She-Ra, the Princesses of Power, and Reboot Culture

Why do we love seeing new versions of the same thing? Is it simple nostalgia? Is it the desire to engage with some sort of content that once moved us in a new and different way? Is it new creators wanting to stamp something they loved from their own childhood with their mark? Or is it all of the above?

I’m not immune to loving reboots. I devoured the new DuckTales on Disney XD, I’m reading the new Rainbow Brite comics from Dynamite, I’m watching the new iteration of Will & Grace, and continue to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Reboots are fun; they not only allow fans who loved something to have a nostalgia party, but also allow potential new fans entry points into what sometimes appears to be never-ending streams of content (I’m looking at you, Transformers). But things seem out of hand when even ReBoot, the mid-90s CGI cartoon, has a reboot on Netflix (ReBoot: The Guardian Code). Have reboots become the “safe,” risk-averse way companies can cash in on portfolio properties that already have known fanbases? It’s the equivalent of an artist only drawing fanart because they know it will get thousands of likes versus hundreds on original content.

MLP - Twilight Letter

Can you believe we’re almost to 200 episodes, Spike?

And I fully admit some level of fatigue with franchises that just keep chugging along, seemingly forever. Every movie that comes out seems to want to be a tentpole franchise builder. Or a reboot of an existing franchise, or a soft reboot that only takes some elements going forward, or an alternate universe or…well, you get the idea.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

These, for instance, begin to feel like we’re eating at the same chain restaurant for the thousandth time.

I love original content. One of the best shows I watched this year was Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls (yes, I know I’m rather late to the game). It was a bright spot of originality, something new and not tied to any other content or previous iteration. Many of the anime I watch and enjoy are either original or straight adaptations of an existing manga. I think original content and ideas are important in entertainment. They allow a generation to experience a piece of entertainment in its prime, and have something uniquely “theirs.” Kids of the 60s had Star Trek, kids of the 70s had Star Wars, kids of 80s will always be the original audience for Jem & the Holograms and He-Man/She-Ra, kids of the 90s will always have X-Men TAS and Sailor Moon. (And PGJR, of course haha). No matter if they are rebooted down the road or not, that original experience belongs to the original viewers.

Can't Ruin Someone's Childhood if they already grew up

Which is why it’s always hilarious to me when people who hate on the new version of something say “It’s ruining my childhood!” Your childhood is whatever it was, frozen in time. Those original cartoons obviously still exist, and if you have the desire you can watch most of them. A reboot doesn’t destroy the original, no matter how many changes it makes to the original idea. The best reboots can often give us (as adults) what we thought we were watching as children. And often, the reboot can drive traffic back to seek out the original, as adults want to share with children the version they loved at that age.

Which brings us to She-Ra. I didn’t watch any He-Man or She-Ra as a child, for whatever reason. I found He-Man & the Masters of the Universe through the 2002 anime-influenced incarnation (also a great reboot IMO), then went back and watched the 1983 cartoon, followed by the 1985 She-Ra: Princess of Power. I loved it all. Sure, sometimes it was goofy, and there was lots of animation reuse in the older versions, but the core concepts were really strong. They are classic good vs evil, freedom vs tyranny stories, told with engaging casts and crazy creative worlds.

I powered through all 93 episodes of She-Ra during the summer of 2010 while I studied for my board exams. It holds the special place of being the series I turned to to relieve the stress of studying. I love the 80s fantasy girl designs, the color schemes, the powers, the sheer kookiness of the side characters. She-Ra was the OG American magical girl, and I finally understood what all the fuss over this franchise was about. She-Ra feels iconic in the way that characters like Wonder Woman and Sailor Moon do. Yes, she starts out as a spin-off of the successful He-Man franchise, but he makes very few appearances in She-Ra’s cartoon.

But after her initial run, She-Ra remained a virtually dormant property for the next 30 years. He-Man had two different reboots in 1991 and 2002, but She-Ra was stuck in limbo. Only once the Masters of the Universe Classics collectible figure from Mattel released in 2010 did She-Ra finally see the light of day again. Story-wise, the bios on the back of the toy packages gave us a little info about She-Ra’s further adventures, but it wasn’t until the 2012/2013 Masters of the Universe comic from DC that She-Ra comes back, this time in the guise of the villainous Despara. It’s a dark but interesting take on the characters; an exploration of what being raised by the Evil Horde would really do to a person.

Despara,She-Ra's alternate identity from the DC Comics

Despara,She-Ra’s alternate identity from the DC Comics

 

Catra and Adora

Sad Horde babies.

Interestingly, this seems to be the jumping-off point for the new “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” animated series from Dreamworks and Netflix. This show takes as its central theme the relationship between Adora and Catra. When Adora finds the sword that lets her turn into She-Ra, she leaves the Horde – an organization to which she has devoted her life. Almost more importantly, she leaves behind Catra, her best friend. It’s this broken relationship that informs the emotional tone of the rest of the show.

Unlike the 80s version, this time around the Rebellion knows Adora’s identity as She-Ra. It’s an interesting change – shows of the 80s were obsessed with secret identities, and sometimes it could get ridiculous making up excuses for what happened to the other identity of the character every time. Thankfully, that is avoided here, and instead of angst over whether or not you can let people know the real you, we are treated to relationships that ask whether we can accept someone who we know has wronged us before.

Much has been made over this update’s reworking of the body types and ethnicities of the main princesses. While I confess not loving all the updated designs and missing the 80s fairytale warrior goddesses of the original, I understand and fully support the change. Reboots are about viewing something old through the lens of today, and audiences of today want to see themselves in the media they watch or read. We can’t (and shouldn’t) go back to mostly-white casts. The world is a rainbow of colors, and the show feels richer for including them.

Speaking of rainbows, I have to mention the new show’s decidedly queer bent. The relationship between Adora and Catra is somewhere between ex-best-friends and ex-girlfriends in tone. Netossa and Spinerella, long shipped by the fandom, are finally outed in a true relationship this time around. Other characters like Scorpia, Bow, and Entrapta all tap into queer mannerisms and norms as well. The end result is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in children’s entertainment, and I couldn’t be happier. I wish I’d had something similar as a child, but I’m grateful today’s queer kids have their own heroes.

When we talk about a successful reboot, what are we looking for? Here’s what I think a good reboot need to accomplish.

  1. Bring the characters and concepts of the original property up to date for current audiences.
  2. Explore the characters or world in new and different ways.
  3. Add depth to the original concept.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power does all of these in spades. I think it’s the nicest treatment an 80s female-driven property has gotten in a reboot. The show is full of strong characters with interesting dynamics, great writing, and interesting world building. Yes, some of the episodes can be a bit predictable and the designs are not always my favorite, but everything works together toward a greater whole. I won’t spoil the story for you, because seriously if you haven’t watched this, get thee to Netflix and enjoy!

For the Honor of Grayskull!

Chris

P.S. Can you imagine getting a Jewel Riders reboot that brought all this to the table? I’d die!

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