Monday, September 16, 2013

CBR V: Unchained - Entry 3: "The Elements of Harmony", by Brandon T. Snyder

Rating: ***/5
Pages: 255 pgs
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
SRP: $17.00 (US)/$19.00 (Canada)
Release Date: June 4, 2013

Thanks to Lisa Moraleda at Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a review copy of this very book!

Bronies: they're a fast growing fan base, and they're more diverse than you think. With their numbers strengthening on the Internet and at conventions, their participation has elevated My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic from a mere children's show into a multi-demographic pop culture hit. So naturally, when a fandom reaches this level of fervor there's going to be a cash in book that touts itself as an "Official" guide of some sort. ,Sometimes, this sort of thing works; but others tend to be nothing more than glorified filler mixed in with a lot of concept art and photos.

The Elements of Harmony: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic - The Official Handbook is a very mixed bag when taken as an entire package. On the bright side,  it has a fairly comprehensive episode guide that lists not only every episode of the first three seasons, but also contains crew commentary and the Friendship Letter post scripts of every episode. It also has the lyrics to every single song of those first three seasons, as well as the break downs of every area of the kingdom of Equestria. If audiences were coming in for a simple compendium of episode recaps and song lyrics, then this would be a rather successful book that could have easily been rated 4 stars. (The pricing would have been the ultimate factor that omits the fifth star.)

However, the book attempts to give us insight into the production of the show, using interviews and commentary from the writers, the composer, even the show's creator Lauren Faust to enlighten us all about just what makes "Generation 4" of My Little Pony so special from the other ones. This is where the guide's ambition starts to sabotage itself, with an overall tone that's rather uneven. The commentary and actual "guidebook" portions of this book are very thin and flimsy, compared to the meat and potatoes of the book, with is the episode guide and song lyrics.

The Elements of Harmony is a decent episode guide, but a lousy guidebook. The bits of the book that
actually serve to educate readers about the world and the types of ponies that inhabit the world of Equestria are interesting enough that they deserve a true guidebook of their own, replete with production art, pencil sketches, and interviews with the one part of the show they severely neglected: the voice cast that brings the ponies we all know and love to life. What's more, some of the fan favorite ponies are actually labeled by their fan names (Doctor Whooves does not go by his "Time Turner" name given in the show.), while others aren't. (The Derpy controversy rears its ugly head again, as everyone's favorite mail mare is depicted sleeping on a cloud.) Some background ponies get blurbs, others just get pictures, and the logic behind who gets what is sloppy at best.

Most importantly, Ms. Faust's Foreword serves as backhanded compliment to the MLP fandom, specifically its male quotient. While My Little Pony has stereotypically been a "girly" franchise that indulged in magic, sparkles, and innocent imagination; Friendship Is Magic has managed to inject such a limited premise with the mythology and entertainment that manages to entertain the wide berth of audience members that the show has attracted. Yet Ms. Faust's opening (presented after the openings of fellow writers Meghan McCarthy and Jayson Thiessen that praised the diversity of the audience) focuses on the "little girl" inside of us all.

Again, this show has always been stereotypically a girl's playground, and to her credit Ms. Faust does manage to talk about how there's a lack of truly strong female leads on television. (Which, there is indeed.) However, that's not an excuse to go ahead and ignore the prime chance to bridge the gap between the sexes and say that while this started as a show for girls, it's evolved into a show for everyone. Between this and the rather sketchy state of what the book is aiming to be, I cannot recommend spending the money on this book. There should be two books where one now stands: one separate episode/song guide for kids, and one behind the scenes "guidebook" for young adults and adult collectors.