Saturday, May 18, 2024

Steven Universe Moves Into the Future and Recalls the Past

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A lot has changed in Steven Universe since the season 5 finale, where Steven took down the Diamonds and ended their empire. The very enjoyable movie gave us an introduction to the new order of things, but with Steven Universe Z…sorry, Future, the Crewniverse explored this new way in far more detail. They also did so in a way that reminded me a lot of the very first season of Steven Universe. It has been a long time since Steven Universe had such a feeling of discovery, of learning about a new world and a new way of things.

Things have changed a lot, and throughout these premiere 4 episodes of Steven Universe Future, we saw just how much things have changed.

To sum up, here is where we are going into these new episodes. The Diamond Empire is no more. Homeworld gems now live on Earth, have their own little town, and even work in Beach City doing various jobs. The Crystal Gems have taken leadership roles among them, helping them assimilate. Everyone’s moving into the future. They’re trying, anyway.

A big part of these 4 episodes focuses on how things did not change so easily, and how the past still lingers over everything. “Little Homeschool” shows Steven trying and mostly failing to reach out to Jasper, who has rejected the new way of things. “Guidance” sees Steven and Amethyst finding a place in society for the gems, and trying to find balance between what they were programmed for and what they are genuinely interested in. “Rose Buds” makes clear how Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz still haunts Steven and the Crystal Gems.

Finally, “Volleyball” gives Pink Pearl the spotlight, with our regularly scheduled new awful thing that Pink Diamond once did and an amazing new fusion as both Pink Pearl and our Pearl try to move forward.

There is a great deal about these episodes that brings to mind not only season 1, but the very best of season 1. Future has a wonderful blend of the alien and human, of seeing the two coexist in an exciting new way. Much like the Crystal Gems did back then, the new Homeworld gems need space and time to really discover themselves on Earth, to know what they really want and where they belong. Some do so much easier than others It creates a lot of fun throughout these episodes.

All these new gems are a LOT of fun, too. Little Laramar’s love of human screams, the quartz gems playing volleyball, the drastically different Rose Quartz personalities, I found them all delightful. I was reminded of the same delight I felt watching the Crystal Gems gradually become more involved in Beach City.

“Guidance” is an absolute blast of an episode showing how the new gems are settling into their new lives. I never stopped smiling about Mayor Nanefua having Ruby bodyguards. The decision to have Amethyst as the “guidance counselor” helping the gems find the lives they want was fantastic. She couldn’t be a more natural choice. Amethyst has spent so much of her life trying to find that balance between what she was supposed to be and what life on Earth made her. She also took to life among humans much easier than the other Crystal Gems and would be best at making the transition natural for both the new gems and Beach City’s residents.

“Guidance” served as a fantastic cap of the character arc she has undergone. After all the pain, fear, and doubt she underwent to discover herself, Amethyst has never been a happier, more complete person. She now has that balance between her gem side and her love for Earth, and no reason to feel ashamed about either.

In fact, she is much better off than Steven himself, despite this new vision of Earth being exactly what he always wanted. Whether it’s Jasper, the Rose Quartzes, or Pink Pearl, Steven has trouble fully embracing this new world and moving past the old one. He just can’t move on as he wants. He tries to convince himself the past is done and everything’s all better, but that’s the problem. Steven still wants to avoid problems rather than face them.

Nowhere is this more evident than “Rose Buds,” where the human zoo flies to Earth to show Steven the newly freed Rose Quartz gems that were formerly bubbled there. Their presence clearly makes everyone visibly uncomfortable to the point they won’t even stay in the room. Steven ignores this to try and pretend as nothing about it bothers him, and he acts this way towards everything. Many of these episodes focus on him trying to move past things, only to have him reach a level of acceptance towards the end.

Along the way, we’re also discovering a new side to Steven that will need to be addressed moving forward. Basically, Steven now has a Super Saiyan mode where he glows pink and has remarkably increased strength and speed. It also activates from a new level of anger we haven’t seen from Steven before, and tends to happen when he loses control. Considering what we learn about Pink Diamond and Pink Pearl, this new power is worrisome.

After so many years of Steven’s inadequacy and fear and sadness and happiness driving his powers, I’m very curious to see powers activated by anger. Especially anger triggered by the past. The past never stops mattering. Everyone must try to find some level of understanding and acceptance, and for all Steven’s progress, he isn’t there yet.

The final episode, “Volleyball,” focuses heavily on this and is easily the best of the bunch. This remarkable episode sees Pink Pearl return and Steven’s attempts to heal the injury to her face, along with Crystal Gem Pearl’s help. This takes them to a pearl manufacturing center, where the truth of Pink Pearl’s injury, Pink Diamond’s complicated past, and the shared hurt of the two Pearls over their former owner leads to the two of them fusing to create a Mega Pearl.

More than any other, this one truly felt like it could place smack dab in the middle of the best season 1 episodes. Pink Pearl is absolutely amazing and the design of the Mega Pearl fusion immediately places among my favorites. Their fusion also represents the very best of what fusion is supposed to mean for its two halves. They each have such drastically different pasts with and views of Pink Diamond. Through their fusion, they not only gain an understanding of those differing experiences, but also of each other.

Time will tell just how far Pink Pearl still has to go. There’s no doubt that this episode helped both her and CG Pearl, though. They both accepted the past rather than try to ignore it. I expect Steven will struggle to do the same throughout the remainder of Steven Universe Future, but he will get there.

As much fun as I had with these episodes, and as outstanding as I found “Volleyball” especially to be, many of the problems fans had with the movie are still present here. Mainly, it feels like we lost a lot with this time skip that I would have liked to see. With this new world come a lot of questions about how we got here.

The main offender here is Jasper. Fans have waited a very long time now to see her redemption arc. One of the most anticipated developments of taking down the Diamonds was seeing how Jasper would deal with it. Only we don’t really see it. We catch up with her in the future having apparently already had her reaction to it. She’s living in a cave outside of Little Homeworld and there is a lot of history with Steven we did not see. The conversation and eventual fight we see is clearly just the latest in a long history we never got to see.

Now, it’s possible we missed nothing particularly important and that Jasper will have a lot more moving forward. I still can’t help but feel a bit robbed.

The establishment of Little Homeworld and all the new lives the Homeworld gems live doesn’t feel quite as bad, but I still would have liked to see more of it happening. When we catch up with them in “Little Homeschool” and “Guidance,” we see everyone having already found their place. Everyone already has a happy life on Earth. We missed everything about the process and I can’t help but wonder about the lost stories along the way.

Other than Jasper, or perhaps more than Jasper, the biggest problem remains the Diamonds. Despite their absence, they remain a flaw in the story that needs to be addressed at some point. We still have no sense of consequences for their thousands of years ruling an oppressive, murderous dictatorship. They’re still being treated like good guys. Their smiling faces don the happy literature welcoming new gems to Earth and they contributed essence to let Steven continue healing corrupted gems.

Now, I’m not asking for a Steven Universe Future where there are war crimes trials or anything. It’s clear that this isn’t the kind of show focusing on that part of their empire, and they aren’t meant to serve as those kinds of figures. They are analogs for abusive parents, not murderous dictators. Still, it feels like we missed way too much by skipping ahead to a future where they are happily supporting this new way of life. It does not feel natural.

I still hope for a storyline where something more comes of the Diamonds having to accept no longer ruling an empire, and where they are not just randomly perfectly happy with no longer dominating the universe.

Whatever the flaws, it is great as ever to have Steven Universe back, and back for regular episodes for the next couple weeks. Best to enjoy it while we have it.

Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

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