Sunday, December 25, 2016

Steven Universe First Half of Season 1 Review

Warning/Spoiler: This is a negative review. Don't really like doing these because I don't like upsetting people. I am not saying SU is bad...merely explaining why it is not my particular tastes at least for the most part.

To remind me people of what my rating system is:

5/5: Very likely my favorite in it's genre. Potentially my favorite in the medium. Something I greatly enjoy, that has great intellectual and emotional resonance with me. I would view this again and again by myself. I would style my own work after the ideas in it. If someone loves this work, I would be instantly companions with them in some way.

4/5: I really enjoyed the work. Something I might recommend to people and would view again with other people or after a long time. Has at least a few elements that I absolutely loved and might try to replicate. If someone loves this work, I will chatter with them about it and have fun.

3/5: I thought it was enjoyable enough. It fills the time and serves it's purpose though I wouldn't go out of my way to call myself a fan or go to defend it. Glad I viewed it once but probably won't again. If someone loves this work, I will see why but I won't have much to say.

2/5: Generally meh. I didn't find it very entertaining or it has some good elements but they are too diluted for my to really enjoy. I kinda regret using the time on it, though I won't argue with someone who likes it or whatever. If someone loves this work, I will be a bit confused why, but will leave them to their enjoyment.

1/5: Actively angers, annoys, or offends me. A work that I actively avoid talking or thinking about when possible. A work I will only view if I have to. If someone loves this work, I will try my best to stay quiet so as not to show my disdain for it.

Steven Universe has a very large cast of characters. Now having a too large cast of characters can be a real problem and YMMV on how large a cast "should" be for the kind and style of story you want to tell. The main character is the titular Steven Universe, a young-ish boy and his 3 (legal?) Guardians collectively called "The Crystal Gems". There's Pearl the Responsible one and Best Character, Garnet the "Cool" One, and Amethyst who acts noticeably younger then the others and is wild and irresponsible. There's also a huge number of other characters, there's no real collective "villain" for the first half...just a sort of vague group of monsters who turns out are also gems but evil ones. If this sounds like Madoka, it sort of is and also is nothing like that.

I have to say for me personally the really large cast was more of a hindrance then a strength. When you have a very large cast it becomes harder and harder to maintain depth because you keep splitting up the screentime. And every episode it felt like they were focusing on some minor character instead of the actual main characters and so the main characters felt rather flat. I don't recall once being surprised by anything about them (save for worldbuilding obviously when they introduce a new power).

Pearl as you probably noticed is my favorite of them being an actually mature responsible Guardian with a pleasing maternal streak. But my enjoyment I knew really only went that far. Garnet I thought was fine however I thought Steven got kind of grating with his sheer impulsiveness and inability to listen, and I thought Amethyst was a terrible guardian. Admittingly she's called out for being a terrible guardian but she didn't seem to even care.

Most of the side characters...I don't really remember. Lion was cool though, even if people seemed less shocked by the magical unexplained lion then I would be. Also Steven's father seemed entirely incapable of taking care of his son and that really roused my anger. I am less then forgiving with parents who refuse to be responsible with their children. 

Their was one character that showed up near the end, A Gem called "Lapis Lazuli". She was interesting enough and raised a lot of questions, like some kind of mis-season cliffhanger...her personality was kinda basic us vs. them mentality but it was more complex then any other psychology I had seen on the show so far. Likewise her powerset was pretty basic "Water Manipulation" but you know with Elements that's a pretty broad bases. Havng control of an element isn't really a cliche powerset because there is so much variety within it. Sailor Mercury, Katara, and Namor all control water but they aren't anything alike in powerset. 

In General the Characters were very basic though, and I have to admit I couldn't really say I had much of a connection to any of them.


Steven Universe for the most part was comprised of individual one-shots rather then an overarching plots. I've mentioned before....I don't like filler. This seems to be a show that's >50% filler so far. Likewise most of the plots were not that memorable. A good number of them were caused by the main characters...which I know some people like I just don't.

The Lowest Score I'd give an episode is a 1/5 ("Cat Fingers" which was disgusting and somewhat scary) and the highest I'd give would be a 3/5 ("Serious Steven" which was a well-done adventure piece focused around a dangerous environment in the style of Indiana Jones and the like). 

There's a big problem with the SU plots on the first half of the first season...namely the Crystal Gems seem like terrible superheroes. And if they aren't not Superheroes they seem like terrible heroes. From the first episode on, they always seem to need Steven to help them. Steven is a young boy with bad control of his powers and yet he's always the one saving them. They are supposed to be his guardians. And sometimes it goes beyond just that.

In episode 2 a Red Eye is gonna hit the city and the only thing that can stop it is a cannon that Steven's late mother had. Steven is the ONLY one who even considers asking his dad for it. The Crystal Gems are skeptical and sure they might have every right to be. I wouldn't protest this if they were doing trying some other method. But they spend literally a whole day of Garnet just throwing Amethyst at the thing over and over. I don't know if it's supposed to be a really long joke but it's like textbook insanity. Even if they don't think Greg Quartz (that' his father) would have the cannon, even a slim possibility is better then doing the same thing over and over like that. 

There is another problem the plots suffer, which is they try to manufacture emotion. Not let it come naturally from the narrative but try and force emotion from the viewer. They'll pour on x-character's sob story in order to try and make the viewer feel bad for them or they'll try and force an emotional moment by having X Character act like a stereotype and/or Steven say something that is supposed to be super profound because of his innocence ("So Many Birthday" is a good example of this). Emotion must come naturally from the characters and their situations, trying to manufacture it consciously will only end up with a simulation akin to having a narrator dictate to us what we "should" be feeling in that situation.

Overall the plots of SU are if I am being mean, emotionally manipulative and dull and if I am being charitable would say they don't connect very well at least with me personally. It also does not present it's characters in a very flattering light.

Steven Universe was apparently influenced aestheically and content-wise by Revolutionary Girl Utena and omg does it show. Utena is arguably a Magical Girl Anime and one of the most acclaimed worldwide ever. It's also my most disliked Magical Girl Show. There's an episode of SU that plays really direct homage to Utena (Steven the Sword Fighter, a 3/5 episode and as an episode is probably better then Utena as a whole if I am being frank.) that has a like a direct blow for blow copy of a famous Utena fight.

I am not crazy about the Aesthetics in SU. It's very pastel water-colory and reminds me firstly of Utena and second of Crayon Shin-Chan. And I don't dislike Crayon Shin-Chan but you can not watch more then an episode before your eyes start to watch from the pastel-y ness of it. The Characters of SU have a very mixed aesthetic to their outfits. Look at the Crystal Gems for a second. Look at how many colors and shapes they have. The Aesthetic of the show is almost anti-minimalist including details basically for the sake of details. It lacks the streamlined elegance I would want.'s better but not really anything huge. My thoughts on the opening theme first time I heard it could be summed up as "Wow, that was short!" The Opening's a catchy enough jiggle even if it doesn't really hype me or tell me much about what's different about this show compared to any others. Let's compare the Steven Universe Opening with the Opening of the other Cartoon I have done a review on...Star versus the Forces of Evil:

"We....are the Crystal GEMS!
We'll always save the day!
And if you think we can't....
We'll always find a way!
That's why the people... in.....
Garnet! Amethyst! and Pearl! AND STEVEN!"

"It's gonna get a little weird,
Gonna get a little wild.
I ain't from round here,
I'm from another DIMENSION!

It's gonna get a little weird,
Gonna have a GOOD TIME!
I ain't from round here,
I'm from another woo-hoo!


I'm taking Rainbows!
I'm talking Puppies!


It's gonna get a little weird,
Gonna get a little wild.
I ain't from round here,
I'm from another DIMENSION!"

Part of is that the Star theme is so much longer but seriously, outside the roll call the SU theme is just so...generic. Outside the Roll Call every line could apply to a thousand different shows and the tune is so mellow and unhype. The Star theme does everything it can to hype you, with repetition of words and sounds, lots of energy, descriptive words all about things inherent to the show. 

SU also has musical numbers in the episodes. I didn't hear many of them and I recall even less of them. The only one I remember to any real extent was "Giant Woman" and that's because TFS made their own version of that same song "Super Saiyan". (I swear TFS are geniuses....Super Saiyan sounds like the original and Giant Woman sounds like the Cover. I mean "All I want to be/is a Dad who gets to see a Super Saiyan" works so much better then "All I want to be is/is someone who gets to see a Giant Woman." )

Overall the Aesthetics of SU Visually are not to my personal taste and the Auditory Part is servicable but not really memorable. 


Mood (???):
In the first 26 episodes I ahd seriously difficulties piecing together what the Mood of SU was supposed to it primarily action? I doubt that cause the action is generally only a small part of the episode. Is it primarily comedy? I don't think so because it had whole episodes with only a few jokes jokes. Is it primarily a Pure Sci-Fi Mood ala the 60s Asimov and whatnot? I don't think so because the actual biology of the Gems and the technology they use is the focus of only a few episodes. It's clearly some kind of fusion but I can't tell what the core is supposed to be which is a sign that at this stage they themselves weren't sure what exactly they were going for. However I didn't find the mood very compelling. It's clearly trying to be an emotive mood but it's ability to create emotions feels so artificial that I can't connect to it on that level. I can't give this one any points because I can't figure out what I should be expecting when I go in. Even if I was supposed to expect a surprise, something new every episode like a Classical Adventure Story, that would be a mood. But I don't have any idea what kind of mood it's trying to set. The last two episodes suggest it's trying to be a serious science-fiction story, but the science is so barely elaborated on.


Genre: (Urban Fantasy/Science-Fantasy):
THIS is much more clear cut and something that I feel they do better then most things. It's a combination the Science-Fantasy genre fusion, a genre focused on the intermingling of the rational and the intuitive parts of the brain as distinguished by the Fusion of Technology and Magic and the Urban Fantasy genre which is a genre about finding the magical and transcendental even in otherwise Mundane Environments. Those are both genres I really like and a fusion of them sounds like it has a lot of potential. 

As a word of speclative fiction let's discuss their worldbuilding. The worldbuilding is....not much really in the first 26 episodes. And yet it's also the most effective, probably because it's minimal, With every other section I feel like the problem is they crammed in too much.  They wanted to do so many things that they lost focus. However in the world-building I can say they went much slower and as a result it's a lot more consistent in feel. The series focused around a Rocklike Alien (who all happen to look humanoid women...gotta love that humanoid alien trope in fiction) controlled by their gems. And if nothing else I will say they did this masterfully. They got this idea across in the first few minutes of the first episode. The very first episode we see Steven looks mostly human but he has an odd gem that has powers. We see 3 human-oid looking beings with gems in them that give them powers and that have much finer control and are expressely watching out to see that he can control it. most of the worldbuilding comes from the first episode, and that is very well done I will say.

Immediately upon watching episode 1 your impressions are that Steven and these Beings are different fro normal humans in some-way. Steven has less control and looks more human and so  we can intuitively piece together that Steven is likely a second generation of this species, we can see evidentally how their powers work, that from their gem materialize weapons, and that these gems are important to them because they control their bodies. From their color schemes and weapon choices we have strong evidence suggesting the Gems aren't human at all while Steven seems at least partially human. We see a monster creature with it's own gem and we can conclude from all this that the Gems are in some way non-human, likely extra-terrestrial via their Science Fiction aesthetics, that Steven is a Second Generation Gem, that their species uses their Gem to maintain themselves and grants them their powers via weapon conjuration (we can even make the logical leap that these forms are likely materialized the same as the weapons which proves true in a later episode). All of this we can deduce from evidence in the first episode without anyone saying anything explicit to the sort. That's pretty well done world-building. Tolkien would be proud. 

The Worldbuilding, even if I am not a huge fan of some of the ideas presented, remains consistently a strength of the series, Gem Society is often alluded to briefly with ruins and the like but never fully explored so when we get our first Civilized but Antagonistic Gem at the halfway point of the season we have a good understanding of the basis they are coming from. Again I would theorize that worldbudiling is the one area they went slower in, took their time, didn't include every idea the minute they thought it.

However I must take points away from the genre section because while it world-builds very well it doesn't play to the strengths of either Science-Fantasy or Urban Fantasy. The Appeal of Science-Fantasy is the wonder of having the intuitive mind and the rational mind meet and coming to a profound sense or realization. However, at least for me, the emotional manipulation within SU kept me at a distance, such that I could only rely on the rational brain for the part. I could not feel wonder, grandeur, or terror the necessary emotional components to the "magic" of Fantasy. The appeal of Urban Fantasy is the ability to portray the fantastical within a familiar setting such to provide a contrast between the mundane and the fantastic. SU seems to fixiate on this point, however while those worlds very often come close, they never connect in SU. The citizens of Beach City seems utterly indifferent to the very evident existence of aliens among them and dangerous threats to humanity. The most interaction gotten was the influence of the Mundane world on the Gems themselves such as when Garnet get essentially hypnotized in a video game or when Amethyst secretly joins an underground wrestling ring. But at least not so far there has little to no impact of this Magical World on the Mundane. 

Overall in terms of genre, SU Season 1 Part 1 has masterfully created a world to use for it's story, and then stubbornly not made any story out of that world.


Judging strictly by what I've seen, I don't like SU. Frankly I'm just bored watching it. It has good points, it's not like I'm saying it's terrible. But it very clearly has as an influence Utena, a show I dislike greatly and seem to be the only one who does. 


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