• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #97


    Finally! After several false starts, we get an end. It’s time to see the fate of Abyssinia and Team Fluttershy.

    Check out the full review after the break with a few spoilers on the prowl!


    Turns out the quick release date wasn’t the only thing I failed to predict last time. As we start this second half, it seems things are further along in Abyssinia than I thought. Capper’s old set of friends–including a battle-worn Chummer–are already a resistance movement against King Meowmeow. Or is it King Cat? The kitty in question seems to use one name while everyone else uses the latter.

    The artwork by Tony Fleecs remains true from the last issue, with a greater diversity of cat models. Though one advantage to this delayed issue is the chance to circle back to the idea of character designs. A steady critique of the Annual I’ve witnessed is how big a departure the Diamond Dog royal family took from the standard design. It’s wasn’t just the elaborate array of colors. Their poses, heads, and coat details all looked drastically different. Such a big change can be jarring.

    Even in this comic, an appearance by two Diamond Dogs has a different look than “A Dog and Pony Show”. The front paws might be bigger, but they look closer to a real-life dog than their “cousins”. However, I think these two look better alongside Hummer due to their brown and gray coats. In fact, many of the new character designs are more in line with real-world animals. 


    Excluding the strong-but-silent Max, each crew member features either earthy or gray tones that are reminiscent of a real-life cat. The overall effect is that these Abyssinians are easier to accept visually than the Diamond Dogs. It helps that Capper himself is visually diverse with an array of colors. It makes it easier to accept these new characters and their own distinctions. 


    The crosshatching mentioned in the previous issue is employed once gain to signal the darkest parts of the Abyssinian underground. 90% of this comic takes place within the sewer system but the crosshatching technique is rare. A good choice as it’s meant to convey an idea more than anything. That’s not to say that we’re lacking distinct tones as the various beings navigate the depths. There a gray and blue predominance that signals both the darker depths and possible chill that runs through this place. 


    Contrast that with brighter oranges used for both the desert and a mysterious, magical entry and Heather Breckel made a lot of smart choices to convey the mood. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the King’s soldiers borrow too much from Equestria’s royal guard. In addition to being completely identical, the guards wear crests that convey the same Roman style. Though a miner element, it’s a chance to help Abyssinia look more distinct even as its architecture seems to mirror Canterlot’s.

    One of the awkward parts of this story is the we known the plot development. Having witnessed it with both Zecora’s friends and the royal canine family we’ve been expecting a new Tree of Harmony since last issue. Yet considering that we only got to see Capper reunite with his friends in the final quarter of last issue, there’s hardly any time to get to know these new Elements. While Molly, Max, and Admiral Fluffington get some moments to express their core traits, there’s a split focus between Capper and Chummer’s reconciliation and Shadow’s role as an Element.


    We’ve journey with Capper and Chummer throughout the Prequel series and witnessed Capper on several adventures. This reunion and learning Chummer’s history is the biggest investment the audience can feel. It makes sense that the past friends reconcile without much hostility. After all, Capper had already come to terms with his past. Chummer’s flashback shows his own healing–both physical and mental–though there’s a very dark implication. Chummer emerged from his ordeal stronger and more whole than when he betrayed Capper. He still had both eyes and plenty of fur. So all the injuries we witness here are from King Cat and his soldiers. That is surprisingly dark for this series. I don’t think we’ve seen lasting wounds since Inkwell in the Princess Celestia Micro.


    Both characters’ roles as Elements of Generosity and Loyalty strike the same vein as Applejack’s role as the Element of Honesty. These aren’t default natures. Both characters had to hit a low point to realize the value of each virtue and express them while still integrating their past. Though it doesn’t carry the same feeling of triumph as Zecora becoming the Element of Magic, it is fitting and I think the Elements fit the characters.


    Yet this is where the character investment and the story investment clash. This conflict is set in a kingdom where magic is outlawed and its residents cannot wield it. In fact, the current regime has tried to pin all their past tragedy on the very idea of magic. So, being titled the Element of Magic is a big deal. How does Shadow exemplify it through different means? We’ve seen her athleticism, but her role in this story is to go off-page for a while and scout, then deliver exposition. We spend very little time with her and as a result she doesn’t even get to establish a baseline like the other characters. She might be the field leader as she seems to be the one giving orders, but that alone doesn’t make her magical. What sets her apart from the others?


    It is clever to tie this back to MLP #27, though I’ve been dubious about the ideas that issue presented. The ancient Abyssinians had their own version of Nightmare Moon and the Elements of Harmony, suggesting that the Pony’s are just the most recent incarnation of a long-standing cycle. Also, Discord had a Twilight-themed admirer. Take from that what you will.

    Given the shaky presentation of the newest Elements, it helps to have some kind of pony-based grounding to cheer. That base is Fluttershy. With compliance off the table, she’s now trying to keep her team on task. A challenge not helped by Trixie and Discord’s arguments. While Fluttershy of the early seasons would have been a terrible match for this task, this more mature presentation shows her strength.


    Fluttershy’s greatest appeal is hidden depths. The actions and beliefs that emerge under her shy demeanor. I think there’s a different set of rules for “cowardly lions” like Fluttershy. If we learn something new about a bold pony like Rainbow Dash, it’s somehow seen as a diminishment. Her enjoyment of a spa visit being a chief example. Instead of making the character more diverse, she seems to think it an embarrassment. This doesn’t happen with characters like Fluttershy because each new expression is a statement to the world. An action to be taken seriously whereas others are played for humor. I love her presentation here, especially her outburst against the tyrant.


    Last month, I suggested that this story could end with the formation of a resistance and the fate of Abyssinia left to unfold. Yet this story is going for a complete wrap-up, right down to a regime change. This ending feels unearned because we haven’t really gotten to know the Abyssinian’s struggles. Chummer’s injuries are the biggest testament to the King’s cruelty; but how do they plan to combat him? Was there any plan to oust him before they discovered the Tree? How did the resistance try to recruit the populace? Instead of a genuine struggle, it feels like victory essentially fell into their laps. While the story seems to convey that it’s clear skies ahead, I don’t think it’s so clean-cut.


    This culture just underwent several massive shifts at once. Part of the population is now physically different and able to wield magic. There is going to be acceptance, celebration, rejection, and fear all at once. Add to that a power vacuum left by King Cat’s dethronement. A tyrant’s reign is nothing to wax nostalgic over, but an absence of a recognized authority has its own problems. This ending pushes too hard for the ideal resolution instead of allowing some questions to linger and possibly visit down the line. I don’t get the sense we’ll be returning to Abyssinia any more than we might again see the Farasian Coast or Caninia. Now that we’ve seen three Element teams inherit their powers, there’s a fatigue in place.

    Fluttershy’s epilogue does serve to highlight a core idea: there are stories beyond Equestria’s borders. I like this idea and I have no problem with the concept of peer Element groups. We don’t learn anything new about the Knights of Harmony, but I’m hopping that Team Dash will have something new to the table. Something more than a team of six new characters becoming the Elements. Zecora’s story set a new idea. The Diamond Dogs showed how a team can self-sabotage. Sadly, Abyssinia’s story signals that these rhythm is becoming too predictable, and selling the idea of new Elements becomes harder with repetition. There are still enjoyable moments and it’s satisfying to see Capper and Chummer reunite. A fun story, but an awkward piece to work into the larger mural.


    I have no idea when the next issue will genuinely come out, but we’re leaving the Elements story behind for a time. A single-issue tale to help shake things up. I’ll see you all for the next issue as they unleash the Kraken!

    I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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