Steven Universe: An Otherwordly Review
March 15, 2018
As someone who was born in the era of cable TV and the VCR, I can safely say that I have been watching cartoons my entire life. From TV shows and cartoons to Newgrounds and Nintendo games, I have been enamored with animation forever.
In recent years, though, I haven’t been watching much television. Many would say that modern cartoons have been going downhill lately, and they have a point; however, there are a few diamonds in the rough, and Steven Universe may just be the brightest of them all.
Steven Universe, which first aired on May 21st, 2013, is an animated action/fantasy/drama series created by artist, writer, and musician Rebecca Sugar. Sugar is an experienced cartoonist who has made many animations in the past; she was also a songwriter for another beloved cartoon, Adventure Time.
The plot of Steven Universe surrounds the boy whom the series is named after, Steven, and his three maternal figures: gem aliens named Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. They call themselves the Crystal Gems, and they protect the Earth.
Although the first few episodes of the series are mainly the zany adventures of Steven and the gems, the later part of the first season is where Steven Universe started to develop. A reputation for delving into serious topics (and doing so wonderfully) became the show’s trademark.
In the 52nd episode Jail Break, it is revealed (spoiler alert) that Garnet is a fusion of two gems named Ruby and Sapphire. A fusion happens when two separate gems combine to form a new gem; they must have a strong bond in order to form a fusion. In this case, the bond has been confirmed by the creators to be romantic in nature. This episode, and the character of Garnet, has been heralded as one of the most positive examples of LGBTQ representation of our time, and the most positive and open portrayal of LGBTQ relationships in children’s media. However, Ruby and Sapphire are not the only LGBTQ characters in Steven Universe; it has been heavily implied by the crew (also spoiler alert) that Pearl had unrequited romantic feelings for the late Rose Quartz, former leader of the Crystal Gems and Steven’s mother.
The show also covers other serious subjects, such as trauma and abuse in the cases of Lapis Lazuli and Jasper, mourning loved ones in the case of the Diamonds and the Crystal Gems, and the importance of communicating your feelings in the case of…well, pretty much every episode. The writers showcase these issues in a way that is easy for kids to understand, but also in a way that is not too dark for their age.
The progressive themes of the show are not its only positive aspect; the storylines will leave you on the edge of your seat, with mysteries that only get deeper and more complicated as the story goes on. The introduction of Homeworld and the Diamonds in particular has not only provided a fantastic story arc for the show, but it has greatly expanded the very interesting lore and backstory of the Steven Universe world. All of the characters have flaws and imperfections, and are written as such. Even the heroes make mistakes that hurt each other, and they are not forgotten about like in many other examples of children’s entertainment. Each character has to work to fix what they did wrong and sincerely apologize to one another. Even the villains are written with sympathetic traits; some have even been redeemed, such as, “the great and lovable Peridot” (as said by Peridot herself).
There is even more to explain when it comes to the show’s characters. The concept of fusion is a wonderful way to add more depth to the character’s relationships. Fusion in the show is used as a tool for character development from conflicts to forming stronger bonds. Not only that, but the fusions as their own characters are beloved by many fans, including myself.
One of the best parts of the show, however, is its soundtrack. The characters, who are often voiced by musicians and broadway singers, often sing songs to express their feelings. The songs are magnificently written. Not only are they beautiful, but many of them encapsulate some of the most important bits of the plot, such as “Stronger Than You,” “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” and “What’s The Use Of Feeling, Blue?”
With as many positives as the show has, there is one major issue that has negatively impacted everything good that I have said about it thus far:
The absolute trainwreck that is Cartoon Network’s scheduling.
Steven Universe is notorious for its multiple hiatuses, which often last from several months to almost a year. The show has had a total of 15 hiatuses of varying length, with an ongoing 16th hiatus. Episodes have switched from a regular schedule to a series of “Stevenbombs,” in which 5 to 6 episodes are released on Cartoon Network everyday for a 5-day week; a new hiatus usually starts thereafter. This type of insane scheduling has frustrated many fans, including myself. Many fans have accused Cartoon Network of not caring about the show, or even of trying to sabotage it in favor of other cartoons; this has also been supported by the fact that Steven Universe has much less merchandise than most other shows. The scheduling controversy also hurts the impact of the storytelling; fans lose interest in the main plot points over time because of the lack of new content.
Overall, the world of Steven Universe is a compelling one. I love how the show goes into the history of the gems and their way of life. The characters themselves are all relatable to some extent and aren’t just copied-and-pasted archetypes, and their relationships are written extremely well, especially for a children’s cartoon. The LGBTQ representation is a big part of why the show is popular and is one of my favorite aspects; I love how Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship is blatantly portrayed as a romantic one and not just lightly implied like in most other media. The way the show emphasizes compassion and communication is not only a breath of fresh air, but also a valuable lesson for its target audience.
Steven Universe is a fantastic show through and through. Not only is it a beautiful work of art, but its core message has brought millions of people together from ages 8 to 80 and it has inspired thousands of magnificent pieces of fanart, fan-made songs, and more. Steven Universe truly is a gem of a show.