So, out of all the 80's cartoon DVD sets that I've procured in the past 7 or so years I keep getting amazed by the ones that stand out as my favorites as far as content and presentation. I grew up addicted to shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, the Silverhawks and Bravestarr for the most part; you know manly shows full of action and misfired lasers that never seemed to hit anything more important than rocks and the odd robot. There were a handful of shows that barely hit my radar like Robotech (too soap opera-y, you can see my thoughts on the show here), Jem (a guilty pleasure to be sure), and She-Ra Princess of Power, which just seemed like He-Man for girls.
When I sat down and started watching She-Ra recently, I was immediately struck by how wrong I was, and it's made for a lot of fun recent cartoon watching. If you haven't seen it, the show is a spin-off of He-Man that deals with the land of Etheria (which I think is actually a planet, though like Erternia in He-Man that's confounded me for years) and its inhabitants battling to get free of Hordak and his evil Horde (a mixture of He-Man-esque villains and stormtrooper-like robot things) who rule over the world. As you find out in the five-episode movie, the Secret of the Sword, which kicked off the first Vol. of DVDs (also available on the Best Of She-Ra set), one of Hordak's minions Adora (who was Captain of the Horde Troopers) is actually the long lost twin sister of Prince Adam, aka He-Man, who helps to free her of the magical hold that Hordak (via another minion Shadow Weaver) has on her. Adam brought a special sword (the Sword of Protection) for Adora, which like his Sword of Power has the ability with the power of Greyskull to transform her into the mighty She-Ra. Adora then bands together with a rag tag group of rebels to help build a rebellion against Hordak like so many Star Wars movie cliches.
This for me, is actually what sets She-Ra apart from He-Man and most of the cartoons of the 80's in that the heroes are coming from the losing side against an evil that has for all intents and purposes already succeeded in it's goal of world domination. Typically it's always the other way around in cartoons, so to have the balance of power shifted is pretty interesting. I also really dig the oppressing technology-minded world of the Horde, which is destroying all that's good and natural in Etheria. It ends up feeling very Matrix like in this respect. The landscapes and backgrounds are a hell of a lot more interesting with disturbing hidden words like 'obey' and 'evil' in the various bits of machinery and stuff. It makes for an over all darker show and the motivations of the characters end up being a little more relatable.
Of course being an 80's cartoon, the show does suffer from a ton of stereotypes. It's truly a mirror image of the He-Man cartoon with a cast of mostly female characters, Princess Glimmer, Queen Angella, Frosta and Madame Razz (who is the equivalent of Orko) and only one guy, Bow (the bizzaro version of Teela) as well as Spirit, Adora's horse who turns into Swift Wind the winged unicorn ala Cringer to Battle Cat when Adors becomes She-Ra. To sort of cement it as a "girl's show" there are some very Disney-esque talking animals/animated-inanimate objects with the addition of Kowl, a weird creature that's some sort of cross between an owl, a flying squirrel and a box of crayons as well as Broom, Madame Razz's sidekick that is what it's name suggests. The names of the places are all very "girly" as well, what with the Whispering Woods and the Crystal Castle (which has a gate keeper named Lighthope that's one of four people to know Adora's secret of being She-Ra (filled out by Kowl, Madame Razz & Broom.) Well I guess there are actually six people who know seeing as He-Man and the Sorceress also know. Damn it, there's also Sprit/Swift Wind, and I'm sure Cringer/Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, and Orko all know seeing as Prince Adam confides in them as well. Fine, everybody probably knows. Secrets schmeecrets. Anyway, I think these 80's stereotypes actually help to accentuate the show from a nostalgia prospective.
The show has also been fun to watch for its variations on common 80's cartoon conventions, for instance the moral at the end of the show. In every episode of She-Ra there is a character named Loo-Kee (which I think is sort of named for Loki the Norse god of mischief) who is hiding somewhere in one of the backgrounds and at the end of the show he pops up to let you know where he was and to help you with the moral for the show. I thought was pretty ingenious as kids will be more likely to listen to what he's saying because they spent the last half hour subconsciously trying to find him. The Show is also a great example of how you don't need to stick to stereotypes to market a cartoon. Though it's obviously for girls, it's more or less a carbon copy of He-Man, which is stereotypically for boys and proves that both boys and girls can like the same things and don't have to be separated. It's surely a show that set up the groundwork for action shows like Justice League and Teen Titans that are marketed to both boys and girls.
I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record with this, but once again this DVD set was released by BCI Eclipse, under their Ink & Paint division, which has done an amazing job with package and menu design, presentation of the content, not to mention a bunch of fun special features. There's a new installment of the behind the scenes documentary series by Andy Mangels, which ran through the entire He-Man series of DVDs and just as interesting and informative, as well as games, character profiles and some commentaries. All in all, with 33 episodes, the worthwhile extras, and the beautiful packaging, for around $30 you definitely get your money's worth with this set.