Last time, I gave you all an introduction to Winx Club as a franchise and a general overview of the things the newfangled gritty live action Netflix reboot Fate: The Winx Saga did with, but mostly to, the original setting, mood, aesthetic, and plot.
This time, we’re going to look more closely at the
five three six main characters, the heart and soul of the franchise, and some… Interesting adaptational choices related to them. Is there anything good to be found? The answer is probably not going to surprise you that much.
Bloom is our protagonist. In both versions, she is an exceptionally strong fire fairy with a mysterious heritage that she starts out knowing nothing about. She also has no idea about magic and magical realms existing and is thus a model ignorant protagonist who needs the entire setting explained to her for easy exposition. For easy visual identification, she also has red hair.
I’m pretty sure that’s where the similarities end, though.
As said before, the plot is largely centered around her search for her origins and how it ties into the Burned Ones attacking the school. It’s a simple story, but compelling enough and could easily carry a season.
The thing is, this Bloom has maybe two significant character traits; she’s a loner who’s not good with people, and she is determined to uncover this mystery at any cost, with incredible tunnel vision and all the finesse of a charging bull, making her extremely easy to manipulate. And then she’s too stubborn to acknowledge that she might have been manipulated.
You could very well argue that almost every episode plays out like this: Bloom is manipulated into doing something stupid, the plot attacks her, the others bail her out, nothing was learned in the process. The biggest deviation from that comes when she does the stupid thing mostly because she’s drunk. And then the final twist is that the stupid thing Bloom did is so severe, the bailing out will take at least another season.
She’s also more damaged than the original Bloom was, who accumulated her damage over the course of the first season. This Bloom starts out damaged because uncontrollable fire powers and a mother who has her teenage daughter’s door removed from her room after she slams it during an argument, are not a very good combination. Might lead to some third degree burns that completely heal over without a trace over the course of three months maybe.
She had loner tendencies before that incident, and it doesn’t get any better when coming to school. It’s too bad we never find out what she does when she’s alone, except maybe extremely detailed journaling and taking sorting hat quizzes. We don’t know if she had friends before becoming a fairy, or hobbies, or anything going on in her life. Okay, it is implied she collects antiques and has a quirky, old-fashioned lamp she takes to school with her. But one lamp does not a well-rounded character make.
Even her control issues are resolved by episode three or so. She just gets it off-screen, I guess, after people kept giving her contradictory advice. She even manages to go into super fairy mode, an art lost to times, which no one else has been able to do in centuries, after having it very vaguely explained to her once. She just immediately masters that, too. Great.
I’m not even sure there’s more to say about her. Bullheaded, easily manipulated, storms on ahead without literally every thinking about consequences, learns nothing, bangs her head until walls until they break before her to reveal more plot, rinse and repeat. We see her do one and a half nice things for her so-called friends during the entire season, helping Terra with make-up (why a super Not Like Other Girls hermit girl would have the better skills here is a question not even worth thinking about. Pretty, skinny girls just perform femininity easier, I guess.) and bring breakfast to Aisha under… Circumstances. That are not actually in her favor. And even that is ultimately self-serving.
She has absolutely nothing going for her that would make her a compelling character beyond the fact that the plot revolves around her. Other than that, she’s just kind of abrasive. Kind of a brat, as she actually describes herself in the last episode. To one of only two character she has even the least bit of chemistry with; the headmistress of the school. Which bodes well for a story allegedly about girls being friends and fighting evil, doesn’t it?
You know a show touting twitter feminism buzzwords and girl friendships did something right when the second most important character with probably the second most screen time is the love interest, huh.
And like, don’t get me wrong, I’ve held impromptu ten-minute-long speeches about how Wedding Peach is not that bad actually because the boyfriends have personalities and get involved with the main plot. I think that is technically a good thing, as long a you have all the girls who are supposed to be the main characters thoroughly fleshed out first. Instead, we get Sky.
Oh, Sky. I understand the original didn’t give this show much to work with. In it, he’s just a kind of nice dude with a flair for heroics. There’s some backstory drama stuff that I’ll cover in the next section but other than that, him and Bloom are just kind of into each other from the word go and take a season to get together.
On paper, there’s actually not much of a difference, but this Sky takes up so much screen time, is decidedly less nice and laid back, and present for more main plot points than any of the girls. Does he contribute anything? Not really! He keeps us invested in getting one Burned One killed because his father figure dies otherwise and that’s nice. Because at that point, I was more invested in the father figure.
His actual father, king of a nation, died fighting Burned Ones, technically. He was a great but maybe bloodthirsty warrior, Sky didn’t see much of him, as he was a toddler when he died, and now lives in his shadow. He has a few dramatic monologues about this, and one of them, in delivery and “this is something a person would say”-ness is the closest this show comes to being as cringey as Riverdale in its writing, a comparison I have seen more often than is fair, really. But the line between “I’m a fixer. I fix people.” and “I’m weird. I’m a weirdo.” is paper-thin, just saying.
There is no chemistry between him and Bloom. He’s just, bam, into her, and appears to wear her down by just constantly being around for the entire season. Technically they give him an in-universe reason to be so fixated on her all the time, but he started just vaguely hitting on/negging her from the word go, before he could have received orders.
Sorry, I mean mansplaining, don’t mind the gagging noises.
They don’t even get along effortlessly or develop mutually enjoyable banter or anything. It’d be one thing if the actors just didn’t gel, but the writing has the same issue, too. Every time this dude is on-screen feels like a chore for everyone involved, especially himself. Just. He is the weakest link, okay? And it’s a damn shame the writers wrote him into every important moment, come hell or high water.
(And then I presume the directors screwed him over by letting the actor do exactly one facial expression 95% of the time.)
Stella is the crown princess of Solaria. Her powers are based on light, in the cartoon explicitly stars, but there’s sun and moon imagery in there sometimes. I’ve seen people say that Stella has been done the dirtiest by this adaptation and disagree to an extent, but boy has she been done dirty.
Cartoon!Stella is gregarious, generous, and a really good friend. Yes, she is into fashion and also boys a lot and occasionally somewhat self-centered, but in general, you get that she’s a good friend to have and fun to be around. This Stella spends ninety percent of her screen time being annoyed with the other girls, actively avoiding them, or… Maybe trying to get them killed or grievously injured, depending on how you interpret the events in the first episode.
There’s a rumor she blinded her former best friend because she got too friendly with Stella’s boyfriend. There’s more to it than that, but after seeing Sky, by now her ex, talk to Bloom in the first episode, she gives Bloom a teleportation ring to get her out of the protective barrier around the school and into a forest that even when it’s not overrun with incredibly hard to kill zombies, still has wolves and bears that apparently like to maul people.
Oh, yes, that’s what people are up in arms about. There’s a love triangle between Stella, Sky, and Bloom. Something that is particularly funny to me, because it sounds like someone read a vague summary of an episode early on in the first season of the cartoon, in which Stella is dating Prince Sky, and a later one, in which Bloom is dating Prince Sky, and then just assumed. However!
Look at these two completely separate boys. One of them is Prince Sky, one of them is his bodyguard Brandon. They switched identities for the first season of the cartoon. There’s some dramatic backstory involving politics and assassins to explain this. Stella thought she was dating the prince, but actually dated his bodyguard. She notably took more issue with being lied to than with the downgrade in status, by the way.
That might be one of the cartoon’s strong points; the relationships happen quick and early and then stick. With maybe two exceptions. No soap opera musical chairs with the love interests, no love triangles between the main girls.
Though, admittedly, in the cartoon, Bloom is in fact in kind of a love triangle with Sky and a blond princess with attitude issues.
Her name is Diaspro, she’s Sky’s political fiancée, takes badly to being set aside, and from what I understand cooperates with the villain in season three over it. This version’s Stella doesn’t take it that far, but, you know. It feels a bit like they rather would have adapted Diaspro, of all people.
The sad thing is, the things they add to Stella are actually kind of good, which is a very bad relationship with her very bad mom (are there any good moms in this? I am noticing a trend…), and resulting issues regarding controlling her powers. Using them to optimize lighting for a selfie is fine, using them in key plot moments also works, but between that, she has control issues, I swear, and they make sense in context!
Again, I do enjoy what they do with her mother. Which is a bit of an issue, though, since her most compelling moments happen far away from any other character except for… Sky. Funny, that.
As mentioned last time, Aisha only joins the cast in season 2 of the original cartoon. Also for a while, every dub outside of Italy called her Layla for some reason. Well, here she is, as Aisha, present and accounted for. Sort of.
Where they added stuff to Stella and Bloom, especially traumatic parental issues, they took away from Aisha. Presumably. In the cartoon, Aisha was a princess and being kept in isolation and prepared for her role until she ran away to save some, uh, mascot characters. As such, she has trouble making friends, abandonment issues, and feels left out easily. Which isn’t that strange when you join a group of friends who have already been together through a school year and oh yeah, been child soldiers in a war together.
Aisha on this show has. Well. I don’t want to say nothing and be proven wrong by next season, but what little she does tell about herself doesn’t exactly sound like she’s still a princess. Does she have parents? A family? We don’t know! She swims and flooded her school once and Bloom says she’s a Gryffindor for being too judgmental. Bloom, by the way, is apparently a Ravenclaw and sometimes Slytherin which also does not compute, so not only do they have this weird, contrived conversation about Hogwarts houses, they’re also doing it badly – bad writing and inept pandering all in one, everybody take a shot.
There are hints about something being wrong with Aisha, as she is very proficient with her water powers in the earlier episodes, and then struggling with control later on, but only when it inconveniences the plot and by plot I mean Bloom. It’s more of a background event twice.
As mentioned before, I feel that all the girls spend too much time with boyfriends or ex boyfriends or aspiring boyfriends, which takes away from them developing as a friend group. But the thing is, the girls with boyfriend plots at least have scenes and screen time not tied to Bloom and the main plot. Aisha, for some reason, is the only one who doesn’t get a boyfriend. Or a subplot.
Well, there’s a hint of one when she takes over as Ms. Dowling’s secretary after her first secretary was murdered and also finds an espionage device that allows her to listen in on secret conversations in her office. She also rifles through files to help Bloom find her mysterious benefactor. Oh, and she only took the job because Bloom talked her into it. But Bloom brings her breakfast! To avoid eating in the cafeteria herself. No nice things allowed.
Unfortunately, the one time Aisha puts her foot down and offers insight into the larger situation that the others simply don’t have because they haven’t been listening in on secret headmistress conversations, she is basically ignored.
And that’s it. Aisha only exists to life coach Bloom and further along her plot. She has nothing going on of her own that is worth mentioning to the show. She’s just either trying to help Bloom, or being a stick in the mud hindrance due to being, I don’t know, the voice of reason. The one saying that breaking a murderer out of prison is maybe not the best thing to do when everyone should be fighting a zombie attack. And is being framed as wrong for putting her foot down on this. She isn’t, though. Aisha did nothing wrong. Listen to Aisha.
Now, maybe they’re saving all the Aisha specific plot points for later seasons. Maybe that’s when her background, personality, and boyfriend will show up and I’ll have to eat my words. But for being reduced to nothing but an accessory to Bloom’s antics, and one that gets discarded when it starts making a little too much sense, I firmly believe that Aisha was, in fact, done the dirtiest by this adaptation.
On a completely unrelated note, I want you all to play a game with all three articles: Find all the pictures Aisha is in, especially the group shots, and tell me whether she is severely underlit or if that’s just in my head. And I swear I didn’t specifically pick moments where this happens, I picked moments with everyone on screen at the same time.
Terra is the character they have added to replace Flora. She has all her plant-based powers but otherwise resembles her neither physically nor as a character.
Thus the only relevant thing you need to know about Flora for this discussion is that she was based on and designed as Latina. Terra is white. You could argue that people from Latin America aren’t exactly a common minority in Britain and that’s why that wouldn’t have fit, but, I mean. Magic realms. Why did this have to be British in the first place. Don’t excuse one bad adaptational decision with another.
It is for that reason that it kind of pains me to say that Terra is probably the most well-written character on the show. She has the most going on. She gets 2.5 subplots that are mostly independent from Bloom, one of which related to the main tension regardless. She has mini-arcs. She is also the only one of the main five who is not like “ugh, people” and thus kinda the one who makes the group spend time together in non-traumatic circumstances, kind of. Once or twice.
She is the daughter of Ben Harvey, himself also an earth fairy, who teaches… Magical plants? Herbology? Greenhouse related stuff at Alfea. She also has a brother attending Alfea called Sam. One of her arcs is about becoming disillusioned with her dad, who starts lying to her about things as they become increasingly complicated and related to some, uh, war crimes he may have been involved in in the past.
Her other mini-arc is about another original character called Dane, who she has a crush on until he kind of says humiliating things about her in a video that gets posted on magic Instagram and then she freezes him out and calls him off for treating her like that after she was nothing but kind to him. It’s not a bad arc, it’s just… Okay.
Okay, let’s talk about this. The “alternative” representation Terra provides is that she is fat. People have speculated that this was added because the cartoon was frequently under fire due to the girls looking extremely thin even by cartoon standards. Which they do! You can squish their waists with your hands. Yes, the art style is based on hyper-stylized fashion sketches. Fine. It is still good to see more characters of different sizes on TV, especially teenage girls, regardless, especially when the weight is not an issue. Until it sort of is for half a scene.
Is this a reason to write out a character of color? No. Is it “good representation”? Hell if I know. I didn’t feel represented and I have a similar body type. And if you’re going to provide representation, maybe take care that Terra isn’t the only fat kid in the entire school? That could, you know, help to make her not feel othered for being big. Just a thought.
It’s also a little strange that her weight never seems to be of importance, except for in one scene when she laments no one is sharing an apple with her because she “looks like [she does].”
This might be the only time we see her refer to her weight explicitly, except for in episode one when she strangles a dude with her plant powers for being a bit of an ass to her, and calling him out for thinking someone like her would have to be flattered that he deigned to talk to her. In a later scene, those two actually seem to have some history which makes this really weird in retrospect, but, you know.
Okay so. What is my point again? Oh yes, that the only fat character is also the only one to have her love interest publicly reject and humiliate her. That.
And it feels so unnecessary? Outside of this extremely uncomfortable plotline, Terra is kind of awesome? Again, the fact that she is the only one not actively put off by having to be around other people makes her immediately more likeable than the other characters. Not saying I liked her better, my favorite is Aisha, but I’d rather be around her than anyone else. She is genuinely kind. Sometimes in a way that makes her feel like a bit of a doormat. Not in regards to telling her former love interest to suck it after that Instagram stunt, she never wavers in that, but when Stella is pulled out of school for family reasons, she is the only one who misses her. Even though Stella has only ever insulted her.
But the thing is, you can kind of explain away her desire for friends, no matter how bad they treat her, with her having spent her entire life at the school and never around peers. She’s never had friends. I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be the connective tissue between all the girls, but it’s not really brought up much. Or ever. The fact that the other four don’t even seem to want friends doesn’t help.
She’s also just a total badass in battle situations. She never lacks control over her powers, uses them in a multitude of brutal ways that Flora would never. And she knows a lot about medicine, is competent at treating zombie inflicted wounds, saves a few lives, and is completely calm while doing so, helping to keep other people, namely Musa, grounded during it as well. And we know why she is like this! It’s because her dad has been training her at this school all her life! Giving her an actual connection to everything going on, an explanation for everything about her character! Amazing what a little fleshing out can do for you, isn’t it?
And kind of funny that the only character to get that treatment is actually the writer’s OC, isn’t it?
And lastly, appearing in name only, Musa.
This Musa has so little in common with the Musa of the cartoon, her name doesn’t even make sense anymore. In the cartoon, Musa is the fairy of music, her life’s goal is to be a musician, her powers are based on sounds and sometimes dropping disco balls on people. She also starts out as a bit of a tomboy, and while Flora and Aisha got whiter from iteration to iteration, she got more and more girly.
The live action Musa has “mind” powers, meaning she can… Hear feelings? Feel the feelings of people she can hear? It’s a little vague. She can tune out her powers by listening to music, which is why she wears headphones frequently. In a hilarious moment, when Terra asks her to listen to the music on speaker, we hear that what she listens to to drown everyone else out is… Soft acoustic guitar ballad that blends seamlessly into the background music for the end of the episode montage. How is that drowning anything out. Play some screamo, at least, cowards.
Because she always has to feel what everyone else is feeling, I guess we can jot her down as another one with control issues. It’s also the most legitimate reason to avoid people anyone has on this show. Bloom, Aisha, and sometimes even Stella are just Like That, I guess.
It’s kind of funny how everything regarding Musa in this is explicitly related to her powers. She gets a boyfriend, completely drama free, whomst she takes interest in because he is “quiet”. No thoughts, head empty, but for emotions. That boyfriend happens to be Terra’s older brother Sam, and Terra is… Fine with that. Sometimes disgusted, sometimes amused, generally takes it like champ, like she does most things.
It’s a cute and completely drama-free relationship which they, ah, keep secret for a while. By making out juuust off of a crowded hallway. You’re doing great, you guys. Good job. Very secret. I am impressed.
This is, by the way, maybe the starkest contrast between Musa in this and in the cartoon outside of the racial stuff I already addressed before. Okay, and the nature of her powers. Okay, this was a bad joke. What I mean to say is that cartoon!Musa is a little infamous for the fact that her relationship with her designated boyfriend is… Troubled.
I will have words about Riven during the next part, he actually is the only boy besides Sky who managed to be adapted at all, but let’s just say that the official YouTube channel makes these little compilation videos like “Musa and Riven’s love story” and theirs is basically just a lot of arguing and ends with an actual breakup in season 6. Much to everyone’s relief, I hope. Unfortunately, they got back together in later seasons. It’s a ride, you guys.
Musa and Riven interact exactly once in this version, and she almost skewers him with a stick while making some volatile small talk about how she used to dance and wishes she could fight, but the school won’t let her because mind fairy. It feels like the only almost funny meta joke of the entire thing.
Other than that, all Musa does is provide intel on people feeling one way or another. Which is why it is especially glaring how little explained the exact nature of her powers is. The most bizarre thing is that, in the climax, we learn that mind fairies can actually take other people’s feelings and feel them for them. And she is instructed to do that with someone’s pain. How is pain, actual, physical pain from having a zombie claw stuck in your body, an emotion, exactly? And also, how seriously messed up is it to ask of other people to feel the pain of people who are grievously wounded and maybe dying?
Yes, the character suggesting that was taught when the school was still a full military complex by someone with very little regard for ethics. Still. When Musa backs out and runs away, this is presented as some kind of failure. Something she needs to get over. We get a little backstory drop of how she felt her mother die, and then she gets over it and does her job and this is framed as triumphant.
(The character played by a quarter-Asian actress literally suffers for a white guy. Kind of charged, when you think about it.)
The bit about the mother, by the way, is especially infuriating when you know anything about the original. There, the mother passed away explicitly because she was too poor to afford treatment due to being a musician. Which is why Musa’s father doesn’t want her to be a musician and die in poverty. The episode is well-known for being one of the stronger ones that emotionally resonated with the audience, and it is brought back a few times in key emotional moments.
This adaptation tries to capitalize on that, despite the fact that they left literally nothing else from the original Musa behind, except maybe her pigtails sometimes.
Well. So much about our main characters, the heart and soul of the show, with not a even a hint of chemistry to be found anywhere, but extremely questionable adaptational choices everywhere.
Next time, I will have word about some more notable characters, and actually come around to telling y’all why I think there could have been something good somewhere in this mess. Somewhere. Deep, deep down.
Images courtesy of Netflix and RAI
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