The Official Blog of Author Tristan Vick
Let me tell you a few things about She-Ra and the Princesses of Power -- an original animated series produced co-jointly by Dreamworks Animation and Netflix.
First off, it's a bit cheesy. A little silly at times. There's a lot of girl power here -- and understandably so because it's a series intended for young girls. A lot of talk about friendship, emotions, and about doing the right thing. It's mostly positive, but the evil forces they fight are really dark and a little scary. Because, isn't evil always scary?
As a child of the 80s I grew up on a healthy dose of animation. I grew up on Transformers, He-Man, Scooby Doo, Voltron, G.I. Joe, Johnny Quest, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more! Needless to say, I had a rich and glorious animated-filled childhood.
As you can imagine, I've loved all the incarnations and reboots to these series. The Voltron reboot. Awesome. The Thundercats reboot on Cartoon Network? Epic. Transformers and Scooby Doo have been going non-stop since their incarnation. And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has revamped itself more times than I can count. And, low and behold, a new He-Man animated series is coming to Netflix and is being produced by Kevin Smith of all people!
These series are great, entertaining bits of escapism and they give me a nostalgic past which gives me fond memories of my childhood -- even amid my parents divorce when I was only five -- it was animated television that kept me safeguarded from the ugly reality unfolding around me.
And as brilliant as I feel these series were -- especially during my formative years -- they also have one thing in common.
They're all meant for boys. They're marketed to boys -- because all these series were about selling toy products that were designed for exclusively young boys.
There were female characters -- but apart from Scooby Doo -- they were limited in what they did. She-Ra has her own run for a while in the 80s, but it was done as a tie-in to He-Man and was still aimed largely as selling action figures to boys with the hope that girls might be interested too if the main character was a girl. A step in the right direction, but ultimately is was still a boy's club.
Jump to the present day (November of 2020) and my daughter an I are finishing up season 5 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
As a father with a ten year old daughter, I don't need to tell you how happy I was there was a show for young girls that I could watch and enjoy with her. It's got science-fiction, fantasy, magic, a winged Pegasus, interesting characters, and a whole lot of girl-power.
Beyond the premise of the series though, you have genuinely good character storytelling. The thing that makes both the new Voltron and the new She-Ra stand out in terms of quality is how well each season seamlessly moves into the next, like a waltz, everything from the plot to the character arcs are in place. Everything unfolds with precision timing. Humor abounds. Silly random jokes interrupt otherwise perfectly timed movements of perfectly crafted drama.
Some might complain that the series is too progressive or politically correct for their tastes. Why? Because it focuses on friendships, girl power, and has the best representation of queer characters in any children's cartoon ever?
That's a stupid thing to complain about when the overall stories are just so engaging. The joke land. The hooks and cliffhangers leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat. If you're complaining that it's too progressive -- well, the deficiency is with you, not the show. The show works. The show is wonderful.
And then there's the lead character Adora, and her best friend, Catra.
This was an epic journey I didn't expect to unfold in the way it did.
You see. The series begins with them as best friends in Hordak's evil empire. They're soldiers in his arm, simply called the Horde. Adora is a natural born leader and everyone's favorite. She quickly gets promoted to captain and although Catra is jealous of all the attention Adora gets (because she's nearly just as good in every way) she still have respect for her. After all, they were orphans, and grew up together -- caring for one another.
But in a battle with the enemy rebels, Adora falls into a crystal cave and finds a mysterious sword. She takes the sword and it turns her into She-Ra. She's a little shell-shocked by the experience and then the unthinkable happens.
As she leaves the cave, Adora is attacked and taken captive by the leaders of the rebel army. Catra swears to rescue her best friend.
Taken back to Bright Moon as their prisoner, Princess Glimmer and her best friend Bow take the time to explain to Adora that the Horde is actually attacking local villages and is killing the indigenous people of Etheria (their world). She doesn't believe it at first -- but then sees it with her own eyes. Growing agitated by the senseless violence, she turns into She-Ra... "FOR THE HONOR OF GRAYSKULL!"
Catra eventually catches up to her and begs her to rejoin the Horde. Adora refuses to go back and tries to explain everything she's seen (only keeping the She-Ra part to herself). Catra claims that the rebels have brainwashed her and then returns to Hordak with the bad news.
Hordak then promotes Catra to Captain and gives her a mission to kill She-Ra and destroy the rebel insurgents. The season progresses this way until finally Catra discovers that her best friend turned traitor is actually She-Ra, the woman she's been sent to kill.
Torn up inside, Catra let's Adora live and, crying, runs away. Catra broods, feeling that her best friend has truly abandoned her. From then on, she promises not to play nice any more and the kitty-gloves come off (quite literally speaking because she's a cat-girl).
The rest of the series ramps up the tension between the two. They meet again at a prom. They dance. Catra seems to be flirting with Adora and is loving the fact that in this neutral zone, she can be snide and mess with Adora's emotions.
As the series continues, the two face off against each other numerous times. Every time you can feel Catra's heartache. Eventually, Adora begs Catra to join the princesses and the Friend Squad -- explaining they can be happy together. But Catra is still pissed at Adora abandoning her, and even though she recognizes she's being abused by Hordak and the witch Shadow Weaver, she's still too angry with Adora to let their friendship heal.
By the time we're midway through the series, it's clear that Catra is done with Adora. Eventually, she runs away from the Horde and the Fright Zone with Scorpia. They have their adventures until, for inexplicable reasons, Catra, Scorpia, and Adora wake up together in the Fright Zone. Eventually they discover it's part of a booby-trap -- a simulation -- meant to trap you and prevent you from finding the magical power source of Etheria.
In this illusion, Catra and Adora must face their past together. But, in the end, Catra is still deeply hurting and although Adora confesses she'll always be her friend -- Catra pretends to not want anything to do with her -- although she secretly longs for Adora's friendship again. No matter how much she wants to let things go back the way they were -- Catra still can't bring herself to forgive Adora for abandoning her and not coming back for her.
Once season 4 rolls around, a new threat rolls into town. Hordak, as it turns out, is merely a clone of an evil galactic ruler known as Horde Prime. He ends up dethroning his brother and leads and invasion force to take over Etheria. At the same time, to save her skin, Catra promises to help Horde Prime defeat She-Ra, the only thing preventing him from taking over the planet.
As it happens, however, Horde Prime was merely using Catra, however, and never intended to keep her around. Instead, he "chips" her and takes full control of her mind. He then orders her to kill Adora / She-Ra. When Adora and Catra face-off again, Adora realizes somethings terribly wrong. So, she and her friends mount a rescue mission.
Adora does everything in her power to save Catra and manages not only to rescue her from Horde Prime's ship, but also gives Horde Prime a setback that makes him double down his efforts to take over Etheria and use its powerful magic for himself.
Catra almost dies when the chip is removed from her and Adora confesses she can't live without her friend. They manage to save her and Catra, now free of Horde Prime's control, is surprised that Adora came for her. Adora says she'll always come for her -- she's her best friend.
Catra sulks for a few days and returns with Adora and crew to Etheria. People keep mistaking Catra for evil Catra and continuously attack her. But Adora keeps defending her right to be their -- even after all the bad she's done. They reluctantly agree to let her stay and Catra, who has absolutely nowhere else to go, decides that Adora is the only thing she has left in the whole galaxy.
As the episodes go by, their friendship reignites and they find themselves laughing together, making fun of each other, and stealing longing glances at one another only to take a step back and ask themselves -- what's happening here? Catra and Adora have been through so much together, and now their friends is stronger than ever.
Which is why when Adora decides she must sacrifice herself to save Etheria, all the old wounds are torn open again for Catra -- who feels Adora is abandoning her all over again.
Catra runs away at the eleventh hour while Adora walks into the heart of Etheria to unleash its power -- absorbing it all into herself as She-Ra in hopes of preventing Horde Prime from getting it and using it to destroy the universe.
While Catra is on the run, she stumbles across one of the Horde's encampments and learns that Horde Prime has infected the planet with a type of poison that will spread back to the source of all the power. If it gets there before Adora can successfully absorb all the power -- then she'll die and Horde Prime will still get the power for himself.
Realizing that she's the one abandoning her friend this time, Catra races back to warn Adora before it's too late.
Now, here's the point in this epic journey that I must warn you about *SPOILERS*.
I mean it. STOP HERE if you haven't made it through the series. Because the end of season 5 a lot goes down. And, well, it's glorious.
Catra races back to the heart of Etheria only to find Shadow Weaver interfering with the process -- she wants the power for herself but Catra pieces the puzzle together and finds out that she can't get it. When she confronts Shadow Weaver as to why she doesn't just take it -- Shadow Weaver explains because whoever absorbs all of Etheria's energy will certainly die.
Catra realizes that she's sacrificing Adora and -- once again has lied to them by giving them false hope that it was survivable.
Right then a giant monster -- a guardian of the heart of Etheria, attacks them. Catra knowing that this might be their last chance to save the planet, tells Adora to go on ahead. Adora and Shadow Weaver go to the heart and Catra stays back to fend off the beast.
As Shadow Weaver is standing there, she reaches up toward the power, hoping to steal it for herself. But the moment is interrupted by a blood-curdling scream -- Catra is in trouble.
Adora turns back, limping away (having been wounded by the beast previously) and is heading back to save her freind.
Shadow Weaver is torn between absolute power and the fate of the world. She realizes they'll all die if Adora -- She-Ra -- doesn't come back to finish the mission. She's the only one who can help Catra. She convinces Adora to complete her task and then, using her magic, teleports back in time to save Catra.
Catra is stunned that Shadow Weaver cares enough to come to her rescue. Shadow Weaver takes off her mask and shows her true face to Catra and tells her to go -- go save Adora.
In a flash -- Shadow Weaver destroys herself and the beast. Catra runs races up the corridoor to help her freind.
Horde Prime manifests via a hologram and tries to psyche Catra out, telling her that risking herself to save her friend is foolish. She ignores him and continues up the passage until and finally reaches Adora who is too weakened by Horde Prime's poison / virus to be able to turn into She-Ra. Catra throws Adora's arm over her shoulder and walks her into position.
Unable to transform, Catra asks Adora if it's going to work. She says it will -- with the caveat being that she'll most certainly die. Adora then tells her to leave her -- that she'll die if she stays -- and that she's ready. Catra grabs onto Adora's hand away and says, "No. I'm not leaving. Whatever happens... I'm staying with you."
Just then, Horde Primes dark-energy shoots down and strikes Adora. The virus has completely immobilized her and she screams out in agony. Catra catches her and, sitting with her on the energy transfer platform, talks her back from the brink of death.
Adora opens her eyes and whispers... "Sorry. I've failed."
Catra screams at her to not give up. She tells her that she's never given up before so she can't give up now. And then, through tears streaming down her cheeks, she shouts, "Don't you get it? I LOVE YOU! I always have."
A bolt of energy comes down to strike them both and Catra closes her eyes. The blast is deflected, however, and she looks up to find that Adora has manifested She-Ra's shield and has saved them from being fried to a crisp.
She looks up and smiles. "You love me?"
Catra giggles, and replies, "You're such an idiot."
Adora smiles and touches Catra's face. "I love you too," she confesses.
Catra's face goes blanks, because she wasn't expecting that confession. Not at that moment. Then she smiles and takes Adora's face in her hands and moves in for that kiss. Adora's eyes flash with surprise as their lips meet, but the moment they do, she closes them and basks in the moment.
*OKAY* I need to pause for a moment.
Because this is the point that my daughter and I, who'd been glued to our television screen, jumped up and began screaming and cheering with joy.
She began dancing in cirlces, got dizzy, and fell over. I was hopping up and down, clapping frantically. A tear squeezed out of my eye and a said -- THEY DID IT. They actually showed the kiss. In a kids show.
I was shaking -- overpowered by a myriad of emotions. My daughter jumped up and hugged me. We laughed. We cried. We had to pause and rewind the show to get back to where we'd left off before our impromptu celebration.
*Back into the show*
At the last possible moment, the She-Ra energy engulfs them both and there's a bright flash.
During this flash a transition happens back to everyone fighting Horde Prime's army. It looks as though they are defeated. He begins to gloat about how he's won and that they're all doomed.
It looks like this is the end. Then, everything freezes. All of Horde Prime's technology turns off. A rainbow light floods over everything and the clones look around puzzles. Through a halo of light, the silhouette of She-Ra manifests and she steps out into the light. She smiles and her friends and then raising her sword to the sky, she fires off an energy blast with the full force of all of Etheria's magic.
And instead of turning Horde Prime's ship into scrap metal, she turns it into a giant space tree. Because, why not end the death and destruction? And, heck, space trees are cool.
Then she uses her magic to heel all of Etheria. The grass and plants grow back. The animals return. But Horde Prime, falling to his knees, swears he will rebuild himself and will never stop coming. She-Ra touches his face and then, using her magic, destroys his consciousness forever. I mean, she actually kills the villain to make sure his evil never rises again.
With peace restored, everyone reunites and hugs. Scorpia even hugs Catra mid-apology. Adora walks over to a bluff that overlooks the valley and smiles at the beauty that has been restored.
Catra sidles up to her and they clasp hands. Embracing, they touch foreheads and share a moment of reprieve before suddenly being tackled by Glimmer and Bow. They all tumble to the ground laughing.
Bow asks what's next and Adora says they can bring magic back to the universe.
They all huddle together in one large group embrace and the camera slowly pans up to the sky, past the space-tree, and settles on the sparkling stars of the galaxy.
It's the end.
*Oh. My. God.*
What an absolute thrill that was. A slow burn of friendship, betrayal, lost trust, a rebuilding of trust, a love eternal blossoming into the acknowledgement that these two best friends not only loved each other as friends -- but they loved each other as women -- they loved each other on every level including the romantic.
And to depict both women power and a main character with the mass-appeal of She-Ra as embracing that form of love that people label as queer, but which is really just another expression of love -- I was taken aback, amazed, and completely dumbfounded by the beauty of it.
Now, young girls who see this will grow up realizing that it's okay to love other people fully -- with all their being. They won't shy away from the idea of queer relationships because they were only taught to accept hetero-normative, cis-gender, straight ones. No. They will now be more accepting of others when they see those feelings expressed in their friends. And they will be more accepting of themselves, should they find those feelings within themselves.
I tear up just thinking about it. And I'm just a father of a beautiful young daughter. But it was very special to experience this show with her and I must tip my hat to Netflix and Dreamwork for making a show about positivity, friendship, and about how we all long to be loved. But, more importantly, about how love can save the world.
Now, I rate all my shows once I review them, and this, by any other name, is certainly a review. As such, I give She-Ra the Princesses of Power an 11 out of 10, or, if you prefer, and A+++.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.