Back at my apartment, I don’t watch that much television. This is mostly because I don’t have cable, which you have to admit puts a damper on that kind of thing. However, since I’m currently visiting the rest of my family, I’ve finally gotten a chance to catch an episode of a show I’ve been more than excited for: Steven Universe. Let me just say, I was not disappointed. The Adventure Time-eqsue magical hero show is as charming as it is funny, and I could go on like this, but I feel as though this would be a perfect opportunity for a list.
The most vital part for any animated show, other than the actual animation, is the voice acting, and Steven Universe is in possession of an amazing collection of voices. Zach Callison, the face behind Steven, has that kind of voice where you know the character is going to be a bit of an idiot, but a well-intentioned idiot. Michaela Dietz, Amethyst, brings a certain rawness to her party-animal character that I wasn’t expecting, while Deedee Magno, Pearl, has the perfect tone for a by-the-books stick in the mud. The voice I love the most is Estelle’s Garnet: deep and warm, perfect for the mama bear of the group.
An important aspect of this cast is that it’s super diverse. In the main cast, Steven is the only person voiced by a Caucasian. This problem of overly-white casts may not be as much of a problem in animated shows, but I’m glad to see that, at least behind the scenes, this show stars three ladies who break that mold. Also, Nicki Minaj is rumored to be in a future episode. Any show that has promises of Minaj is all right by me.
The story behind Steven Universe is that Steven’s mother and leader of the Crystal Gems, Rose Quartz, has passed on. With her powers now passed on to her son, the remaining Gems have taken it upon themselves to raise him to be a warrior like his mother. However, when I first saw Steven himself, I was certain he was going to be the typical bumbling character who makes everyone’s lives harder due to his own incompetence, but doesn’t learn anything from his mistakes. In other words, the worst kind of character. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Steven is a character who makes mistakes—which, given his situation, who wouldn’t—but he always tries to learn from them. And although unlocking the secret power of his gem is important to him, it’s clear that keeping up the spirits of Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst is his true number one priority.
Another worry I had going in was that he’d be a ‘fat kid’ trope; that his whole character would focus on him eating, not being able to keep up with the others because of his weight, and being made fun of for similar reasons. Again, a needless worry in this case. True, he does eat a lot, but the comedy doesn’t come at the expense of his physique. Steven’s humor comes from his naiveté and good nature: not once does his weight cause his downfall, which is something I appreciated.
3) The Crystal Gems:
Magical girl shows aren’t typically known for their diversity in body shapes. Look at Sailor Moon, Wedding Peach, or even Jem and the Holograms (she transforms. She’s a magical girl): all stereotypically and uniformly thin, beautiful girls. But god, the Crystal Gems are just so visually interesting to look at, even though I do admit that not making a distinction between human and alien (is Amethyst a purple human?) isn’t exactly progressive from a racial standpoint. It’s not only interesting designs, but the stark contrast in said designs that tells girls watching the show: no matter what you look like, you can kick some butt. Hell yes.
Outside of my design boner, the characters themselves are wonderful. Each of them has a distinct personality and a well thought out motto by which they live. And they’re never made to feel like less of a hero for what they like. Pearl is a bit more reserved in her actions, a bit more bookish. Amethyst is a glutton and a party animal. Garnet is a stoic brick wall of few words. The characters may have differing ideas of appropriate behaviors for heroes such as themselves, but no one is made to feel like they don’t deserve to be where they are. What could easily devolve to cattiness and fighting never does because they all hold a respect for each other—a respect that is important to pass down to a new generation of kids.
4) Relationships Between Steven and the Other Gems:
Steven is not the first choice of people you would want to be on your superhero squad. Not only can he not access his powers, but he also doesn’t seem to grasp how serious a job it is to protect the world. And while this could become a basis for hatred between the two groups, it never does. The Crystal Gems are completely devoted to helping Steven access his powers. They never doubt that he won’t be able to eventually do it. This mentor-student-family relationship between the Crystal Gems and Steven is one of the most important relationships in animation right now—much like the relationship between Adventure Time’s Finn and Jake.
There’s a post going around Tumblr that expounds on the characteristics of each member of this group, but more importantly, why Steven is actually a vital component of it. And I agree. There’s an important responsibility that all good superhero shows should uphold, and that’s to expose the heroes’ humanity. Sailor Moon had the girls in school—as does just about every other magical girl anime/manga—but Steven Universe doesn’t have that luxury, since the Crystal Gems are, for all intents and purposes, aliens. Steven is the force that lets the girls show their humanity, and the girls, in turn, help Steven grow. It’s a wonderful give and take and honestly a joy to watch.
5) Supporting more shows like this being made:
Shows like Steven Universe are excellent in theory and good for gifs for reaction images, but all this means nothing without actual numbers on the ratings. If this show sounds as excellent to you as it does to me, I implore you to find out when it’s on your local Cartoon Network station—or if it’s on a Cartoon Network-endorsed website—and watch it. I know how easy it is to watch things online, but it’s important to give the show the support and love it deserves on its home channel. With any luck, we’ll get more seasons and even more shows like this will be given a chance.