Steven Universe is a show about three goddess-like beings known as the Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl. They act as parental figures for the half-Gem, half-human hybrid Steven Universe; they protect him from monsters and threats and help him learn how to use his gem powers. On the surface, Steven Universe seems like a relatively unremarkable children’s cartoon, but with the abundance of social commentary, fantastic storyline and fully fleshed out characters, it sets itself apart from the crowd.
Steven Universe’s story starts off extremely slowly; it follows a relatively simple monster-of-the-week format and doesn’t get into the meat of its plot until around 25 episodes in. Many people argue that this is used as world-building; while I agree with that statement I often find myself telling people to push through the beginning of the show when I’m trying to sell it. Despite this, the story itself is fantastic. It’s very focused around the mysteries of its world and once it starts to reveal some of them, you’ll find yourself examining every background, listening to every word and analysing every frame in order to find a hint to one of the millions unanswered questions.
The characters that the story revolves around all have tonnes of depth and are each extremely original. The titular character, Steven Universe himself, provides a fantastic window for the audience to view the world through. Everything that’s new to the audience is also new to him, and because he’s such a lovable and optimistic character, you end up seeing everything with the same amazement and whimsy that he does. Despite Steven’s knack for seeing the good in everything, he does still have fears, doubts, outbursts of anger and other issues that prevent him from becoming a one-note character. He is very lovable and kind but the problems he faces and the mistakes he makes give Steven a sense of relatability, making the audience root for him to succeed, grow and be happy.
The other characters are all extremely interesting and layered as well, each coming across as real people with flaws. I see this as one of Steven Universe’s greatest strengths since I’ve always believed the characters to be the most important part of the story. Set pieces and plot devices are all well and good, but if the people involved feel one-dimensional, then the audience will get bored. Fortunately, this is not a problem in Steven Universe. Take Pearl for example; she experiences unrequited love that is portrayed as both complex and truly heart-breaking. Then look at Amethyst; she shows signs of self-loathing, which she is slowly overcoming as the show progresses. With all these characters, sometimes we empathise with them, sometimes we don’t and sometimes we don’t know how to feel at all, and that is what makes them feel real.
Visually, Steven Universe is a work of art. The art style of the show is very cute and minimalistic, but with the use of a variety of bright colours it becomes fantastic to look at. The character designs are all very interesting because, while the Gems generally have human-like bodies, there being aliens allows the artists to get more inventive with the designs. Many of the monsters that are seen throughout the series are also brimming with imagination, adding more visual variety. However, my favourite things to look at in Steven Universe are the backgrounds; they are all stunning. They’re very simplistic with an angular look to them, but every time I see a new one I decide it will become my new desktop wallpaper.
The aforementioned social commentary is a huge component of the show. The female characters show a lot of diversity: some are portrayed as masculine, others as feminine, some as fighters, others as technicians. They are all skilled in their own rights and, despite the fact that they don’t fit the mould, they are still women. There are also subtle undertones of racism displayed through stereotypes of different Gems. Each type of Gem is built for a purpose in their society. However, one of the messages of Steven Universe is that they are all capable of being so much more than what they were told they could be. This shows how, just like in real life, no one has to prescribe to their stereotypes.
Many of the Gems are also shown in a variety of different relationships; this is interesting in its own right, but the important thing to note is that all Gems are portrayed as female. It is not only refreshing to see same-sex relationships on TV in general, but it’s very nice that this is in a show on a children’s network. It is extremely important to show people from a young age that there is nothing weird about a romantic relationship between two people of the same sex. For that reason, I am always ecstatic to see the realistic and beautiful portrayal of romantic feelings between two women in Steven Universe.
I personally find it very difficult to say a bad word about Steven Universe. I adore the characters, Steven is endearing and lovable, the art style is amazing, it contains many important messages and the mysteries of the story keep me intrigued even when I’m not watching. The beginning is very sluggish to get through and, although I do hate to say this, I think it’s worth pushing through it to get to the meat of the story. Overall, Steven Universe is a show I highly recommend and with 110 episodes and counting, it’s the perfect thing to binge watch when you’re procrastinating work.