She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018, Netflix)

Alright, y’all, I’m about to evangelize the fuck out of a thing with all my heart and soul. Bear with me. It’s a journey, but a worthwhile one. This show has utterly enraptured me this summer and I love it with my entire being and am desperate to draw more people into its warm and inviting embrace of fantastical adventure. The last two weeks have basically been a blur of consuming all 52 episodes of this series to the exclusion of almost everything else in my life, and it is amazing and you should watch it. Now.

Lengthy Summary of the Masters of the Universe franchise through present

What Came Before

So, some background is probably in order. In the early 80s, action figures were king, and Mattel had a hell of a line up its plastic sleeves. Masters of the Universe was a 5.5" toy line that launched in 1982, featuring Prince Adam, secretly the most powerful man in the universe, He-Man, his castle-full of burly companions, and their nefarious foes lead by the vile Skeletor, who sought to rule the mystical planet of Eternia and was only stymied by He-Man and his big ol’ fuck-you sword. Some pack-in comics gave enough of a frame story to kickstart pre-teen imaginations, and the toys did very well on their own. But when a companion series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, by production company Filmation launched the following fall, He-Man exploded in popularity as the glitzy 80s cheeseball animation brought the toys’ adventures to life. Years later, the memes would basically write themselves.

In fact, it was so successful that it spawned a spin-off cartoon based on He-Man’s equally powerful twin sister, Adora, carting around her own magic sword and a cadre of allies and villains who sometimes were real clear copies of He-Man characters, fighting against the villainous Horde on her own planet, Etheria. Like He-Man before it, She Ra, Princess of Power was some gloriously funky 80s cheese, right down to the abysmal character names, including Catra (and evil cat-lady who could also turn into a cat), Castaspella (a sorceress), Hordak (leader of the Horde), Entrapta (a genius inventor who specialized in, well. . . traps), and Bow (She-Ra’s buddy who used a. . . oh fuck, do I even need to say it?). Specifically geared to bring in a pre-teen girl audience to the toy line, She-Ra faltered in that goal, failing to captivate like other female-targeted properties like My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite.

As the 80s came to a close and children’s toys moved on to new fads, the MOTU properties were relegated to the occasional run of comics, the hoards of dedicated collectors, and the occasional furtive attempt to spin up new media properties, including 1990’s The New Adventures of He-Man and another reboot in 2002, Masters of the Universe vs. the Snakemen. Catching lightning in a bottle again seemed eternally just out of their grasp. She-Ra would show up, usually as a bit player, from time to time, but by and large, the ongoing series, toy lines, videogames, and comics focused on Prince Adam.

The Return of She-Ra

Come 2017, when Netflix and Dreamworks announced a forthcoming reboot of, of all things, She-Ra, in the form of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Headed by Noelle Stevenson, coming off the back-to-back Eisner-winning successes of her comics Nimona and Lumberjanes, the series was her brainchild and sought to strike a balance between modernizing the property and reveling in its cheesy roots. With a new, anime-inspired artstyle, an expressly queer and diverse cast, and an intricate storyline carefully plotted in advance, it would de-age most of the cast to be in their mid-teens and adapt a serialized storytelling method, following their adventures across about three in-universe years split across its four planned seasons. Netflix and Dreamworks saw some pushback as designs and eventually trailers came out ahead of the series, with detractors wondering why they’d “de-sexed” She-ra and so clearly “given in to” LGBT-friendly sensibilities. Asked by a network exec about the meaning of a shining rainbow in a climactic scene in Season 1, Stevenson only semi-jokingly identified it as “the gay agenda.” The usual cavalcade of minor boycotts and Youtuber prognostications of doom came and went.

And then, the series launched. 13 episodes of mind-bending, eye-drenching explosions of color, set to an epic blend of soaring orchestration and sparkling 80s synths, featuring a bright and cheerful nearly fully female voice cast (and an entirely-female writers room), it would at first seem to be the boldest possible expression of Girl Power imaginable. The humor and writing are twee and energetic, reminiscent of Steven Universe and Avatar: The Last Airbender at first glance.

Like both of those critically acclaimed series, however, there’s a lot more to SPOP than first meets the eye. Stevenson’s perhaps-subversive take on the classic story of a powerful sword-wielding woman and her alliance of magical princesses fending off the forces of doom goes way deeper than the terrible cat puns and terrifying 80s hair-dos of its predecessor series.

Characters grow and develop and shift allegiances and goals organically as the simmering cold war between the mechanized Horde (with its army of “recruited” child soldiers including, initially, Adora herself) and the shattered Princess Alliance heats back up. Lifelong friendships are torn apart and enemies become fast friends. Magical powers are discovered and mastered, and ancient mysteries are dug up and explored. Throwaway lines of dialogue slowly develop into seasons-long mysteries steeped in wildly inventive sci-fantasy lore. And through it all, the themes of love overcoming hate, trust and honesty, abuse and recovery, redemption and growth, and the sins of the past haunting those in the present develop and flower beautifully.

With a swift release schedule and an active, young, digitally hooked-in production team, the series grew in popularity and earned a massive following, spawning countless fansites, cosplayers, and thoughtful literary analyses of its themes and messages. The show was indeed queer through and through, proudly displaying loving gay relationships right alongside straight, and even featuring a nonbinary character in a complex and starring role in one season. It became a bastion for representation as its diverse cast of characters spun out their fantasy drama, 13 episodes at a time.

And Now We’re Here

And then came Season 5, released just last month. After Season 2 got split in half, Stevenson’s original 4-season, 52-episode plan finally reached its long-promised conclusion. Unlike original series creator J. Michael Straczynski’s aborted Babylon 5 storyline of space operatic heroism, SPOP was going to see its creator’s vision through to the end. Riding on the shoulders of landmark children’s television before it like the aforementioned Steven Universe and the ATLA sequel series The Legend of Korra, S5 soared to all new heights and capped off years’ worth of plot and character development with a nonstop rapidfire blast of utterly fulfilling storytelling and joy-sparking revelations.

Like, fuck, y’all. I cannot even begin to describe to you how good the payoff of Season 5 is. Don’t get me wrong – the preceding four are some of the most excellent sci-fantasy adventure fiction out there! Sure, S1 takes a couple of episodes to ramp up to full speed, but soon enough your embroiled in a magical world of intrigue, lost civilizations, dark sorcery, fantastical beasts, and gloriously evil villains. But S5 is one of the finest and steadiest landings I’ve ever seen a series as acrobatically gifted as this pull off, to strain the metaphor to death. Leaning hard into the sci-fi underpinnings of the setting, it goes fully cosmic and utterly, gloriously bonkers with a star-spanning tale of love, loss, revenge, and redemption the likes of which I’ve never really seen in so-called children’s TV.

Hell, get your kids to watch it with you. SPOP is stuffed to the gills with genuinely heartwarming lessons on being a good person delivered in perfectly digestible chunks. It’s got zany gags and sparkly gee-whiz moments to hold even pretty young ones’ attention, but the themes it manages to work in are way better than thw moralizing drivel of, say, a GI Joe end stinger. The show is rich with representation and great role models, showing how anyone can grow, learn, and make a difference, no matter how overwhelming the odds.

Also, the show features Seahawk, the greatest supporting character of all time.

I rest my fucking case. Watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and then come talk to me about it, because I have so many goddamn thoughts.

I watched the first episode and thought the artwork was nice. Also, not sure but I think she has a GF in this series? (There was a lot of speculation about She-Ra and Catra’s relationship early on.)

Wow, yeah, I’m in the middle of season 4, and I agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for starting the thread @ArmandoPenblade, this is a show that definitely deserves it.

My daughter loves this show 10,000 X more than Armando.

I’ll say that their relationship, and how it was twisted by their upbringing under Shadow Weaver (which is a surprisingly thoughtful and savvy examination of patterns of abuse and rejection), is absolutely the cornerstone of the entire series, and that there’s plenty of grist for the fandom mill all throughout :)

I know it’s a little out of the usual Qt3 wheelhouse what with the rainbow-maned alicorn (that’s a winged unicorn, for those of you playing alongat home) and all. And I’m not gonna call it High Art or anything. But there’s genuinely so much good TV here, and excellent scifi/fantasy adventure (I’m tempted to call it something like “stars n swords,” but I’m sure there’s already a pithy genre title) besides, I really hope that folks give it a real shot. Also, I’m pretty sure the alicorn is a revolutionary communist.

I mean, maybe I’m just a sucker for Deep Lore Mystery Box shit, but when the obviously insane witch of the woods Madame Razz drops a line like “But what happened to the stars?” in the middle of one of her seemingly crazy rants, and your subconscious suddenly manages to break through and tell you that, oh fuck, there hasn’t been a single star in the sky in any night-time scene in the show so far, and what the hell is up with that, anyway?!, I’m 100% onboard with wherever a show is taking me.

I’d say that I’d absolutely fight her about this, but A) I feel like offering to fight people’s probably young daughters isn’t a great look, and B) if I’m being honest, she could probably whip my ass, anyway!

So I’ll settle for #2 She-Ra Fan on Earth, sure!

I only watched the one episode but Catra was may favorite character. They were all aight though.

Catra is so fucking good

The two main issues I had with the show had to do with geography and architecture:

  1. Geography: I wasn’t quite able to wrap my head around it, but it seemed the two main warring factions on the planet were super super close to each other (i.e. within walking distance). How does this work exactly?
  2. Architecture: The Rebellion have all this pristine majestic fantasy architecture everywhere, but very few people occupying it. Who builds all this stuff? Who does the manual labor?

I think it would have been interesting if in addition to everything else there was among the Rebellion also a slave race or underclass who did all the hard labor the upper classes were unwilling to do themselves. I.e. an added dynamic possibly not existing among the Horde!

If you don’t mind some light-to-moderate spoilers (and hey, maybe I encourage you to go back to it at some point):

Geography and Architecture

The Kingdom Adora first encounters after finding the Sword is indeed very close to the current front of the war, insofar as the Horde has already successfully taken over a ton of territory, and the Whispering Woods, and the Kingdom of Bright Moon just beyond them, are next on the Horde’s conquest itinerary. Adora’s little trip in Episode 1 would more or less amount to scouting the enemy lines, realistically.

Other parts of the world are revealed slowly, and it’s pretty sizable, and you learn that the war is going on on multiple fronts at once. Some of the Kingdoms are very remote or protected by natural landforms, so they consider themselves safe from the war. Of course, if the enemy gains control of the seas at some point. . . Anyway, you’ll actually keep seeing new major settings on Etheria right through the final season!

There’s a heavy implication that most of the really nice stuff in the world are the leavings of the mysterious First Ones (think Precursors from Star Control), which the current civilizations on Etheria have more or less squatted in since the First Ones vanished. Truth be told, it doesn’t seem like the ruling powers know how to build stuff of that scale anymore, so when stuff gets destroyed, they’re at a loss on how to replace it. On the other hand, the First Ones built shit to last. They’ve been gone for at least a thousand years and most of their tech still works, if you kick it just right.

There are a lot of outlying villages and population centers you’ll see eventually, but it’s clear that those folks are living a way simpler, more stereotypical fantasy medieval existence. Wood huts, little mushroom villages, the occasional walled city here and there. And, it turns out, those salt-of-the-earth types can be just as freaked out by the crazy magical shenanigans of the Princesses as they are by the technological horrors of the Horde, even if they’re ostensibly under the protection of the Princess Kingdoms.

For a relatively short series, they pack a ton of Lore Density into the proceedings!

That is interesting, thanks!

It’s a great show. They did a better job with the ending then they did with Voltron.

In what I consider a strange convergence, this show has been heavily recommended to me by leftist Twitter, my eight year old niece, and now Armando. I’m in!

The effusive explosion of praise for the ending is really one of the main things that got me to suck it up and start watching in earnest (along with a good friend getting tired of me talking about wanting to see it and never doing so, who then replaced one of our regular online rpg nights with a Netflix party of the first four episodes…).

I love an ambitious show from a savvy creator who has an ending in mind and works towards it. But when they actually manage up defeat executive meddling and ratings pitfalls and fandom whining and the ever present threat of letting success get the better of them, and pull the thing off? Now that’s must see TV.

I’ll give the creative team credit from salvaging some shiny gems from the dross of bottom tier 1980s toy selling cartoons. The characters in this are literally 1000x better than … whatever was going on in the original 1980s versions.

In a way it’s sort of like fan fiction written by someone who loves fan fiction. And someone who cares enough to make the world and characters far more interesting than the shallow nonsense that came before.

There are some weak points to the show. Just like the Dragon Prince, the show is made for kids, so the stakes never get that high. The villains make classic mistakes of keeping everyone alive, but I guess it would be a bit of a downer if Hodack just killed off all the protagonists, as soon as he could.

I was surprised by the number of LGBT couples in the show though. They really don’t just pay lip service to it (as the ending of Voltron seemed to). Bow’s parents were an early surprise, but then season 6 really brings it home. Its nice to see a kids show that has them but treats them like all other couples. Hopefully its the start of a better world for my kids.

Yeah, I really love watching them twist stupid pun-names and simplistic factions into something way more intriguing and coherent, while never fully divesting themselves of the ridiculousness and frequently lampshade hanging it. I recall a particular dream/imagination sequence with some very bad costumes, hah.

FWIW, this was sort of a strength for me. The showrunners aren’t afraid to break your heart now and again with some of the tragic elements, so knowing things are going to work out, and [almost] no one is gonna die was pretty comforting, moment-to-moment. I get stressed out by TV pretty easily, hah.

I 100% understand and sympathies. Its just, well, doesn’t anyone read the evil overlord list? It seems like Katra read at least part of it.

It was worse during the first episode of the Dragon Prince.

Not sure I can forgive them for jettisoning Loo-Kee, which was the only reason I watched the original series… religiously. Loo-Kee was painted into the background of one scene in each episode and at the end he would ask “Did you find me?” and show you where he was. Trying to find Loo-Kee was probably the only worthwhile thing in that show, except that Hordak was way cooler looking than Skeletor.

But seriously–maybe I just don’t understand the tone of the new show and why it wouldn’t fit, but as gimmicks go, that would have been a pretty cool gimmick to bring back.

Note: He could be designed to look like less of an oompa loompa.

Oh, the showrunner was the creator of Lumberjanes? I might have to give this another look.

I watched the first couple episodes a while back and found them to be…middling. Lots of not-very-interesting angst, and a bit too much lamp-shaded absurdity in the world building. And Adora’s real-girl journey comes across as a bit of a low-rent Twilight Sparkle wannabe.

I kind of decided to watch Land of The Lustrous sometime this summer though, and I don’t think I have enough time for two magical girls right now. I may end up watching it in a couple years with my daughter when she’s old enough, anyways.

Ha! She draws characters from the show A LOT in her spare time. She dressed as Catra for Halloween. And recently she was an emotional mess, all ups and downs and no appetite and we couldn’t figure out why. Then we realized these symptoms were lining up with the final season of She Ra and suddenly it all made sense. She feels it!