As usual, I’m the last to know … but Netflix will release She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 4 on November 5, 2019. (Guy Fawkes Day, for whatever that’s worth.)
A teaser trailer from the recent New York ComicCon:
So why does a middle-aged guy with no kids care about a cartoon for kids?
Have you seen my other posts about DC Super Hero Girls?
Or the many, many role-playing game posts?
Over centuries academics and critics have created an artistic caste system: high art vs. crass entertainment, genre fiction vs. real literature, TV shows for kids1 vs. TV shows for adults2. Somehow a novel about detectives or elves or interstellar civilizations is less “worthy” than a novel about a middle-aged university professor lusting after one of his students and quoting Proust.
So why might an adult watch She-Ra?
Honestly, I can’t watch the original 1980s series. I’ve tried, but after 30 seconds of clunky animation and voice actors enunciating their stilted lines like they’re talking to complete idiots – which is what adults thought children were back then, as I recall – I want to wish it into the cornfield.
Not so the new series. Many have commented (some not so positively) on the new series’ character designs: anime-esque, but with more varied body types. The writing and voice acting sounds much more natural; characters talk like they’re having conversations. The writers also drop in self-referential jokes, running gags, and bits of nerd humor. (Not pop culture references that will be forgotten in a few years, but art and hobby references which will be good for at least, oh, ten.)
The creators of the new show took inspiration from the old show but wrote it for today’s media-savvy teens and tweens … and, I suspect, for themselves, or at least the kids they used to be.
Catra, Adora’s former best friend and current nemesis, is a fascinating villain. She remains a threat not because of superior powers – although she is amazingly fast – but because she knows how to manipulate people, especially Adora. After a childhood with an abusive adoptive parent in a totalitarian dystopia, she instinctively analyzes relationships and power dynamics for a lever to get what she wants.
Even her disgrace at the beginning of the third season3 …
… proves just another opportunity:
Ironically as she climbs the ranks of the horde without Adora her worst tendencies overwhelm her: cynicism, envy, spite, treachery. The last three episodes of She-Ra’s third season chronicle her descent from a somewhat sympathetic antagonist to a despot in some ways worse than Hordak, the damaged psychopath who created and (nominally) leads the Horde. By the end Adora’s presence, her very name, sends Catra into a nihilistic spiral: better to destroy everything than to let Adora “win”.
Reports from NYCC panels hint that in the upcoming season Catra almost wholly supplants Hordak as leader of his Horde. I don’t know of that many series where the primary villain starts as a minor lackey of more powerful villains and exploits their weaknesses to usurp their position. Gotham’s Penguin, maybe.
The First Episode
Sometimes people say a series “doesn’t get good” until midway through the first series, or second series, or later. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is NOT one of those series.
It starts off strong with a two-part story called “The Sword”. It introduces everything: the Horde, the Princesses, the Adora, Catra, most of the supporting cast. Adora is a reluctant hero, an honorable but loyal warrior of the Horde slowly and painfully learning that her entire life up to that point had been a lie.
Unlike Saturday morning cartoons, which air once a week in any order at the whim of the network, Netflix’s can show entire series in order. This lets the team behind She-Ra show us a hero slowly finding her way. And, at some points, being absolutely lost.
Honestly the best pitch for the show is “The Sword”. Either the animation style and writng click with a viewer, or it doesn’t. Assuming you, the reader, already has Netflix streaming, figuring out whether it clicks with you is an hour of your time, a half-hour if you get to the end of “The Sword, part 1” and just aren’t feeling it.