Curious about the show's inexplicably massive cult status I decided to try it out to see what all the hubbub was about. What can I say? I'm a bit conformist like that.
I found the show itself to be okay for what it was. I do suspect that the great internet following is at least partially ironic, though. Non of it is really that mindblowing and its often hard to ignore that it's so obviously intended for children. That said, it's completely harmless and pretty relaxing, somewhat nostalgic in its use of easily digested aesops, has a few brilliant jokes on occasion and the characters are easy to like. I'm not sure I'm ready to call myself a die-hard fan just yet, but I liked it enough to browse through most of the first season.
So I mentioned likable characters, and the one in particular I found myself really starting to like as I made my way through the episodes was Rarity:
This is actually unusual for me; Rarity really isn't the type of character I typically develop a fondness for - she's the "extra girly" fashionista type character. When it comes to female characters I usually prefer the more tomboyish type, so of course I expected to like Rainbow Dash just like everybody else. But there was just something about Rarity that just made her likable to me, and it took a while for me to realize what it was. Basically, she's just a surprisingly well-concieved character, in a way I completely didn't expect.
See, most of the core characters of MLP:FIM are essentially girl archetypes. They're pretty good archetypes, sure, but still archetypes. You've got your nerdy, socially awkward bookworm girl in Twilight Sparkle, you've got your perky, practical farmgirl in Applejack, you've got your impulsive, fun-loving tomboy in Rainbow Dash and your soft-spoken animal-loving shy girl in Fluttershy. No real surprises, in other words. (Occasional hints of pent-up aggression in Fluttershy non withstanding.)
Following this pattern, Rarity is the "crazy about fashion and appearances" girl archetype. Now, going by my experience, I expected her to be the vain primadonna type of person who has to learn to look beyond appearances and accept people for who they are. In fact, that would actually have fit the theme of the cartoon. But to my delight, they basically skipped all that and instead made Rarity a genuinely kind, friendly and occasionally kinda funny character right from the start. I'm not sure why, but normally a character isn't allowed to be both obsessed with looks and a decent person at the same time. It would have been so easy to make this character annoying and hard to relate to - especially for a guy, who's just watching the show out of curiosity. Instead, what I found was probably the most relatable character in the cast.
Out of all the characters, Rarity is the one who places the most importance on physical appearance. However, the first main contribution she makes to the group is to cut off her own tail and use it to repair the damaged whiskers of a run-amok dragon. For someone who values her looks as much as Rarity, that was a major sacrifice. But it also says something important about her best quality: Out of all the ponies, she was the only one who could instantly understand why the dragon was so upset, because she doesn't disregard appearance as something unimportant. This actually let her sympathize with the dragon better then all the other characters. In other words, the writers took her main character trait - liking pretty things and wanting to be pretty - and turned it into an advantage rather then a shortcoming.
I found it really refreshing to encounter a character like this. Rarity would fuss about manes being out of order and talk Twilight into trying out new saddles or whatever it is anthropomorphic horses wear, but she never actually judged anyone by how they looked. She could already see beyond appearances, it's just that she cared about appearances as well. Rather then simply being vain, she's actually passionate. There is a later episode where she offers to make dresses for all her friends, and it really managed to drive home the point that she's a craftsperson who really, honestly thinks fashion designing is fun. I found myself thinking: "Oh, I see! She feels about fancy dresses the same way I feel about writing. That makes sense!" I could actually relate to these feelings, and it even kinda sorta helped me -as a man- grasp why some girls find stuff like designer clothes and shoes so mysteriously fascinating.
And that's how you write a damn good character.