In the 1980s, the world of animated television wasn’t exactly diverse. So, even though I don’t remember exactly loving He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (my idea of bliss was a Fruit Roll-Up and an episode of Scooby-Doo), I definitely watched plenty of it. The story is Superman-meets-Conan, with a dash of Arthurian legend, concerning Adam, the prince of the planet Eternia. He’s got a magic sword that turns him into He-Man, a nattily clad hero with super-strength and a bottomless well of witty rejoinders for Skeletor, He-Man’s comparably nattily clad, seemingly undead nemesis, whose entire existence is defined by his desire to see what’s inside He-Man’s house. Only a handful of people know He-Man’s secret, despite the fact that he doesn’t even bother to alter his appearance – He-Man looks exactly like Adam, except his purple shirt and lavender breeches give way to some dinky chest armor and a brown Speedo.
I’ve been re-watching He-Man lately (thank you/I hate you Netflix), and that habit has become a gateway drug to episodes of She-Ra: Princess of Power, the creators’ savvy attempt at doubling the audience for their shitty cartoons by giving a shout out to the ladies. And after taking in the three-episode arc of She-Ra’s origin story, I can report that despite some unexpectedly dedicated writing, the series is as much a poorly disguised excuse to sell toys as the show that spawned it (of course, The Simpsons parodied it best).
Regardless of how half-baked these shows are, it is impressive that the producers devoted three episodes to tell the story of how She-Ra, He-Man’s twin sister, was kidnapped as a baby and taken to the planet Etheria by the dark lord Hordak, who’s like Skeletor except he makes pig sounds. The first episode finds The Sorceress, Eternia’s token bird-spirit-mystic-lady, having a dream about a sword that’s much like He-Man’s. It opens a magic portal to Etheria somehow, and Prince Adam and his obnoxious coward of a pet, Cringer, agree to go through it without much prodding, presumably because one doesn’t fuck with The Sorceress’s decrees. Etheria turns out to be the lame rip-off of Eternia that you’d expect it to be, with the rebel soldier Bow replacing Man-At-Arms as the Tom of Finland fantasy sidekick, Glimmer replacing Teela as the dipshit female warrior, and Madame Razz replacing Orko as the pathetically ineffective and annoying magician (the only difference – she’s Jewish!). At the end of the episode, He-Man discovers that the sword that got him into this mess belongs to Adora, the conveniently Barbie-like character who is an agent of Hordak’s vaguely suspicious sounding group that controls Etheria, The Evil Horde.
Episode Two, “Beast Island,” finds He-Man convincing Adora that The Evil Horde might be, you know, evil. And while we eventually learn that Adora is under the spell of Hordak’s left-hand necromancer, The Shadow Weaver, the depths of her stupidity here are hard to take as anything less than sexist. Eventually, in “She-Ra Unchained,” Adora breaks the spell and saves He-Man from Hordak’s energy-sucking machine, which he plans to somehow use to destroy the Whispering Woods, a place that sounds like a nursing home but is actually where the rebel holdfast is located.
Once she realizes that she “has the power,” Adora becomes She-Ra, and her horse becomes the rainbow-colored flying horse that every little girl would kill her parents for. Then, as He-Man and She-Ra are riding said horse away from danger, she casually drops the bomb on him – The Sorceress appeared to her in a vision, and told her that He-Man was her twin brother, and that she was stolen from their family by Hordak. As they flew away into the distance, He-Man seemed non-plussed. Perhaps it’s a realistic reaction to such soul-shattering news, and the characters express their sadness and rage about the situation in subsequent episodes. Which is as good a reason as any to keep watching, right?