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.
A post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a surprising amount of humor and emotion.
It’s about 2222 AD and humans pretty much screwed everything up, because we’re the bad guys, duh. Most humans now live underground in “burrows” to avoid the giant mutant animals that now rule the surface. Kipo Oak (Karen Fukuhara) is a 12-year-old girl who lives in an underground city called the Clover. One day, she is caught up in a “mute-quake,” an earthquake caused by giant animals, which blows her out of a river to the surface. There, she meets Wolf (Sydney Mikayla), a young girl who manages to survive the dangers of the surface, as well as Benson (Coy Stewart) and his bug best-friend Dave (Deon Cole). There’s also an adorable four-eyed pig named Mandu (Dee Bradley Baker). Together, they accompany Kipo as she tries to reunite with her father (Sterling K. Brown) and her tribe. Along the way, they deal with frogs dressed in Mod clothing, giant bunnies, hyper-intelligent wolves (voiced by GZA and John Hodgman), and the sadistic Scarlemagne (Dan Stevens).
It’s hard to set a kids show in the post-apocalypse without it becoming super dark like Adventure Time. There are only 10 episodes up so far and there are already some horrifying elements and implications, but the show thus far is mostly really upbeat. A lot of that comes from the fact that Kipo is relentlessly positive, despite the fact that she is always about 10 seconds from dying horribly. Benson is similarly carefree, which makes them an interesting pair, particularly when contrasted with Wolf who acts serious all the time to compensate for the fact that she’s a little girl surviving on her own.
The series is based on a webcomic and mostly manages to duplicate the art style for animation. It’s very colorful, despite the apocalyptic setting, with a lot of pinks, purples, and blues. It makes it feel less like a dead world and more like a wonderland. There are a ton of sentient and even talking animals, many of which have humorous eccentricities, as well as just horrible mutant animals. The fact that one of the scariest creatures is the MegaBunny is hilarious to me.
Honestly, it was a fun series and had some good morals. It manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of other Netflix kids shows and perhaps has one of the most inclusive casts without ever making a big deal about it. I recommend it for anyone with kids or for anyone that liked Gravity Falls. It’s not quite at that level, but I think it gets some of the same elements right. Mostly, it’s really only just started and it has a lot of strong worldbuilding and character development, which is impressive for almost any show.
Amazon Prime makes a television show based off of the famously exploitative comic book by Garth Ennis and manages to make it stronger by toning it down.
In this world, Superheroes are real and they pretty much all have sold the hell out. The most powerful heroes are The Seven: The Superman-esque Homelander (Antony Starr), Amazon Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), Speedster A-Train (Jessie Usher), Sea King The Deep (Chace Crawford), Mysterious Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), Invisible and Invulnerable Translucent (Alex Hassell), and new girl Starlight (Erin Moriarity). The team works for Vought-American, a company that makes films depicting the fictional exploits of their real heroes and is attempting to militarize superheroes, under Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue). However, with great power comes the great likelihood that you’re going to abuse it, which most of the superheroes do liberally, often at the cost of the lives of the citizens. When a supe goes too far, that’s when The Boys come in.
The Boys are a team of vigilantes loosely associated with the CIA who take down the superheroes who go too far. The Boys had been disbanded for a while before the series starts, until Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) loses his girlfriend Robin (Jess Salguerio) to a Superhero and is dragged into the world of anti-heroics by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), the former leader of the Boys. Together with The Frenchman (Tomer Kapon), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and the Female (Karen Fukuhara), the Boys work to take down superheroes, using just their wits, guts, and occasionally powerful explosives.
The Boys was Garth Ennis’s attempt to, and this is a quote, “Out-PreacherPreacher.” This is a reference to the series Preacher’s famously over-the-top violence and sexuality which The Boys took to literally insane levels. There are things in The Boys that are clearly designed to disturb even those who were already pretty disturbed and no, I’m not going to mention the worst of them here. Let’s just say that in the TV show they put a rape warning that is well-deserved on the first episode, but the scene is still SIGNIFICANTLY less horrifying than the same events from the comic book.
Actually, that’s something that happens in general throughout this adaptation. This show has some horrifyingly graphic deaths and other traumatic images, but all of it has been extremely sanitized in order to operate within the medium. See, in an exaggerated comic book where some things can just be referenced with a reaction panel, it can be somewhat ignored that your main characters curb-stomp someone to death or, as above, a bunch of heads explode. It’s so far removed from reality, that it’s like a Tom and Jerry cartoon: Yes, it’s hyper-violent, but it’s also not real and therefore more amusing or easily processed. Hell, some shows like SuperJail or Metalocalypse basically made that the source of their humor. But once you move that to live action, your audience (hopefully) cannot enjoy hyperviolence in the same way because they’re naturally going to feel the pain of the victims more. Similarly, the fact that SO MUCH of the comic also relies on similar hyperbolic exaggeration of rape, drug use, racism, and sexism means that if they shifted those elements to the live-action show, people would probably be vomiting with rage at every episode. And probably just vomiting at the thought of the realities of some of the things that the comic depicts, come to think of it. I’d also say that it helps that the show feels like the sex and violence actually tends to serve the plot and the themes, rather than just being there for gags, but there’s still a bunch of gratuitous elements.
However, that’s not to say that this show is tame. Even though it’s restrained when compared to the source material, the show pushes a ton of boundaries, but, by reducing the ridiculous violence and over-the-top conduct of the characters somewhat, the villainous superheroes actually become more relatable and therefore more detestable. A genocidal maniac with a god complex isn’t someone you’re likely to run into, but you probably have met a guy who would use his position at a company to try and coerce a woman into sex. Rather than just being amoral psychopaths, many of the heroes are more common figures: The athlete who uses performance enhancing drugs because he’s worried of slowing, the hypocritical evangelical preacher, the alcoholic who used to be a dreamer, etc. There’s a reason people hate Dolores Umbridge more than Voldemort – You probably don’t know Hitler, but you probably know a teacher who picks on kids to make herself feel bigger.
The key thing that the show does have in common with the source material is the themes: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or, as Butcher puts it, “with great power comes the total f*ckin’ certainty that you’re gonna turn into a c**t.” The show explores how power affects people and it picks a number of sources of power, ranging from Money (Vought-American), Emotional Manipulation (Stillwell), Political Power (various politicians and Vought-American), and finally good-old-fashioned violence (The Seven). Vought’s political and financial influence tends to make them just as immune to consequences as Homelander’s invulnerability and their immorality grows as they find that they can do more and more without it coming back to bite them. The purpose of The Boys is to try and remind these entities that they can actually be punished for their bad conduct, because that’s the only way to keep them in check. They attack Vought with bad publicity and they attack the Seven by finding ways to actually hurt or kill them, something that’s much more impressive because in this version the Boys don’t have superpowers.
The performances in the show are, for the most part, excellent, though Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher does tend to overshadow others when in a scene with them just due to the nature of the actor and the character. Elisabeth Shue, likewise, manages to be simultaneously more human than her comic counterpart James Stillwell and also much more cruel and manipulative, making for a great character that you can believe puts a Man of Steel in his place. A lot of the plot additions are great and serve to flesh out the world that they can afford to build. The female characters have been fleshed out quite a bit compared to Ennis’s versions of them. While his versions were supposed to be pastiches and grotesque parodies of female superheroes, that tended to make many of them weak characterizations in some ways.
Overall, the show’s not going to be for everyone, but if you can get past the visceral elements, it does have some great performances and themes. Still, I wouldn’t blame anyone for not making it past them.
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.