You know, I hadn’t actually intended my review of “Inspiration Manifestation” to come right before another Rarity-centered episode. It was a complete coincidence, I swear. Nevertheless, hello again, and welcome back to Season 5 of Friendship is Magic! I figured I might make this a regular column, seeing as I love to discuss new things that come out, and I hate to hold my tongue. So, without further ado, why don’t we talk about the season’s triumphant return, “Canterlot Boutique”.
First, a disclaimer; I tend to be godawful at hiding spoilers, especially when discussing media, and considering this episode follows a format similar to a couple of other episodes (and that the readers of GL may likely not be familiar with the continuity as of yet) I feel it’s best to do a quick recap on some of the events which lead up to this episode.
See, from the outset of Friendship is Magic, most of the major characters have had at least one pronounced life goal that serves as a major arc for that character. In the case of Rainbow Dash, for example, her goal was to join the Wonderbolts, which would come to a head in Season 3’s “Wonderbolts Academy”. In the case of this episode, Rarity’s major goal was to expand her business of fashion design into a franchise, starting with Canterlot. While the other four of the “Mane Six” have goals of their own, Rarity and Rainbow Dash have by far the most straightforward of ambitions. In Season 4, during the episode “Rarity Takes Manehattan”, Rarity managed to significant headway towards her own goal by not only winning a major fashion exhibition in the New York-esque locale, but also essentially gained an apprentice of sorts in the form of Coco Pommel (named in honor of Coco Chanel, the famous French fashion designer), essentially helping to establish a good reputation for her business in the process.
That out of the way, onto the synopsis.
We begin the episode with Rarity waiting for some post to come in, which arrives thanks to Pinkie Pie passing through. When Rarity reads said letter, she’s pleased to discover that a new storefront in Canterlot’s available. For those new to the show, Canterlot is essentially a gated community that acts as the seat of power for the continent of Equestria. Think Minas Tirith with the community of Victorian England and the Aesthetic of Camelot and St. Basil’s Cathedral, if you want to get a good visual in your head. It’s essentially where all the big movers and shakers happen to live. Moving on, thanks to the money that Rarity earned for providing costumes for Sapphire Shores (a pop-star with whom she has had prior interaction with throughout the series) for her world tour, she can finally achieve her dreams of owning a boutique in Canterlot, which she names the Canterlot Carousel and opens with industry veteran Sassy Saddles’ help.
Initially, Sassy Saddles seems to be especially suited to assist Rarity, setting up a successful strategy to assure that she has as much business as possible. She helps set up new lines of dresses, including a signature collection of princess-inspired couture, helps market the place to make for a big opening day, and even has Twilight Sparkle model the signature outfit of the collection. However, friction starts to rise between them when Sassy renames said dress from “The Reign in Stain” to “The Princess Dress”, in spite it making the dress a huge hit, even getting her hundreds of orders for the dress. The reasons for this friction are two-fold: first, Sassy made the change without Rarity’s consent or counsel, and second, Rarity’s particular business model is based on Time, Love, and Courture, which she calls the “Rules of Rarity.”
The Princess Dress is a massive hit, and even gets her on the cover of Cosmare, who sends Fashion Plate (an almost creepily cheerful unicorn played by Peter Kelamis, who you may recognize as Rolf from Ed Edd n Eddy) to get the cover photo. However, while she’s initially quite chuffed at her successful business, the fact that she’s having to fulfill hundreds of orders for the exact same dress over and over with no deviations, she’s beginning to burn out. When she rests from working on yet another, she gains the idea to change the gems in the dress to make very subtly different, only for it to bomb once the pony who ordered it gets it for not being the exact same dress as Twilight worse. Naturally, this causes Rarity to go back to making the dress as it was, but at the cost of breaking her heart and killing her romantic drive.
Things come to a head in the third act, however, when Sassy Saddles comes in with a hundred more orders of the dress. By this point, Rarity’s had it up to here with making the same dress, and she only grows more livid when Sassy tries to introduce mass-production to the boutique. That, combined with Sassy’s domineering business strategy all but turned Rarity into a bland machine, and Rarity decides that if that is the model of success in Canterlot, then she wants no part in it, and decides to go out of business in the most spectacular manner possible by pulling all the dresses Sassy wouldn’t allow to be sold. Much to both ponies’ surprise, the variety in dresses actually provides a great boost to business, and when Sassy tries to leave because she didn’t want to be part of another failed boutique, Rarity urges her to stay because, in spite of everything, Sassy does have a great head for business. She explains to her that while she always wanted to expand, Ponyville was always going to be her home base, and instead allows Sassy to become the owner of the Canterlot Carousel. Sassy agrees, and promises to follow Rarity’s example from then on.
What’s interesting about this episode is that unlike most, where there’s one overt moral and a potential alternate reading, this moral is slightly more nuanced and subtle. You could make the argument that the moral is that complacency in any form of art (especially in fashion) leads to stagnation, both economically and creatively. Alternatively, you could see this as a “take that” towards the Fashion industry (something that Rarity Takes Manehattan also somewhat did). It could be an argument against corporate control of the arts, and about asserting creative freedom, even at the cost of financial stability. Alternatively, it could be a story about how industry and variety can go hand in hand.
Whatever conclusion you reach, I rather liked this episode. It was nice and simple, and decently entertaining. Not the best episode by any means–many of its plot points seem to be lifted right out of episodes like Rarity Takes Manehattan and Wonderbolts Academy–but as the episode to welcome us back for the second half of season 5, I rather liked it. It even managed to throw me for a loop near the end with perhaps the strangest pony model in the show to date. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it, and it made me drop a very distinct whiskey-tango-foxtrot at the sight of it.