Ah, got around to downloading the rest of the season so I can be reviewing these episodes more frequently.
It is kind of daunting to go out of the way and write entire essays describing the intricacies of a cartoon pony show, but at the same time, dissecting it really enhances my own appreciation for the show and the story that slowly unfolds over this and the next season.
Obviously starting out the season, the mood tones down dramatically to a casual comedy thriller ep, which is entertaining in all it's awesome ways.
ANIMATION ==== 9.6
Obviously they made a noticeable step down from the animation complexity of the season opener, going back to the high color, less dynamic standard we're used to in the show.
However, there were points that stood out immensely. I LOVED how the shots were arranged to show the true size and complexity of the castle ruins themselves. Feeling the age and sheer expansiveness of the location really struck out with the wide angle shots, usage of distance fog and textures, etc. giving it a very wide open but eerie feel. So many details were hidden in the backgrounds here that if you look you can see something new every time you rewatch the episode.
There was a great balance of background emphasis and character movement in the animation throughout, making this actually feel slightly more well made and balanced than the season opener, which was not without it's noticeable flaws.
And let us not forget the faces...
BACKGROUND MUSIC ==== 9.2
The BGM lacked slightly in some areas, being very quiet and light, giving the atmosphere more of a comedy and mystery appeal instead of horror atmosphere, which was mostly intentional.
I did like the change of instruments and musical cues between the different groups wandering the castle. Fluttershy and Rarity using more flutes and light instruments, showing their delicate approach, Dash and AJ's being more heroic and rushing with symphonic instruments to emphasize their bravado, and Twilight's being full of the more mystical sounding instruments such as bells, metallophones and such for her fascination of the castle's history.
Then of course the organ comes in and it doesn't just sound when Pinkie plays it, but becomes part of the BGM which adds the tension and grandeur to the whole atmosphere. Developing the soundtrack over the atmosphere was pretty well done here, and I loved it.
Given that Castle Mane-ia is supposed to be more of a situational humor episode and not a character-centered episode, of course many of the characters never really stood out except for their interactions with each other.
Twilight spent most of the episode sitting around too immersed in her own reading to really be a pivotal character here, and her speech in the end was more of an "I told you so" sort of speech to comfort her friends knowing almost from the start there wasn't anything to be afraid of, so she gets an average score.
Despite her not contributing much, I found Rarity's reactions to the situation cute and hilarious. Her interest in restoring the castle's tapestries were rather interesting, but it at the same time, humorously distracted her from what was going on. Including consideration for what anyone else was doing. Which also makes her dynamic with Flutteshy a bit interesting, showing that while she cares for her, Rarity isn't beyond dragging her along for the ride, despite her obvious protests. Fluttershy's reaction to Angel's apparent death was a bittersweet highlight. Talk about hysteria, poor girl.
Again, I found the arrogant bravado of both of these girls throughout this episode adorable and humorous. You could tell that Rainbow knew AJ was as scared as she was and vice versa but at the same time neither would be willing to admit it until the other spoke first. They were much more content to stick together for each other's comfort than be willing to go at it alone, though. A cool little friendship dynamic between the two.
I found Pinkie to be the biggest letdown of this episode for several reasons. Her being there at the organ was necessary for the comedy, sure, but her reasons in being there were lackluster at best and just made her appear more as a random nuisance than a character. She never really added anything and rather made the ending of the episode rather weak.
STORY ==== 6.0
This was an alright episode, but not the strongest of the season by far. Where it gained in the animation and music categories, it lacked severely in characterization and storytelling, with it being more of a humorous filler episode to introduce the new season's play on letter writing with the new journal concept and introduction of the Castle of the Two Sisters as being a new key location to be explored. One of those episodes you kinda have to watch to get the whole premise of the season, unfortunately, and it devolved the characters slightly in comparison to other episodes. Maybe the score could increase if the Pony of Shadows was relevant in a future episode maybe, but I don't know...
MORAL ==== 6.0
The moral(s) described at the end of this episode was more shoehorned in than normal, bearing very little build up or relevance to the actual events in the episode. Along with the almost annoying "I told you so" way Twilight said it, it sort of lacked impact, despite the rather shockingly deep meaning of the words spoken.
OVERALL ==== 7.3
Not my favorite episode in the season by far. But it did introduce key elements that would become pivotal in the upcoming season, such as the Friendship Journal entries, and the Castle of the Two Sisters location being expanded upon. A sort of "You really shouldn't have to watch, but kinda do if you want to know what's going on" kind of episode. More for the ridiculous laughs and silliness than story progression, but that's just me. And again, the animation quality of this episode stands out among the rest in it's artistic quality and unique atmosphere, and that shouldn't be looked over so lightly. Enjoyable at the very least.
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