Welcome to Saturday Morning Cartoons, our weekly column where we continue the animated boob tube ritual of yesteryear. Our lives may no longer be scheduled around small screen programming, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the necessary sanctuary of Saturday ‘toons. In this entry, we champion the restorative might of the frenemy dynamic at the heart of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
I love you. Those three words were an impossible combination for me as a child. Mom and Dad were free with them. They never let a day escape without letting me know. I am loved.
Unfortunately, for most of my childhood and early adulthood, I only gave lip service to “I love you” and often put a button of “too” on it. To be preemptive with such words was emotionally foolish. They’re a risk to utter; the thought of rejection forever clouding the possibility of acceptance. Best to keep quiet.
I wish I grew up with She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on television. If I had, maybe I would have been more open with love and to love. Maybe fear would not have driven me away from certain friendships and partnerships. The Netflix series offers tools to chip the doubt away from your heart. It’s a guiding light for the romantically curious and excited. Don’t wall yourself away. Stand tall and present the you that you are and not the you that you struggle to imagine.
Developed under cartoonist and producer Noelle Stevenson in 2016, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power immediately removes itself from comparisons to the original ’80s cartoon spinoff. He-Man, where are you? Nowhere. Go enjoy your own reboot, Adam.
Stevenson’s She-Ra is fronted predominantly with a female cast of characters and purposefully diversified. The series refuses to present any single shade, whether in reference to skin color, sexuality, point of view, or emotional stability. There are good folks, and there are bad folks, but more often than not, the good fall into bad ways of thinking, and the bad fall into good ways of thinking.
Nowhere is this better personified than in the relationship between Adora and Catra. These orphans were raised from birth to sever the Horde as soldiers, but when Adora stumbles upon the enchanted Sword of Protection that transforms her into the mythical Princess of Power, her eyes are opened to the evil she’s endorsed. Hordak and his Horde mean to make slaves of Etheria’s population.
The rebellion is justified. Adora turns traitor, but Catra can’t join her. The soldier can’t shake her upbringing.
Adora’s action obliterates their friendship and sours Catra’s soul. Unable to perceive Adora’s decision, Catra allows the confusion to harden her personality. Anger and frustration become her deciding motivator.
Thirty years earlier, a pilot episode decided the boundaries of characters. In the ’80s, Catra would remain imprisoned to her rage and Adora to her courageous reversal. Autobots vs. Decepticons. G.I. Joe vs. Cobra. Blue lasers vs. red lasers.
Stevenson permits the characters of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power to fluctuate. Over five seasons, a myriad of questions burns within Adora and Catra. Are they on the right track? Can they go back to the way it was before? The perceived answers seem impossible and act as stumbling blocks for resolution.
As the fifth season reached its climax, the chance of a free Etheria seemed unlikely. Cosmic and dimensional shenanigans required Adora to shatter the Sword of Protection as it was a key to a kill-crazy superweapon. Without access to her She-Ra self, Adora fought alongside the resistance as any other would: on a hope and a prayer.
Revelations regarding Hordak’s genetics originating from Horde Prime (the She-Ra answer to The Emperor) place Catra under his care and claw. She should be relishing his capture of Glimmer, the newly appointed Queen of Bright Moon, but she finds herself swayed by conversations with the prisoner. Their chatter sparks blissful memories of Catra and Adora as soldiers of the Horde.
Once upon a time, Adora proclaimed her friendship with Catra to be eternal. The thought finally sends a shiver through Catra’s system. She’s on the wrong side. There’s no time like now to change your path.
Catra takes up arms against her masters and frees Glimmer from her shackles. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power concludes its epic run with Adora and Catra united against Horde Prime. Catra professes her love for Adora, and she is accepted. The two embrace, kiss, and inject their championing spirits against the villain.
Watching Catra internally debate her actions for five seasons was exhilarating. The frenemy relationship is an intoxicating and delectably soapy dynamic. Will they? Won’t they? The viewer craves affirmation as well, but television can be a cruel game of denial.
Too many shows take pleasure in guiding their audiences right up to the edge of their desire before coldly denying them. It’s why shipping is the great fanfic past-time. If you don’t give us what we want, then we’ll go out and do it ourselves.
Catra and Adora was not an obvious outcome, or at least, not for this boy who grew up on two-dimensional representations of cartoon romance. It’s sorta painful, but also thrilling, to imagine the teenager and young adult I would have become if I had these two for a beacon of intimacy. Watching Adora fight for Catra, and Catra fight for herself and against herself must be revelatory for a developing person.
These are the heroes we should make our instructors. You’re not born bad. You’re not born good. Every day is a fight to mold your identity. The you that you are today is not the you that you were or the you that you will be.
You take time. Every day is a chance to course-correct.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an epic saga of love: romantic, platonic, familial. The Horde, swords, and unicorns are the dressing to gain your interest, but after an episode or two, or at the most, a single season, the viewer returns for Adora and Catra. What a blessing that Stevenson and Netflix had the audacity to deliver when such a possibility is frequently reserved for the realms of fandom’s fantasy.
Say, “I love you.” Be Catra. Take a risk. The agony lies in the waiting.