The first season of She-Ra is available to binge on Netflix—the second season goes live tomorrow—and you really wanna set aside some time for this one. Even if you’ve held out this long, the two-part opener should be enough to hook you…
She-Ra begins with with “The Sword: Part 1 and 2,” and for fans of the original cartoon, a lot of the basic beats are still there. Adora is an orphan (as far as we know) raised to be a member of the Horde. She’s promoted to Force Captain only to find the Sword of Protection in enemy territory and learn that she can transform into She-Ra, Princess of Power. She ends up joining the opposing side of the war she was once fighting, creating a rift with her old comrade Catra (promoted here to a true friend in Adora’s life as opposed to the aggressive antagonist of the original cartoon). The divide between Adora and Catra is clearly set as one of the main arcs of the series, and it’s incredibly compelling—more so when you consider how rare it is to have the larger emotional arc of a genre television show centered on a relationship between two women who aren’t related.
And it’s a best friend to best enemy relationship, which is just… I feel like I, personally, was handed a very specific gift? Just for me? If you’re a fan of Thor-Loki or Doctor-Master or Buffy-Faith type dynamics, this show is ready for you. It lives where you live. Except instead of coming in after the relationship is already broken up, which is more common, we get to watch it fall apart in real time.
The setup is simple enough, but the show’s rainbow visuals, delightful cast, and crackling sense of humor are anything but. It has a great deal in common spiritually with other animated luminaries of the past decade or so, from Avatar: The Last Airbender to Steven Universe, leaving a lot to love in its wake. Adora’s transformation sequence every time she takes up the sword is sure to please fans of Sailor Moon as well. (Can I please get dressed like that every morning? This appeases my need for drama greatly.) The planet of Etheria feels very much its own world, and the redesigns of familiar faces really make the whole look cohere beautifully. (Did I mention that Shadow Weaver is played by Lorraine Toussaint? And doesn’t look like an overgrown Jawa anymore? And that she’s played by Lorraine Toussaint???)
The title has been changed to Princesses of Power for a reason, though; this series intends to take the periphery characters of the original cartoon and turn them into their own superteam—Adora’s friend Glimmer is one of the princesses in question, and there’s mention of an old princess alliance that existed before the Horde gained more power. The show is moving toward uniting a crew of warriors who will each have their own people to think of, and their own abilities to bring to the table. There are characters without “powers” as well, exemplified by Bow, Glimmer’s BFF who is an expert archer and all-around lovable anchor. He serves as the group’s common sense sounding board, which is entirely subversive from where I’m sitting; the general rule of fiction allows boys to be reckless and make mistakes and try new things, while women are always called on to be staid and sensible and prevent everyone from getting into trouble. In this particular setup, we have a core trio that features two women who rush into danger and don’t enjoy stopping to mull over their options while their guy pal frets behind them, desperate to get them to slow down.
Of course, that’s the dynamic that we can see coming, unformed as it is—as far as the first episodes are concerned, it takes Glimmer a little while to get on board with the whole “befriending the enemy” deal. Alongside their developing relationship, the show seems poised to take a sharp look at isolationism, particularly in the way the various princess kingdoms have drawn apart since the end of their alliance. If the theme of She-Ra is that we must unite to defeat darkness, rely on each other’s strengths and bolster one another when we feel weakest, then it’s timely as ever. The trust that builds suddenly between Adora, Glimmer, and Bow drives the story forward, but it’s also a guiding principle that is promptly lauded as a strength that the trio share.
While it is unclear from these opening episodes as to whether or not the series will have queer characters, the show reads as utterly queer in just about every aspect. In fact, if you were to make the argument that there’s no such thing as heterosexuality on Etheria, it wouldn’t be a hard sell. (I am making that argument, in case that wasn’t clear.) Most of the characters so far read fluidly on the gender and sexuality spectrum. Even more excitingly, there’s an incredible range of animated body types and skin tones on display. This is a major swerve away from the original She-Ra, where the goal of selling toys meant that all the female characters had the same figure—making it easier to use the same toy mold and interchangeable accessories. This time, we get a cast that will give every little girl and boy and gender non-conforming kid someone to look up to, someone who they can align with for any number of reasons, be it hair color, awesome hobbies, or curvier hips.
This shouldn’t be a surprise coming from showrunner Noelle Stevenson, whose previous work on her comics Lumberjanes and Nimona always showcased a fantastic array of female characters. It means a lot to see Stevenson working to fill in such a sizable gap in animation and space fantasy epics; while we’ve had a few trailblazers showing the way, there still aren’t that many offerings that feature the sheer number female leads that She-Ra is setting itself up to showcase. And there’s hopefully more to come, too: while the creative team originally started with a plan for one season, they’ve now expanded to four (though the show has not yet been officially renewed). With any luck, we’ll have a lot more coming (and so many group cosplays to look forward to). Here’s to the Princess Alliance, and all the battles they’ve yet to win.
Also have you heard the theme song yet? You really should. You really, really—you know what, here you go:
Originally published in November 2018.