Friday, April 12, 2019

She-Ra Old and New

Comparison and Review

 
Both the new and the old She-Ra are really a reflection of their time. Let's first give some cultural and historical context for both the shows. Then jump into some review and comparisons.

 

History 

There was a deregulation in children's media in the 80's that limited a lot of creative freedom in animation and put a focus on selling products. He-Man, and the subsequent She-Ra were created to sell. She-Ra was designed in partnership between Mattel and Filmation to harness the popularity of He-Man with it's girl viewers. Mattel wanted to use the line to help bolster Barbie, and the character designs were made accordingly. At the time there were no specifically female-targeted shows that were action based. Both She-Ra and Jem started in 1985.

In the article She-Ra and the Fight Against the Token Girl Maria Heart talks about the original character. She-Ra is very much a gender swapped version of the He-Man world, just as He-Man is almost entirely a male cast (in primary protagonist and supporting protagonists) She-Ra is full of female characters. Bow is one of the few regular male characters. An action world full of female characters who rely on each other was subversive at the time, and it failed at the very thing it was created for. The hybrid doll/action line could not find traction in stores, and despite bringing in a child psychologist to help root out the problem - the show was snubbed by boys.

The new She-Ra is a Netflix show created in partnership with DreamWorks. Netflix is willing to take risks on sometimes nitch shows, and despite She-Ra still being owned by Mattel, the company did not create a tie in toy line, and appears to have no intention to. This means that the new cartoon is not limited by selling products, and was given much more creative freedom in character design and narratives then a product based show would be.

The new She-Ra was also made post the spread of the #MeToo movement. When John Lassator left Pixar it started a more open discussion about the harsh conditions and open sexism for female animators and story developers in animation. She-Ra, a female targeting cartoon with a woman protagonist, and a primarily female supporting cast did something nearly unheard of: they had an all female writing team. Story development throughout the history of animation in America has been primarily considered the domain of men.

Animation

Perhaps the most obvious initial difference between the two shows is that the old She-Ra is western style that matches the design expectation of action cartoons like Johnny Quest. The new She-Ra is western anime-styled similar to a show like Avatar the Last Airbender, and has more exaggerated character reactions, and shifts in design to show strong emotions in the same way Japanese animation does.

Let's look at the original She-Ra, first. In How He-Man Mastered the Universe Baer writes about how Filmation, didn't out source their animation. But hiring only American animators meant that the costs were higher (pg.54). Corners were cut to keep the cost lower, including reusing animation, and limited animation.
 
A clip from an "action" scene in She-ra. It starts with a vilian leaning over She-ra, while nothing moves for about ten seconds. Then there is 2 seconds of movement. Yep.

Occasional short rotoscoped action would be bumpered by very limited animation. There would be scene after scene where for long stretches the only thing moving would be the characters lips, or an arm, and sometimes nothing at all. Long shots of character's standing perfectly still but for blinking and mouth movement would be intercut with the same angled close up shots of people's faces that would show up episode after episode.
 
An awkward close up on He-Mans face.
 
 Limited animation, where a part of the character's body might not move, or one character in a scene doesn't move,  isn't uncommon to see in animation.
 
An example of how limited animation was often used in the orginal She-Ra. In this scene Madam Razz (a witch) walks in scene, and then she and She-Ra stand awkwardly only blinking, moving their mouths and arms when necessary.
 
But advances in technology, as well as inspiration from the technique being refined in anime, has made the use of limited animation be done in a much more savvy way.  In the original She-Ra, minutes of animation would go by where very little in a scene moving.  In the new She-Ra, there is always movement in a scene, and when limited animation is used, it is used strategically and flows more naturally. 

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power | An example from the new show of the more natural use of limited animation. In this scene charming pirate/sailor Seahawk comes into the scene to flirt with his crush. He has exagerated animation, but only two of the characters in the background move. Once he is in the frame with our main characters, both characters hold the same pose as they listen, but when they move in reaction their movement feels frame by frame, instead of like one part of the body is cut off from the rest of the cel and is the only thing being animated (like the original She-Ra example above).
 



In this gif She-Ra and Catra are on a hover plane together, and She-Ra gets hooked by a vine and flung to the tangled forest floor below. The action scene is well framed, has dynamic reaction shots from both characters and has dynamic animation.


 In the new She-Ra there are far more dynamic action scenes that appear like frame-by-frame animation, and there is more dynamic camera angles used. Scenes that are meant to bare a more epic weight in an episode are framed in a cinematic style.

Facing Catra | DREAMWORKS SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER\ This scene shows Bow and Catra facing off while surounded by Horde soldiers in tanks. The shot feels cinamatic. First it pans out to show Bow surrounded. Then it shows a close up on his character and Catra. Flames leap behind them, and a tank slowly drives past obscuring Bow's view of Catra. It feels like camera angles and shots that could be used in a live action movie.
 

The old She-Ra occasionally has frame-by-frame style animation, but it doesn't seem to be used very strategically. For example the scene below is of She-Ra's parents finding out their daughter is still alive. Emotionally, this would be a scene that would make sense to have a lot of dynamic movement and facial expressions shown. This is supposed to be a shocking and heartwarming scene.

A still image of He-Man's mom and dad sitting on thrones in the throne room.


The setup for the scene is that He-Man decides to surprise his parents with the news by making them sit in their thrown room with their eyes covered, in order to weirdly surprise them. Not only does this feel very unnatural (Who would do that? Their daughter was kidnaped, have some empathy He-Man). This story choice really feels like it was made just so that the animation could be as limited as possible. For example, the image above looks nearly identical but is actually from an entirely different episode from the one below.

He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword | The gif is nearly identical to the still picture in camera angle and set, but the parents, while sitting in exactly the same stiff pose, have their hands lifted to cover their eyes.

She-Ra holds her mother's hands casually as they both stare at each other. There is next to no motion in the scene, besides mouth movement, and slow eye-blinks. Their facial expressions are unreadabl, though a single tear roles down the mother's face. Probabley a joyous tear considering the context of the scene, but legit you wouldn't know it from her featurless expression.

Here is an example of a similar emotionally weighty scene in the new She-Ra. This one also takes place in a thrown room. Adora reveals that she, a horde soldier, is in fact She-Ra. And then swears allegiance to the queen.

This gif from the new She-Ra also takes place in a thrown room, but the layout of the scene feels large in scope and dramatic. When the queen finds out that She-Ra is a horde soldier she steps back, lifts up her hand and her expression is one of shock. The movement and reactions evoke the feelings that the scene intends without needing audio.


Camp

Now that scene I just mentioned in the old She-Ra? It's actually a really good example of some of She-Ra and He-man 80's charm. There is a lot of really odd choices made in terms of animation and character design, dialogue and pacing. It is unintentionally hysterical a lot of the time, and there is  a lot of wonderfully campy scenes.

You know how the village people are really obviously styled to appeal to a gay aesthetic and the costumes, songs (and bandmates) were marketed to the gay disco scene?

The village people in all their glory.


And yet straight audiences of the 80s, in an era of extreme homophobia, were often unaware of the overt gayness of the group. This is the world of He-Man and She-Ra. It is all close up on crotches.

He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword | Gif from the old She-Ra. This scene is basically just an extreme close up on Hordak's crotch.
 
In this gif from the old show, a bad guy shoots rays out of his bug-eyes. He-Man runs into scene, then is stuck by the rays. He struggles unmoving as the camera pans into his shuttering crotch and the just holds for nine seconds. I'm not exaggerating, it is literaly nine seconds of He-Mans thighs and quivering fur underwear/short-shorts that he wears. That is just an exact description of what is happening in the animation.

A close up on the crotch of She-Ra's bathing suit style costume, while she and He-Man fight about her using her gun. Ends with He-Man condisendingly putting his finger on her lips as if to shut her up.

And hardly there clothing, and snuggled up rides on horseback. It is overflowing with innuendo.

A burly character whose costume is some sort of metal harness over a blue tank top. "Short-shorts" that look like underwear. A metal fist, and blue boots.She-Ra and Glimmer from the old show pressed close on Swift Wind. They look relativly off model and have their mouths open.


There are rumors that some of this was intentional, but considering the tight budget, rapid production  schedule and focus on selling toys to kid,  a lot of the camp seems to be the unintentional but natural result of simply not thinking a lot about context and implications of character interactions. Regardless, it's probably not surprising that both He-Man and She-Ra have been considered gay icons (google search She-Ra drag queens in all their glory).


PrideOfMotuc / Photo of the expensive He-Man action figures (that look gorgeous and hyper-realistic) dressed up and posed with a rainbow flag like they are on their way to a gay pride parade.
Gorgeous photo by Killian
The new She-Ra has a mix of camp and a more sincere portrayal of LGBTQ characters. Spinnerella and Natasha are a canon couple within the world, and the world is explicitly queer friendly. Some viewers who were generally upset about the reboot complained about the queerness of the show as another example of the new version being too PC or promoting SJW values at the expense of the original. And this is an example of how different audiences can interact with the same stories in different ways. If the Village People were fictional character's who lived in an animated world, they would be well suited for the universe of the He-Man and She-Ra. The queer sentiment of the new She-Ra feels, to me, perfectly inline with the flamboyant styling of the original.

 
 

Costumes

The old She-Ra costumes are incredibly 80s cartoon fabulous, and sometimes pretty out-of-control weird. Take, for instance, Bow's barely there armored shirt and cape. The new She-Ra does a wonderful job of playing homage to the original campy costumes while making them a bit more practical, modern and character based. In the new She-Ra it is a part of Bow's character that he likes crop tops. When he goes to a fancy dance in Princess Prom he opts out of wearing the cummerbund, because he prefers the look of his suit without it (which he later regrets when it ends up being really cold at the party).



Example of the new and old Bow character designs and costumes. Both character's wear blue pants, boots, a crop top and have a heart on their chest. But the new Bow looks like he's wearing something more comfortable and covering to do archery in. The orginal Bow has this wierd metal crop top that just covers his pecks with this dangling sharp bit pointing down at his crotch, and his pants are so tight they look painted on. Whoever was in charge of the new design did a really awesome job of taking the heart of the design (pun intended) and making it seem like something someone might actually wear.

 
 Entrapta's original costume, similar to most of the women's costumes,  was a busty micro-mini all though she styled it with a golden collar, a belt as well as some thigh-high high-heeled boots. In the new She-Ra, her clothing fits her character. She is a tinkerer, a mechanic, a tech extraordinaire, her clothing makes sense for the work she does. She still has her signature magic hair, but her crown is replaced with a sort of welding mask. Her clothing looks comfortable and practical but her design maintains a similar muted grey and purple pallet like the original.

Picture of the old Entrapta. She has long hair and a crown. Her outfit looks like a sexy cheerleader halloween costume, super busty, super short, except with a kind of snow-whites-evil-step-mom collar, gloves and boots that go so high they are almost to her crotch.New Entrapta. She is in a similar color pallet and has long hair, but she is wearing clothing that looks fitting of a mechanic. Her gloves are of the safety variety. Instead of a crown she has a welding mask. She wears baggy pants and practical shoes.
 
 
 
 

Gif of new Entrapta taking off her welding mask with her magic hair, and smiling brightly.
 

Story

The same approach taken to the costuming is apparent in the world building, also. The new writers take an incredibly sincere approach to celebrating the original show. Because the old She-Ra had a bit of a "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. There were a lot of good idea that were clouded by the aggressive selling of toys, and churned out production schedule, that were never really explored.
 
The new She-Ra takes the interesting side details and explores them with a very logical look a how a world like that would exist. The old She-Ra was a strange mix of magic and tech. The new She-Ra takes this aesthetic and creates world rules on how magic and technology co-exist and how they interact. The exploration of old lost technology that powers the new magic of the world is an important part of the first seasons over-arching story.
 
 
Similarly, the idea of soldier raised by an evil army, who realizes she is fighting for the wrong side and defects - that is such an incredible idea rich with drama. The old She-Ra barely deals with how this kind of conditioning would effect the protagonist, it doesn't deal with how difficult it would be to sever the bond with all those you grew up with. The new She-Ra is anchored in Adora and Catra's friendship. It doesn't paint the horde solders as one faceted evil characters. They are all people just like Adora, raised on the wrong side of the war. They do terrible things, but they are also her friends and family, and Adora naturally has conflicted feelings between how she was raised and her place within her new family.
 
The other difference between the old and new show is He-Man. The original She-Ra exists within the universe of He-Man. She is his twin sister. The new She-Ra makes no mention of He-Man. If he exists at all in this version of the story, we don't know. There has been a He-Man movie in the works since 2007, and the character has been reinvented in multiple cartoon series.. Not being tied down by any preexisting He-Man franchise means that She-Ra can explore it's primary protagonist and lore in a dynamic and new way.
 
Overall, I really loved the new show as an actual quality stand-alone children's show that is made with a lot of respect for older viewers and original fans of She-Ra. The old She-Ra is campy and a nostalgia trip, but the new show is something I can recommend sincerely to women like me. Watching the new She-Ra with my sister was like stepping back into our childhood. It is the kind of show I wish would have existed. It was a rush to see something that so captured the kind of stories we were drawn to, but were rarely made for us as an audience.
 
 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

She-Ra Character Designs

 
I'm not trying to hate on the old She-Ra. It has an incredibly 80s aesthetic and is unintentionally campy in a way that makes my heart warm. It's okay to have stylized character designs, and it's okay to have a thin and busty character in your cartoon or art...

But it's also okay to let women tell their own stories in their own voices targeting female viewers. This is something men have had a chance to do since the dawn of animation. Watching the new She-Ra with my sister was like stepping back into our childhood. It is the kind of show I wish would have existed. It was a rush to see something that so captured the kind of stories we were drawn to, but were so rarely made for us as the target audience.


Character Designs and Femininity

When the first images from the new She-Ra dropped there was a small internet freak out.

https://twitter.com/LostLeanore/status/1019312416532951040?s=20 / Tweet about how if cartoons like the new She-Ra "undersexualizes girls" then sexy girls will grow up with low-self esteem.

The primary complaints were that the original She-Ra was a "symbol of womanhood", and upheld an idealized example of femininity while the new She-Ra did not. These complaints were made before the show came out, after only looking at a handful of images. It was primarily men online who were upset about the new designs. These men were arguing that they weren't upset because they no longer found She-Ra hot, it's because they were worried about little girls no longer having a feminine role-model to look up to and that they felt the new She-Ra wasn't embodying the values of the original.

 

One of the early new She-Ra pics that dropped. It is Adora in her She-Ra form. She is staring off camera looking strong with flowing hair and a billowing cape, she is wearing armor and unlike the orginal She-Ra design, does not have her chest visible.
 
 


The idea that old She-Ra was all things feminine isn't canon to the original character. She actually embodied a lot of traditionally stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. She was a fighter, physically strong, could be aggressive, and would do things like rescuing male characters. Which of course, women can totally do - but these aren't considered really feminine activities when looking at traditional gender expectations.

Gif from the old She-Ra. She is kicking at the camera.
 

The new She-Ra is similar in this regard. Whether or not you think She-Ra needs to embody femininity to be a good show, she actually does hit the mark on a lot of stereotypical traditional female traits. She is empathetic, caring, nurturing, and compassionate. The reality is that these complaints were made after only seeing an image. The idea that She-Ra wasn't womanly enough was entirely based on her physical appearance.

Adora and Catra as children. Adora is standing in front of her friend with her arms flung out, trying to block Shadow Weaver from hurting Catra. The words "Please, stop." are captioned under the picture.




And this is a problem. It implies that what male viewers think embodies femininity and womanhood in female characters is their body. And the way their body is displayed.

So, what makes a good female character design? Does an animated woman have to have a certain body shape to be considered womanly enough? How does that reflect on actual women?


Boobs and Bodies
 
Fair warning here. I am going to talk a lot about breasts in this post. So, enjoy that (or not). What a lot of complaints actually came down to is the assumption that animated character's chest should look a certain way to be natural or womanly. In redesigns from people who disliked the new characters the primary change you would see made was a slight clinching of the waist of the characters and padding out of their chests.*

*(I'm unsure whether talking explicitly about the bodies of fictitious characters is simply feeding into this mentality, but I think that it is important to talk about character designs honestly. I think that there is some confusion (by men) about how the female form moves and looks in clothing, and how bras work).

So, first. Let's look at some real woman. These photos were taken by Howard Shatz and show the varied form of 28 female athletes.

Picture of tons of different female athletes. They are all wearing black sports bras and underwear. It is in no way sexualized, and is simply showing off a wide variety of increadably fit women of all different races, heights, weights and body shapes.


Same as above. The wide variety of body differences in form is really facinating. These are all women who are peak fitness, and yet what that looks like is completly different for each person. We aren't used to seeing so dynamic a variety in female forms in media.


In animation, there is a history of women having much less varied physical designs then male characters. But in real life, women, like men, come in all different shapes and sizes.

A close up on a regular bra and a push-up bra showing how this changes the shape of the chest.
Not only do women's bodies come in all different shapes, women also wear a wide variety of bras, or no bra at all. The way a woman's cleavage looks is going to be dependent not only on her breast-size but also on the type of bra she wears. A lot of women (particularly millennials) wear bralettes, sports bras, and lightly-lined styles as their primary bra. Of course, some women are naturally both very thin and busty, or may be wearing a push-up bra, or have had surgery... But in the original She-Ra there is very little variety in design. In real life, women have all different body types, breast sizes, and wear all different types of bras.

Picture of the bodies of all the main She-Ra women. They all have identical body shapes. Very busty, very thin, very leggy.

The other things is that people wear clothing. And clothing changes how much of their body you can see and what shape their body looks like. Below is an image of a woman with a similar body shape to the original She-Ra characters, but in order to have this form visible, she isn't actually wearing clothing. She is wearing only shapeware with underwire.

A photograph of a woman whose body looks similar to the She-Ra characters. She is wearing shapeware that has underwire to give it the exagerated effect of the She-Ra costume.

In the old She-Ra, all different characters with all different styles of outfits have the same visibility of their chest. Perhaps, the worst (or best) example of this is Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver's cloak dress appears to be a heavy fabric bag of a dress, with no bodice or darts. The fabric would never lay like this across an actual person. The choice to have her outfit defy natural laws is entirely so that we can see her boobs.


The old Shadow Weaver design. It legit looks like a naked lady sans nipples painted red. Another old Shadow Weaver picture. Her dress is by all acounts a bag of fabric. She has a cape and a belt, but she is totally covered in what should be laying fabric. And yet, every inch of her body is visible.




Here is a similar style outfit in a stiff linen and more clinging silk:
A photograph of a dress made in linen that would lay how the Shadow Weaver's dress would if it was made out of any sort of heavy fabric (which it appears to be). In the photograph very little of the woman's form is visible, because the fabric covers her.






Adora (not transformed) is an incredibly athletic character who underwent military-style training from a young age. I don't know what underwear options are like for Horde soldiers, but it would make sense for a character like this to wear a comfortable style bra for strenuous activity.

Let's say you wanted to design an active female character who, like many really women, regularly wears a sports bra. What would her body look like? Well let's take a look at how wearing a sports bra affects your appearance:



This video was made in response to the complaint that female athletes in the 2012 Olympics don't look womanly enough. And this should sound familiar, because at its heart it is the same complaints being lobbied at the new She-Ra design. The argument was that athletes looked "too much like boys" and that it was degrading womanhood. That scoring a female athlete should take into account their physical appearance. Implying that women who don't have large, defined breasts aren't "real" women.

This is the kind of standard that women face as the background sound track of their life. Literal Olympic athletes might not be considered a good role-model for girls if they also don't look sufficiently attractive enough (by random guys personal opinion of what they find attractive). Clearly, most people don't think like this. But, these complaints about the She-Ra character aren't new, they are the kind of complaints men have been making about actual women for a long time.



If a person looks small chested, they might be. Or they might be wearing a sports bra. And it's no one's business but their own. Animated women, like real women, should have all different body types and wear different styles of bras. Even if you had four women standing next to each other who had identically body types, they would all look totally different based on the clothing and bra they were wearing.

It's also okay to have the character's form look different depending on the outfit. That's how real bodies work.

 



In the new She-Ra, women's bodies move like real women's bodies do. How visible their breasts are depends on things like: how their standing, their body type, the type of clothing their wearing and the camera angle.

Here is an example of model Rain Dove wearing two different outfits:


The reality is that the original show's character designs weren't based on an authentic idea of what outfits and body shapes best represented the characters. It was designed to sell toys to kids. The reason all the male characters have similar body types, and all the female characters have similar hair lengths and body types, is this make manufacturing toys a lot easier. The new She-Ra show had a lot more freedom to reimagine the characters because they weren't creatively tied down by having to use the cartoon as an advertisement for new products like the original was.



The complaints that the new characters are somehow degrading womanhood make me really sad. It isn't an attack on femininity to have female characters dress in different styles and have different body types. The clothing you wear doesn't make you less of a woman, and neither does the shape of your body. If femininity is a part of womanhood, then it shouldn't be something we have to perform, and it shouldn't be based on how much of an hourglass our figure is.





There are so many different ways to live your life as a woman, and the new She-Ra had a group of creative women who helped design the dynamic cast of the new show which celebrates womanhood in all its forms.




I hope for viewers who have been hesitant to try out this show because of complaints made early on, give it try. The new She-Ra is gorgeously animated, with a bit of drama and silly stories connected by character driven overarching plot.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Minions, Minion, Everywhere

 Whelp, I'm back in Korea. I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to and a lot of that has to do with the currently living in Korea thing. It's somehow been five months. Crazy. But, I'm hoping to get back into posting at least a little more regularly. The minion pop-up cafĂ© review made me think it would be fun to post some of the minion stuff I've seen near home. Because those cute yellow buggers are everywhere.



a bunch of minion products including mugs and plates

 
Minion themed honey choco-stick. Why are these so yummy? The packaging has a bunch of minions hanging from a (choco stick?). Yep.

Minion popping out of a cake box, containing a cake with a minoin popping out of it.

Ramen in yellow packaging, so that it looks like a minions face.

Large minion cutouts advertising despicable me 3. One of them is showing off his banana-with-wings ass-tattoo. You're welcome
 
I can't try the ramen, but those choco sticks were tasty. Have there been crazy products in the states too?