I Used to Wonder What Friendship Could Be: My Thoughts on the Friendship is Magic Series Finale

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My first experience with the fourth generation of the My Little Pony series began right around the time that the episode “Super Cider Squeezy 6000” had aired. Having seen various GIFs, images, and stories about the series and the “brony” fandom – as well as just being a fan of animation in general – I decided to give the series a try.

Several years later it’s 8:00 PM on a Saturday night and I’m watching the series finale with a mixture of nostalgia, excitement, and maybe just a tinge of sadness. In between that first watching and the finale, I had watched the series, started up an analysis site (that, well, you can see how the activity on that has been), ran a successful forum roleplay site for several years, have a fanfiction that I’m still writing, and even had a ponysona.

I think you can say I became quite a big fan of the series.

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A Brief Letter Letter on Kyoto Animation and It’s Impact on My Life

Clannad Lights

I want to start this piece with a small apology. One of the biggest difficulties I’ve ever had as a person with an interest in media has been my combination of Asperger’s and ADD, which can be a particularly brutal combination when it comes to reflecting and thinking about my own emotions. The one can make processing emotion hard, the other interfering with the remembrance of emotion.

So instead, let me start with a story.

Growing up in the early 2000s, my taste in anime was very much what you might expect of a young boy: Pokemon, Digimon, Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, etc. . Occasionally you had your Cardcaptor Sakura or Hamtaro that broke through, but I was a pretty consistent shonen kid. Parallel to this was also my first forays into fanfiction and roleplay. Again, being that early 2000s young teen, that often-meant Gaia Online, plus a few tepid steps into Proboards. As a hobby, it was a perfect mixture of letting me play with the settings I liked and the social interaction I was kind of missing out on in the real world.

One day, I end up in a Cardcaptor Sakura themed roleplay, where someone was using a brown-haired girl in a tannish-brown uniform as what we call a “face-claim” (basically an image of a character used to represent your OC, if you can’t do arts). Eventually that RP died, like many Gaia Online forum RPs do, but the character always stuck in my mind. In fact, she stuck in my mind so much that when I spotted my brother watching her on Anime Network I had to stop and ask “Hey, what anime is this?”

That answer was Clannad.

Now, I’ll admit I’ve never been good at the whole industry thing, so I think technically my first Kyoto Animation was probably like Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu. In terms of impact, however, Clannad is probably one of the most important anime I have ever watched. It probably helps that my family situation is…complicated (parents separated when I was 2, and that’s been a balancing act ever since), and so stories about family absolutely kill me. What family means, the complicated relationship with a parent you think has failed you, what it means to be a parent. An anime that tackles these subjects seriously is pretty much guaranteed to get me crying (related: Violet Evergarden episode 10 absolutely destroyed me, in a good way).

But like I said, I’m not great at talking emotions, so back to the story. Because after seeing Clannad, I started a roleplay site. Now, I’ve run a lot of sites in my days, most of them die within a few months from boredom on my part or the players. That Clannad RP, however, was something special. I wanted that to succeed, and if I had to roleplay by myself for an entire month, going back and forth with an original character (basically self-insert cause hey, I was young) and my attempts at Fuko Ibuki, I was going to do it.

That site, by the way, is still going. I left it about five years ago and returned to it just in time for it’s 10th anniversary, which was just earlier this month. It says something about the impact that show has when a small handful of people stubbornly refuse to let a site die like that in a hobby where even the bests sites often last a year, at best.

But, Clannad had much more of an impact on me than just good roleplay fodder. Somewhere in the bowels of Livejournal, which I have recovered just for this essay, is my first attempts at anime review and analysis. Like, we’re talking short essay long character spotlights detailing character arcs. Admittedly a little summary heavy  (and probably some comments here and there that are a little “eh” in retrospect) but hey, I was new.

The point is, I had always liked anime, in the same way anyone likes a TV show. What Clannad ultimately did was make me care about anime and, by extension, media in a way that recognized the impact it can have on us, and on me.

At this point, though, I’ll admit it’s a little weird to have focused so much on Clannad on what is supposed to be about Kyoto Animation. As I noted earlier, however, I’ve never been really big on keeping an eye on what studios did what. Unlike more dedicated anime reviewers, I’m basically ignorant about the industry. It is only in the last few years I’ve tried to be better about that, and it is in that extent that I began to realize just how much of my tastes and feelings about anime have been driven by Kyoto Animation. If anything, it is sad that is only in the face of this recent tragedy that I’m getting so much information on their broader impact and realizing just how important they were (and will hopefully continue to be). In particular, their dedication to good working conditions and the uplifting of women in an industry that is heavily male-dominated and plagued by crunch and poor worker treatment is to be commended, and makes the loss that much harder.

Like I said, I wasn’t planning on some poetic remembrance of Kyoto Animation: never been good at that. Still, with the impact that their work has had on my life I thought it would be good to write a little something of appreciation for a studio that has contributed so much to the lives of so many people, a recognition of the talent lost or that never had a chance to shine, and a statement of hope that, someday, Kyoto Animation will continue.

Thank You,

Whammy

PS: For anyone who is reading this, a reminder that there are several ways to provide a little help to the studio. The first ways has been to go to Kyoto Animation’s website where you can purchase digital download of art (guide here). The second has been through a GoFundMe set up by Sentai Filmworks.

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Voltron: Legendary Defender and the Ethics of LGBT+ Representation

Shiro and Adam

With the controversy surrounding the seventh season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, I offer my thoughts on what the obligations are for creators who are planning LGBT+ representation and did Voltron meet those obligations?

Warning: Spoilers for Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 7

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The Maud Couple vs Maud Pie: How to Pull Off “Hidden Gem” Plots

Dull Rock

My first pithy little reaction to the episode “The Maud Couple” was essentially “Maud is dating Sheldon Cooper now and we got to deal with it”. Feeling the need to elaborate on that more, however, is what has finally motivated to actually write out an episode review, something I haven’t done since the Season 6 Finale “To Where and Back Again.”

Look, PhD programs don’t leave a lot of time to write pony episode reviews. But nothing tends to get my urge to analyze something going as much as a show attempting to make the audience have to like or tolerate a character without actually putting in the work. That is, essentially, the major flaw I have with the episode “The Maud Couple” and is what makes it an ultimately inferior episode to its most easily comparable one, “Maud Pie”.

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“Dewey Wins”: Steven Universe & Partisanship

Dewey Wins - Steven Sign

Spoilers ahead for the episode “Dewey Wins”.

Another Steven Bomb has exploded, giving Steven Universe fans a series of episodes dealing with the immediate aftermath of Steven’s surrender to and return from Homeworld. The first of these episodes, “Dewey Wins”, has Steven deal with his damaged relationship with Connie, who is mad at him for having surrendered to Homeworld instead of fighting. Steven is perplexed at why Connie was mad: after all, he did it to save her and everyone else, and it turned out alright in the end. No harm no foul, right?

What makes the episode odd in the eye of many viewers, however, is that Steven eventually comes to understand Connie’s feelings through his failed attempt to help Mayor Dewey win re-election. Specifically, after his attempt at trying to take the blame for everything fails, Steven tries to help Dewey in the election against Nanefua Pizza, but when the latter proves a much more inspiring politician, Dewey quits. Steven’s disappointment in Dewey quitting supposedly leads him to gain an understanding of Connie’s feelings, an outcome that had many viewers going “Huh?”

I’m glad to see that, for once, my political science background means I can finally offer some insight on a cartoon that doesn’t involve stuffing utilitarianism into as many things as I possibly can. Specifically, as a person who studies partisan identity, Steven’s behavior and feelings actually don’t surprise me all that much. So, by exploring the concept of partisanship, I argue that Steven learning to understand Connie’s feelings by working on a campaign isn’t as weird as it might seem.

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The Equestrian Exclusion: LGBT Representation in Friendship is Magic

MLP & LGBT

Politics, it has been said, is the question of “who gets what, when, and how”*. We’re often conditioned to think about this in terms of materialistic goods and the distribution of resources. Who should pay more taxes? How do we pay for healthcare? What’s better, guns or butter? Yet, often the most divisive but fundamental questions in politics is the who. Who gets to vote? Who gets to run for office? Who gets protection against discrimination? In short, who gets to be a full and equal member of the community?

Right now, seven seasons into the show, it seems pretty clear that as far as Equestria is concerned, LGBT individuals don’t even exist, let alone get to be a part of the community.

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Episode Reaction: To Where & Back Again – MLP Season 6 Finale

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a reaction/review-ish piece for an MLP episode. While there have been episodes of MLP I’ve thought good, I never really got the same sort of spark for wanting to say something about them as I’ve done in the past.

Part of it is burnout for sure, and of course graduate school isn’t exactly known for giving you free time. But a lot of it was honestly just didn’t feel like the show or was offering much that I could work with as someone whose main interest is getting at it from a background in political science and ethics/political theory perspective. Sure, the return of the best background character ever, Trixie, in “No Second Prances”, got me excited, but didn’t exactly give me room to ramble on about introductory Marxist theory like Starlight Glimmer’s first episodes or the countless articles I’ve done on utilitarianism.

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But seriously though, this episode alone would have been enough to make the season for me.

Fortunately for me then it appears the somewhat contentious season finale –at least from some initial reactions I’ve seen – finally gives me a chance to dig out the old MLP analysist in me. Because if there is anything that gets the urge to ramble on about something, it’s controversy. So let’s dig in to “To Where and Back Again”, and what the conclusion of the two-parter says about the nature of the MLP Universe.
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Peridot and the Meep-Morp of Life

Peridot Title

After over 100 episodes, I finally found an excuse to combine two of my favorite things in the world into one: the cartoon series Steven Universe and John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian ethics. That it took so long to do so is more of a testament to the high quality of the show than anything else. The sheer expanse of the show and the topics it deals with – from basic lessons about friendship to in-depth explorations of grief, loss, and trauma in the aftermath of relationships and war – kind of makes it a bit intimidating to get a grasp on it. What finally inspired this long-awaited excuse to stuff utilitarianism into yet more cartoons (see my long, long list of utilitarian ethics inspired analysis of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) was the two-parter episodes of Beta and Earthlings, the 100 and 101the episodes according to the Steven Universe wiki.

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“Slice of Life” Reaction: Some Likes and Disappointment

Group Shot 2As usual, I’m a little late to the punch in writing up a reaction to the 100th episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic entitled “Slice of Life”. The basis of the episode, a focus on the large cast of side and minor characters throughout the series getting ready for the wedding of Matilda and Cranky Doodle Dandy, seemed a rather fun idea. In practice, the episode was a big shout out to the fandom, being stuffed full of fanservice and shout outs to ideas spread throughout the fandom. For the most part, I did enjoy the episode and found it rather fun. There was something that bothered me, however, about the Lyra and Bon Bon scenes and what they mean in the context of Lyra/Bon Bon being one of the earliest and most prolific non-heteronormative ships within the fandom.

Before getting to that, however, let me start with some of the other things about the episode.
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Can Hypocrisy Be Moral? The Case of Starlight Glimmer

HypocrisyAt the end of the two part season premiere “The Cutie Map”, Starlight Glimmer is exposed as having never given up her own cutie mark despite her claims that possession of a cutie mark leads to fighting and breaking friendships. This, of course, turns the entire town against her as they call out her “hypocrisy.” As she points out, however, it wouldn’t have been possible to remove every-ponies’ cutie marks without her magic, which requires her cutie mark. The town doesn’t buy it, but what if, assuming her morality was correct, she had a point? Is it possible that hypocrisy like this can be moral? In this article we’ll investigate by asking if morality must be public or can there be justified reasons for it to be secret?

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