Retroactive Continuity: She-Ra S1E9-10

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Mea culpa: I somehow managed to miss two weeks of updates, which means I owe y’all THREE NA09 chapters and AT LEAST three videos. I’m trying to queue them all up now: there’ll be NA09 posts today, Wednesday, and Friday, and multi-video posts Tuesday and Thursday.

Commissioned essay for AskJeeves.

Where, in terms of character development, episodes 7 and 8 focused on Adora dealing with the abuse she was subjected to by Shadow Weaver and the socialization she was denied, episodes 9 and 10 have a partial focus on Catra beginning to deal with her own abuse in her own way. Underneath this, of course, is the subtext that the end of Adora and Catra’s relationship is treated as just that–the end of a relationship in a bad breakup. That much was clear in “Princess Prom,” but “No Princess Left Behind” brings this practically into text when Catra gives Adora back her sword and says “This is not because I like you.”

Of course, by definition a denial is not textual confirmation, but in this case it comes very close because Catra has been consistently portrayed as a tsundere, a character archetype common in anime, manga, and video games. Typically, a tsundere has a prickly, tough, or hostile outer layer to their personality, but also show themselves capable of softness, vulnerability, and affection under rare circumstances, especially toward their love interest. The stereotypical tsundere action is to do something kind for their love interest while insisting that it’s “not because I like you or anything.”

That said, Catra has more depth to her than the archetypal tsundere. The archetype has that hard outer layer, but their core “true self” is kind and sweet; Catra’s isn’t. Catra is capable of more vulnerability and kindness than her outer persona reveals, and that definitely includes strong feelings–implied to be romantic–regarding Adora, but there are other feelings in there that she doesn’t show. Underneath her snark is genuine rage and pain; underneath her cool detachment is a fear of being perceived as weak.

Like Adora before her, Catra has a scene with Shadow Weaver in which the latter claims her abusive parenting was an effort to make her surrogate daughters strong, but Catra responds differently. Where Adora recognized that Shadow Weaver was lying, Catra accepts the claim as true, and demonstrates that strength (or at least, what Shadow Weaver seems to regard as strength, namely the capacity to hurt others) by saying that it worked, and she therefore no longer needs Shadow Weaver. Adora rejects her abuser, and escapes; Catra decides to overcome and destroy her abuser, and will remain trapped even after she essentially succeeds in later episodes.

Meanwhile, Adora’s team falls apart and Catra’s comes together, because the former abandons Entrapta and the latter embraces her. Of course the rebels think Entrapta died trying to rescue Emily, but they’d abandoned her repeatedly before that: they repeatedly treat her with disdain, dismissing her interests, ignoring her attempts to explain herself, and getting frustrated rather than making sure she understands the situation and helping her stay on task. Catra is, of course, acting in self-interest, but nonetheless she treats Entrapta better than they ever did, listening to her ideas and treating her with surprising patience and sensitivity–but then, “Princess Prom” already demonstrated that she is capable of both when she stands to gain something by it.

This is made easier, of course, by the fact that (as I discussed in regards to “System Failure”) Entrapta is essentially already a villainous character. Her interests and inclinations are more in line with the Horde–technology, power, little concern for any negative consequences to others–and so it is easier for the Horde to recognize and appreciate her talents. At the same time, had the rebels validated her a little more and recognized the potential positive applications of what she was doing, and not constantly left her behind throughout the mission in “No Princess Left Behind,” Catra’s lovebombing in “The Beacon” might not have been as effective.

Again, though, Catra is a tsundere. She may be manipulating Scorpia and Entrapta, but that impersonal distance she maintains is a facade. She isn’t faking that she’s impressed with Entrapta and wants her friendship, and she lets them both in on plans that she needs to keep secret from her superiors, demonstrating that she trusts them. What we have in the last few episodes of the season, in other words, is the formation of a rival team to the Adora/Glimmer/Bow trio, held together by the same bonds of trust and affection, but on the opposite side.

And as we saw back in “The Sword,” this is at least partially a magical girl series–which means those bonds are a force of unrivaled power. Catra may not realize it, but she has already put herself on an equal footing with Adora–and in the next episode, that rivalry will come to a head.


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