Minor spoilers for the series
On May 15th, the fifth and final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power will come to Netflix. Created by Noelle Stevenson, the series has received praise across the board for its storytelling, characters, themes, and handling of mental health.
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this show. I’m excited for the new season, but I’m pretty bummed out about it ending. No matter what though, I will always support a show being able to end on its own terms. I went through the pain of being a Star Wars: The Clone Wars and a Timeless fan where the shows were cancelled prematurely. It a sucky feeling knowing of all the things that could have been. At least Clone Wars was able to come back for a final season. Timeless was able to snag a television movie to wrap up the story. She-Ra gets to go out the way it wants to.
If you’ve never seen the new run of She-Ra, you’re absolutely missing out on one of the best animated shows around. Dare I say one of the best shows currently on television?
Yes. Yes, I do dare.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is one of the best shows on tv right now, and here’s why you should be watching it.
As Dave Trumbore of Collider stated in his season four review, She-Ra works a lot like the Harry Potter series. The first season starts off relatively lighthearted. The heroes gain victories over the Big Bads and everything is bright and happy. But as the show progresses, everything gets more complicated. Characters switch sides. The villains’ motivations are put into play. The heroes start suffering losses. Trust becomes a huge point of contention. Morals get thrown out the window as everything stops being black and white. By the time we reach season four, are there really any heroes and villains anymore? Are those lines blurred so much to where it’s a show about people just trying to survive in the world in their own ways? And just like in the fourth Harry Potter book, the true villain emerges at the end and everything changes in an instant. Everything that previously came up to that point doesn’t matter anymore. There’s a new threat in town, and it’s far more terrifying than anyone could imagine.
She-Ra’s story is so easy to write off in the beginning. To be honest, it took me until halfway through season one to really get hooked. Right around episode seven was when I went, “Oh! Okay! I see what everyone is raving about now!” But it’s so worth it to stick with this series. The stakes rise every season pushing the boundaries for the characters.
Which is great, because the characters are the best part of the show.
She-Ra has some of the most complex female characters I’ve ever seen. Every single one of them are flawed to some degree. Stevenson allows her characters to fail. But unlike other animated shows, she doesn’t sweep their mistakes under the rug to be miraculously better the next episode. Mistakes have consequences. The characters have to face these consequences to varying degrees of success and failure.
And it’s not just with the heroes too. The villains all have deep and rich backstories. You understand why and how they’re doing things. The drama comes from the sympathy you feel for them clashing with the heroes trying to save the world.
Season four set up a beautiful rift in the heroes where no one is right or wrong. We see characters like Adora and Glimmer, while friends, grow in two separate directions. Their responsibilities force them to make choices that have huge implications for the future of the world. As they butt heads together, the audience is left unsure who is correct until it’s too late.
Even the secondary characters have their own agency and are written beautifully. Pardon me as I gush about my favorite character for a moment.
I’m absolutely enamored with the character of Entrapta, who many fans see as being neurodiverse on the autism scale to some degree. We see that the other hero character seek out Entrapta only wanting to use her and her work for their save the world cause. Characters like Glimmer only want her for the rebellion while Bow actually treasures Entrapta for her skills. Outside of Bow, the other Princesses struggle to form connections with Entrapta as they don’t understand “her ways.” It’s not surprising to see Entrapta find a place with the enemy, The Horde. There, Catra manipulates her only to use Entrapta’s skills. But Entrapta still finds people who care for her like the lovable Scorpia. Also, the series villain, Hordak, values Entrapta as an equal inventor. And even then, she’s able to break down Hordak to the point of making him a sympathetic villain. He’s still a villain, but through Entrapta, we’re able to see his motivations and why he’s actually trying to rule the world. Stevenson writes Entrapta with so much nuance that she’s never a bad guy even though she’s on the side of the bad guys. She’s just as caring and loving. She’s there because she chose to be. She is the ultimate morally grey character. Burkely Hermann did a great analysis of Entrapta. I should note it’s full of spoilers, but definitely worth the read if you’ve seen the series.
Catra and Adora
But no characters are written better than the main leads Catra and Adora.
Adora is She-Ra and takes on that role with a slew of difficulty. Catra was raised with her, but she was always in Adora’s shadow. As the series unfolds, we see why they are the way they are. Both women were raised under emotional manipulation and abuse from Shadow Weaver who groomed them. As child soldiers, they struggle with their PTSD. Adora suffers from imposture syndrome, always doubting if she’s good enough to be She-Ra. Coming from the Horde, at times she doesn’t even know if she should have been chosen as a hero. The fact that we’re talking about imposture syndrome in an animated show is telling enough of why this is so good.
But Catra… Oh, Catra… There’s been so many think pieces and articles about why she’s one of the best written characters on television. To make a reference to another series Avatar: The Last Airbender, Catra is the Azula of the show. But where Azula’s character was rushed and at times heavy handed in writing, Catra’s story is a slow build of four seasons of who she is and why her story is important. Azula’s story had to walk so Catra’s story could run.
Catra and Adora handle their abuse differently. Adora wants to make the world better to fix her past mistakes. Catra wants everyone to feel as terrible as she does. She wants to win to prove that she’s better than Adora in every way. But Catra fears the hurt of being left behind to the point where she pushes everyone away from her. It leads to her having no support system and realizing she’s alone. It also shows how toxic relationships work on so many different levels. We understand Catra’s character motivations. She’s clearly a sympathetic villain. But it doesn’t make her right. Adora sees that. She tries repeatedly to help Catra, offering her over and over again chances to provide support for her old friend. But even Adora reaches a point where Catra is hurting her too much. She has to put aside her love for Catra to make a mentally healthier choice and walk away from the toxicity. You can only help someone if they’re willing to help themselves.
Normalization of Many Topics
She-Ra is queer as hell. Noelle Stevenson has said before that the audience can assume everyone is gay unless told otherwise. We see women dating women. Bow has two dads. Double Trouble is a non-binary character voiced by a non-binary actor Jacob Tobia, both using they/them pronouns. So many characters are queer coded, especially Catra.
Then we have the body representation presented. Spinnerella and Glimmer are not tiny stick women. They have full bodies and are both ready to be kick butt action stars. Scorpia is the muscle of Team Horde, but she can rock a full length dress looking like a femme queen. Huntara is a huge muscular woman who gains the affection of both Adora and Perfuma.
There’s also a variety of skin tones with people of color mixed into the cast playing pivotal roles in the series. Bow is just as important as Adora when it comes to saving the world. Lonnie is the anchor for Kyle and Rogelio as they work in the Horde. Netossa, Mermista, and Mara all play amazing roles in the show. Then you have actors of color voicing the characters. The cast includes Aimee Carrero, Karen Fukuhara, Marcus Scribner, Lorraine Toussaint, Keston John, Sandra Oh, and so many others.
The great thing about all of these points is it doesn’t beat the audience in the face with it. I grew up in the age where there would be a “Sailor Says” at the end of Sailormoon episodes to hound home the lesson of the day. The trend in animation would be the PSA episodes. You would have an episode specifically dedicated to why racism is bad or why it’s okay if your friend is gay.
But Noelle Stevenson is so much better than that. She normalizes everything in this show. It’s not a big deal that Bow has two dads. No one makes fun of the normally butch Scorpia in a dress. This is the world and how it works. It doesn’t have to be “A Very Special Episode of She-Ra” to get these points across. This is simply how the world of She-Ra exists.
And because of the normalization, it allows the character and the story to do their thing. These parts of the characters add to the nuances of what’s being told. The world of She-Ra is truly beautiful as its leading the way of why representation is important.
Nothing is ambiguous either. It’s clear that certain characters are gay or non-binary. It’s so refreshing to see unlike other properties I love.
I cannot wait for season five of She-Ra to come out. I know exactly where I will be on May 15th. I’ll be on my couch, pulling up Netflix, and ready to see how Adora, Catra, and the entire crew’s stories complete. And I bet I’ll cry a lot in the process.