In 1985, the popularity of the show He-Man and its toy line prompted the creation of a spin-off called She-Ra: Princess of Power, which was meant to appeal to a female audience. The show ran for two seasons, and then went on to become a meme.
This year, a reboot of the show, called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (I know, the titles are confusingly similar), premiered on Netflix. I checked it out because everyone online was going crazy over the ship Catadora, and I of course had my New Year’s resolution to try new things whenever someone says “I recommend it.” Was it as good as everyone said it was?
Well, to put it simply, this was the first full show I’ve ever binged.
Entertainment: 5/5 Intellect: 4/5 Overall: 9/10
It’s going to be difficult to write this review without spoilers, but I will try my best. I will unfortunately have to consider everything in the first two episodes as fair game, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell you the premise of the show. I’ll still try my best not to hint at anything:
The show centers around a young woman named Adora, who lives among the Horde on a planet called Etheria. She dreams of becoming a Force Captain — a martial authority who will lead the Horde and bring order to the rest of Etheria. But just when it looks like she is about to get her wish, she stumbles across a sword that transforms her into the mighty “She-Ra” in times of need. At the same time, she meets two young adults from the enemy side, who try to convince her to use her powers as She-Ra to restore the princess alliance that opposes the Horde.
As I said above, this was the first show I’ve ever truly binged. And before you jump to conclusions: I watched this during the school year, not over winter break, so it’s not just that I had extra time.
The show is very much like Avatar: The Last Airbender in tone and world, and a bit like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in its stunning rescue of an old show meant to sell toys to little girls. It’s hilarious and full of unique world-building, characters, and storylines.
It’s not perfect by any means. Lately, my friends and I have been paying more and more attention to “perfect” vs “great” shows/TV/books, and we’ve found that sometimes they align, sometimes they don’t. In this context, “perfect” would mean that we never at any point are aware that we’re watching a show, never at any point feel that something is cliche, and never do any jokes or emotional scenes fall flat. The first time I noticed this was while rewatching Beauty and the Beast as an adult. it doesn’t do anything particularly outstanding, but it’s very good at what it does. Then there are bits of “great” storytelling, which may get things “wrong” from time to time, but in the end introduce some new concept that makes it super memorable. A lot of MCU movies are like that: not everything is perfect, and a lot feels disingenuous, but that’s overshadowed by the really spectacular stuff that no one’s ever seen before.
She-Ra would be considered in the “great” category. In individual episodes, I can tell almost exactly what’s going to happen. Who’s going to get mad at whom, who’s going to save the day, what weapon they’ll use, what joke they’re going to tell 5 seconds from now, etc. But even though I can tell that about individual episodes, I can’t tell that about the season as a whole. I sincerely have no idea what is going to happen with this overarching plot, who will end up on whose side, what’s going to happen to the planet, what the main character Adora is going to decide. And that’s what’s really addicting about the series. I can sense that this is something I’ve never seen before.
So yes, a lot of the jokes fall flat, but a lot don’t. Some of the character arcs are super predictable (especially around the beginning), but a lot aren’t. Some people have accused the animation of looking “flat,” but I haven’t particularly noticed anything of the sort (And I get really sensitive to bad animation. As a matter of fact, I think the animation is way better than a lot of what Netflix has been turning out.) There are plenty of things that I would go back and change if I were an editor, but in the end those things don’t really matter.
This series got a 4/5 in intellect for one reason and one reason only: Catra’s motivations. I can’t talk about that here at all due to spoilers, but I promise that She-Ra is the first show I’ve seen do this so well.
As with Avatar and MLP, the mythos is super strong with this series, and I sense there’s a lot more still to come. It’s also super interesting to go back and see how characters have changed from the original She-Ra. Everything from Seahawk’s personality to Catra’s eyes (and voice).
It’s also interesting to go back through the season after looking up things from the old show, because it’s quite obvious that the creators made She-Ra both for newcomers and for fans of the original. Take the first few scenes in the first episode: it’s obvious that Catra used to be a villain, and that her betrayal of Adora is a fakeout. Old fans will assume that Catra and Adora are rivals, and then suddenly see them as best friends. Newcomers will see them as best friends and then be surprised when they become rivals.
The Internet was right when it pegged Catra as the main attraction of the show (yes, pun intended). I’ve been trying to remember a villain like Catra. Someone who lived in the shadow of another evil trainee and then became obsessed with rising to the top and finishing them off once they were gone. And I really can’t think of any. Catra’s convincing herself that Adora was holding her back all those years, her desperation to prove herself, feel like they should have been done somewhere before, but I can’t think of where. She’s probably the most relatable villain since Prince Zuko (again, very Avatar-esque). And, as the prom episode revealed, there’s even an extra layer to her feelings about Adora that make her and Catra’s animosity even more suspenseful. Every single scene that Catra is in, I’m on pins and needles trying to figure out what’s going to happen next.
This is one of the shows I’m most excited to see more of. It’s predictable from episode to episode, but not beyond that. The amazing characters, mythos, and tone take the show, and hopefully they’ll be taking it into quite a few more seasons. Overall, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is not perfect, but it is great.