SINGAPORE - On Sunday afternoons in Rapid Culture, a collectible toys store at Funan DigitaLife Mall, over a dozen young men can be seen gathered round a game of cards.
But their decks are adorned with candy-coloured characters. Some of the men are even dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with pretty ponies, complete with big, sparkling cartoon eyes and long flowing manes.
Welcome to the world of Bronies, or men who have a passion for Hasbro's My Little Pony. More precisely, the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic incarnation of the franchise.
In each episode, the ponies encounter various adventures, solve problems and learn important lessons about friendship.
The series, which started in Oct 2010, has an unexpected following among adult males.
They appreciate the complexity of the series, the high-quality animation and what the talking horses represent, say local Bronies.
The term is a portmanteau of "bro" and "ponies.
The sub-culture has already inspired a range of artwork, music and literature, especially in the US and Europe.
On our shores too, the fad seems to be gaining steam - judging from the increase in members on the Singapore Bronies Society Facebook page.
When it launched in August 2011, the page had 56 members. It now has more than 1,200.
Last month, the society even organised a Bronies convention, attracting 150 participants from across Asia.
"Our community is really active online, with great art appearing all the time," says Benzley Lee, 17, one of the Society's lead administrators.
"Most of the time, we keep up with sites like Equestria Daily, Everfree Network and Ponyville Live."
A group of about a dozen regulars gather weekly at Rapid Culture or at *Scape; others meet to hang out over meals and movies, or art activities.
At a recent gathering, two stuffed ponies - one pink and one purple - were perched on the edge of the table while the players went on with their card game.
The store's 20-year-old assistant manager, Mr Woo Bing Han, picks up the saccharine pink Pinkie Pie and says to one of the losing players: "You know why Pinkie has such a big smile? Because she enjoys watching you get smashed."
It's all in good humour though, and that's what Bronies say they like about the club and the culture.
Benzley explains how the series teaches about values like friendship and forgiveness.
His favourite character is Fluttershy, a shy and quiet pony who loves other animals and can communicate with them, which seems an apt choice for the first-year veterinary bioscience student in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
He explains how in one episode, she shows kindness to a ferocious manticore by removing a thorn from its paw.
Secondary 3 student Nathanael Lim says he had to overcome his own prejudices before falling in love with the show.
He was introduced to it through a link a friend shared online.
"We were all doubtful initially. It's a bit unbelievable that My Little Pony can be interesting," says Nathanael.
"But you don't know until you actually try it."
This article was first published on July 27, 2014.
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