or, “Great Rebellion? It doesn’t look so great to me.”
Well, the success of the He-man marketing lead, as it does, to an effort to make more money which suddenly realized that maybe little girls wanted to buy toys too, and He-man had only two female action figures. Thus, it turns out Adam has a twin sister named Adora (seriously, I can’t make this up) who was kidnapped as a baby and taken to the alternate dimension of Etheria to work for the evil Hordak (whose face also looks like a skull) and his Horde. After a five-part cross-over episode in which Adam takes the Sword of Protection to Adora, frees her of the brainwashing, and helps save the Great Rebellion, She-ra, Princess of Power, got her own series, and what is often regarded (if the internets can be believed) as the first example of a henshin in Western animation. Pretty much every He-man character had a distaff counterpart. The part of Cringer and voice of reason was played by Bow’s owl-bat thing Kowl while Battle Cat was played by She-ra’s transformed steed Swift Wind (the horse could not talk untransformed). So here’s an extra funny thing – in a world largely populated by women and focused on women, the same voice actress from He-man was joined by exactly one more voice actress. Talk about talking to yourself.
Frankly, everything that can be said about He-Man can be said about She-ra as far as snark value. The same recycled footage techniques were used. The same sort of naming convention too, if perhaps even more blatant. Frosta – frost powers. Castaspella – a sorceress. Angella – angel wings. Mermista – a mermaid. Glimmer – uses light-based attacks (and not very well). Netossa – a bad gal who threw nets (seriously; I don’t think they were even trying at that point). I think there was less character in She-ra, actually. I liked Cowl, but that was about it. Even the bad guys were lacking. Hordak also threw temper tantrums, but just not as well as Skeletor. It didn’t help that he also sounded like a pig snorting. Catra’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard and it was clear she was no Evil-lyn, although the origin of her mask was somewhat interesting. The suction cup guy had Orko’s voice so I immediately disliked him. And Orko’s distaff counterpart, Madame Razz, was even more annoying than Orko himself. That’s a pretty good trick. But I find the two shows highlight exactly how marketers view the differences between boys and girls.
He-Man was the “most powerful man in the universe.” His preferred method to solve problems was to punch them in the face, even if they didn’t have faces. She-ra was the “Princess of Power.” And while she was much stronger than anyone else in Etheria (although of course not as strong as He-Man), often had to think about her situation. While both series claimed that violence was the last resort, for She-Ra it actually usually was. He-Man’s magic sword cut things. She-Ra’s magic sword turned into things; pretty much anything she needed or wanted and she often used it to solve the problem she was facing. She-Ra also could magically heal, although that may have been shown only one episode. Clearly the marketers felt just having a heroine that punched people in the face was not going to be as engaging for girls as just having a hero that punched people in the face was for boys.
In Eternia, there were exactly four female characters – Teela, Queen Marlena, Evil-lyn, and the Sorceress. Teela, as Captain of the Guard, was a tomboy, despite having to be rescued every now and then. But she was reckless, impulsive, and condescending, which are generally not associated with feminine qualities. She was clearly, to me, added to the cast because marketers felt a girl who liked He-Man would be more like a boy than a girl. Evil-lyn was there so Teela would have an evil counterpart. The Queen was more of a prop and backstory to Adam (as she was from Earth) although once or twice she was awesome. The Sorceress was often the damsel in distress, but also just a facilitator to get He-Man to where he needed to be.
In Etheria, there were only a few male characters. The main baddie, Hordak, was a male, which shows marketers didn’t think girls would watch a show with a female main baddie. I’m not sure why since all of Hordak’s main minions were female. There was also Bow, whom is Teela’s spear counterpart, except he ends up dating Glimmer, not Adora. He was slim, especially compared to the men of Eternia, had a tiny mustache and shot arrows that had heart-shaped heads. I think he was supposed to be a cross between Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and Cupid. Whereas Teela was a tomboy, Bow was, hrm, how to say it? A gentleman, I guess. He was supposed to appeal to the kind of boy who’d watch She-Ra. I’m pretty sure that’s insulting on a lot of levels. There was also Seahawk, who was a pirate, and who was a lot less damsel-y than Bow. Also, he had a flying ship, which is cool. He started off a bad guy then joined the Rebellion and was clearly Adora’s love interest. I suppose even in children’s cartoons good girls like bad boys. Then there were two bad guys – Mantenna and some suction-cup guy who barely mattered except as people to get punched.
Little boys don’t mind ugly characters, but little girls only like pretty characters. Villains tend to be ugly, as a rule, in pretty much all media. But even amongst ugly villains, He-Man’s were Ugly. The only villain that wasn’t hideously deformed or a monster was Evil-lyn. Physically, I mean. Evil-lyn was obviously crippled emotionally. Even the heroes weren’t the most physically attractive, and I mean outside the over-muscled body-builder mold. For examples, Ram-man was abnormally short and stupid, Mek-a-Nek had a freaky long neck, and Buzz-off actually looked like a horrible experiment to create a human-bee hybrid. While nearly all He-Man characters had distaff counterparts in She-ra’s world, few of them were ugly. Yes, the male villians were but the female villains were not ugly and certainly none of the heroes were. Whiplash, for example, was a He-Man villain that looked like a human-alligator hybrid, but his counterpart Scorpia was a relatively normal female except she had claw hands and a tail. Or Buzz-off’s counterpart, Sweet Bee, who was just a normal female except she had cute little bee wings. The closest to ugly for a female was ShadowWeaver, and the cartoon never showed her without the hood. Heck, Catra’s action figure box labeled her as “jealous beauty!” Clearly “murderous psychopath” doesn’t target the correct demographic.
Even the political landscape of the two worlds highlights the differences between marketing to boys or girls. Randor was the King of Eternia (I think there were other kings, but he was clearly the important one, like a High King). The Masters of the Universe actually ran the whole darn planet (although they never actually kicked Skeletor out of Snake Mountain because frankly that was the sucky side of the planet and no one wanted to live there anyway). That’s because little boys don’t want to grow up to be kings. But little girls fantasize about being princesses and queens, so Etheria had a lot more of those. Adora herself was a princess (although of a different world), and often referred to as such (whereas Prince Adam is almost always called Adam). Angella was the queen of Bright Moon. Glimmer was the princess. Frosta was queen of the Ice Kingdom. Castaspella was the queen of Mystacor. Mermista was queen of the undersea kingdom.
So there you go – gender studies and after-school cartoons combined into one long snarky blog. In conclusion, I enjoyed both cartoons because I think little boys and little girls aren’t really so different. They like seeing the bad guy lose and if he gets punched in the face while losing, so much the better. Toy-wise is probably a different story, though, which I suppose is where all the marketing comes into play. But cartoon-wise, it’s all really the same.