Friday, March 13, 2015

Steven Universe

Amethyst the Hothead, Garnet the Tank, Pearl the Know-it-all,
and Steven, the Boy with the Heart of Gold
Last year I saw advertisements on Cartoon Network for a new show called Steven Universe.  I didn't like the art and it looked stupid so I didn't pay it any mind.  But then one day I was watching an artist's stream from her desktop, but instead of drawing, she was watching cartoons.  So the 30+ international viewers of her channel sat and watched cartoons with her.

I swear, neither Asimov, Bradbury, or Clarke ever imagined a technological future as odd as the one that we actually got.  Anyway . . .

So, she was watching Steven Universe.  Now, I respect the woman's art and entertainment choices, so I stuck around and watched this show which was visually displeasing to me.  I figured, well, I thought Adventure Time's art sucked too, and it turned out to be one of my favorite shows ever, so it might as well give it a chance.

Steven Universe is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Steven,  His slacker dad who lives in a psychedelic van, and Steven's three . . . um . . . caretakers who are actually . . . well . . . it gets complicated.  Let's just call them superheros for the moment - Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl.

Stuff that happens in space.
Where Adventure Time is an bizarre romp through D&D and Gamma World, Steven Universe is a game of Champions and Traveller.  Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl are the Crystal Gems that protect humanity by fighting off crazy monsters that pop up on Earth.  Steven is also a Gem who is just beginning his career as a hero at somewhere around 12 years of age, whose superpowers are flaky and unreliable at best.

After the first ten episodes, I decided I liked the quirky show.  By the time the second ten went by, I had decided that Steven Universe was much better than Adventure Time.  The third had some of the best storytelling I've seen.  By the fourth ten I was getting a nagging feeling that Steven Universe wasn't just a simple story - but important literature.  I know that's kind of an odd thing to say about a cartoon aimed at 12-year-olds, but . . . damn.

Throughout the story, Steven experiences the world, learning and growing all of the time.  As he changes, the people around him are effected by his changes, and grow as well.  It's not all good.  Horrific things have happened in the setting's 6000+ year past.  Death is a big, ever-present theme.  Fear drives most of the main characters, and they keep him in the dark about what has happened - and what they did.  But life and growth are also there, as embodied by Steven.

Stuff that happens at the donut shop.
The show is absolutely chock full of wonderful things, and the damn show makes me tear up on a regular basis.

I'm being really vague about a lot of this, I know.  I just don't want to spoil anything for anyone, since the multiple reveals are just fantastic and fascinating . . . an art unto themselves.

The show was created by Rebecca Sugar, who was responsible for several of the best Adventure Time episodes ever, including "Dungeon," It Came from the Nightosphere," "Susan Strong," "Fionna and Cake," "Hot to the Touch," and "Simon & Marcy."  She also writes a lot of songs for the show - and we all know how fun singing along to cartoons is. :)

I do warn you, sexuality is a theme in Steven Universe.  I don't think any of it is bad or inappropriate, but it's definitely there.  One episode made me uncomfortable, but another viewing made it clear it was my own baggage that was the problem, and the whole episode is about what happens when the innocent exuberance of youth slams into the realm of blossoming sexuality and how uncomfortable and confusing that whole thing is.  In retrospect, it's the one of the most fabulous 11 minute story I've ever witnessed.  You'll know it when you see it.

And every frigging episode ties in with every other one in wonderful and unexpected ways.  It's a vibrant world full of vibrant people where things happen and those things matter.  I highly recommend binge watching it.  But do yourself a favor.  Watch the episodes in order. :)

- Ark


  1. Never saw this but I don't have TV ... so there's that. I can't diss the cartoon work because I draw and enjoy stick figure comics.

    Happy Weekend, Ark.

  2. I stumbled on the show while my son watched in my mom's house. It got me, on the ep 25-26! I would have never known it until now, we have no cable. Happy I'm noticing as the season comes to a close.