Western Animation: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983)

"I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, and defender of the secrets of Castle Grayskull. This is Cringer, my 'fearless' friend. Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me, the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, 'By the Power of Grayskull!!' I have the power!"

This first Animated Series for the Masters of the Universe franchise changed the face of children's television when it debuted in 1983. Filmation produced the show for daily syndication in conjunction with a pre-existing line of Mattel toys and action figures. Its huge success led to dozens of others Merchandise-Driven cartoons in the 1980s. It is now being rerun on RTV on Saturday mornings and MeTV on Sunday mornings.

Existing in a world that has futuristic elements alongside sword, legend and lore, the series focuses on Adam, the crown prince of Eternia, who as described in the opening monologue, has the ability to transform into his super-strong barbarian alter ego, He-Man. This Transformation Sequence also turned Adam's cowardly talking pet Cringer into the brave and fearsome Battle Cat.

His primary foe was the evil Skeletor, a warlord who was equal parts wizard and warrior. With the help of a motley crew of heroes, including wise veteran Man-At-Arms, Lady of War Teela, and the bumbling comic relief sorcerer Orko, He-Man battles the forces of Skeletor and other evil enemies.

Of note is that Paul Dini was a member of the writing staff (as was J. Michael Straczynski), and Bruce Timm did layouts; both would later go on to be main figures in Tiny Toon Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series. (Also of note: Haim Saban and Shuki Levy were involved in the original production of the show as well, also going on to make a surprisingly long-lived children's franchise).

The show left syndication and was shown on the USA Network, which back then was known for being the "used car" network for its reliance on reruns.

There are two further animated adaptations of the franchise, both of which were short-lived.

She-Ra: Princess of Power was a Spin-Off, although it wasn't quite as successful.

Contains examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Evil-Lyn was an astronaut from Earth named Evelyn. This is only mentioned in the series' bible.
  • Always Need What You Gave Up: "The Problem with Power."
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Every episode has a Public Service Announcement at the end to emphasize its Aesop.
  • Anti-Magic: The Sword of Power deflects and dispels magic attacks.
  • Arm Cannon: Many characters (such as Man-At-Arms, Teela and Stratos) use wrist-mounted lasers.
  • Blessed with Suck: The Sorceress in the Filmation series. Blessed with the ability to discern almost all the things happening on Eternia, having extremely powerful magic at her command... and yet, she was unable to leave the Castle without being reduced to flying around as a bird with very low-level telepathy. One imagines the limitations got quite frustrating. The very few times she was able to overcome these limitations were explicitly stated to be special circumstances.
  • Broken Aesop: The original series was the real king of the Broken Aesop, sometimes making and breaking an Aesop over the span of one or two scenes, or having the And Knowing Is Half the Battle scene clash with the episode — or even the series premise.
    • For example, that episode that ends with an anti-violence message... after one more episode of an action show.
      • Three fights in that one. He-Man vs. Demon, He-Man vs. Wizard, Dragon vs. Dragon.
    • Also, the anti-drug Aesop...delivered by a guy who makes himself stronger and more heroic by doping himself with an infusion of magical energy at least once an episode. Parodied here.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • "Not so fast, Skeletor!"
    • "Curse you, He-Man!"
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase
  • Christmas Episode: Yes, there was one, and it had a Trapped in Another World plot featuring a pair of young urchins from Earth. The children actually explain what Christmas is to Orko but that part gets the fade-off. The Nostalgia Critic gave it a look, and it's as cheesy as you would expect.
    • Justified with It Was His Sled. It was probably assumed that this was commonly known information that would just bore the audience.
  • Cloning Blues: Skeletor once created an army of clones who were like him except they're smaller. Realizing each clone must be just as greedy as the original, He-Man turned the tables on Skeletor by asking the clones what they'd get from helping Skeletor becoming the ruler of Eternia. As each clone wanted to rule Eternia as much as the original Skeletor wants, they fought among themselves.
  • Covered in Mud: He-Man frequently threw his opponents into conveniently-placed mudholes or bodies of water. A soft landing, to be sure, but not very dignified. Sister superhero She-Ra did it too.
  • Darkest Hour: "The Price of Power" sees Skeletor arrange one of these for He-Man when he thinks he killed an innocent. He crosses the Despair Event Horizon and gives up being He-Man completely, a misery that is further compounded when Prince Adam learns that Teela will have to go on a suicide mission to stop Skeletor because He-Man is no longer available.
  • Despair Event Horizon: "The Price of Power" where He-Man makes the decision to give up being He-Man and throw his sword into the bottomless abyss of Greyskull because he thinks he's killed an innocent while fighting Skeletor, resulting in the forces of good being left to fight a battle they can't win except through a suicide mission by one soldier (Teela).
  • Do An Immelmann Turn: Queen Marleena gets to show off her Top Gun skills in "The Rainbow Warrior".
  • Eldritch Abomination: One-shot guest-villain Sh'Gora is a surprisingly hard-core example.
  • Episode Title Card
  • Everybody Do the Endless Loop: Constantly in the Filmation series, making the animation seem extremely robotic most of the time. Worst of all in the first season, where the budget was limited even by Filmation's standards.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Just about every episode ended with Orko screwing up a magic spell and making someone (usually Man-At-Arms) angry, while everybody else laughs.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In an episode where He-Man and Skeletor are forced into an Enemy Mine situation in order to save Eternia, Skeletor tries in vain to comprehend doing something good for a change. He asks He-Man, "Don't you ever feel like doing something evil?" He-Man answers, "Don't you ever feel like doing something good?"
    • Another example would be Skeletor trying to understand what Christmas is in the Christmas Special, and then coming down with the Christmas spirit.
    "But I don't like to feel good! I like to feel evil!"s!
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: A recurring motif throughout the series. Both the heroes and the villains become victim to this.
  • Flower From The Mountain Top: In "The Bitter Rose", Orko does this to prove his love for Dree'Elle. Initially it causes problems for everyone until it's revealed he did something unexpectedly beneficial, after all.
  • Foreshadowing: In "Origin of the Sorceress", the background of a flashback scene features She-ra's sword. It also features the first arrival of Horde scouts on Etheria, who were summoned by the evil wizard Morgoth. It was from these events that eventually led to Hordak's invasion years later, along with Princess Adora's kidnapping as an infant.
  • Forgotten Birthday: In one episode everyone seems to have forgotten Orko's birthday, and Orko decides to run away. In the end, Orko is told that he should have known that everyone would remember his birthday, even though they were flat-out lying to him to cover up his surprise party. Stupid Orko!
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: On Orko's world Trolla, there are objects sticking out of the ground (trees? Mushrooms? Mineral formations?) that resemble phalluses to varying degrees.
    • In the He Man and She-Ra Christmas special, an aircraft with a long fuselage gets grabbed by a giant robotic hand. A white ray emanates from its rounded nosecone.
    The Nostalgia Critic: Just add to the list (cue counter: "Gay Jokes I Could've Made: 4").
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Orko does this in the episode "The Bitter Rose" using the Flower From The Mountain Top method.
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Skeletor in Secret of the Sword.
  • Legion of Doom: The Evil Warriors are led by Skeletor, but they are more or less distinct and independent in their agendas.
  • Limited Animation: This was made by Filmation after all, so this shouldn't be unexpected.
  • Living MacGuffin: "The Starchild."
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: All the super powered heroes apart from He-Man himself.
  • Loud Gulp: In the very first Masters Of The Universe episode, "Diamond Ray of Disappearance", Teela is confronted by the villain and does a very deep gulp that sounds rather mannish!
  • Lying Finger Cross: Orko did this in "Disappearing Act" when he promised He-Man, Man-At-Arms and Battlecat he'd clean up his room without magic.
    • In "Dree Elle's Return", Dree Elle's brother did this when he promised her he'd not play pranks during their stay in Eternia.
  • Not Me This Time: In "Evilseed", the eponymous villain was responsible for the trouble but He-Man initially thought it was Skeletor.
    • Subverted in "Teela's Triumph". Skeletor developed a ray that sends people to another dimension and tested it on a falcon. Unbeknownst to him, the falcon was the Sorceress so, when He-Man accused Skeletor of being responsible for her disappearance, He-Man was right but Skeletor didn't know.
  • Poke the Poodle: In a break from the show's usual formula of Skeletor's elaborate scheme of trying to take over Eternia, Skeletor plots to ruin a circus in one episode.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Randor judges disputes and otherwise governs his realm. He is also quite competent in a fight. Queen Marlena is a former astronaut from Earth who also presumably had prior military fighter training, as she is an Ace Pilot who mops the floor with Skeletor and his fleet of robot drones.
  • Science Fantasy: Eternia is a world where advanced technology and powerful magic exist side-by-side, and many people use both.
  • What Year Is This?: It is apparently sometime in the future, as Earth has interstellar spaceships which seem to match Eternian equivalents based on the Rainbow Explorer's effectiveness in combat against Skeletor's ships. However, the Christmas Episode left some confusion as to this point.
  • World of Muscle Men: Even many of the Squishy Wizard types look like they live in the gym.
  • You Are Not Ready: In "Teela's Quest" Teela finds out that the Sorceress is her mother but had to have this wiped from her memory as it wasn't the right time for her to find this out.