Noelle Stevenson of beloved all-ages adventure comic series Lumberjanes fame brings us a welcome reboot of the ‘80s classic.
Note: Having never grown up on the original Filmation show, this reviewer was a bit hesitant to review this new iteration of She Ra, but did manage to catch the opening five episodes (essentially an extended movie-length pilot) for at least some basis for comparison. It’s certainly dated, but holds that memorable, ‘80s charm.
Sprinkled with influences of Star Wars, My Little Pony, and Mass Effect 2, this iteration stays surprisingly faithful to the source material’s central premise with Adora starting out as a foot soldier working her way up the ranks of “Force Captain” amongst The Horde, who operate in The Fright Zone. Seriously, with names like these, didn’t Adora once stop and think “Are we the baddies”?
The format of the show sees Horde deserter Adora joining a Rebel Alliance, and along with her new-found pals Glimmer and Bow set out on a mission to recruit all the princesses of power across the Etheria to unite and finally defeat the evil Horde.
With a transformation sequence that’s an unashamed homage to Sailor Moon that never gets old, Adora whips aloft her magic sword, you know the drill: The scrappy tomboy is transformed into the Valkyrian, sword-wielding badass She Ra.
Regrettably, much has been bandied about some supposed “agenda”, that the showrunners are trying to push, and quite frankly those naysaying trolls can go and suck a unicorn horn – the colourful cast of mostly-female protagonists in this show are nothing short of Adora-ble, even the majority of the baddies, and anyone trying to pick fault or contrive some sort of hidden subtext with such an innocuous series as this, a show that should be empowering to all viewers, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation needs to take a good long look in the mirror.
Ditto the animation style. I don’t know what Pixar-level aesthetic people these days are expecting from a Netflix original, and while original show had an efficient, workmanlike design, but outside of a few key shots that were repeated multiple times, often in the same episode, it’s not like it had Disney (yes, even mid-‘80s, Black Cauldron-era Disney) quaking in their boots. The design here is crisp, clean, bright, chunky and colourful – you could easily pick any character out of their silhouette – a litmus test that frustratingly few cartoons fail to pass. Some have likened the show to the much more stylised Steven Universe, but personally, outside of the pastel-flavoured colour palette, I don’t see it. I’m a sucker for the anime-inspired vibe – Glimmer’s mother Queen Angella has a distinct Leiji Matsumoto look about her – and it’s always welcome to see.
Adora herself is a fantastically-etched central character who also serves nicely as a point of view for the audience. The show handles not only the interpersonal conflict between her and her fellow Horde cronies (the fist-pumpingly ace intro is itself a spoiler, so maybe give it a wide berth until episode 3) but one of the most pervading constants the show displays with a very real passion is that of friendship – the relationship between new-found frenemies Adora and loyal Horde-member Catra is heartbreaking to see play out across the show’s brisk and energetic 13-episode run. It’s a brilliantly-realised setup, which was completely absent from the original show’s 5-episode opener, and really makes you want to just bang both parties’ heads together and have them hug it out. Similarly, Glimmer and Bow feel like the Willow and Xander to Adora’s Buffy; one genuinely touching episode shows how these two besties deal with the idea of a third paradigm in their BFF equation.
And what would an action-adventure show be like without a cast of evil villains? Don’t worry, fans of the original show can rest easy that Hordak and Shadow Weaver are present, the latter very much a chilling, ruthless presence that might be a bit too frightening for younger viewers. Hordak, like in the original show, is a much more cunning, efficient leader than the bumbling Skeletor. Things are set up for a season 2, and while I think it’s a no-brainer for them to introduce the topic of Adora’s immediate birth family, I think the show sets up a massive playground and a diverse, interesting set of characters who sadly don’t get as much screen time as I’d have liked until the final few episodes. I’m crossing my fingers, knees, legs and toes that Dreamworks/Netflix can smash out at least two more seasons to see a fully-fleshed out cast of Princesses that each gets their own chance to fully shine. I’d like to see what the whole deal with Shadow Weaver is as well.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Dreamworks/Netflix have been knocking it out the part these past few years; along with Voltron: Legendary Defender, Trollhunters, The Dragon Prince, and now this, they really are the gift that keeps on giving.