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It’s been just over a year since Steven Universe Future – the epilogue to the original Steven Universe – wrapped up. And we still can’t stop thinking about it. The Cartoon Network series by Rebecca Sugar has had an enduring popularity, changing animation forever. Let’s take a look back at what made the show so special in the first place.

The Setting

Steven Universe is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who lives with the Crystal Gems – a group of magical aliens working together to protect the fictional town of Beach City on Earth. Steven, who is half Gem, is training to become a powerful Gem himself, while navigating the complexities of human life. Despite its sci-fi setting with strange characters, a mysterious backstory, and deep lore, Season One really takes its time getting to know the main cast and Beach City inhabitants in what are essentially slice-of-life vignettes. It’s not until midway through the first season that we start to see overarching narratives tying everything together.

The Style

Taking inspiration from a breadth of sources such as French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump, and Bugs Bunny, Steven Universe’s art style stands out with distinctive character designs that champion simplicity and expression. The show also embraces a color palette of beautiful pastels, pinks, and purples. There’s something immediately appealing about the show’s look – both familiar, yet decidedly new and soothing.

The Characters

Featuring a diverse cast, Steven Universe’s crowning jewel – err, gem – is by far its iconic cast of characters. Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst are charming, funny characters who reveal a lot of depth and nuance as the series progresses. The show also boasts an incredible supporting cast, such as Steven’s best friend Connie and his father Greg, whose stories often interconnect with those of the main cast in unexpected ways, providing more down-to-earth narratives between the sci-fi spectacles.

The Themes

Characters are given multiple developments over the course of the series – and they are well earned. Steven Universe explores themes surrounding identity, trauma, conflict, diversity, and empathy, and many of the characters grapple with their insecurities, as well as their differences with others, over extensive arcs. Part of the charm is getting to see characters literally change – the Gems transform their physical appearances throughout the series, providing a visual representation of their inner growth and personal metamorphosis.

The Music

Did we forget to mention that Steven Universe episodes are sometimes straight-up musicals? From the chill score to the fun, character-driven musical numbers, Steven Universe is delicious candy for your earbuds. Happy listening!

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