Today we begin our coverage of Cartoon Network Studio’s Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar. There will be multiple posts today for our Steven Universe section as the show is already on Episode 8 and we have a few things to catch up on. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this show when it first appeared, you can never tell by the promo commercials. Watching a young chubby kid scream about how ice cream allows him to harness his powers or having cat like fingers doesn’t give you a good taste of the show.
I didn’t bother catching the premiere, my television set is typically tuned into Cartoon Network for most of the day. An old habit from my earlier days watching Dragonball Z on Toonami, and then of course the birth of Adult Swim. For the most part my TV acts as background noise while I surf the internet. So I knew sooner or later I would see an episode or two. Fast forward to a random Sunday where two episodes came on, “Frybo” followed by “Cat Fingers”. Both episodes had hints on the promos, Steven screaming at his animated paints “That’s unusual!”.
Anyways, beyond the highest level of neckbearding on the internet, a long article about a show to kick off our coverage. There are more details that could have been said and researched on, but there are only so many hours in the day. For your consideration, Steven Universe.
Steven Universe is an animated series about a young boy being raised by three women in a beach house by the ocean. These three women, Pearl (Deedee Magno), Garnet (Estelle) and Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) are part of an ancient race of crystal born humanoids who have various powers they can harness by the gems embedded in their bodies. Steven (Zach Callison) is part of this race, the son of Rose Quartz the now deceased leader of their group, the Crystal Gems. The series follows the group on their various adventures and daily lives. Steven has yet to harness the power of his own gem and doesn’t always go with the group, where he typically wanders into the coastal town of Beach City.
The series is the creation of Rebecca Sugar, a young artist, composer and now the first female director at Cartoon Network Studios. At the age of 26 she has already been nominated twice for an Emmy Award and once for an Annie Award for her work as a writer / storyboard artist for Pen Ward’s Adventure Time. She was nominated for her work on “It Came From The Nightosphere” and “Simon and Marcy.” From various animation articles around the Internet and the episodes of Adventure Time she was nominated for, she is known well for getting people in the “feels” with creating some deep moments in the series. This is very much seen in Steven Universe.
A recommended episode for some “feels” in the Steven Universe library would be “Frybo,” where side character Peedee Fryman escapes the toils of working at a young age for his father, but realizes how cruel the world is.
Peedee: (riding seahorse ride, sad and bored expression) This seahorse used to make me so happy… Now it’s just giving me whiplash. I feel like there’s just no point to it, you know?
Steven: (riding jellyfish ride) I just feel tingly!
Peedee: (sigh) You’ll understand when you have a job.
Steven: I do have a job! I protect humanity from magic and monsters and stuff!
Peedee: I mean a real job that you get paid for.
Steven: I’m paid in the smiles across the town’s faces.
Peedee: I don’t see anyone smiling… You pick up a job to buy a house, or raise kids, or to… impress your dad. You work away your life and what does it get you?
Steven: Smiles in faces?
Peedee: No… You get cash. Cash that can’t buy back what the job takes… not if you rode every seahorse in the world.
Like many other cartoons on CN the series was voted into production by viewers’ choice. Several pilots are showcased to the general audience and online votes are tallied. This is how we ended up with a talking piece of fruit with a human mouth screeching at us. The winners this year was Steven Universe & Uncle Grandpa. The pilot first appeared on May 21st 2013 on CN’s video platform and then was quickly removed. The pilot would not show up officially for another month when on June 20th 2013, an edited version of the pilot seen in May appeared on Cartoon Network’s Facebook page.
Since then the series has been whined and dined around the nerd community. At San Diego Comic-Con the pilot episode was showcased to their audiences, and at New York Comic Con a panel was held was Rebecca Sugar and other directors from CN Studios. The pilot is about the Crystal Gems returning from fighting magical crystal skull demon things with Steven waiting for them with a new song. The song is about their little group being heros and would end up becoming the show’s theme song. After the song Steven is given a crystal hourglass by Amethyst to check out. While visiting the near by Doughnut shop and being harassed by Lars, Steven accidentally activates the hourglass, allowing him to return back in time to basically make better come backs to insults. This will come in handy when a crystal skull comes to kill them all.
The series premiered on November 4th 2013 and so far has aired 8 episodes, with last week’s episode “Serious Steven.” There was a short hiatus on new episodes during the holiday season.
The general concept of the series and its world is the creation of Ms. Sugar who has noted many influences from life built into the series. The setting of Beach City, a small coastal city filled with amusement parks and boardwalks is a throw back to her own childhood and vacationing on the east coast. Steven himself is loosely based around her own brother, Steven Sugar (a background designer for the show, and storyboard artist for Pen Ward’s other series, Cartoon Hangout). Sources also point towards the Crystal Gems being based on friends of hers.
Outside of story one of the more beautiful aspects of the show has been both the artwork and music. Backgrounds are breathing taking and have a style I’d describe as simple yet detailed, an aspect seen in the pilot episode (though the pilot had even more details). Music is produced by Aivi & Surasshu with additional music created by Nick Demayo and Rebecca Sugar. I’ve personally noted the music at times when the series enters that realm of being either really serious and or deep.
The crew enjoys many liberties on the online social media network, as seen with other CN series the crew typically shares storyboards and background graphics via their personal Tumblr, Steven Crewniverse. There is another Tumblr that is actually ran by one of the characters of the show, Rolando Fryman who runs “Keep Beach City Weird.” The Tumblr has been running since before the show. Various members of the crew can also be found on Tumblr and other social media networks.
In The Media
- Zach Callison (Steven Universe) interviewed on the Dennis Daniel Show
- Cartoon Brew on Steven Universe’s Debut
- IO9 Interview with Rebecca Sugar