• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #98


    It's into the briny deep for the royal sisters as they confront a threat from their foalhood. How will Celestia and Luna cope against the Kraken?

    Check out the full review, with some sunken spoilers, after the break!


    Today’s comic is the creation of a team we haven’t yet seen in the comic line. Writer Celeste Bronfman (whose interview is available on this blog) and artist Akeem S. Roberts. Roberts is often a contributor to the New Yorker as well as an animator for Holler studios. As far as I can tell, this is his first foray into comics and the My Little Pony franchise.

    Feel like these two cover the audience's reactions.

    In both writing and art, I get a sense of unfamiliarity with the main content while also seeing a lot of innovation with the new. Case in point, Roberts’ art features a “pinched” feeling with the ponies. Snouts are longer than normal or eyes become much larger and elongated. Perspective is especially drastic with character’s faces. A panel close-up on Celestia is a prime example.

    The elongated snout and drastic perspective really throw me off.

    In fact, perspective may be the biggest factor in this comic. Looking over Roberts’ cartoons for the New Yorker and his Instagram gallery, he has greater experience drawing humans and either intimate room settings or large-scale vistas. Thus many of the settings are presented in a direct view with not a lot of depth, unless it’s a wide outdoors view in which elements are spread out but feature a direct line without many angles. 


    I get some of these. Not all.

    Roberts also faces a unique challenge in drawing horses underwater. A part of me regrets that we couldn’t have the personalized dive suits featured in the B cover, but deadlines are a cruel facet. Given that the deep seas is not exactly a horse’s native habitat, it’s interesting to see how he expresses movement underwater. Again, I think a lack of familiarity presents the ponies as very rigid in an environment that requires fluid movement.

    This is a walking pose modified with flippers.
    Doesn't seem quite right.

    Yet there are choices in the Kraken’s design and panel layouts that aren’t fully appreciated until one has read the whole comic and gone back again. I will delay talking about the Kraken’s design and presentation until we get to story’s conclusion.


    "Blame My Sister"
    The re-blaming!

    The story for Celestia and Luna’s adventure features a great focus on confronting childhood fears, past trauma, and perspective. However, its start is awkward as it seems to infantilize Celestia.

    In fairness, it is hard to shop for the mare who has everything.

    Due to a well-meaning but awkward gift from Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, Celestia becomes reclusive as she remembers the day the Kraken seemingly stole a pair of dolls made in the princesses’ images. In the larger sense, they represented the Princess’ first step to becoming Equestria’s protectors. So it’s a bummer that they lost them so quickly.

    She's Daavy Jones' doll now.

    This is where a lack of familiarity with MLP hinders the setup. Celestia has been at this for over a thousand years. She has witnessed empires be taken and set the grounds for their restoration. She has lost mentors, and seen their return. She had to banish her own sister and then find the one team that could undo this tragedy. There are plenty of criticisms for how she’s gone about this, but there are two facts to which I default: 1. Everything that has been lost has also been restored through Celestia’s groundwork. 2. Celestia has been through a lot.


    Admit it. This situation would scare anyone.

    So after all this, having Celestia become upset at the memory of a doll seems tame by comparison. I could buy that she feels that losing that doll was a poor first step, but in that case the real struggle is to get her to see how much she’s accomplished. Plus, after 1,000 years underwater, those dolls should be worn to nothing.


    It's been a thousand years.
    I cannot stress that enough!

    I think this start is an attempt to connect with a young audience. Kids know the frustration of losing or breaking a favorite toy. Yet I argue that in stories, kids aren’t looking for a proxy. While not aware, they’re looking for examples of who they can become. Celestia was that inspiration for Twilight, and I think she can be the same for the audience. That’s why I like the flashbacks of Celestia as something of a brat contrasted against her mature self. It’s a sign that even early mistakes don’t determine the future.


    Epic royal pouting.

    That said, I do appreciate how Luna forces Celestia’s actions. It is a testament to how much the sisters care for one another. One willing to enter danger to encourage her sister, and the other going along out of care.


    Celestia has had some of the most memorable expressions
    in these comics.

    The journey to the ship graveyard is short, but it does establish that Celestia is not at full power. Her emotional state is messing with her magic, and her infects Luna as well. A part of me wonders if these feelings might instead tempt Celestia to use corrupted magic like Sombra’s. I think that a missed opportunity to explore how fear can make even mature people lash out.

    Either flashback or a contemporary piece, I would love to see Celestia struggle with this.

    It’s here that we confront the Kraken in modern life, and realize its true motives. When I first read this I feared its reasons would be wanting to play with dolls as well, but instead we learn that this is a far more heroic being. So lets break down why this is so innovative, starting with the Kraken’s history.

    At first I thought the Kraken was grinning.
    But that's Celestia's horn.

    Though the Kraken originates from Icelandic and Norwegian mythology, under the name “Hafgufa” (Seastream). It didn’t receive its more common name until Erich Pontoppidan’s Det første Forsøg paa Norges Naturlige Historie, written in 1753. It’s described as being the size of a small island with a mouth as wide as a fjord and teeth that are mistaken for stone cliffs. Its body features tentacles that are mistaken for trees. Because fish gather around this creature, it’s both a good and ill omen. Claim the bounty of the sea while you can, but look out if the sea floor starts rushing towards you!


    A very early drawing of the Kraken.

    The Kraken really took root in our cultural awareness in the 1981 Clash of the Titans movie, replacing the Leviathan of the original legend. This set the stage as the Kraken became either a creature unique in its terror, or rooted in the natural world like a giant octopus or squid. We’ve seen multiple iterations across books, video games, even card games. Fluttershy even speaks of an entire species of Kraken, to everyone’s surprise.


    In so many of these stories, the Kraken is either a mindless beast acting on instinct, or a servant of a greater power like Hades or Davvy Jones. Bronfman made a very unique choice is giving the Kraken the ability to choose and interact, plus having it take on a guardian’s role. This is reflected in Rogers’ artwork as we see in later panel that hearts a theme across its body. Yet in the early panels, those hearts are either partly concealed or presented as a smaller element, making it easy to miss them as Celestia did.

    Long time no see!
    Have you lost weight?

    I think the Kraken is where both Bronfman and Rogers get to enjoy the greatest creative freedom. They’re creating something new within the world and get to shape both a history and look. They may stumble in this first attempt to portray characters we know, but I enjoy this introduction to the new.

    C'mon. It's okay to admit that's adorable!

    It’s strange that while I criticize Celestia’s more childish presentation at the start, I don’t have an issue with this more innocent ending. I think it comes down to balancing a goal for kids to reach towards, combined with a lesson that they can apply in the moment. The whole moral being that what we feared in childhood might not be the same in reality, or that first appearances can be misleading. Either way, I like the ending and the idea of two princesses befriending a titan of the deep.

    Bear hugs got nothing on a Kraken!

    That said, there’s a concern with the end of this issue. With G5 approaching and the climax of the comic’s Season 10 a few months away, I wonder if this might be the last hurrah for Celestia and Luna. If it is, I don’t think it’s a proper sendoff as we learn more about the Kraken’s legacy than the Princesses’. I would be grateful for an issue that helped them recognize that–whatever mistakes they made along the way–Equestria is still a good place to live thanks to their stewardship.

    Not even a gate to keep out rabid fans?
    Very trusting!

    I think a lot of people will waver while reading this issue’s first half, but the second offers a more interesting twist. An interesting start for the Bronfman/Rogers team, and perhaps they’ll return with another story. But I’ll end this review with a question for you all. If you could write a farewell story for Celestia and Luna, what would you have them do?

    Seriously, what are those dolls made of?

    I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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