Five reasons to stop what you’re doing and watch Steven Universe right now
Stephanie Hibbert loves Steven Universe - here’s why you should too
We are currently going through a television golden age. With so much great content being created, you can be forgiven if you haven’t been paying too much attention to cartoons.
I myself am an AVID watcher of cartoons, I love them and always have, and would go as far as saying they are probably my favourite genre of television.
I just love the way that they don’t take themselves too seriously, are generally light hearted, and have a great way of explaining complex topics in a way that children can understand.
All of this to say, that nowhere is this more relevant than with Rebecca Sugar’s masterpiece of animation Steven Universe!
Now forgive me if I am late to the party, but I have recently started watching the show and honestly, it’s fantastic. I am fully absorbed into the life of Steven and the Crystal Gems and their adventures saving beach city.
Very quickly Steven Universe has found a special place in my heart, and despite it essentially being a kid’s show there are a number of reasons why it needs to find a place in your heart, too.
1. The plot and characters are so well written
Steven Universe is a serialised cartoon, meaning that there is an overarching plot that the story follows. This is generally unusual as the majority of cartoons work often as stand-alone episodes because they get played as re-runs. However, Steven Universe gets away with it because the characters and story are so well developed and interesting that the show is not only easy to follow but enjoyable as well.
The story focuses on our young protagonist, Steven Universe. He is half-human and half-gem (sentient gems that can take on humanoid forms). Steven is under the protection and guardianship of the Crystal Gems, three friends of his late mother Rose Quartz— Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst—as he simultaneously deals with the advent of human adolescence and the discovery of his mother’s Crystal Gem legacy.
The group’s perfect life in Beach City gets thrown into turmoil when Gems from the Gem Homeworld come back to finish what they started five thousand years ago: taking over the earth and getting rid of the humans. And it’s up to the Crystal Gems to make sure that doesn’t happen.
This might seem out there, but trust me when I say it works so well. The stakes are somehow more believable in Steven Universe than most other cartoons and that gives the viewer more to relate to and more depth to the characters than some other animated characters.
2. The music is so fun!
If you know who Rebecca Sugar is, or are aware of her work on Adventure Time, you know that one of her greater strengths is songwriting. Sugar plays to these strengths by using music as a way of getting across lessons and messages, and as an added bonus the songs are fun and relatable which is no short feat for a show with 11-minute episodes!
Sugar’s songwriting style is eclectic with a variety of genres ranging from cute acoustic style tunes to bold in your face ballads that all serve the purpose of expertly expressing character and emotion. There are so many examples of great music in Steven Universe it was hard to find a good one to choose but I think this one is my favourite because it captures the show so well.
Steven is sad because he just found out that his mum is actually a diamond who decided to save earth so faked her own death to live as a Crystal Gem (just go with it) but there’s a wedding and he is choosing to focus on that instead.
3. It has one of the boldest approaches to sexuality and gender on TV
At first glance, you will notice that a lot of the main characters on Steven Universe are women. Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl are Steven’s roles models and help him navigate his adolescence and discovery of what it means to be a Gem.
This in and of itself is really cool but there’s more to it than that. Sugar herself has clarified that the Gems themselves are not, in fact, women, but are just coded that way. The Gems are in fact sexless and although not genderless entirely they express gender in very fluid terms as seen with Amethyst using masculine pronouns when becoming the “Purple Puma”. This is pretty groundbreaking not just for children television where queer representation is particularly important, but also for TV on the whole.
Additionally, alongside highlighting the strength of women, the show also does a great job of showcasing and normalising genderqueer love better than any other show on television. Pearl has had long standing romantic feelings for Rose Quartz (controversially a sensual dance between the two was censored on TV here in 2016). Garnet is the literal embodiment of a same-sex romantic relationship—she’s composed of two smaller Gems fused together into one body (her two smaller gems Ruby and Sapphire being the ones getting married in the song above). And the very concept of fusion itself (all Gems can do it) is a metaphor for different types of love and sex.
4. The show deals so well with complex emotions
There aren’t many shows geared towards children that deal with complex emotions. Generally, in cartoons, there are very few consequences. This is due to the fact that the majority of cartoons are not necessarily written to played sequentially, and as a result, a lot of cartoons don’t tend to deal with the trauma. That said, Steven Universe tackles trauma head-on. It deals with Steven navigating the loss of his mother and his life without her.
But perhaps more interesting is the trauma that Pearl faces over the death of Rose Quartz. It is clear how much she is hurt, how much she misses and still loves Rose. She's heartbroken because the person she was involved with chose someone else, left behind because she is gone and she thinks no one else will understand her.
Over the course of the show, you see her working through these feelings to get over Rose so she can be there for Steven and the other Gems too, as well as for herself. Her character development over the course of the series shows that it’s ok to need time to work through things, and that it doesn’t happen overnight. Which is a great message to teach children – and also a message that adults sometimes need reminding of as well.
5. It’s a really touching show
If you are not yet convinced, I’m hoping my last point will do it for you. The core value at the heart of the show, is love. Not just romantic love which I have already touched on, but love about everything on earth. Rose Quartz gave up her life and her homeward to protect the people of Earth. The people of Homeworld see earth as a means of just creating more gems and think that everything that isn’t a gem deserves to be eliminated.
The Gems, in essence, are intergalactic criminals and together with Steven they deal with heartbreak, disappointment, and the other issues that come with existence – things that the show leans into rather than stays away from. Despite the circumstances, they are in they never lose their humour, joy or compassion. The show affirms that life in all of its good and bad times is made better with love.
Season one of Steven Universe is currently streaming on Netflix and can also be found on Cartoon Network
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