You Should Be Watching: Steven Universe

This entry is part [part not set] of 2 in the series You Should Be

With the announcement that there’s a metric crap-ton of Steven Universe coming to TV very soon, I thought this would be a good time to tell everyone about this show. The fact that I need to preach the gospel of Steven strikes me as odd, though. This show is a perfect balance of fun, creativity, character, and story. Yet whenever I start to gush about Lapis Lazuli, or start singing the Cookie Cat song (he left his family behind!) I am greeted with blank stares from nearly everyone I know. That should not be the case.

I can sort of understand. The art work can look uber-childish and some of the characters, especially Steven himself, can be off-puttingly loud. If I’m honest, Steven is one of my least favorite characters on the show, though I’ve come to appreciate him much more than I did in the beginning of the show. But all of that should be put aside. The payoff is one hell of a cartoon.

The story of the show is that long, long ago the Earth was visited by aliens (inorganic lifeforms known as the Crystals) in order to be stripped for elements. A small group formed to fight back (the Crystal Gems), headed by Rose Quartz. After the ensuing war, they stayed behind in order to make sure the planet remained untouched. At some point she met Greg Universe and fell in love. Together they had a son, Steven, and the Crystal Gems raise him together. Rose is no longer around, and while Greg is, it seems that the Gems were deemed better suited to raise Steven in light of his half-Gem heritage and abilities.

From that, an amazing world has been built. But more than that, amazing characters populate it. Steven turned me off at first because he’s immature, and he is still the least mature character on the show, but he has depth. His innocence isn’t borne from naiveté. It stems from his personality. He repeatedly focuses on the good in the world, and in other people. When he’s faced with horrific things (we are dealing with the aftermath of a massive war as well as a group of resistance fighters) he doesn’t lose his hopeful demeanor. Instead, he just has his heart broken over and over again. It’s not even empathy he feels, as sometimes he suffers on someone else’s behalf. So it’s the deepest type of sympathy he experiences. If you hate Hufflepuffs on principle, Steven is the one who will change your mind about them.

The show isn’t all about Steven. Each of the Crystal Gems, as well as the human side characters, have great personal arcs. Even the villains are given defined motivations. While there is a clear side in the war ( the Crystal Gems vs. the homeworld), there are precious few characters on either side that do not seem motivated by legitimate reasons. Rarely is someone just “bad”. The show brings about antagonists spurred on by everything from egotism to xenophobia. They aren’t simply impediments, they are characters that can possibly be reasoned with. And if anyone is going to try just talking to the enemy, it’s going to be Steven.

There’s just as much thought put into each aspect of the production, too. The character designs resemble the gems they are, to the point that some of the Fusions (when two Gems combine into a single person) can be figured out by visual clues. But even to the point where the vocal casting is done with the actors’ singing voices. While I wouldn’t say the show is a musical, musicality and songs do play a strong role in the world building. When Gems fuse they do so by dancing together. What could be relegated to (and still sometimes is) a silly bit is often a heartfelt show of each character’s personality and how they do or don’t mesh. There are times when watching a fusion form is clearly an intimate moment between two characters, and it can be very touching. The similar take on this I can recall from animation is how bending styles are portrayed in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe.

I could go on, but it would just be me gushing about this show. It’s true that it took about seven or eight episodes before I started to get what the series was about, but at ten minutes an episode that’s not too much of an investment. All I can say is that you should be watching this. It’s poetic, well written, bizarre, feminist, and full of joy. What have you got to lose?

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About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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