When I binge watch a few episodes of Steven Universe, I always attempt to remember what I just watched. I try to remember specific plot events, funny quips, little memorable animation touches, references, anything. I try to search for specifics as to why I kept watching. But, all of that analysis is pointless, because I already know why I, and why I’m sure many people, love Steven Universe.
This image is a still of the image that shows up in the end credits of every episode, and it is gorgeous. You have a comforting atmosphere from seeing Steven’s laundry, and the pastel colours are incredibly easy on the eyes. The sky isn’t incredibly detailed, but that just makes it easier on the eyes. Everything is able to be processed almost immediately. It keeps the colours simple as well, and simplicity leads to memorability.
Beach City’s Simple Beauty
Simple character and environment designs are all over Steven Universe. The word “simple” probably has a negative connotation, but I mean it in a good way. Steven Universe evokes a nostalgic feeling with its animation and character design but utilizes modern animation techniques to keep everything flowing.
The setting of Beach City also connotes nostalgia and comfort. A quiet, pastoral beach town with relatable and lovable characters. It is the idyllic still-life town. Things happen, but only if you seek them out. Other than that, it is quite quiet, and people are honest and to their devices.
Of course, Beach City isn’t the only setting in Steven Universe. The show has excellent world-building, and every subsequent episode gives you a tiny snapshot of the rest of the locations the characters visit. Each new location is teased at, slowly revealed, and creeps in, which is similar to the show’s pacing and atmosphere. Nothing comes at the viewer too shockingly. Of course, there are big plot twists throughout the show, but they are usually foreshadowed.
When terrible things happen to Beach City, they are usually swift, and come to a nice resolution. Beach City’s idyllic setting falls into the generic cartoon stereotype of always being repaired at the start of the next episode. Which, although it sounds like a cheap cop-out to reduce drama, it contributes to the warming, escapist atmosphere of the show.
Internet References Done Right
When a show uses references or memes, they are walking a very dangerous tight-rope. At their worst, they can take the viewer out of the experience by making them facepalm, or they feel insulted. I used to think there was nothing to references in a show or a game. I never felt that references were anything more than an Easter Egg for astute viewers, or justification for a show’s quality. But I propose that Steven Universe uses references to other media to enhance its welcoming atmosphere. Steven Universe uses video game, anime, and movie references to bolster its feeling on the viewer.
I don’t exactly know how to equate the atmosphere of Steven Universe to anything else, but let me try. Steven Universe feels like going on a good, Tumblr blog when you’re an impressionable teenager. Steven Universe feels like reading a really good book that speaks to you when you’re in a very vulnerable time. Steven Universe feels like re-discovering something that ignites a previous passion. It provides this sense of comfort and nostalgia with its references. It knows it is a popular show on the internet, and it creates character and references that appeal to those already entranced within pop culture.
References in Steven Universe exist to make it feel like a good, engrossing internet video. It indulges itself in internet culture, but it never lets it overtake the narrative. Powerpuff Girls 2016 is all memes and internet references, and it is garbage. Steven Universe still anchors itself in good characters and a strong story, and references are supplemental material. References are not used as a cheap device to get an “XD SO RANDUM” laugh. Steven Universe uses references incredibly well to define its characters and establish its atmosphere.
Steven Universe is driven by its character stories. The over-arching plot is pretty interesting, and it’s shrouded in enough mystery to keep the viewer watching. But, despite the show’s characters being 5000-year-old aliens, they are all grounded in relatable human drama. I also applaud the creators for not making its characters stereotypes. They all act like human beings with goals, motives, desires, pasts, and flaws. That’s the most important thing to a character: they’re flaws. I was watching Beauty and the Beast recently, and while Belle is really cool and super awesome, she isn’t very interesting. She doesn’t really have many issues, and everybody seems to like her.
However, with a character from Steven Universe like Amethyst, there is a lot of interesting parts to her. I think it’s time for:
CHARACTER ANALYSIS SECTION
Amethyst, and her struggles and development.
On the surface, Amythest is a confident girl who’s always joking and never takes things incredibly seriously. She initially fills the archetype of the character who never takes anything seriously. But, her confidence and bravado is a mask. Underneath, she is a deeply flawed person with an inferiority complex.
Amethyst was created through a gem creation process on Earth. This place was called the Kindergarten. Within the Kindergarten, there are these machines called injectors, which develop and process gems over a long period of time. Amethyst was part of a series of Amethyst’s that were meant to be mass-produced for war. However, there was a flaw with her gem. Amethyst’s gem was defective, and because of this, she is half the height of every other Amethyst model. Furthermore, Amethyst was born on Earth, while every other main character was born on the Gem Homeworld. Amethyst never knew the place she was meant to be born in. Because of this, she feels distant from the other gems in her vicinity.
Her purpose was to be a weapon, but now she is a force for good. She is always battling with her identity, torn between two sides. One that desires to save the Earth, and one that needs to destroy it. She is also dealing with the baggage that she is nothing special and that she is a defect of a mass production project. Because of this, she feels that she isn’t special, and she feels disconnected from everybody.
Her story of inadequacy stretches over the entire show, but what separates Steven Universe from a lot of cartoons that attempt drama, is that it wraps its story arcs up. Amethyst fighting Jasper, and learning the sense of unity she feels with her friends is closure to her. In that, those who work alone are doomed to be weak, because they have nobody to aid them.
A big theme in this show is unity and companionship, which contributes to the atmosphere the show creators strive for. It feels like these rocks are friends and companions, and that they undergo relatable drama. They have disagreements, they have fights, but they always have a commitment to each other. And love isn’t a feeling, it’s a commitment.
The interesting thing is Amethyst isn’t even my favourite character in the show. I can write about any of the characters extensively because each episode that features them progresses their personality and character even further.
I have heard people criticize Steven Universe for not being very story focused for the first 20 episodes or so. To that extent, I agree somewhat. While the first 20 episodes are mostly episodic, they also foreshadow later events and allow a glimpse into the daily lives of its characters. For me, I don’t mind when there isn’t intense story happening in Steven Universe. If the show gives me a relatable world, I don’t mind just relaxing there for a bit. Steven Universe makes me happy, and it doesn’t need a dramatic story all the time.
Steven Universe is a fantastic, comforting show. Every time I watch it, I become immersed within its world of relatable characters and drama, and its mellow atmosphere. I can ignore its weird pacing because I enjoy seeing everything develop. Each episode feels like a progression of this town and further development of its characters.
I LOVE THIS SHOW.