One thing that I learned relatively quickly on the fanfiction scene is that there is verbiage specific to fanfiction that those who have never read it or been interested in it don’t know or understand. Terms like mary sue, shipping, and OTP (one true pairing, for shipping pairs, if you don’t know) are things that I’d never heard of prior to my first forays into this new and fascinating world of speculation and imagination.
Another of these terms that I came across is canon. In opposition to fanon, canon is what is considered as having actually happened, as far as storyline progression goes. In some shows, it is as if a reset button was pressed at the beginning of each episode, making previous episodes meaningless and making each new episode a standalone, with no references to past episodes and no additions to future episodes.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic doesn’t have a reset button. Each episode has a lesson that’s actually learned by the characters which carries its teachings into future episodes, giving a sense of continuity and story. So, since these elements exist, this show has the textbook definition of canon.
Now, how exactly do we identify what is canon? Simply put, if it happened in their world as created by the show staff, then it is most undeniably canon. There’s some speculation on certain parts of this, like what has actually happened and what’s just a pipe dream; more on this later.
More recently, I’ve come across a further discernation of what’s canon: These are hard canon and soft canon. There is the main series, where things happen with a direct impact on what’s being seen and observed; this is known as hard canon.
Then there are spinoffs, books, comics, games, toys, and other side-story material which still happened in the universe, and is something that affected the characters, but in most cases does not have a direct impact on the main series itself; this is soft canon. A good example of this is Torchwood, a spinoff TV series of Doctor Who, or Fable: The Balverine Order, a book that is centered in the Fable universe.
Hard canon is the essentials of what needs to be known when referring to canonical material. Soft canon is a take-it-or-leave-it stance as far as story and themes go. Examples of hard canon happenings are Apple Bloom meeting Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle and forming the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Twilight finding Owlewicious, and Discord wreaking havoc on Ponyville, to name just a handful. Examples of soft canon happenings are Cadance’s original race being a pegasus, the Mane 6 having to confront the dark powers that consumed Luna, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders being advised by Princess Celestia on where to further pursue their cutie marks.
So, what exactly is fanon, then? This is something that most assuredly did not happen in the universe being discussed, but rather is something created by the fan community. Good examples of common fanon are the events which transpire in Fallout: Equestria, Button’s Adventures, and Past Sins. These will never influence the show canon in any discernible way, as they never technically happened according to the show, but that don’t necessarily contradict canon in more cleverly done cases, or that contradict canon but are still entertaining in and of themselves.
Now that we’ve got the terms ironed out, let’s start looking for some discrepancies. One of the first contradictions of canon that happened is oft-cited as having occurred in the episode Dragonshy. In this episode, Applejack and Rainbow Dash appear to have switched their Elements of Harmony; Applejack is unwilling to leave Fluttershy behind, doing everything she can to make sure the pegasus comes with them, while Rainbow Dash consistently nags Twilight about how unwise it was to bring Fluttershy along. Applejack demonstrates loyalty in wanting to bring their friend to help, and Rainbow Dash displays honesty in her bluntness about Fluttershy’s situation.
Now, this is a small contradiction, but does it break canon? Well, neither of these characters is depicted as their Element of Harmony, literally the thing that they exemplify. If there was ever a break in canon, however brief, this is probably the first one, with further examples of this being found at several points in the series so far. However, since it actually happened as according to the series, this is also adopted as new canon. So, canonically speaking, we had a contradiction not even halfway through the first season.
This isn’t a reason to start burning bridges down; it’s simply what happened. Applejack seems to be just as loyal as she is honest, and Rainbow Dash’s dislike of weakness appears to get in the way of her wanting to help others. So, although things seem a little off, we accept that they happened and move on with our lives and our canon.
Now, for what reason is there to start burning bridges down? A small number of fans began this really toward the end of the second season, with the introduction of Princess Cadance. Symbolically, the two princesses, Celestia and Luna, are those who raise the sun and the moon. Princess Cadance seemed like a ploy on Hasbro’s part to sell more toys to their target audience. Did they succeed in this? Yes, but Cadance is still a canon character now. This is something they have to stomach for the rest of the series.
Some of the fans don’t like Cadance. They call her one-dimensional, boring, and generic. All right, so what are Snips and Snails? Gilda? Pre-season 3 Trixie? They’re pretty one-dimensional, boring, and generic as well. But, as we can see in the case of Trixie, even these flat characters can be given something more, a story and a background which didn’t exist which gives them life and depth as other characters have. Princess Luna was generic evil-person-turned-good, then she gained far more depth and meaning in season 2.
To put a long story short, some people will sell canon short before they give it a fighting chance. I think those who left after season 2 ended didn’t want to be a part of the fandom anymore, though a good portion relented and decided to watch season 3 after the fact.
Now, did anything happen that was disliked in season 3? Oh, there was plenty, and hindsight has brought only more negativity. Initially, the episode One Bad Apple introduced Babs Seed, a fourth Cutie Mark Crusader, who then appeared again in Apple Family Reunion. She definitely has depth of character, but now so many who liked the character at first are saying her episodes are bland, boring, and that she herself is a failure as a character.
Moreover, the episode with Trixie is shunned; Spike’s further character development is butchered; and Gummy… well, he’s all right, but most bronies don’t seem to like the episode he was in anymore. Really, the only episode that seems generally well-liked is Sleepless in Ponyville. Why the bad wrap for season 3?
Simply put, watchers remember the ending more than anything. So, let’s look at the last episode: Magical Mystery Cure. I actually did a previous article focusing on this episode. This is considered the worst canon occurrence in all of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, with the exception of perhaps one other. In this episode, Twilight Sparkle ascended to princesshood, became that which Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadance were, and gained wings and, presumably, the ability to grow and nurture the planet as earth ponies do.
This article isn’t about what it is to be an alicorn; but did it happen? Definitely. I watched the episode in the official series myself, and Twilight’s princesshood is something that will be here to stay.
Now, why do so many feel this has soured the canon? It’s impossible to please everyone, but the show’s writers seem to be departing further and further from what made our show what it was. A lot of bronies were excited for season 3, but continued failures to deliver the kinds of incredible things that we’d come to know and expect from the show have brought our expectations down as well.
To be fair, I understand these sentiments. When I heard about Twilicorn, I was livid about it. I mean, our main character becoming a princess? That screams generic girly cartoon to me, and I was definitely not pleased that she would forever be a black mark upon canon.
One thing that requires coming to terms with is what has happened and what hasn’t happened. Yes, Twilight became a princess; that’s all we know. That’s all that’s happened. What else do we know? Well, she can fly now… um… she’s a princess, and, uh…
That’s it. That’s all. We still know next to nothing, canonically, of what’s going on with her. Just as so many have sold Cadance short as being a flat character, Twilight has been sold short as an irredeemable mary sue.
Now, what’s the difficult part of this reconciliation? Why do we have to jump to these harsh conclusions about something innocent and simple? I really don’t have a straight answer to this. Humans are inherently negative people, and it seems we, as a whole, have to find reason to dislike things that are good. It seems a blanket statement to me, but the best I can consider.
Is Twilicorn “good,” though? That’s all in the eye of the beholder. Just because I like tacos, that doesn’t mean the guy sitting on the bus next to me likes them as well, and it would be animalistic of me to think otherwise. Animalistic, you say? Well, that’s a philosophical point on the theory of mind. It is a very human thing to realize that your concept is not the only concept, and being able to understand that others have differing viewpoints with the exact same information is a core understanding of humanity.
This actually harkens back to what makes a brony who they are. A large number of us were judgmental of the show initially, saying it was terrible despite having never watched it, then miraculously learned that it was incredible after all. Most of us learned in the beginning that saying something is bad without experiencing it at all is a very poor perception of things.
So, what about things that you don’t think are as great? Are we looking for everyone to accept ponies into their lives and become bronies? Of course not, as I covered in another previous article. All that a brony can really ask for is acceptance and understanding from others, not a complete sharing of interests. Do we all accept that Twilicorn is canon? Good. We’re welcome to disagree and round-table discuss why she’s good or bad all we want, but it doesn’t change the fact that she is who she is, and neither side is right or wrong in their perception of things. To say someone is wrong for having an opinion on certain canon is to be judgmental.
So, what about the grey area that came after Magical Mystery Cure? Before season 4? Is Equestria Girls hard canon or soft canon?
Meghan McCarthy, the writer of Equestria Girls, first stated that Equestria Girls will have no impact whatsoever on season 4′s events. When asked to expound upon this, she clarified that, while the events of Equestria Girls did happen, and Twilight learned a lesson and everything, they simply will have no direct impact on the main story, at least for season 4.
So, what does this sound like? It most assuredly sounds like soft canon to me. The comics have no impact on the main show, nor do the books. Equestria Girls is like Torchwood or Angel, but for Friendship is Magic.
So, yes, Equestria Girls happened. There’s no way around this, much as some of us don’t want Humanland to exist.
Is this a bad thing, though? I don’t think so. This is a celebration of differences, not a conformity to sameness. It may be canon, but we’re welcome to like or dislike it as we will. Do we have to accept that Twilight is now a princess? Yes. Do we have to accept that Twilight became a human and Spike became a dog? Also yes. Should this trouble us? Of course not; it’s just a bloody show.
This isn’t as complicated as so many make it out to be. What has happened has happened, and discussion is welcome, but all we really know is what has happened, not what we think will happen. So, yes, we can speculate, but nobody really knows. We won’t know any more until November 23rd, when more canon comes to light.
Do we have to like season 4? Of course not. I don’t expect everyone to think My Little Pony is a great show, and I sure hope no one else expects any different. I also don’t think that a brony has to like every little bit of canon. We can wish all we want that Twilight never became an alicorn, and we can pretend that Equestria Girls never happened, but does that erase them from existence? Never, not in a million years. Canon is what actually happened in a show’s story progression, and these both happened. What remains to be seen is what is done with these happenings.
We can’t write season 3 out of existence, much as some bronies cry smart-shaming. To be honest, I’m thankful that pre-G4 My Little Pony isn’t considered canon. However, I have met two friends through Ponychan, Positively Pinkie and My Little Life On Mars, who may think otherwise. We have a difference of opinion on how credible G3 is, but that simple discrepancy will never make us enemies, and simple things like this would be silly to fight over.
Really, honestly, all I’m advocating is peace among dissenters. For Celestia’s sake, it’s a cartoon about ponies. Granted, it’s an amazingly good cartoon about ponies, but nothing earth-shattering. Why would we ever burn our bridges because of a disagreement over something so simple?
Yet, I’ve been told time and again that my positive opinions on season 3 and Equestria Girls are wrong. Literally, I’ve been told that how I feel about the current canon is wrong. Need I remind everyone what it means to be a brony?
Canon is canon, whether hard or soft. Fanon is always speculative, and should be taken with a grain of salt. These are the simple truths, facts within a sea of opinions. And is there anything wrong with this? Not at all.
Love and tolerance may be a joke phrase, originally—another article? You got it!—but any brony worth their salt won’t throw such things out the window. The entire reason the show is popular is due to a rescinding of pre-judgment, however brief, to allow a new perspective. Canon may be what happened, but how we interpret it is always a matter of opinion.
Now, it’s time to stop beating a dead horse. Whether or not we watch season 4 is on a person-to-person basis, and I know I’m already on board. Whether you still have faith in the show’s creators to make something great out of this or not is a matter of opinion, and that ought to be respected, regardless of what it is. After all, that’s what makes humans human. So, let’s celebrate our humanity by letting ponies into our hearts—or out of them, depending on what your opinion is. That, to me, is the greatest humanity of all.