Back in 1985, Filmation’s She-Ra: Princess of Power delivered a female hero to rival the popular Masters of the Universe character, He-Man. The warrior princess and her origin story were all tied up within He-Man’s own history, even as her struggles against the Evil Horde on the planet Etheria paralleled his battle against Skeletor’s forces on Eternia. Now, She-Ra gets a chance to stand on her own and embark on an all-new adventure that’s refreshingly contemporary while also paying just enough homage to the original series to keep fans happy. And while the title of Netflix’s new DreamWorks TV series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power might suggest that the battle is a group effort this time around, Noelle Stevenson‘s take on the material focuses on both the solo hero’s journey and her relationships with allies and adversaries alike. (Be sure to read our interview with Stevenson here.)
The new series, of which all 13 episodes of its debut season are available on Netflix now, feels both familiar when compared to contemporary cartoons and original in its own right. If you’re a fan of the original 1985 series, the iconic 90s anime Sailor Moon, or more recent shows like Steven Universe, Voltron: Legendary Defender or The Legend of Korra, then She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is most definitely a show for you. We’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because the twists, turns, and reveals throughout the 13 episodes are worth experiencing for yourselves. But it suffices to say that She-Ra delivers fantastic sword-and-sorcery action, a compelling bit of world-building and mythology, and some of the most complex and honest portrayals of complicated relationships you’ll find in an animated kids series.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows Adora (Aimee Carrero), a warrior trained from birth for one purpose: combat in pursuit of military domination of the rebellious citizens of Brightmoon. At her side is the wily, agile, and resourceful Catra (AJ Michalka), Adora’s best friend and rival since childhood. Along with their fellow soldiers in the Horde, located in a secluded region known as the Fright Zone, Adora and Catra train under the tutelage of Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint) for the glory of their ruler, Hordak (Keston John). But when a mission goes off course, Adora discovers an ancient relic that not only puts her on a path she never expected, it also forces her to confront her past, present, and future.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is unique in a lot of ways. It presents audiences with a likable and charismatic character who’s got all the qualities of a hero but has been brought up in an environment that’s clearly not traditionally heroic. And if that wasn’t an interesting enough approach in and of itself (though it’s, of course, a nod back to the original story), what’s commendable about this telling is that it doesn’t shy away from the tough questions that Adora and those around her ask. Is she the product of her upbringing or of her own independent moral compass? Do her childhood friends and fellow combatants deserve to be given the cold shoulder in favor of new, more respectable allies, or is there a way to find a compromise? And should subordinates take their superiors’ orders unquestioned, or is it possible that the adults and parental figures on both sides don’t have their children’s best interests in mind? In other words, should they question authority? Should they question everything?
That’s a lot of heady material thrown at audiences, but it’s cleverly done, wrapped up in colorful visuals, easy-breezy dialogue, and a quirky animation style that shows off individual character traits and quick little sight gags. The world of Etheria is a world of light and magic, one which is increasingly threatened by an oppressive darkness as the season wears on. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power eases viewers into this conflict over time, building up its characters, their powers, and the strength of their relationships until they all come to a head in a final, massive conclusion.
And that conclusion does a swell job of wrapping up the fantastic first season of the new series, but it also feels like a launching-off point for bigger adventures that further explore the world. Viewers will surely gravitate to one character or another depending on which one of their personalities suits their tastes–Adora and her ability to overcome adversity, Catra and her penchant for getting into and out of trouble, Glimmer’s rebellious nature, or Bow’s unfailing optimism–so it would be a crime should they not get a second season (at least) to better get to know those characters. And there are quite a few supporting players who are standouts for either their personality quirks or their contributions to the action-packed plot, but the likes of Seahawk and Swift Wind are best left to audiences to discover for themselves.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power succeeds on all levels of storytelling, and is visually exciting, emotionally charged, and unexpectedly hilarious. It’s one of the best new shows of the year and an easy recommendation for your watch-list.