She-Ra And The Princesses of Power Overall Review

30 Dec

I find it hard to put my feelings regarding She-Ra and the Princesses of Power into words because, in many ways, they depend on points of view.  The final season was not a bad season, unlike – for example – Battlestar Galactica – but, at the same time, it represented something of an abandonment of its previous concept.  The show expanded to the point it could handle an ensemble cast, yet this weakened many of the characters.  Indeed, the whole thing was let down – to some extent – by several characters grabbing the idiot ball in quick succession.

Originally, the core of the series centred on Adora and Catra, who grew up together as Horde Cadets in the Fright Zone.  They were both subjected to abuse by Shadow Weaver, their surrogate mother, who expected Adora to be a hyper-perfect cadet and, at the same time, piled Catra with physical and verbal abuse.  By the time we are introduced to them, the damage has been done.  Adora feels responsible for everything, while Catra – blamed for everything – feels permanently trapped in Adora’s shadow (and responsible for nothing).

Their paths diverge when Adora finds the Sword of Protection, becomes She-Ra, meets Glimmer and Bow and joins the Great Rebellion.  Catra, in the meantime, chooses to stay with the Horde (particularly after Hordak gives her the first true appreciation in her entire life).  The first season remains focused on them, with the Best Friend Squad and the Super Pal Trio serving as backup characters.  Team Adora and Team Catra clash repeatedly despite the remnants of Adora and Catra’s former friendship; both characters build up their positions and powers (Catra, in a moment she thoroughly deserves, bests Shadow Weaver for the first time and then comes within a hair’s breathe of total victory).  In a sense, both characters come out ahead.  They both beat Shadow Weaver, then win what they crave (a meaningful life for Adora, power and respect for Catra).

This balancing act starts to fall apart in seasons two and three (which are really one combined season).  As more characters take on significant roles, the two main characters are partly shunted aside.  Worse, the good guys keep winning undeserved victories (one of the less pleasant aspects of the show is the way in which the good guys are so much better than the bad ones, when they use their powers – an odd hint of elitism I don’t like).  It’s difficult to blame Catra for starting a villainous breakdown, particularly as she discovers that being Force Commander (Hordak’s second-in-command) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And yet, with her being well aware of Shadow Weaver’s true nature, she allows herself to be manipulated far too easily.  Adora, of course, makes the same mistake. 

This is the point where too many characters grab the idiot ball.  Hordak tortures Catra because he’s in a bad mood, not because she deserved punishment.  Catra allows Shadow Weaver to manipulate her, accidently freeing her from prison.  (I’m not including Catra trying to lie to Hordak, because he gave her plenty of reason to think he wouldn’t take the truth very calmly).  Adora heals Shadow Weaver (when she makes it to Bright Moon).  Angelia (who has good reason to know about Shadow Weaver) doesn’t think to fill Glimmer in on the truth.  Adora, Glimmer and Bow set off to the Crimson Wastes without bothering to make any preparations; Adora tells Catra about Shadow Weaver and the Portal.  Catra decides to open the portal, rather than staying in the Wastes with Scorpia and building a kingdom of her own.  Between them, they come pretty close to blowing up the entire planet and Adora had every right to be angry at Catra, but Adora bears some of the blame too.

Season four covers an ever-expanding war between the Horde – now co-led by Catra and Hordak – and the Great Rebellion.  The war extracts a price on its fighters, with Catra and Scorpia having a falling out and Glimmer, Bow and Adora coming ever-closer to a falling out of their own.  Catra makes a serious – but understandable – mistake and loses the war, only to have Glimmer return the planet to the original universe … allowing Horde Prime to invade.  Season five covers the war against Horde Prime, a far more powerful and determined enemy than Hordak (now exposed a defective clone).

It isn’t a bad season, but it’s greatest flaw is that it abandons the Team Adora and Team Catra format.  Characters have switched teams before (Entrapta to Team Catra, Scorpia to Team Adora).  It might have worked better, IMHO, if Glimmer had switched teams and, with Catra and Hordak, found a way to break out of Horde Prime’s custody … allowing Adora and Catra to meet as equals.  The moments we get – Catra risking everything to save Glimmer, Adora returning the favour for Catra – are good, but they’re not good enough.  In a way, they diminish Catra.  It’s nice to see Adora and Catra get together, at the end of the show, but they’re not quite equals. 

Catra is not the only character to be diminished by the ongoing series.  Hordak is introduced to us as a powerful warlord, with a very definite presence.  He’s evil, but he’s not completely unreasonable.  Season two/three weakens that by giving him a sympathetic backstory and partnering him with Entrapta, who eventually ends up in a relationship with him at the very end of the series.  It’s something of a cop-out – Mermista is the only one to ask if Hordak and Entrapta getting away with everything is fine – although, to be fair, he does make a stand against his abusive ‘big brother.’ 

That said, the expanded format does have its upsides.  Scorpia grows and develops as a character, as does Glimmer.  Both Sea Hawk and Swift Wind grew on me, as did many of the lesser characters (King Micah’s attempts to practice fathering on Frosta come across as creepy, particularly as Glimmer is six years or so older than Frosta).  Indeed, Horde Prime is perhaps the only completely irredeemable characters in the series.  Shadow Weaver sacrifices herself to save her daughters, leaving the question of just why she chose to do it.

The show has been both praised and criticised for feminist and lesbian themes.  This is something of a mixed bag.  On one hand, the princesses inherit their power by birth rather than ability (Scorpia may be the only exception, as she’s the one who makes a conscious decision to lay claim to power).  There’s a certain elitism about the show that is only called out once, by villagers caught in the middle during the fifth season.  On the other, Catra – who works for her victories – is also female.  It’s also true that Bow, Sea Hawk and Hordak worked for their skills in a manner  none of the princesses could match.  It’s fair enough to say that the vast majority of the best and the worst people in the series are all female (Horde Prime being the major exception, although he may well be genderless).  How important you consider this to be is up to you.

And while I’m happy to see Adora and Catra wind up together, the relationship wasn’t really developed properly.

Overall, it’s difficult to rate the show.  As an action and adventure cartoon, it does very well (but, to some extent, it becomes more focused on characters than the action.)  As a look into the effects of abuse, it does better; it puts human faces on the abused, much as Anne Frank is a human face on statistics.  At the same time, however, it is quick to absolve too many characters of their mistakes and offers quick solutions rather than more thoughtful (or deserved) answers.  Format wise, you pretty much have to follow from the beginning.  That’s something that, IMHO, should have been rethought.   

On the whole, I enjoyed it.  But it could have been so much more.

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