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I like powerful women in the real and fictional worlds. I was raised on Buffy and Xena before her. As I grew older and wiser and more religious I felt pangs of the heart when I realized that I wouldn’t feel so great sharing female superheroes with my daughters because so often they are framed in the most brazen physically attractive way possible. We live in complicated times when it comes to discussing human sexuality and women’s bodies. My wife is part of a breastfeeding support group and has been nursing one kid or another for the last 8 years. She is a modest woman who has no interest in exposing her skin in public, but she still feels the discomfort roiling off of people when she nurses in public. Meanwhile society at large is obsessed with women who are sex symbols and any trip to a mall or much time spent watching regular TV will put a fit woman’s breasts and sculpted physique in your plain view. Aside from that, access to pornography via the internet is easy and carries little cultural baggage.
Why am I bringing this up? In part because the early reception of Dreamworks’ She-Ra by some guys on the internet seemed to be one of shock and horror that they were not going to be able to find this cartoon character sexually arousing enough for them. I wanted to address that. Fellas, ladies too, I guess, if this incarnation of She-Ra is insufficiently tantalizing there are probably other places you could have those needs met. Please hush and move along. If you’re not invested in the show on its own merits, then I am going to ignore you anyway.
DreamWorks’ She-Ra is definitely not made for 31 year-old men, but I watched it anyway. I like cartoons. I like kid’s shows. I like the fusion of adventure and morality that a lot of them excel at. My bias is towards older American kid’s adventure shows and anime, but that’s a topic for another time. I only have vague memories of He-Man and She-Ra from back in the day. I honestly remember the Masters of the Universe movie better than either show, and I barely remember it. Anyway, I wanted to give this new She-Ra a fair shake, so I suggested we watch it as a family. It was a success with my daughters, though as far as I know they have yet to rewatch it, which is the true sign that it is a hit for them. And I really enjoyed it.
I was hoping I would like it. I really enjoy the DreamWorks Voltron and I felt like the odds were decent they would get similar result with She-Ra. Thankfully they did. I am going to focus on the first two episodes here, but we have watched up to 5 or 6 as a family and I have to say that some of what I really enjoyed in the premiere fades away as the show presses on, but that is for another day.
She-Ra 1-2 are a pair of episodes that stitch together neatly to form a cohesive story. They felt so strong, I think they could stand alone as a first entry for the series. The strongest parts of the She-Ra debut are: the world, the lore and the atmosphere. Aren’t world and atmosphere the same thing? I intend to distinguish them, so let’s go.
We ride alongside Adora for the majority of the debut. While we spend a fair amount of time with Glimmer and Bow, we are stuck with them like a captive Horde soldier. Adora leaves the Fright Zone and finds that the dangerous Whispering Woods appear much less ominous than she had been led to believe. Outside of the manufactured, orderly world of the Horde-controlled part of Etheria, Adora finds a part of herself she never knew existed. Honestly, it looks like the show is using the trope that she is some lost child of destiny, but it still feels really cool. It certainly is a breezy way to pull her out of the Horde and bring here into the wild and varied world of Etheria, as it should be. Clearly, Etheria under siege by the Horde and fighting a rebellion isn’t it in its natural state, but it’s closer than what the Horde had imposed on the planet.
The vague allusions to the Power of Bright Moon and the First Ones tech was handled just right. How often do Princesses need to recharge? Where does that energy originate? Can it be neutralized? I also have a bunch of questions like this about the First Ones. The sites or ancient power and the mystique around the First Ones technology is intriguing. It helps that the First Ones design elements are so strong and really cause them to stick out as unique from the Horde and Bright Moon.
Finally, the contrast in the atmosphere, or perhaps I should say culture, is striking. I mean more than the fact that Adora sees the Horde as well intentioned, bringing order to a mad world, while the Bright Moon rebellion seeks to push out the occupying Horde. I am talking about how the cultures they are raised in keep clouding Glimmer and Adora’s perceptions of each other. They each see their people as good and right. The morals they have been instilled with bring them both to doing the right thing, even at risk to themselves and going against the prejudices they have learned.
Those were my favorite things about the show from a technical or structural level, but what really hooked me was seeing Adora’s arc from being a Horde Soldier to turning against them at risk to herself. The sword may be linked to her by destiny, but she has a truly heroic heart. She bought the rhetoric of the Horde and internalized it to the point where it forced her to turn against her home and join her former enemies, to become one of the dreaded princesses because her morality led her to that decision. It is a radical act of courage for her to stick to her convictions and stand against Catra when it would have been so much easier to go back to her old life. Adora is a wonderful hero for my daughters and I am happy to watch her adventures with them.