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“Humanization” is a term frequently used by fans of the TV series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to describe the popular art trend where characters from the show are re-imagined as human beings, with the intent being to accurately capture the personalities of the characters and preserving some of their signature visual features.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint when the earliest examples of humanized ponies first appeared, the popularity of humanizing animal cartoon characters pre-dates the popularity of the G4 My Little Pony. A March 31, 2009 entry on Urban Dictionary uses it to define the term “Gijinka,” using the Sonic and Pokemon fandoms as the most popular examples (at the time).
“Mostly done in fan-art, it is the name for the humanization of any animal-like character. Most popularly done with Sonic the Hedgehog characters, and Pokemon.” – UrbanDictionary definition of “Gijinka”
Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias also reference a trend called “Moe anthropomorphism,” in which non-human concepts are personified by a cute human character (usually female]. This seems to tie in with the popularity of humanized ponies, since they serve as a human representation of the fans’ love of the show and characters, and possibly the desire to bring the characters closer to reality.
While many “gijinka” drawings of animal characters rely on animal design features to be recognizable (i.e. a human version of Pikachu will usually still have the original’s tail and ears), with the characters of My Little Pony in particular, artists have found that they fully translate to human form easily. This is usually attributed to the original character designs’ highly anthropomorphic eyes, iconic color palettes (which can be represented by colorful clothing), and especially their mane designs (which can translate very directly into human hairstyles).
Weird Dreams comic
One early example of a popularly shared humanized image was a 3 panel comic where Twilight Sparkle wakes up to discover that the world of the show is just a dream, and that she and her friends are actually humans in the real world. The comic was originally uploaded by artist MadMax and soon began circulating on websites and forums like Equestria Daily and Ponychan.
MadMax is often erroneously credited as the artist (it is drawn in the same style as her own comics), however she credits her brother as the actual creator. Due to its voluptuous depiction of Rainbow Dash, the comic is infamously referred to by the name “Rainbow Dash’s Boobs.” MadMax has uploaded the comic to her DeviantArt page under the title “Weird dreams.
Several artists have risen dramatically in popularity within the fandom specifically for their depictions of humanized ponies, with some of the most popular ones being John Joseco (whose work is more anime-influenced) and Megasweet (who is more rooted in the traditions of Western-style animation). Their DeviantArt and Tumblr uploads tend to garner tens of thousands of hits within days, and they regularly hold Livestream drawing sessions where they participate with fans and take requests (it should be noted however that some Tumblr and Livestream requests they respond to are graphic in nature, and inappropriate for minors. Discretion is advised).
The humanization phenomena is considered separate from the trend of drawing partially anthropomorphic versions of the characters, because the goal is to fully realize them as fully human characters rather than adding more human-like characteristics to an animal character design. They may still have some non-human features such as “neko” pony ears, tails, horns, wings, or even fantastical skin color in some instances, however the general consensus is that a truly humanized character cannot have hooves, reverse-jointed legs or non-human facial features. Making the characters too pony-like is frowned upon by many fans, especially ones wishing to distance themselves from the furry/anthro fanbase
Much like the rest of the fan art for the show, there is also controversy over the risque nature of some humanized images (especially ones that follow Rule 34), as many fans feel that this presents the fanbase in a negative light and undermines the innocent charm of the show, or simply do not want their enjoyment of humanized pony drawings to be associated with the clopping controversy. Others contend that it is just something that comes with all of the fandoms, and is not a problem as long as it is kept away from websites intended to be appropriate for minors.
While there is plenty of room for a wide variety of interpretations of the characters which is often explored, some humanization ideas have become popular enough that many artists have started using them. While many people have explored a wide array of racial makeups for the group, the “Mane 6” ponies are most commonly depicted as Caucasian 20-somethings. The one exception to this, however, is Twilight Sparkle, who is at least as frequently drawn as being Asian. Zecora the Zebra is almost universally considered to be African due to her cultural traits in the show.
Body types tend to have a lot more variety than the show’s models, however some distinct styles reoccur regularly. Rarity is usually depicted as being tall and shapely, tying in with her reputation as Ponyville’s most glamorous fashionista. Rainbow Dash is often shown as smaller and leaner than her friends to emphasize her speed and athleticism. Fluttershy is sometimes depicted as thin and delicate, although many artists prefer to depict her as being the bustiest of the group, with such images often tagged with the fan-nickname “Hootershy” (fans of this style often speculate that her figure led to her being teased in school, thus contributing to her shyness).
Certain clothing items and styles have become common in depictions of humanized ponies, as well. Twilight Sparkle is often drawn wearing a schoolgirl uniform with a purple knitted vest to match her status as a student of Celestia’s school of magic. Fluttershy usually wears a baggy yellow sweater keeping with her modest personality, although sundresses are also a popular alternative. Rainbow Dash either wears a windbreaker and track shorts to emphasize her as an athlete, or a leather jacket when she’s interpreted as a pilot (in either case, she is often drawn wearing goggles). Applejack is almost universally drawn with an orange flannel shirt and cowgirl boots, with “Daisy Duke” shorts and other cowgirl accessories being included depending on the artist.
DeviantArt, 4chan, Ponychan, Ponibooru