Today’s story assembles a unique look at Starlight’s aftereffects.
[Drama] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 6,378 words
The former equalized ponies struggle to reconstruct their town after Starlight Glimmer’s defeat, and Double Diamond struggles to reconstruct his own identity after being freed from Starlight’s equalization brainwashing.
FROM THE CURATORS: If you want evidence that later seasons of MLP still provide fertile ground for wide-ranging storytelling, “The Cutie Map” is arguably Exhibit A — and this story is an excellent example of why. “In our tenure, we’ve seen story after story that studies depression, anxiety, even PTSD. But brainwashing?” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “If this story has a big thing right, it’s portraying the ways in which Starlight’s conditioning amplifies and exacerbates Double Diamond’s own self-doubts.” The story quickly moved to a feature amid comments like FanOfMostEverything’s: “One does not shuck off mental chains in a single triumphant chase scene, especially not when one was the cult leader’s right hand. His falling into a propaganda-reciting fugue state is a wonderfully chilling image.”
And while Double Diamond’s struggle with his past was the story’s most compelling theme, the world around him also contributed to the story’s power. “Like the characters tell Double-D over and over, he’s not the only one hurting,” Present Perfect said. “And I really appreciate that they never say that to demean him or his pain, but to remind him that he has friends, and those friends are there for him.” AugieDog agreed: “It’s quite a nice portrayal of a group of people coming out from the other end of a trauma,” he said. “And I especially like Double Diamond’s speech at the end, the way Starlight’s maxims are still running through his head even as he largely contradicts each one with the words he’s saying out loud.” And the narrative kept the focus quite solidly on its powerful moments: “It’s got a well-chosen central struggle and a solid message,” Horizon said, “but for me what elevates the story is the way this sets and holds its mood.”
In the end, well-chosen imagery and good use of literary techniques carried the day. “The big thing right is the tension between the townfolk’s old, brainwashed patterns and their new struggles to define themselves,” Horizon said. “It covers that quite heavily, and normally when a story chased its own tail so much I’d get restless, but here Diamond’s backsliding feels consistently fraught, an excellent use of repetition. The vivid imagery certainly contributes to that, and the many little variations on the equals-sign pattern are nice touches, especially the minus of the stacked skis.” RBDash47 agreed, adding: “The notion that DD’s mind would keep turning up that particular signal in the noise of his world is compelling.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Revenant Wings discusses little detours, final fantasies, and paladins vs. giants.