In 1985, Princess Adora emerged as the twin sister of He-Man, kidnapped and raised by the villainous Horde to exact their dominance over the realm of Etheria. With a raise of her sword and a shoutout to Grayskull, she became a heroine for that television age. Yet, She-Ra: Princess of Power was always considered in reference to He-Man. Prince Adam was the first man, so to speak, and she would always be the spinoff. In 2018, showrunner Noelle Stevenson, leading a predominantly female writers room, takes He-Man out of the picture entirely to let Adora stand on her own. This new She-Ra and The Princesses of Power is now just as much Masters of the Universe as it is Steven Universe.
In the landscape of kids animation, where including any sort of overt queer visibility is frequently discouraged, the 13-episode series is a re-education for the industry. If Steven Universe, helmed by Rebecca Sugar, is still the dominant force in the galaxy pushing against the restraints on LGBTQ representation, then She-Ra is a worthy successor — which seems appropriate for the warrior woman wielding a sword of rainbow energy from atop a winged unicorn.
Sugar introduced LGBTQ characters and concepts as she redefined what sci-fi heroes can be. Her Gems, Earth’s defenders, merge together to form more powerful entities, ones that are commonly gender-fluid or identify as “they/them.” Stevenson, similarly, redefines our idea of princesses and, in doing so, gives us visibly queer characters.
According to one school of thought, homophobia is a product of misogyny; there are finite ideals of what men and women are, and anything that deviates from those definitions is considered blasphemous. In Etheria, when women thrive, queerness thrives.
Princesses are rulers, diplomats, and warriors. If they’re captured, they can usually get out of it themselves, either by sheer nerve, skill, force, or a magical control of a natural element — fire, plant, air, water, ice, etc. As She-Ra, Adora’s element is straight-up power, making her the most mighty princess in Etheria and the one destined to unite the disparate lands against the Horde. None of them pine after princes. The prince is an endangered species and without the omnipresence of his toxic masculinity, everyone else is given room to thrive.
Mistress of nets Netossa and tornado-weaver Spinnerella are two princesses who are visibly in love. They only appear in the finale, but they have an impact as they share an intimate embrace when the battle is won. Bow isn’t himself a princess, but the archer with two dads fights alongside them as one of Adora and Glimmer’s best friends. He’s the Hawkeye in heart-printed midriffs to their Princess Avengers, and his own femininity never undermines his power. He’s an adept arrow-slinger, able to fend off robotic arachnids while his teammates are incapacitated.
This clear visibility may seem fleeting, especially since we also don’t hear much else about Bow’s dads other than the fact he has them, and to some extent it is. But in reference to the bigger obstacles at play in the realm of kids animation realm, they feel impressive. Voltron: Legendary Defender, DreamWorks Animation’s last Netflix series, hit a few of these obstacles when showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos confirmed Shiro, leader of the Paladins, to be gay. They were applauded for including such a prominent LGBTQ figure in a property like Voltron, but that applause turned to jeers when Shiro’s love interest was killed off shortly after his introduction in the penultimate season. Dos Santos didn’t (or, more likely, couldn’t) get into too many details when addressing the subject on Twitter — you know, he still works for DreamWorks — but he alluded to the “boundaries” that are still in place when dealing with “this type of ‘action adventure/product-driven/traditionally boys toys.’” Licensed properties, at the end of the day, typically mean more executives are going to throw in their two cents.
The difference between She-Ra’s success and Voltron’s stumble, while both are dealing with pre-existing brands, is that Netossa and Spinnerella were, at best, minor characters and Shiro is a primary protagonist.
“If we can find the positivity in any of this, it’s the fact that the ‘target audience’ for whom animation is currently being created for is evolving and growing daily and alongside it content and inclusivity is evolving as well… Maybe a bit slower than we’d like… But it’s moving forward,” Dos Santos wrote. “In the months and years to come, I think we’ll see some truly awesome strides.”
She-Ra is still one of those “truly awesome strides” — and not just because the show introduces a same-sex couple and manages to keep them both alive.