Friday, May 24, 2013

Fridays Are Magic: The Best Pony

When I started watching the show, the last pony I thought would become my favorite character was Rarity.  Prim, proper, refined, vain, slightly neurotic, and obsessed with girly-girl foofarah, Rarity seemed like the sort of generic stock character one would find on any show targeted at young girls.  No, if I'd had to guess, I would have expected to favor Twilight Sparkle, my fellow nerd, or Fluttershy, the adorable introvert, or even Pinkie Pie, the comic relief.  Those were character archetypes I'd enjoyed in the past, and I didn't think things would be any different with a cartoon show about brightly colored, magical ponies.

Fast forward a year and a half later, and there is no doubt in my mind: Rarity is the funniest, most complex, and overall most interesting character in Friendship is Magic, and I am prepared to back this claim with a probably-too-thought-out essay.

It's about to get fabulous up in here.

So, where do start?  Well, let's cover some general stuff, first.

Perhaps the biggest reason I like Rarity the most is the fact that she's absolutely hilarious.  Tabitha St. Germain deserves a huge amount of credit for this--her voice work as Rarity is always fantastic--but so do the artists and animators, who have gone to great lengths to give each pony their own distinctive movements, quirks, and expressions.  Rarity's all about the dramatic gestures.  When she's surprised, she puts a hoof to her chest or head.  When she's making an important statement, she plants her hooves and leans forward.  And when she's caught making an fool of herself, she manages to communicate both embarrassment and a bit of bemusement about why nopony else acted that way.  It's subtle stuff, and as I've said before, it's an example of how much craftsmanship goes into making the show.

Rarity: not a fan of Pinkie's humor.
Honestly, while Pinkie Pie is generally considered the comic relief, I'd propose that it's actually Rarity who provides the most frequent and consistent laughs.  Dichotomies lie at the heart of her character: generosity versus ambition, vanity versus the need for action, seeming helplessness versus surprising competence.  Rarity excels in subverting the viewer's (and everypony else's) expectations, playing the meek damsel one minute and threatening to TEAR YOU APART the next.  It's a, perhaps, slightly more adult humor than Pinkamena's random slapstick, which is appropriate, given that she's almost certainly a few years older than her costars.

Despite what Equestria Girls seems to think the main characters' ages are supposed to be (sigh), I have a hard time thinking of any of the Mane Six as teenagers.  I'm not alone in this; most of the brony community seems to agree that they're young adults, probably in their early 20's.  None of them live with their parents, which is an indicator of age in our society, all of them have real jobs, and even the seemingly youngest (Twilight) seems to be the pony equivalent of a grad student.

I mean, you have to be mature to cosplay
The Great Gatsby, right?
But regardless of their canonical ages, Rarity definitely seems to be the oldest of the group.  She's an ambitious entrepreneur who owns her own business, lives alone despite residing in the same town as her sister and parents, and seems to have had far more exposure to culture and high society than a younger woman would have had.  Also--and be warned, here we get into the geekiness--a brief clip in the episode "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," during Rarity's retelling of how she earned her cutie mark (the li'l butt tattoos everypony has, which indicate their special talents and open up a whole philosophical discussion on fate vs. free will that we won't get into today), shows young Rarity nervously trying to design costumes for a school play.  The only one of her classmates recognizable is Cheerilee, a local schoolteacher.  Assuming Equestria's credentialing process is anything like our world's, and assuming that she's got at least a couple of years' teaching experience under her saddle, we can guess that Cheeri's in her mid or late 20's.  And since she and Rarity seemed to be in the same class, that puts her at the same age, give or take a year or two.

If she's not 21, AJ's losing her license.
For comparison, and to prove what a nerd I am: Rainbow Dash is at least 21, assuming Equestria's drinking age is the same as America's.  She also holds down an apparently managerial job as a government employee, organizing the weather.  Fluttershy has stated that she's a year older than Dash, making her at least 22.  Applejack seems to have responsibility forced on her from a young age, being an orphan with a younger sister, but based entirely on her personality, I'd guess she's at least 20.  Twilight Sparkle, as I said, seems to basically be a grad student, but given her intelligence and magical aptitude, combined with her lack of social experience prior to coming to Ponyville, she could easily be between 18 and 20.

Pinkie Pie laughs at your silly concepts of "physics" and "linear time," so let's not even make an effort.

Of course, this puts a bit of a tragic
spin on poor Spike, here.
Anyway, all of this rambling brings me to this simple point: Rarity is the oldest and most mature of the Mane Six, and it's reflected in the stories centered on her.  The other girls tend to learn or relearn lessons about concepts like responsibility, overcoming anxiety, or humility; important lessons, but ones relatable to and understandable by younger members of the audience.  Rarity's problems, however, are always more complex and mature in nature, but tend to boil down to the same theme: choosing between one's own dreams and ambitions, and between loyalty to one's friends and loved ones.

For me, that's a powerful story, and it's one I've wrestled with my entire adult life.  My desires and goals, versus being there for the people I care about.  For some people, maybe that's not a tough choice, but for me it's a damned near impossible one.

"Sweetie Belle, have you seen my sleeping pills
and packet of razor blades?"
Rarity, for her part, has thus far always chosen her friends over herself.  Fortunately for her, things always work out well in the end; it's one of the benefits of being a character on a 22-minute episodic TV show.  Sure, she nearly destroyed her career for the sake of her friends' happiness, but she had a chance to make things right.  And yeah, the rest of the Mane Six almost wrecked her reputation among the Canterlot elite she so dearly wants to be a part of, but she'd been fortunate enough to befriend one of the nicest and most influential nobs in town.  In a less happy world, though, poor Rarity might have an awful lot in common with Dante from Clerks.

She does this, making sacrifices for the sake of her loved ones, again and again, because at the core of her character is a generous spirit.  Yeah, maybe that's a bit of an obvious statement, her being the Element of Generosity and everything, but it's still an interesting idea.  The vain fashionista with dreams of climbing the social ladder is, when all the layers are stripped away, the most giving person in the world.
See?  It's canon!

Also, she's got a couple of really good songs.

She's complex, she's interesting, she's hilarious.  She is, in short, the!  Best.  Possible.  PONY!

Yeah, come on.  That joke had to be in here somewhere.

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