Anatomy of a Pony… Music Video

Academics like fanvids. The Kirk/Spock “Closer” video (NSFW), “Buffy vs Edward”, “Yes We Can”. I could go on. Someday, when we (they, as I’m not sure I’ll ever dip back into this particular pool after my MA is completed) start holding History of Youtube courses, these will all be present on the curriculum. One which I’m afraid will not show up on anyone’s Powerpoint anytime soon is mmmandarinorange’s “The Stars Will Aid Her Escape (Cosmic Love)”, featured above. And that’s a crying shame, because it’s one of the most complex and intelligent fanvids I’ve ever seen. It’s no “Buffy vs Edward” deliberate critique of the patriarchy, nor “Yes We Can” levels of people power, but damn, is it smart, and shows off exactly what I like about fandom’s ability to transform and elevate its subject matter.

Video Manipulation

Let’s start with the basics. The video is just visually impressive.

Manipulating animation seems to be an increasingly pervasive thing in fanvids, as it’s much easier to pull off with today’s software than with live-action subjects. And in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom, the flash graphics are exploited in every possible way for creative remixing, from making easy show-accurate original character generators to remixing the hell out of PMVs (as MLP fanvids are called). Some of my favorites in this arena are the “PONIES” PMV of Kanye West’s “Power” and “What Pinkie Pie’s Song Actually Sounded Like”. Again, these are using actual frames from the show as a baseline for incredibly crisp animation, with no access to the studio animators’ assets (as far as we know). This amount of creativity goes a long way in showcasing just how much you can do with a bit of tech prowess and easily replicated flash animation.

I wouldn’t consider “The Stars Will Aid Her Escape” the most technically sophisticated PMV I’ve ever watched (TommyXe’s “Sail” tops the ranks for most “how did they do that?” moments), but it ranks pretty high up there, even with its easy-to-miss errors. It uses unique frames, unique transitions, cuts foreground characters out into original backgrounds complete with animations, and spruces up action scenes with different color coding and effects. The lipsyncing is some of the closest I’ve ever seen.

Story

Here’s the meat of it, however.

It’s easy to be dismissive of PMVs that rely on lyrical resonance to form a connection between materials. But I forgive it in this case because it’s quite true that Celestia, Luna and Twilight’s names strongly imply a more than incidental relationship among the three, something which is not very much played up in the show but has been explored quite extensively in fan spaces.

For those unfamiliar with the program, the essential cosmology (ha) of the series is thus: Celestia and her sister Luna used their magic to control the sun and moon, until Luna was corrupted with jealousy and became Nightmare Moon– and then subsequently sealed within the Moon by her sister, who then controlled both. Skip forward a thousand years, and Celestia is grooming a young student named Twilight Sparkle as her personal protege, saying she’s never seen a unicorn with so much raw ability. When Nightmare Moon is foretold to free herself, Celestia arranges things in such a way that Twilight will assemble a team of companions and defeat Nightmare Moon in the nick of time, purifying her and restoring balance and peace forever more (until something else threatens all existence). So yes, basically it’s a mahou shoujo anime, but with ponies.

Art by artist-apprentice587 @ deviantArt

But this isn’t what we see happening in the video. It’s subtle, but mmmandarinorange is reediting the narrative of what is chiefly the first two episodes of the show to account for a very different telling of events. In particular, pay attention to the storybook epilogue, wherein Luna and Twilight never appear in each other’s frames. How many fanvids do you know which propose a non-linear conclusion of multiple realities? Or at the very least the subjective reading of such a thing?

This is why I contend “The Stars Will Aid In Her Escape” should be analyzed along with the likes of the “Closer” video. Both fanvids offer a hypothetical situation and carry it out to a divergent conclusion quite apart from that supported by the canon. In “Closer”, the question is “what if Spock lost control of his Pon Farr before they reached Vulcan?” It also takes as a given the homoerotic subtext between him and Kirk (something which any sensible media studies professor should do anyway). In this fanvid, I’m not as sure exactly what the question is, in particular because its author doesn’t explicitly articulate it. But from the evidence in front of me, I would venture: “What if there was a cosmic connection between Twilight and Luna, but the forces involved mean that neither can co-exist?”

Art by crappyunicorn @ deviantArt

Which is an ambitious thing to suggest. We’d be better breaking the question into two. “What if there was a cosmic connection between Twilight and Luna?” seems quite well-argued by the fanvid. It’s the second part, “What if they couldn’t co-exist?” that raises the more problematic, head-scratching questions. Because I don’t think it’s coincidental that they do not appear in one another’s frames at the end of the video, but the exact meaning meant to be communicated still eludes me. Damn quantum ponies!

In short, as I said at the head of this post, what I’ve always liked best about fanwork is its ability to take properties places where the creators don’t, won’t or couldn’t. It’s hard to imagine a young girls’ show like My Little Pony dealing with anything even approaching the subject matter of this video. It’s also hard to imagine the show, for instance, having the sort of elaborate maps and world war-themed alternate universe print propaganda the show’s fans have drawn up, but these are things fans do! But to do this kind of creative reconstruction with a fanvid seems an exceptionally tall task because you are quite literally restricted to the assets given to you by the canon, which makes modern video editing and the pervasiveness of flash really exciting.

(It also means the people behind SOPA are exceptionally huge pricks, but you’ve already heard that a million times.)

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Comments

  • M.O.  On 01.08.12 at 12:19 pm

    It is really, really weird to see a respected game critic mention off-handedly on the Critical Distance Confab about some “beautiful Twilight Sparkle video”, and even weirder to realize upon scrolling through blogs at random, that they’re actually talking about you, and that they’ve gone ahead and written a close analytical reading of said video. Wow.

    I love multiple interpretations, and the divergent timeline theory posed here is actually the most fascinating one I’ve heard proposed. It is also the most heartbreaking one. I’m usually a sap for happy endings, moreso now that I’m watching joyful pastel ponies, but there’s something powerful, tragic and bittersweet about the theory you’ve proposed. and it’s by far my favorite.

    • Kris Ligman  On 01.09.12 at 1:53 am

      Wow, speaking of surprise, I never expected for the creator of such a great vid to come across this post!

      It really is an impressive bit of work, worthy of every last shout-out and comment it’s gotten. I think a large part of that is BECAUSE it’s so open to interpretation. I had a good guess my reading was probably not your original intention, but I decided if you didn’t want viewers reaching their own conclusions, you wouldn’t have edited how you did.

      Hope you enjoyed listening to the Critical Distance Confab as much as we enjoyed recording it. And thank you for dropping by like this and leaving such a nice comment! Hope to see more work from you in the future.

  • Robert  On 01.19.12 at 2:24 am

    My my, this is extremely… (Actually paused to think of a word) I don’t know what this is. No idea what this site is, what it does, or why it does it. That said, this is a (in my opinion) very well written — and reasoned, in respect of your theory — article… thing. Is it an article? So confused… I’ll probably end up hanging around here a bit. I’ve never really looked too deeply into videos, but they get a whole lot more interesting when I try looking at it kinda like you did.

  • David Johnston  On 12.17.12 at 3:28 pm

    One possible reason why there are two different endings, one with Twilight and one with Luna is because Twilight is a reincarnated Luna. Celestia is clearly shown intervening to let Twilight see the inside of her opponent’s mind, and at first the “true” Luna who is miserably trapped inside Nightmare Moon is seen in what looks like a mirror frame. Defeating their darkside Twilight/Luna is faced with a choice, be Luna and have a sister, or be Twilight and keep the friends she’s made as Twilight.

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