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Thursday, March 19, 2015

My, How You've Grown, Steven Universe

Wow. If I had to sum up how far Steven Universe has come since it debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013 in a single word, that word would be "wow." What seemed like it was going to be yet another slapstick comedy cartoon (which I have no problem with) has gone on to become not just my favorite show on Cartoon Network, but my favorite show period. Of all of the shows that I currently watch, this is the one that I look forward to the most. Steven Universe is really that good.

Central protagonist Steven is still a lovable kid goofball, but h'e matured so much. He can now activate and deactivate his bubble at will. He can also summon his shield easily. What's more in The Return, he made the shield large enough to protect himself and the Crystal Gems. It was also nice how the how escape in the followup episode, Jailbreak, was instigated by Steven. The Gems never would have made it back to Earth if Steven hadn't sprung them.

You'd think an ice cream snack song
would be irrelevant to the plot. And you'd be wrong.

Steven Universe is a show that clearly was planned out far in advance. After going back to watch earlier episodes and comparing them with more recent episodes, I can tell that Rebecca Sugar and her crew are not making this up as they go along and I love them for that. There is foreshadowing all over the place, starting all the way back to the very first episode. At first, I assumed Steven's song about Cookie Cat to be nothing but cute, child humor. But taking later episodes of season one into account, it's blatantly obvious that Cookie Cat's origins mirror that of the Gems. Cookie Cat is a refugee from an interstellar war just like the Gems and Cookie Cat left his family, or home planet behind just like the Gems. No way Cookie Cat's story lining up with the Gems is a coincidence.

And then you've got the long speculated theory that Garnet was a fusion. She has two gems instead of one, a ruby and a sapphire. When Alexandrite splits apart in Fusion Cuisine, we can see two unrecognizable Gem figures along with Pearl and Amethyst. Finally,there's Garnet's absolute joy at Steven and Connie's fusion in Alone Together, which makes so much more sense after the events of Jailbreak. Steven Universe is an absolute beast at foreshadowing and it's made me realize that a lot of it isn't all that apparent.

Of all the fights Steven has broken up between
Pearl and Amethyst, this one is the worst.

It's not just the excellent use of foreshadowing and character development that make me adore Steven Universe. The way this show tackles a lot of issues has to be commended. In Lars and the Cool Kids, Lars wishes to get in with the in crowd. Based off of so many movies and TV shows that we've seen from the past that have popular kids, you'd expect "the cool kids" to turn out to be a bunch of jerks and for Lars to realize that he's better off without them. This isn't the case. The cool kids turn out to be pretty cool, down to earth kids and its actually Steven that helps Lars become friends with them just by being himself. In Bubble Buddies, Connie's debut episode, it's implied that the girl suffers from social anxiety disorder. Come Alone Together, we get further hints of this as she didn't go to a school dance because the idea of having everyone look at her on the dance floor made her nervous. While fused with Steven as Steveonnie at a dance, you can tell it's Connie in there that's on the verge of having a panic attack when everyone stops dancing to look at Steveonnie in awe. The visuals used to demonstrate this, where everything around Steveonnie grows to show Connie's increased apprehensiveness, are brilliant. Steveonnie bolts off the dance floor like someone with a need to be anywhere but there.

Pearl is so eager to go to exploring space
that she nearly gets herself and Steven killed.

The way Steven Universe  represents multiple body types is another thing I love about this show. You got fat people, skinny people, muscular people and middle-of-the-road people. Having the main star, Steven, be a heavy set kid immediately paints him differently from a lot of other male leads.  If you want to be all buffed out, that's fine, but that body type isn't for everyone. On the opposite end, not everyone wants to be a toothpick. Even so, there are those of us that will never get the body that others have. I've read fan posts from people that have the same body type as Pearl stating they've learned to appreciate the figure they have. The people with the aforementioned body types I've listed aren't just background characters. This is also the main cast I'm talking about. The people with all kinds of body types are taking center stage. We live in a society that looks down on people that don't conform to what is perceived to be the ideal body type. By having the main cast consist of multiple body types, it sends the message that it's fine to like the figure you've been given. And let's face it, the world would be pretty boring if we all looked the same.

Garnet busts out a killer song while fighting

I was originally watching the show for the humor, character development and adventure aspects. Despite the sick powers the Gems have, I originally thought the show's fighting wasn't one of it's strong suits. However, that's really turned around. We've seen the Gems fight each other in Tiger Millionaire and Pearl's fight with Holo Pearl in Steven the Sword Fighter while paying heavy homage to Revolutionary Girl Utena, was pretty cool. The Gems fight against Lapis Lazuli has some incredible animation. Ditto on the Pearl vs. Amethyst fight in On the Run, even though it was tough to watch given the series strong family-like nature. Garnet's fight against Jasper in Jailbreak is sure to be remembered for Estelle's amazing vocal performance, but the fight itself was a sight to behold.

As of March 13, season two has already began but from what I hear, we won't be getting anymore season two episodes for a while. This just makes the wait for even more episodes that much more difficult to bear. I'm eagerly anticipating DVD/Blu-Ray releases for season one, which will more than likely be split into two parts since the first season racks up 52 episodes. Although, if they released the first season in one set, that would be all kinds of awesome. The show has grown so much from episode one and things got deadly serious midway through the first season and at it's end. I cannot wait to see where Steven Universe goes from here.

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