MLP - "The Crystal Empire" - Review.

thejboy88

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Aug 29, 2010
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Well, here we are. It's been a long wait but we're finally here at season three. Let's hope the series manages to stay as entertaining as it's been so far.

As usual, this review will contain spoilers for the episode. If you have not seen this episode yet, you have been warned.

Our episode begins in the city of Canterlot, where we see Princess Celestia singing some documents in her throne room. A guard bursts in to inform her that "it" has returned. Shocked by this news, she orders for Princess Cadence and Shining Armour to be brought to her. She begins writing a letter to Twilight and we cut to the opening credits.

After the credits finish we see Twilight in her home preparing for some test that Celestia has set for her. She's clearly stressed about it and despite efforts from her friends, she continues to be tense. Back at Canterlot, Princess Celestia is discussing matters with her sister, Luna, before Twilight arrives. As Luna departs, Celestia informs Twilight that the test she'll be taken will not be the kind she was expecting, and explains the situation.

A place known as the Crystal Empire has returned after having disappeared one thousand years ago. The nation contained a powerful magic of some sort but was once conquered by an evil unicorn named King Sombra. With the combined power of Celestia and Luna, Sombra was overthrown and the empire freed. But before his imprisonment, Sombra cursed the empire, causing it to vanish. Celestia then informs Twilight that the empire can influence all of Equestria, so if someone evil were to rule it, the whole world would be at risk.

Twilight is then told that Celestia is sending her and her friends to the empire, along with Cadence and Shining Armour, to try and protect it. Twilight doubts her ability to perform such a task, but Celestia assures her that she can do it. After leaving the palace, Spike asks her how her test went and we get our first song of the episode. Once the song finished, Twilight tells her friends that they are journeying to the Crystal Empire.

They travel north by train until they reach their stop. After meeting up with Twilight's brother, Shining, they continue on foot towards their destination. Unfortunately, it seems that King Sombra has returned, and attempts to attack the group before they can make it to the empire. Shining Armour uses his magic to fend him off while the others make it. Once safe, they realise that Sombra has done something to Shining's horn, making it unable to use magic.

The group make it to the empire and arrive at the palace, where they meet up with Cadence. It's explained that she's using her powers of love to keep the empire protected from Sombra, who cannot enter while that protection is in place. And with Shining now incapable of using magic, it's up to the main six to try and question the crystal ponies. However, after several attempts, it's clear that getting information out of the locals will be difficult due to some sort of mass memory loss.

The do however find a library in the area and try to find a book to explain how the empire protected itself in the past. After much searching, they eventually find a history book. Back at the palace, Twilight explains to her brother and Cadence that there was once a "Crystal Faire" which was an event created to promote unity amongst it's people. The group get together and try putting on the faire by way of the episode's next song. They then discover a reference to a "crystal heart" which was the centre-piece of the faire, so Twilight makes a replica to serve in it's stead.

Twilight summons the crystal ponies to the faire, which seems to have the effect of turning them all back to the way they were. It's then learned that the purpose of the crystal heart was to gain the power of the unified ponies to protect the empire. This is, of course, a problem as the heart being used was a replica, with the real one having been hidden by Sombra years ago.

This knowledge comes at a particularly bad time as Cadence finally collapses from exhaustion from casting her spell all this time. As her magic gives out, the barrier protecting the empire vanishes. And so part one ends with the shadow of King Sombra no long kept from the empire.

When part two begins we get our usual recap of the events of the past episode before cutting to the main credits. When the credits finish we find that Sombra and his shadows have begun it's attack on the empire. Cadence awakens to be able to re-deploy her barrier, but not before the tip of Sombra's horn gets sliced off by it and lands inside the barrier.

Twilight vows to find the crystal heart and asks her friends to keep the faire going in her absence, knowing that if the crystal ponies find out that Sombra has returned, the heart cannot be properly powered. Spike goes with her as she explain that she knows where the heart might be, the palace. The others do their best to prevent the crystal ponies from figuring out that they do not have the heart, which proves difficult given their curiosity.

As Twilight and Spike search the palace, Twilight remembers her earlier talk with Celestia, and figures out that the castle could not have been like this while Sombra was in power. So she uses some kind of dark magic to affect the palace and reveal a hidden chamber. As twilight descends into it, Spike reports that the protection spell seems to be losing it's power. On top of that, Sombra is using his broken horn-piece to corrupt the crystals inside the barrier.

Twilight makes her way to the bottom of the hidden chamber and passes through the door there, which takes Twilight to the throne room of Canterlot. There she comes across Celestia who, much to Twilight's shock, informs her that she has failed her test. Celestia's continuing remarks shame Twilight to no end, making her feel like she failed to protect the empire. However, it all turns out to be a hallucination, as Spike snaps her out of it. Twilight realises that the door she opens leads to a vision of your worst fears.

Using her magic again, Twilight uses the door properly this time, leading to a flight of stairs. Back with the others, Cadence's magic continues to weaken and the others are continuing to try and distract the crystal ponies by way of entertaining them. And all the while, Sombra's corruption continues to grow. A Twilight and Spike try harder to move past the stairs, Sombra's corruption makes it increasingly difficult for the other characters to keep up their distractions. Things get so bad that eventually, due to a stunt by Pinkie Pie, the ponies realise the deception, that the heart is a fake.

Twilight and Spike eventually make it to the top of the palace, where they find the real crystal heart. But approaching it sets off one of Sombra's traps, which encases Twilight in black crystal, something even her teleportation can't get out of. Although she knows she might not pass her test if she is not the one to do it, she asks Spike to take the heart and leave her. Although reluctant, he agrees.

Back with the others, Cadence's magic finally fails and Sombra makes his appearance before the crystal ponies. Spike attempts to get the heart to the faire but Sombra notices and tries to attack him. Cadence, with Shining's help, catches Spike and saves him. Upon seeing the real crystal heart, the crystal ponies get back to their regular selves and the heart is powered up. This has the effect of "crystalising" all the ponies, including the main cast, as well as freeing Twilight. The power of the heart vanquishes Sombra and spreads over all of Equestria, informing Celestia and Luna that Twilight was successful.

With the day saved, the group leave the empire and head back home, Twilight now fearful that she has failed Celestia's test. back at Canterlot, Celestia informs Twilight that she's proud that she would potentially sacrifice her own success to ensure the safety of others. As Twilight emerges from the Canterlot palace, she informs her friends that she has passed her test, leading to the final song of the episode.

And so part two ends with Twilight and the others heading back to Ponyville while Celestia and Luna look over a mysterious book of some sort.

So then. That was the premiere of season three. How did it hold up?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I thought this was a very impressive start to the season. Once again this show proves that it can be entertaining, heart-warming and even dramatic when it wants to and use those elements in very effective ways. It also continued the tradition of " MLP two-parters are always great" that I've held to since the show started.

As much as I may love this show, I'll admit that I was hesitant for it to continue after the second season ended. That's not to say that I felt it had declined in some way, far from it. But the last season ended on such a spectacularly goo note that I felt it might have been better for it to stop there, just in case future episodes took away from that. Fortunately, this episode proved that the writers still have what it takes to keep me engaged in what happens to these characters and the world there in.

I've said many times in the past that I get very frustrated if shows repeated the same type of story that I've seen over and over again, and that opinion has not changed. This story, "find magical item X to save country Y from threat Z" has been used by this show before. In fact, it's how every season has started so far. But I'm willing to put up with a repeated story structure if it's executed well, and these two episodes did that with great success. While the basic plot may share features of past season openers, there's just enough new stuff in here to make it feel different. Things like having the danger take place in a new location, or not having to use the elements of harmony to solve everything were welcome changes to the formula.

Having said that however, there is one repeated element here that I'm getting pretty tired of, and that's the timeframe for these ancient events. Every time some evil from the distant past is brought up, they were always defeated or imprisoned in the same space of time, "one thousand years ago". I know it's a nit-pick but couldn't they shake things up a bit by saying it was maybe 500 years ago? Or maybe 2000? It's really starting to seem like that was one hell of a year. Besides that though the repeated story elements don't bother me.

In addition to this, there's one thing about the broadcast of these two episodes that, like "Canterlot Wedding", bothers me. This is that both episodes were aired back-to-back. Now that makes things more convenient for a reviewer such as myself, but by depriving us of a week in-between episodes to wait and see what happens, that tensions is disarmed by having the second part air immediately after the first.

The introduction of a new nation to this world is something that I'm sure many people, both fans and newcomers alike, will have mixed feeling on. On the one hand it does shake things up with the established world, which is always something I've praised. But on the other hand, having this sudden new development could easily have gone wrong for the episode, with the audience being unable to get invested in these new crystal ponies and their plight.

On that note, as much as I hate to have to do this, I have to make a comparison with the previous two-parter, "A Canterlot Wedding". In that episode, both the characters we've cone to know, as well as whole places we've been familiar with, were under threat by the main villain. Knowing the people and places that are at risk is always going to have more of an impact than something bad which happens to people and places we don't know.

However, while I don't think the plight of the crystal ponies had as much of an impact as the attack on Canterlot last season, I do think the writers did a good job in getting us to like them enough to want these new ponies to be okay. When I saw images of them enslaved by Sombra, chained up and miserable, I genuinely felt for them. And even later when they seemed to be free but still lacked that spark of life, I remained concerned. It was as though their very minds were enslaved, and that was hard not to care about.

Also, there's one criticism I've heard about their introduction that I have to denounce, and that's the accusation that this new breed of ponies was only introduced to try and sell some new line of toys. I'm not going to say that this accusation is right or wrong, only that it shouldn't matter. This show is made by Hasbro, and everything they put on our TV screens is designed to sell us toys. But that has never stopped me from being interested in the characters or stories they give us. If I started criticising characters just because they're trying to sell me something, then what's to stop me from going back and hating on all the other things I grew up with that tried the same thing? Like the Transformers?

So no. The crystal ponies introduction being used as another marketing campaign by Hasbro is not something that bothers me.

However, one thing that does bother me about this episode is that, when compared to the previous two-parter, it seems to lack some of the emotional weight of that story. That's not to say there weren't any touching or heartfelt moments here, because like any MLP two-parter, there were plenty. But the story of the wedding episode was largely one about Twilight and her relationship to her brother, and that led to many moments that really touched me. In some cases I was even on the verge of tears. This episode lacks that heart to it, that emotional "punch-to-the-gut" factor that Canterlot Wedding had. I know that this story is more centred around adventure and mystery than on a family connection, and if that's your preference I won't say a bad word against you. It's just that, to me, it causes it to lack the same weight.

The final shot of the episode, with Celestia and Luna looking over that book, has me intrigued. That couple with comments they made regarding Twilight in part one seems to suggest something they have in mind for her. It could be foreshadowing for the events of a future episode, something this show has not done yet. Call me cautiously optimistic on that part as I've always had a liking for story arcs like that.

As with many of the past two-parters this story is largely about Twilight, but also gives the rest of the cast ample opportunity to show off just what great characters they are. As such I'd like to take a moment to discuss her and the other characters. Twilight's story here is largely one about feeling like she cannot do what is expected of her, but trying to do so nonetheless. Already I find that this is a relatable situation for her to be it. Not to go into too much detail but I myself have been in a position where I've been worried about letting others down. So many of Twilight's fears and concerns are ones that I can empathise with, which definitely helps the episode.

The rest of the main six all play to their various strengths and while none of them do anything spectacular or different to what they've been shown to do in previous episodes, the stuff they do quickly reminds me of how much I like these characters. But while the other five as a whole might not have had as much to do in this episode, there were plenty of moments when I felt that they shined, such as Rarity's enthusiasm for helping ponies made of crystal. However, the same cannot be said for Spiker, as he really shines in this episode. Not only in his continuing help of Twilight, but because of some very heartfelt moments the two share in this episode, such as their time near the "fear door".

There are a number of returning characters here that I'd like to discuss, chief among them being Princess Cadence and Shining Armour. As much as I like these characters I was worried after the end of the last season that I may never see them again, that they would have been created just so the episode could be made and then we never hear from them again. Fortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact it actually makes me appreciate them all the more. Having Cadence's previously-established power of love be integral to saving the crystal ponies was a stroke of genius on the part of the writers and it even makes me wonder if they had this episode in mind when they were creating her. As for Shining, his interactions with Twilight were good to watch and it's clear that things between them are pretty good after the events of the previous two-parter.

Both of these two characters have clearly improved since when we last saw them, both having equal responsibility in helping to save the day. Shining Armour certainly lives up to his role as a member of the Equestrian military, and I'll admit it was pretty badass of him to try and take on Sombra by himself, even if he did pay a price for it. Cadence's moments with Twilight were pretty sweet, especially their little childhood dance making a return. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if this was all being used to prepare us for them being new additions to the main cast at this point.


But let's be honest here. The returning character that'll be on the lips of every fan of this show will be Celestia's sister, Princess Luna. After her rather disappointing cameo in the season two finale I was worried that she might be rendered into nothing more than a background character, brought in just to remind us that she's still there. Her inclusion here is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand it's great to finally see her have a dialogue scene with Celestia and you really get the feeling despite her limited screen-time that she's an important person in this world, sharing responsibility with Celestia for protecting it. This is something I've been hoping for ever since her re-introduction in "Luna Eclipsed" last year. I mean not only is she Celestia's sister, but a co-ruler of this world, so it always bugged me that we never saw the two have more scenes together.

On the other hand however, having her not participate in the expedition to the Crystal Empire despite her request to do so seems a little off to me. I mean it's made pretty clear that she was rather important in saving the place once before, so not involving her this time made little sense to me. Having Celestia choose Twilight to save that empire instead of her seemed like she had no faith in her, which is something that I think Luna herself must have felt, as you can probably see by the look of annoyance on her face after Twilight's talk with her.

It's as though the show's writers are saying to us, "okay guys, here's that character you've been nagging us to show. Now we're just going to put her to one side sop we can get back to the characters WE care about". I know it's their show and all, but if they're not going to do anything important with the character, then frankly I would have preferred it if they hadn't brought her back at all, despite my liking her cameo.

Celestia seems to be gaining more importance as a character this time around and it's nice to see her more involved in the protection of this world than we've seen her in past episodes. While she may again be directing things from a more background position, it's understandable given that she's a head of state.

Now that I've talked about the protagonists, let's talk about the villain. King Sombra had many elements to him, both good and bad that made hi8m seem like an interesting villain for this show. despite this being the third season, Sombra is, to me at least, the first major villain we've had who seems to be motivated by the traditional "I want to take over the world" need. Past villains may have attempted to do so but their motivations always varied. Nightmare Moon for example was the embodiment of Luna's frustrations and isolation. Discord was chaos incarnate, which frequently led him to commit acts of evil. And Chrysalis from the season two finale was motivated by a need to feed her kind. Sombar's cliché motivations actually had the result of making the past villains more three-dimensional by result.

But that's not a mark against him. I felt he was an effective villain for the story. Not only did he have a real sense of intimidation to him but it's clear that he's also one of the crueller villains we've had so far, enslaving whole populations and utterly loving it. In addition to that, you always felt his influence even when he was never on-screen. The way the crystal ponies' minds are controlled by him, their inability to remember the way things should be, show just how effective and menacing this guy is.

However, I cannot say the same for his design. His look just seems a tad too over-the-top evil for me. I know he's supposed to look evil but this looks more along the lines of an overly-designed fan-character, just too many elements to him. Fortunately for him, his alternate "smoke" appearance was much more intimidating. It's much more effective to see a less defined bad guy, as your imagination helps to make him that much more threatening.

Also, there's one area of this villain I felt was a down-grade from past villains. In the previous two-parters, the villains was never revealed early on. They were always explained to us via some story or exposition and we the audience had them built-up before their eventual appearance. With Sombra, he was shown to us straight away via the flashback, so the audience knew what to expect when he showed up again, thus removing some of the impact he might have had.

Plus, he also seems to be the least involved villain we've had so far. In fact he barely talks throughout the whole episode, instead communication via grunts and growls most of the time. On top of that his influence is usually seen during his absence, with character and environments reacting to him like some far-off threat. I think that's a good way of going about it. Since he seems to be (at least in my opinion) the least interesting main villains we've had so far on a personality level, having him be some unseen by growing threat was definitely the way to go with him.

Now that the characters have been discussed, I'd like to give my thoughts on something I've heard regarding this new season. It was announced recently that the show's third season will contain no twenty-six episodes as the last two season have had, but a mere thirteen. I'm not entirely sure why they've decided to do this but in all honesty, I think this could be a good thing for the show. Having fewer episodes to create means the team behind them get to give more time and attention to each one, which is always a good thing. They may even be able to condense their budget, pour more money into the music or animation.

And speaking of the animation, let me say right now that this episode is probably the most impressive MLP has been for me as far as it's visuals go. It's clear just from looking that the animation department have gone all-out with this one. I was impressed by every frame and moment of flash animation used here, from small details like Twilight's hair blowing in the wind, to big set-pieces like the sky-shots of the Crystal Empire. If nothing else, I'm safe in saying that this was a magnificent episode to look at.

Time to talk about the humour of the episode. Like virtually every two-part episode before it, this story is more heavy on drama and as such the jokes we might get in the more episodic stories is lacking. That's not to say that they aren't in here, it's just that they take a back-seat to the real core story. Although the funny moments that they did have always made me laugh/ Pinkie's attempted spying on the crystal ponies, Spike's protecting himself from Twilight in part one, and even Fluttershy's failed attempt at acting menacing all seemed hysterical to me and it's clear that the show has managed to keep it's sense of humour during it's absence.

Now it's time for the songs, because like the season two finale, this two-parter is a musical with many songs to stalk about. The first is sung by Twilight after she speaks with Celestia in part one. It's a song largely about how she feels like she cannot do what is expected of her. It's a well-sung song and features both some great voice work and some impressive animation to go with it. It's seems very heartfelt and it's hard not to get caught up with Twilight's feelings as she's singing it. It's also worth mentioning that this is the first time in the whole series that we see Spike singing, though only in a supportive role. I don't know who it is who does his singing voice but in all honesty, I'm not that impressed. It's not bad, but when compared to the singer for Twilight, it's just rather underwhelming.

The next song is done when twilight explains to her friends about setting up a faire for the crystal ponies. As anyone whose read my past reviews will tell you, I'm a big fan of any song where the whole cast is involved, and this is no exception. There's a real energy and enthusiasm to this song that I can't help but like. Having all of the characters do what they do best as they go about their various tasks is both in-keeping with their characters and gives plenty of opportunity for the individual voice actresses to show off their singing talents.

The third and final song is sung at the very end and is a reprise of the first. It's sung by the whole cast this time though, which of course makes it awesome for me. Plus it feels very upbeat and enjoyable compared to the first, though not exactly superior to it. It's short but sweet, making it a serviceable, if somewhat less impressive, song for the two-parter.

Now it's time for me to talk about the moral-of-the-story. This is probably the first time a two-parter has had a moral in this series, as the others were all more concerned with the adventure and story. This episode's message is ome of self-sacrifice, that it's better to do something that will ensure the wellbeing of others rather than an action that benefits only yourself. I certainly don't think that this is a bad moral by any stretch of the imagination. But the problem with it is that the things it's talking about only really happened in the last five minutes of the episode, rather than having the whole story centred around it. As such it's message is dulled somewhat.

Overall I'd say that this was both a well-told, emotional, action-packed and visually impressive start to the third season. Whether or not it's better or worse than previous two-parters is hard to say as it'll probably take some time to really sink in. But on a first-impression basis, I can't think of a better way for Hasbro to have re-introduced us to this series. The characters were great, the story was expertly told and while there were a few nit-picks here and there they were unable to detract away from the episode's overall quality. This episode may have lacked the emotional weight of the previous two-part episode that was not enough for me to say I'm in any way disappointed. I wanted the show to come back with a bang, and that's exactly what they gave me. I may even have to amend my top ten MLP episode list after this one. It's that good.

Join me next week when we get too much of a kooky thing in "Too many Pinkie Pies".

See you then.
 

Scarim Coral

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Fun fact, there is a poster of Equestria made by Hasbro that you can buy (Walmart?) in the US


Right click to get the full detail of the map as it seen it is somewhat canon as I can guess the Crystal Empire is located at the frozen North.

Wow you got all that from King Sombra (the whole wanting to take over the world part)? I felt he is the most dissapointing villain so far due to not having proper screen time of him like talking and monologing of his motivation.

Also I think the reason for the whole season 3 having 13 episodes is actually a common thing when it come to animation production as some other cartoon shows has the same numbers of episodes. Apparently the number 65 is like a magic number that determine wheather is should continue or cancelled (e.g the show Batman: The Braved and the Bold ended with 65 episodes).
 

Lucky Godzilla

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Oct 31, 2012
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Scarim Coral said:
Fun fact, there is a poster of Equestria made by Hasbro that you can buy (Walmart?) in the US


Right click to get the full detail of the map as it seen it is somewhat canon as I can guess the Crystal Empire is located at the frozen North.

Wow you got all that from King Sombra (the whole wanting to take over the world part)? I felt he is the most dissapointing villain so far due to not having proper screen time of him like talking and monologing of his motivation.

Also I think the reason for the whole season 3 having 13 episodes is actually a common thing when it come to animation production as some other cartoon shows has the same numbers of episodes. Apparently the number 65 is like a magic number that determine wheather is should continue or cancelled (e.g the show Batman: The Braved and the Bold ended with 65 episodes).
Actually I think Sombra had something that all the other villans lacked, a constant threatening presence. Nightmare moon had some interesting background, Discord had a great personality, and Chrysalis had good motivation. With perhaps the exception of Discord, all the villains had to reveal themselves AFTER their plans had been set in motion. I remember reading someone comparing Sombra to Sauron, even though Sauron is almost given no screen time, he still served as an effective device to move the plot along. The same is true of Sombra, the creators weren't trying to make this episode about him, but about the mane 6. Do I think he could have used more exposition mostly in regards to his motivation? Sure, but as I said, this wasn't his story.