It’s hard to put into words just how wonderful Steven Universe is.
I’ve put off this post for a while now because…I just didn’t know what to say about it. Its first few episodes left me confused and adrift, but after much binging, I was left speechless in awe.
How do you describe what you just know in your heart?
It’s a charming show with interesting, dynamic and likeable characters. The Crystal Gems come from an alien world of super beings known simply as Gems, each of whom has a stone somewhere on their body that gives them life and power. The Crystal Gems protect the Earth from invading forces, usually in the form of Gems from their home world, their creations, or space monsters, all while trying their best to train and raise Steven, a half-human half-Gem and the son of their former leader, who became him while at the same time giving birth to him.
…It sounds complicated, and it sort of is, but you’ll understand it more if you watch the show.
Steven has to learn to be a Crystal Gem, but he also has to learn to be a man too.
He sees his dad, who is a beach bum in charge of a car wash in their seaside town, from time to time and maintains a good relationship with him, despite the admittedly unorthodox way Steven came into the world, but he is primarily raised by three moms, each of whom step into roles as friends, sisters, and trainers from time to time as well.
The Crystal Gems must learn to understand and relate to the humans that they protect and vice versa. Steven acts as a bridge between the two, guiding them as they guide him.
It’s a show about the complexities of relationships; a slice of life with magical girls from space.
The story is just so out there, but the relationships feel believable and sympathetic. They go on grand adventures in some episodes, and hang around town in others, as Steven learns valuable life lessons. The humor was an acquired taste for me at first (having only just recently gotten into Adventure Time), and I’ll admit that I still don’t tend to laugh out loud, but by the time 11 minutes are up, I always find myself satisfied and smiling.
The visual style is definitely reminiscent of Adventure Time; which makes sense, because Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar worked on the show. But you can see anime and pop culture influences sprinkled in generously as well, colored with nice, almost soothing palettes. The many “women” (the Gems themselves are genderless, but they take on female attributes) of Steven Universe come in literally different shapes, sizes, and colors, but each has a unique personality and is beautiful in “her” own way.
No one insists that all these ladies look the same.
The voice cast is also pleasantly varied. Steven is voiced by an actual kid (which rarely works out well on t.v. because of lack of talent or direction), and he does a wonderful job portraying an awkward, caring sometimes obnoxious but always well-meaning youngster.
Estelle plays the Crystal Gem’s leader, Garnet, and she is very good at being serious and stoic when she needs to be, but also supportive and even silly. Pearl, played by Deedee Magno-Hall, is clean and orderly to the point of neurosis at times, but she is a skilled, graceful fighter who loves to share Gem history with Steven. And Michaela Dietz’s Amethyst is impulsive, messy, and fun-loving, but also surprisingly emotional and childish. They all care deeply for one another, despite clashing frequently about minor details.
There’s an air of gender queering around the show as well. The Gems can fuse with one another by dancing together (Dragonball Z, anyone?), and the result is a larger single being with new strengths and personality.
The Next Sentence Contains A Spoiler: Steven and his crush accidentally fuse one night and spend the rest of it running around in a single, androgynous form that draws attention from girls and guys around town: End Spoiler.
Two Gems have also been stated by the powers that be to be romantically involved with one another.
Amethyst’s gem is right on her chest and she can pull her weapon out of it.
These are jarring only in the sense that most shows aimed at children don’t acknowledge sexuality and gender identity at all, let alone weave it into plot points and display it so proudly. The show acts like it’s nothing at all, and that is absolutely amazing.
Steven himself exhibits quite a few feminine traits, but we never see him maliciously teased or forced to conform to what our society would expect. He adamantly defends his unusual family and encourages others to be themselves and do what they think is right.
He can be genuinely funny, but he strikes you as the kind of kid who would laugh right along with you, and be happy that he got that response. That reminds me of myself as a girl just a little bit, when I was really young and didn’t pick up on peoples’ judgments as easily.
Steven Universe is weird in many ways, but its unique characters and storytelling make it utterly fascinating and heartwarming. Things can turn surprisingly dramatic and emotional on a dime, then switch back to silly and upbeat, all while keeping you invested and sympathetic. Characters you may not have liked at first grow on you, or if they don’t, you at least get where they’re coming from.
Also, the theme songs are gorgeous and catchy.
Seriously, just watch a few episodes. Adults can get just as much out of the show as kids can. If nothing else, Steven Universe will be remembered for its daring, encouraging kids to understand what families really are and the many ways they can come together and support one another.
*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to Rebecca Sugar and Cartoon Network. None of the images or sounds belong to me.