Steven Universe is in the start of its second season and not all of the episodes of the first season have officially aired, but I still want to talk about this show. For quite some time now I have seen a lot online about this cartoon, so a couple of days ago I decided to check it out. Since each episode is just over ten minutes in length, it took me very little time to make it through the entire first season.
I believe that cartoons are meant for people of all ages, and I will probably always watch them. Some of my favorite television shows are cartoons from when I was younger (shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and both Avatar series), but I think in recent years cartoons have divided between two paths: one focused on story and one focused on only trying to get laughs. While some story centered shows still provide laughs, I think that there has been a trend in recent years where cartoons will just focus on impossible story lines with obnoxious characters that try too hard to make the audience laugh. While Steven Universe sometimes plays up more of the humor, it definitely provides a strong narrative and it has wonderful back stories for all of the characters.
Most cartoons tend to be created in a way where episodes can be played out of order and still make sense, meaning that very little happens outside of the world for that episode. For example, something like Spongebob Squarepants might have one character end an episode in a cast and by the next one it is gone and never mentioned again. With Steven Universe, things that come up in one episode can be noted and seen later in the series. This is one of the many things I love about the show. When Steven is first introduced he isn’t entirely sure about his powers and capabilities, but slowly over time he learns more about his powers and those around him, and it is just so much fun to go on the journey with him. Largely this great journey is accomplished by the chronological nature of the show. The attention to small details makes it that much better. In the first episode “Gem Glow” a glow stick bracelet can be seen in the back of the freezer that is then a major plot device in the seventh episode “Bubble Buddies”. Later in the season when the character Sadie gets harmed during a fight, she can be seen with a scar from the battle on her face in every episode afterwards.
The character development and overall stories are magnificent. The main four characters are Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven is usually bubbly and optimistic, Garnet is essentially the strong leader, Amethyst is the loud and fun one, and Pearl is the organized and reasonable one, but what makes them great is they are not bound by these generalizations. Most cartoons tend to label one character as the funny one, one as the dumb one and so on and that character very seldom stray from those preassigned traits. This show has moments where Steven is depressed, Garnet is vulnerable, Amethyst gets serious, and Pearl loses touch with reality. Secondary and minor characters even have multiple sides to them, almost every character has depth to them.
Visibility for minority groups is another fantastic side of this show. The majority of the cast is representative of a lot of different people. There are several different families on the show that depict people of color, and even though Garnet and Amethyst are both colored as their gems, their character models seem to have characteristics of people of color. It is later revealed one of the characters is actually the fusion of two other female characters and their love is so strong they are capable of staying fused together. The show also depicts people going through depression, a nerdy girl love interest, and multiple characters with alternative designs (things like gauges that aren’t as mainstream). For people watching at home it is great to see all of these different types of people, because it shows these characters as normal people accepted for who they are. It is powerful for a child (or even an adult) to see themselves represented on television because it will make them feel more accepted.
Without a doubt my favorite thing is how they treat the story with the mother.
– SPOILERS, SKIP AHEAD IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING –
Fairly quick into the show Rose Quartz is introduced (the mother of Steven), and while it is sad to know she gave her own life to allow him to be created, it is nice to know she is still a part of him (he shares the same gem his mom had). Everyone is deeply impacted by her loss, and it is great seeing more of each character unravel when more stuff comes up about her. It adds another interesting dynamic to the show, because it shows how different people cope with the loss of a loved one. Even though she is no longer around, it is nice to see her character development through old home videos and the things all of different characters have to say about her. As Steven learns things so does the audience, and it is a powerful element to go on that journey with him.
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There are very few things I dislike about the show and primarily they have to do with two characters: Jamie and Onion. Jamie is a mailman and he is the only character that has been used just once and really not heard from or seen again. All of the other characters on the show have been in numerous episodes and have more dimension, so it is just kind of odd that he was used once and basically thrown away. Onion is one of the only characters I find annoying on the show. He appears from time to time and normally comes across as the antagonist (to some extent) in the episodes he is the central focus of. Unlike most episodes, it seems like episodes with him don’t really push the plot forward and tend to just be a comedic relief type of episode.
I give this show a 9 out of 10. I feel like there is at least one character a person watching can identify with, and that is something powerful for a viewer to be able to do. Even if someone doesn’t come to watch the show for the amazing story, there are still plenty of different elements for the viewer to enjoy from the humor, to the compassion, to all of the great musical numbers on the show. I hope this becomes a staple for Cartoon Network and it ends up having a long life on the network.