Steven Universe: The Complete First Season
OK, I’m a convert. Now that I’ve watched Steven Universe: The Complete First Season, I get why fans are so dedicated to this show, with its themes of love, family, and acceptance. In that way, this late release (the show is up to season five) worked. I hope there are more coming, particularly at this affordable price.
Steven (voiced by Zach Callison) lives with three cosmic warriors, the Crystal Gems Garnet (quiet and powerful, Estelle), Amethyst (laid back and sloppy, Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (intellectual and direct, Deedee Magno Hall). Each has a magic stone that gives them a mystic weapon. Garnet’s are in her hands, and she gets gauntlets. Pearl’s stone is in her forehead, creating a spear. Amethyst’s is in her chest, and she has a whip. Steven, the half-human son of the departed Rose Quartz, has his stone in his belly button, and he can make a shield. Occasionally. (Which is interesting, since his is the most obviously defensive tool.)
This is all set up in the first episode, while the second introduces Steven’s dad Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling), a former musician who runs a car wash in Beach City. (There are 52 episodes on this set, each 11 minutes.) While trying to find Mom’s old weapon to defeat impending apocalypse, Dad tells him about his mother. Dad’s big piece of wisdom is, “If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”
Episodes can be about fighting space monsters, or weird things happening to Steven, or hanging out in their town. It’s not a superhero show, but a slice-of-life coming-of-age among people who happen to have amazing abilities. The variety of plot types keeps it interesting.
Here are smart people talking about some other things that make this show so special:
- Acceptance and artistic resistance
- The importance of queer representation
- Support and bravery in spite of pain
In short, this is imagination used for inclusion.
My objection to this when it first came out was that, while the Gems were cool and amazing, I didn’t need yet another show with a boy as the lead character. Why couldn’t we see a girl learning about her power and building a family? It turns out that creator Rebecca Sugar (the first woman to create a Cartoon Network show) based the lead on her brother Steven, which makes me feel a little better about it, although I’m still interested in getting more girls of power in American cartoons.
“Behind the Music” (10 minutes) has creator Rebecca Sugar talking about her influences and the show history, particularly when it comes to the songs. She also plays ukulele.
“Listening Party” (18 minutes) begins with footage of the expanded credit song, “We Are the Crystal Gems”, with “follow the bouncing ball” lyrics on-screen. Then comes excerpts from a Q&A with Sugar from last year in front of an LA audience at a fan event, featuring show song clips with her comments on what inspired them, plus a live performance of two songs over cosplay and signing footage.
“Music Video Performances” consists of Sugar performing five songs, either accompanying herself on ukulele or accompanied on keyboard by someone who’s not identified on screen (I believe it’s Aivi Tran). There’s a good amount of repetition among these features; at least Sugar has a good voice.
“Animatics” is five full episodes in animatic form, which means black-and-white sketches without the connecting animation but with the show soundtrack. I’m not sure this will mean much to anyone beyond people who want to be animators.
“Song Demos” are demo tracks for “Be Wherever You Are” and “Full Disclosure”.
Originally, we were promised commentaries in the announcement, but they aren’t here. Shame. With a show that means so much to so many, it would have been nice to get a real featurette about some of the more challenging topics, but I can see why a network wanting to carefully tread the line between “kids show” and selling to adult fans would want to stay far away from anything but the safest material. (The studio provided a review copy.)
I initially felt the same way about the show focusing on a male POV character, but midway through the second season I started to reconsider.
Because the show uses Steven in a way that boy characters rarely get used — his central journey isn’t about power or ability, but empathy and emotional growth. It’s as powerful an example to boys about how they can be non-toxically masculine as I’ve ever seen (not to mention Steven is sometimes not quite male in later seasons).
Now if only all of the older fans could pick up on the non-toxicity, that would be awesome.