Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What I'm Binge-Watching: Steven Universe

Several conventions ago I noticed some new fan art sweeping Artists' Alley.

 Bookmarks by Elle Power

After seeing the same colorful characters at booth after booth, I finally asked what they were from.

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!


  1. Here's where I watch my Steven Universe! The quality isn't bad at all, and they keep updated very well. :)


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The first 35 episodes are on Hulu, so there's no need to go to the darknet.

    1. they are only available if you subscribe (pay), not on the free version of Hulu

  4. I'm watching it all on Hulu. I've only seen the first Lion episode, so I skipped your spoiler. Just in case.

  5. I love SU. I watch my kid, she's very little so she doesn't ask to many questions yet but she likes show with female "superheros" and SU definitely counts.

  6. Yeah, I thought you might like Steven Universe. In fact I was kinda waiting for you to discover it (;

    What I adore about this show is the sheer amount of love which permeates every episode. The love of the Gems for Steven (and Rose, of course), the love between Steven and his dad, Steven's love for his friends, the love between Gems… It gives you a very unique sense of family and friendship. And Steven himself is so innocent and enthusiastic. His solutions to the problems around him (and the things he learns on the way) are always beautifully harmonious and brilliantly written. And I think the fusion thing might actually help a parent later with the birds-and-bees talk, don't you?

    What I also like is that the design of the characters never favors a certain kind of body type or ideal of beauty. Everyone is unique, and no one is in any way disadvantaged. That said, the show is a bit light on the side of male main characters, because even if the Gems do not seem to have a certain gender, they usually look and sound female.

    I love "Sworn to the Sword", too (ah heck, they're all good), but one of my favorite episodes is "Lion 3: Straight to Video". Makes me cry every time.

  7. Thank you so much for the links! I love this show, and have been missing it terribly since I cut cable.

  8. We love Steven Universe in our house!! It's funny and sweet and pretty smart. There are some pretty deep themes on there. I love it!

  9. My whole family loves SU!! I resisted for a long time because I heard it was made by the same people that did Adventure Time and I hated that show. But I fell in love with the characters and the music of SU. It reminds me a bit of MLP in that regard. Based on your spoiler I think I know which is your favorite song too. :) And I agree, Connie is a great character. I love Sworn to the Sword... Looks like I need to go binge on SU again today, lol.

  10. Sworn to the Sword is one of my favorite episodes! I love Connie...and as a nice bonus, a lot of the swordfighting scenes are taken frame-by-frame from Revolutionary Girl Utena, an anime that I really like.

  11. If you go to Cartoon Network's website, they have full episodes on there.

  12. Totally have several of the songs on my mix-list. I'm going to cosplay Rose at some point soon, but gotta master those wig curls first. Also, I adore it for the great messages it gives my boys!! PS, the crew has said - If you think it's a reference, it's a reference.

  13. I'm a Cartoon Network junkie and I love Steven Universe. It's cute and clever. Steven's adorable and quirky. The show is funny and it has just the right amount of feels when they talk about Rose Quartz.

  14. It's also on Amazon which is where we watch it, although they release episodes two at a time, so the latest one is not always available.

  15. I LOVE this show! It's up on my top ten cartoons list for sure. Just so damn cute, and it's impossible not to fall in love with all the characters (in my opinion at least!)

  16. I will totally fangirl over Steven Universe with you! After Gravity Falls, which you TOTALLY need to watch as well BTW, this is my absolute favorite current animated series! It is so good! It's the perfect blend of mature storytelling, good natured humor, great music, and awesome sci-fi action! I have never seen another show like it, and I suspect I won't again for a very long time. This kind of rare gem, pun intended, is not something that comes around all the time. :)


    You should check out keyofjetwolf on tumblr if you like reading someone else's fresh and spoiler free analysis. By that I mean that Jet is gradually watching SU and live blogging it, sometimes with amazing detailed theories and things she's noticed, in between her Sailor Moon live blogs without having been spoiled on any of it. So it's basically reading someone's expectations confronted with reality and all kinds of awesome, thought provoking theories. And every liveblog she does of it just fills me with pure unadulterated joy so I must recommend it to you.

    Plus there's the fact that she calls Steven a Tiny Marshmallow Baby.

    Sorry I just totally gushed about another blog on yours I just...like to share the joys I find.

  18. I have been watching Steven Universe for a LONG time with my kids. We all LOVE it! My daughter and her friend draw their own gems, gem fusions and tons of fan art. It's a pretty great show and we were just talking about how it's really evolved since the first season! Fun post for us to read. Thanks! :)

  19. So basically you're stealing it, since posting on YouTube is a copyright violation. But hey...right? As for this program, I wonder if they would make this show with the roles reversed. Three superhero men raising a sweet chubby little girl. Hum, doubt it, doesn't fit the present day "girls rule, boys drool" narrative. Sorry guys, you've been reduced to the chubby kid.

  20. I've heard really good things about this show. It's well written and gives excellent examples of what consent truly means.

  21. Anonymous: Yes, YouTube postings are outside of copyright, but someone also pointed out that they are available through the Cartoon Network website.

    As for this sort of show being short on male characters, about 70% of OTHER cartoon characters are male, so I'm not going to shed a tear for the ONE show that has a female majority. (According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 70.8% of speaking roles in family films over the last 20 years have been male. They do not mention what the percentage is among main characters.) And yes, the show HAS been done with the genders reversed. I believe it was called Three Men and a Baby. And there was a sequel, Three Men and a Little Lady. And a TV show by the same name.

  22. I gave this show a chance after reading your review of it. I'm not necessarily a fan, but I am enthralled by the gems and that whole concept. I could do without Steven. He's a little too childlike for me. I do plan to continue watching.

  23. Sadly, the blog you suggested for watching them has been taken down. Thank goodness there are other options! I love this show, and add me to the chorus of go watch Gravity Falls!

  24. I add YET ANOTHER vote for Gravity Falls. Such a great cartoon with just enough mystery to keep you intrigued.
    But The soundtrack for these shows! Oh, I'm so in love the music. In fact, the people who created them has posted all the music on soundcloud somewhere, I'll have to find the link again.
    But Steven Universe, oh, what a show. Rebecca Sugar does a fabulous job with it, the plot is just deep enough to jump in and swim around with so many things to look at and study but not so deep that you have to worry about drowning in all the information and backstory and everything else. One of the best things out there, I'd like to think.
    (Please please feel free to fangirl more about Steven Universe, it warms my heart to see something so loved by me appreciated by someone I admire.)


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