Science Fiction Film & Television

DVD review

Science Fiction Film & Television (1970), 9, (3), 501–504.


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DVD review Steven Universe (Rebecca Sugar US 2013–). Cartoon Network 2013–. Distributed by Hulu. Brittany Pladek You know a cartoon show aimed at kids has become a crossover hit when, one season into its airing, adult fans had already dubbed its backstory ‘lore’. Such is the case of Steven Universe, a Cartoon Network show that follows the adventures of a boy named Steven and his family of alien guardians. Steven (Zach Callison) is half-human and half-Gem, a species of sentient, ageless rocks whose bodies are material projections; they are technically genderless, but read as human(ish) women. Steven’s Gem mother, Rose Quartz (Susan Egan), gave up her physical form to conceive Steven, who now carries her gem in his bellybutton. When the show opens, Steven is 13 and being raised jointly by his father, ageing rocker Greg (Tom Scharpling) and Rose’s three closest companions: the ‘Crystal Gems’ Garnet (Estelle), Pearl (Deedee Magno) and Amethyst (Michaela Dietz). Fan praise for the show’s ‘lore’ testifies to the unusual depth of its worldbuilding, at least among American cartoons aimed at children. Steven Universe is set in an alternate timeline whose history was shaped by the Gems’ presence at the dawn of recorded human history. The Gems, we learn over the course of the show, command an oligarchic interstellar empire that they expand by farming the minerals of their subject planets in order to produce more Gems. In the process, they gut the colonies, rendering them uninhabitable for all other life. The only reason Earth has escaped this grim fate is that Steven’s mother Rose led a rebellion against the Earth’s occupation – motivated, it is strongly implied, by her mounting guilt at her own complicity in genocide. The rebellion succeeded, but at a high cost. As Greg tells Steven, ‘No such thing as a good war, kiddo. Gems were destroyed. Humans, too’ – before explaining that Rose was only able to save herself and her closest friends, Steven’s three Gem stepmothers. Though the rebellion was thousands of years ago, Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst still bear its emotional scars. Some even display symptoms of PTSD: when off-world Gems appear for the first time in the show, Pearl hides her face in her hands and cries in terror, ‘They’re coming back. I can’t do this. Not again!’ The show’s storyline seems to be building towards a second Science Fiction Film and Television 9.3 (2016), 501–4 © Liverpool University Press ISSN 1754-3770 (print)  1754-3789 (online) doi:10.3828/sfftv.2016.9.18

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Author details

Pladek, Brittany