What’s the Story?
Adora is a loyal soldier of the Horde, until one day when she sneaks out with her best friend Catra. After having visions of a magical sword, Adora runs into one of the evil princesses that she’s spent her life training to fight. It’s then that Adora learns the princesses aren’t so evil after all, though Princess Glimmer is hostile towards her at first, but Adora discovers it’s the Horde that is evil and after witnessing the destruction they bring she decides she has to stop them. With the help of the Sword of Protection, Adora transforms into the mighty She-Ra and together with her friends and the other princesses she will fight to return balance to the world, even if it means going up against her former best friend, Catra.
Okay I’ll admit this straight out of the gate, I have no real interest in She-Ra. The cartoon was before my time and much like the original He-Man, I have way too many other shows to watch before I even consider going back and watching both of those shows. I have seen the terrible live action He-Man movie and that rebooted He-Man cartoon (from the early 2000s?) was okay from what I remember, but that is the extent of my knowledge of this universe. I am coming into this series completely blind as a new viewer, waiting to be won over. It’s mostly Noelle Stevenson’s name attached to this series that is the reason this show has been bumped up my watch list, because I really love her Nimona comic (seriously, it’s smart, funny and pretty heart-breaking and I will recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it).
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get down to season one, how is it? It’s okay. I enjoyed watching the series, but at the same time it’s hardly the most revolutionary of cartoons. It’s trying to be a fusion of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe and never quite manages to be as good as either of those shows, yet. I say yet because this is just a first season and like a lot of first seasons the show is very much finding its footing. It doesn’t help that the majority of the first half of this series, outside of the opening, is very much a princess of the week setup, introducing characters and one and done problems so that we can get a handle on everyone’s personalities and powers, which is what it needs to do. It’s necessary groundwork for what’s to come, but it’s all pretty much predictable at the same time. Stories of friends finding themselves on different sides of a war and people suddenly finding they have magical powers and a destiny have all been done before and the story pretty much plays out as you’d expect. We catch glimpses of the wider world, but aside of some nice backgrounds (and I do love the scenery in this series, but I’ll come back to that) we don’t learn all that much about this place until the end of the series.
Actually talking about the end of the series, what has me hopeful for this series is that it does pick up towards the end. As the one-and-done princess stories finish we move on to a more serialised story with each episode bleeding directly into the next as things begin to completely fall apart for our heroes and I did very much enjoy that final battle, though that could partly be down to the epic She-Ra/Catra slugfest during the battle (is it wrong that I love this series most when they’re fighting?) The whole Adora/Catra dynamic is my favourite part of this series and it is brilliantly played. You can see that these two want to be friends again, but there’s just so much between them that they just can’t reach one another, whether its their pride or their obliviousness that’s stopping them from just taking that last step towards one another. Episode 11 is by far the best episode of this entire season purely because of this dynamic and I’d recommend just watching that episode if nothing else as it sees Adora and Catra trapped together and it really digs into their relationship. It starts off with the show’s typical goofy humour, but that quickly gets pushed aside to get to the raw beating heart of the characters and the voice acting, the direction and the animation all take it up a notch.
Going back to the show’s humour for a second, I can see why this show might annoy purists. Like I said, I haven’t seen the original She-Ra cartoon, but it is an eighties cartoon and this show’s sense of humour is very current. Think Steven Universe, there’s a lot of serious things being talked about and then that being undercut by someone saying or doing something weird. In fact there’s a lot of characters being and acting weird, which is fine for me as I like that kind of humour, but I totally understand that it’s not everyone’s sense of humour.
As for the animation I like all the character designs and as I said before, this series has some beautiful locations. I love how this show uses colour, from the bright and hopeful to the dark and dinghy, it really knows how to set atmosphere in a scene and it’s always go to look at. The soundtrack has some pretty good tracks as well that I wouldn’t mind listening to by themselves.
In the end She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a good start. There’s a lot of potential here and I like the majority of the characters, my favourite aspect so far is the dynamic between Adora and her best frenemy Catra. The story does take a little while to lay its groundwork and only really gets going past the midway point of the series, but if it carries on the course it’s on it could be a really fun and exciting ride. I’m looking forward to more of this show.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.