TV Show Review: Steven Universe

 

Details: First aired in 2013. Almost all episodes are about eleven minutes long. As of May 7, 2018, there are five seasons and one hundred forty-six episodes. I’ve watched them all. Still currently airing episodes from season five on Cartoon Network. Official site is https://www.cartoonnetwork.com/blog/category/steven-universe

Score: 8.3/10

In American animation, there is a long list of television cartoons that appear to appeal to children, but secretly have enough depth for adult audiences. Sometimes they deliberately target adult audiences. Some cartoons that come to mind are Recess, Rick and Morty, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time and even My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Steven Universe is another one of these cartoons and it does a great job of appealing to children and adults alike. I now understand why fans are so crazy about this show.

Steven Universe is about a young boy named Steven Universe. Steven Universe is half human and half Gem. Gems are an alien race of beings who all have gems affixed to them and have magic powers and access to futuristic technology. He lives with three Gems who are essentially surrogate older sisters. Together, they are the Crystal Gems, a group that seeks to protect the Earth and its inhabitants from those that threaten it.

The first season of the show isn’t as awesome as the seasons that follow it, but it’s still good. You definitely get the feeling that the show runners are figuring things out and are unsure as to whether the show is secure enough to try more unusual ideas. By the end of the first season, the show starts taking off and building on a very involved overarching story that is told throughout the next few seasons.

The essential element that turns a show from okay to great for me is character development and world building. Steven Universe has tons of both. The best episodes and story beats in this show are explorations into the back story, mental state, and emotions of each character while exploring the show’s world. The show takes place after thousands of years of back story and the overarching story of the show deals with the consequences of events that took place long before our protagonist was even born. It’s an interesting world populated by interesting characters.

Exploration of these characters also leads to some of the themes that make the fans of this show so fanatical. This show is still a kids show and conveys a lot of positive messages for kids and adults to learn. Ideas like loneliness, anger, depression, loss, etc. Steven Universe does a great job of exploring complex emotions and putting them into words so that we can understand those feelings and the circumstances in which they arose. For instance, there was an episode where two Gems fused together to for a new life form. However, it was a fusion made in anger and hate. After the two separated, the two still hated each other, but felt a pull towards each other because the time they spent together. You could easily interpret it as the show trying to portray the pain and attraction of an abusive relationship.

The animation itself is cartoon-y, but still good. The characters are simply drawn, but backgrounds are beautiful. There are many episode where the you can see the artists really going off on the background art and drawing some beautiful visuals. For example, there was one episode that was an homage to Initial D and was drawn very much in that style. Further, there is are a lot of action scenes in this show and they are all animated well.

The music in this show needs to a shout out. I love musicals, mostly because music sounds best to me with context. Steven Universe has the good fortune of being run by a song writer and voiced by many professional singers. Most notably to me are Estelle (sang in the Kanye West song American Boy) and Deedee Magno (played Kim in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon). Many of the episodes partially turn into musical episodes. Some turn entirely into musical episodes. All of these musical parts are entertaining with some being especially emotional and having deeper messages. It’s just nice to see one of my favorite mediums of entertainment being present in a show. The music isn’t going to beat anyone for a Grammy or anything, but I still appreciated it.

Lastly, worth mentioning is the portrayal of LGBTQ stuff in the show. I’ve read articles and comments praising the show for its representation of the LGBTQ community. Personally, I think its open to interpretation. The Gems are a race entirely of what seem to be women. So when romance occurs between them, it’s girl on girl. However, they’re still aliens, so are there really any girls? Dunno. Regardless, no one ever comes close to banging on screen. There are things that could be metaphors, the most obvious one being when characters perform fusion. Fusion however is only done for battle purposes, like in Dragon Ball. Fusion is when two characters combine into a more powerful character (this is a science fiction show).

If you choose to perceive homosexuality in the show, I think this is the correct way to present it. They didn’t turn it into a huge issue and try to smash it into the viewer’s face. When two characters like each other, they try to be with each other. Whatever gender you try to assign them into is separate. These aliens are people first. Whether they’re boy or girl is something that isn’t expressly communicated. Most importantly, if you’re a heavily religious parent against homosexuality, you don’t have to worry about the impact on your kid. Any perceived homosexuality in the show is vague enough so that children will likely never get it. Adults may see it, but likely only if they are actively looking for it. If you’re okay with more progressive ideas, Steven Universe is a good show for your kids to watch.

Overall, I loved Steven Universe. It gives me hope for meaningful American cartoons that can appeal to children while telling stories and expressing themes complex enough for adults. If you are open minded enough to enjoy watching cartoons, I thoroughly recommend this show.

Score: 8.3/10

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