The Charm of “Steven Universe”

I got a phone call the other day from a guy friend of mine and he confessed to me that he had done something bad.  When I asked him what he had done that was so bad he admitted that he had purchased the entirety of the “Steven Universe” seasons that were available to purchase and was in the process of binge watching them.  Now, that doesn’t sound too bad of a thing to do.  That is until you realize that currently it is in it’s 5th season and has over 100 episodes so far.  Granted, if you watched all the episodes it would only take about a day and a half to do so (that’s including breaks for food, bathroom, etc…) which is far less than binge watching “Supernatural” which clocks in at a whopping 7+ days.  That means that you could watch the entire series of “Steven Universe” that is currently out in about the same time it would take to watch the entire extended versions of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” films.  Talk about a long period of sitting in front of the telly or computer.  Since he works full time he can’t really do much binge watching except for when he has several days off in a row.  What brought all this about though?  This guy has never watched these types of shows before and doesn’t really watch cartoons at all.  In fact, he’s never seen the show before and happened to catch an episode while he was getting ready to go to a club meeting a while back. So what’s the deal here?  Is it the story, is it the style of the show itself, is it the music, is it the characters?  Perhaps, it’s all of the above?  Maybe it is just that said guy wants to put himself in my good graces by watching some of the same things that I watch.  I also have friends that have watched a few episodes that have absolutely hated the show.  

The first time that I saw an episode was when I was at my sister’s house taking care of her dogs when she was out of town.  I initially just wanted background noise while I was trying to work on a project for one of my classes.  However, I soon discovered that I was watching this strange show where the characters are named after gemstones.  The colours were strange, but the voices were pleasant enough.  Nothing seemed too terribly exciting about the show.  It was just sorta on the telly and I was watching it.  This continued for the first couple of days of my stay at my sister’s house; have the telly on for background noise while working of class work, “Steven Universe” comes on and it catches my attention so I watch it and do work during the commercials.  The last few days I found myself actively watching this bizarre show.  Let’s take a look at this show and what makes everyone that seems to watch it either love it or hate it.  Since this show has been running for several year now, there will be some unmarked spoilers for the first few seasons.  Keep that in mind as you proceed.  I will mark any spoiler that I feel may be fairly important to the plot in this colour so that they are noticeable and you can skip it if you want to do so.  Any an all images that are used in this article are not mine.  All these characters belong to Rebecca Sugar and I am only using the images found on the Steven Universe Wiki to demonstrate a point in the article.

When it comes to the animation style and the colours of the show, it is definitely in a class of it’s own.  The characters and the like come from the delightfully quirky, Jewish raised mind of Rebecca Sugar.  Before creating “Steven Universe” she worked on the equally quirky “Adventure Time”.  While there are a few similarities that one can notice if you know that Rebecca Sugar previously worked with “Adventure Time”, the styles are pretty distinct.  There are so many characters that have different styles that it’s refreshing.  That being said, all the characters in a certain gem group have a similar look.  Take the Pearl characters, they all look similar, but have their own looks as seen in this comparison picture.

The Pearls

The various characters can temporarily fuse, sometimes for extended periods of time as in the case of Garnet, and create new characters.  The refreshing thing about the show is how the characters are designed with a variety of body types and styles; Pearl is tall and lanky, Garnet is tall and bulky, Amethyst is short and round, Peridot is short and stocky, Lapis is short and petite, and Steven is short and average to name a few.  Nobody ever says anything particularly bad about any of these based on their looks in show.  I mean behind her visor, Garnet has three eyes and nobody cares.  The show is well loved because it shows that a variety of body types and looks is a wonderful thing and that sometimes a quirk you have can be a strength and not a hindrance like people may tell you it is.  Colour plays a big part in the show that has personification of gemstone type genderless beings as most of its  main cast.  Each set of gems has their own colour scheme; rubies are red, sapphires are blue, peridots are green, and the rest are fairly appropriate in  their colour schemes.  The humans in the series are delightful and nobody seems to care that the characters come from different ethnic backgrounds.  Steven, despite being a half human and half gem hybrid, is a fairly Caucasian looking person like his father.  Steven is kinda stuck between worlds being part human and part gem.  That being said, he does fit in well to both worlds.  His romantic interest is Connie Maheswaran who is of Indian descent.  Steven’s friend Lars is said to be of Filipino ancestry.  Then you have the gems that seem to have characteristics of different ethnic backgrounds.  Garnet, for example, seems to be African-American and Bismuth seems to fit in this category as well.  It is difficult to put a race to beings that aren’t human.  So, the point of that is kinda of difficult.  That being said, there is obviously some race things going on with the gems when it comes to dealings with Homeworld, but we will get to that in a moment.  The overall colour scheme of the show is quite pleasant to see as there isn’t quite anything like it.  It has a delightful pastel-ish feel for a lot of it.  Then you end up in some tense situations and the colours shift to harsh tones and dark colours.  The colouring of the show is easy to fall in love with.  

Most of you probably do not know that my first major in college, before ultimately switching to a philosophy major, was music education.  Music is one of my passions and the music in this show is amazing for a television show aimed towards children.  There is a reason that the Volume 1 soundtrack went to number one on the iTunes chart.  Aivi & Surasshu are the composers for most of the pieces on the show and you may recognize their style from some of the Google Doodles that have had music in them.  They have also composed for several indie video games.  The soundtrack has also spawned several songs that have become so popular that they have been covered and at least one has become so popular that it has become a meme spanning several different fandoms.  You all might know that this song that I’m referring to is “Stronger Than You” from the final episode of season on called “Jail Break”.   This is also the episode where we see Garnet unfused as Ruby and Sapphire.  This show has music from quite a few different genres  “Stronger Than You” is more of an R&B power ballad which makes sense seeing as how Garnet is voiced by Estelle who is a singer with quite a range of styles she can do.  There are plenty of cutesy sing-along songs such as the “Cookie Cat” jingle.  The ending song does have a bit of a special place in my heart.  This song is called “Love Like You” and is a sweet song about loving someone and not sure if you can love them the way they deserve to be loved.  Music plays a huge part of this show and it does an amazing job at setting the tone for various parts of the show.  The animation and the music work well together and nothing seems off or out of place unless it is meant to sound that way.


Sapphire, Garnet, and Ruby

Oh the characters.  They are so lovely and fun.  My personal favourite is Amethyst.  She’s sassy and playful and just a delight.  That being said, I will always have a soft spot for Bismuth because I too can forge weapons and the like.  Probably one of the best things about the show is that there is a character that everyone can relate to in some way.  One thing that stands out to most people is the fact that the Gems are all technically genderless.  That being said, quite a few of them use feminine pronouns.  The only characters that are strictly masculine are the human characters that are male.  One thing that a lot of people seem to like is that while this show likes to throw around the “magical girl” themes from anime, Steven is the lead character and he is a teenage boy.  Granted, he is also half gem because he is Rose Quartz and Greg Universe’s son.  While he possesses quite a few of the qualities and abilities of a gem, he still stays grounded in the human world and he is no less “manly” for being a member of the Crystal Gems.  It’s quite nice to show boys that having feelings is alright and nothing to be ashamed of in such a delightful way.  The show also showcases that everyone is different from everyone else.  Sure, you may be similar to your family, but you are you no matter what and that’s not a bad thing.  You won’t always get along with everyone and not everything will work out the way you want it too and that’s okay as well.

This popular show has some touchy subjects that are presented in different ways that make it a show that can be used to help children and young people understand subjects they may not otherwise.  The show touches on racism, homosexuality, disabilities, and body image in a way that is refreshing.  It doesn’t just say, this person is this way and this is why.  For example, the Off Colour Gems are all seen as “defective” for some reason or another.  They keep to themselves for the most part, but Steven doesn’t see them as being any less valuable as Gems or “people” for being different.  They have their own unique charms and abilities.  Overall, this show has all the charm of a regular cartoon so that children can watch, but at the same time it has themes that only the adults watching would really understand.  This makes for a show that is good for all members of the family to watch.