Who Killed My Little Pony?

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I used to play with My Little Ponies. I hated dolls, kept my hair short, wouldn’t wear dresses, but even I was susceptible to the unbearable cuteness of My Little Pony. For a while I kept a sizeable stable of them at the foot of my bed.

Imagine my shock when I found out that the newest My Little Ponies have breasts and thigh gaps.

This makeover goes beyond the desecration of my childhood memories. This is symbolic murder. Who killed My Little Pony?

In a horrid Medean twist, the murderer was the ponies’ creator, Hasbro Inc.

The premise of Hasbro’s new Equestria Girls movie is that the pony stars of the television show Friendship Is Magic have to travel to Earth to recover a MacGuffin stolen by the baddie. On Earth they are all high schoolers and the baddie, of course, is the school’s Mean Girl. I’m not going to recapitulate the utterly predictable plot here. It doesn’t matter what happens in the movie, or whether Friendship Is Magic suffers from it or not. As soon as the ponies turned into human girls, this franchise died.

The whole point of My Little Pony is that you, the child (or the adult), can pretend to keep ponies. It’s the molded plastic version of the Mercedes Lackey Heralds fantasy series. If the ponies morph into humans, who’s keeping who as a pet? It’s as if Peter Rabbit turned into a boy. Suddenly, breaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden isn’t brave and cute anymore, but behavior worthy of a restraining order.

Hasbro seems to have entirely missed the point of anthropomorphized animals. They are safe and appealing companions for children because the child remains in control of the relationship. Human > pony. The Equestria Girls pulverize this fantasy. They’re aspirational. They will confuse and alienate every child who likes to imagine herself romping with talking ponies, and the early buzz is that they’re putting adult fans off, too (read the comments). It’s astonishing that the most successful toy company in the world could have got it so wrong and I predict that the Equestria Girls movie will sink without a ripple and those loathsome tie-in dolls will vanish from shelves within weeks of their launch.

Hasbro! What happened?

I think anime happened. The movie is drawn in an Americanized anime style. With their big eyes and swishy hair, the humanoid Equestria Girls are straight out of a low-rent Sailor Moon rip-off. Sitting here in Tokyo, I feel disloyal for saying this, but the artistic conventions of anime are horrifyingly sexist and objectifying, and now they’ve been imported wholesale into Western design studios. Yay? Boo hiss. 

Anime fans are strangely loth to admit that their beloved genre has contributed to the sexualization of childhood. But guys, it has. Remember what cartoons and toys looked like before the Japanese invasion? Before the saucer eyes and infantilized facial features and missing mouths and pneumatic bosoms and pencil physiques? Toys for children weren’t always loaded down with fertility markers.

Anime, of course, derives from manga, and manga derives from the popular woodblock prints of the Edo era. These were the broadsheets of that period, and also the porn. You can take the genre out of the licentious, sophisticated urban culture, but you can’t take the fwaarggh! out of the genre. It was invented by men for men and it still caters to them. Millions of them. Otaku and regular guys who just *coughcough* enjoy the storylines.(1)

So now another player enters the mystery … thousands of them actually. Meet the Bronies! These are adult male (and female) fans of My Little Pony. They are not perverts or deviants. They just think that sparkly friendly ponies are awesome! They’re not too happy about Equestria Girls, either.

But what corporation is savvy enough to accept the simple notion that adults like ponies, too?

Your Honor, permit me to recreate the scene of the crime.

INT / Hasbro marketing department. Photos from Bronycon 2012 litter the table.

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 1: We have a lot of adult male fans!

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 2: We have to give them what they want! What do they want?

SMUG PRODUCT ENGINEER: Sex. Men want sex. They have short attention spans. Sex.

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 1: Could we make the ponies sexier?

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 2: Perhaps if we made them … girls? Sexy girls, like in that “Bratz” thing.

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 1: Yes! Yes, that’s it! These “Bronies” will eat that up!

DESPERATE MARKETING MANAGER 2: But if they’re not ponies anymore, what shall we call them?

SMUG PRODUCT ENGINEER: Fanservice.

A 10-TON WEIGHT falls through the roof of the conference room and squashes them all flat.

So that’s how I think it happened. Hasbro Inc. killed My Little Pony. Their motive: a shallow bandwagon mentality … and the inability to believe that their own product’s message of love and tolerance could really appeal to adult fans, especially male fans.

I also find anime guilty on a charge of accessory to murder. By bringing teh sexy to the realm of cartoons, it started an arms race of kawaii!! in the toy industry. In this environment, the Hasbro marketing department must have convinced themselves very easily that their cute ponies weren’t cute enough.

In today’s toy industry, cute means kawaii!! (2) And I can’t be the only ex-My Little Pony fan who thinks that’s a damn shame.

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1. There is nothing wrong with enjoying anime. I’m only criticizing the way its stylistic conventions have colonized children’s products.

2. Interestingly, most Japanese toys are not kawaii. They tend to be lovably grotesque or just silly (think Pokemon).

7 COMMENTS

  1. So I guess this is obvious, since I’m primarily an anime blogger…but the generalizations that you’ve made about anime and its aesthetics are…well, unfairly general.

    First of all, pre-anime invasion toys included Barbie dolls and baby dolls, and if those aren’t sexualized and stereotyped, I don’t know what is. Additionally, there were porn magazines of Popeye in the teens through the thirties, so comic book porn is not exclusive to manga. And hentai manga didn’t actually become widespread until the 70s.

    But beyond that, manga was largely conceived after World War II, and is credited as being some amalgamation of Japanese aesthetic sense and American comics – not just erotic woodblock prints. The specific style you’re talking about – the big eyes, small mouths, etc – didn’t come about until the 60s in the form of comic books directed to little girls. The style was coined by acclaimed mangaka Osamu Tezuka. In the 70s, a group of women artists would claim the style and the genre of shojo comics for their own and hugely revolutionize media that was made for girls and women. (Sailor Moon, by the way, was written by a woman for young girls and remains one of the most successful series for young women to this day.)

    The sexualization of little girls in animanga is relatively recent (I would say within the last 30-35 years). Sexualization of women in general has existed in every art form in every culture for all of eternity, but the moe and shota stuff has had a large boom only recently. Not all manga is inherently sexualized; additionally, what we see in American media as an anime rip-off is always poorly done and over-simplified. Also, most of the anime that comes over to the States is actually shonen stuff intended for boys – Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Gundam Wing, Naruto, One Piece, etc. These rarely have ANY female characters, but the ones that are there usually at least pass the Bechdel test. Oh, and they’re not typically drawn in shojo style with big sparkly eyes. The only largely successful shojo anime in the States has really been Sailor Moon, and that was way back in the mid-90s.

    The only reason I’ve mentioned all of this is because you’ve perpetuated some really harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about an entire art form – the kind of misconceptions that fans have to deal with on a daily basis. I won’t deny that there’s some seriously heinous sexism going on in SOME anime series. But sexualization of little girls has been rampant in Western culture for centuries, so pinning the blame on a style of media that’s only been Stateside since the 80s is seriously poor research.

    • I’m glad you’re here to defend animanga, Morgana! I freely admit to committing sweeping generalizations. Thanks for clarifying the history of the art form. I didn’t mean to imply that the sexualization of little girls began with anime. (We can’t blame Barbie here, though. She is obviously supposed to be a grown-up woman in every way. Creepy as s**t, but devoid of pedophilic appeal.) I’m just saying that shojo-manga aesthetic conventions have colonized the world of toys marketed to girls. And I do think it is a step backwards from the relatively sexless toys of yore. Wouldn’t you agree?

      • Regardless of the fact that Barbie is a grown woman, she is marketed at little girls who then seek to emulate her. So I do think she has contributed to the sexulaization of little girls quite a lot. Sexualization is not just what adults think of little girls, but how little girls think of themselves, and I think Barbie contributed to a lot of problems in that area.

        I don’t see the shojo style as inherently sexual or problematic, so I can’t see that its use in toys is really that much of a problem. You can try to cite the short skirts in magical girl stuff, but 90% of the time, those girls are dressed like modest, normal young women. Aside from that, I really can’t see anything sexual about these titles. They’re generally about adolescent or early teenage girls, hence the body types with tiny breasts, etc. Because that’s the demographic, and they want the audience to be able to relate with the protagonists.

        Also, I had mentioned the Tijuana bibles – the Popeye porn? Turns out they also had Little Orphan Annie porn way back when. So I dunno, maybe the big eyes are a direct response to anime, but definitely not the supple little girl figures.

  2. As someone with one degree of separation from Hasbro (I know a guy), they are actually trying to appeal to teenage girls. They do not understand the concept of bronies, and hate having to cater to them.

    This is Hasbro, the company that brought us Battleship: The Movie, looking at the market, seeing that Bratz dolls sell well, and then making Bratz dolls out of their most popular property. I can assure you the people at Hasbro neither have any idea what anime is nor a desire to cater to that market. They do, however, want to cater to the American-bred market of dolls that look like popular pop singers and magazine covers. They get that market. That market has a lot of dollar signs in it.

  3. There is no way I’ll except the premise that those horrid things were designed to lure bronies. Those designs were targeted at a female tween to teen crowd. How else would you explain all the other bratz clones that have no male following?

    Just another in a long line of products that distort the perception of female beauty.

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