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

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Bottom left to right - Beast Man, Evil-Lyn, Skeletor, He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela, The Sorceress. Flying above - Orko.

"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 '80s. 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 Sword of Power. He can use it to turn into his super-strong, (nigh) invincible, heavily-abbed alter-ego, He-Man. This Transformation Sequence also turned Adam's cowardly talking pet tiger Cringer into the brave and fearsome Battle Cat. Additionally, the Sword of Power was an indestructible Absurdly Sharp Blade that could cut through pretty much anything, an awesomeness made slightly redundant by the fact that He-Man's punch could break anything too.


His primary foe was the evil Skeletor, a skeleton-faced warlord who was part Magic Knight, part cackling lunatic. 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 wellnote , also going on to make Power Rangers).

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.

This cartoon contains examples of:

  • Acid-Trip Dimension: In one episode, Skeletor erases He-Man's memory and sends him to a world that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
  • Action Girl: Every major female character can fight, with magic, with force of arms, or both.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the first wave of action figures which preceded the cartoon, Zodac was clearly marketed as a villain, his package reading "Evil Cosmic Enforcer", and presenting the usual finned forearms and webbed feet of the line's Evil Warriors figures. In the series, however, he is upgraded to a sort of neutral overseer of things that is actually mostly good, and even gets to deliver the And Knowing Is Half the Battle lesson in two of the episodes. Re-releases of the figure had him packaged simply as "Cosmic Enforcer".
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: In "The Rainbow Warrior", at one point, Skeletor refers to both Beast Man and Trap Jaw as "pathetic pitiful pinheads".
  • 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: In "The Problem with Power", He-Man (who's been tricked into thinking he killed someone) surrenders The Power of Grayskull. Then he learns what's really going on and he needs to regain the power to save Teela, so he goes on a quest to get it back.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Every episode has a Public Service Announcement at the end to emphasize its Aesop.
  • Animation Bump: Various scenes animated by storyboard artist Tom Sitonote , including Evilseed's death in "Evilseed" and He-Man's gate ripping scene from "Castle of Heroes". Which look really out of place in a series that otherwise relied heavily on Stock Footage and still frames.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Skeletor, for the most part, obviously, but some individual episodes have shown some of the other Evil Warriors to be one in their own right, such as Mer-Man in "City Beneath the Sea". Count Marzo has also filled this role from time to time.
  • 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 Zoar the Falcon 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.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: In "Evil-Lyn's Plot", Skeletor uses an amulet of Coridite to become just as strong as He-Man. When he powers up, he borrows He-Man's phrase with, "Now, I have the power!"
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: In "The Rainbow Warrior," Queen Marlena breaks her former ship (and her uniform) out of the castle display room to engage Hordak's forces.
  • Bridal Carry: He-Man does this to Teela near the end of "The Problem with Power" just after saving her from the mesotronic bomb that she was going to use to blow up the dimensional gate, which ended up being blown up by the bomb anyway.
  • 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.
  • But Now I Must Go:
    • The Sorceress does this in her origin episode after she drives both The Evil Hordenote  and the evil wizard Morgoth out of Eternia. Justified, since she has to return to Castle Grayskull in order to take over for the previous Sorceress.
    • In "Search For the Past", right after they rescue King Randor's father King Miro from imprisonment, Randor offers his father the kingdom back. Miro declines because he has been imprisoned for so many years and doesn't know anything about the kingdom anymore. Miro says he must go on a long journey to relearn everything about the kingdom and its people.
  • By the Power of Grayskull!: As indicated in the page quote, this is the Trope Namer.
  • Call-Back: While she is a supporting character in this series, Queen Marlena (AKA: Marlena Glenn) being an astronaut from Earth is one to Blackstar, where the title character is also an astronaut from Earth. They even ended up on Earth the same way (well, mainly).
  • Campfire Character Exploration: In one episode, Teela and Evil-Lyn find themselves having to travel together. Around the campfire, Evil-Lyn reveals she has no real loyalty to Skeletor. She just wants power.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "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 in his opinion it was as cheesy as he had expected. But then, it was probably assumed that this was commonly known information that would just bore the audience.
  • Clark Kenting: The only difference between Prince Adam and his He-Man mode are a more revealing outfit and a tannote .
  • Cloning Blues: In the episode, "Here, There, Skeletors everywhere", Skeletor creates an army of clones which he calls "Skeletoids" who were like him except 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. His superhero sister She-Ra did it too.
  • Darkest Hour: "The Problem With 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 an extremely dangerous mission to stop Skeletor because He-Man is no longer available.
  • Deal with the Devil: This is the main plot of the aptly named episode, "Bargain With Evil".
  • Despair Event Horizon: "The Problem With 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 an extremely dangerous mission by one soldier (Teela).
  • Do An Immelmann Turn: Queen Marlena gets to show off her Top Gun skills in "The Rainbow Warrior".
  • Don't Try This at Home: One episode's And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment features Ram-Man advising kids to never use their heads to hit things like he does.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • In "Origin of the Sorceress", the flashback shows an evil group of conquerors who are clearly meant to be the Evil Horde; their distinctive "bat" symbol can be seen. The episode also mentions two Swords of Power, one of them being She-Ra's Sword of Protection.
    • "The Time Wheel" features an early bird musical cameo. A music cue from She-Ra's series can be heard in one scene. This later happens in a few other later second season episodes.
  • Eldritch Abomination: One-shot guest-villain Sh'Gora is a surprisingly hard-core example.
  • Enemy Mine: Aside from the times Skeletor and He-Man would have to work together to defeat a bigger threat, one episode ("The Witch and the Warrior") ended up with a de-powered Evil-Lyn trapped in the desert with Teela and having to work with her to get back to the villain who had her powers and was threatening Eternia. The two work surprisingly well together (lampshaded by both the women at different points in the episode), and it's one of the better episodes of the series because of it.
  • Episode Title Card
  • Everybody Do the Endless Loop: Constantly in this, and other 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.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The Vine Jungle.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Skeletor has had to deal with this problem at least twice:
    • 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 want to feel good! I want to feel evil!"
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: A recurring motif throughout the series. The heroes and the villains occasionally fall victim to power they thought they could control, only to find it controlling them.
  • Expanded Universe: Of a sort. There were a number of storybooks published by Western Publishing under the Golden label (which is now owned by Random House)note  which tell original stories not featured in the show.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Everyone in "The Region of Ice", but especially Teela. Snowflake's skimpy outfit is justified as she has An Ice Person powers and cannot stand heat.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The Spanish opening song's lyrics sang by Chilean rockstar Capitán Nemo pretty much explains the general plot.
  • Expy: Prankster the Trollan is a magic-wielding troublemaker who will be forced to return to his home dimension if he says his hard-to-pronounce name (Wokrapanwooki) aloud - similar to Mr. Mxyzptlk.
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • Friend of Masked Self: Prince Adam claims to know He-Man, and often pretends to cowardly flee from a dangerous situation to tell He-Man that everyone else needs help. In reality, he's going for a secluded place to transform.
  • 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").
    • The camera just LOVES pointing at Teela's butt any chance it can, and her uniform was so form fitting it looked painted on. Evil-Lyn was equally prone to the camera pointing at her crotch, wearing a similar uniform to Teela's.
      • Due to the near-constant use of a particular piece of recycled animation, that of a character landing in front of the camera in a Between My Legs pose, the men got this as much as, if not more than, the women (the women did get to do this move occasionally, but it's almost always the men (read: He-Man) doing it).
  • Golden Snitch: In "The Games", Fisto and Spikor enter a game where they can win points by pressing the buttons on spheres hidden by the Bendari. Each one of the yellow spheres gives 100 points and the red one gives 2000 points. After He-Man takes Fisto's place, he finds the red one, turning the last yellow one into a tie-breaker.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Orko does this in the episode "The Bitter Rose" using the Flower From The Mountain Top method.
  • Green Aesop: Zodac's end-of-episode message in "Quest for He-Man". Adam and Teela also give one at the end of "Island of Fear".
  • Green Thumb: Moss Man, who can turn into whatever plants are nearby. Plus, when shaking hands with Melaktha in The Ancient Mirror of Avathar, he accidentally gives him plant seedsnote .
  • Hell: The Realm of Demons mentioned in a couple episodes. Granamyr tends to send people who annoy him there to get rid of them.
  • Heroic Build: The adult male characters, not counting a few monsters or cyborgs. The adult female characters have Impossible Hourglass Figures.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A perfect, albeit, likely unintentional example is in the Christmas Special with She-Ra when they take a jab at Transformers.
    Swiftwind: "They're changing into other forms! What evil robots!"note 
  • I Was Beaten by a Girl: Skeletor in Secret of the Sword.
    "A female He-Man! This is the worst day of my life!"
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: This happens to Orko in "The Rarest Gift of All".
  • 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 (chronological) 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 in "Disappearing Act" when he promised He-Man, Man-At-Arms and Battlecat he'd clean up his room without magic.
    • Dree Elle's brother Yuckers in "Dree Elle's Return" when he promised her he'd not play pranks during their stay in Eternia.
  • Modest Royalty: Prince Adam wears no Requisite Royal Regalia of any kind, and his parents wear only simple crowns.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: "Song of Celice" is all about this, involving a monster in the caverns deep beneath a city which must be kept asleep with Celice's song or else it will destroy the city with earthquakes. He-Man has to face it on his own when Skeletor and Evil-Lyn kidnap and hypnotize Celice to get her to use her powers on the Sorceress.
  • Named by the Adaptation: King Randor and Queen Marlena originally appeared in the pre-Filmation minicomics, but originally didn't have specific names.
  • Notable Original Music: Music by the team of Shuki Levy and Haim Sabannote . Some of the music was recycled from The Mysterious Cities of Gold. There was a BGM album released.
    • The Spanish version of the opening theme has additional lyrics added.
      El universo ya está protegido
      por el Poder de Grayskull...
      ¡Con secretos poderes de este gran castillo
      He-man luchará hasta el final!

      Teniendo a su lado la mágica espada
      y amigos que no fallarán,
      fuerzas malvadas querrán liquidarlo
      y nunca descansarán!
    • Translation:
      The universe is now protected
      by the Power of Greyskull...
      With secret powers of this great castle
      He-man will fight to the end!

      Having by his side the magical sword
      and unfailing friends,
      evil forces will want to kill him
      and will never rest!
  • Not Me This Time:
    • Played straight in "Evilseed", in which 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.
  • One-Man Army: He-Man, of course. He isn't The Most Powerful Man in the Universe for nothing. In fact, even King Miro (from "Search for the Past") describes him this way:
    "By the ancients! He fights like an entire army!"
  • Poke the Poodle: In a break from the show's usual formula of Skeletor's elaborate schemes of trying to take over Eternia, Skeletor plots to ruin a circus in "The Greatest Show On Eternia".
  • 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.
    • In the flashback sequence of Secret Of The Sword, she shows she doesn't even need a fighter to be a badass, and gets to inflict a judo flip on Skeletor.
    • Prince Adam is a subversion. He-Man is a Badass, but his cover identity verges on Non-Action Guy.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Subverted. No one seems surprised that the Ace Pilot in "The Rainbow Warrior" is a woman — this is a world of Action Girls, after all — but only her husband expects it to be the queen.
  • Science Fantasy: Eternia is a world where advanced technology and powerful magic exist side-by-side, and many people use both.
  • Secret Test of Character: Granamyr's initial "mistrust" of He-Man in his first appearance is Retconed as this by his later appearance in She-Ra's series where he reads She-Ra's mind when she meets him on Eterina one thousand years before the events of either series, discovering that She-Ra is Adora and that He-Man is Adam.
  • Series Continuity Error: In "Castle of Heroes", Skeletor refers to Clawful as his "right-hand man", even though it's usually Beast Man who has this role. Another episode, "Revenge is Never Sweet", has Skeletor referring to Evil-Lyn as his "right hand of evil".
  • Shout-Out: Queen Marlena's last name Glenn is likely one to real life astronaut John Glenn.
    • One episode of the show is called "Fraidy Cat" (the name of a previous Filmation seriesnote )
    • One episode features an attempt by an ancient sorcerer named Morgoth to escape his dimensional prison.
  • Stock Footage: All the time. Following Filmation's Signature Style, a catalog of animation was created first with stories written around what actions they had.
  • Straw Feminist: One of the kingdoms outside of Eternia's borders was run by a queen that hated men and imprisoned every male in the kingdom in the underground mines. Adam is captured and sent into slavery. Teela is NOT thrilled by this in the least.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: In episode "Into the Abyss", Adam, fed up with Teela's snarky pushing for training and the demands of a double identity, cuts her off sharply and dismisses her like any other servant of the kingdom talking snap to the heir to the throne. She even lampshades this to her father, to which Duncan reminds her he is the Prince of Eternia. Cringer of all people lets Adam know how little he thinks of Adam doing this, and Adam admits it wasn't his best moment. Teela for her part felt especially betrayed, feeling they'd been raised like brother and sister. This turns out to be the solution to the argument, but seeing any member of the royal family assert privilege was kind of jarring.
  • Transformation Sequence: "BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!!!"
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: The majority of the show is campy and hard to take seriously even in its more serious moments, and then "The Problem With Power" revolves around Skeletor tricking He-Man into thinking he killed an innocent man during a fight, causing Adam to give up his power until he learned what happened. Originally the episode would've been even darker, with He-Man actually killing an innocent bystander by accident.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Several plots involve Orko (or another innocent soul) trying to do something and accidentally touching off a catastrophe.
  • Very Special Episode: "Not So Blind", which features a one time character named Loos, who is blind. At one point, He-Man and Ram Man become blind while taking Loos on an adventure. At one point, Loos talks about how blind people aren't that much different from people who can see.
  • Villain Exclusivity Clause: Skeletor is the villain in almost every episode of the series (not counting crossovers and Enemy Mine situations).
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The heroes smash apart the obviously sentient Monstroids in the Christmas special.
  • 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.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The aptly named second season episode "Beauty and the Beast".
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Opening scene of He-man transforming.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ByThePowerOfGrayskull

Media sources:

Main / ByThePowerOfGrayskull