Alibi V.27 No.48 • Nov 29-Dec 5, 2018 

Idiot Box

For the Honor of Grayskull!

“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” on Netflix

Back in 1983 Mattel transformed its Masters of the Universe toy line into a successful cartoon series. “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” ran from 1983 to 1985 and continued to air in syndication and on USA Network until 1990. Still popular, the show’s 65 episodes are available for streaming on Netflix. The show was such a hit with young boys that Mattel and the Filmation studio cooked up a girl-centric spin-off in the form of “She-Ra: Princess of Power.” That show concentrated on Prince Adam/He-Man’s twin sister Princess Adora, who also had a sword and also transformed into a muscular hero. It was basically “He-Man,” but gender-swapped and with more rainbow-colored sidekicks. Believe it or not, the show produced 93 episodes—more than “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” managed. Adding insult to injury, He-Man got a short-lived reboot with the all-but-forgotten 1990 to ’91 series “The New Adventures of He-Man.” But She-Ra is going strong again thanks to Netflix’ newly revitalized “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.”

The new series looks and feels entirely different from what you ogled back in elementary school. Gone is the rainbows-and-steroids look of the original after-school toon. Netflix’ version replaces it with some American-style anime-lite animation, along the lines of Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10.” Though the characters are simplified (and slimmed down), the backgrounds feature some impressively detailed elements. Those familiar with the work of French artist Jean Giraud Moebius (Azrach) or Japanese artist Masamune Shirow (Appleseed) will recognize the sci-fi/fantasy vibe the show is reaching for.

“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” also features a far more diverse cast and—like CN’s “Stephen Universe”—a number of the characters read as quietly gender-fluid and LGBT-friendly. Credit the series’ showrunner and creator Noelle Stevenson (best known as the Eisner Award-winning creator behind indie comics Nimona and Lumberjanes) for the progressive update.

The show’s general plot finds teenaged Adora (Aimee Carrero) being raised as an orphan by The Horde, a militaristic order that rules the planet Etheria. Unknown to her, the Horde and its leaders are evil aliens bent on conquering Etheria. But Adora, raised in a cloistered Ender’s Game-like environment, has been brainwashed into thinking that Etheria’s peaceful inhabitants are the evil ones. It’s a thorny ethical situation “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” sets up. Eventually, of course, Adora finds a magic sword, figures out her secret history and leads a group of super-powered princesses in a rebellion against The Horde.

The show spends a lot of time setting up its characters and their relationships, which come across as pleasingly complex. The newly “woke” She-Ra’s prime foe, in fact, turns out to be her former best friend, the impetuous and amoral young soldier Catra—who is more than aware of The Horde’s manipulative brainwashing, but just doesn’t care. Despite concentrating mostly on characters and continuing storylines, “She-Ra” plays as a zippy, action-packed half-hour.

Bottom Line: Netflix’s “She-Ra” isn’t the “She-Ra” you grew up on. Instead, it’s a re-imagined, entirely re-energized, top-down revamp of the animated standby. In fact, it may be the first ’80s reboot to eschew easy nostalgia (aimed at parents) for contemporary relevance (aimed at actual kids).

“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” Season 1 is available for streaming now on Netflix.