Monday, October 21, 2013

The Heart Melters Gallery - #11 and #12

Ah yes, the Heart-Melters Gallery: the list of fictional females that I find so attractive that they "melt my heart." The list originally had eight females when I first came up with it back in 2005, and added two more between then and 2010, when I made my 5th Anniversary post. At the time it had been four years since a new Heart-Melter was inducted, and three years since there was an active "Heart-Melter Age" (aka the period of attraction to said Heart-Melter) other than Misty. Well, needless to say, there have been quite a bit of action with the Heart-Melters Gallery since then.

Of note:
-Sheena Fujiabayashi made the stunning jump in the overall strength ranking from 6th to 2nd
-I decided to celebrate an Honorary Heart-Melter: the first celebrity Heart-Melter
-Two more were inducted into the ranks of the Heart-Melter

It's pretty heady stuff. So why has it taken so long before I made this post? Well, for one thing I don't use this blog much anymore. And plus I've gotten kind of busy / lazy. But I decided to get out and write this post? Why? Well, you'll see

#11 - Amelia McBride
Who is she?
Amelia McBride is just a normal pre-teen girl trying to make sense of crazy world. More specifically, she is the titular character and the star of Jimmy Gownley's "Amelia Rules!" series of graphic novels. She is the daughter of Michael and Mary McBride, who had just went through a nasty divorce, and had to move with her mother from urban New York to suburban Pennsylvania. The culture shock is a bit tough to swallow, but thankfully she has a group of friends (and frienemies) and her ex-rock-star aunt to ease the transition. However, she quickly finds that the complexities of everyday life may just be more difficult to navigate than moving to a new location. After dealing with bullies and popularity and young love and even tragedy, school is the least of her worries. It's a good thing she has her friends and their little superhero group to fall back on. Armed with wisdom beyond her years and a sarcastic streak to match, she is ready to face those challenges head on. And she will come to find that growing up isn't quite as scary as it initially seems.

Amelia's Influence
I suppose my association with the "Amelia Rules!" series began back in 2009. In 2008-09 I was trying to get into medical school, and in an effort to gain volunteer hours to look like a better candidate I began volunteering in the local INOVA Fair Oaks hospital. I initially volunteered in an orthopedic unit, but I wasn't getting enough hours, so I added a shift at the hospital front desk. It was a cushy job. We just sat there and directed visitors to patients' rooms. There was a bunch of magazines that we can sit around reading when there was nobody there, and one day I noticed that there was a group of comics from Free Comic Book Day. I had seen it advertised before but never actually had any of the free comics. Unfortunately it featured only brief selections of comics. The first comic in the first issue I read through was a clip from an"Amelia Rules!" book. It featured Amelia and her friend Rhonda stuck in a tree after a devastating incident. I found the story to be quite interesting and the art style to be quite appealing. Unfortunately I never did check up on it. I went off to medical school and eventually forgot about it.

All that would change on July 6, 2012. On that day I decided to take a break from studying for COMLEX 2 and traveled down to Houston to watch the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses show. I got there hours before the show and decided to hang out with my good friend Anil and his now-wife Miriam. They took me out to an Italian restaurant and afterward took me to the nearby Bedrock City comic book store, because they knew I was involved with the Longview Comic Book Club. To be honest I really wasn't interested in comics outside of newspaper comics, but since the only other comic book store I had gone to at the time had baseball cards, I figured I'd go and see what they had. Unfortunately they didn't have any baseball cards, but I decided to look around. I saw some Garfield comics books from Kaboom Comics that looked interesting. And then another book caught my eye: The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular. I flipped through it and it seemed to spark a long-forgotten memory. Then it hit me: this was the comic that I read in the Free Comic Book Day comic three years earlier. I quickly bought it along with the Garfield comics.

I read the comic while waiting for the concert to begin, and I was highly impressed. The story was very deep, dealing with the intangible quality of popularity, and how Amelia and her friends struggled with it after the aforementioned devastating incident. It may have been a difficult topic, but Gownley handled it with a lot of humor and great storytelling techniques, from flashbacks to great references. There was a scene where Amelia interviews several movie monsters after being called "bad," and another flashback that parodied Archie comics in terms of art and printing style. The characters are very well developed and even the minor characters have a certain level of emotion to them. And the art style is still very appealing. Once I finished the book I went back and read it again and again. I couldn't stop thinking about it and went and brought the other books in the series. Before long it hit me that the feeling I felt was something that I hadn't experienced since 2006: that there was a new Heart-Melter, and it was Amelia McBride.

The Age of Amelia McBride (July 9, 2012 - early September 2012)
I was initially a bit hesitant to declare Amelia a Heart-Melter, mostly because of her age. The "Amelia Rules!" saga was written for pre-teens and tracks her from about eight or nine years old until she was about 13 years. But she's just such a well-rounded character that I figured you know what? It's okay. Besides, Kaho and Buttercup have been Heart-Melters too. Anyways, it was hard to concentrate on studying for my boards when I couldn't stop thinking about "Amelia Rules!" I read through the rest of the books as they came in, and three of them came in the night before my COMLEX on July 17. I tried to be good and read only one of them that night. The quality of the stories have been rather uneven. Some like Tweenage Guide and Superfriends were excellent, but others didn't seem to be quite as good. They were not bad, but they didn't quite have the appeal to older audiences that some of the other books had. But at least it kept me interested enough to eagerly wait for the final volume that was scheduled to come out August 28.

On July 31 I took off from Texas to go to my rotation in Akron, Ohio, stopping for a few days by my parents' house in Virginia. I brought along all of my "Amelia Rules!" books because Amelia was my Heart-Melter. Little did I know that I didn't have much of a use for them. When I got to Ohio I got busy, having to work from 8 to 5 every day and read about antibiotics and infections when I wasn't working. Then I spent the weekends traveling to various baseball stadiums that I've never been to before to watch baseball games. It was quite a packed schedule and by the end when I did my back to back overnight drives from Ohio to Atlanta to Texas Amelia didn't register much on my radar anymore. There was still hope with the release of the final volume Her Permanent Record, and while it was a great conclusion it couldn't revive the Age. "Amelia Rules!" is still a great graphic novel for people of all ages, and it will have this relatively brief period of time where the main character will join the rest of the Heart-Melters permanently in the Heart-Melters Gallery.

Intensity: 11 - It's probably not a good sign that I had to debate over whether or not Amelia was a Heart-Melter for a couple of days, or that I spent a whole month focusing more on baseball than on reading about her, but she did catch the majority of my attention for a couple of weeks (when I should have been focusing on studying) and I did buy all of her books, so it was at least above the bare minimum.

Length: 10 - I was really into the "Amelia Rules!" series for about a month, but I suppose that if I wanted to be technical The Age lasted almost two full months. It's at least longer than Kiki and Mona, but still about a month shorter than Tomo.

Recurrence: 11 - Recurrence is pretty hard to measure since for the most part once the Age ends it usually doesn't come back. I still like Amelia as a character, but I haven't really read any "Amelia Rules!" books since the Age ended so I suppose the recurrence score would be pretty low

Overall: 32 (11 of 12): I guess it's not very surprising that Amelia ranks this low, finishing ahead of only Kiki. I'm not sure exactly what it means that the first new Heart-Melter I had in seven years and she finishes second to last in overall strength, and the one before that is third from last. I guess it means that the Heart-Melters aren't really a viable model, and I could have told you that, but it's still fun to keep track of them anyways.

#12 - Rainbow Dash
Who is She? 
The events of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic takes place in Equestria, a magical world full of colorful ponies. There are three types of ponies: Earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi. The pegasi come from the skyward city of Cloudsdale, but the one that is the fastest flier makes her home in the modest little village of Ponyville, at the base of the capital of Canterlot. She is Rainbow Dash, and she spend most of her time going around being absolutely awesome. Rainbow Dash works as a weather pony, but spends most of her time hanging out with her friends and practicing her aerial tricks to someday become a member of Equestria's elite flying team the Wonderbolts. She can be brash and impulsive and egotistical, but why wouldn't you be if you can do things that no other pony has ever done? At the same time she is fiercely loyal to her friends, but that's not a surprise because she is the wielder of the Element of Loyalty, one of the Elements of Harmony. She has played a part in the defeat of Nightmare Moon and Discord and King Sombra, but it's all in a day's work for the most awesome pony in all of Equestria.

Rainbow Dash's Influence
I've told my brony story in one of my reviews, but I suppose it's worth repeating it because it's quite seminal in the story of how Rainbow Dash became the 12th Heart-Melter. According to my mom, I had watched My Little Pony & Friends when I was younger. I believe her because one of the tapes of old cartoons my parents recorded for my sister and me contained the last episode of the My Little Pony movie when it was aired as a 10-part special. We also had some of the old Generation 1 dolls. But for the most part My Little Pony was in the periphery for most of my adolescence. There was a time around 2006 when users on NSider joked about My Little Pony, but that was about it. So imagine my surprise when in 2011 I saw a clip of a My Little Pony doing OMM on a bear. One of the first things I thought was, "My Little Pony? Is it still on after all these years?" Actually, while I was busy rewriting my Heart-Melters Gallery, the folks at Hasbro and Studio DHX were hard at work revamping the My Little Pony toys and cartoon, which first aired on October 10, 2010, the day after I watched the Rangers get annihilated by the Rays in my first ever playoff game. Moreover the series was created by Lauren Faust, who not only worked on The Powerpuff Girls, which was the source of the fourth Heart-Melter chronologically, but was also married to Craig McCracken, "PuffDaddy" himself. Soon afterward I learned about bronies, fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic who were outside the target demographic of little girls. It was an amusing expedition into a niche in the Internet, but I never expected that I would someday become a brony. 

I knew a couple of fans of the show in Longview, and heard about how great the show was. When I saw that it was available for streaming on Netflix, I decided to add it to my queue to give me something to watch while I was playing The Sims 3. I never did get a chance to watch any of it when I was doing my rotation in Akron in August 2012, because I was busy spending the weekends traveling around to watch baseball games. But I followed that with a rotation in Fort Worth, during which I had no weekend plans and finally had a chance to play The Sims 3. That meant watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I became enthralled in the show and pretty soon the show took precedence over my Sims. I was mesmerized by the show's witty humor, deep storylines, appealing animation style, and strong characterization. There were no bad episodes. Even episodes that I didn't really like had their moments. I watched all 52 episodes at the time in only four days. I knew I was hooked when I was doing an overnight call and couldn't get the opening theme out of my head. After I finished "A Canterlot Wedding" I began looking for other pony media, where I found comics like Dash Academy and videos like Ponies: The Anthology. My transformation into a brony had begun.

Since Friendship is Magic is all about friendship, it reminded me of another great show that had a focus on friendship: Azumanga Daioh. I began taking the Mane Six and trying to fit them with the six main characters of Azumanga. Rainbow Dash seemed like a natural fit for Tomo, the character that was my tenth Heart-Melter chronologically that eventually became the only Heart-Melter that I kind of disliked after their Age ended. They were both egotistical braggarts that can be a bit mean at times. That's why early on Rainbow Dash was my fourth favorite of the Mane Six, ahead of only the vain Rarity and the utterly incomprehensible Pinkie Pie, and far behind my favorite at the time, the honest, hard working, and dependable Applejack. But as I watched and re-watched the episodes I began to think that while Rainbow Dash is similar to Tomo, there were distinct differences that made her a better character. Yes, she has a huge ego, but she can actually back it up. How many other ponies can do a Sonic Rainboom? How many other ponies can combine speed, agility, and style like she can? It is also true that she can be quite insensitive as in "Dragonshy" and "May the Best Pet Win," but she is never as malicious in her pranks as Tomo (Exhibit A: sleepy Chiyo + a stool in Episode 14). And deep down it is clear that she cares deeply about her friends. And last of all, while Tomo is rather ordinary in terms of looks, Rainbow Dash is very pretty. She's got the gorgeous sky blue fur, the adorable magenta eyes, and her beautiful rainbow mane done in such a way that makes her very irresistible. And I even like her scratchy voice. Her attractiveness became most evident as I first watched the "Rainbow Dash Stole the 20% Cooler Thing" on October 4, and by then she had jumped alongside Applejack and Fluttershy as my favorite character. I even made Rainbow Dash my first pony-focused Facebook profile picture on October 9.

But I was still a bit hesitant at thinking of her or any other ponies as Heart-Melters, because they're ponies. One thing about my previous 11 Heart-Melters is that while they're fictional, being from video games or cartoons or comics, at least they're human. Having a pony as a Heart-Melter just seems to be a bit strange, even if they are animated in a way that incorporate human expressions and positions. I tried to resist, but a month since becoming a fan I was growing more and more enamored with ponies, and I knew that it would be a matter of time before one of them would join the ranks of Misty and Elizabeth Patterson as Heart-Melters, and Rainbow Dash was most likely to be that one pony. By then not only did I have her as my Facebook profile pic, where I got to see her cuteness and radicalness every time I logged onto Facebook, I had also gotten a Rainbow Dash "0 to Awesome in 10 Seconds Flat" shirt (the second pony T-shirt I ever owned, besides the Fluttershy "yey" shirt), and had gotten the Funko Rainbow Dash figurine that came out in mid-October. It finally happened on October 21, 2012. On that day I was driving to Wichita, Kansas wearing the Rainbow Dash shirt for the first time. I also had both the Rainbow Dash and Derpy figurines with me. They kept me company throughout the entire six hour journey, and once I got to the hotel I couldn't help but take notice of Rainbow's air of confidence and her quiet beauty. And at that moment I decided that yes, Rainbow Dash is my 12th Heart-Melter. 

The Age of Rainbow Dash (October 21, 2012 - )
One of the things that some bronies like to do is rank the ponies in order by age. Rarity is usually ranked as one of the oldest but I'm one of those that thinks Fluttershy is older, but not by much. On the other hand some say Pinkie Pie is the youngest, but I feel Rainbow Dash is younger. She's got that youthful exuberance with a sprinkle of immaturity that makes her seem like the youngest. But I digress.

There was no doubt that Rainbow Dash was a Heart-Melter, but at the same time I didn't think she would be that extraordinary. I felt she would be like most of my other Heart-Melters: be the source of an intense feeling of attraction for three to five months before it fades away. It's kind unfair that way, but that's just the way most of the previous Heart-Melters have been. I had bought a pass for Brony Fest in late September, but the convention wasn't until March, a full five months away. I didn't expect to still be into ponies by the time that rolls around, but I figured I might as well make the best of it. I began doing what I did with every other Heart-Melter, which is save artwork. It certainly helps that Friendship is Magic has such a large fandom with tons of amazing artists that produce hundreds of fanart every day, and my collection started growing. I save pictures I like for every pony, but it is evident that one pony dominates my collection. I have 2,500 pieces of fanart saved so far, and of those over 1,500 have Rainbow Dash in the title. And that's not even counting the 350 that are labeled as "Pony" but all of which feature Rainbow Dash.

I traveled to Kansas for a rotation in November, and I carried with it my interest in My Little Pony. It certainly helped that Season 3 debuted and the My Little Pony Gameloft game launched when I was there. By then I had become comfortable in being a brony, and made frequent trips to the Hot Topic in Oak Park Mall for pony merchandise, but really there was only one pony that mattered. That's not to say that I didn't like the other ponies. By that time I had grown to like even Rarity and Pinkie Pie, who had annoyed me to no end when I first saw the show. And I liked a lot of the other ponies that are not in the Mane Six: Scootaloo, Lyra, Octavia etc. But Rainbow Dash is my favorite pony. Because of that I made a rather fateful decision. There is so much Pony merchandise that it would be overwhelming to try to collect them all, so I made the decision to focus on collecting items for one pony: Rainbow Dash. It's still hard since Rainbow Dash is the darling of Pony merchandise, but what can I expect from such an awesome pony?

My fascination with My Little Pony and Rainbow Dash's status as a Heart-Melter continued even after I left Kansas for a rotation at Northern Virginia. And it was during this month that I had experienced something absolutely monumental. Misty is the queen of Heart-Melters. She was the only fictional character that I crushed on back in 1999-2000, and she had been the steady presence since her second Age began in 2004. She had been present in the background of all of the other Heart-Melter Ages since then, which numbered five. Usually I am able to tell when a Heart-Melter Age was coming to a close because my attraction to Misty overshadows my attraction to the other Heart-Melters. But in December I realized that not only was Rainbow Dash capturing all of my attention, I didn't get the same flutter while looking at Misty that I had in the past. It was a quite a shock. I still like Misty as a character, but she no longer melted my heart, and was no longer a Heart-Melter. It was a major departure for me, since Misty had been present for almost half my life, but I took it better than I expected, because after all I still had Rainbow Dash.  

2012 soon gave way to 2013, and the Age of Rainbow Dash was still going strong. One reason it remained so ingrained was because I had other brony friends where we can be enablers for each other, the chief of whom was my friend Rachel. Perhaps it is fate that the person with whom I was staying when I became a brony would become my greatest brony friend. She became an avenue through which I can brony out as much as I want. Unfortunately her husband Richard isn't quite into ponies as we are, but that just makes us get into ponies even more just to mess with him. Another reason for the continued interest is the constant production of excellent work from numerous creative bronies that make ponies a vivid part of our everyday lives even without watching the show. Whether it's fan-music or fanart or fan animations, there's fan-work for everything. And that's expanded my horizons and kept my broniness going. And it was good because I went through some emotional lows from January to March, but ponies kept me grounded and prevented me from doing something that I cannot undo.

Soon March came around and I was an even bigger pony fan that I was back in September, alleviating my fears that this would be a normal Hear-tMelter Age. I went to Brony Fest and had a great time with other bronies like Molly, my first pony friend in Longview, and Zel, with whom I spent an awesome night together with Matt "Soarin'" Hill and animator Rich Arons. Not even going across the world to Taiwan, where My Little Pony was denigrated to a secondary toy line, could dampen my enjoyment of ponies, probably because I became involved with the Taiwan Bronies. It was an association that started when I translated the article about them that appeared on Equestria Daily's Nightly Roundup the night before Match Monday. I attended their meetup on April 21, and their enthusiasm really lifted me up. It only intensified after I returned, fueled by my desire to attend more brony cons and meetups. I went to Comicpalooza at the end of May where I met with Andrea Libman and Tabitha St. Germain and got to hang out with the Houston Bronies. Late June saw Fiesta Equestria where I finally got to meet Ashleigh Ball, the voice actress and singer that gave Rainbow Dash her wonderful voice (and also provided the voice for Applejack), and had more great fun time adventures with other bronies. From then on there was Brony Fan Fair, and Nightmare Night Dallas in a few more weeks. There's so much possibility that the future is only the beginning.

So yes, this has evolved into my brony story, but my favorite pony is intricately linked to my enjoyment of ponies. She has become the icon of my bronyhood. I like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because I like Rainbow Dash. And I like Rainbow Dash because I like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I've lost track of how many My Little Pony items I have, but the majority of them involve Rainbow Dash. And on June 8, 2013, Rainbow Dash became only the second Heart-Melter to reach the next step and become an actual bona fide crush. Since then my fascination has gone through highs and lows, and I've decided it's too complicated to decide whether or not there's a crush. But at any rate Rainbow Dash will be there, in my mind and in my room, where the Funko Rainbow Dash figurine from October of 2012 still stands on my bedstand, protecting me while I sleep. And yes, you've probably figured out that today is one year since Rainbow Dash became a Heart-Melter. Here's to several more years.

Intensity: 2 - Rainbow Dash is the second Heart-Melter to ever reach the level of a crush, and has currently dethroned the only other Heart-Melter that has hit that level. That said, I don't think Rainbow Dash has yet reached the peaks that Misty reached in intensity, but with the Age still going on strong, it certainly isn't out of the question.

Length: 2 - Well, today is the first anniversary of the date Rainbow Dash became a Heart-Melter, which puts her at one of only two to pass this milestone. In fact, not even the first Age of Misty had reached a year in length. Of course, the second Age of Misty was extremely long, and I'd have to still continue to be attracted to Rainbow Dash until 2021 before she will finally unseat Misty.

Recurrence: 5 - Recurrence is still hard to gauge because I'm still a fan of Rainbow Dash and of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in general. I don't know how much I'd go back to her if I ever do eventually (Celestia forbid) stop being a brony. It does have quite a bit of recurrence while surviving the various troughs that have claimed the Ages of some of the lesser Heart-Melters.

Overall: 9 (2 out of 12) - I never would have expected Rainbow Dash to give me so much joy, but she has, and I'm glad of it. She has been an oasis of awesomeness in an otherwise crazy and unpredictable world.

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