I don’t remember exactly when I started watching Steven Universe, only that my mom was alive when I started watching it. IMDB says the show started airing in 2013 which would have made me nineteen, but I don’t remembering watching it for that long while my mom was alive. I think I started watching it in 2014, around the same time I watched Over the Garden Wall. I had watched both before my mom died.
But my mom’s death really isn’t important for how or when I started watching Steven Universe (well, maybe) but it does give a timeline. I happened upon the show by accident, I remembered just getting out of the shower and looking at what was on T.V. in the other room (I used to have a bad habit of leaving the T.V. on even when I wasn’t watching it) and seeing a brightly coloured cartoon that reminded me of Yoshi’s Island, my favourite video game as a kid. I watched two episodes of this short strange show, and saw two of the freakiest episodes of the first season.
The first was “Frybo” which has the protagonist Steven put some magic crystals in a fry mascot that anthropomorphizes it so that his friend can have some fun; only for the mascot to turn evil (the show also introduced me to my favourite Crystal Gem, Pearl).
The second was “Cat Fingers” where Steven attempts to learn how to shape shift and ends up turning his fingers, and later his entire self into an adorable (and frightening) cat blob.
That was a lot to watch in a half hour: a strange and mildly terrifying show with bright colours, a catchy theme song, but somehow I was hooked. I wanted to see more of this weird magical boy and his gemstone guardians, and since watching those first two episodes Steven Universe quickly became my favourite show.
Here’s a summary, since I haven’t provided one and it may make the above easier to follow: Steven Universe is a young boy with magical powers. Having inherited his mother, the fearless Rose Quartz, leader of the Crystal Gems, gemstone after she gave birth to him, Steven is the first human/gem hybrid. Unsure of his own abilities and powers, Steven looks to the remaining Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, for guidance of his powers and abilities while trying to discover his own identity and purpose in the process.
Each episode is around eleven minutes long (a half hour if it’s a special episode) but the writers of Steven Universe are one of a kind and can fit a lot into that short time frame. What starts as a show about a young magical boy goofing around with his magical destiny suddenly turns into a show with moral ambiguity, fighting for what is right, love, the cost of your actions, and so many other things I can’t remember. The show challenges gender stereotypes as well as including non-binary and queer characters. Steven Universe never puts a spotlight on these things or turns them into a spectacle, they’re normal in the world of the show, as they should be.
Steven Universe unfortunately doesn’t have a regular schedule but airs in “bombs.” Old episodes air daily on Cartoon Network, but new episodes air in a cluster of one week which then leads to a hiatus and no one (not even the creator and artists) knowing when the new episodes will air. So I found myself watching the old re-runs on Cartoon Network again and again and gluing myself to the T.V. every time a “Steven Bomb” would air, eager for more lore dumps and fan theories I could piece together with each new episode.
The show makes me happy, even though not all of the episodes are happy. Some of the episodes are pretty serious, but it’s never too serious or sad that it takes away from the overall brightness of the show. Whenever I’m stressed or sad, or if I’ve watched or read something upsetting I’ll usually watch an episode of Steven Universe, or listen to one of the many songs from the show to lift my spirits. Every episode comforts me, and even now they sometimes teach me obvious things I should know, or things I’m purposely ignoring.
The episode that probably spoke to me the most is “Mindful Education” which is the fourth episode of season four. To give a brief summary without spoiling, Steven and his friend Connie are having trouble forming their fusion Stevonnie and are forced to look inside themselves and focus on what inner struggles inside each of them is causing this blockage.
At one point Garnet (one of the Crystal Gems) gets Stevonnie to meditate and focus on what’s causing the fusion to come apart recently. Garnet and Stevonnie then sing a song called Here Comes a Thought which has quickly become one of my favourites. It’s a song about anxiety, about feeling overwhelmed, and about remembering to focus, breathe, and calm down during these stressful times to find out the cause of the feelings to help stop them. Whenever I get overwhelmed or upset I find myself singing this song, notably the chorus, and feeling calm each time I do.
During the song Stevonnie gets a breakthrough through their one half Connie who realizes why she’s had trouble staying focus in the fusion. The fusion then goes on a mission but ends up unfusing in mid-air, causing Steven and Connie to begin plummeting to the ground. While the two are falling, Steven reveals his own pain and anxieties for making the fusion unstable which leads to this conversation:
CONNIE: It’s okay!
STEVEN: No, it’s not!
CONNIE: But it’s okay to think about it!
STEVEN: It feels so bad.
CONNIE: That’s okay, too! There was nothing else you could’ve done!
STEVEN: I don’t want to feel this way.
CONNIE: You have to. You have to be honest about how bad it feels so you can move on. That’s how it was for me.
STEVEN: [Sniffles] Okay.
And I almost cried at that, particularly Connie’s last line. When my mom died, there were a lot of emotions and things I wasn’t able to properly deal with (I’m an expert at repression. And though the characters were struggling with different things than I was, the message was the same:
“You have to be honest about how bad it feels so you can move on.”
And I wasn’t being honest with myself, about how bad it felt (still feels), about how much it hurts. I knew that what I was feeling was normal, expected, okay even, but to hear the words back to me was different. It wasn’t me logically explaining to myself why I felt this way, it was another voice saying that yes I felt this way, I had all these upsetting feelings, and that was okay. It was okay to feel bad, it is okay to feel bad.
A simple lesson, a childish one, but important nonetheless. It’s an episode I go back too even though it’s hard to here that lesson, to acknowledge those carefully hidden feelings over and over, but it’s a lesson I have to keep reminding myself. And it was this episode that made me realize why I love Steven Universe so much: it isn’t afraid to be honest.
And I think that’s something we all need, and I’m happy that this show can teach me things at twenty-four. As much as I’d love this show to last forever I know it can’t, and the most recent episode (AND ANNOUNCEMENT OF A MOVIE!!!) have me guessing the show will end sooner or later. But before that happens I’ll be watching each old episode and waiting for the new ones, feeling happy with each one I watch and learning and becoming aware of something I already should have been. And I hope Steven Universe is teaching and shaping the lives of countless kids, adults, viewers all around for however long it’s here.
(Steven Universe picture found here.)
(Image of Frybo found here.)
(Image of Cat Fingers found here.)
(Image of Ruby and Saphire found here.)
(Image of Steven and Connie found here.)