When you think of kid’s shows these days, some of them tend to be more adult and mature than most shows aimed for an older audience. Such is the case with this next cartoon, Steven Universe created by Rebecca Sugar.
(Doesn’t this look like such a happy show? What could possibly go wrong?)
The show follows the adventures of the titular protagonist Steven through living life with his three different mothers who happen to be
lesbian space rocks alien gemstone-based beings from another galaxy. Garnet is the most responsible of the three and is also the best, Pearl is caring, protective and more than a little neurotic and finally there’s Amethyst, who is pretty much every interpretation of ‘cool mum’ given physical(ish) form. There is also Steven’s father Greg, who is basically Homer Simpson if he had a mullet and played the guitar. And wasn’t yellow. The characters of the show are one of its strengths, and every one of them is a potential favourite. Even Ronaldo, who is pretty much vilified by the fanbase despite being almost a manifestation of said fanbase. I suppose there’s some irony to be had in that.
The show usually follows a sort of ‘Monster of the Week’ formula for its first few episodes before its story develops proper, usually going into the details about the various characters and their personalities and histories as well as Steven’s mother Rose Quartz, who is absent from the show for much of the first season. She doesn’t even make a visual appearance until the episode Lion 3: Straight to Video, only appearing as portraits and statues prior which actually really lends to the mystery surrounding Rose Quartz. However the show knows when to take a break from the serious plot and gives some more light-hearted adventures.
Steven Universe is a kid-friendly show, but it’s a lot smarter than one might think when that specific term crops up, and it’s a trend that has been developing for a while now. Shows like Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball and even My Little Pony of all things have been providing genuinely intelligent and entertaining content for children and adults alike to enjoy. Yes, pastel-coloured cartoon horses with butt tattoos are providing intelligent content and excellent storytelling. And before you ask, Applejack is best pony.
But I’m getting off topic here. Steven Universe has some incredible talent working behind it and it shows through the animation. The writing is also excellent with brilliant jokes and surprising levels of depth and emotion behind it. The plot is also a great and original one with interesting and complex themes of identity, cultural discovery, self-worth, caste systems and subtext about born slavery and servitude as well as galactic conquest and subjugation.
(Such a happy show…)
That said, the show definitely has a sense of humor about it and a general style that’s drawn a large and varied community. However here is where we get to the elephant in the room. Steven Universe is perhaps notorious among people on the internet for having a ‘particular’ kind of fanbase, one that spends a little too much time attacking itself and others with the pretense of good intentions. While I do appreciate that people are trying to create a world where sexism, homophobia, misogyny and misandry are words people have to look up in the dictionary to remember what they mean, there are ways to go about it that give rise to metaphors about taking a bullet to the thing you stand on. There is no such thing as a bloodless revolution, sure. But it doesn’t have to be a revolution. Change is slow, but always inevitable and for humanity’s negative traits, so ingrained in our culture from back in the time that we were club and cave painting enthusiasts that it’s probably going to take a few decades if not centuries more to un-learn, and a crowbar probably isn’t going to help. Besides, like the internet at large the abusive portion of the fandom is only a vocal minority of bullies against the overwhelming majority of good natured, intelligent and all around good people who are willing to provide calm and reflective discussion.
You know, like any other rational human being.
Just don’t stray too far off the beaten path when exploring the fandom, since your reaction will most likely be this:
But that being said, the show itself is great and it’ll take more than a bunch of bullies to really sully the show’s reputation, which it most certainly has garnered for itself. Its excellent is animation is frequently beautiful and the interactions between the characters feels genuine and oftentimes, heartfelt. The comedy is also quite good, with humor appropriate for both children and adults alike. However there is the occasional joke or reference that does make one groan, but it’s a small outlier to the usual humour.
But there’s something else this show has, and that’s action. You may have noticed that the art style of Steven Universe takes more than a few cues from anime, and that comes out in full force in the show’s fight scenes. I mean, take a look at some of these for yourself!
The writing itself is fantastic. Well-rounded characters are the basis of a great story, and the characters are numerous and fleshed out. Not even counting the main characters, the list of great characters includes such standouts as the constantly sweating Mayor Dewey, Steven’s best friend and overall badass Connie, Ronaldo (whom everyone hates), Sour Cream and Onion, Lars and Sadie, the list goes on. Each of these characters are unique and interesting in their own way and even get fleshed out in the occasional episode.
But of course the show has its flaws. The first few episodes of the show are a little slow and formulaic and the characters can be neatly slotted into archetypes before the real plot develops and the characters are developed, while some of the episodes are entirely skippable, which is a shame since the animation and art in the show is truly awe inspiring at times. There is also a nasty habit of the show to disappear off the air for large periods of time as the show is still in production, however it seems to have resumed a more organised release schedule for the moment. Finally there’s still that risk of the unpleasant side of the fanbase tainting your experience with the show, but that’s just as true for any fanbase and can easily be ignored. But other than those admittedly few gripes, this show is unique, interesting, thought provoking and intelligent as well as hugely entertaining. If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to watch it.