By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
For the last decade, the number of animated shows has grown, targeting the emotions of a wide array of audiences to teach them about the ever- changing ways of the world.
But then there’s “Steven Universe,” the story of the lovable, titular half-Gem, half-human hero who uses his combined powers of affection and compassion to understand new threats, make new friends and save the galaxy a hundred times over the course of his entire childhood, alongside his extended Crystal Gem and human family.
With both a steadfast growing number of seasons, as well as a feature-length film released last September, “Steven Universe” has cemented itself as a must-watch series for any and every person at any and every age, expressing familiar themes of love and peace through unique imagery, rounded characters, and significant settings different from any other animated series out there.
“In just an 11-minute running time, each episode of the series manages to say something new, thoughtful, and heartfelt about huge themes like power, responsibility, waning childhood, sex, and gender,” Caroline Framke of VOX Media said in 2016.
And now, with two new episodes each having premiered on March 6th and March 133th respectively, the series both reminds audiences of Steven’s selfless powers to overcome physical threats while introducing new ones that concern his own continuing growth into adulthood.
Rebecca Sugar’s series, which debuted in 2013, is no stranger to developing both heartbreaking and heartwarming stories aimed for adults and children alike. But, unlike a majority of its related animated series, the show itself is unafraid to tackle both the dark and light sides of humanity, including both acceptance of one’s own individuality and demonstrating who their true selves are to the world around them, allowing audiences of all kinds to see themselves within the Crystal Gems, from the fearless, loving Garnet to the elegant, hardworking Pearl, and the determined, laidback Amethyst.
“[The show has] placed a strong focus on L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. representation, offering up a wide array of characters who mirror that multifaceted community,” Leigh-Ann Jackson of The New York Times said in September 2019.
“[But] at the core of all this sci-fi-fantasy fun are themes of inclusivity, empathy and the significance of family in all its forms,” she said.
Without giving away any spoilers, while we have watched Steven grow from a child struggling to adjust to his inherited Gem abilities in a half-human body to a mature young adult, in the new season we now see him in the future, when, upon reminding himself of his powers, must now learn about how to achieve what he wants for himself after achieving peace throughout space and time for his entire childhood.
Sugar’s series, while remaining unafraid of tackling underrepresented subject matters, such as anxiety, depression, and trauma, now moves forward with the evolution of Steven’s growing pains. He must not only accept the changes occurring around him but within himself and learn how to use his powers to help heal his own frustrations—using the same caring approach he had used to help others but never on himself.
But it also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that Steven, despite identifying as a cisgender male, does have problems facing what’s to come for him and those he loves, and, rather than allowing this to wrap up in a single episode, mounts until he can no longer ignore it and must face his problems head-on with those same allies who helped him along the way.
“What’s radical about “Steven Universe” is not that it shatters…boundaries; it glides over them as if they didn’t exist in the first place,” J.P. Brammer of Vulture said in 2017.
With this storyline, audiences are exposed to a different side of the traditional masculine hero, in which Steven must work through his pain without resorting to aggression, as violent as his collective dreams and realities can be, with vivid imagery.
“As in life, all that stuff is just there. “Steven Universe” naturalizes the issues many shows would rather sensationalize in a way that’s clever but not condescending to its younger audience,” Framke said.
At its core, this series does not shove aside the darkness from its audiences, informing audiences that both the light and shadow elements are what make up life itself, both within the realms of fantasy and reality.
And with the continuing suspense mounted within its latest season, “Steven Universe” keeps providing audiences new dimensions to this tried-and-true experience, proving that there is still much more of the story left to tell.
“While many cartoons have vivid, fantastical worlds, only a few are willing to tell an ongoing, serialized story with a consistent, fully realized backstory, [as] Steven and the Crystal Gems are constantly discovering new things about their reality and themselves,” Framke said.