Most of my favorite television is non-animated. I never got into Rick & Morty or Archer, and I’ve barely watched Gravity Falls. I can appreciate Miyazaki, and I love Kubo and the Two Strings, but I’d never call myself a huge fan of anime. I do often refer to Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra as my favorite cartoons of all time, which is a well-deserved accolade. Well before that, back in the nineties, I was a massive fan of The Tick. But in 2018, the best cartoon out there is Steven Universe.
Steven Universe is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Steven and his three surrogate parents, members of an all-female alien race known as “gems.” The first season slowly introduces characters, themes, and drops hints about characters’ pasts, the race of gems, and the ancient war in which Steven’s mother died long ago. But for every tidbit of information, there are new questions.
The foreshadowing is so well crafted that when the first big reveal happens at the end of the first season, you realize that you had all the pieces of the puzzle and could have figured it out had the delivery been any less subtle. It’s very clear that the show’s creators plotted out the entirety of the show’s arc and have been moving along their predefined storyline since the beginning, with plenty of excellently delivered setups and payoffs. For the first couple dozen ten-minute episodes, you’re just spending time with the characters, battling monsters, and eating pizza. It’s not until episode 25 when you first realize that there’s a deeper plot afoot.
Steven Universe is a terrific show to watch with the entire family. It’s got great role models and deals with a lot of relationship issues. Like any family, the characters fight. Then they resolve their disputes, although it’s not always easy. My six and eleven year old girls love it. And the episodes are each ten minutes long, which makes it easy to fit in if your family’s schedule is as tight as mine.
The Music of Steven Universe
I can think of no other television show which has music that stands up so well on its own. Much of the music is Steven playing his ukulele, and characters singing along. It’s so well-written that I have many of the songs on my mp3 player so that I can listen at work.
Here’s an extended version of the show’s theme song.
From the first notable song in episode twelve, Giant Woman, to the eighties-rocker ballad in Song for Steven to the power anthem that closes out the first season, the music is all great. It quickly reached a point that when we hit an episode with a song, the entire family got very excited. New Steven Universe music!
Steven Universe and Gender
The race of gems are without gender, but present as female. A number of them present as people of color. Their shapes and sizes run the gamut, resulting in a body-positive spectrum. And the episodes that include romance between female-presenting gems mean that the show is LGBTQ-friendly.
I’ve also seen much written about the show’s thirty-seventh episode, Alone Together, and its exploration of the idea of consent. Steven Universe often takes mature concepts, neatly packages them in its science fiction trappings, and presents them in a way that only those old enough to truly grok will fully appreciate.
Steven Universe is by turns exciting, heartwarming, and downright hilarious. By the time we reached season three, episode eight, I already had many favorite episodes. But I was entirely unprepared for what I now view as the very best that Steven Universe has to offer. Many shows have musical episodes, but Mr. Greg is arranged as an entire episode of musical theater. Theater isn’t normally my thing, but the relationships that had developed to this point over the course of the show, the long-awaited resolution of longstanding emotional conflicts, and Deedee Magno Hall’s performance of the song that I consider Steven Universe‘s best, ended in a moment that just about brought me to tears. And it’s all because the show-writers had earned that moment.
Where Can I Watch Steven Universe?
If you’ve read this article and you’re interested in getting into Steven Universe for the first time, the show airs on Cartoon Network. You can stream Steven Universe from the Cartoon Network website if you have a cable subscription. You can also buy individual episodes or seasons from Amazon or purchase the DVD. GeekDad has reviewed the DVD set previously.
However you watch, I’d urge you to avoid late-season spoilers and be sure to watch the show in sequence. When you reach the ending of season one and the revelation therein, it works because you’ve seen all that’s happened in the interim.
Steven Universe begins airing again very soon, on December 17th.