I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of the new Netflix series, and I only did that because I was surprised at the vitriol it was getting from the usual suspects on YouTube. It’s feminisssst! The heroes breasts are too small! The Skwoos hate it. All that kind of nonsense from people who probably despised the original series. As I did.
I’m old, so it wasn’t part of my childhood, but it certainly was part of my children’s childhood. Both He-Man and She-Ra were badly animated cartoons designed specifically to sell toys, and they were wildly successful: we had all kinds of weird action figures cluttering up our house, like the memorable moss-covered guy who was heavily perfumed, the one with the head that rotated within its helmet, the skeleton man, and of course, the nearly naked bulgy-muscle guy with the big sword. I watched the shows with my kids, and they were perfectly predictable: there were the good guys who were good, and the bad guys who were bad, and the bad guys would be foiled at the end of the show, but not so irrevocably that they couldn’t restart from the same premise next week. I was unimpressed, but the kids were getting a lot of imaginative play out of it, so it was…fine. They grew out of it, too.
A reboot was not particularly interesting to me. But then I heard that the showrunner was Noelle Stevenson, and I love her work. Have you read Nimona? Fantastic stuff: she really tears up the stereotypes. It’s about a girl with magic powers who is sort of working as an underling to your standard sorceror with plans for world conquest, but all sides, the “good” guys and the “bad” guys, have depth and humor, and they actually have reasons for what they’re doing, and they’re not simply evil for evil’s sake. Stevenson is a writer who likes breaking lazy tropes and making you think about all her characters as people. And by people, I don’t mean they’re all the same — her characters are all diverse. Check out Lumberjanes to see what I mean.
So I watched it. Unlike the originals, the story lines are much more complex, but not so complex kids couldn’t follow them. Their resolution involves more than pulling out a magic sword and whomping the bad guys so that they slink back to their lair. And the characters are also more interesting — She-Ra starts out as Adora, who is a soldier in the bad guy army, whose best friend is a cat girl named Catra (the names tend to be comically on the nose; one of the good guys who is an archer is named “Bow”), who discovers that the other side isn’t a hive of villainy, as she was taught, and joins the forces of light (and finds a magic sword, of course). There’s this wonderful tension as she has grown apart from her bestest friend ever, and Catra is resentful and angry, and some of the best moments in the story are when Adora and Catra are in collision, yet still feeling affection for each other.
I was thinking the whole time that if He-Man’s virtue was in inspiring imaginative play, this show would have encouraged even richer play. I’ve got to call up the kids and say sorry, we’re rewinding everything by about 25-30 years, we’re going to reboot your childhoods. Although, actually, they did all turn out to be pretty good Essjooos anyway, so maybe it’s unnecessary. Also, we’ve got grandkids to inculcate tolerance and diversity and progressive values into already.
You don’t have to watch it. It is a kids’ show, aimed right at a very young audience, but it’s got a good, more complex dynamic that might appeal to older people, too. I only watched one episode to see what all the hullaballoo was about, but it was good enough that I watched a few more. And now I laugh at those strange, obsessed people moaning about the lost mammaries of She-Ra, and how a girl without big breasts is really a man and a lesbian, calling the cartoon you can see at the top of this page “ugly” and “gross”. It’s