Few fandoms have fallen under public scrutiny quite the same way the Bronies have. When My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic debuted, a large faction of the fandom around the series included adult males. At the time and since, many individuals have mocked the self-proclaimed "Bronies," mostly for watching a series whose primary demographic was younger girls. However, as the show continued and the fandom both matured and evolved, the Bronies have become one of the most vocal fandoms online. The show matured to entertain both its peripheral and target demographics in a way few shows manage to do.
But the true test of the fandom comes now at the end of the show that inspired it. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is over. Where does the fandom go from here?
The Final BronyCon
For nine years, BronyCon has been a central mecca of the Brony fandom. Recently, NPR writer James Perkins Mastromarino wrote an editorial about the final BronyCon, which took place this August. In it, Mastromarino writes the following:
I've dodged the Brony label for years, but I can't deny my love for the show. It's helped me out in dark times, and I wasn't about to pass up my last chance to join fans at BronyCon. Friendship may be magic, but the magic is fading; the show has entered its ninth and final season, and after several years of dwindling attendance, the convention's organizers decided it was time for a last hurrah.
This paints a somewhat bleaker picture on the whole fandom's prospects. While BronyCon 2019 had an attendance of over 1o,000 (its highest ever), the prior years saw dwindling interest. In 2015, BronyCon drew in around 10,000 attendees. 2016 drew in approximately 7,600 people. Then, 2017 drew in around 6,300; 2018 drew in around 5,400. Attendance has been dropping, and, while this new con drew in record numbers, it bucks the trend rather than follow it: the fandom is cooling.
What Happens When a Show Fades Away?
It is important to acknowledge that several shows persist following the end of a show. Star Trek very famously survived years after its initial ending, to the point where the fandom's mounting post-show popularity inspired executives to greenlight Star Trek: The Motion Picture, followed by the far more successful Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and a certified status as one of the biggest franchises in pop culture.
But Star Trek was in a unique position that My Little Pony is not. When Star Trek ended, there were no other sci-fi shows of its caliber on networks. The internet didn't exist. Fans had to meet up at conventions in order to talk. Barring that, they bought fanzines, comic books and magazines in order to receive news or share stories -- even fanfiction.
Even with Star Wars, the fandom faded away after the films ended. It wasn't until Timothy Zahn's Thrawn series that the fandom revived in a big way thanks to new content and new paths to explore throughout the franchise in the early '90s. In both cases, all it took was new content to revitalize a fandom maintained by enthusiasm alone.
The New Era
However , My Little Pony exists in a very different media and culutral landscape than Star Wars did in the early '90s. It has far more in common with other cartoons and anime such as Yuri on Ice, had huge fandoms that sprang up during the show's release, but lost fans after the end of those series.
Naturally, whenever news pertaining to new projects emerges, the fandom reorganizes to at least some extent. But fans of the show have new shows to be entertained by. This applies to just about every seasonal series. After a large fan explosion, but fans know that next season will bring another series that will entertain them. They don't forget the show they love, but they can still put it on a shelf and move onto the next thing.
Longer running series, while they still have loyal fans, will cool following a show's ending. Sailor Moon and Adventure Time are two shows that share a lot in common with My Little Pony, since they're animated shows ostensibly targeted aimed for younger kids that developed large adult fandoms. When both series ended, the fandom remained, but cooled drastically.
The Creative Influence
However, the Sailor Moon and Adventure Time fandoms survived thanks to their influence. The two shows directly inspired future manga and anime creators. Would Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretty Cure, or Madoka exist without Sailor Moon? Would Steven Universe, She-Ra (2018) or OK K.O! exist without Adventure Time?
Even with shorter lived animated series, the same remains. Every time a cartoon references Neon Genesis Evangelion or Akira, the fandoms for those shows come out of the woodwork in a fit of excitement. Whenever a show vaguely resembles Yuri on Ice, the fandom emerges to compare and discuss the two series. In earlier decades, Star Wars and Star Trek fans would emerge whenever another series referenced or parodied those iconic franchises.
In his article on the last, Mastromarino writes,
Many people flocked to the fandom because it provides a creative outlet, not to mention a ready market for their artwork. Claire Revell says she has slipped away from My Little Pony in recent years, but came all the way from England with new pony art for the last BronyCon. "I met a lot of people through it. I met my current boyfriend through it," she says, "and it's really quite changed my life, more than I realize."
The series means a lot to a lot of people, but even when the excitement cools, the art inspired by the series will live on. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been on-air for nine years, and even people who mocked Bronies cannot ignore its era-defining influence.
Where To Go From Here?
The fandom of a show cannot exist as it once did following the show's completion. But it can continue to provide a creative resource for both future creators who can draw from it in their own work and in the fan community in fan-made content. Fan-art and fanfiction will remain and persist long after the show's completion, as so the ever growing archive of fan content for fandoms that are far smaller than My Little Pony.
Also, let's also face facts: the moment a new My Little Pony series is announced, the fandom will have thoughts, and discourse will rage. In the same way that Star Trek fans have debated the relative merits of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine against the original Stark Trek, similar discussions will rise up whenever the next My Little Pony project is announced.
Although the fourth incarnation of My Little Pony is done, the franchise has survived since the '80s. Whenever the inevitable fifth incarnation comes around, the My Little Pony fandom will reactivate, energized and ready for vigorous discussion.