Steven Universe

Tagged: TV

US animated tv series (2013-current). Cartoon Network. Created by Rebecca Sugar, also executive producer. Writers include Matt Burnett, Ian Jones-Quartey, Ben Levin, Kat Morris and Sugar. Directors include Joseph D Johnston, Jones-Quartey and Kat Morris. Voice cast includes Zach Callison, Michaela Dietz, Susan Egan, Estelle, Deedee Magno Hall and Tom Scharpling. 144 eleven-minute episodes, plus two double-length episodes (also eleven shorts) to date. Colour.

Steven Universe starts as a fun cartoon about the fourteen-year-old boy Steven (Callison) who joins his three magic female friends – Garnet (Estelle), Pearl (Hall) and Amethyst (Dietz) – to fight Monsters; he undergoes a series of Conceptual Breakthroughs that reveal the science-fictional backdrop to the series. We see events only from his point of view (or what he has been told happened): consequently the tone of the show matures along with Steven.

His three friends are Alien gems which project physical, humanoid forms (aside from Steven, all gems identify as female). Steven himself is half human, half gem: his mother was Rose Quartz (Egan), who birthed him by giving up her physical form: she is considered dead by the remaining Gems and by Steven's father, Greg Universe (Scharpling). Steven is human in appearance but has Rose's gem on his stomach. Of the Gems, Pearl is recovering from the loss of Rose, whom she loved – she also fights to break the mindset imposed by her former servant status. Amethyst was discovered after the war in an otherwise deserted gem Kindergarten; she feels guilt at being an instrument in the Gem homeworld's plans, of which more below, and behaves like Steven's unruly big sister (the other two are more parental). Garnet is revealed to be two gems (Ruby and Sapphire) who are in love and maintain a permanent fusion, as with fulfilled crystal pairs in Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels (February 1950 Fantastic Adventures; exp 1950; vt The Synthetic Man 1957). This is one of the recurring motifs of the show: fusion, in which two or more gems merge to become a stronger gem, is used as a metaphor for intimacy, whether family, friendship, romance or Sex.

Gradually Steven learns that Earth had been invaded by the Gem civilization and that Rose led a successful rebellion against Xenoforming plans that would have destroyed life on our world, with the hostile Gems departing over four thousand years ago. The series is set in the present day (though this Earth is not our Earth, geographically or historically), beginning with the first intimations of the Gem homeworld's renewed interest in this planet and the resulting questions: what does the homeworld want, and what really happened in the rebellion? Save for two visits to the Moon and two to Earth's outer atmosphere, the show stayed relatively earthbound until midway through the fourth series, but has subsequently stretched its legs with journeys to a Space Habitat housing a human Zoo; to the Gem homeworld, where Steven is put on trial; and to the moon of a planet gutted by the Gems. Then, late in the fifth season, Steven – and some of the other Crystal Gems – discover that the roots of the rebellion were not what they had believed and that Pearl's tragedy is deeper than they knew.

Within a complex plot full of adventure, character development, feels, Humour and more feels, Steven Universe works in its core themes of intimacy and consent, regardless of orientation. Rebecca Sugar has stated:

The show was always very much about family ... [i.e.] unconditional love and support ... I hope to also show people ... they can also relate to characters that are not heteronormative, and to families that are not traditional.

Steven Universe gives nods to its influences: the book featured in the original intro is A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle, while there are many references to Anime such as Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997), Manga such as Junji Ito's "The Enigma of Amigara Fault" from GYO (2002), and Warner Bros cartoons such as those featuring Road Runner. Further developments and revelations are anticipated – eagerly, but not without trepidation, as the series has proven quite happy to put its characters through the emotional wringer. [SP]


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