He-Man is now considered a staple of geek culture, in fact it is often seen as an established pillar of the geek movement. It was an animated show, that in turn was birthed from small comic-like stories, which in turn were found inside the packaging of the Masters of The Universe action figures. The toys were Mattel trying to cash in on the success of other iconic action figure lines, such as those commissioned for franchises such as Star Wars. The only problem with this being that they chose to create an original cast of characters without a visual medium to back them up. Eventually this led to Mattel also commissioning an animated tv series to accompany, and further popularise He-Man and his cast of quirky friends. And of course, it was a triumphant success. So successful in fact, that He-Man began to eclipse Mattel’s other powerful property, a pretty Malibu girl called Barbie. So Mattel then decided to splinter the He-Man fandom and create a female orientated version, complete with new characters, villains and even a twin sister for He-Man’s Adam. From this came She-Ra: Princess of Power. Although the show was not as popular as it’s predecessor, it has since gained a cult following, with many recognising She-Ra as one of the first female superheroes to get her own show. And now, over three decades later, we have seen She-Ra return to the small screen – or at least Netflix anyway.
Developed by Noelle Stevenson, the new show boasts a new and unique animation style, as well as more finely crafted story-telling than its 80’s counterpart. Set on the planet of Etheria, the story centres around young warrior, Adora, who has been raised and trained by The Horde – a military movement who seek to conquer the planet’s inhabitants. Although Adora seemingly enjoys her life in the army, with her best friend Catra, she soon finds her life being turned upside down when she discovers that The Horde is evil. After meeting some plucky rebels and gaining the possession of a magical sword, Adora assumes the identity of She-Ra, a powerful warrior princess with god-like abilities. She abandons her life with The Horde and decides to join the rebellion, in the hope that she can defeat Horde-leader Hordak forever.
In the new show, Noelle Stevenson brings a lot more depth and emotion to the iconic characters. Instead of seeing the iconic Horde characters as simply evil doers with obviously evil character designs, Stevenson instead decides to inject some greyness to the story. Many members of the Horde are simply doing what they have been taught is for the best, while characters such as Catra are aged down and given personal relationships and obstacles that they must overcome. In fact, one of the strongest elements of the first season is Adora and Catra’s friendship, one which arguably bubbles over into the category of romantic tension. It has always been a part of Adora’s back story that she was raised by the Horde, something which was originally done to explain her absence from Prince Adam’s life. But in the classic show, they never discussed or even attempted to portray how that could have affected Adora from a personal viewpoint. In one day she loses the life she has always known, she loses her best friend and even loses the care of her surrogate mother figure, the witch Shadow Weaver. This show goes into those personal elements and brings forward new and interesting conflicts for our heroine to overcome. She does not want to stand against Catra, but learns over the course of the season that it must be done for the greater good. This comes to full foliation in the eleventh episode of the season, “Promise”, which remains one of the best of the show’s first season, as well as a personal favourite.
In terms of the rebels, we again see all the iconic characters return in new and interesting ways. Glimmer is no longer a catwalk model with pink hair, but is instead a frumpy teenager with magical powers. In fact all the princesses come together to exhibit many different body types and shapes – showing that no two people will ever look the same. The princesses are also given a more modern make-over, with some having a complete personality change, and others gaining a personality they never had to begin with. For me, Princess Mermista stands out as a particular favourite, with her dry and sarcastic tone playing into the kind of humour now popular in animated television. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actress, Vella Lovell gives a strong performance in the role, even if it is very similar to her character from the other popular Netflix show.
Adora herself remains one of Stevenson’s triumphs in the show, allowing her more depth and emotion than her original, muscle Barbie counterpart. Who, let’s face it, hardly ever changed her expression, even when placed in the perils of danger. However, this modern iteration of the character is both charismatic and yet also entirely relatable in her anxiety and troubles. Making her the ideal protagonist for a young viewer in this strange and turbulent age.
The animation style of the show also strikes a stark contrast between this show and the one that came before – with the style recalling both Studio Ghibli and popular 2D shows such as Adventure Time and Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Overall the new She-Ra television show presents the same lush and vibrant world from before, but now complete with fleshed out characters and emotional storylines. Roll on Season 2!