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It’s Steven Universe Week at Unicorn Booty, so all week long we’ll be exploring the artists, fans and creative aspects that make it the most progressive cartoon in history!
“But I’m an adult,” I hear you say, “why do I care about the goings on of this network of cartoons?” First off, only jackasses discount animation as a valid art-form and second, cartoon-lovers are Hip and Cool and With It. PROOF: Adventure Time is also on Cartoon Network, and basically everyone’s already watching that because it’s progressive, funny, and amazing… and Steven Universe is even moreso.
So it’s time to get a crash course in Steven Universe, who’s on it, why it rocks so hard and the five best episodes to start with.
To begin, Steven Universe is Cartoon Network’s first female-created show, created by notable woman Rebecca Sugar. Sugar is also known for writing a lot of the best songs in Adventure Time (“Daddy, Why Did You Eat My Fries”, “I’m Just Your Problem/My Best Friends In The World”, “Remember You” and the classic “Bacon Pancakes”). She also wrote a lot of the best episodes of Adventure Time too (pretty much any episode those songs come from).
Steven Universe is also really hip when it comes to all sorts of social issues. Behind the scenes, three of the show’s four leads are voiced by women of color (one of whom is Estelle. You know, Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, rapper, actress, producer Estelle). The crew is super diverse too, and most of them have art blogs on Tumblr. You can Google any name you see on the show, but a few to get you started: Rebecca Sugar, Ian Jones-Quartey, Raven Molisee, Ben Levin, Lamar Abrams.
Steven Universe doesn’t just get points for diversity, it’s got serious feminist cred too. The main characters are all women, except for Steven, and it’s generally the women who are kicking ass and taking names rather than the men.
Likewise — and if you’re not an animation guy, you might not realize how big this is — every female character has a different body type. Historically, male characters are allowed to be any shape, fat, thin, muscular, wiry, short, tall, whereas women are always the same thin, hourglass shape (witness the awful Equestria Girls spinoff of My Little Pony.) In Steven Universe, Garnet is tall and curvy; Amethyst is a short, apple shape; Pearl’s tall but thin, and it goes on and on. It’s amazing how refreshing it is to see cartoon women in the same wide range of shapes and sizes as real women!
Anyway, as for the actual show itself: Steven Universe is a magical little boy who lives with the Crystal Gems, superheroines from outer space and guardians of the Earth. Each Gem is named after the precious stone that houses their soul and provides a humanoid body/avatar for their souls to use (and then leave if it gets too damaged).
STEVEN UNIVERSE: He’s half-gem, half-human. His mother, Rose Quartz, gave up her physical form to create him, so he never got to know her. Steven’s exceptionally good-natured and rarely sees the bad in anyone. His gem (which was previously Rose’s) is in his bellybutton.
GARNET: Garnet is the leader of the Crystal Gems, and speaks only with purpose. She can also see the future, and is the strongest of the Gems. She’s usually quite motherly to Steven. Though she’s brief with words, she’s never detached. Her gems are in her palms.
PEARL: Pearl’s the Gem closest to Steven, fulfilling a space between mother and older sister to him. She’s very analytical and can be slightly condescending towards Earth. Actually, her relationship with Earth is… kind of a lot to get into. Her gem is in her forehead.
AMETHYST: Amethyst is the youngest gem. A true hedonist, she is the only Gem who chooses to sleep and eat (Pearl finds the sensation of passing food through one’s body disgusting). She’s a sister to Steven, one who can be rough with him, but still shows great affection. Her gem is in her chest.
GREG UNIVERSE: Greg is Steven’s dad. He fell in love with Rose Quartz, and they decided to have a child. Greg lives in his van, owns a car wash, and is pretty good with music. Even though he’s embarrassed by it, I like his single “Let Me Drive My Van Into Your Heart”.
OTHERS: There’s Lars and Sadie at the Big Donut, there’s the Fryman family and the Pizza family, and Sour Cream and Onion, and some others, but really, I just put this here so I could mention that Mayor Dewey is voiced by Joel Hodgson the original host of the b-movie voiceover comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 — that’s awesome.
FIVE EPISODES TO CHECK OUT:
- “Giant Woman”: This is the first episode to feature fusion, a process in which two (or more) gems can become another one. In this case, it’s Pearl and Amethyst fuse to become Opal. The music in this one is particularly great, and that’s Aimee Mann as Opal. Honestly, while this one is a good episode on its own, I’m mainly including it to explain fusion because of one of the other episodes on my list that’s a must see. Layin’ groundwork, yo.
- “Lars and the Cool Kids”: One of the charms of Steven Universe is that it takes time to meet Steven’s non-magical friends. In this one, the prickly Lars wants to be part of the cool clique, but he needs Steven’s help to make it happen. The cool thing is that the arc cliche is “Lars and Steven join the cool kids, but they turn out to be jerks and they learn who their true friends are.” But in this one, it turns out the cool kids are actually… pretty cool. Any friction between them and Lars comes from Lars’ own insecurities. The cool kids, on the other hand, just want to hang out, and figure the more, the merrier. It’s really kind of amazing how NICE all the characters are. Much like Parks & Recreation, it’s a cool moment when you realize that the characters seem to genuinely like each other.
- “An Indirect Kiss”: This one is great for showing the depth of the show. In this one, Amethyst cracks her gem — which is the only way for a Gem to actually be hurt — and needs rest need to heal. The bulk of the episode is Steven and Amethyst bonding, and we understand her character more, which is summed up by Amethyst’s line, “Ha ha, you care about me.” In addition to helping explain Amethyst, we get to know quite a bit about Steven’s relationship with his friend Connie.
- “Alone Together”: Alone Together is one of the BEST episodes of Steven Universe and television in general. This is the one where you need to understand fusion before you can watch. Steven is trying to learn how to fuse with the other gems, and in explaining this to Connie, the two of them fuse into a beautiful, androgynous mostly-human being dubbed “Stevonnie.” It’s a great episode on its own merits, but what it has to say about gender and tolerance is amazing. As Stevonnie wanders around Beach City, their (the only pronoun that seems appropriate) friends don’t recognize them and yet all of them are still attracted to Stevonnie; their androgyny is NOT an issue — the others just see a beautiful person. Also, Stevonnie ends up shutting down a really creepy, aggressive guy — a great lesson to the kids watching that they don’t have to take that kind of behavior. It ends up being a great episode about intimacy, gender, and personal relationships in a series that’s full of great episodes.
- “On The Run”: Partly, I love this one because it’s a kids’ show that references the short horror comic horror The Enigma of Amigara Fault, but there’s so much going on here, story-wise. Steven and Amethyst go on a road trip inspired by Steven’s beloved No Home Boys novels — a Boxcar Children-style series about plucky hobo teens. The episode turns out to be an exploration of Amethyst’s relationship with Pearl (which has been fraught to say the least), alongside a bit of explanation of who exactly the gems are.
Anyway, with these five episodes, you should be properly set to absorb the full series just in time to for season three’s eventual premiere! And if these five episodes don’t make you wanna watch more Steven Universe, then dag yo, go see a doctor or something. Something’s not right.
(This story was originally published on March 12, 2015)