This week’s Animated Anarchy is brought to you brought the gemstone Amber; the only other gemstone starting with an “A” I could think of!
The first article I wrote for OneOfUs.net was about the Top 5 Cartoons Currently Airing and Steven Universe continues to stand proudly on that list. We’re still dazzled by the animation, character growth, and brilliant storytelling that Rebecca Sugar and her staff have managed to deliver within their very first season. And what happened around the end of the season 1 month ago? Our precious, cult-hit of a show evolved into a full-on success, complete with a happy, but hungry fandom.
When you hit frothing, magnified levels of love from Tumblr, you know you have a success on your hands. This is what happens when you create a show that pulls off of the three essential elements to creating a great fictional world: Quality, Continuity, and Exploration. Every episode before and after the season finale is layered with great secrets for unique origins and ideas. It’s so easy to connect to a program filled with dynamic characters where the possibilities are endless; it explains why so many people have made “gemsonas” to define themselves.
Steven Universe earned so much respect within the animation community for executing these feats with such creative precision, all within the course of 18 months. How often can a show boast accomplishments like those, especially when your creator is only 27? Her influence and ingenuity can be seen as early as her short film Singles. And with Cartoon Network’s new scheduling system, there won’t be any massive dips and peaks for waiting between episodes.
For this article, Oneofus Editor Thomas Mariani and I talked over Skype to discuss what made Steven Universe so appealing, what launched it to become such success, and where it could go in the near future:
Scott: So Tom, what pulled you into Steven Universe in the first place?
Tom: I’m a big fan of Rebecca Sugar’s stuff. I was curious to see where she would go with this, as she was part of the creative team behind Adventure Time’s most famous episodes.
Scott: Like What?”
Tom: “I Remember You,” “Simon and Marcy,” “It Came From The Nightosphere,” “Be-More” …she also wrote most of the songs. I love her as a creative artist and you can see it in every aspect of the show. I think a friend of mine described it most accurately as the best remake of Sailor Moon possible.
Scott: Steven Universe’s anime influence is quite prevalent. You can see it stick out from recognizable works, to more obscure programs like Revolutionary Girl Utena. Not just with Sailor Moon, but there’s all the colors and the overall feel of the show.
Tom: Steven himself even has a look that’s reminiscent of Astro Boy.
Scott: Something that’s neat I’m noticing about so many of these new animation creators is that they really can be referential and show off their influences, but do it just the right amounts like Adventure Time can. Like the episode where Steven is showing off his toys and there’s a Cloud, Sonic, and Guitaroo Man. It’s so rich with people our age.
Tom: I’ve been seeing that too. Steven clearly plays with an N64 as his main console. And not only can these creators reference things more as our culture appears to enjoy that more often, but she’s been able to mold those influences into it’s own creation with great ideas and story.
Scott: So going from great ideas…what was the first episode of the show that you really loved?
Tom: I enjoyed it from the beginning. But the episode that really got to me was “Cat Fingers”, where Steven tries to morph into a cat but instead turns into this David Cronenburg-esque creation to everyone’s surprise. It was a great precursor for how dark Steven Universe would be willing to go.
Scott: Ah-ha, yeah, that and “Frybo”.
Tom: Oh God, “Frybo”! You’re right I forgot how dark that was!
Scott: The episode that sold me was “Tiger Millionaire”. I liked the show all the way up to that point, but that episode really showed off the show’s potential. It’s so goofy, so fun, and we get to see how Steven is such a great anchor for the show. He plays into being a wrestler who can be fun and get into the serious aspects of wrestling, but you see his impact on everyone from Amethyst, to Pearl and even Lars. And throughout all that, it’s really funny!
Tom: I love that episode too, especially when he’s in costume and carrying all those sodas. The announcer is going “Tiger Millionare just bought all those sodas, AND HE THREW THEM ON THE GROUND! NO SODAS FOR ANYONE!” [Both Laugh]
Tom: He’s going all out into the spectacle because he’s a kid. He has this unbridled joy that doesn’t stop him from doing anything and it makes him fully commit in every episode. He’s the kind of kid we all wanted to be growing up.
Scott: Tell me about it. When I was growing up, I wanted to be like Steven, but in reality I was more like Clarence.
Tom: When I was growing up, I was more like Connie. Shy all the time [nervous shaking voice] H-h-h-hi…
Scott: You got those books there?
Tom: Yeah, I got my books…
Scott: What’s great about that episode is that it leads into a string of other great episodes: “Steven’s Lion,” “Arcade Mania,” and “Giant Woman.” All of them are fantastic one-offs but hint at something bigger.
Tom: I love “Giant Woman.” That episode is so good at building up the universe [obvious chuckle] and what this world has to offer. I would be fascinated as a child like Steven was, hearing about this idea of two people fusing together to form a greater being like Opal.
Scott: That was also around the time everyone on the Internet started to catch on. People would go: “That Steven Universe is starting to get pretty good, and oh that song is catchy!” [Singing] ~All I wanna do, is see you turn into, a Giant Woman~
Tom: A GIANT WOMAN!
Scott: ~All I wanna be, is someone who gets to see, a Giant Woman~, [Both of us sing: ~A Giant Woman~!]
Tom: Again, that’s where Rebecca Sugar comes through with these wonderful songs. They aren’t just earworms, but more like…ear happy slugs.
Scott: Slugs that go through your brain to have a party and take the courtesy to not leave through your eye.
Scott: Around that time, we get all these other good episodes that work as build up to the mid-season finale that have much more emotional depth than we would expected: “Steven the Sword Fighters”, “Lion 2: The Movie”, “Rose’s Room…”
Tom: “An Indirect Kiss”, “Monster Buddies”
Scott: “Steven and the Stevens”
Tom: Oh “Steven and The Stevens.” [laughs] “Steven and the Stevens” was a big episode to me because it serves as this funny turning point for Steven as a character. As he watches himself die multiple times, it prepares him mentally to deal with bigger issues such as potential death to everyone around him. But he comes through out in the end and handles it in his own Steven-way…through song.
Scott: The show hits that right balance so much of the time where other shows falter. Then as we are laughing the whole way through, we get to the amazing two-parter of “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” that opened up this world of to much more possibilities.
Tom: That’s the first time we discover all the humanoid-gems. They’ve always been fighting the gems, but they’ve really just been monsters. The whole dynamic really changes as we discover Lapis Lazuli, she decides to then move back out to her homeworld. We aren’t really sure what’s going to change, but the audience is now wondering what’s going to happen because of all these events.
Scott: The show evolves from the episodic structure of gems-fighting-stuff to a full-on continuous arc. But every episode after that was just more character development and world building. Something great about the end of that two-parter is Steven is the one who peacefully reaches out to Lapis, healing her, and bringing forth all these changes. And it doesn’t end on a hopeless or worrisome note (except for when it’s done later), it has this touch of serenity. You wonder what’s going to happen next immediately.
Tom: Exactly. It manages to end on an just ominous enough a note to give you enough to question what’s gonna happen next. Even Garnet and Pearl have that conversation afterwards wondering, “What will we do if she comes back?”
Scott: Then Rebecca Sugar went full-on feels in the second half. Every relationship within the show just got so much deeper.
Tom: Not just with character, but we also see the gems flesh out as actual people. We have all these major, MAJOR episodes that detail how the Gems became who they are. Amethyst’s personality comes from being an abandoned, unloved experiment, Pearl was Rose’s confidant, and Garnet actually ends up being a fusion between two other gems. It’s almost as if [obvious gasp] Rebecca Sugar had this whole thing written out from the very start.
Scott: There are so many episodes that work as great callbacks or foreshadows for what’s to come. We have “Space Race” where we finally see Pearl get to come out of her shell and show this big passion for space travel, but she doesn’t go through with it because of all the secrets Steven would have to make. We get “Island Adventure,” furthering Lars and Sadie’s relationship in a surprising way, but we get to see how pure humans can kill gem creature. And then there’s “Lion 3: Straight to Video”. Dear god…
Tom: “Lion 3: Straight to Video” is so incredible.
Scott: I cried.
Tom: I cried too! I mean, that’s the thing about this show. I’ve cried at Adventure Time and even Regular Show, but Steven Universe is able to make me does it the most consistently. That’s why I would say this is even better than Adventure Time was, as it created all this amazing, well-crafted mythology with emotional power over the course of one season when it took Adventure Time a few.
Scott: So would you say Steven Universe is the best cartoon on TV?
Tom: I would say it is my personal favorite. It’s been able to accomplish so much in a small period of time that makes it stand out against all the others. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I love just about everything it has done.
Scott: I’m stuck there as well. We have this collection of fantastic cartoons right now along with Steven Universe like Rick and Morty and Gravity Falls that were also able to create as much brilliant continuity and emotional depth. We’re really in a golden age right now with shows after Avatar: The Last Airbender and Adventure Time where this could make this all happen.
Scott: It isn’t quite my favorite since there are few points in the show I do think are weak. Would you say there is anything you don’t like about Steven Universe?
Tom: I will say there are a few characters who are on periphery who I don’t really care for. People like Onion, who is stoic and bizarre so he can just play off Steven. It’s an odd complaint, I have so many of these wonderful things in this show, yet I can look off to the side and go “Why doesn’t isn’t that character better? What the hell, Rebecca Sugar?”
Scott: [Laughs] I’m not a fan of Onion either. Something about him rubs me the wrong way from that episode Onion Trade because he goes crazy with the powers. But because of how the show developed…I could actually buy into an idea that he is an alien.
Tom: There’s something possible with him. They’ve made hints that he’s related to Sour Cream…
Scott: Wait. [Scott Pauses] …oh my god, I just realized they are “Sour Cream and Onion.”
Scott: Rebecca’s been taking ideas from Brian Salisbury.
Scott: But I’m not a fan of Ronaldo either. Even with “Horror Club”, I find him to be annoying and the message to come off from “Keep Beach City Weird” is kind of bad.
Tom: I get that. But there’s all these connections from person to person that makes you want to learn more about them. Another thing I love about the show is with the voice cast. They get people like Brian Posehn to come in to do his little part and even MST3K’s Joel Hodgson to voice the mayor. I actually really like how they have so many musicians to voice people. With the fusions, you’ve got Aimee Man voicing Opal, Nicki Minaj voicing Sugilite and of course there’s Estelle voicing Garnet. Her voice works so well with that character.
Scott: I believe Cartoon Network has understood now that you don’t need named voice actors to make a cartoon work. The main thing is to get voices to perfectly get the character, like how Jeremy Shada became Finn. I don’t know Zach Callison who voices Steven, but he’s the right person to cover all the range in this show. But there’s also Greg, Lars, and Amethyst…
Tom: Even Sinbad as media manager of the boardwalk, but we go back to see his past.
Scott: He turns out to be the same guy from the Wendy’s Training Video from the 80s.
Scott: Oh Rebecca, you know us too well. So the build up to all of Steven Universe’s build up and internet fame came in full force with the dubbed “finale week,” going from “Rose’s Scabbard” to “Jailbreak.”
Tom: That week was the culmination of what everything has been building up to. Not just one story, but every single story. From the gem world, to how this affects Beach City and their new home. We get to find out more about what Rose has done for the universe and how grand scale and steaks are for this world. It’s summed up so beautifully in Garnet’s song…
Scott: Stronger Than You.
Tom: Stronger Than You. By the way, we haven’t even covered all the great LGBT themes in this show.
Scott: What’s amazing about all the progressive themes in the show to LGBT people is that they are noteworthy, but never preachy. It suggests to the audience that persons of that variety exist…but it doesn’t really affect your life or change who they are. Everyone is so much more than they seem. They never devote an entire episode to the lesson or message, but they are consistent throughout.
Tom: Yeah. It’s all in the delivery of the messages and how this initially stoic character turned into this symbol of love. It’s an amazing payoff that makes us wonder about this ever expanding mythology even more.
Scott: Season 2 is really shaping up to be phenomenal as they immediately respond to that. Again, Sugar knows so much about fandom as she showed with “Open Book” and even the Uncle Grandpa crossover managed to be funny.
Tom: I have never watched an episode of Uncle Grandpa, but clips I’ve seen from the show were never funny. This episode had a surprising amount of self-aware, comical moments that made it a good blend for fans of Steven Universe and possibly the other show.
Scott: Many of the issues with crossovers is that one show will completely invade and screw up the dynamic of another show, but there was some friendly jabs at both sides. All those gags with Amethyst eating Pizza Steve and Uncle Gus actually having a gemsona that he loves were perfect.
Tom: [laughing] I really liked that scene. Remember Scott, “This is not canon.”
Scott: This is not canon! I also really liked that moment too when Garnet just said, “I want this episode to end,” so she rips off the ground back to the beach.
Scott: So Tom, where you would like to see the show go next?
Tom: Well something I really love about Adventure Time…is how we’ve watched Finn grow up. As the actor got older, the maturer themes and bigger arcs all seemed to creep up on us more and more. So, Steven’s lovable nature manages to create this bond between gems and humans that can expand the mythology and themes of this show in bigger, more incredible ways than we can conceive. I want to see Steven evolve into this legendary superhero who serves as the bridge between two worlds.
Scott: That…totally kicks the crap out of my idea!
Tom: I KNOW, RIGHT!?
Scott: From my perspective, this world is so vast. I would love to explore more of the gem world, see how that was. Even a prequel series sounds perfect with Rose, Pearl and Garnet as we’ve been hinted at throughout the show. I want to get into all the buildup of what is making the show so deep.
Tom: Honestly, I would love to see that, but I think that takes away the real heart of the show; Steven. I love the how the show expands on everything through Steven’s eyes. If we were to move away from that to the original gemworld with Rose…we wouldn’t get what makes the show so incredible. That’s really why he’s the main character.
Scott: True dat. I’m happy the show has become such a hit amongst people. Fandoms form because the program itself has a universe with such an expansive and unique vision. Steven Universe has blown our expectations out of the water by executing all these ideas so well. I imagine we’ll get many great seasons to come.
Tom: Indeed. Although Scott…
Tom: We’re missing one last character… [Pause] Cookie Cat!
Scott: ~Cookie Cat!~
Tom: He left his family behind, Scott!
Scott: Indeed he did.
What we have with Steven Universe is marvelous and beautiful and I certainly can’t wait to what the audience will have chew on later. We’ve had big, game-changing developments in “Joy Ride” and “A Story For Steven” alone. Given the new projects coming out next from more episodes, to a successful, well-received cellphone game and comic series…just imagine what we will talk about a year from now.
So what are your thoughts on Steven Universe? Any thoughts on our conversation? Want to see more interviews or articles dedicated to full discussions/reviews on programs? Let us know in the comments below!