The Emotional Honesty of She-Ra

On November 13 of 2018, Noelle Stevenson and the amazing crew at Dreamworks debuted the re-imagining of She-Ra, and in its 5 seasons we’ve been brought along on an amazing journey of character growth with both the protagonists and antagonists.

Speaking as someone who grew up on the original, as well as a horde of other 80s animation that has seen reboot after remake after re-imagining (Transformers, Gem & the Holograms, He-Man), it did my heart good to see She-Ra given such loving treatment. My nostalgia remembers those old shows fondly, and I was even able to partake of a few episodes when the first She-Ra series was on Netflix, and while I don’t wish to be overly critical of a cartoon from the 80s, I do realize in my later years that it was a toy commercial.

Which is exactly what She-Ra & The Princesses Of Power is not.

Before I go any further, seeing as how the final season only just came out a few days ago, I’m going to put the rest of this article behind a cut as there are some majour spoilers.

One of the aspects of the writing that I’ve really come to appreciate in this story is the sheer heart and humanity of the characters. In them, we see teenagers who act like teenagers while also in the midst of a war. They make mistakes, they’re nervous, scared, angry, resentful, and forgiving.

Now, as a personal aside that’s related to this, I deal with anxiety often, where I’ve had to struggle against it to get out of the house and go to the gym, back when gyms were open.

So during the episode, Save The Cat, when the Best Friend Squad is on Hordak Prime’s ship, they split up to cover as much ground as possible, and we follow them as Adora acts as a distraction. However, this is Glimmer’s second time upon the ship, and as we follow her we see her just dealing with the fear and the anxiety of it all. She’s breathing hard and quick, her shoulders are scrunched inwards, but she continues on.

This is completely understandable because while on Hordak’s ship, she was a prisoner, had little access to her magic, and is shown footage of her friends and family back on Etheria being assaulted as Hordak Prime himself offers her a way out, via giving over the Heart of Etheria. The narrative lets her have this anxiety and fear, and never criticizes nor belittles her for it. Anyone would have felt the same to differing degrees, but for someone who was a general and a soldier who then had to take over for a mother who sacrificed her life? It’s a humanity I don’t often see portrayed in animation.

In an earlier episode, Stranded, we see Bow’s relief at having rescued Glimmer move onto anger, as she had used the Heart of Etheria against his wishes because of how dangerous it was. Bow is allowed this anger by the narrative and even by Glimmer herself. And Bow does have a right to be angry.

The episode ends with him still being angry with her, but also having some reconciliation as well. After all, they’ve been best friends forever, and we see it culminate in the finale, where they tell each other how they love one another, and he kisses her on the forehead, as it’s more of a sibling love than anything else, in my opinion.

And the relationship between Adora and Catra? All is not instantly forgiven after they rescue her. It’s a rocky road they both have to navigate, with Adora still not having quite forgiven Catra for all that she’s done, and Catra herself working on her anger and abandonment issues.

How their own development is tied into their relationship was such a slow burn I honestly had no idea that Catradora would morph from headcanon to canon. It starts off from them rebuilding their friendship to, well, the kiss that saved not only a planet, but an entire galaxy from the tyrannical rule of a despot.

It’s growth that these two have gone from Friends to Enemies, back to Friends, and end in a declaration of love.

And to have two women go through it?

In this day and age, that makes such growth even more incredible. Too often subtext has stood in for genuine LGBTQ content and representation, edited out (looking at you MCU for editing out a lady leaving Valkyrie’s room in Thor Ragnorok, and Star Wars for removing a lesbian kiss to achieve a PG-13 rating overseas), or just killed off (Life is Strange save the town option and The 100). By having Catradora be endgame in such a satisfying conclusion, She-Ra is bound to become as important to queer youth today as, say for example, subbed Sailor Moon was back in the 90s.

(On this website we do not acknowledge the dub, which all but said that incest is preferable to lesbians.)

Of course, there are a lot more examples of how characters’ emotions are respected in this show, from Entrapta’s heartbreaking speech about being better with tech than people in the episode Launch being a continuation of her feelings about how friends are hard in Beast Island of Season 4, Scorpia learning to embrace herself more with Perfuma’s encouragement after being discouraged so much by Catra’s dismissive attitude, and others, and even Catra and Adora’s crying over the death of Shadow Weaver, in spite of her being an emotionally abusive mother.

It’s not something you easily get over.

One thing I am glad for being the age I am is having seen the evolution of writing in Western Animation, where it’s become more than just something you put on for the kids to kill some time to being another medium of storytelling with growth, representation, and respecting the fact that younger people such as teens are emotionally complex.

From being the long lost sister of He-Man, to finding a sword in the woods, She-Ra has come a long way.

2 thoughts on “The Emotional Honesty of She-Ra

  1. This is really well-written, I’m surprised there are no other comments. I completely agree with you, She-Ra has a nuance and acceptance that many shows lack. The characters are diverse and they are accepted. This show tackles trauma arising from abuse and how that relationship can be complicated. It normalises the concept that you can love and attempt to protect someone while at the same time holding them accountable for their mistakes. I love how Adora grows as a person and develops the confidence to stick up to Catra, who, until now has always managed to get under her skin. Glimmer accepts that Bow needs time to forgive her. 10 / 10 would want more shows like this for my future kids to watch.

    1. With regards to past trauma, I’ve honestly not seen a show tackle it like I’ve seen She-Ra tackle it, and in animation to boot.

      And thank you kindly for the comment!

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