For those of you not keeping up with Masters of the Universe news, you might be confused as to why I’m talking about a He-man series on Netflix yet again, but this time it’s a different series! Unlike Masters of the Universe: Revelation (which I did an episode by episode look at), this series is directed squarely at kids. He-man and the Masters of the Universe is CGI, brought to life by the same animators behind Trollhunters and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch. I’m going to talk about this show as a whole. I binged it over a couple days, and spoilers are included.
The Passing of the Sword
Despite MOTU, as a property, being around since 1981 this is the first time it’s gotten a complete reinvention. Which might cause some fans to recoil in horror, but left me very excited. At least after I saw the first trailer. The first leaked images of the series, via some oversized 8” figures, didn’t exactly inspire confidence. But they weren’t really indicative of how great the designs looked in motion, and certainly gave no hint of the story. But the trailer got me really excited about this brand new take. It is closer to the reinvention He-man’s sister She-Ra got with Princesses of Power (also from Netflix.) Like in that show, the heroes are all kids. And, as in She-Ra, they all have their own unique powers that come from the same source.
In the new show, the mythos is radically altered. Prince Adam lives with the Tiger Tribe (a fun nod to original origins of He-man from the mini-comics) after being orphaned and losing his memory. His best friends are Cringer and Krass. Along the way, they meet Teela, a street urchin/thief/magic-wielder, and Duncan, the apprentice of Kronis. There are so many fun little nods to longtime He-man fans, while at the same time, this show is ALL about introducing these characters to a new generation. Kronis and Evelyn, as longtime fans knows, will become Trap-Jaw and Evil-Lyn. We also know what it means when Adam’s uncle, Keldor arrives, thirsting for more power. And we’re looking at those two Eternia guards – Tuvar and Baddhra, with suspicious eyes.
The Lonely King
But, the main point of the show is introducing Adam and his friends. In this reality, Randor is alone in his palace, seemingly without his loving wife Marlena (although she’s depicted in an old family photo) and seems bitter and aloof. What drives his extreme mistrust of the sword of power, which has been locked away by all the rulers of Eternos since King Grayskull wielded it long ago? We don’t find out in season 1, but it’s an intriguing mystery. And, taking into account Randor’s role in Revelation, it’s interesting to see the character of the king remolded in both series into something that feels more modern. In the past, the older white man in charge was viewed as someone who had it together, and who you felt sure was doing what was best for his people. Now, in both shows, he feels a little dangerous. Disconnected. Too caught up in personal issues. It’s a fascinating shift.
We Have The Power!
Another large shift is that He-man is no longer the only recipient of the Power of Grayskull! He shares the power with his friends, so that Teela becomes Sorceress, Duncan becomes Man-At-Arms, Krass becomes Ram Ma’am (possibly my favorite character name ever), and Cringer becomes BattleCat. A sharp contrast is drawn between He-man and his friends, and Keldor and his underlings. In addition to Kronis and Evelyn, the hunter R’Qazz is introduced. Keldor manages to break into Grayskull, but instead of being given its power he taps into the “Havoc” energy. A nice callback to the name of his primary weapon in the old lore, the Havoc Staff. He uses this power to turn the villains into their final forms, including turning R’Qazz into Beastman. However, unlike the way He-man shared his power, Skeletor uses his power to bind his henchmen to him, and can take back the power whenever he likes. It’s a fun twist.
The show sets up all kinds of fun interpersonal struggles. R’Qazz took Cringer’s claws because he wouldn’t spar in an arena for him. Adam and Keldor have their family feud going on, Kronis feels betrayed by Duncan, and Teela and Evelyn have their own magical rivalry. I do love the way the show sets up clear rules for magic use. Both Teela and Evelyn use verbal magic in their regular forms. But, when they are transformed into Sorceress and Evil-Lyn, respectively, they become sorceress level magic-users who don’t have the same limitation. Orko is reintroduced as a digital back-up of the Great Orko, who led his Trollan race to a new dimension off Eternia. The new robot Orko isn’t the magician he used to be, but still helps his new friend out when he can. So many of the moves the writers make here are just so smart. They feel rooted in the the old shows and personalities, but feel completely new.
The Castle of Power
The eventual reveal of the 5.5” figures for the toy line that goes with the show was really fun, and I’m actually very excited to see those pop up, even if just to admire them from afar. I hope a new generation of fans really embrace He-man. The last attempt to reboot He-man, in 2002, didn’t last long. There are a lot of reasons one could point to for this (Mattel over shipping He-man and Skeletor, Cartoon Network constantly changing the show’s time slot) but the fact of the matter is, the 2002 reboot was basically just a slight visual update to the old toy line. Everything was a little more EXTREME looking, in a late 90s/early 2000s way, and the show had stronger storylines and a more anime feel. But for the most part, it felt like adults trying to make a new version of He-man that they’d like.
This new incarnation feels like it’s made for kids right now. There are STRONG video game influences here. The transformation scenes and “Masterstroke” scenes (think summonings from Final Fantasy or finishing moves from other games) all point toward that as well as the character designs themselves. Castle Grayskull gets a huge makeover. And while I will always love the classic Fortress of Mystery and Power best, this new Castle is fun. A lot of the mystery of Grayskull has been kind of stripped away over the years. Too many attempts to explain its origins kind of defanged it’s power a little. This new Grayskull is totally weird. It seems to exist in another dimension, is incredibly weird inside, and can move! I’m really excited to see what Mattel cooks up when it comes to a playset for Grayskull. Oh, and Snake Mountain looks awesome too. We’re even given a little nod to more old-school lore, as the show references the place as once being the seat of power for the Snake Men!
A Whole New World To Explore
The animation is top-notch. It feels like some real money and care was spent on it. I’ve talked about how visually appealing everything is. In fact, they might be more appealing in movement than in stills. The characters are expressive, and even though the transformations and Masterstrokes are numerous in the final two episodes of season 1 in particular, they are so visually fun I didn’t complain. Skeletor’s reinvention in particular is effective. His creepy skeleton hand works very well. And although Revelation has a better-known voice cast, I’d say this show actually has the better cast overall because it’s made up of voice actor professionals. That’s not to knock the generally excellent work done on Revelation at all. But you can definitely feel the difference.
The show breezes by. I found it incredibly easy to binge, and I’m excited to see where the story goes next. The introduction of Eldress (and her excellent design) has me hoping for even more new characters in the future. We get mention of the Avians (like Stratos) and the Mer-people (like Mer-Man) so I’m excited to see them show up in the future, as well as other heroes and villains of Eternia, now that the core groups and their relationships have been established. The way the season ends, it makes one feel like we’re going to get to see more of Eternia this time around on a consistent basis. I hope so. One of the things that the 2002 series did well (and Revelation as well) is that we got to explore more of the planet because we’re not locked into the old formula of always returning to the royal court of Eternos.
If you’re a He-man fan, I highly recommend you give it a shot (with an open mind) and if you have kids, I DEFINITELY recommend you introduce them to it. While some of the bits with Skeletor can be frightening, nothing has been overly violent, and no blood to be found. This is definitely aimed kids 7 or so and up.