FimFiction Link - Short ID: 423908/applejack-gets-lost
Published: Nov '18 — Jan '19
'Applejack Gets Lost' is a one hundred and seventy-three thousand three hundred-word adventure longfic. After Applejack delivered some apples, she realizes she isn't anywhere near Ponyville anymore. Hell, she's not even in Equestria. This fic is her journey home, dotted with many friends, foes and odd locations, presented in lovely prose.
The first thing I feel like I have to make clear is just what sort of a story 'AJGL' is. When I originally began reading it, I thought it would be similar to, say, 'Empty Horizons,' a story in a very different world and clearly separated arcs, but in a way where each of these arcs would remain fully relevant until the end. This, however, isn't the case and the earlier you can shake off this preconception, the faster you'll start appreciating the story for what it really is. Simply put, 'AJGL' is like a "monster of the week" anime. As Applejack travels, she stumbles upon a place of interest, meets a few supporting characters, defeats an enemy and then moves on, sometimes hanging onto some small memento or gaining a new ability, but the important part is that except for a few examples, these arcs are largely isolated from each other.
Because of this very reason, while the fic features numerous characters, I don't really think there is much point to going into any of them in-depth, instead I'd focus on them as a whole. I'm happy to say that the author is great at making side-characters. Every single pony AJ meets gets a short description, a cutie mark and some defining trait that makes them unique. Even the characters with minimal purpose feel alive and this is doubly true for the short-term companions.
I do want to talk about AJ herself. I really like how she is depicted in this fic. She's straightforward, positive and helpful, but also stubborn, prone to fits of (largely apple-related) bouts of anger and, due to her benevolent nature, constantly gets dragged into adventures. One thing I absolutely love is how the author didn't forget her nervous laughs. Every once in a while she finishes her sentences with "hehe," which for a moment looked weird, until it sank in that she really does do this a lot in the show. The author also doesn't make her dialogue hard to read by giving her a strong accent, which is also something I appreciate. Finally, I did also really like her musing about what her friends would do in this situation. Due to the fic's theme, they are obviously not around, but this way the author could still include nods to them. One thing to note though, AJ's personality is basically set in stone from the get-go. Her mindset and views remain the same throughout the entire story, which personally didn't bother me, but if you're looking for complex introspections into how characters change, this isn't your fic.
The story's prose is quite nice as well. 'AJGL' may not use fancy words like 'Good Trooper Gilda' did or purple prose like one of SS&E's works, but what it does deliver on are lovely descriptions of ponies and whimsical cities, done in a very easy to read and digest way. You always know who's talking, you always know how everybody looks like, you'll never have a problem visualizing the cities, because the author really pays attention to make them feel alive in front of your eyes.
Sadly, however, the fic's episodic-nature also causes one big pain point: Namely early in the story AJ gains an ability. I won't say what because I don't want to spoil the story, but it basically makes her quite overpowered. And once the arc in which she receives this power is concluded and she goes back to smaller adventures, the fic has to go out of its way to either forget about her power (The bridgekeeper scene for instance) or forbid her from using it for some convenient reason. Don't get the wrong idea, I'm sympathetic to the author, it's a pretty hard thing to make the stakes still feel high when your main character is this powerful, but it still lead to a few contrivances. However, to be fair, most of the time the power is utilized in a way that feels natural and cool even, so I'm very much not saying that its inclusion was a bad idea, I just think perhaps it could've had some more drawbacks or limitations so that it doesn't feel like a bit of a cop-out when AJ says "I could just solve this issue with 'power', but I won't because I'm a good pony."
AJ also never really faces anything that really stops her in her stride. Some of her enemies might defeat her, but she never really sacrifices anything to win. Every companion survives and gets to live a happy life, every wound or injury is either forgotten or healed momentarily and every villain is defeated in a way that puts them decisively out of commission. Look, I'm not an edgefag, I'm not going out of my way to see suffering, but some tragedy is a very powerful tool to make the triumphs feel that much stronger. And when everything works out just so well, it makes the wins feel just a bit less impressive. I understand that the author was going for a fairly lighthearted tone, but I think this is one place where keeping things tense could have been prioritized over that. On the other hand, if you're looking for a story where every end is a happy one, you'll be delighted to read this fic.
With the positives and negatives out of the way, I'd like to comment on the arcs featured in this story. These will feature spoilers and likely won't make too much sense without reading the story at first, so if you like what you've seen here, feel free to drop the review and read 'Applejack Gets Lost.' It's a great story and I'm happy the author recommended it to me.
'Cross Way': Many, including the author, have joked that this fic is a ponified version of 'Fist of the North Star.' I feel like this is best seen with this and the following arc. From the drought-struck city, to the ragtag bunch of raiders, this fic really only missed AJ saying "You are already dead." This aside, I feel like it's a very nice introduction to how the fic will play out. It demonstrates how the story will work from that point forwards: AJ stumbles into an odd, but welcoming city; something bad happens, that the city dwellers can't fix; she fixes it using the help of said ponies; then she says her tearful goodbyes and leaves without bringing much with her from the place. I don't really have too much to say about this arc otherwise, but I do want to mention that I really like that the raiders had a goal. It wasn't just looting for the sake of it, but they actually wanted to take the town forcibly to fix their own livelihoods. I like when things make sense in such a way.
'Twin Towns': Personally in this arc I mostly enjoyed the two cities. Both towns and the way the looked due to their history was great. The characters weren't that interesting and the plot felt largely like a rehash of 'The Hoofields and McColts.' However, I did enjoy the twist at the end and the way AJ still got out on top.
'Hoof of the Earth' / 'Wings of Wind': This mega-arc works as the first of the big three in this fic. AJ turns out to be fairly adept at a certain almost-extinct earth pony technique that allows her to use tremors to destroy objects or harm opponents. As mentioned in the previous section, it does feel a bit like pony-Hokuto Shinken, but the author does their best to make it a versatile and interesting power. I liked the disciples and I really liked the technique's backstory, but unfortunately due to the fic's structure we don't really ever get to learn that much about them. Also I feel like AJ gets the hang of it a bit too fast. I get that she's the Element of Honesty and the protagonist, but getting the hang of what took others years is feels a bit unearned. The poetic justice AJ delivered to Night Storm, however, was also great, though I have to say, out of all the villains in the story, he was the one I liked the least. He was a one-sided edgelord, without any interesting features or anything.
'The Labyrinth': Fun mini-arc, but this part was the exact opposite of 'Twin Towns.' The characters were lovely, but the labyrinth was boring and hardly anything happened. It's also resolved in a complete deus-ex-machina.
'Heart of Fire': The second mega-arc. Green Field was my favorite antagonist of the entire fic. Her backstory is well-established, she feels realistic and the way AJ "defeats" her plays very nicely into the themes of FIM. The massive anime battle that goes down between them was well-written as well, but to be entirely honest, I didn't really enjoy it. It felt a bit too gratuitous and dragged-out. I understand why the author did it this way, but I still would have preferred it to be a bit shorter.
'Stupidville': This was probably the episode that I considered funniest. The top-hat stallion's desperate pleading was hilarious and I really liked the meta-joke of AJ herself knowing that if she did go in, she'd get into a wacky adventure.
'Quiet Hills': Fine, I admit it. I don't understand what this is about. Who's the mysterious "Harlequin White"? Why does it feel like the episode ends before the conflict is properly established? AJ gets pranked by a mysterious force, but then she just walks away. It's not even bad, but I feel like I'm not in on a joke and that bugs me.
'Word of Glimmer': Ambivalent about this one. On one hand I love the idea that Glimmer's old ideology somehow survived and a random town became an even more extreme version of it. On the other, this mini-arc was really rushed and AJ doesn't really do anything clever to get out from her situation. She causes some societal upheaval, but she leaves before we can see any effect of what happened.
'Undying Greed': The last mega-arc and my favorite one in terms of story. From the infiltration into the old king's city, to seeing how bizarrely this corner of the world works, to encountering the mad lich himself, this mega-arc was the one I felt most invested in. I really like how alien the enemy feels. The king can't be reasoned with, can't be fought properly and the way of defeating him is more about how a "machine" can be exploited. It was exciting, it was intriguing and the preparation and execution of the final battle was really cool. I also really liked how AJ gave back hope to the ponies by "giving" their names back defying the arc-line of "Our names belong to King Avarice."
The rest: I left out quite a few mini-arc in this review, but only because I don't really have anything substantial to say about them. I liked all of them to a lesser or greater extent, they feel like nice oneshots on their own.
Overall: 7/10 From start to finish 'Applejack Gets Lost' is a pleasant fic, that I can recommend to anyone who likes mostly lighthearted (though absolutely not childish!) adventures and episodic arcs. While there are a few things I didn't like, considering this was the author's first major work after a long time, I think it's a very impressive accomplishment and I'm glad I spent my time on it.