Saturday, May 18, 2024

Is Steven Universe Reaching its Target Audience?

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This piece is co-written with my son, Gregory. It’s also his authorial debut!

It’s no secret at all that we here on the Fandomentals are gigantic fans of Steven Universe and the people behind it. We’re not shy about calling it the most intelligent show on television. We like discussing at length about how sensitively it discusses issues like consent, conformity, and war.

But, like, this is a show for children. The target audience is supposed to be kids between the ages of eight and twelve. What could they possibly be thinking when they watch this show? Could they even begin to appreciate the layers of meaning that we happily dissect day after day?

Fortunately for me, I know someone between the ages of eight and twelve, my sonion Gregory, who you may have heard me mention before. He loves SU as much as I do. So after bribing him with candy and Pokémon we sat down together and watched eleven of the most important episodes of the series, and wrote down our thoughts.

1. Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem

Julia: This two-parter really shows us how warm of a person Steven is. He encounters someone, even if it’s a mirror, who opens up to him and he immediately feels empathy and wants to protect her, even from the other Gems.

I think the structure of the first episode is brilliant. It makes the audience actually scared of Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst. And up until that point, the other Gems were mostly just these wacky Space Moms who took Steven on zaney adventures.

The second part brings us back from being scared of Garnet, and we get to see Steven and the Gems, and Greg, and even Connie, all working together as a family and supporting each other. I love the introduction of Lapis as a character. She has a childish sense of humour, and she doesn’t get idiomatic expressions!

This is the episode where you can really tell this show was something special. Especially looking back, the amount of world-building they shove into random episodes in the first season is insane.


Gregory: My favourite part of the episode was when the mirror used people’s previous words to talk. I thought it was cool. It’s like editing a youtube video. The mirror farted and the whole town laughed.

The episode was about learning that there are other gems that come from different places, and they can be your enemy or your friend. Lapis was confused because she wasn’t at home. She’s stressed out because she needs to get there but her gem is cracked. She doesn’t like the Crystal Gems because she thinks they only care about the Earth. I think this is a bad thing because the Crystal Gems are awesome.

Steven felt bad for Lapis because she was sad and confused. He tried to help her. This shows that he’s a caring person. He does anything to help his friends and he’s very nice, determined, convincing. He thinks Gems shouldn’t fight each other.

2. Alone Together

Julia: Remember when a kids’ show had the main character and his love interest (kinda… she’s more than that.) act out a thinly veiled allegory for sexual consent?

I know, I know, fusion isn’t sex. Or rather, it’s not just sex. Fusion is the ultimate expression of trust and Steven and Connie really showed how important that was to them. Stevonnie is always communicating with themself and making sure they’re still okay. And it makes everything more fun, not less. It’s a wonderful example for any relationship.

Stevonnie running

Gregory: My favourite part of the episode was when Stevonnie got the doughnuts for free. Free doughnuts are awesome. They got them because Lars liked them because they were pretty.

The episode was about fusion. And Steven learned that he could fuse. Connie was afraid to dance but when she danced with Steven she wasn’t embarrassed because he made her feel not afraid. They unfused because Stevonnie was afraid again to dance with Mr. Pretty Boy. He made them feel scared, which is different from how Steven made Connie feel.

3. On the Run

Julia: World Building! Characterization! Amethyst!

This is what this show does so well. You think you’re watching a nice episode about Steven wanting to pretend to be a “hobo” and pal around with Amethyst, but then you’re hit with a feels bomb so big that you’re really still not over it.

This is always the episode I point to when I say that Amethyst is my favourite character in this show. Her guilt is so down deep that Pearl, who has known her for thousands of years, has no idea she felt this way. That is some first class Martell-ing.

Also, can we discuss how Steven never asks any follow-up questions?

on the run

Gregory: I don’t like songs so much. So that wasn’t my favourite part. [Editor’s Note: Gregory would later claim that ‘On the Run’ was his favourite song. He’s a complicated young man.]

The moral is that you should stay at home and not run away because your house is precious. Steven ran away because he wanted to be like the No Home Boys and have an adventure. Amethyst ran away from home because Pearl and Garnet upset her. They said that the kindergarten was a very bad place and Amethyst felt bad because it was her home. She thinks that Pearl thinks that she’s a monster. Amethyst and Pearl made up and Pearl said that Amethyst is the only good thing that came out of the kindergarten and that it wasn’t her fault.

4. Jail Break

Julia: I guess I can talk about Garnet, but that seems a little obvious. I will say, that gif of Ruby and Sapphire spinning still isn’t old.


What I want to talk about instead is how this is really our first glimpse of Homeworld and how it must be there. With scary shock rods that can poof Gems in an instant and multiple hallways full of cells to hold them in. In a way, Garnet’s fight with Jasper was as political as it was about her choice of lifestyle… or whatever you call it. Authoritarian regimes always want to keep people apart and scared, but Garnet is “never alone”.

Steven made a similar point to Lapis when she argued that Homeworld’s power meant that they can’t fight them. “That’s why we have to fight them.”

garnet vs jasper

Gregory: My favourite part was when Steven busted out of jail. I thought it was cool and he saved all the other Gems. It must be because he’s half human.

The most important part was ‘Stronger than You’ because it shows that Garnet is a boss. She is a fusion. She is different from Malachite because Ruby and Sapphire love each other and that means that Garnet is stable and strong. Lapis and Jasper don’t like each, they fused for the wrong reasons. Because they only fused to get stronger. Garnet fused because she wanted to be together.

5. Sworn to the Sword

Julia: These Gems all have a lot of issues, don’t they?

Anyway, yet again, some major important world-building is just popped into a character episode. In the system of Homeworld, Pearl is “just” a pearl, in the same way that Connie is “just” a human. They can work to improve themselves, but they’ve still both very heavily internalized the idea that they’re not worth as much as Rose/Steven.

As much as I appreciate the development of Pearl’s character here, it’s really Connie that gripped me. This is a natural and brilliant consequence of everything since “Bubble Buddies”. She’s always been a little scared of Steven’s “magical destiny” and since “Full Disclosure” she’s been rather in awe of it. But Steven is grounded enough to pull her back form that. In a way I’m not sure Rose was.

Steven the liege

Gregory: My favourite part was when Steven was reading that book “How to Talk to People.” That was funny and it made my mom laugh, so that made me laugh.

The moral of the episode was to work as a team, and that makes you stronger. At first Steven and Connie are jam bubs and work together but then in the middle of episode she’s sword fighting all the time and doesn’t pay attention to Steven. Pearl is trying to tell Connie that Steven is everything and Connie is nothing. Because Steven is like Rose Quartz. Connie and Pearl both wanted to risk their life for the other person. Steven taught them that risking your life isn’t good and that the two people should work together so that they can risk each other’s life and help each other.

6. Cry for Help

Julia: Oh Pearl. That was not cool.

I really like the double meaning in the title. There’s literally a distress signal going on, but the meaning with Pearl is clearly central.

One of the most important issues related to fusion on this show has always been that motivations matter. Gems fuse because they trust each other, and if that trust is broken, it’s a violation. The follow up for this episode, which was multiple episodes long, is even more important than the initial event. I appreciate how it’s Garnet, the one who’s always so strong and together (no pun intended) who was victimized here.

And in the middle of it all you have Amethyst Martell-ing all over the place.

guilty pearl

Gregory: My favourite part was Crying Breakfast Friends and when Amethyst ate the watermelon. CBF is awesome, or shall I say sad-some. And I like the joke that Amethyst will eat anything. Steven is lucky that Amethyst hasn’t eaten part of his floor yet.

The episode was about Pearl fusing with Garnet to become strong, but that isn’t the right way to fuse. She wanted to feel more powerful and share more victories with Garnet. She wanted to feel what fusion with Garnet was like. Garnet felt that it was wrong because Pearl was lying to Garnet about the reason they were fusing.

Amethyst was feeling sad-some because Garnet didn’t want to fuse with Amethyst and wanted to fuse with Pearl. Garnet thought that their fusion was out of control. Amethyst is one thing, but Sugilite is another. Amethyst feels like it’s her fault because she thinks that Garnet isn’t out of control at all.

7. The Answer

Julia: Squee! I love this episode and almost everything about it.

First off, I’m a sucker for world-building. Seeing a diamond, and the “court” that they’re surrounded with, seeing a Pearl in her natural habitat, learning about how being rare makes someone elite… this show is ridiculous with how good the world-building is, and how organically it’s always integrated into the narrative.

Anyway, the content of the episode. Man, Blue Diamond is a bit draconian. Shattering a gem for accidentally fusing seems a bit much. Though I guess that’s just how expendable Rubies are.

Seeing this relationship start, and seeing the way that Rose validates it, and how important that was for Garnet, really makes all the difference in that way I view Rose. Though I still think she’s still a little too, like, will-o-the-wisp sometimes. (“This seems fun! Let’s do it!”) And it also goes a long way in explaining why consent is so important to Garnet, and why she thinks so highly of Rose.

Also, there was a Sleeping Beauty homage.


Gregory: My favourite part was when Ruby fused with Ruby and Ruby because it was cool.

The episode was about love because Ruby and Sapphire loved each other and fused. At first they felt that the fusing was weird-some and they were confused and scared of their new form. But then they got to know each other. It’s like if I hugged a stranger it would be weird but if I hugged my friend then it would not be as weird. And Ruby and Sapphire were talking about how it felt to fuse. And the other Gems thought that it was bad for two different gems to fuse together, but Rose and Pearl thought that it was a good dea. It made Garnet feel good because they agreed that fusing two different gems was okay.

8. Gem Drill

Julia: SU always does this. You think you know what’s going on, you think the Cluster is just a force of nature that the Gems have to deal with, but no. The Cluster is a character, and Steven empathizes with them, because of course he does. That’s what Steven does.

Steven has this very strong sense of right and wrong that I think he could only have because he’s half human. His default is always to assume that others can be reasoned with, that no one wants violence or hatred. The world was about to blow up and he still didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

That and a Steven-Peridot team-up is always lots of fun.


Gregory: My favourite part was the joke when Steven was blasting the gem-shards and he said “I can’t do this” and Peridot said “use the d-pad.” I think Peridot is funny. For a peridot.

Steven thought that it was wrong to blast all the gems, and so he bubbled the cluster to keep it safe because it didn’t want to form and destroy the world. Steven didn’t know how to talk to a bunch of gem-shards but he got them to know each other. Peridot’s attitude is that the cluster should be destroyed, but Steven’s attitude was to try to talk to it. Steven will always try to help and he’ll always talk to someone before they do something bad and he never wants to hurt anyone.

9. Mr. Greg

Julia: There are those feels again. Firstly, I totally identify with Greg, here. Whenever I get a huge paycheque I always blow half of it to “celebrate” too.

The big story here is obviously Pearl and Greg and how they came into conflict over Greg’s relationship with Rose. And I have to say again, it doesn’t paint the nicest picture of Rose. It almost seems like she was oblivious to Pearl’s feelings for her. Did she ever consider what she and Pearl had a “relationship”? It doesn’t seem like it to me.

Steven, of course, is the peacemaker. That’s just his instinct. Watching two people he loves not get along is very painful for him. And Greg and Pearl needed that love they both felt for him to bring them together.

greg and pearl

Gregory: My favourite part was all the parts with the waiters with the moustaches and the white suits. They were funny.

Pearl and Greg were fighting over Rose because they both wanted Rose to love them, because she was so special. Rose chose Greg and Pearl was sad-some and she felt guilty-some. She felt guilty because she knew that Rose loved Greg. Steven made her feel weird-some because she loves him but Steven is half Greg. Steven asked Pearl and Greg to talk to each other about Rose and how they felt about her. Steven was happy-some that they made up.

10. Alone at Sea

Julia: Ho boy.

There’s only one thing anyone talks about when they discuss this episode. Well, two things. The first is how much money Greg has left. The second is Jasper.

Most people who follow me on social media know what I think about the Jasper situation and this episode is really the centrepiece for how her relationship with Lapis really is. Seriously, I’m willing to bet the Crewniverse printed out one of those “Red Flags that Your Relationship is Abusive” lists from the internet and posted it in the writers’ room. And yes, this is down to how Lapis feels guilt.

Steven is still being Steven and wanting to make sure Lapis has fun. And the way he’s protective of her is wonderful. Lapis and Steven have always had an interesting relationship. Even when she was at her most “anti-Crystal Gem” she still always trusted Steven implicitly and did everything she could to protect him.


Gregory: My favourite part was the “Lil’ Lappy” part. I like that Lapis liked the joke.

This episode was about Jasper following Lapis to try to get her to fuse again. It was wrong because Jasper was trying to get them to fuse because Malachite was bigger and stronger than the both of them and it wasn’t the right way to fuse. Lapis felt that she had a very bad experience fused with Jasper at the bottom of the ocean, so she said “No!” Jasper was saying that Lapis was powerful and a monster. Lapis said she missed Jasper because she was used to being with her. I feel that Jasper is a bad guy because she tries to force people to fuse.

11. Bismuth

Julia: I’m not sure about this one.

Don’t get me wrong. Bismuth is an interesting new character, and the episode is quite well structured, but the timing of it is a little weird. I know Bismuth will be back, but that only makes the question of why they introduced her in a two parter, only to have her be bubbled again at the end of it, right now at all. And her friends are okay with her just chilling there for a few thousand more years? She’s not corrupted, so you can’t argue that it’s for her safety like it is with so many of them.

I do like that the conflict between Rose and Bismuth was brought up, though. It’s a very natural thing to have arisen. We just have to keep waiting for positive butch representation, I guess.


Gregory: Last one! My favourite part was when Amethyst was eating the pizza, the burrito, and the chips. I liked it because I like the joke that Amethyst can eat anything. And she hasn’t eaten Steven’s roof yet, so good for Steven.

The episode was about Bismuth wanting to use the Breaking Point on the homeworld gems but Steven didn’t think that was right. He didn’t think it was right because you should shatter gems, the worst you should do if poof them and put them in a bubble where they’re safe. Bismuth wanted to use the Breaking Point because she wanted to win the war and shatter the diamonds. I think this is a bad idea because the Diamonds are important to a lot of gems and they would be upset and mad-some. Bismuth was mad at Rose for not liking the Breaking Point and bubbling Bismuth away and not telling the other Gems.

Pearl and Garnet were excited to see Bismuth but at the end they were sad-some to see one of their friends go away again. Steven was also sad-some about having to poof her, and bubble her, and make a hard decision.

I suppose I should have had more faith in kids. I mean, obviously, my son is smarter than the average bear, but I was surprised by how many things he did pick up on, even if I had to edit out a lot of fart jokes.

Don’t worry guys, the kids have this.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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