MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

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Episode 162: "It Isn't the Mane Thing About You"

Aired 9/16/2017, written by Josh Haber (his sixteenth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rarity helps Ponyville businesses with recommendations based ony her fashion sense, all with reference to her beautiful mane. She visits Sugarcube Corner, where her mane gets covered in Pinkie Pie's silly string.
  • Act 1: Pinkie needs to clean up Sugarcube Corner, and Rarity's mane needs to be impeccable for an upcoming photo shoot, so the two visit Zecora's for remover potion and shampoo. The bottles get swapped, and large patches of Rarity's hair fall out.
  • Act 2: Zecora is unable to fix Rarity's hair, and Rarity finds herself unrecognized and ignored in town. Twilight also tries but fails to restore Rarity's mane.
  • Act 3: The rest of Mane Six find Rarity inconsolable, and their attempts at substitution are laughable. They all re-visit Rarity and insist that her influence comes from her confidence, which she can have without her mane. Rarity refashions herself, giving her mane a punk look, and reclaims her reputation as a fabulous pony.

Character: This episode's largely about having fun watching Rarity go bananas. By that standard, it succeeds due to excellent animation and vocal performance, and Rarity's antics are nearly as entertaining as in Simple Ways. Demonstrated here is the fact that Rarity's command of ponies' attention comes from how she carries herself. She can step forward out of a crowd and announce a solution because she knows that she knows her stuff.

I find it a thought-provoking contrast to what makes Fluttershy briefly popular in Green Isn't Your Color. As a model, Fluttershy "shines all over Equestria" as a shy shrinking violet. The image of her vulnerability stirs up compassion and gives the impression of approachability. We know she'd welcome a hug, and she needs one. But that's still pictures. In live, personal interaction, a strong figure like Rarity more easily captures our admiration and focus. Even if we think we're not quite up to her level, we're quick to follow somepony like that because she obviously knows a thing or two; she's a leader we can learn from, and it's a great benefit to have a Rarity on our side.

Once again we're reminded of Rarity's penchant for finding beauty in unexpected places. It's a positive form of weirdness. Her confident bearing may explain why her adventurous creativity has been so well received. Once she has a style she owns it, even if it's wasn't her first choice. As the saying goes in public speaking, "When you lay an egg, stand back and admire it."

The Cake twins still appear to be nonverbal, which is especially odd considering that they spoke at the end of their first episode, when they were only a month old. And they're just now getting to their first sneeze-iversary, whereas newborn humans and equines sneeze a lot in our world. They ought to be about the age that Bright Mac and Pear Butter were at their first meeting. At least they're out of diapers, but I wonder sometimes whether the same dodgy genetics responsible for their pony types also gave them some sort of anti-aging condition. Perhaps they have an alicorn's longevity? Maybe they're part dragon? Is there something Mrs. Cake isn't telling us?

The other characters in the story shine in their support for their friend, especially Applejack. From their perspective, Rarity's oddly out of character to be kept down by something like this; witness Applejack's line "But it's Rarity!." But they're there to help nonetheless, and they deal with it more sensitively than in Rarity Takes Manehattan, taking both the problem itself and Rarity's emotional needs into account.


Lesson: That's the first of three lessons in this episode, one that was introduced to viewers as "lesson zero": When you see a friend all worked up, take her feelings seriously, even if you don't think she has anything to worry about. Our heroes give us a positive demonstration of this, going out of their way to try even the most unlikely solutions. Their care includes the confrontation in the end, where they have to make Rarity see her ability to recapture her confidence. Pressing into someone's life and being there for a friend, even when they don't want you to be, requires cautious good judgment but is vital when your friend feels like they're beyond help.

The second lesson, one most kids' shows probably would never touch, is that popularity isn't meaningless. Being able to get people's attention, retain an audience, not only has advantages for one's ego. It magnifies the amount of good you're able to do and the number of people you're able to help. As a form of power, it has its downsides and its temptations, to be sure. But being respected and liked means your insights may be heard, your wise suggestions followed, your example emulated. It's a resource that can, in the right hooves, be used for good. And there's a balance. In a crisis, you can't lean on the crowds. They'll turn on you. Fans will follow a new fancy, but friends stick. And the comfort and support Rarity needs comes not from conditional popularity but the unconditional love of those closest to her.

Finally, a point I sort of brushed up against in the Character section: Popularity is grounded in confidence. Call it attraction or charisma, whatever it is that draws followers is fueled by your ability to rise above your circumstances and be creative, constructive, and resilient, rather than driven to simply enjoy or suffer what life happens to throw at you. Life isn't that much easier for the happy people you know than it is for the miserable. Often they're dealing quietly with tremendous personal trials, but they take the energy of all that pressure and channel it outward. And that's what shining is.


Resonance: It's comedy time again, and we get plenty of jokes, from Pinkie's crowbar moment to Rarity confronting the "spooky eyes" of the Everfree Forest, to Zecora's less-than-subtle ejection of Pinkie Pie, to the undeniable awfulness of Rarity's mane damage, to the screaming crystal pony, to Granny's wig, to Derpy's new look. I get warm feelings from how Rarity uses her popularity so selflessly in this episode; at least when she's not in crisis, her genuine focus is helping the ponies around her. Zecora shares the same quality, though it's very understated. She's one of the most admirable side characters in the series, in my opinion. And I'll say again, the support Rarity receives from AJ, Fluttershy, Rainbow, and Twilight is awesome. (Starlight Glimmer's not as supportive, but she hasn't been through all the highs and lows with Rarity that the others have.)

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: On the negative side, Spike's near-total absence hurts his character a bit. Why is he just cleaning up during all this? I'm convinced he could really have contributed here and been a serious friend to Rarity in a moment where she really needed it. I would have given him the main dialogue in the climactic visit to the boutique. And I know we can't often get direct references to recent episodes because of the way the show is written, but it feels unnatural not getting any reference to the Rarity-hating in Fame and Misfortune. I'm glad we at least have the sea serpent call-back.

The inability of magic to fix hair runs into a little problem, too. We could guess the spell is too difficult because it has to be performed on each individual hair. But we have multiple instances of Twilight (as a unicorn) creating mustaches, even on colts and mares, as well as Trixie transforming Rarity's hair once in the past, and poison joke doing a number on it as well. What's going on with the manes in The Cutie Map, I have no idea. And there are probably other examples I'm not thinking of. It bugs me because this magical limitation seems like an arbitrary patch to avoid too easy a solution to the problem, but then we spend so much time on it... It's just a very strange thing to see coming from one of the show's most important writers.

We get a couple nice moments from the animators: including Grand Pear in the background, getting along with Granny Smith, and having Twilight use her protective bubble to keep the suds off her and her friends. Oh, and by the way, this is Rarity's last appearance until the season finale, a five-episode absence, which allows the "months" necessary for her mane to grow back before then.

What we have here is a fun and inspiring episode, timely for anyone struggling with confidence and popularity issues and a fine feature for Rarity hilarity, but not without its problems and about average for the series as a whole. I'd say it's about on the level of Magic Duel and Applejack's "Day" Off.

 

It Isn't the Mane Thing About You armor rating: Iron Armor
Ranked 24th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 123rd of 175 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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