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Why We Love Steven Universe

For the Fans, the Curious, and the Haters

By Frico AhrendtsPublished 5 years ago 11 min read
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Credit: Cartoon Network

There might be a few videos out there with the same name, but in regards to articles, I hope I'm breaking ground (unlikely though).

By far any away, Steven Universe is one of Cartoon Network's best original properties. The case could even be made in an objective sense. But for now, we'll stick to the opinions of fans like me.

On November 4, 2013 (hey, almost exactly four years ago from writing this!), a show, that, up to that point, had been marketed as a goofy adventure show starring magic people aired. The promotion was nothing to scoff at, as the focus was on the quirky comedy aspect of it all. I can't even really remember why I tuned in, but I'm glad I did. Because, yes, there was a quirky comedy aspect of the show, but it wasn't the focus. It was about the emotional connection this kid had with his favorite ice cream sandwich that was being discontinued. And through his love of said ice cream sandwich, he, for the first time, activates his latent gem ability of summoning a shield. He then goes on to try and learn to do it on a whim by seeking guidance by his older sisters/guardians. Through that we get a great introduction to each of the crystal gems, their mentalities, and their music. A "monster" shows up and the gems battle with it. As they're on the ropes, Steven tries to recreate his shield summon by eating as many cookie cats as possible. Needless to say, it didn't work (can you imagine if it did). Steven breaks the stalemate by sacrificing his little fridge (that was broken already), and he gets a little talk from the gems about how he'll be able to control his abilities one day in his own way.

To my surprise, and the surprise of many viewers, the show seemed to be setting up an over arching story. On Cartoon Network, that's almost unheard of. Also, it seemed as though emotion, and confronting said emotions, would be the driving aspect of the show, which is a much more visceral experience than expected.

But it's time to dive into the specifics of this classic, before you get bored.

It feels like an anime.

Credit: Vaniilya

I know that may sound too vague, but bear with me. Western cartoons, for all intensive purposes, are primarily for children. They tend to be about Looney Tunes-esque slap stick comedy, or they're just glorified toy commercials.

In the east, however, on an archipelago known as Japan, animation has almost never been seen as solely for children. And under that pretext, they've been able to craft some of the best animated stories of all time. From the works of Satoshi Kon, to Mamoru Oshii, to Shinichiro Wantanabe, there has been some amazing multi faceted stories that address deep qualms of being alive, or just some really good times people of all ages could enjoy.

Steven Universe feels more like the eastern animation in that sense. What started out as the tale of a magic boy exploded into a massive story spanning thousands and thousands of years with so many moving pieces, motives, and lots mystery.

This cluster (see what I did there) of people and aliens and the air between them is something that feels alive. In the upcoming episodes, the townspeople seem to be upset with the mayor and want to vote him out over his lack of ability to do anything in the wake of these beings who continuously come into their town to settle score with the crystal gems, or even for their own unrelated reasons. That's right, supporting characters in a cartoon are upset politically and are taking action. Name one cartoon where you've seen this?

But back to these beings who keep showing up: Homeworld's leaders, the diamonds, are such fascinating characters, due to the their subversion of the typical bad guy tropes we're used to with western cartoons. They aren't even interested with our main cast at first, even though they're war criminals who rebelled against them and liberated a useful planet from their grasp. Even when they learn who our protagonist really is, they act as if they have bigger, more important things to tend to, like running a fascist empire throughout space.

And like anime, the themes and ideas the show is trying to convey take center stage as opposed to spectacle, even though there is a lot of spectacle. The idea of LGBTQ representation in a cartoon is a prominent one. As is self acceptance, and growth. But the overall concept of love is the show's main theme, which is well integrated into the narrative, and the power system.

I could go on and on about the gem war, and the enigma that is Rose Quartz, how much I love (and miss) Aquamarine, and all of the actual anime references, but I'd be here all day, and there's more to unpack.

The Music

Credit: Cartoon Network

This section will probably be the shortest because I'm not too savvy when it comes to music theory, but just know, this show's music is the real deal. Like for real the real deal.

Not only does every character have their own song, they have their own instruments that play their songs. It really drives home the sense of individuality that each character has. And that's just the background music. For those of you who don't know, Steven Universe is a very musical show, as in the characters literally sing to develop the plot. These are some of the greatest moments of a show full of great moments, because, not only do these songs advance the plot, but they give insight into the characters' deepest fears and desires. Remember when I said the emotions driving the show made for a more visceral experience? Well it's the same for the music, if not more so. You can truly feel the pain of these 2D characters in songs such as "It's Over, Isn't It?" "On the Run," "What's the Use of Feeling Blue," "Both of You," F"ull Disclosure," and "Here Comes a Thought."

There are even songs that are straight up bangers (in my professional opinion) like "Stronger than you," "Peace and Love," "We are the Crystal Gems," "Steven and the Stevens," "Giant Woman," and "Still not Giving Up."

Then you have the more subtle songs that are a tad bit more laid back and still have a tinge of deep desire like I Think I Need a Little Change, Do it For Her, Lapis Lazuli, and I could Never be Ready.

These songs give insight into a characters mind, as it should, they often move the plot forward, and they're so damn endearing.

If you haven't seen or heard Steven Universe yet, I highly recommend listening to some of the songs I listed. If you are a fan and already heard all the songs listed, I probably skipped your favorite didn't I?

P.S. My favorites are "Still Not Giving Up," "Lapis Lazuli," and "Dear Old Dad."

The Feels...

Credit: Cartoon Network

This is the aspect that I bet most people who don't know about the show associate with it. For good reason though. This show will expose your deep secret pain, cradle you in it's chest, and tell you, "It's all good."

Like I said, a large driving force of the show is the emotions of the characters. And yes, that does sound like a "duh" statement, but the depth the show takes it to, and the focus it gets makes it noteworthy.

There is an episode out there that is made to make you cry. For me, that episode was Bubble Buddies. For others, there are On the Run, Lion 3: Straight to Video, Alone at Sea, or maybe even Steven the Sword Fighter. Which ever one it is, Steven Universe has an episode that'll likely represent your pain. The characters in this show go through emotional pain constantly and deal with it realistically.

Take Pearl, for example. Where she's from, her kind takes to role of a house slave. Her whole existence up until the rebellion (as far as we know) has been that of a slave. She then joined Rose Quartz in the rebellion. She fought for the freedom of the earth, and for the freedom of herself. She'd become infatuated with Rose, to the point of finding self worth simply by being her follower. That's deep. (Again, as far as we know) all she knew up until that point was that Pearls were devoted servants to their masters. Now, our Pearl, being free, still has to find self worth through another individual. It's ingrained in her psyche. After Rose is gone and Steven is with us, we see her initial resentment of the main character, because she misses Rose. Even though it was what Rose wanted. The show goes on to take Pearl through the ringer with emotional episodes(as in shutdowns), self doubt, and tears. Then three seasons in, Pearl finally makes progress in finding self worth in herself. Three seasons!

Another example I'd like to bring up is when she fused with Garnet on screen for the first time. It was to destroy a communication tower so a stranded homeworld gem couldn't radio home. She then precedes to fix the tower in secret day after day, so she can fuse with Garnet to destroy it. When this is eventually revealed to Garnet, she flips. She was taken advantage of. The sanctity of her had been violated by her friend again and again, for seemingly no reason.

Why did Pearl do that? In her own words she says,

"I just wanted to share a few more victories with you."

Like she needed her to feel a sense of victory. She needs someone else she deems better to validate her, and make her feel strong. Damn son, it's not even about her, and it's about her.

Literally every main character could get an article to themselves about their pain and development throughout the series, (And I'd love to do that at some point) but we've got more ground to cover.

It's a quality show.

Credit: Katie Mitroff

I know that doesn't sound like much, but it honestly is. In television, the creators have time to tell long form stories, flesh their characters out and develop them in a realistic way. Steven Universe is no exception

In my opinion, a good show can keep your interest from start to finish, and change the characters in a way that feels gratifying and isn't jarring.

In the beginning of the show, Steven is a kid. Like, really a kid. He's always singing annoying little songs, he always seems like he's in his own little world, and he isn't much use to anyone around him who isn't in need of some inspiring words.

But as the show goes on, something happens. He goes from a la la land little kid, to a competent member of the crystal gems whose in the know, for the most part, about what's going on. This transition is so seamless it's scary. As a viewer you'll go from "yeah man, Steven is really sweet and all, but I wish he'd grow up a bit," to "yeah, what are you talking about? Steven is just as an important member of the crystal gems as any of the rest them. A case can even be made that he's the strongest physically."

Watching Steven continue to grow is one of the greatest parts of a show full of great parts. And the narrative lends perfectly to this, putting him in situations where he's equally in the dark with the authority figures around him, allowing him to act as the proxy adult and show what he's really made of, like in Ocean Gem, and I am My Mom.

Fusion

Credit: LittleMissBook

I just wanted to touch on this quickly because it's that cool.

The concept of fusion isn't new. We all remember it in Dragon ball Z, and I hope I wasn't the only kid that practiced the fusion dance with a friend. But Steven Universe takes this idea to a whole new level.

To put it simply, fusion is just a cheap tactic to make weak gems stronger. Hahaha, just kidding. But seriously, the personalities that fuse make a completely new entity. It's clear the creators (known as the crewniverse, for those not indoctrinated) thought deeply about what fusing with someone would be like, because there is internal mechanics to it. Like if the fusee is in a panic, they'll begin to hallucinate. Also, if one person is troubled, or out of step, the fusion will fall apart. Even more, the fusions don't automatically know everything the two components of it know.

But by far the coolest aspect of this is Steven. Fusion, being a technique known to be exclusive to gems, is also a technique present in Steven, the human gem hybrid. What's even cooler is that he can fuse with both humans and gems, meaning no character combination is off limits! That's crazy!

Closing Thoughts

Credit: Cartoon Network... Clearly

Geez, this went on for a while huh? Well for those who stuck it out, thank you, you're either already a fan, or just that curious. Either way, I appreciate your time.

To close, Steven Universe has more going for it than I could fathom to get into with one article, but I hope this gives you a better understanding of why it has the amount of dedicated followers it has. Yeah it has a few issues like stiff fights and hiatuses, but none that merit a whole article (although I wouldn't mind hearing what the other side has to say). Steven Universe is chalk full of themes, characters, songs, tears, and love that make it the explosion of an experience it is.

Thank you, and I hope you have a beautiful day! Stay golden!

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About the Creator

Frico Ahrendts

Just a writer trying to make a splash out here in this vast ocean. I wrote a book.

Twitter: @13_rad_lee

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