Assorted Thoughts On She-Ra

I caught episodes of the new She-Ra here and there, but recently I’ve sat down to watch the whole thing. One thing I didn’t realize until I started from the beginning is that Adora’s standard outfit is at least 80% Horde-issue. She has, at most, thrown a personalized red jacket (something which raises no eyebrows in the Fright Zone, so while it might not be standard issue, it’s not some act of defiance, either) on top of what is otherwise a Horde cadet uniform, and that this uniform makes her easily mistaken for an enemy is a plot point in the two-parter opening. And then she never changes outfits, even after seemingly weeks of working with the Rebellion! Fair enough if you want to keep the same white-top-grey-bottom-red-jacket look, but it would’ve been nice if the new white top were noticeably different somehow (we do eventually get a jacketless shot from behind that confirms she no longer has the Horde symbol stamped on the back, at least). Like, here’s a picture of Adora without the jacket:

This is actually a shot from the two-parter opening episode when she still has the Horde symbol, but from the front the shirt is the same. And here’s Adora with her jacket:

You can see that the only important part to retain between the pre- and post-Horde designs is that it’s white on the sleeves and the parts of the chest that are visible under the jacket. Those little red blobs on the sleeves are very Horde – every Horde cadet’s shirt is a white base with some kind of red accent. So the obvious thing to do when switching away from the Horde would be to replace the little red bits with a different color. Purple is pretty princess-y and also shows up in Brightmoon colors a lot (Brightmoon being the specific princess kingdom that Adora uses as home base), and the cool thing about white is that it goes with basically any other color. You could also change the shape, maybe to triangles or some kind of Princess Alliance symbol, and as long as it doesn’t go down far enough to be visible through the cuts on her jacket it’d be fine, and would immediately communicate from episode 3 onwards that Adora has kept her general style but is no longer wearing a Horde uniform.

Also, I realize that a show aimed at kids can’t depict enemy soldiers being dismembered and that the sword as a symbol of heroism is pretty baked into the She-Ra lore and you can’t just ditch it, which backs the creators into a bit of a corner with regards to She-Ra actually using her signature weapon, but the Horde soldiers almost all wear armor. She-Ra can hit them with a sword and just smack them around without cutting through, and then when you need her to cut through a tank or war drone, give the sword a little glowy fire effect to indicate that She-Ra has activated the armor-piercing power. She-Ra’s sword has glowy magic effects all the time, so this won’t be out of place.

Also, also, the heroes are sovereign nations resisting invasion, but they call themselves “the Rebellion.” This even though they have another perfectly good term that they use all the time: The “Princess Alliance.” I think the idea is that the Rebellion refers to all anti-Horde forces and the Princess Alliance is a specific coalition coordinating resources, but “Rebellion” sounds like it’s a specific organization anyway. Plus, they refer to princesses outside the Alliance as not being part of the Rebellion anyway, when the Horde is attempting to conquer all princess realms without exception, so presumably all princess realms are anti-Horde by default, even if they’re not cooperating with other anti-Horde forces.

Also, also, also, I really would’ve appreciated a map early on showing all the princesses and the territory they hold, preferably as part of the opening titles the way Avatar did it. I realize “try to be like AtLA” is advice that animated shows these days generally follow too much, but if your primary conflict is going to be about territory control, I would appreciate being able to see the territory being fought over. AtLA didn’t keep track of exact frontlines for the current state of the war, but it did show that the Air Nomads were totally eliminated, the Southern Water Tribe was under siege, the Earth Kingdom was contested, and the Northern Water Tribe was untouched for now. It gave us a scoreboard for the course of the war, so when the Earth Kingdom fell at the end of season 2, we got that this was a major blow to the good guys. It was only a matter of time before the Fire Nation consolidated their victory over the rest of the Earth Kingdom, the Northern Water Tribe was the only safe place left, and it was only a matter of time before the Fire Nation turned the full might of their forces against them. The finite number of countries on the map meant that I could keep track of the stakes of the overarching conflict.

She-Ra has a similar conflict with similar stakes, but very stubbornly refuses to let them be kept track of. In the princess prom episode, we get that the Kingdom of Snows has a buffer between them and the Horde which makes Princess Frosta reluctant to join the Princess Alliance, but not who that buffer is and at what point of the Kingdom of Snows would be in danger. In the episode where we meet Princess Mermista, we get that the fall of her realm of Salineas (or even just the loss of the magic gate holding some kind of strait, although it’s not clear how much of Salineas lies beyond that strait) would allow the Horde unfettered access to the sea, but we have no idea which new fronts that would open up, what additional kingdoms would be in immediate danger were the Horde to succeed. Even stories that focus on a direct attack against a specific kingdom, like when Plumeria is attacked and Princess Perfuma has to learn the virtue of violent resistance, would at least benefit from knowing how many princess realms are left and thus how much of a blow against anti-Horde forces it would be if this battle were lost. Is Princess Entrapta’s realm basically just that one castle, or is that just the capital of a larger realm?

When Brightmoon is considering surrender to the Horde to protect the captured Princess Glimmer, that’s definitely a severe political defeat since Brightmoon is the leader of the Princess Alliance, and we know from the previous episode that Brightmoon is the single largest and most powerful princess realm, but it’s not really clear what other dominoes might fall as a more-or-less inevitable consequence of that defeat, the way the loss of the Earth Kingdom plainly spells doom for the entire world of Avatar. If Brightmoon surrenders, is Plumeria’s or Salineas’ position untenable?

I’ve had a bunch of nitpicky complaints in this post, so I’m gonna try and level things out with some things I loved about the first season of She-Ra:

-Swiftwind is amazing every time he shows up, even when he’s just a regular horse.

-I love the magical girl transformation sequence they have for She-Ra. They’re good about not using it so often that it loses its impact, too.

-Entrapta’s “hack the planet” line made me laugh. It took me offguard while making perfect sense with her personality and the conversation up to that point, it was great.

-The characters in general are all so much fun to watch. Princess Mermista’s too-cool-for-school routine is fun, particularly from a side character who doesn’t show up often enough for it to become grating, and the same with Princess Entrapta’s geeking out about First Ones tech and robots and stuff. Bow and Glimmer’s more excitable and fun personalities make a great contrast to Adora’s focused determination.

-The princess prom was fun. It was cute how Adora was preparing for it like some combination of a school test and a war, and I really liked the prom outfits for all the characters.

-In general, all the times Adora’s past with the Horde affects her present behavior and makes her a little dysfunctional are fun. It’s nice to see that being raised by a totalitarian military dictatorship doesn’t just inform her relationship with Catra and other dramatic moments, it also bleeds into things like how she only knows how to relax by hitting things. Her occasional moments of childlike wonder at princess-y things is so delightful.

-Catra and Adora’s episode in the Fortress of Solitude was fantastic.

-The reversals in the final battle where the heroes are fending off one attack after another and slowly getting worn down until all hope seems lost, only for one final reversal to save the day with the power of friendship is a paint-by-numbers way to run a final battle and I do not care, I am here for it and I loved She-Ra’s first season finale.

2019 Was A Good Year For Movies

2019 was by no means immune to having bad movies – Disney live action remakes continue to exist, in defiance of even the basest standard of human decency – but we also got several really good films in the last year. Joker and 1917 stand out as movies that have worked their way into my top five, reminding me in a good way of Inception and Gravity, two films which have (evidently) stuck in my head for 7+ years. Avengers: Endgame is more of a popcorn film, but it was a satisfying finale to a decade-spanning cinematic megaproject, ambitious for its sheer scale even if not for the specific notes it tried to hit. Knives Out proves once and for all that Rian Johnson isn’t bad at making movies, he just hates Star Wars, JJ Abrams, or both.

Movies like Detective Pikachu, Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Lego Movie 2, and Toy Story 4, which could’ve been solid contenders for second best film of the year in most other years, are instead fighting each other to even make it into my top five of 2019. This checks out for 2017, where they’d be fighting Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Lego Batman, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for second place behind Logan, 2016, where they’d be fighting Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, and Zootopia for first (although I never did see Hacksaw Ridge), and 2015, where Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road are fighting for first, the Martian has third locked down, but any of the 2019 also-rans could’ve  pretty solidly beat the fourth-place contenders out of the top five, like Age of Ultron and Ant Man. Funny enough, 2018 was also more crowded with good top five contenders, giving us all of Black Panther, Into the Spider-Verse, and Infinity War, but while these can all soundly trounce 2019’s also-rans, they compare less well against 2019’s own best movies. Particularly, the Infinity War vs. Endgame comparison isn’t kind to Infinity War.

This isn’t changing the world of cinema forever or anything. Film historians aren’t going to look back at 2019 and say “we’ll never have another year like that again.” If you could find a way to chart movie good-ness by year, 2019 would probably show up as noticeably above the trendline, but probably not as some massive, unprecedented spike. For starters, I already mentioned that 2018 holds up a pretty tough fight, and I only checked back to 2015. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t get a year about as good as 2019 once every decade-ish. But still, 2019 is the best year we’ve had for movies in a while.

Of course, about half the legs on this thesis can be knocked out if 1917 is actually a 2020 release. I’m counting it as a 2019 movie because both its worldwide premier and its American release were December, but there were other nations that got it in 2020, so you could list it as a 2020 film and that wouldn’t be inaccurate either. Joker is still a stand-out movie, but lots of years have stand-out movies. I still think 2019 is above par even without the one-two punch of both Joker and 1917, but it’s definitely less decisive if it has to ride more on Endgame (which is itself riding on every Marvel movie that came before it) and a slightly bigger crop of good second-place contenders to fill out its top five.

You’ve also probably noticed that I don’t watch all movies, or even all good movies, and there’s some good 2019 movies that I haven’t listed. But, like, there’s also movies from the other years that I’ve heard good things about but did not actually see, and that a good deal of my thesis rests on two absolutely fantastic movies coming out in the same year, so I’m reasonably confident my thesis is going to hold even on closer examination.

Office Space

I’m super short on time lately. Not, like, “I don’t even have ten minutes spare,” but definitely to the point where getting an hour or two spare is getting very difficult. So I wanted to watch Office Space, a classic movie that came out when I was seven and which I still haven’t seen, realized that this was going to occupy the time I usually have for reading Conan the Indomitable for a blog post, and decided hey, I could write a blog post about Office Space instead, Conan will still be there tomorrow.

So Office Space is a 1999 movie about a guy who works at a generic 90s tech company and they’re bringing in some consultants to figure out who to fire. Our protagonist hates his job because his job is mired in pointless bureaucracy. He has eight bosses (the movie does not, unfortunately, then require him to traverse the grass world, desert world, ocean world, ice world, lava world circuit to kill them all), and they only ever talk to him about getting the right cover on TPS reports. The plot starts when Jimmy Protagonist’s girlfriend brings him to a hypnotherapist, who hypnotizes him into forgetting all his worries, and then has a heart attack before he can break the trance, putting Jimmy in a completely relaxed state permanently (hypnosis doesn’t actually work this way, incidentally, the trance wears off in like an hour if it’s not maintained, but it’s the premise of the movie, so we’ll roll with it). As a result, he barely comes into work, does basically nothing while he’s there, but the consultants absolutely love him and convince one of his bosses to give him a promotion while firing his two friends, who have actually been showing up to work. This snaps him out of the trance and leads to a scheme to steal money from the company. Hilarity ensues when the scheme goes wrong and the three risk getting caught, until an entirely unrelated disgruntled employee burns the building down, destroying all the evidence that a crime ever occurred and, through an unlikely coincidence, ends up with all the stolen money. The weird thing is the smoothness of the switch from a movie about a guy hypnotized out of all his work worries to a movie about a guy stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his abusive workplace.

Despite being the origin of the “that’d be real great” meme and the two Bobs brought in to consult being parodied in multiple places across the internet, Office Space is weirdly lacking in real laugh out loud moments or quotable lines. What it has is a really good sense of atmosphere. Just like the drudgery of the terrible workplace it’s making fun of, the comedy of Office Space accumulates over time, coming together to form an experience far stronger than any of its individual moments. No one moment of the abuse heaped up on the eventual arsonist is particularly hilarious, but as a running gag spaced across the entire movie, it’s great. The whole “that’d be real great” line from the movie isn’t really funny and I don’t know how it turned into a meme, but as one part of the terrible boss performance that stretches across the whole movie, it works.

I ended up liking Office Space better than movies which actually made me laugh, even though it didn’t. Funny thing is, I don’t think Office Space is really that much better of a movie than the rest, I just think it’s different enough that I’d rather have one Office Space than one more Groundhog Day or Anchorman or whatever. It kind of reminds me of how Simpsons jokes were, back in the days when they were actually good, structured such that it was impossible to stick a laugh track on, because the joke had multi-layered punchlines where one punchline serves as the setup for the next, chained together three or four times. Office Space is that, but with each joke spaced out over a 90 minute movie, all running in parallel.