Hey kids. This is an article written by an adult for other adults. So… go somewhere else.
Steven Universe debuted on November 4, 2013 on Cartoon Network. Its fanbase is tiny compared to its powerhouse cousins Adventure Time and Regular Show… but it is picking up steam every day. Moreover, fans of Steven Universe instantly bond with one another, like we’re all part of a very cool exclusive club.
Still, this gem (pun intended) of a show doesn’t get nearly the recognition it should from adult fans of animation, and I’m hoping to change that.
The show is centered on an excitable, chubby, and impossibly adorable young boy named Steven Universe. Yes, that’s his name. His dad is Mr. Universe, but his friends call him Greg. Steven’s best friends/surrogate mothers, the Crystal Gems, are Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. They each have a gem somewhere on their body which is the source of their power.
You can (probably) check out the pilot episode here or… just Google it. Steven accidentally rips a hole in the fabric of time so that he can make better comebacks. Who hasn’t wanted to do that?
Let’s knock this out right now. Yes, it is bright and shiny and colorful. It’s got random humor. It’s even somewhat reminiscent of video games in a way that invokes nostalgia without literally being retro. But the show also features some really gorgeous watercolor-style backgrounds and fluid animation. Behind the surface level fun and anime-style action that appeals to kids are emotions that are surprisingly complex for a cartoon.
Continuity in the overall story arc is pretty spot-on, too. Things that happen in episode 3 will re-appear 20 episodes later. It is for this reason we recommend that you watch every episode, in order. They can be enjoyable on their own if you just want to check it out, but will be much better sequentially.
Warning: if you’re a crybaby emo bitch like me, you’ll want to keep a box of tissues handy. Some of the episodes can get really sentimental in a way that hits me in the feels.
2) Great catchphrases.
It’s no Regular Show in terms of one-liners, but it’s hard to top Greg’s version of que sera, sera: “If every porkchop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs!”
4) It’s feminist without being capital-F Feminist
The characters are all strong, beautiful women* of completely different personality and body types who are strong (in the real and the metaphoric way) without the show reminding us every ten seconds that they are strong, beautiful female characters. There’s even– shh— some occasional lesbian subtext. I used to think I was imagining it, but I just saw a thing on the internet that confirms my suspicions.
(And we all know, the internet NEVER lies.)
Don’t let this scare you away though. It’s not going to corrupt the youth of the world or anything.
* Ok, ok. The Crystal Gems are technically genderless aliens. But it’s pretty clear that they are based on the female form. Since one of them gets pregnant by a human male and gives birth to Steven, even using magic to do so, I think it’s safe to say that for all intents and purposes they are female.
5) It’s just so cool.
The soundtrack ranges from dreamy ambience, fast techno beats, and ukulele ditties. Check this playlist I made of some of my favorites (some spoilers, especially if you watch while you listen) at the bottom of the blog. Like the art, much of it is video game inspired.
Steven’s dad is an aging musician who still plays occasionally, and hangs out (aka lives in) his van. Garnet is voiced by British R&B singer Estelle; Nicki Minaj and Aimee Mann lend their voices too. If you want to see just how cool this show gets, check out this musical fight scene from a recent episode. (Heavy spoilers)
6) I watch too many shows already.
You always say that! You said that when I mentioned Hannibal, too. Look. Steven Universe is only 15 minutes long. You can fit a couple episodes into your life, enough to give it a try. Watch it on your lunch break for crying out loud.
The show’s creator is Rebecca Sugar (), who was a writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time. She’s responsible for the episode “Simon & Marcy” which, in my not so humble opinion, represents some of the absolute best storytelling of that series. She’s also from Maryland and anyone from the Old Line State knows that you are legally obligated to at least TRY to like something that is from home. The Maryland State Police will actually revoke your citizenship.
Beach City, the main setting of Steven’s world, is based on the Delaware beach cities of Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany. This discovery caused an overwhelming Eureka! moment for me as I realized why the cartoon world seemed so familiar and comfortable.
And let’s face it, fellow Delmarva folk, not a whole lot of stuff comes from our corner of the world. We’d better support the stuff that does.