On Thursday, Discovery Family Channel announced that My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic would end after nine years and 221 episodes with a 90-minute primetime special set to air on Oct. 12. Last summer, Polygon published this report from the 2018 BronyCon, which gathered fans under one roof just as rumors of the show’s conclusion began to swirl. We’ve resurfaced the article in step with the official finale news.
In July 2018, an anxious haze hung in the air at the BronyCon, the preeminent convention for fans of the television show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The concern wasn’t over the oppressive Baltimore heat, but a much more existential source: the end of the Friendship Is Magic, and the realization that Brony fandom was mortal.
The previous December, a series of leaks posted to 4Chan’s /mlp/ board reported that Hasbro, the company behind My Little Pony, planned to air the ninth and last season of Friendship is Magic in 2019, making room for an upcoming My Little Pony “G5” — the series’ fifth reboot since the ponies debuted in 1982. These same leaks included concept art of the current show’s characters redesigned for a new series, as well as unfinished versions of six unaired season eight episodes. All six of those episodes went on to air in their entirety, suggesting that the leaks were legitimate. (Hasbro’s official comment to Polygon: “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic will be continuing for a ninth season, premiering in 2019. There are lots of exciting things in store for the My Little Pony brand next year and beyond, but we aren’t ready to talk about anything further at this time.”)
The news left fans debating over what’s to come. Much of Friendship is Magic’s success came from how different it was from other cartoons aimed at young girls. With complex characters and consistent, multi-episode story arcs, the show proved early on that it was not just a toy commercial, but a legitimate peer of shows like Gravity Falls and Adventure Time. Could the next generation once again find its place in the more mature, progressive cartoon landscape we have now? Or would G5 step back from the serialized format, returning to what original series producer Lauren Faust once referred to as a “a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness”? For those attending BronyCon, Hasbro replicating the unexpected success of the current series meant the survival of their home away from home.
Over the three days of BronyCon, I spoke to dozens of attendees, panelists, and community figures to get their take on the past, present, and future. What happens when cancelation threatens a living, thriving fandom?
Friendship is Magic has already faded for most of the internet. When the show first began in 2010, you couldn’t spend five minutes on the internet without seeing a Pinkie Pie avatar or a joke about “joining the Herd.” Bronies were a target for internet anthropologists who wanted to make sense of emerging subcultures. But despite its former status as a meme juggernaut, widespread interest in My Little Pony quickly waned. Bronies haven’t been relevant for years, outside of the occasional joke at their expense. This has little to do with any decrease in the show’s quality, but rather the natural flow of time — no meme lasts forever.
Fandoms, especially ones built around massive franchises that keep pumping out official content, don’t die out easily either. Outside of the spotlight, the brony fans who remain dedicated to the series have kept working, posting over 97,000 stories to the My Little Pony fan fiction site FiMFiction, and over a million images to Derpibooru, the fandom’s own imageboard.
Then there’s BronyCon. The convention began as a series of local fan meetups in New York, and quickly grew into a yearly event, attracting thousands of attendees and special guests. This year’s convention, held at the end of July, brought fans to Baltimore for the first convention since the end of Friendship is Magic was leaked. The question on everyone’s mind this year was a weighty one: With the spotlight on the fandom largely snuffed, and the show ending soon, where do we go from here?
“It’ll fade away,” said Oswald, an attendee I interviewed outside the convention center on the first night of the convention. Oswald walked in a group with three other young men in their late teens, all of whom wore a mix of My Little Pony– and video game-inspired clothing. “With the size of the Brony community, G5 can’t match that. It won’t have the writers, the directors that made the show we watched good.”
His friends agreed. “It won’t be as big as it ever was,” added one who goes by the name Killer Queen. “The viewers, con attendees — it’s all going down.”
There’s evidence to his apocalyptic vision. BronyCon attendance has steadily slipped since its height in 2015, where it attracted over 10,000 guests. This year, attendance maxed out at 5,465. Putting together the time and money to travel to Baltimore each year may not be as appealing to fans as it once was, likely due to fading interest in both the show and fandom.
Popular artist and voice actress Wubcake told me at BronyCon that she doesn’t think the fandom will die, but at the same, has also put out an announcement to her fans that she now finds the show “boring” and will only be making art of the Equestria Girls spinoff.
Meanwhile, Sethisto, Editor-in-Chief of the fandom news site Equestria Daily, has admitted that activity in the fandom has “slowed down” exponentially over the years. In 2011, Equestria Daily received more than 500,000 views each day, and in 2014 became one of the websites to be archived by the Library of Congress. Now, a significant number of fans say they haven’t visited the site in years. Of the fans that do visit the site, most do to watch and discuss new episodes; in other words, 2019 may herald the end for his website, his primary source of income, and his way of life for the last seven years.
“The numbers are dropping,” said fanfic author Bookplayer. “But the fandom will survive.”
Bookplayer, who is also a published novelist under her real name, Emily Spahn, is an established figure in the shipping community. One of the most followed authors on FiMFiction, Bookplayer is also a moderator of the site’s ApplejackxRainbow Dash shipping group.
When asked where she saw the fandom heading, Bookplayer admitted that she doesn’t see it ever regaining the popularity it once had. But she also told me about the fandom she wrote fan fiction for before Friendship is Magic came around: the children’s book series The Baby-Sitters’ Club.
“That series was 20-years-old,” she said, “but there were still 20 or 30 people … writing fics, shipping. They were not going anywhere. I still get notifications about people reading and liking my old [Baby-Sitters’ Club] fics.
“I don’t think the [My Little Pony] fandom is going to vanish. It will survive — even if that means in twenty years, there are only 20 people holding it together.” With a laugh, she added, “There will always be someone who has just watched the show and says, ‘Man, I really need to write a fic about these two horses kissing!’ It’s a human urge!”
There’s a long history of fandoms refusing to die, keeping themselves alive through the sheer willpower of fans. In the late ‘60s, Trekkies proved that even without new official material to enjoy, fans could keep the spirit of Star Trek alive. The fan campaigns ushered in a new era of movies and television for the long-lasting property. In the Internet Age, a quick Google search will unearth art, writing, music — any type of fan content for any intellectual property under the sun.
That’s why, as the end of Friendship is Magic approaches, many Bronies have already come to terms with the show’s cancellation and are adamant that it won’t affect them. This is especially true for content creators. Animator Quillo Manar, who flew to BronyCon all the way from Australia, said at his panel that his “will to animate ponies is separate from My Little Pony.” In other words, while the end of ponies may mean a drop in viewer numbers, it doesn’t mean a drop in creative passion.
At a panel on Saturday, a number of fandom musicians echoed his thoughts. And when one member of the panel wondered aloud if there would be an audience for pony music after the show ends, the crowd erupted.
“We’ll always be here!” someone shouted.
A girl sitting near the back added, “We’ll be here until the end of time!”
The hubbub about a single cartoon ending may seem overblown on the surface, considering there’s a theoretical reboot right on the horizon, and, at its core, Friendship is Magic is just another vehicle to sell toys. But what happens when a fandom detatches from its source of inspiration?
The internet has seen the dangers that unchecked fandom can pose. From Kelly Marie Tran leaving Instagram to escape harassment, to Batman writer Tom King attending Comic-Con with a bodyguard in tow after receiving death threats, 2018 alone has given us example after example of angry fans turning passion into zealotry. The Brony community has never been immune to criticism — much of it unearned, but enough of it legitimate.
Much of the criticism of Bronies has stemmed from the sheer amount of pornography that fandom artists have produced. While SafeSearch blocks out what it can, it’s not uncommon for fetish-oriented art and videos to slip into Google Image search results or YouTube videos — both spaces frequented by minors.
This sexualization has extended to BronyCon as well. While the convention’s vendor hall bans the display and sale of NSFW merchandise, it’s an open secret that many vendors sell erotic art under the table. And dakimakuras — also known as “hug pillows,” or long pillows with figures printed on them in lewd poses — depicting Friendship is Magic’s main characters are common enough that even the official show referenced them in an episode.
Much like other fandoms we’ve heard about in the news this year, the Brony fandom has its share of reactionaries, espousing racist, sexist, and homophobic views. Ironic, considering the show’s subtitle.
Some fans of the show — especially women and queer viewers — have gone so far as to disavow the term “Brony,” instead using the more gender-neutral “ponyfan.” When asked their reasoning for this, a group of transgender ponyfans I spoke to outside the convention, many of whom have only come into the fandom recently, cited the Brony community’s history of hypermasculinity.
Staying online, it can easily seem like the negatives of the Brony fandom outweigh the positives. Yet, at BronyCon, I see this fandom at its most progressive, and its most constructive.
Despite the criticism, the most common thing you hear when speaking to Bronies is how the show and fandom changed, and often saved, their lives. At the “Cosplay for Confidence” panel, a woman took the stage to talk about how the show’s Changelings — tiny creatures that can change their appearance at will — gave her the confidence to come out as transgender. Last year’s “LGBTQ Bronies” panel earned higher attendance numbers than almost any other panel, and was filled with similar stories.
I talked to dozens of creators, including writers, artists, musicians, and even voice actors. Among them all, one thing was constant: joining in the fandom had taught them skills they use today. The artist WubCake proudly stated that the fandom inspired her to begin voice acting, which she now does professionally. Regidar, a college student from Hawaii, credits the joy he gets out of Friendship is Magic with helping him through a number of crises in his life, including homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness.
I count myself among the ranks of these creators; writing pony fan fiction as a freshman in high school was my first exposure to creative writing. Eight years later, I’ve just graduated from university with my Creative Writing degree. I owe a lot to this strange fandom.
Near the end of our talk, Bookplayer told me that the main reason she loves the fandom isn’t her passion for writing, or her popularity, but rather the community — the dozens of fellow fans she’s met and befriended entirely through a screen. “I know a specific few pony writers who should be the new face of science fiction and fantasy,” she said. “If only they weren’t so busy writing pony fiction!”
On Saturday night, hundreds of attendees gathered in the convention center’s garden for the wedding of Amethyst and Zira, two women who met at BronyCon five years ago. After the ceremony, they thanked the Brony community for bringing them together.
When Friendship is Magic first premiered, no one predicted that it would attract such dedicated fans. It’s likely that no one predicted how many lives it would change. When Friendship is Magic goes off the air, TV will lose more than just an extended children’s toy commercial; the central text for an entire subculture will enter the history books. No matter where the Brony fandom goes from here, 2019 will mark the end of an era.
Late on Sunday, the final day of the convention, BronyCon staff announced that next year’s event will be the last one ever: a massive, four-day event to celebrate the Brony culture. Whether anyone’s watching or not, it could also be the last hurrah of a fandom that once rocked the internet.
William Antonelli is a nonbinary writer based in New York City, whose work focuses on the ever-changing landscape of entertainment and pop culture. You can find him on Twitter @DubsRewatcher.