She-Ra – I absolutely loved it (Caution there are spoilers here)

She-Ra was something I’d had on my Netflix list for a while, I didn’t know much about it beyond it being a remake of a cartoon from when I was a kid and how people were initially bitching about the design of She-Ra for a variety of reasons. I added it to my list when it started getting really good reviews and word of mouth, it was one of those things that I intended to get round to at some point but it wasn’t exactly a priority. That changed when a friend was craving to me to me about it and also mentioned that it was created by Noelle Stevenson who I was familiar with having read Nimona (which is utterly fantastic and well worth checking out).

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Knowing who was in charge of the show and how I knew that they could bring genuine emotion and solid humour to the show, coupled with the fact that I had nothing else I was currently watching I decided I’d give it a go. I’m very glad I did as it’s one of the best things I’ve watched in a very long time. I’ll get into the why of what has made me think this, which is going to lead to going to lead to a lot of spoilers as it’s impossible to go into why I loved it so much without touching on plot points over the five seasons so that’s something to bear in mind if you read this.

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Let’s start with the fact it’s essentially a remake of a cartoon from the 80s, unlike the original though it avoids any links to the He-Man universe. In that Adora is the sister of Prince Adam who is stolen away and sent through a portal to join the Horde. The key points around the portal and the Horde are maintained but that link is never established which makes the Grayskull link a little odd all told and they never really explain it though there are little throw away things that are said over the course of the season that may offer an explanation. To be honest I think the clean break is actually really good thing as it allowed the show to be it’s own thing without having to have those sorts of constraints attached to it.

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A very basic overview of the plot is that Adora is part of the Horde who are trying to take over Etheria, she’s grown up with her best friend Catra. She goes out of the Fright Zone and finds She-Ra’s sword and meets Glimmer and Bow who capture her, but while they head back to Bright Moon Adora begins to see what the Horde are really like and how brutal they are to innocent people which is against what she’d believed them to be and decides to join the rebellion. She tries to convince Catra to come too but Catra refuses and thus begins the antagonistic relationship between the two that’s a big part of the plot for the next four seasons.

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The absolute best thing about the entire show are the characters, obviously Adora is the main focus as the hero so thankfully she’s brilliant, and Glimmer and Bow as her friends are also excellent. The supporting cast are fantastic, the various princesses are all very unique and while most of them don’t get as much time as you’d like when they do get screen time it’s nearly always brilliant. There’s also Sea Hawk who walks a fine line between endearing and annoying, Scorpia who starts off very two dimensional but by the end of the series is probably the sweetest character there is and Entrapta is  but again stays just the right side of endearing. It’s testament to the writing how likeable everyone is frankly.

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We move onto the villains and you have Hordak, Shadow Weaver and Catra in the first four seasons and then Hordak Prime in the final season. There’s a lot to say about Catra so we’ll get to her, Shadow Weaver and Hordak are both very underdeveloped in the first season but they’re progressively built on as you get back story and they grow as characters. Shadow Weaver is shown to have been abusive to Adora and especially Catra throughout their childhoods and final act aside never really goes beyond that but she continues to manipulate people even after she changes sides. Hordak is revealed to be a flawed clone and he’s largely one note until his interactions with Entrapta start to change him and give him little more personality. Horde Prime is effective as a big bad but it feels like he’s deliberately kept as a bit of a mystery so as to try and not humanise him at all which is a solid choice and cuts down on the need for his backstory which was able to be used for other things.

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Adora is an excellent protagonist, she has so many good qualities while you also get the humour of her having to learn what life is like away from the Horde. Her relationship with Glimmer and Bow is really well developed, even when things get decidedly more tense in season four, they’re very natural which is an utter delight. Her relationship with Catra is considerably more complicated and clouded by the abuse they bother suffered growing up and the very different ways they handled it, we’ll get into that later though. What really makes Adora stand out is just how selfless she is, she literally puts the safety of her friends and the planet before herself at every point with no thought of what it is she actually wants. This comes to something of a head in the final season when she’s ready to die as she sees that as inevitable and almost won’t let herself that selfish, it’s only when her friends and Mara (the previous She-Ra) are encouraging he to want more for herself that she begins to and it leads to such a truly amazing pay off.

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Now onto Catra who is the most fascinating character for me in the entire show. Very much impacted by her abuse, she has no sense of self worth at all and the only value seemingly bestowed on her in the Horde is that she’s good at hurting people. When Adora leaves she feels abandoned and refuses to leave her home behind but as the series goes on she continues to lash out at the people around her, some who are clearly on her side, to the point where more and more people walk away which just makes her worse and keeps this vicious cycle that she’s trapped herself in going. Part of what makes her eventual redemption so impactful for me is that it’s a decision she makes for herself, she doesn’t do it for anyone else and she owns what she’s done, she never blames anyone or anything else and she tries to make changes to herself like trying not to get so angry. There’s missed opportunities too as there were definitely some elements like dealing with Mermista and Scorpia that feel like were taken off the board conveniently though that’s understandable given all the ground they were trying to cover.

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Catra is my favourite character by a long shot, I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt such a personal connection to a character before. When she’s pushing people away, lashing out and just generally burning bridges with people who care about her it really reminded me of when my depression got especially bad because of my refusal to acknowledge there was a problem. Her feelings of lacking worth also resonated, I can’t say I have to deal with it that badly but it definitely flares up and has an impact. The scene where she apologises to Adora hit me incredibly hard, it again evoked personal memories of where I got to a point where I needed to make changes and went to counselling while also apologising to people. It was her acknowledgement of what she’s done and the foundation to trying to be better, I can understand that it didn’t land for everyone based on everything she’s done unto this point but for me it was a huge deal. It was probably the most viscerally emotional response I’ve had to anything in about 20 years, I was practically sobbing as I watched it. Going into the series I was expecting to have a clear favourite character, I just didn’t expect that favourite to mean quite so much to me.

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I personally loved the relationship between Adora and Catra, it’s super clear early on just how important they are to each other and how badly Catra took Adora leaving. Adora keeps trying to break through to her uptown the end of season three where Catra has become so bitter that she’d rather end the world than listen and it’s tragic but has become such a toxic situation at that point that you completely understand Adora taking the stance she does. Season four is Catra spiralling to the point where she essentially hits rock bottom, realising she’s pushed everyone who cared about her away, followed by season five where she starts trying to change and after Adora rescues her they start to reconnect which is just utterly fantastic. Catara learns to open up her heart gradually and accept that she has worth and Adora realises that there is something she wants for herself and I really loved it, they have to gloss over the consequences of the past behaviour quite a lot which I suspect is more down to the time needed for everything else than just ignoring it. I utterly loved the scene where they said I love you to each other, it was perfect – heartwarming, emotional and just generally sweet as hell, and just monumental in terms of the culmination of their arc, I genuinely can’t stop thinking about it.

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In terms of She-Ra herself I know there was some initial push back on her design given it’s quite different to the original but I never really had any kind of issue with it, it’s functional and distinct though I did prefer the season five design significantly more but we’ll get into that. What I didn’t enjoy was the transformation sequence, and to be honest my main issue with that was that I felt like it was over used though my hammering through lots of episodes at a time didn’t help I’m sure, though I did also appreciate that the show runners seemed to realise this too so came up with some fun and creative ways of having her transform off screen. What I really did enjoy was the back story for She Ra and for Mara who was the She-Ra around thousand years before Adora, and how that added a new dimension to what She-Ra is in this universe.

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It’s established early on that Mara supposedly went mad and broke the She-Ra cycle while pulling Etheria into a pocket dimension, the implication being she’s something of a villain. It’s gradually implied over a number of episodes that this may not necessarily be the case and that she had a good reason. Bright Hope, who is a first one AI of sorts and who has been training Adora, is given moments that establish that she’s not being entirely. It eventually comes to light that Mara learned that Etheria is actually galactic weapon and She-Ra is the key to activating it. Essentially while She-Ra doesn’t actually need the sword, the first ones made the sword as a key and a way of controlling She-Ra. Upon Mara learning this she essentially sacrifices herself to move Etheria into a dimension away from the rest of the galaxy so that the weapon can’t be used.

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While Adora is learning this and trying to prevent it Glimmer is trying to use the weapon as she has been mislead into thinking that weapon, the heart of Etheria, is something she can use in the war against the Horde rather than the doomsday weapon it actually is. She succeeds in activating it and quickly learns that it wasn’t the best idea in the world. Meanwhile Adora has learned that it was Bright Hope that pulled her through a portal from wherever it is that she came from purely so that she could activate the heart one day, where you’d been led to believe it was the Horde that had done it. Adora, not wanting the weapon to go off, shatters the sword and stops the heart though in doing so seemingly loses her ability to transform in She-Ra. It’s a brilliant little subversion on what you’re told prior to all this kicking off and really does emphasise the advantage of not linking it to He-Man, as I’m not sure you could tell the story this way in that scenario.

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This brings us onto the second She-Ra deign which we get in season five, I much prefer this look, and the transformation sequence is amazing for this one even though I think we only get to see it the once. Part of what makes it amazing is that you get little references to each of her friends as part of the process and kinda spells out to you what allows her to transform. As mentioned earlier it’s mentioned that the sword and She-Ra were separate initially and this hammers that message home. Though she manages to transform it’s shown that Adora can’t fully control it and as the season goes on and she becomes more confused and scared of what she sees as her destiny it becomes more and more erratic.

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Of course we as an audience have figured out what Adora hasn’t yet and that it’s love that enables her to transform, in the transformations earlier in the season it’s always situations where the people she cares about are threatened that she manages to focus. But as she accepts this destiny to stop the heart once and for all, when Horde Prime means to use the weapon, regardless of whether that means her death or not she becomes more afraid and it becomes harder for her to focus. Over the season various characters are encouraging her to look beyond this seeming fate and to want something for herself, an echo of Mara at one point telling her she deserves love too and isn’t just defined by what she can give to others. It’s a strong message and when Catra declares her love she’s able to accept it and give it back which allows her to transform and stop the heart once and for all, it’s genuinely moving.

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I could go on for hours about how much I love the whole thing, the story is amazing, the characters are great and its easily one of the most emotional things I’ve ever watched – especially the final season where I don’t think there was a singled episode where I didn’t well up with tears at one point or another. There’s lots of silly little things that make me love it even more too, things like being able to hear Catra purring when she’s content or Adora snort laughing which I will never not find endearing when someone does. The additional of Melog is also a delight, a magical being who assumes the form of a cat and bonds to Catra and echos her emotional state, it’s fun watching how he interacts with Adora after he arrives as it just further shows how much Catra cares for her. I’ve also found out that some of the first one writing on items apparently translates, like the data chip that Entrapta gives Hordak which has LUVD (loved) on it and the apron Wrong Hordak gets given says kiss the cook. I love these sorts of things and finding out about them.

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The voice acting is utterly fantastic with Aimee Carrero and AJ Michalka, as Adora and Catra respectively, have to do a bulk of the heavy lifting given that they’re the main characters and they absolutely nail it, the sheer emotion they bring to their characters is amazing. Lorraine Toussaint is excellent as their abusive mother figure Shadow Weaver too, imbuing the character with a sense of arrogance, selfishness and disdain, which make it easy to accept that she’s a terrible person. To be fair to all the other actors not a single one of them is anything less than excellent and what’s awesome is that everyone gets to show off that talent to at least some extent as while the core characters get the bulk of the focus the supporting characters do still get their moments to shine and when they do the voice acting is suitably impressive, I literally can’t find any fault with any of it. A special mention has to be made for Keston John who voices Horde Prime, Hordak and Wrong Hordak, the latter of whom are clones of the first. He takes these 3 characters who in theory should be exactly the same and manages to make them all unique while also maintaining that link, the guy is seriously talented.

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In terms of what I like and dislike about each season I’ll start with the first season. I really liked the showing of the initial relationship between Adora and Catra and how much they meant to each other, and I really liked the humour of Adora experiencing all the new things she does when she leaves the Horde. Seeds that would really bear fruit in future seasons, such as Razz and how a lot of what she’s saying doesn’t initially make any sense. In terms of what I didn’t like that’s largely what I’d expect from any first season of a show, there’s usually a necessary but sometimes heavy approach to world building and there isn’t a clear tone that’s been settled on so it struggles to balance that a little in my opinion. Also the way some characters are introduced and don’t get too much to do, though that’s a product of having a large cast of characters in the rebellion, the Horde struggles a bit less with that given there aren’t as many important characters comparatively as the Horde is an army so can have more faceless grunts where the Rebellion starts off smaller so bringing the other princesses in requires them to have more characters. All minor niggles that being said, there was nothing at all that stopped me enjoyed the first season.

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My biggest issue with seasons two and three is that they should essentially be the same season. Netflix seems to have this thing where they split out seasons on animated shows, they did the same thing with Voltron. And while I get the point that it’s to reduce the wait between seasons it’s also a bit annoying as there never seems to be a natural drop off point. That said that’s just general complaining as I didn’t have this issue given I waited til all seasons had dropped so this was never a factor. It also feels a little crowded, there’s alot happening in this season and it sometimes feels like there’s not room for some events to breath to an extent. That being said these are once again minor complaints as there’s a hell of a lot to love about this season, there’s back story for Shadow Weaver and Hordak and a start of making Hordak a more sympathetic character, Shadow Weaver not so much and that works really well too. Catra continues to become progressively more angry and further damages her relationships and Adora gets to a point where she has to fully walk away from that bond to Catra even if she doesn’t want to, such is the toxicity between them at this point. The portal element to the season and Angella’s sacrifice are excellent and it sets up the future arrival of Horde Prime nicely, Also it’s worth noting that Scorpia is an utter delight.

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Season four is excellent, my only real complaint is that it relies on a really cliched arc where Adora and Glimmer start to disagree more and more and tensions continue to rise, with the newly introduced Double Trouble helping to stoke those tensions further, on the plus side to this its not something that’s neatly wrapped up by the end of the season so while it’s been done before it’s at the very least well written and impactful. As is quickly becoming standard there are alot of plus points, Scorpia finally leaves the Horde and joins the rebellion, which is great for her but not so much for Catra as it’s just another person leaving her. Catra has essentially hit rock bottom which was personally hard to experience as I’ve alluded to already, but knowing what comes next for her it was necessary. The heart of Etheria is the key plot point for this season though and it leads to some fascination plot points, the first being that you gradually learn that the first ones weren’t as benevolent as you’ve been led to believe, the sword is a way of weaponising She-Ra and Bright Hope is slightly sinister in parts as she manipulates Glimmer into activating the heart, there’s the reveal of Mara actually being a hero and moving Etheria into the dimension it’s now in so that the heart couldn’t be used to cause harm to anyone else and Bright Hope forcing Adora to essentially fire the heart. The latter of which leads to Adora shattering the sword to prevent this from happening and seemingly sacrificing her ability to change into She-Ra, but not before Bright Hope moves Etheria back out of the pocket dimension and into it’s original place. It’s such a fantastic storyline and adds in some excellent character development, I’m looking forward to going back and rewatching earlier seasons to see what foreshadowing there was to some of these events. I think this is also the main storyline which I think would have suffered had it needed to be tied into the He-Man lore.

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Season five is, in my opinion, the closest thing to perfect that I’ve experienced in a season of a show. There is so much that happens aver this 13 episode runtime, and I think that’s where my only really complaint about the season lies. Because there’s so much happening the pace is pretty breakneck, I think it would have benefitted from more episodes to tell the story and to allow things to breath a little. especially with some of the big plot points that happen. What I appreciated was that there’s almost three plot threads at the start of the season – Adora, Bow and Entrapta going after Glimmer, Catra’s existential crisis and Horde Prime’s conquest of Etheria. The former two essentially lead into Catra’s redemption arc, which I’ve already stated my love for, and becomes quite a hopeful plot thread where the latter becomes the darker thread as you see how things on Etheria become progressively more hopeless as Horde Prime succeeds in his goals, it’s a nice counterbalance. You also have Adora being able to transform into She-Ra again and that’s handled really well I think and ultimately her saving the world, which is ultimately down to the shared love between Adora and Catra which I think is incredibly hopeful and I loved that too. Ultimately I thought the whole season was brilliant and had an incredibly satisfying ending, while also leaving things open for a return to the universe should the creators of the show want to and be able to. As I say I think a higher episode count would have been helpful for things like Catra’s redemption, Adora’s re-established link with She-Ra and her gradually coming round to the idea that it’s ok to want something for yourself and not just accepting that she has to sacrifice herself for everyone else. That being said I’m not sure my heart could have taken anymore emotion on top of what was in there already.

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What truly makes the show special though is the sheer amount of representation on offer, as a straight white male I have no shortage of media to consume that represents me and having been able to reflect on this over the years it sucks that there are people that have never experienced that. Having Adora and Catra declare their love and kiss feels like a huge moment and in my opinion it never felt forced, there were clues as how important they were to each other in the first episode so for it to end with them becoming a couple just felt like a natural progression to me and from what I’m read online it feels like alot of people agree and also loved it. Aside from that pairing there are all sorts of characters that were written in a certain way, Entrapta was apparently written as autistic and Double Trouble being non binary being obvious examples, and couples that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in a kids tv show like Netossa and Spinarella and Bow’s dads and there’s also apparently a transgender man in a season five episode which again I’ve found out from reading up on the show since watching it. I approve of it, I like that people are getting characters that they can truly identify with and I hope that this will be become normal so that it isn’t a big deal when it does happen. Ultimately to my mind everyone being equally represented increases the amount of stories you can tell and also hopefully sucks in more diverse audience who are then inspired to go out and create stories of their own which can only be a good thing I’d say.

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Overall I went into this expecting it to be a show I enjoyed and that it’d maybe hit the same sorts of standards as Avatar and the like. I was not expecting it to wind up being quite as excellent as it turned out to be and I also didn’t expect it to become as important to me as it has done. When my only real complaint is that there isn’t more then that’s something, and I’m desperately hoping that there will be a continuation of some kind, be it another season, a movie or a comic series. What’s nice is that it’s the perfect ending if there isn’t to be anymore but it’s also nicely positioned if there’s a decision to do more. I also definitely never expected to feel such a close attachment to Catra and for the sheer level of emotion her character arc brought out. But this is a sign of good writing and I honestly can’t wait to see what Noelle Stevenson does next, hopefully more She-Ra but if not then I’m sure whatever it is will be awesome too. It’s also allowed me to discover new things from reading up on stuff online, I’ve found a fanfic apparently written by Noelle and I’ve also learned of a show called The Owl House for which Noelle’s wife has written which is fantastic. It’s been an intensely emotional experience for me, which has been odd given I wouldn’t say I’m very in touch with my emotions, but it’s something I wouldn’t change. All I can finish up with is that it’s well worth the time to watch and I hope that anyone who does loves even a fraction of the amount I do.

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