So look, I’m 42. I was eight when the original She-Ra: Princess of Power debuted in 1985. I’d dabbled a bit in He-Man, not least because a boy lived next door and was about the only kid my age around, but I really liked She-Ra. We had a couple of the action figures, even. When I saw they were rebooting the show, though, I didn’t have a lot of hope. Though it did, on the other hand, meet my exact criteria for a reboot—something with good bones that was done badly and could be done far better. Though I could also see several ways it could’ve been worse.
I am pleased to say, however, that they made the show far better than I would’ve expected. In this version, Adora (Aimee Carrero) was orphaned as a baby and raised by the Horde. She’s now a senior cadet, about to be a soldier in the Horde’s army. She and her best friend, Catra (AJ Michalka), sneak out and take a skiff to the Whispering Woods, where they crash. Adora sees a glowing sword and touches it, and it talks to her. She sneaks back to retrieve it, and she’s captured by Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) and Bow (Marcus Scribner) of the Rebellion. They teach her things she didn’t previously know about the Horde, and she realizes she can’t possibly return to the Horde.
One of the things this show gets right that few other cartoons along its lines do is that basically none of these people think of themselves as evil. Adora is shocked when Bow refers to the Evil Horde. She’s part of the Horde (which, let’s be real, does not have great connotations), but evil? Catra is part of the Horde at first because they’re her people, in part because they’ll give her power, and eventually because she’s angry at Adora for abandoning her. Most of the people in the Horde are there because they think the Horde is right or because they don’t think about right or wrong. And at least one person doesn’t think in terms of right or wrong or good or evil at all, just Pure Science.
This is one of the many places the original was inferior, frankly, as it was one of those cartoons with the good people and the bad people. And you didn’t need to know the motivations of the bad people, because, you know, they were bad. In the original, Adora was under a spell that forced her loyalty to the Horde, and she had to be rescued by her long-lost twin brother, He-Man, who has not yet appeared in this show. (Actually, I’m not entirely sure they’ve explained what Greyskull is yet.) The show is also a lot more diverse; in the original, all the characters seemed to have been made to the same model and all but one of them were white.
There’s a certain amount of criticism in a few quarters about the changes to She-Ra’s character design. However, add me to the list of people who approve. It’s not just that the characters are of a variety of body shapes and sizes, instead of all being basically the same except Madame Razz (Grey Griffin). I like She-Ra’s shorts—frankly, I like that She-Ra’s not swordfighting in a miniskirt. So many heroines wear them, and they’re so impractical! I mean, Horde armour still makes more sense, but whatever. It’s better than nothing.
Honestly, I didn’t trust those criticisms anyway, because they mostly sounded like “she isn’t my fantasy anymore.” And it’s true that I’m not sure any character in the show has the breasts that pretty much all the female characters in the original had. Even Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint) and Angella (Reshma Shetty), the actual adults. And most of the princesses are explicitly teenagers. Adora is probably seventeen or so, and Glimmer and Bow are about the same age. Likewise Catra. I like that Glimmer is short and a little heavier in build. I like that the characters are of varying ethnicities. I like that Catra is, you know, a cat, instead of just a woman in a catsuit.
This version also has much more of a sense of humour than the original. There’s Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), for example, the ultimate hippie princess. She’s serious about it, but it’s still hard to take her seriously when she says, “Get the warchimes—we march!” And of course the deep annoyance of Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) delivering the line, “I’m Netossa. I toss nets?”
Which brings us to two places. We’ll start, I think, with the show’s weird fondness for both playing off and mocking its own history. It keeps all the names, all of them. Even the dumb ones—and let’s be real, most of them are pretty dumb. Even She-Ra is a dumb name. Shadow Weaver is pretty cool, and Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher) isn’t terrible, but even Glimmer isn’t a great name. Madame Razz mentions some of the odder corners of the original show’s lore, and Adora doesn’t actually believe her. Because they’re dumb.
The other, of course, is that Netossa is canonically in a relationship with Spinerella (showrunner Noelle Stevenson herself). Bow canonically has two fathers, Lance (Regi Davis) and George (Chris Jai Alex). And that’s just the official relationships. It seems pretty clear that Catra is in love with Adora. Similarly, Scorpia (Lauren Ash) is in love with Catra. Bow, clearly, has a crush on Sea Hawk. Who I’m pretty sure is bi, because while he’s crazy about Mermista (Vella Lovell), I’m pretty sure he could go for Bow if Bow were a few years older. Possibly Frosta (Merit Leighton) has a crush on Glimmer, or else it’s just a case of hero worship. Or generalized neediness.
The characters have a lot of different motivations for what they do, in short, and I admire that. I feel like poor Kyle (Antony Del Rio) just wants someone to care about him and to, you know, not die. And I do think this has a good look at how propaganda keeps people from realizing truths—Adora legitimately didn’t know that the Horde attacked innocents, and that’s a much more interesting origin story than “and then she was saved by her long-lost twin brother.”