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Fandom is Magic: South Florida Bronies Meet My Little Pony Stars at Animate! Miami

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At the Animate! Miami convention last weekend, a wide variety of fans descended on the Doubletree Miami Airport Convention Center in mutual appreciation of all things animation. But few have fascinated and confused mainstream America like the bronies, enthusiasts of the children's television show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The show is rated TV-Y, appropriate for all children, but it has curiously taken hold among adults, most of them grown men, all across the country.

We took to the convention floor and spoke to the self-professed bronies of South Florida, as well as the voice actors behind some of the beloved characters. Saddle up after the jump.

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Brandon, a brony who's a freelance video editor by trade, came upon the TV show after seeing references to bronies and My Little Pony in chat channels of popular online games such as Team Fortress 2. Curious, he did his research and watched his first episode, "Over a Barrel." He was hooked soon after. It takes more than simple viewing to make a brony, according to Brandon: "An occasional fan is an occasional fan. Bronies embrace the culture and contribute to the fandom, through fanfic and art." For Brandon, the show has much to offer, including humor and a nostalgic throwback to his animation-rich '90s childhood.

A running theme throughout this and future conversations was the uniqueness and development of the characters, as well as a personal identification with a particular pony's personality. At Animate! Miami's My Little Pony VIP party, we spoke with a couple of the personalities behind the ponies.

Andrea Libman, the voice actress who lends her voices to Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, among others, learned about the phenomenon from the animation director.

"There's this thing called 'bronies,' he said. Young guys. We didn't really believe him."

After attending a few conventions and special screenings to packed houses, the wide appeal of MLP:FIM eventually sunk in -- especially after seeing marriage proposals on fan signs. Libman sees the same appeal Brandon sees. Not only are the characters well-written and well-developed, but the overall message of the show seems to transcend its TV-Y rating.

"It doesn't matter who you are; friendship is accessible." (And also magic, right?)

"I don't believe in labels. I just believe in people honoring their names," says Nicole Oliver, best known as Princess Celestia and Cheerilee on the show. She is also fiercely protective of the MLP:FIM fandom. Oliver first heard of the brony phenomenon in January 2012, and says she thought it was wonderful. Her interactions with the fandom through conventions and social media have been "overwhelmingly positive, humbling, and inspiring."

Oliver regaled us with tales of such positive feedback from fans of all ages (and was quick to point out that bronies are of all ages and genders--not just the oft-mentioned adult male demographic), from military officers who consider the show a form of stress relief, to one young autistic girl who spoke to her at a panel and said simply, "You make me happy."

Ultimately, Oliver says, "It takes a lot of courage to stand up, be true to yourself, and love." That is the age- and gender-transcendent message of MLP:FIM and is what all animation fans, at one point or another this weekend, were able to do at Animate! Miami, whether in hooves or not.

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