Bookmarks by Elle Power
After seeing the same colorful characters at booth after booth, I finally asked what they were from.
(By Glitch In The System)
The answer? Steven Universe.
I figured the show must be a new anime or Adventure Time style cartoon, which, tbh, I could never get in to. Still, the sheer amount of great art wore me down, so eventually I went to Youtube to see what all the fuss was about.
Now, Youtube is a terrible place to watch Steven Universe. Most uploaders shrink the actual video portion to a fraction of the screen size - I guess to avoid getting shut down? - and some even slow the audio down just a fraction, so everyone sounds like they have a cold. Other uploaders put a dark vignette around the screen, so it feels like you're looking down a tunnel. And on top of all that, odds are the channel that has SU episodes today will be gone tomorrow.
We don't have cable, though (SU airs on Cartoon Network), and at the time I didn't know of anywhere else to watch the show for free. (The official Youtube channel charges $2 per 10 minute episode. Yowtch.) So I gritted my teeth and put up with the tiny, dimly-lit, bad audio versions.
And you know what? Within a few episodes, I was hooked.
After a dozen, I was in love.
Now, there are some truly spectacular twists in the main plotline of SU, so I'm going to keep this review as spoiler-free as I possibly can.
In a nutshell, Steven Universe is about three alien women - the Crystal Gems - charged with both protecting the Earth and raising Steven, a half-human, half-Gem boy. Steven himself is a chubby, irresistibly sweet little kid who serves as the glue holding their odd little family together.
Each episode is only around 11 minutes long, so it's easy to zip through a half dozen or so, which is about what you need to get a good feel for the show. Some episodes are a lot more light and silly, while others pack a big emotional punch. Through them all, though, there are good laughs, surprisingly catchy musical numbers, and excellent story-telling.
The Gems in particular are beautifully written, each with her own distinct personality, strengths, and flaws. Pearl is the most "mom-like," Amethyst is the jokester/rebel, and Garnet is the strong, silent type with the cool accent. As the show goes on, you get more snippets of their history, including their relationships with each other and with Steven's mother (who was a Gem) and father, Greg. You also learn some Gem secrets I won't spoil here, even though most are somewhat common knowledge. It's just more fun if you can go into the show blind, and be surprised.
Beach City, where the Gems live, also has a host of quirky side characters, though to be honest, my least favorite episodes tend to feature the townsfolk there. The two exceptions are Steven's friend Connie, whose episode "Sworn to the Sword" still makes me cry happy, triumphant tears just thinking about it, and the donut shop duo Lars and Sadie. Other than those three, though, the best episodes keep the focus on Steven, his parents, and the Gems.
Without going into spoilers, I will say there's a fascinating aspect to the Gems' existence that may lead to some... interesting... conversations for you parents with younger kids. I'll give a more spoiler-y explanation at the bottom of this post, in case you'd like to know more.
Steven Universe is still in its second season, but there are over 70 aired episodes so far - so plenty to get your binge-watching on.
So, where do you watch it? Well, Cartoon Network airs the new episodes, and thanks to some fellow SU fans I *just* found a better place to watch online - although you're going to need your AdBlock enabled. (Without AdBlock, my browser kept locking up.)
It's a blog called The World Of Steven Universe, and all the episodes are embedded videos, so you just click "play" - no scary download links or sketchiness. Here's the link to the first episode, and they also have all the rest in full screen HD, which is incredible. In fact, I'm going to be re-watching all the episodes there now - and I'm hoping to convince John to watch some with me.
[UPDATE: I've also been told Hulu has all of season 1, so yay for more streaming options!]
Oh, and if you're like me, you may also find yourself going back to re-play a lot of the songs. Like I said: really catchy. Most of my favorites are major story spoilers, but here's a quick one that's pretty harmless, plot-wise:
Welp, I hope I've convinced some of you to give Steven Universe try! 'Cuz I really need someone to fangirl with me over this show, you guys. I have no one right now! I am going to IMPLOOOODE!
And now, that spoilery explanation I promised. Leave now if you want to be surprised!
Any two Gems can "fuse" together to form a stronger Gem - one that looks like a larger mash-up of the original two characters. They often do this for battles. What makes Gem Fusion so fascinating - in addition to all the super cool character combinations - is the undeniably sexual context given to it. While there's nothing remotely explicit, the overall subtext is one of intimacy and gravity; fusion is never entered into lightly. This leads to some surprisingly heavy (and also delightful) plot lines, which, again, I don't want to spoil for you, so just go watch!