Animated Fantasy Shows are a dime a dozen these days. But while there have been a few noteworthy ones, most fall into the “throw in something funny that will keep the kids entertained for half an hour” category.
But from time to time, along comes a show that captures either the attention of a larger than expected audience, or one outside its expected demographics. This is the case with Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe.
The basic premise is this: The Crystal Gems, a team of alien female warriors, live on Earth (for reasons that won’t be revealed until later.) One of them, before the start of the series, fell in love with a human and conceived a child named Steven (Universe is his father’s last name. Seriously.) However, for some reason she must cease to exist upon his birth, leaving him her gemstone (and powers) in his belly-button. Steven is then raised by the other Gems. This leads to hijinks as the pre-teen Steven tries to master his powers or disobeys orders and plays with stuff he’s been forbidden to. Oh and monsters attack all the time, for unknown reasons.
There are two factors which I feel make Steven Universe stand out. The first is the amount (and variety) of female characters, to the point they almost steal the spotlight from Steven. There’s the Crystal Gems, each with her own body shape and personality (Garnet, the muscular, serious one; Amethyst, the goofy, plump one; and Pearl, the snooty, skinny one.) Even Steven’s “girlfriend” Connie (who looks Hindi to me, but don’t take my word for it) is a nerd with apparently radical social outlooks (for a teenage girl.) Most shows have females who are there to look pretty (in the standard, curvaceous way) or plain, and in any case don’t do or say much. That isn’t the case here, to my delight. They are all attractive, each in her own way. The reason for this may be because the show was developed by artist Rebecca Sugar, but there are several male storyboarders in the staff as well.
The other appealing factor is the worldbuilding. We get clues from the start that something important is going on behind the scenes. We barely get any information to start with. Like: what, exactly, are the Gems? (We don’t find out they’re aliens until later.) Why are they on Earth? Where are those monsters coming from? Why do they turn into gemstones when killed? Why did Rose “die?” Etc. As we get the answers, we discover there’s a huge setting created for the show beyond that of Steven’s hometown, and it makes us eager to find out more about it. (The only problem, in my opinion, is the pacing. For some reason –perhaps due to the number of episodes the show was granted early on- the writers took their sweet time with those clues and answers. Thankfully in recent episodes the story seems to have picked up speed, with major revelations and events taking place.)
Overall, Steven Universe is a show both appropriate for small children to watch, as it is entertaining for older audiences especially science/fantasy or Anime fans, and I recommend it. Just remember that the early episodes may feel different from later ones.