Thoughts on “She-Ra: Princess of Power”

So, as a follow-up to watching the three He-Man series, I sat down to watch “She-Ra: Princess of Power”, to remind myself that the push for more inclusivity and strong female characters has happened before and will happen again. Now, when I first watched the He-Man series a couple of years ago, I started watching She-Ra, because I bought them at roughly the same time. I remembered being disappointed by it which is why I ended up not watching the entire series (I was also almost certainly distracted by something else, too). However, unlike “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Reboot”, when I watched She-Ra this time I remembered why it had disappointed me.

She-Ra is just a really, really bad show.

Now, I had thought that at least the later seasons of He-man and the early seasons of She-Ra were running at the same time. It turns out that this wasn’t true, and that He-Man was replaced by She-Ra. This, I think, allows us to see one of the first problems that She-Ra had: it ended up being a continuation of He-man. Unfortunately, in the later episodes of He-Man it became clear that they were running out of ideas, and so those episodes were a lot lower quality than the earlier ones were. So branching out to something different was probably a good idea. Unfortunately, they didn’t really do anything all that different. Sure, the setting was different — although it was the same sort of magic/technology mix that Eternia was — and they were a resistance group instead of the people in power, but while that was constantly in the background of the show they never really took advantage of it. For the most part, the general model was the same: the Forces of Evil would come up with a scheme and the Forces of Good would rush to prevent it. Or something that would give the Forces of Evil a huge advantage would show up and there’d be a race to prevent them from getting it. And so on. So for the most part we were getting the same sorts of stories that we had in He-Man, which were getting stale in He-Man and really weren’t going to be tasty for another 93 episodes.

This was only made worse by the fact that She-Ra overused the He-Man characters at the beginning of the series. He-Man and various other Eternian figures showed up in many of the first 20 episodes or so. While I can see that they might think it a good idea to use their popularity to draw viewers to this show, it didn’t work because it didn’t leave any time to develop the actual characters in this universe beyond possibly She-Ra and Adora at times. Thus, we didn’t learn anything about the actual characters on Etheria and when the Eternian characters faded away there weren’t really any Etherian characters to replace them.

Adding to this — and perhaps because of this — far more focus was put on She-Ra than was put on He-Man in the original He-Man cartoon. This was bad because She-Ra was a pretty boring character. For one thing, she was overpowered. While He-Man had his great strength and a sword that was indestructible, She-Ra had the strength and the sword and her sword could turn into pretty much anything — it turned into a rope, a grappling hook, a helmet for breathing in space, a different helmet for breathing underwater, a shield, a discus, and a few other things as well — and she could talk to animals and she could heal things. With this combination, there was no real reason for her to face any great threats, and for the most part she rarely did face great threats in the entire series. She-Ra also came across, at least to me, as more arrogant than He-Man did, far more dismissive of her opponents than he generally was, which made her a bit insufferable. On top of that, her alter egos weren’t all that interesting, nor could they be used to generate interesting stories. Adam pretended to be a wastrel to avoid giving up his secret, and Cringer was an utter coward. This not only provided separation between the characters, it also potentially led to some interesting stories when Adam or especially Cringer were the ones who had to play hero instead of their alter egos. But Adora was a former Force Captain under Hordak, and became the leader of the Rebellion. She was, thus, very competent, and portrayed as such. When separated from her sword, there was never any reason to wonder if she could deal with the issues, nor any thought on the part of her companions that she might not be able to handle it. And Spirit and Swiftwind had almost identical personalities, so there was no real difference between them at all, cutting off that angle and making them boring. About the only real difference was Adora’s voice, which for the most part was more ditzy than She-Ra’s which was utterly inappropriate for her personality.

So focusing almost entirely on She-Ra — and her sidekick Bow — didn’t work because She-Ra was too boring as a hero. Fortunately, they had a host of other characters that they could have added in to make things more interesting. Unfortunately, as I’ve already mentioned, they didn’t do that.

In both He-Man and She-Ra, three characters are mentioned that know the secret of the heroes. In He-Man, the three are the Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and Orko. At least one of them appears in pretty much every episode, and each of them at least appear in the majority of the episodes. The Sorceress discovered many of the plots and called He-Man to deal with it, Man-At-Arms invented new technologies and also dispatched He-Man, and Orko hung around as comic relief who could also be heroic on occasion. And in most of the episodes, that they knew the secret was directly referenced, usually with them at least telling Adam to go change into He-Man or summoning Adam because they need He-Man. In contrast, for She-Ra the three are Light Hope, Madame Razz, and Cowl. Light Hope does not appear until about 20 episodes in and makes an appearance before being introduced to the audience. Light Hope also appears something like two or three more times in the remaining 70+ episodes. You would think that Madame Razz would get more play as either the comic relief magician like Orko or as a dispenser of lore like the Sorceress, but she appears rather sporadically through the series and usually doesn’t do all that much. Cowl gets more play as the sidekick of Bow, but outside of the original mini-series it takes, again, about 20 episodes before they actually make his knowing the secret relevant in an episode, so much so that I was wondering if there was going to be a later origin showing how he came to know the secret. So these three characters that are of critical importance to He-Man are made utterly unimportant in She-Ra.

This carries on to the other members of the Rebellion. Frosta appears once to ice over a hill to allow the Trigits to sled and appears in the background of one raid, but for the most part gets nothing to do for about 60 episodes, at which point we find out that she’s actually the ruler of an icy kingdom. Castaspella shows up in the background once and gets more focus in one episode where her finding Adam attractive causes her bring him to Etheria, but again gets little play in most of the series. Angella has some importance, but is no where near as prominent as the Sorceress was despite playing a similar role (ruler of a magical castle that needs defending that she defends with magical powers). Aside from Bow, almost everyone else gets too little play to be worth mentioning.

The worst, though, is Glimmer. In the mini-series, she’s the leader of the Rebellion, possessing magical powers. She appears in a fair number of episodes, but never does anything in them. When she gets some focus she: a) blasts a metal zeppelin with a stun ray (it was established that the device absorbed any energy it was hit with which it could use to attack using the same energy, so it absorbs her magical bolt and returns it to her, which stuns her), b) changes her hair colour to try to attract a Prince who uses her to make Bright Moon, her mother’s magical castle vulnerable to attack and c) accidentally manages to take out some troopers by being a klutz which then causes her to think that she’s a real action hero which causes problems for the Rebellion (while she was the leader of the Rebellion and so often in combat and has magical powers). She gets a better episode later when her father returns but is captured and her mother Angella has to give herself up to free him, and Glimmer decides to go rescue both of them — because of course the villainess wasn’t going to keep her word, and they knew that when Angella left — but even here her mother says that it’s time for Glimmer to stand on her own when, in the mini-series, both of them had been captured and so Glimmer had already had to do that, and during that time all she managed to do was lead the entire Rebellion. So even in an episode where she gets respect, she gets no respect.

Now, you can protest that the Masters of the Universe didn’t get much more attention in He-Man. Well, first, He-Man didn’t make a point of showing them in the intro to the show. Second, they got far more play than the other members of the Rebellion did. We knew that Stratos was the leader of the birdmen long before 60 episodes. In fact, the Attack-Trac got more attention than the members of the Rebellion did, not to mention more well-known characters like Ram-Man and Mecha-Neck. And, finally, with the Big Three not getting any play She-Ra had a desperate need for characters other than She-Ra to be prominent, and it didn’t have that.

In fact, there’s a sequence of episodes that shows how things could have worked better. Starting from “Bow’s Magical Gift”, there are three episodes that focus more on the side characters. “Bow’s Magical Gift” derails Bow a bit by making him obsessed with a magical item he swiped from Shadow Weaver, but he has always been one to try to take any advantage to defeat the Horde and they lampshade it when he leaves his bow behind while taking on the Horde. And Glimmer runs off after him out of concern, which gives her something to do as well. In the next episode, “Sweet Bee’s Home”, they derail Frosta a bit to make her overly and annoyingly aggressively pursue He-Man, and derail He-Man a bit in that he is turned off by her but infatuated with Sweet Bee (which never comes up seven episodes later when Sweet Bee and her people return, but She-Ra also completely forgets that they weren’t supposed to land on Etheria because the Horde would capture them, so it’s like they forgot that most of that episode happened) which is only there to give Frosta a reason to act jealous (and it ends with She-Ra calling He-Man a coward for not wanting to deal with Frosta’s attentions) but at least we got some other personalities in the mix which allowed for new interactions. And in the next episode, “Glimmer Come Home”, Glimmer gets another episode! Except that she’s struck with a sudden jealousy of Adora and a strange desire for action that makes her rush off to get Horde troopers to join her at the instigation of a disguised Shadow Weaver. The idea of Glimmer feeling like she was displaced by Adora had some promise for an episode, but it needed to come much earlier than episode 86 out of 93 … and didn’t need to derail her character so badly.

So given how their attempts to involve the others at this late date ended up derailing them, it might be for the best that they stopped doing that for the rest of the few remaining episodes.

She-Ra is also supposed to be the defender of the Crystal Castle. She might defend it twice in the entire series, and one of those was just her finding it. She defends Bright Moon far more often, although that’s pretty rare as well. And she’s actually only in it maybe two more times than she defends it. Contrast that with He-Man, where the bulk of the episodes were him defending Castle Greyskull or at least arriving at it to do something, even if that was only to talk to the Sorceress.

It would have been far better for them to drop Light Hope and the Crystal Castle entirely and replace them with Angella and Bright Hope. Bright Hope was already a magical castle with esoteric defenses that Hordak desperately wanted to capture. It was pretty much the same thing as Castle Greyskull. Angella herself had strong magical powers and access to knowledge that no one else had. Doing that would have let them develop a sister relationship between Glimmer and Adora, and could lead to some strife because Angella knowing Adora’s secret would have her calling on Adora when she needed She-Ra, which would leave Glimmer feeling that her mother relied and trusted Adora more, which would hurt and cause some friction, while still maintaining the character and the relationships.

Bow fits into the role Teela had in He-Man, which means that he fails a bit and has to get rescued, but he’s also the only proactive and half-way competent member of the Rebellion. So call it a wash. And the interaction between him and Cowl is generally interesting.

So, what about the villains? Well, the villains are, well, pretty bad. Catra is supposed to be She-Ra’s arch-enemy, but she’s absolutely no match for her. The most she can do is turn into a cat that is smaller than Panthor was, which we’d seen was a minor threat to He-Man. They could have made the cat form more of a threat, but then that would mean that She-Ra would have an actual threat to face, and they couldn’t have that, so Catra in her cat form is always dealt with rather handily. Which makes the fact that everyone seems to take it as a serious threat rather ridiculous. Outside of that, she has limited combat skills and doesn’t come up with many, if any, interesting or tricky plans. Shadow Weaver and Hordak are more competent, but again in general are speedily dispatched. And the worst part about the villains is that their voices have added tics that string out their sentence, from Hordak’s snarls, Catra’s cat noises, Mantenna’s stuttering to Leech’s slurping. This means that while they’re talking you can feel that it’s dragging not because the information is boring but because you want them to just spit it out already. This makes the villains uninteresting to watch, and lack the humour that Skeletor and his minions had.

Even the end episode lessons are dull. An annoying squirrel character hides somewhere in the episode, and reveals himself at the end of it, often mocking the audience for not finding him despite it often being amazingly obvious where he is. He then lectures at the audience for a bit, talking quickly and spouting trite lessons without linking them as directly to the episode or setting it up in that scene. In He-Man, there were usually a couple of characters interacting which made it more like a conversation than a lecture and allowed them to set up a different lesson if the episode itself didn’t provide one. His come across like a boring lecture unless you really like the character. Which I didn’t.

At the end of the day, She-Ra is just not very good. It didn’t deviate enough from He-Man to do anything new, and didn’t realize that He-Man itself was getting stale, let alone this series that was just like it. We didn’t even get new characters and personalities to watch, instead having too many He-Man characters arrive and focusing on the least interesting character, She-Ra. This ran for 93 episodes and outside of a couple of decent to good episodes was a slog to get through. I have watched the original He-Man series twice without wanting to quit, like I did with She-Ra, and I will almost certainly never watch the series again. It had the elements to be a successful show, but didn’t use any of them and ended up being boring and stale.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on “She-Ra: Princess of Power””

  1. Thoughts on “The Conjuring” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] be happy, because that’s what you’re going to be getting. First, I started with my thoughts on “She-Ra: Princess of Power”. This week, because Hallowe’en falls this week — and I actually have three horror […]

  2. Thoughts on “2 Broke Girls” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] But while I was happy to get to the end of it so that I could watch something else, I didn’t have to struggle through it like I did with “She-Ra”. It’s a show that I could watch again, but now have so many other things to watch that I […]

  3. Thoughts on “Wonder Woman” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] also faces an issue that the “She-Ra: Princess of Power” cartoon faced. When Diana was just a secretary, the only really issues with her secret identity were the […]

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