After a mediocre first season, I was told to check in on She-Ra again. The results were promising.
Following the Battle of Bright Moon at the end of Season 1, all of the princesses are now united as one force against the Horde and their leaders: Hordak (Keston John), Catra (AJ Michalka), and Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint). In the second season, we see the first attempts by Adora/She-Ra (Aimee Carrero), Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara), and Bow (Marcus Scribner) to decipher a message from outside of the planet while leading a force composed of the other princesses: Perfuma, Frosta, Netossa, Spinnerella, and Mermista (Genesis Rodriguez, Merit Leighton, Krystal Joy Brown, Noelle Stevenson, and Vella Lovell). In Season 3, princess Entrapta (Christine Woods) is working with Hordak and Catra accidentally almost destroys reality. In Season 4, the team must deal with the fallout of Entrapta’s and Catra’s actions and must work to stop Hordak from cracking the ancient secret of Etheria.
So, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first season of this show. Almost every episode beyond the first one seemed formulaic and way too gimmicky. Every episode basically was “we find a new princess, solve her problem, she joins the team.” The second season was, at least, not repetitive, but it still had trouble finding its feet in terms of story direction and characterization (a few character personalities just seemed to change periodically). The third and fourth seasons, however, did show a remarkable increase in focus and cohesion. The arcs of the seasons made sense, were consistently paced, and actually had some weight to them.
The show did expand its focus on what is clearly the best part of the show: The interplay between the characters. We see Entrapta becoming “friends” with Hordak through their shared love of technology and Catra becoming jealous due to her insecurities. We see Scorpia (Lauren Ash) develop and finally try to act on her crush on Catra (with may not be romantic, I think it’s ambiguous). Despite the fantasy setting, most of the emotions are completely human and relatable to the viewer. Most of the character arcs, similarly, are understandable and fun.
While I still have issues with some parts of the writing (mostly that someone in the room needs to learn that there are more types of humor than “sarcastic monotone” and “wacky reactions”), I do appreciate that the show has gotten better. I still don’t put it up there with Gravity Falls or Adventure Time in terms of good children’s shows, but it is pretty good. Also, it’s up there with Steven Universe in representation, which is always a good thing when done organically like those shows do.
Well, Netflix decided to reboot She-Ra: Princess of Power and, while I think it’s actually superior to the original show, it really just served to remind me of how mediocre the original franchise was, not to make something particularly new or exciting. Still, it has potential.
Adora (Aimee Carrero) is a trainee of the Horde, an army that lives within the “Fright Zone” of the Planet Etheria. Adora is one of the top candidates to become a leader of the forces of the Horde against the evil Rebels, followed closely by her best friend Catra (AJ Michalka). However, when the two sneak out of the Fright Zone, Adora finds a sword and is told that she has been chosen to wield the power of She-Ra. She also finds two others searching for it, Princess Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara), the daughter of the leader of the Rebellion, and her best friend Bow (Marcus Scribner). They capture Adora, who quickly realizes that, surprise, the people called “The Horde” who live in the “Fright Zone” are actually the bad guys. She then joins the rebellion as She-Ra, a superpowered version of herself, and works to gain support of other princesses around the world to fight back against the Horde.
Okay, first thing’s first, I like to keep my work relatively positive, when I can, so I’m not going to go into addressing the criticisms that have been levied at the show and instead focus on my own opinions. Fortunately, by the time I finish this, my Grouchier counterpart should be done watching the show and fully ready to address them. I’ll let him publish that as an addendum, since he’ll enjoy ranting about the stupidity of people.
As to the things the show does right, there are quite a few:
The biggest strength of the show is the characters’ personalities. Each of the characters is distinct, they’re not one-dimensional, they have complex relationships, and some of them even have personalities that we often can’t see on television in their particular capacities. For example, Princess Entrapta (Christine Woods) is literally amoral and is therefore my favorite character. We tend to associate amorality with evil, and the show points out that this is with good reason, but she’s not evil in a traditional sense. She doesn’t want to hurt people. She literally just loves scientific advancement so much that she doesn’t care much about anything else including the fact that evil people will use her technology. I think she’s comparable to Werner von Braun… or maybe some of the characters from Fullmetal Alchemist. She’s truly neutral in her ideology.
The relationships in the show are also well-developed and complex, with the best being the relationship between Catra and Adora. They used to be close, to the point that the show implies a modest sexual attraction between the pair. At one point, they dance together and it is as intense an interaction as you’re likely to see on an animated show which is primarily for kids. Of course, now they’re both on opposing sides of a war and are the field commanders on each side, but each one constantly misses the other, even if they don’t always admit it. The best thing about their relationship is that it’s constantly shifting, depending on how each one is viewing the other’s side and how much they’re willing to admit their feelings to themselves. If everything in the show was as well-done as their relationship, this show would be legendary.
The show also has a decent sense of humor about itself, sometimes even pointing out how ludicrous the rules of the the world in which it’s set can be. My personal favorite is Netossa’s line “What do I do? It’s right there in the name! Netossa. Net-tossa. I TOSS NETS.” Sadly, that’s about the only line that takes a shot at how lame the naming conventions were in the original show, in retrospect. I mean, guys, they named a sorceress Castaspella. There’s a creature named Loo-Kee the Kon-Seal, who hides in the background and looks at people. It’s fine that they were named that (I mean, one of my favorite books has a bearded tree called Treebeard), but you have to at least acknowledge that it’s goofy.
The voice acting is solid. I think every voice fits the character and all the performances are filled with the emotion that you need. As you may remember from my entry on Disenchantment, this can give a mediocre script the flair it needs to succeed anyway.
The character designs and animation are subject to taste. I do appreciate that they actually have a varied cast, with each of the kingdoms basically being a different country (it’s a planet, that makes sense), and therefore having a different culture and sometimes race. I also appreciate that the character body types are not all the same, something that most shows are not exactly great about, particularly the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra: Princess of Power. I don’t actually care for the animation style that much, but it started to grow on me as the show continued.
As to the things that it doesn’t do great:
The plotlines are weak, as are many of the plots. A series of episodes are basically the core three of Glimmer, Bow, and Adora going out to try and “recruit” princesses, each of which has a suitable quirk, power, and problem. They’re fairly repetitive and not particularly stimulating, aside from the fact that most of the princesses are all fairly entertaining. They also progress the characterizations too fast at times, particularly Adora’s switch from the Horde to the Rebellion. She spent her entire life being brainwashed as a soldier, but she decides she was wrong in one afternoon, something that would have been much more interesting if it had taken longer or hadn’t been as certain.
The show does the popular thing of undercutting tension with humor. Normally, I’m a fan of this, particularly with things like Deadpool or Steven Universe or Adventure Time, but it does require that the tension being cut is particularly dire. In this, they were a little too tame with how the threats are presented. Basically, the Horde almost never seems like an actual threat. They are stated to be one, but every time they are engaged by anyone, they basically get routed. She-Ra almost takes out armies of them singlehandedly. Without letting the tension really be built up, the undercutting just starts to make everything feel like there are no stakes and that’s bad.
She-Ra’s abilities are inconsistent, but that feels like it’ll be explained within the show. Also, in the original show, She-Ra and He-Man’s powers were explicitly stated to be “always slightly greater than whatever threat they faced,” so power fluctuation can make sense, but it still gets old fast. However, I don’t think this She-Ra, or Adora, uses their wits as much as the original one, which annoys me in a protagonist in the modern age.
Also, the action sequences in the show need a little work. In the original show, She-Ra was forbidden from punching or cutting things due to the censors, but that’s not a thing anymore, so I would appreciate some more action in my action scenes. As it stands, it’s mostly either She-Ra destroying everything instantly in an explosion, or failing to hit anything, with little in between.
Overall, the show has some potential, because the characters are all distinct and interesting, but they really need to give the characters more worthwhile things to do.