Apr 2, 2015

[TV] Steven Universe: Season 1

So Steven Universe is all sorts of awesome.

As a longtime Adventure Time fan, Tobie and I had already come to love Rebecca Sugar's flair for storytelling and of course her musical talents, which helped shape the tone of Adventure Time in the early days.

The announcement that she was leaving the Adventure Time was initially a sad one, but then the follow-up revelation that she was creating an animated series of her own got us all sorts of excited all over again. We had already seen glimpses of her creative point of view within the world created by Pendleton Ward. But this time around we had a chance to hear her distinct voice in a world of her own making.

And what a world it is. Sort of taking a page from Adventure Time, we again have a strong character-driven series set in a world that is both different and yet familiar. And with each new episode with its own crazy little adventures and story, we all find out we're building up to an even greater narrative. And man, this show really blows me away every time.

Synopsis: Steven Universe is an animated TV series created by Rebecca Sugar, who was previously a storyboard artist, writer and composer for Adventure Time. The show debuted on November 3, 2014 on Cartoon Network.

So what is Steven Universe exactly? As the title sequence shows, the story is about three super-powered beings known as the Crystal Gems and a young boy - our titular hero Steven Universe (Zach Callison). And yes, his last name is literally Universe, because he's awesome that way. And for the most part Steven is your typical little boy - he's rather hyperactive and he gets excited really quickly. He has his favorite snack foods and things like cheeseburger backpacks make him really happy. What does make him different though is the fact that he's actually a Crystal Gem as well.

So it turns out that Steven's mom was a Crystal Gem named Rose Quartz (Susan Egan), who fell in love with the very human Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling) and ended up giving her life in order to give birth to Steven. And thus Steven has grown up together with the Crystals Gems as his sort of guardians and yet also with his father, who mostly lives in his van.

And the Gems themselves are wildly different characters. Garnet (Estelle) is rather intimidating in terms of personality and stature. She appears to be the most physically powerful of the gems and also the most stoic for the most part. Then you have Pearl (Deedee Mango Hall), who is a little neurotic and very precise about almost everything. She's the brains of the group but at times seems practically obsessive compulsive. And then you have Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) who is practically as impulsive and wild as Steven is and seems to have taken to human culture the most.

In the early episodes, the Crystal Gems engage on various missions to defeat crystal powered monsters in order to return the gem fragments to their temple headquarters for safe-keeping. Each mission is also an opportunity for Steven to learn more about what the Crystal Gems do, although he hasn't quite come into his own powers as of yet. That changes over time as Steven learns more and more about his gem and ultimately the history of his mother Rose while the group continues to battle various creatures.

But by the end of the series, Steven grows up to be more than just a crazy little boy but a formidable Cystal Gem as well. And no, this doesn't mean he suddenly becomes a brilliant fighter or something. If anything Steven's greatest power is his ability to hope and his belief in anyone's potential to be good. He sees the world through, well, Rose-colored glasses you could say. And thus Steven's true power is an honest sense of love and compassion for most things out there. And he's such an open, honest and quite genuine character that he's quite the inspiration as well.

The show is downright beautiful with some amazing backdrops against which some great stories are told. And of course the show is brought to life with Rebecca Sugar's unique music, which seems simple in structure and yet is truly memorable and touching. He songs always feel so honest as well and they do a lot to tell the individual stories of each character and giving us a new way to get to know everyone better.

And the writing behind the show really picks up over time. Each new episode seems to focus on a silly idea that Steven is obsessed with for now, but they also reveal more and more about the world and ultimately the somewhat dark history of the Gems themselves. There's no getting around the fact that they're aliens who have come to Earth for a reason. And the fact that they have chosen to remain here also hints at a greater purpose in all this.

Steven Universe is an amazing show that celebrates a unique and alternative family structure and perhaps represents a new age in proper gender representation. But beyond the high concept stuff it's simply a great cartoon and a heck of a lot of fun. And this first season deserves a full 5 crazy Steven food concoctions out of a possible 5.

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