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An Utter Gem: Celebrating 10 Years of ‘Steven Universe’

By Arielle C. Frommer, Crimson Staff Writer

Children’s shows can be an escape from reality, a return to a simpler time. However, it is rare for an animated kids’ show to so poignantly capture the spirit of childhood and stand as a work of art in its own right, to be exquisitely made and equally touching. It is even rarer for it to do so while breaking barriers and revolutionizing the genre.

Yet “Steven Universe” succeeds on all fronts. First airing about 10 years ago at the end of 2013, the Cartoon Network TV show follows a young, happy-go-lucky boy named Steven growing up with three immortal “Gems” — female-presenting aliens with magical powers embedded in their precious gemstones — and learning to use his own Gem abilities inherited from his mother. Produced by Rebecca Sugar, the show is set in the sleepy coastal town of Beach City yet takes a magnificent arc, sketching out a long history of Gemkind and leading its characters to epic worlds beyond our galaxy as they unveil ancient feuds and the scars of long-ago battles.

As someone who grew up with this show — I began watching the first season when I was nine years old and faithfully followed the show through numerous hiatuses, cliffhangers, and season finales — I am amazed by how well this “kids’ show” stands the test of time today. “Steven Universe” is full of witty jokes, lovable characters, catchy songs, and dazzling backdrops that every child can enjoy. Yet rewatching the show as a young adult, I am struck by several things: the show’s sensitive handling of mature themes for its younger audiences, its trailblazing representation of LGBTQ+ characters in childrens’ media, and the meticulous attention to detail and creativity that permeates every aspect of its production.

The show’s animation style can only be described as exquisite, with glittering backdrops, beautiful character designs, and a pastel, space-inspired color palette that gives the show a whimsical feel. Each episode was drawn by a different storyboarder, and their different styles can be identified if fans look closely — another beloved quirk of “Steven Universe.”

The earlier seasons sketch out a gradual arc — most episodes are bite-sized, idyllic slices of life that take place in Beach City or among ancient Gem ruins on Earth. The show is not afraid to take time building up to its plot, sprinkling in bits of exposition and lore about the world as Steven accompanies the Gems on missions where they battle the “monster of the week” and begins to explore his own powers.

The second and third seasons feature new characters, tantalizing plot points, and a larger scale, taking the protagonists to new Gem sites and even off-planet as Steven and the Gems are forced to contend with Homeworld Gems. While the first season features the typical episodic structure neatly packaged with a moral lesson, these later episodes tackle darker themes — war, imprisonment, trauma, depression, violence — with great care and sensitivity. “Steven Universe” respects the complexity of the topics it tackles while maintaining a sense of hope through Steven’s infectious optimism.

With a scope that dazzles and a story that leaves viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end, the final seasons are a culmination in the truest sense of the word. The sheer ambition of the last two seasons must be remarked on — featuring musical episodes, grander story arcs with highly anticipated specials, and more nuanced plot points. With earth-shattering episodes like “A Single Pale Rose” and hour- or weeks-long specials like “Wanted” and “Diamond Days,” the writers finally unveil their grand vision for the show. And through it all, Steven’s sense of hope and compassion remains a touchstone throughout, even as he faces off against the Diamonds — three tyrants that rule Gemkind — and approaches the ultimate conflict with kindness, patience, and love.

The show presents a beautiful message that kindness and hope can persevere even in a world damaged by greed and conquest. Yet beyond presenting these positive themes to young audiences, “Steven Universe” also broke barriers and paved the way for future childrens’ shows to explore complex adult topics, from diverse LGBTQ+ representation to themes of environmentalism to ground-breaking depictions of mental health, relationships, and loss. Take, for example, the female-dominated and majority queer cast of characters, providing unprecedented representation in a media age when kids’ TV shows were just beginning to think about queer diversity. Or how the show’s plot revolves around the loss of Steven’s mother, Rose Quartz, and features heart-wrenchingly real depictions of grief and grappling with a loved one’s complicated legacy. Or even the concept of fusion — in which Gems combine their physical forms and become something entirely new — serving as a powerful metaphor for different kinds of relationships, which the show writers utilize to probe ideas of sex, love, and caring for another person.

One cannot talk about “Steven Universe” without mentioning the brilliance of its music and instrumentation, produced by Aivi & Surasshu. The music of the show is incredibly sophisticated — many episodes feature catchy tunes and poignant songs, and the show uses its musical numbers to convey powerful ideas about the human experience that cannot be expressed with words alone. The show’s ingenious instrumentation also goes above and beyond, utilizing creative instruments like the chiptune and glockenspiel that give the characters — each of whom has a different instrument and musical theme — and the show’s overall sound an unforgettable and distinct tone.

The “Steven Universe” fandom is another inseparable aspect of its legacy, and the show’s lore truly runs deep. The experience of growing up with “Steven Universe” was unequivocally enhanced by its eager and passionate fans who populated conventions, online forums, and social media with intricate fan theories and discourse. The show’s airing was not without its rocky moments — “Steven Universe” would invariably go on months-long hiatus before a special was unexpectedly announced and the fandom revitalized with content. However, the unpredictable and sporadic airing schedule of “Steven Universe” became a bit that fans often acknowledged with playful exasperation, and the fandom nonetheless remained dedicated to the show throughout its run.

“Steven Universe” was a paradigm shift in the world of animated television. From the show’s lovely animation and music to its epic story arc and fantastical world building to its ground-breaking representation of diverse and complex topics, “Steven Universe” was revolutionary in more ways than one. Its legacy lives on through modern animated shows like “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” or “Hilda” that have embraced diverse representation and are not afraid to shy away from more nuanced topics.

Since the show’s end and the conclusion of “Steven Universe: The Movie” and the special series “Steven Universe Future,” it is unlikely that fans will get more “Steven Universe” content — Steven’s story has been told. And yet, “Steven Universe” lives on as an extraordinarily special show for millions of people and an utter gem of television.

—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at

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