reconciliation helps settle things, paving the way to the conclusion. This includes giving a name to our mystery organization that is monitoring the activation of each “temple”. 


    This is both wonderful and creepy.

    While the conflict between the sisters is a central focus, I find my attention zeroes in on the dynamic between Meadowbrook and Rarity. It’s a different clash of practicality and expressiveness than Applejack and Rarity, but I see some parallels. It’s this kind of exploration that I enjoy most in the comics, as I did with some of my favorite Friends Forever issues.

    Maud Pie.


    That’s not to say I failed to enjoy the newest additions. It is clear, however, that this story needed more than even an annual-comic’s length to give these characters proper attention. I think one could fill at least half a season exploring the ins-and-outs of just one new location. So I don’t envy the staff having to tackle this four times over. 


    A Queen who must remind others is not a Queen at all.

    Given that all this is part of Twilight’s new efforts and it’s a chance to see characters interact in new ways, I think it’s a story worth exploring. As an introduction to a new style of Diamond Dogs, it does a respectable amount but I can feel the time constraints holding the story back. At the fandom’s creative peak, I could see a lot of people taking up these characters and fleshing them out through fan expressions. As we move towards G5 I don’t expect the same wave to sweep these characters along, but I hope some creative folks will give them a second look.


    I think this guy hasn't yet taken some of those offered classes.

    Due to time constrains of my own, the review of The Magic of Cybertron will be up later this week. Until then! I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Okay, that looks pretty cool. Wonder what they call it?

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