Go ahead and try to hit me if you’re able,
Can’t you see that my relationship is stable,
I can see you hate the way we intermingle,
But I think you’re just mad ‘cause you’re single!
Estelle’s rich voice moves effortlessly over a catchy synth track. The music is paired with animation of a curvy, three-eyed woman singing while she fights a tattooed woman with a gemstone nose. They also happen to be on a spaceship. This clip was my introduction to Steven Universe, and if that doesn’t make you want to watch the show already, then I’m not sure that we can be friends. (Full disclaimer: the show doesn’t always feature sweet musical numbers like this.)
The Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe might seem like a lot to take in, at first. Thankfully, the series takes it slow with its world building. The show’s namesake is a pre-pubescent human boy… sort of. He’s also the son of Rose Quartz (Susan Egan), leader of the Crystal Gems. Rose Quartz sacrificed herself so that Steven (Zach Callison) could be born. Since then, he’s been raised by the remaining members of the Crystal Gems: Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno). His very human dad, Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling), is also an important presence in his life.
The Crystal Gems are a group of rebellious aliens who have been protecting Earth from their Homeworld for thousands of years. As the newest member of the group, Steven struggles to control the powers that he inherited from his mother. However, what Steven lacks in badass alien abilities, he makes up for in pure joie de vivre. He’s always asking questions, seeking adventure, and demonstrating an unmatched compassion for those around him. Steven is a grounding force for each of his super-powered guardians, and a deeply loving son to his bumbling father.
Of course, Steven’s not the only reason to love this show. All of the characters are charming and interesting in their own way, if not a bit perplexing at times.
On top of the stellar cast, the series is beautifully animated, well-written, and features an outstanding soundtrack. As if all of this weren’t enough, the Emmy nominated Steven Universe is also very queer-friendly. All of the full-blooded aliens in the show (both Crystal Gems and Homeworlders alike) present as feminine humanoids who use she/her pronouns – automatically making any romantic pairings between Gems queer. Warning: there be spoilers ahead.
All of the Gems that we’ve met so far on the show have the ability to Fuse with each other, which creates a new and more powerful Gem. The most stable and enjoyable Fusions come when the Gems combining are close with each other. In some cases, they’re just good friends. And in other cases, the Fusion can be born of deep romantic love between two Gems, of which Garnet herself is the best example thus far.
Garnet is the result of Fusion between Sapphire (Erica Luttrell) and Ruby (Charlynne Yi), a pair of Gems stranded on Earth far before Steven’s time. This long-term Fused pair is what Garnet’s singing about while she fights Jasper in the clip that I referenced at the beginning of this article; Homeworld Gems find Sapphire and Ruby’s love to be taboo, but Garnet wonders if Homeworlders like Jasper are just jealous.
Sapphire and Ruby’s same-sex relationship is openly discussed and shown throughout the series, including in a recent episode where they flirted with each other for the entirety of a baseball game that Steven had convinced them to play without being Fused.
Although the show isn’t focused on romance, there have been a wide variety of straight and queer pairings. What’s so remarkable about Steven Universe is how well-rounded and realistic each of these relationships are, regardless of the orientation being demonstrated. In my experience, that is rare in all television, but especially in shows targeted for younger audiences. How many cartoons can you think of that show healthy, consensual, and mature relationships between anyone, let alone queer couples?
The show breaks other queer boundaries, too. For example, when Steven was roped into performing a female pop star’s number at a talent show, he wore a crop-top, skirt, high-heels, and makeup. His cross-dressing was never shown to be a reason for him to be mocked by other characters. The audience loved his song and dance, and he was excited to have performed it; it was that simple.
Eighty-three episodes of Steven Universe have aired to date, each about eleven minutes long. Since the episodes are so short, it’s very easy to binge-watch, or to catch up in little snippets here and there. The show has been renewed by Cartoon Network for fourth and fifth seasons, so there’s no fear of the series going anywhere any time soon.
The only issue fans have had with Cartoon Network so far has been the very irregular airing schedule which was adopted for Steven Universe in the last year. The show has regularly gone on two or three month hiatuses which are followed by week-long “StevenBombs” that air episodes in batches. Because of this irregularity, it’s hard to recommend the series to anyone who considers themselves to be impatient, since there’s rarely any guarantee as to when the next StevenBomb will occur (despite episodes having been produced well in advance).
That being said, if you don’t mind being held in suspense every now and then, Steven Universe is well worth it. Although not all the episodes are ground-breaking, the overall tone of the show is uplifting and entertaining. The characters are diverse in many of the ways it counts most, the story is excellent, and the production value is very high. It’s not difficult to see why Steven Universe has become such a wild success.