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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

Due to the notoriety the much-maligned 1987 live-action Masters of the Universe movie, it's easy to forget it was actually the second MOTU film to be released to theaters. The first was The Secret of the Sword, an animated film that came out in March of 1985 and introduced He-Man fans to his twin sister, She-Ra. The movie comprised the first five episodes of her series, She-Ra: Princess of Power.

Channeling the combined Power of the Universe and the Wisdom of the Elders of Eternia, Adora transforms into She-Ra, the Most Powerful Woman in the Universe. Her strength comes not from brute force but from sheer will and her cunning magical powers and healing abilities. She also has the power to communicate telepathically with animals. As both She-Ra and Adora, she helped lead the Great Rebellion of Etheria against the Horde invaders. Later, when Hordak found an escape to Eternia, she followed him along with several of her friends and allies. Once there, the Princess of Power joined forces with the now renegade Masters of the Universe, who without King Randor had become outcasts in their own land, fighting against Hordak's new tyranny!

Mattel was and always will be the House that Barbie Built. While they've had successful boy brands - Major Matt Mason, MOTU and, most importantly, Hot Wheels - Barbie has always been the company's most successful and iconic brand. With so much experience with the girls' toys market, it's not surprising they decided to take their (at the time) incredibly successful Masters of the Universe franchise and see if they could market it to girls, too. Thus was She-Ra born. Legend has it she was originally going to be called the more mythologically resonant He-Ra, but the name was already being used by another toy company - just as well, because in retrospect She-Ra was a much more marketable name, and less subject to transvestite jokes and feminist criticism. She's also the rare female hero who's actually wearing more clothes than the male hero.

On a more personal note, while I had several of the Horde figures as a child, I'm afraid I have no nostalgia for She-Ra. I don't remember watching the show; by 1985 I was all about Transformers. But I can certainly recognize the significance of the character and the show, which continued the story of the MOTU universe (and did so with much better writing).

Looking back, Mattel and Filmation did something that no other toy company has even come close to trying to do with a boys' brand: offered a girls' version of the brand that was more than just a hollow marketing gimmick (actually, I can't even think of any attempts to do this at all, hollow or not). While there were surely many boys who ignored it under the "girls are icky" principle, there are enough male fans to be sure She-Ra was able to appeal to both genders (even if those boys could never bring themselves to get the toys, which were far more girlish than the show).

Also, now that I'm not six years old anymore I can point out that, in retrospect, She-Ra was pretty hot.

One thing to keep in mind with MOTUC is that, while the style is "classic" and arguably retro, in some cases we're seeing these characters as proper figures for the first time. The original She-Ra figure had rooted hair, a cloth dress, and didn't really look all that much like her cartoon counterpart; she was more doll than action figure. She received an update in 2003, but obviously that was done in the modern aesthetic. And so it is with the MOTUC She-Ra that we finally receive a proper figure of the Princess of Power in her most iconic look.

We've officially run out of clever or unique ways to praise the sculpting skills of the Four Horsemen, so we'll just say they done real good, especially on the heads, dress, and boots. It looks like the forearms are reused from Adora, but if you look at their edges, nope, they're new sculpts. In terms of the head sculpt, both heads look great, and capture the look of the character.

After Evil-Lyn's outfit, which allowed her a great range of motion, Mattel takes a step back with She-Ra. Her dress isn't as rigid as Teela's, but it's not as pliable as Evil-Lyn's, either. It once again renders the waist swivel fairly useless. You have to wonder if the color of the plastic used for the casting makes a difference in how much pliability can be offered; perhaps certain colors, like white, just can't be made with the sort of plastic used on Evil-Lyn.

Aside from that, the plastic used for the figure is standard for MOTUC. The heads are a bit glossy, but unless you're looking at a macro photo, you're not going to notice it much. The paint applications, while minimal, are satisfactory. The work on the dress is nice and clean, with just a little unevenness around the tips of the "leaves." The work on the faces is good, better than Evil-Lyn I think, particularly in the eyes. She's a far cry from the unfortunate facial paints of the 2003 figure, that's for certain.

One thing to be bummed about is the absence of the external rocker ankle joint, which was used for all previous MOTUC females. It's a great joint that allows a broad range of motion while remaining tight, and it's lightyears ahead of the internal joint, which is used on the male figures as well as She-Ra. To be fair, the range of side-to-side motion on my particular figure is actually pretty good, but that was simply the luck of the draw, as is often the case with these particular joints. We're not sure why the external joint was abandoned - perhaps there was concern about fitting in on a thinner boot with a more prominent heel - but let's hope this is a rare exception rather than the new rule for MOTUC females.

As one of the most important characters in the MOTU world, you knew Mattel couldn't skimp on the accessories for She-Ra. She comes with a brand-new shield, an axe, a sword, and the "mask" for the alternate head. The sword is a re-use of Adora's, but this time it's done in two-tone gold rather than solid silver. You have to admit that while it's incongruous with the Power Sword, it does match She-Ra's overall colorscheme much better than the silver. The shield is based directly off that of the vintage figure. It's notable that it attaches to her arm much better than He-Man's does to his.

The vintage She-Ra toy came with an odd mask. The figure was packaged with the "wings" of the mask surrounding her face, leaving two odd holes on top of her head. Those holes were meant to be eye-holes in the mask, which was actually supposed to be worn upside-down from the way it was packaged. The vintage mask, however, simply had a couple of clips to hold the mask in place. In an effort to prevent some big ugly clips from ruining the figure's aesthetic look, Mattel and the Horsemen elected to make the mask plug into the forehead. This has really bothered some fans, presumably because it prevents them from having a bare-headed She-Ra, though I'm not entirely sure why you'd want that.

The best accessory by far is the axe. In fact, it might be one of the best MOTUC accessories, period. It's a classic example of the Horsemen paying tribute to the vintage figure while updating it for today's fans. You see, the vintage She-Ra came with a comb, so girls could neaten up her rooted hair. Such an accessory wouldn't have made any sense for this figure's plastic hair, so instead the Horsemen made it into a stylized axe. The axe adds a certain symmetry to He-Man, who comes with the same trio of accessories: an axe, a sword, and a shield. Well done, Horsemen!

You have to give Mattel credit for accepting the fans' challenge/demand for swappable heads that are still balljointed. But something went awry on She-Ra, and so the heads are very difficult to swap, particularly in getting the head onto the peg. The easiest solution is this: use a hair dryer to heat up the socket of the head before planting it on. Not that it matters that much - that vintage head is headed for the accessories bin permanently. The good news, it's so damned tight there is no bobblehead effect whatsoever.

I wasn't that excited for Adora, and I was only a bit more excited for She-Ra. Now that the figure is in-hand, however, she's much more interesting and appealing. The axe alone largely redeems her - yes, it's just an accessory, but it has a good look, and the sculpt is quite appealing. And after all, she's She-Ra.

-- 04/18/11

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