She-Ra is pretty darned good


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 another lazy buttfucking of history by leftists, claims sad creepy beard-man who deplores the fact that girls and boys will have nothing to look forward to if we don’t set up busty blond women as an aspirational goal for all.

Comments

  1. says

    SPOILER:

    I’ve watched some as well – it is much better than the cartoons of my childhood. Best line so far? Bow is talking to the princess of the people opposed to the army Adora & Catra are in when the series starts. They’re talking about another princess or 4, and Bow – masculinely gendered as far as we can tell – asks,

    Nz V gur bayl xvq ba guvf jbeyq jub’f ABG n cevaprff?

    rot13 site for the translation

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    speaking of on Netflix for mature grownups [to avoid using the implicative “adult” adjective]. Excuse me for going tangential.
    I recently watched the first episode of the new cartoon there Castlevania. The opening presents a strong “feminist vibe” with a woman braving obstacles, seeking a strong education in SCIENCE, to become a doctor, to care for the sick and needy of the village from which she journeyed to get a Real education. It turns out the Professor is an Evil Vampire who has a major laboratory of “True Science” [quoting the character]. HE agrees to teach her because he instantly fell in love when she coyly brushed aside his initial flirts. She gets him to agree to “walk like a man” (instead of the vampire modes) as a condition for marriage, while he teaches her actual medicine to become a healer and not a vampire. He agrees. [quick cut // years later] The religious heirarchy is burning her at the stake for witchcraft with all the pomp and circumstance and all the population watching the fire, rapt with glee and burning the witch. dot dot dot
    it then gets all spooky and magical and wrathful response form the Vampire, etc. Interesting introduction with all the feminism as a strong “sacrificial lamb” and the conflict between religion and science, which my bias focused upon.
    my recommendation to continue exploring this story. I guess I have to admit Netflix is becoming my network, over broadcast, and Cable.
    — now back to the OP. carry on, while I go check out She-Ra
    cool

  3. microraptor says

    I’ve been watching She-Ra over the weekend. I like it. It’s not as good as Voltron: Legendary Defender (the other 80s cartoon reboot that Netflix has done), but Voltron is a tough act to follow anyway.

    The character dynamics and plots are pretty solid so far.

    Oh, and one more thing about the complaints that She-Ra isn’t as sexy as the original? The original She-Ra was clearly an adult. In this one, both She-Ra and Adora are clearly young teens. Yeah.

  4. says

    Some really “charming” comments on the Bounding Into Comics post PZ linked to. Especially the ones by “v-anonymous.” I suspect they’re the kind of poster who would come to a place like this, eventually get banned, and be gleeful that they did because it supposedly proved them right.

  5. says

    Oh good. It turns out my bet with myself that the Jews would be blamed in the article professor Myers linked was correct.

    Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB need to do a better job of stopping these smucks from tanking user ratings. It is clear from the underlying data that large group of certain men on the internet go out of their way to hate on properties seemingly targeted at women.

  6. Chris Capoccia says

    the people complaining about b00b13s can go back to watching their fan service anime. every female lead does not have to be a buxom vixen. body proportioning on the show is fine. it’s clearly an artwork style they’ve chosen. there really are plenty of choices to watch. i watched the preview and that was enough for me, but i’m not going to trash the show. i’ll just watch something else.

  7. beergoggles says

    Binge watched the season and I really do like the added complexity and development done on all the characters. The added humor is also a nice touch from the overly serious and monotonous original.

  8. aleph says

    As a 26-year old who binged the entire thing over the course of an evening and the following morning (it’s short enough that you can still watch all of it in an afternoon!), I have to say that the maturity levels are fine for me. It handles some really complex characterisation and relationship concepts, and it does it startlingly well. Definitely worth watching.

  9. cartomancer says

    I don’t know what version of He-Man you lot were watching in the late 80s, but the one I watched as a pre-schooler was the most progressive barely-concealed allegory for gay acceptance and empowerment on television. You had the blond-haired pretty boy who had a “secret” he only shared with three close friends, that secret being that when he held aloft his powerful phallic symbol he turned into a muscle-bound gym bunny and proceeded to strut confidently around the world taking no shit from any of the nasty troglodytes who opposed him. Those friends were the campest diva you could imagine (the Sorceress), an older man with an outrageously homosexual moustache, who had a daughter but no wife (Man-at-arms), and a timid, clumsy creature of indeterminate gender who hid their face and panicked whenever things got out of hand (Orko. I liked them best of all). His main foe, with his withered, skull-like face was clearly an AIDS warning, and his other muscle-bound friends had such delightful names as Ram-Man and Fisto.

    I’m surprised anyone of my generation turned out straight with that to inspire them.

    Still, it looks like the new version hasn’t entirely abandoned its roots. Bow has two dads now, after all.

  10. mcfrank0 says

    Noooooooooooo! I have already decided that I can only afford so much media and crossed Netflix off the list. Please do not torture me with all the wonderful shows I am missing.

    However, thanks PZ for the review. I have already sent Nimona to my Fire tablet.

  11. says

    …like the memorable moss-covered guy who was heavily perfumed…

    Moss Man

    …the one with the head that rotated within its helmet…

    Tri-Clops?

    …the skeleton man…

    Skeletor

    …and of course, the nearly naked bulgy-muscle guy with the big sword.

    Umm…
    Okay, I’m going to need at least a skin color for that one.

  12. gijoel says

    The original Thundercats wasn’t too bad, but the 2011 reboot was a lot better. The lions were jerks who took all the best lands and resources. Mumra’s lizard men had legitimate grievances and were fighting for him in the hopes of having a better life.

    Also He-man had fabulous powers.

  13. cartomancer says

    Though, it does make me wonder – what exactly is it about straight people culture that prescribes one specific size for one specific bodily feature as a touchstone marker of sexual desire and aspiration? That seems very strange to me, but you see it all the time.

    I don’t talk to straight people about sexual preferences much, but I presume they have as much variety and diversity in their likes and dislikes as us normal folk. Yet you don’t really see it publicised in mainstream culture. There is a definite pressure towards a very specific standard. This is not what I see with LGBT culture – yes, there are certain archetypes and popular images out there, but if anything you see a dizzying diversity of classifications. “Tribes” as the dating apps are calling them now – muscular men, smooth-skinned youthful-looking men, large and hairy men, long-haired, bald, skinny, bearded, clean-shaven… all find their niche and there isn’t one primary standard you can point to as an accepted norm.

    Is it the need in straight culture for a convenient shorthand with which to express performative heterosexuality? A generally accepted norm of desirability that one can show belonging by either affecting to embody or affecting to desire? Is it that straight culture is more saturated with media money and thus more commercialised? Do these constructed images come out of marketing strategies? Or is it the greater sense of communality and belonging that the majority is privileged to enjoy? Does that somehow produce a greater sense of normativity that is reflected in standardised beauty images?

  14. consciousness razor says

    Though, it does make me wonder – what exactly is it about straight people culture that prescribes one specific size for one specific bodily feature as a touchstone marker of sexual desire and aspiration? That seems very strange to me, but you see it all the time.

    Assuming you’re talking about large breasts (and not outrageous mustaches, let’s say)….

    One odd thing to notice right away is that many straight guys like smaller breasts or don’t have any strong preferences either way. So, big boobs (in animations, video games, comics, or other visual arts) don’t actually reflect our desires all that well.

    Another odd thing is that many don’t seem too troubled by highly sexualized characters on a TV show for kids. That opens up a whole lot of issues, but let’s try to put some of it off to the side and just notice that it’s a matter of sexualization, in a pretty strange context. There aren’t really that many ways to accomplish this with a cartoon, but one fairly obvious and simple (and sort of lazy) way to do it is to draw characters with big, noticeable (perhaps even outlandish) features like that. I don’t need to like big boobs, since when they take up a big chunk of the screen and might even make me start questioning the physics of this cartoon world, they’re still likely to grab my attention and give not-too-subtle suggestions of something like sexuality or attractiveness.

    It “works” without you having to think about it much at all, and my bet is that neither did the artists when they made those choices. I mean, it may not even reflect their own sexual proclivities, much less what their audience likes. It’s sort of like a huge billboard or maybe like a metal band playing their shit super loud: the point is more or less to demand attention, that’s all. Make it big and loud, and that’s what happens. It’s all about spectacle, if you’ll allow me the Aristotle reference….. But it doesn’t mean the billboard-maker thinks any more highly of that than anything else that is smaller.

  15. methuseus says

    @Eric Weatherby:

    I can’t believe you grown men are watching a show for little girls.

    (sips tea from his Twilight Sparkle mug)

    But that’s none of my business.

    She-Ra sounds like something my son would love to watch. He loves MLP, too. He also watches the Spirit show, as well. I’m not sure what other female-led shows he watches off the top of my head, but he’s never shown a preference for male or female dominated shows. My daughter, however, prefers female-led shows. Which is her prerogative. She still enjoys some male-led stuff, too, though.

  16. Bourgeois_Rage says

    I’ll have to introduce my daughter to this, it’s sounds a heck of lot better than the Barbie show that she’s been watching on Netflix.

  17. methuseus says

    So, I watched a few episodes. It seems like a pretty normal, kid-oriented animated show. The only thing I can imagine anyone taking issue with is the fact that there’s really only one male character, but why is that an issue? They don’t complain about shows with no or only 1 female character. And Bow is a pretty dynamic character compared to those 1 female character things I have seen. The characters aren’t as overtly sexual as in the original (I watched an episode to compare), but the characterization wasn’t exactly horribly different in the original series. I haven’t even seen any overt LGBT tones to the show that people seem bothered by. Not that I’d be bothered, but I thought I’d at least notice it.
    I am getting Nimona from the library and might buy it. Limited budget and all, of course. I’ll definitely check out more stuff from Noelle Stevenson.

  18. methuseus says

    Ugh, forgot to mention, when she changes into She-Ra, she does look more strongly built and less classically “feminine” than as Adora (at least I think). Which is a welcome change. Glimmer being short and a little thick is a nice change, too. I like that there is no romanticism displayed unless there’s a bit of Catra pining for Adora or something like that. Well, Sea Hawk is hopeless, but he’s not a main character. And the characters are plenty attractive enough for what they are: teenagers. It’s funny nobody mentions the ethnic (black?) Bow. Or the fact that in the first episode of the original He-Man rides behind Bow on his horse. Surprising they don’t call that something bad.
    Damnit. I haven’t even been able to start watching Steven Universe.

  19. rpjohnston says

    I’d been hearing good things about it too, and a feminist blogger I follow on Tumblr also recommended it to me when I asked (neither of us ever watched the 80’s toons, either). Sounds like this is something I should check out.

    While I was barely over 2 when the 80’s ended and my perspective might be a bit skewed, I think cartoons today have entered a kind of Renaissance compared to 3 decades ago. Back then, yeah, it was primarily low budget recuts of anime (Golion –> Voltron) or spinoffs of Disney flicks, all made to sell toys to kids, which weren’t regarded as a very discerning audience. Easy marks, in other words.

    Now there are actual, thoughtful programs out that are taken seriously as an art form and an entertainment medium. You should check out Steven Universe, too, and when the tots are a bit older, Avatar: last Airbender and the sequel Legend of Korra.

    Heh, even the ones that skew more toward “mindless entertainment”, like Gumball, are pretty good. Especially if you’re an adult and want to laugh at what crap they can get past the censors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HVR1LssdIo

  20. Wounded King says

    Nimona is SO good, I just re-read it last week. Also, I am not a commenter … I’m a SHARK!

  21. microraptor says

    methuseus @25:

    I like that there is no romanticism displayed unless there’s a bit of Catra pining for Adora or something like that.

    Well, Netossa and Spinnerella appear to be a couple, but it’s easy to miss considering that they only appear as background characters until the season’s climax battle.

  22. vaiyt says

    Every woman in the original He-Man and She-Ra cartoons had the exact same body and face. The creators weren’t making a statement about femininity with She-Ra’s old design, they were just building on same mold they used for the Sorceress, Evil-Lyn and Queen Marlena.

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