Thoughts on Double Rainboom
Okay, the first thing I want to note here is the criteria by which I'm judging this. I recognize that it's a fan work made by non-professionals, and that it likely won't live up to the show's quality level, and as such a lot of the critiques I'm going to make are going to seem a bit on the harsh side. However, I have a reason for this: the animation has been, for over a year at this point, touted as “the first-ever fan-made episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic". That's a direct quote from DoubleRainboom.com's FAQ page. The guy heading the project was quoted at Bronycon as saying "It'll feel just like an episode". There's an obvious implication here: That "Double Rainboom" is intended to be comparable to an episode of the canon show, both in terms of production values and in terms of tone. It's not labeled a fan video that's merely based on the show; it's labeled as something that's intended to be an episode in every way aside from the fact that it's fan-created rather than officially produced. As this is the standard that the makers of “Double Rainboom” have set for themselves, I think it's appropriate to hold the episode to that standard in this review.
Simply put, I've seen too many “It's a fan work! You can't expect it to be perfect!” arguments, and they just don't fly with me. No, it isn't professionally produced. That's an explanation for why the flaws may be there, but it doesn't make the flaws any less present. If the people who make the episode have been treating it as an actual fan-made episode. I'm going to treat it as one when I review it. I'm simply adhering to the standard that they set for themselves. “It's a fan thing!” isn't an excuse, not when they've spent over a year working on it.
The other thing is that there's a lot of “Well, let's see you do better!” defense going on. I don't buy that either. I'll admit that I'm no animator, actor, or sound technician, and as a writer I'm an amateur. However, one of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis: “Only the skilled can judge the skillfullness, but that is not the same as judging the value of the result.” Or to put it in other terms, I don't need to be a chef to know that the food doesn't taste good. I might not be able to write a full episode, but I can still tell when something feels rushed, or slow, or that someone was out of character or something.
Also, I feel compelled to point out ahead of time that I did enjoy the episode very much; it has a lot going for it, but it also has quite a few issues. I'll start with the good bits.
Okay, I'm not gonna sugarcoat things, even though the official statement claimed 100% show-accurate animation, it doesn't quite hit that. It is, however, sitting pretty at around 95% show accurate animation. I think it overdoes the tweening a bit, but most of the problems aren't with the animation itself, so much as not quite getting the body language down (see the characterization section below). But for the most part, the effects are solid and the Double Rainboom itself looks amazing.
When it switches over the Powerpuff Girl section, the animation is pretty much spot-on. The scene with the monster is a lot of fun to watch, and actually feels like a scene out of a PPG episode. If they had chosen to make a full-length PPG animation, it probably would have fit a lot more closely.
The music is pretty spot on for the most part. There are actually some clever shout outs hidden in the soundtrack, and it fits the onscreen events quite well. It's never intrusive and nicely compliments the episode.
I know a lot of people found the voices off, but for the most part I didn't have many problems with them. Rainbow Dash's voice is a bit iffy at points, but Twilight, Pinkie, Scootaloo, and the PPG are all pretty much as close as you could reasonably get without hiring the same voice actors. There's some awkwardness in the delivery, but that's more an editing/pacing issue than an acting one. The acting is pretty good, and the voices never stuck out at me as being greatly off at any point.
The section where Twilight is theorizing about the effect of the potion on her friends is probably my favorite bit of the episode. It's the section that most legitimately feels like it would be at home in a real episode. The animation is smooth and looks gorgeous, and the transitions fit very well. But the part that really sells it for me is that this is the one part of the episode where they really nail the show's style of humor. The little gag where Rarity puts an umbrella in the potion before drinking it is probably my single favorite moment in the episode, because it's subtle and is a great example of the character-oriente humor that makes me enjoy watching FIM in the first place.
It's also the one part that handles the shout outs properly; they're there for those who notice, but they don't distract. For example, a lot of the costumes Rarity designs are shout outs, such as the Him design. The thing is, the gag doesn't rely on recognizing the references; if you don't get it, you still can appreciate Rarity churning out increasingly elaborate designs. Same deal with Fluttershy's animal friends. Even if you don't recognize Bugs, Daffy, Kanga, Roo, and the Twitter whale, the joke of her getting smushed by her animal friends stands on it's own. It's subtle and adds to the scene rather than detracting.
Twilight's narration during the sequence is also some of the most well-written dialogue in the animation; it's fun seeing her getting increasingly unsure of how to describe the potion's effects, culminating with her minor freakout over what would happen to Pinkie. If the whole episode had been done as well as this scene was, it would have come incredibly close to its goal of being show accurate.
The Powerpuff Girls Rule
I know a lot of people didn't like the sudden crossover, but honestly it's probably my favorite part of the episode after the above scene. The main reason is that the crew isn't limited to trying to imitate the show, and the increased freedom lets them have a bit of fun with the insanity of the situation. While it's a bit of a pity that the interactions with the PPG are limited to them finding RD adorable, what little interaction there is is actually quite cute. The Powerpuffs are handled pretty well both in terms of voice acting and animation, and the monster fight is a lot of fun to watch. I honestly kinda wish that the episode would have just been a straight up crossover to start with. It would have given the crew a lot more room to experiment, and they could have milked the interactions a lot more.
Aaaand now for the criticisms.
I've basically identified three main problems that crop up most often in critiques of the episode, which I agree are the source of the bulk of the episode's issues:
Gags and such things
One of the most regular complaints that crop up about the episode is the type of humor it uses. It relies quite heavy on referential humor of the “Hey look, it's (insert fandom joke here)”. If this were just a garden variety fanvid it would be fine, but if this is supposed to be a “fan made episode” it causes some problems. There are two main issues with how the humor is generally used:
1. The show very rarely uses this type of humor, and as such a lot of it feels out of place. Don't get me wrong, the show does do a lot of fandom nods, but it's never as reliant on them as DR is. The canon episodes rely much more on character based humor that doesn't require familiarity with the fanbase or internet culture. As such, it's much more jarring when that sort of humor is mostly absent from DR. Thing is, when the canon episodes insert fandom nods, it's usually in an unobtrusive fashion that makes sense for everyone who isn't up to date on fandom stuff.
Let's take the Fluttertree gag from “Hurricane Fluttershy” as an example. For everyone who knows about the fandom's Fluttertree meme, it's an amusing reference. To someone who doesn't know about it, it's still a funny gag about Rainbow Dash calling a tree “Fluttershy” only to turn out to be right. The joke is comprehensible no matter whether or not you're at all familiar with the background. In contrast, let's look at the Scootachicken joke from DR. If you know about the Scootachicken joke, Scootaloo crashing into the chicken billboard makes sense. If you don't, it turns into a non-sequitur; the scene inexplicably stops for a few seconds to stare at the billboard for no conceivable reason. Again, if this were a regular jokey fandom video it would be fine, but in the context of an actual episode, it just feels off.
The most blatant example of this in the episode is probably the infamous trollface in the smoke when the potion explodes. The entire sequence makes precisely no sense unless you're up to date on internet memes. Aside from being utterly out of place in the tone of the show, there's absolutely no reason for the thing to be there. The entire 30-second long sequence has no narrative purpose; the potion could just as easily have puffed and then moved onto the next scene but instead we get half a minute of dramatic lighting and a trollface in the smoke that's foreshadows nothing, and is never remarked upon by the characters again. To put it in Trope terms, it's a Big Lipped Alligator Moment. It appears with no buildup, is totally incongruous with the general style of the show, and has no relevance to later events. It literally does nothing but consume screentime. Which brings us to the second problem with the gags:
2. They're almost always dragged out too long and screw up the pacing. This is especially evident in the “RD flies through Ponyville” sequence, which is basically just an excuse to have a bunch of cutaway gags. Some of them, like the AJ and Rarity gags, are workable because they're kept short. Some of them, though, completely botch the flow of the sequence. The Derpy gag is a good example. The gag itself is passable, but it's dragged out to being 25 seconds long. This is about 15 seconds longer than it needs to be. There are 5 parts to the gag:
a. Flowerpot 1 underps her eyes
b. Derpy smiles
c. Flowerpot 2 rederps her eyes
d. Derpy shrugs, goes to eat muffin
e. Flowerpot 3 destroys muffin
Each of those cuts should take maybe 1-2 seconds at most, but it ends up being over twice as long as it needs to be. And this isn't the only gag in the episode that does this. The Roid Rage gag is another example of a joke that literally stops the scene for five seconds for him to pop his head in and say “YEAH” for absolutely no reason (going back to reason 1, when he did the “YEAH” thing it was brief and only in situations where it made sense for him do that. His total “YEAH” time in that entire episode is probably less than his one appearance in DR). The Scootaloo chicken gag was similarly protracted. Ultimately, a lot of the gags do this; lasting a few seconds longer than needed, and it really damages the flow of the scenes sometimes because the camera lingers after the joke is already done. In fact, it's not just limited to the jokes. Let's move on to criticism 2:
The whole “a shot is a few seconds longer than needed” thing happens a LOT in DR. A character will say a line or do their action, and the camera will just hang there for a moment before moving on. It makes a lot of the scenes feel quite dragged out when they don't have to. The establishing shots last too long before the action starts, and in general a lot of the episode feels unnecessarily drawn out. The opening shot of the story proper is a good example. The shot of Twilight laboriously messing with the potion ingredients goes on for thirty seconds in which nothing plot-relevant happens. It doesn't establish anything other than “Twilight is doing science” an could easily have been cut to less than half the length without losing anything. Similarly, Twilight conversation with Rainbow Dash could easily be cut down to about 70% of it's current time by eliminating pointlessly long shots.
It also has pacing issues on a macro scale outside of individual shots. The entire first half of the episode feels as if almost nothing happens. The first scene with Twilight and RD is 90% exposition and is protracted, which is followed by a lengthy sequence of RD zooming randomly around town which exists solely as an excuse for a series of gags with no plot relevance. Then it jumps ahead too quickly, introducing the Double Rainboom roughly halfway through the episode (yet somehow manages to take forever building up to it, it's over a minute from the time she starts it to when it actually happens), which means that it doesn't have anywhere else to go. The Double Rainboom is the climactic moment of the episode, yet happens in the middle, which means that everything after it has less energy. The real conflict (RD getting stuck in Townsville) isn't introduced until a few minutes after that which means there isn't much time to resolve it in an interesting fashion. This, in turn, connects with the final problem: the writing.
Writing, plot, and characterization
This is probably the thing that bothered me the most about this episode, mainly because it's the characterization that drew me to the show in the first place. It's also the regard in which the show most widely missed the “studio-quality” mark and feels most like a fan production. The characterization and plotting are very much hit or miss.
The plot, for the most part, is sparse at best. A summary would be “Twilight makes a potion, RD drinks it, lulz ensue”. That's really all there is to it. There isn't much driving the plot; it just sort of happens (I'll get into this in more detail when I get to the characterization), and it never really goes anywhere either. RD and Twilight only have one real conversation, which is mostly exposition, which makes the whole thing at the end where Rainbow Dash writes the letter to Celestia seems forced; the whole “you shouldn't take things that belong to someone else” and “thinking things through” themes are only offhandedly mentioned, and it seems like they were just pulled out at the end solely for RD to have something to put in the letter. It's particularly galling because Rainbow Dash destroyed Ponyville, and yet all anypony cares about is that Rainbow Dash took the potion without permission. That's far from the greatest issue in the episode.
Even more bizarre, the whole concept of how RD got sucked into another dimension is pretty much entirely ignored by all the ponies. RD adjusts astoundingly well, and seems more preoccupied with not getting hugged by the PPG than about getting home. Even though she's trapped in another world, it seems as if there's no conflict or tension because because the whole PPG sequence is used as gag fodder. When I saw the PPG show up, I was half expecting RD to enlist their help to get home. Maybe get Professor Utonium to set up a portal or something. It was a bit disappointing when all that happened was the girls playing games with RD.
Similarly, the resolution is pretty much a Deus Ex Machina. It's briefly foreshadowed in that we never got to find out what Pinkie would do with the potion, but she never appears elsewhere in the episode, which makes her sudden involvement come out of nowhere. It also falls into the “only makes sense if you're familiar with the fandom” issue; as Pinkie's fourth-wall breaking tendencies are greatly exaggerated by the fandom; there's pretty much no in-universe explanation for how the heck Pinkie is able to suddenly break reality, even with the potion. It comes across as a sort of “Crap, we didn't think through how to get RD back. Uh... Pinkie Pie makes a portal!” It doesn't help that Pinkie doesn't show up anywhere in the episode before this point.
The other main issue with the writing is the characterization, or lack thereof. Part of the reason that the plot feels so sparse is that there's little to nothing driving it because it's simply an excuse to have the Rainboom. It's like they started with “We want a Double Rainboom!” and worked backwards from there. How she able to do a double rainboom? Potion! Okay, where does the potion come from? Twilight made it! Okay, why does she make the potion? Because science! It feels very forced and isn't really a natural progression for the characters.
The big problem with the characterization is a lack of personal motivation. Twilight is making a potion, and Rainbow Dash drinks it, but their motivations for these actions are so minimal they might as well not be there. It isn't out of character for Twilight to be working on a potion, but she still needs a reason beyond “it's something I've been working on since magic kindergarten.” It doesn't help that Twilight's explanation of the potion is incredibly vague. At first she says she doesn't know what it does (there's even a 30-second long exchange about it), and then mere minutes later she explains in detail what it's supposed to do. And at no point does Twilight explain offer any reason. There's no “I'm practicing my potion making” or “it's a hobby” or “I want to boost my magic”. She only does it because without it the plot doesn't work.
Same goes for Rainbow Dash's decision to drink the potion. As far as I can tell, her only reason for drinking the potion is “Hey! It'll make me more awesome!” While this is certainly Rainbow Dash-ish, it's also an incredibly weak reason for drinking it. RD is impulsive, but she's not going to wolf down a potentially dangerous potion unless she thinks it's worth the risk for some reason. But as soon as she hears “it'll make you fly fast” she gulps it, with absolutely no other reason than it'll make her more awesome. There's no “I'll totally be able to make it in the Wonderbolts with this!” or “I need this potion to perfect my next trick” or any reason other than “why not?” The Double Rainboom itself is a complete afterthought for her.
The further events in the episode don't help either. Twilight seems to be vaguely worried about the effects of the potion on Rainbow Dash, but never really says what the issue might be other than “she's going too fast!” and she seems remarkably unconcerned with the fact that RD obliterates Ponyville, and seems more concerned that Rainbow Dash lacked a bit of foresight. She also seems to have no qualms about dosing Pinkie with the potion, even though by any metric that would be just as dangerous if not worse than giving it to RD. Similarly, RD is incredibly short-sighted, even by her own standards. She barely even gets to worry about being trapped in another world before Pinkie appears out of nowhere to rescue her. There's little conflict, because none of the characters seem to have any personal stake in the events that are going on. Things happen solely because they have to, not because it makes sense for the characters to do it, but because it's need to move the plot forward.
Another minor gripe that's fitting to bring up here is the visual characterization. Now, the animation is the strongest aspect of this project, but it hits some major difficulties in how it portrays the characters. Specifically, there's a crapton of overacting in the animation. The first 30 seconds with Twilight is a good example: as she's pouring the ingredients, she cycles through at least a dozen different expressions, only about half of which are really suitable for the situation. It's like the animators were trying to show off all their facial expressions regardless of whether the scene required them. Similarly, both characters do something that's known colloquially as “Milking the Giant Cow”, that is, their gestures are constantly melodramatic. With Dash, it's not a big deal, as she's a very active character.
Twilight, however, looks like she has Restless Everything Syndrome. She's constantly making enormous gestures and flailing her legs and swaying back and forth and running around even when there's no reason for her to be so active. The main thing that separates the animation of the show from the animation in DR is that the show's animators know when to dial it back and just let the characters have a neutral expression rather than constantly having them cycle through different expressions and motions. It gets distracting at points, and lacks much of the subtlety of expression that the show itself does.
The Final Word
The core of the issues most people have with this episode is the claim that it would resemble the show itself in terms of quality and tone. Frankly, it doesn't. If you judge “Double Rainboom” by the same metrics you apply to the show (which is what the makers themselves have encouraged in how they hype the episode), it falls short. I'm not trying to discount the monumental amount of time and effort that the makers put into it; what they've made is certainly impressive and it does set the standard for fan animation. However, that's just what it is: a fan animation. Despite the fact that “Double Rainboom” is, on it's own merits, impressive, it simply isn't what the makers claimed it to be. To put it as succinctly as I can:
“Double Rainboom” is not a fan-made episode. It's an episode-length fan animation.
Despite what the people who made the animation claimed, it simply doesn't match the show in either quality of animation (which is admittedly impressive), nor does it match the show's tone. The technical aspects are good imitation, but the writing really drifts away from it. It starts out attempting to be like the show, but gives up halfway through and switches into fanimation mode and starts tossing crossover material in. The weird thing is that it's not like they tried to do an original flavor episode and failed; they obviously intentionally diverged from it, which makes it all the weirder that they continued to advertise it as being like the show. Frankly, it feels a bit like false advertising. If they would have just been forthright that it was going to be an in-jokey, crossover animation, the vast majority of the criticisms would have less basis. Basically, they set such a high standard for themselves that they simply couldn't live up to it.
This isn't to say that you should take a pass on it. As fan project, it's extremely impressive, and for the most part I found it enjoyable to watch. As an episode of the show... it's just not. I'd totally recommend checking it out, but watch it like you'd watch a blatantly non-canon jokey thing like Friendship is Witchcraft rather than as the show. Just roll with the weird gags and don't expect any of the depth or subtlety that Friendship is Magic usually has. It's worth watching, but not for the same reason as watching the actual show.
So to sum up:
-The animation is roughly 95% show quality
-The music is solid throughout
-The PPG section is thoroughly amusing, despite the plot irrelevance
-The alternate animation section with the cutout style looks amazing and capture's the show's style well.
-The dialogue is often a bit stilted and uneven
-The pacing is thrown off by a large amount of padding; you could easily chop out 5-7 minutes of content out of the episode without losing anything
-The plot is poorly justified and lacking in conflict
-The characters lack much motivation for their actions
-The resolution comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit the rest of the episode.