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Steven Universe is a bright, colorful show about, as Steven put it, peace and love on the planet Earth. It’s a children’s cartoon that once made an entire plot hinge on cheeseburger-shaped backpack. Surely, Steven Universe wouldn’t show scary and creepy things on the scale of straight-up David Cronenberg body-horror, right?
While Steven Universe isn’t American Horror Story: Beach City, it has some legitimately disturbing elements. Take a look with us at five times Steven Universe gave us horrible nightmares… okay, well maybe not NIGHTMARES, but we did exclaim “Jeezus!” when watching ’em.
1. Steven Goes Full Akira
One of the greatest things about Steven Universe is its subtle references to other cartoons. For example, Steven’s got a copy of Sailor Moon on his nightstand and eats Howl’s Moving Castle-style bacon. But one of its best and creepiest references comes from an episode entitled “Cat Fingers” which references the 1988 anime classic Akira. In Akira, Tetsuo turns into a growing mass of tumors (which you can watch in the video below — pardon its literal French — it was the best-quality clip we could find).
Instead of tumors, Steven grows into a mewling mass of cat heads, but damn if it’s not super creepy. If we saw a shrieking, freaked-out boy rolling around and covered by a bunch of randomly sprouting cat heads we’d probably vomit up our bacon and pass out.
2. Amethyst Finds Her Special Hole
In the episode “On The Run“, Steven and Amethyst visit a dark, menacing world filled with things that look like giant bacteriophages. Amethyst isn’t so creeped out, and you might not be either if you miss the reference about the special hole shaped just like her… but if you get the horror reference, it’s unsettling. Amethyst’s backward sliding into “her hole” is a direct reference to “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, a short story by Junji Ito, a master of Japanese horror manga.
In the story — which appears the trade paperback edition of Ito’s graphic novel Gyo — an earthquake uncovers thousands of human-shaped holes carved into a mountain. Thousands of people come out to see the holes, and they feel especially drawn to the holes shaped like them. I won’t spoil the manga’s ending, but it’s unforgettably disturbing. Thankfully, the cartoon doesn’t end the same way.
3. Frybo’s Reign Of Terror
Enough horror references! Let’s go for some straight-up horror, Beach City-style!
In “Frybo“, Steven makes a mistake. Trying to help out his friend Peedee, who hates having to wear a mascot costume to promote his family’s french-fry business, Steven puts a gem shard with the power to animate clothing inside the costume. Frybo then comes to life, and everything seems fine. Fine, that is, until Peedee tells Frybo to make people eat fries.
While Peedee leaves to go hang out with Steven, Frybo takes Peedee’s command literally, and terrorizes Beach City by capturing innocent citizens and force-feeding them fries. That’s bad enough, but when it comes time to bring him down, things get super scary, especially when Pearl sends a spear into Frybo’s eye which then causes a geyser of ketchup and mustard to shoot from the wound.
That might not sound too awful just reading it, but when you see it, with the condiment-based stand-in for blood and vitreous jelly, isn’t just disgusting… it’s also nightmarish.
4. Garnet Discovers The Shard Fusions
While Frybo was basically a monster-of-the-week, “Keeping It Together” introduced the Cluster Gems — experiments in taking destroyed gems and fusing them together. That might not sound too bad until you remember that shattering a physical gemstone is the only way a Gem can be killed… so basically, the Cluster Gems are an unholy combination of zombies and Frankenstein monsters: squirming masses of re-animated flesh made from random limbs. Even before you get to Garnet’s philosophical objections to non-consensually forcing Gem Fusion out of evil rather than love, we’re talking some high-octane nightmare fuel.
5. Pretty Much All Of “Nightmare Hospital”
“Keeping It Together” isn’t the last stand of the Cluster Gems — far from it. They reappear in the aptly-named “Nightmare Hospital” to terrorize Connie’s mother. Cast in the creepy hues of a horror film, a sense of dread permeates the entire episode — especially when an advanced Cluster Gem descends upon Connie, Steven and Dr. Maheswaran.
The terror starts as Dr. Maheswaran talks about her new patient: one that seems to be alive despite missing both a head and a pulse… already pretty creepy. But when we see the “patient” — clearly a Cluster Gem that’s much more monstrous than a mere pile of limbs — the horror kicks up to 11. And when you remember that the monsters’ visible, fused gem-shards are the result of cruel experiments, the nightmares leave the hospital and TV show and crawl right into bed as you sleep.
Previously published February 18, 2016.