I can’t say I followed the original She-Ra, or He-Man for that matter, very much. Both series had ended by the time I was really watching cartoons, and beyond the odd meme of Skeletor, my awareness was low. So when an “Avatar the Last Airbender” style She-Ra appeared on Netflix, I watched it with the dutiful fanhood I watched “The Dragon Prince” with – not expecting much, fully prepared to be satisfied with mediocrity. I did not expect to watch the entire series through 5 times and not have my thirst quenched, or to start a fevered hunt for action figures and fandom wikis.
If a bunch of Steven Universe characters had helped a Fire-Nation-born Avatar restore spiritual balance to a sort-of futuristic universe, that would be She-Ra. The delightful art style, voice acting, and color palettes lend an anime-like credibility to the series – not to mention the artful battle scenes. But the treasure is in the – can you call it fan service if they don’t have fans yet? – hilarious moments and adorable insights that break from the seriousness of Adora and Glimmer’s mission to call out to the inevitable millennial and gay audiences that this show was made for.
One of those moments was what drew me to the show in the first place. I saw a single gif of Adora meeting a horse for the first time, and being awed by how majestic it was. It was super cute and dorky, and enough to convince me to give the show a chance. While “cute and dorky” definitely fit as descriptors for the series, it surpasses them in a lot of ways I found surprising – opening following seasons up with possibilities, context that can be filled, and relationship tensions that need to be resolved. What happened to the First Ones? Did Shadow Weaver kill them? Will He-Man be in the show? Will Adora have to kill Catra? Will Swift Wind free all of horse-kind? ARE ADORA AND GLIMMER IN LOVE YET?
In the spirit of “magical girl” animes, there’s a full transition-sequence for when Adora becomes She-Ra, which frankly is about 9 seconds of tv that I’m willing to watch about 1000 more times. The poses, and She-Ra’s amazing costume and hair, are not just well animated and colorful, but powerful. She-Ra looks cool. She looks like she could wreck the Horde, and frankly, she does wreck the Horde. She also does it all while glittering, and in a skirt and tiara.
That’s one thing that’s very special about this show – nearly every character is a woman or girl, and none of them sacrifice their femininity for power, not even Shadow Weaver. Even the show’s strongest male characters, Bow and Swift Wind, express their power in their appearance in ways we’d traditionally consider to be feminine – rainbows, and cutouts in clothing. Furthermore, the femininity and brightness of everyone’s appearance isn’t just cosmetic. The Horde is fighting to spread literal darkness over Etheria, and the light of the Runestones keeps Etheria in balance. But it isn’t enough – the Princesses of Power need to be united to restore the balance, and the legendary She-Ra is supposed to unite them.
While this isn’t my usual type of show – Adventure Time became tedious for me and I never even picked up Steven Universe – I found myself enraptured and delighted. There is just enough action to keep me focused and though some of the lesson-teaching and friendship stuff is heavy-handed, the overall sci-fi fantasy universe that it opens up is fascinating and the meld of magic and ancient but somehow futuristic technology is very exciting. The characters, whose names are admittedly cheesy, are multifaceted and diverse. The blend of serious situations, comedic moments, emotional confrontations, and inspiring triumphs is in perfect balance; with a ratio very similar to that of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Unlike a lot of feminist children’s shows, She-Ra never tells you that women are just as strong as men, or that sisterhood will save us all. It merely builds up female characters with different kinds of strengths, and then shows them exercising those strengths. The female villains are not straw-women, using hypersexual low voices, sleek but spiky like roses. They’re varied, some hyperactive and excitable, some sneaky and quick, and all with true challenges to their values in the choices they face along the way.
Adora’s real strength, and the show’s, is that it takes you through not only a crisis of the world, but a crisis of conscience. Adora wakes up one day to find that her whole life, she’s been on the wrong side, and that everyone that she loves, and still loves, is on the side of evil. It doesn’t erase her love, but it challenges her to recognize that as their values clash, their actions too will come to clash, and she may have to choose between the right side and the familiar.
Though the show only recently debuted, figures were previewed ahead of time at Comic-Con for Adora and Catra that were available for preorder, but can no longer be found anywhere. I will have them the moment they’re available again, but in the meantime, this opens me up to hope that there will be retail versions of all my new Princess friends (and possibly an Adora in her Horde Cadet uniform?) to collect in the near future. It’s further encouraging that maybe Dreamworks already has a story-board set for Season 2, which I’m very much looking forward to.
On a different level of quality than many other Netflix anime series, She-Ra succeeds in execution of style and wit, and opens up a lot of potential for more. It’s enjoyable, and child-friendly, as well as adult-friendly, and calls back to a vintage series (the 80’s series “She-Ra: Princess of Power” is also now available on Netflix) while refreshing and renewing the content to allow a fresh set of fans, and fill the hole that the end of many of these ‘cute but adult’ series have left in millennial television. It’s a ton of fun, and I hope people check it out so that season 2 comes ‘swiftly,’ like the swift winds of revolution.