She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power Season 1: An RTF Review
These are exciting times for fans of Western animation. Shows such as Gravity Falls, Steven Universe and the new DuckTales revival are among some of the most entertaining franchises out there right now. Better still, more and more adults are finally recognizing this shows for their merit and quality. And out of the myriad of exciting animated shows I’ve seen this decade, I have a feeling that Noelle Stevenson’s new show She-Ra and the Princesses of Power might just wind up being the best of them all.
She-Ra tells the story of a young woman named Adora (voiced by Aimee Carrero), an orphan raised by the tyrant Hordak and his Horde army on the planet Etheria alongside her best friend Catra (A.J. Michalka). On the cusp of her first big promotion in the Horde’s ranks, Adora stumbles upon a mysterious sword and two members of the enemy Rebellion- Glimmer (Suicide Squad‘s Karen Fukuhara) and Bow (Marcus Scribner). From there, our young hero is given a brutal look at the reality of what her foster family actually does and is catapulted into the role of the prophesied champion She-Ra.
For the most part, the narrative beats of She-Ra are well-trodden. By and large, Adora’s journey seems to largely mirror shows such as Steven Universe and the acclaimed Avatar: The Last Airbender with its character archetypes, group dynamics and monomythical story arc. A big part of what makes this show stand out, for me at least, is that Stevenson and her crew walk these steps confidently and largely execute it with flying colors. It’s hard not to love characters like Bow or Sea Hawk or Entrapta or Mermista. In fact, I don’t think I’ve loved as many characters in a show right away since Avatar. That isn’t just in regards to the heroes, by the way- villains like Catra and Scorpia are downright phenomenal.
Most exciting though is the beating heart of She-Ra‘s narrative: Adora and Catra. The show is always at its absolute finest and most unique whenever Adora and Catra share the screen together. Carrero and Michalka steal the show with their performances in the eleventh episode, which tragically reviews the duo’s life together up to this point. These two are caught in a whirlpool of love, resentment and trauma, resulting in both women being portrayed as sympathetic characters that fans actively want to see succeed and work things out, despite all of the tension between the two.
If I may be so bold, the relationship between Adora and Catra is also probably the single most blatantly queer I’ve ever seen between two lead characters in a Western animated series. Only four years ago, fans of Legend of Korra were bickering back and forth whether the subtle blushes and dialogue implications surrounding Korra and Asami meant anything as the final two seasons aired. Now we have a tie-undone, tux-wearing Catra dancing with Adora at a ball, lit with heavy purples, pinks and blues, leaning in dangerously close and outright dipping her at the peak of the dance. The whole moment feels like a David Bowie-inspired twist on Pride & Prejudice. Maybe it’s just fan-service, but this is a far cry from where animated shows were with LGBTQ lead protagonists less than half a decade ago.
As far as complaints go, I don’t really have too many. As with any animated show made for kids, the writing can cop out a bit or rush into the resolutions in a few episodes. Likewise, although I quite love the Miyazaki-meets-Moebius anime art style that the show utilizes, you can tell that Netflix and DreamWorks TV didn’t give the animators on She-Ra a big budget. As a result, there are moments across the season where the animation looks a bit stilted and often times the characters lack a bit more visual detail than I’d have liked.
Despite those rather minor issues though, I really can’t wait to see where Stevenson and her team go next with She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. It might not be the absolute best modern animated show out there yet, but I think it’s at least close and shows a ton of promise moving forward.