As much as I talk about Steven Universe, I’ve been remiss with reviews. With that in mind, I’m taking some time this month to get caught up on reviewing this amazing cartoon, so we can talk about things like representation and diversity in American cartoons, something I started in my review of Adventure Time.
In Season 1 of Steven Universe, we meet and instantly dislike Steven Universe, the half-magical son of carwash owner Greg Universe. Steven, his father and his guardians, the Crystal Gems, live in a small seaside town, based loosely but lovingly on Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (A town, not at all coincidentally, which is popular with gays and lesbians. It’s a bit like a mid-Atlantic Provincetown.) Steven appears and acts about 8 or 9 years old. He’s whiny and annoying, but about halfway through the first season, you start to get a better sense of him and his obviously not-at-all-human guardians.
In Season 2, Steven and the Crystal Gems develop as characters. We spend a lot of time watching the Gems not really comprehending humanity, interacting with them awkwardly – but loving them for Rose Quartz’s sake – and watching Steven struggle with nascent and unpredictable powers. Bits of their backstory starts to filter through the noise, and we get a better sense of the Gems’ feelings of obligation for Steven’s well-being, but also watch them deal with his need to be independent of their protection.
While this tug-of-war is going on, Steven is, little by little, introduced to his mother’s legacy. But more importantly, he starts to develop himself outside the heir to his mother’s legend the Gems require him to be. And when we meet his friend Connie, Steven suddenly becomes much, much more human.
I’m going to go on record that I adore Steven and Connie’s relationship and would have watched this cartoon if this was the only relationship in the series. They are terrific together. Connie’s overprotective, overachieving parents have raised a fine young woman. Almost immediately we can see that Steven and Connie genuinely care about each other and really enjoy each other’s company. They make a great partnership even this early on in the series.
One of the things I very much like about the series is the extremely diverse voice cast and characterization. Even before the cartoon gets into sexuality (which it will in a big way,) it’s diverse in other ways, including ethnicity and body type. But my perspective is that of a white woman, so any visible diversity seems, on the face of it, as a good thing. While Garnet, voiced by singer Estelle, reads to me as a woman of color, there’s some really terrific writing about Pearl as a PoC character, and why SU still doesn’t do black characters right. It’s all worth reading. I’m not the only one watching SU carefully for representation. That there is so much to parse is part of why I like the series.
We can summarize Season 2 as being about the humanizing of the characters – all of them, really. Greg gets fleshed out, the Gems start thinking of Steven as a separate entity from his mother, their leader, and Steven and Connie push each other to be better as people and friends. The people of Beach City start to develop as more than just background images, and suddenly you find yourself joining Ronaldo in his quest to to keep Beach City Weird. ^_^
Art – 8
Characters – 10
Service – Not visually
Yuri – 5 Pearl’s idolization of Rose is most definitely a crush
Overall – 10
By the end of Season 2, I’d forgotten how whiny Steven was in Season 1. And by the end of Season 2, I was fully hooked, lined and sinkered. ^_^