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

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Episode 154: "Not Asking for Trouble"

Aired 6/17/2017, written by May Chan (her first episode)
  • Intro: Pinkie Pie is invited to Yakyakistan's Yickslurbertfest.
  • Act 1: Twilight appoints Pinkie an official Friendship Ambassador to the Yaks, and Pinkie and Gummy travel to Yakyakistan. Prince Rutherford introduces Pinkie to various yak customs, but the yaks' traditional stomping cause an avalanche that buries their village in snow.
  • Act 2: Pinkie offers to get help from Ponyville to clear the snow, but Prince Rutherford insists on self-reliance, digging futilely and then trying to adapt yak customs to a snow-covered village. Rutherford eventually tires of Pinkie's pleas to get help and sends her away.
  • Act 3: Pinkie recruits the Mane Six for a "covert friendship mission," and they move the snow and restore the village while the yaks sleep. Once awake, Prince Rutherford thanks Pinkie and commends her for understanding the yaks.

Character: First off, this is the Pinkie Pie I most like to see. She's smart, perceptive, helpful, diplomatic, and even sensitive in her dealings with the yaks. Granted, she doesn't depart from those traits too often nowadays, but these Pinkie strengths are rarely as front-and-center as they are here. We're definitely seeing Pinkie Pie at her best, even as she struggles to solve this week's friendship problem. Let's go back to that word "diplomatic." Fittingly for an official Friendship Ambassador, Pinkie displays a number of diplomatic skills via her respectful tone and the sheer variety of ways she tries, directly or indirectly, to guide the yaks to the understanding that they need to ask for help. Even more impressive, considering the yaks' previous appearance, Pinkie is trying to be sensitive not out of fear, but out of respect. Of course, it bears mention that Pinkie is quite familiar with the yaks by now, being pen pals with Prince Rutherford and having visited Yakyakistan on a goodwill tour back in Dungeons & Discords.

Pinkie spends 24 hours or so quietly joining the yaks in their attempts to adapt to the snow, and it's nice to see her moved with compassion by the hungry yak calves. Though her manners remain in check and a solution is not immediate, this is where the question marks disappear and her resolve kicks in. It is odd to see a skeptical Pinkie calling out the implausibility of the prince's freezing story. She's usually pretty open to weird excuses, but I think this is for the audience's benefit, as a way to point out that the yaks choose what to believe about themselves, creating their own truth when they don't want to face reality. It's sort of like A Streetcar Named Desire, except that yaks would never admit to depending on the kindness of strangers.

The rest of the Mane Six have supporting roles at the beginning and end. I like the acknowledgement of Twilight's royal prerogatives, i.e., being able to make ambassadorial appointments. Both she and Rarity show off advanced magic as Rarity lifts an impressive weight of snow, and Twilight seems to have mastered the aging spell she struggled with in Magic Duel. Starlight and Spike are curiously absent, but I imagine wherever they are, they're together.

The yaks get some much-needed rounding out in this episode. The first time around, they were fairly brutish, only forming an uneasy truce at the end of the story. Here, we see that the yaks are not dumb or easily fooled, in that the prince sidesteps all of Pinkie's attempts at persuasion. They have a sense of humor, which Pinkie ought to appreciate. And the yaks' linking of destruction with celebration–the fact that stomping relaxes yaks–mitigates somewhat their smashing tendencies in Ponyville.

The calves' dialogue inspired a bit of personal headcanon for me, that yaks must earn their names and until then are only known as "Yak," sort of like the Gand aliens from Star Wars. The background yaks are nicely differentiated visually, in contrast to the buffalo from Over a Barrel, who differed only in their monochromatic hides. They seem to vary in their opinions, too. While Rutherford presents his devotion to self-reliance in all things as a traditional yak value, a number of the yaks clearly support Pinkie, and many of them cheer at the end of her story, although they consistently if reluctantly defer to their leader.

Lesson: I value wise risk-taking in storytelling, and the writer does that here by not taking the obvious route with the moral. Other shows would have had Pinkie convince the yaks that asking for help is okay. And we got that lesson on an individual level way back at the beginning of the series (with Applebuck Season). But we're talking about culture here, and I suspect some North American viewers may have a hard time with this story because they're not familiar with an honor culture.

Back in the 90s I spent some time in one of the former Soviet republics. I stayed with a host family, and our team had been instructed not to compliment any particular item in a host's house. Because if you said, "That's a really nice clock," or, "I love that doll," the family would feel socially obligated to offer it to you. This was an "indirect culture," which meant you didn't outright ask for something; you hinted at what you wanted, and their culture also placed a high priority on hospitality. But along with this was the expectation that a guest would not take unfair advantage of those values.

In a similar way, yak rules are different from pony rules. They're a face-saving society where at least the appearance of self-reliance means that you don't ask for help. In real-life honor cultures, it's understood that people occasionally need help anyway. People pitch in where needed, on their own initiative. The thinking is, if you really care, I shouldn't have to ask. And as long as the help comes without your seeking it, and perhaps you can even insist you could have gotten by without it, your honor and the public image of your independence still stand.

Now, I'm reading in a bit here; the episode itself doesn't spell out exactly what Pinkie "understands" about yaks, why what the ponies do is okay, or why the yaks don't ask for help but are happy when they receive it. The answers are there if you look, but I think you have to be sort of aware of that attitude beforehand to really "get it."

Wikipedia outlines three conditions that give rise to honor cultures: scarcity of resources, situations where crimes of opportunity carry a low risk, and lack of sufficient law enforcement, such as geographically remote regions. Yakyakistan meets those criteria. I think a philosophical respect for tradition is another factor that fits, given that China has significant elements of honor woven into its social fabric. (Writer May Chan's parents are from Hong Kong, though that may just be a coincidence.)

So how do I, as an American, apply this lesson in my friendships? A lot of individuals have their own personal "honor culture." Whether from pride or shame, they want to do for themselves. They're not loners; they like being friends and doing things together. They're just territorial about their area of responsibility. I'm sort of that way myself. It's best to give them their space, let them succeed, fail, struggle, and learn their own lessons, since that's what they've chosen. Their confidence and their perception of their own strength depend on that. But they may not be willing to ask for help when they really need it. When they're in danger, when they're just digging themselves into a deeper hole, or when they're dragging others down with them, it's time to intervene. But as Pinkie discovered, it's best to find a face-saving way to help if you want the friendship to flourish afterwards.

Resonance: There is a sense of peril in this episode, but it's much lighter than last week. We have a puzzling problem that piques our curiosity and holds our interest, and we have Pinkie Pie to soften the mood lest things seem too dire. Warm fuzzies abound in the friendship and common traits that Pinkie and Prince Rutherford share. The prince's twig prank is the first laugh-out-loud moment, and all by itself it alters our perception of the yaks and their leader. Pinkie supplies most of the other chuckles through her interactions with Gummy, her goat fable featuring the Mane Six as cows, her attempts at mimicking a yak voice, and the return of her Crystal Empire spy outfit. Also funny is Rainbow Dash's rejection of Pinkie's Twenty Million Questions game.

I'm not particularly thrilled with the yaks' "hip" dialogue, but there are a lot of other little things that bring a smile to my face: the name Yikslurbertfest, the yak kicking in its sleep, and (as always) the little snort in Pinkie's laugh at the end.


Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I applaud the return of the Twinkling Balloon, which I think we haven't seen our ponies use since season five, as well as the reappearance of Pinkie's hair drill. The Yakyakistan set design is beautiful, and the animators' attention to detail shows in the way Rutherford's accessories sway as he moves. This is fun and thought-provoking all the way through, and the mysterious nature of the yaks keeps us guessing. I do have that minor concern that younger viewers and those who most need the cultural lesson are least likely to pick up on it since it isn't really made explicit. Nevertheless, it's easy to see that on a personal level it encourages taking initiative and risk to save friends who are in over their head. The message is, "Because I care, I will not let my preference for a smooth relationship or your comfort in-the-moment get in the way of what you in fact desperately need." Not Asking for Trouble is one of those highly excellent episodes we've had so many of this season. While not quite up to the level of the amazing Pinkie Pride or MMMystery on the Friendship Express, this story outranks the yaks' introductory episode and rates right up there with A Flurry of Emotions and The Fault in Our Cutie Marks.


Not Asking for Trouble armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 14th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 86th of 233 stories overall

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