To put it simply, I do not believe there is a better show in existence for young children in the current day and age as Steven Universe.
Simply by turning it on, and watching any of the numerous episodes, one can learn so much about how the world should work. Let’s start with the main cast. The focal point of the series is the adventures of Steven Quartz Universe and his three mentors/senior teammates, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. From the first moment, these three female leads are among some of the best.
All of their voices stand out, from the heavily accented Garnet, voiced by singer/songwriter/producer Estelle Fanta Swaray who traces her roots back to Grenada, to the Raspy and energetic voice of Amethyst, Michaela Dietz, a Korean-American singer and voice actress by trade, to the haughty and motherly voice of Pearl from Deedee Lynn Magno Hall, a Filipina-American voice actress who is best known as Princess Jasmine in the Aladdin Broadway production.
No two characters sound alike. Although relatives tend to have similar voices, all show an insane degree of personality. From the Pizza family, who are immigrants from the country of Ghana, the father, Kofi Pizza, and the grandmother Nanefua Pizza, to his daughters, Jenny and Kiki Pizza. The latter two were clearly raised in America. The entire show brings a realistic representation of life in America. If you lived in another country for years, you will have an accent. And then, in this show, that accent is never grounds for a joke. It’s merely a factor of these character’s lives and personality. Ethnicity is never a point of contention, neither is gender. Characters can be weak, strong, light-hearted, serious, but it’s all based around who they are, not what they are.
I wish I had grown up with this show. I really, truly do. Allow me to spoil an episode, known as “Alone Together”. Though Steven Universe has had many groundbreaking episodes, this, was the first. It introduced a character known as Stevonnie. A fusion of Steven, the main character, and Connie, his book-smart, sword wielding best friend. (Her full name, for the record, is Connie Maheswaran, she is of Indian descent) Stevonnie is created in a flash of pink light, and where two children stood, now stands a beautiful, no, a stunning figure. Tall, not lean, but just soft enough in the right places. Instantly, the first thing they do is stand up, and run around, laughing. Yes, I said they. Stevonnie is the first purely non binary character in the series. Not male or female. Non binary. They take themselves to Garnet, who tells them that, “Stevonnie, listen to me. You are not two people, and you are not one person. You, are an experience! Make sure you’re a good experience. Now, go have fun!” After another run on the beach, followed by a cliff dive into the ocean, they find themselves hungry, and head into a local donut shop for a snack.
Two recurring characters stand behind the counter. The tall, lanky, sometimes unthoughtful Lars, and the short, stocky, strong, sometimes hard headed and manipulative Sadie. At the sight of the attractive Stevonnie, both characters find themselves flustered. Stuttering. Unable to form cohesive thoughts, and end up giving away the food for free, to which Stevonnie actively flirts back over their shoulder, “But, just so you know, that isn’t a very sound business practice.”
Stevonnie sees the power their attractiveness wields, and decides to wield it in kind. But, like most swords, there is a double edge, which appears later, in the form of Kevin. Stevonnie, still reveling in their newfound power, decided to head to a local rave. As music plays and lights flash, they begin to dance--their beauty and acrobatics attracting the eyes of the entire venue. Does this flatter them even more? No, it, in fact, induces an extremely harsh anxiety attack, prompting them to run into the corner, lamenting the fact that if they were to split back into Steven and Connie, they would at least have each other. Instead, they’re alone, together. And that’s when Kevin arrives.
Now, most of us have met a Kevin at least once in our lives. Acts like they are a Greek statue given life. You’re lucky to know them. He’s the best thing that will ever happen to you. He approached, breaking through their personal space. Flirting, patronizing, calling them “baby” and “girl” clearly interested in only their body, and how having his pushed up against theirs will make him look. Stevonnie, ready for their night to be over, pulls Kevin onto the dance floor, seemingly broken down by his incessant bothering and not taking no for an answer, and proceeds to dance so hard, they fall apart. Literally. They split, reforming into the now laughing and weeping at the same time Connie and Steven. To his credit, he leaves with a simple, “That’s two kids! I’m out!” as Connie and Steven enjoy their dance--together.
One simple episode brings up so much. Identifying as non binary, using sexuality as a weapon and enjoying it, being pressured by someone into doing things you don’t want, especially in a sexual way, and fighting against it in order to be yourself. Even then, more episodes with more lessons spring to mind. “The Storm in the Room” has to do with not defining yourself by the actions and reputation of your parents. “Mindful Education” and the song “Here Comes a Thought” are about dealing with anxieties and not letting them consume you. “Pool Hopping” is about recognizing that you can never be totally in control, and at times just have to take things as they come.
Rebecca Sugar, you really are my hero. You’re a bisexual, non binary woman who creates incredible story lines, beautiful art, and unbelievable music every day. I want to be more like you. This article is my love letter to your series, Becky. I am thankful that you created it, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.