In 2013, Cartoon Network ran a pilot for a possible new series that received rave reviews. As a result, it was launched for a full Season of 49 episodes that same year. In 2014, it was announced that Steven Universe had been picked up for a second season.
The original premise was described as a “magical boy” series because creator Rebecca Sugar, a former writer for Adventure Time, was looking to make something that anyone could enjoy and she was a bit fed up with the gendering of “magical” series.
In fictional Beach City, Steven Universe is a little boy whose mother was a “Crystal Gem”, Rose Quartz, and who now lives with three of his mother’s former compatriots – Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet (above, left to right.) His father lives nearby and runs the town car wash, while Steven trains to be able to use the Rose Quartz gem embedded in his body that he inherited from his mother.
This is all presented with a handwave and a declarative sentence. “Steven is….” But the whole story actually takes all 49 episodes to play out. We learn slowly, over time, as Steven unlocks new abilities and learns new facts about the true nature of the Gems, what his mother was, and what it all means to him.
Steven at the beginning of the series is rather annoying, in the time honored fashion of magical series protagonists. But almost stealthily, he starts to grow and mature. He makes friends with a local girl, Connie, and they two of them have some pretty great adventures together. With Connie at his side, Steven starts to unlock some of his abilities.
Each of the Gems has a distinct personality and skills, as well as magical weapons. Pearl is a bit of a pedant, and a stickler for the rules. Garnet is badass, and Amethyst is an Id on legs, causing chaos as often as shes helps resolve issues. It’s very apparent that all three Crystal Gems care for Steven, for himself and because he is Rose Quartz’s son.
About halfway through Season 1, we start to get an idea that the Gems do develop various levels of intimacy between them. When they are in sync, they can “fuse” into stronger, larger Gems, although clashing personalities can make that dangerous. We know right away that fusion is an act of intimacy, but when Steven manages it for the first time, the look on Garnet’s face – Garnet, who never smiles – is brilliant.
Garnet confirmed my thoughts on fusion with her advice to fused Steven – “You are not one person…or two. You…are an adventure. Go out and make it a good one.”
We also learn that Pearl’s feelings for Rose Quartz went way deeper than just friends. This is confirmed later in the season, when she tells Steven just how much Rose meant to her.
In the season climax, we get another glimpse of fusion being an act of intimacy between gems, but I’m not spoiling that, except to say it involved a kiss (the series forums exploded trying to dismiss or deny it had any meaning, which was hilarious) and a reveal so good I completely did not see it coming at all. (If you know it, please kindly do not spoil it in the comments. If you do, I’ll delete the comment- – it was too good to spoil. ) Some fans are adamant that the Gems are gender neutral, but I’d say that’s not a fixed state, since Rose was able to have a child with a human.
Remember what I said about musicals? I lied. I guess I really like musicals after all. Maybe I only like cartoon and comic-based musicals. I dunno. I do know the music in Steven Universe plays an actual role in the show. It’s not the same kind of singing to one’s self one represented by “Bacon Pancakes”…the songs add meaning and depth, and occasionally critical expository commentary and character development. So, just on the strength of character and storytelling, I’d say Steven Universe is a must-watch. But there’s also music!
It takes no effort at all to see that Steven Universe is probably the queerest cartoon on American television right now. And it’s really good.
Art – 8 Fun and fanciful
Story- 10 Really.
Characters – 9
Service – Not as such, no
Yuri – 5
Overall – 8
I’ve been binge-watching this series this week. It’s really quite good.