“Watch that first step…it’s a loo loo.”
He-Man played a pivotal role in my personal experience as a child during the 1980s. Reviewing this set took me back to some good places and yet failed to answer the one question which has plagued me for decades: Where the heck did Trap Jaw keep all his accessories?
It’s a case of double identity as Prince Adam of Eternia divides his time, not to mention himself, between acting as the lackadaisical heir to the throne and the hero of Eternia, He-Man. With only a few trusted friends privy to Adam’s double life, it’s a balancing act as they band together to ward off one plot or another against the forces of good on Eternia.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is one of the definitive children’s shows of the 1980s, and also one of the most successful examples of cross promotion between a show and merchandising there is. It also spawned a successful spin-off: She-Ra: Princess of Power.
While a lot of new characters were introduced this second season, the show still revolves around the core group whom the audience had grown to love over the course of the first season. Leading the way is Prince Adam who is seen as a somewhat lazy guy while he struggles not to give away his secret of being He-Man. His best friend Cringer the jungle cat also has a double life as He-Man’s companion Battle Cat, much to his distress. Cringer is one of the characters kids can relate to the most as he is always terrified of everything and never really wants to get involved with the dangerous things which occur. Also serving as an audience substitute of sorts is Orko, the Trollan alien who lives on Eternia and whose magic provides a lot of the show’s more humorous moments, especially when it backfires.
Man-At-Arms, or Duncan as he’s sometimes called, is the authority figure we most often see and he serves as a guardian of sorts for Adam. He also creates most of the machinery used on the show. Orko and Man-At-Arms know Adam’s secret and must cover for him when he needs to leave a situation in order to become He-Man. The last of Adam’s closest friends is Teela, Man-At-Arm’s daughter who pushes Adam to become more like He-Man and is constantly disappointed in the prince who she sees as somewhat of a slacker.
Then there are the bad guys. Taking a more limited role in Season Two but still cropping up enough that he’s never really gone is Skeletor, who tends to lean more on the side of being a snarky nemesis this season as opposed to overtly evil. His trusted henchmen include Merman, Trap Jaw, Beast Man and Evil-Lyn. But this season there are more lackeys who join Skeletor’s side as well as forces of evil not at all connected to our favorite “Bone Face.”
There are three types of Season Two episodes. The first is when the villain of the piece learns over the course of the episode that it’s better to be a good guy and thus the episode ends with He-Man gaining a new ally. The next is when a character doesn’t like something about themselves and they try to change it through a quick fix, frequently magic, with the results being a mess that usually requires He-Man’s assistance in rectifying. Those episodes end with the character deciding they’re content to just be themselves and they usually swear to He-Man that they won’t meddle with whatever they meddled with ever again. The last is the standard He-Man fare: a bad guy sets up a plot and He-Man foils it. These episodes are where it’s most likely you’ll find Skeletor or one of his crew of bad guys.
Regardless of the type of episode, they all end the same: with a character breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. They recount the lesson of the episode and offer something to remember, something to do, or something to think about before bidding us farewell. The messages the audience are supposed to learn usually could be classified within: you’re wonderful just the way you are; it’s our job to protect the Earth; don’t judge others; or you should be grateful for your family.
As a kid I got a real kick out of that, of seeing the characters address me personally. Watching it as an adult I confess it comes across as a bit heavy-handed, but then again this isn’t a show designed for adults. All in all it’s a campy bit of ’80s nostalgia which today’s parents can feel good about letting their kids watch. There’s very little actual violence and no blood or gore of any kind.
The video is better than I expected, honestly. The only time the pixilation from the transfers really showed was during the episodes where the aspect ratio changed from the boxy 1.33:1 to a true fullscreen. On a side note this is something that you shouldn’t have too much trouble with unless you watch a bunch of eppys in a row, then you’ll suddenly notice the difference in aspect ratios. Aside from that the picture is clear, the colors hold up and there is very little detectable dirt or flaws or scratches to be found.
The primary 2.0 stereo track is the best, with the Spanish track containing a bit too much echoing for my taste, and the commentary track almost completely obscuring the audio space during those episodes.
The special features are unbelievably generous, with six episode commentaries, a look at 10 scripts, and a couple of documentaries as well as a gallery of info on 50 characters, artifacts and creatures. The episode commentaries are unusually insightful, far less of the straight up nostalgia than you would expect and instead are filled with technical details and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. The four documentaries are filled with anecdotal evidence but also delve into the technical side of creating the show as well as the history of the Filmation company itself. The gallery of information on the show’s characters, creatures and artifacts is more in-depth than you’d expect, with scrolling text accompanying a picture and more often than not a video clip of each of the described items.
Today’s kids may not respond to the muted palette or hand-drawn animation, preferring instead the computer-driven graphics which dominate the kids’ shows produced today. Also the packaging is a bit problematic with each of the eight discs arriving in their own paper sleeve sitting along a booklet in a well of sorts inside the outer casing. Trust me when I say it’s as confusing as I make it sound.
About half of all Season One and Two episodes are available online, so it’s not necessary to invest in this set, if you’re only mildly interested in grabbing an eppy here or there. However, if you are a fan of the show, want to watch all 65 episodes of the second season, or have a little one you want to introduce to this morality tale; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: The Complete Second Season is a worthwhile addition to your collection. I personally recommend it on the basis of special features and nostalgia value.