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Steven Universe

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Title: Steven Universe  
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Subject: Rebecca Sugar, Sworn to the Sword, Zach Callison, Susan Egan, Cartoon Network
Collection: 2010S American Animated Television Series, 2010S American Television Series, 2013 American Television Series Debuts, American Children's Comedy Series, American Children's Television Series, American Lgbt-Related Television Programs, Animated Adventure Television Series, Anime-Influenced Animation, Boom! Studios Titles, Cartoon Network Original Programs, Cartoon Network Programs, Fantasy Television Series, Lgbt-Related Animation, Musical Television Series, Science Fantasy Television Series, Steven Universe, Superhero Television Programs, Television Series by Warner Bros. Television
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Steven Universe

Steven Universe
Genre
Created by Rebecca Sugar
Story by
Directed by
  • Elle Michalka (art)
  • Nick DeMayo (animation)
  • Ian Jones-Quartey (supervising, Season 1 only)
  • Kat Morris (supervising)
Voices of
Theme music composer
  • Rebecca Sugar
  • Aivi & Surasshu
  • Jeff Liu
Opening theme "We Are the Crystal Gems"
Ending theme "Love Like You", performed by Rebecca Sugar (from Season 2)
Composer(s) Aivi Tran
Steven "Surasshu" Velema
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 73 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
  • Rebecca Sugar
  • Ian Jones-Quartey (co-executive producer, Season 2)
Producer(s)
  • Jackie Buscarino
  • Chuck Austen (supervising producer, Season 1 only)
Running time 11 minutes
Production company(s) Cartoon Network Studios[2]
Release
Original channel Cartoon Network
Picture format 1080i (16:9 HDTV)
Audio format Dolby Surround
First shown in July 27, 2013 (2013-07-27) (Pilot)
Original release November 4, 2013 (2013-11-04) – present
External links
Website

Steven Universe is an American animated television series created by Rebecca Sugar for Cartoon Network. It is the coming-of-age story of a young boy named Steven, who grows up in the town of Beach City living with three magical humanoid aliens, the "Crystal Gems" Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven, who is half-Gem, goes on adventures with his human friends and helps the Gems protect the world from their own kind. Sugar developed the series while working as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time, and it premiered on November 4, 2013 as Cartoon Network's first series to be created by a woman.

The series has received critical acclaim, being praised for its art design, music, voice acting, and complex characterization and science-fiction worldbuilding. It was nominated for an Emmy Award and two Annie Awards. Steven Universe was renewed for a third season in 2015. Companion books, comics, and a video game based on it have also been released.

Contents

  • Setting and synopsis 1
  • Development 2
    • Concept and creation 2.1
    • Voice casting 2.2
    • Production 2.3
  • Broadcast 3
  • Episodes 4
  • Crossover 5
  • Other media 6
    • Short films 6.1
    • Companion books 6.2
    • Video games 6.3
    • Comics 6.4
    • Toys 6.5
  • Reception 7
    • Production values 7.1
    • Writing and themes 7.2
    • Awards and nominations 7.3
  • Home media 8
    • Video on demand 8.1
    • DVD 8.2
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Setting and synopsis

The series is set in the fictional Beach City, which is in the state of Delmarva[3] on the American East Coast. In Beach City, the Crystal Gems live in an ancient beachside temple, protecting the world from evil. Ageless alien warriors, they project female humanoid forms from magical gemstones that are the core of their being. The four Crystal Gems are Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Steven, a young half-human, half-Gem boy who inherited his gemstone from his mother, the Crystal Gems' former leader Rose Quartz. As Steven tries to figure out his powers, he spends his days with his human father Greg, his friend Connie, other people in Beach City, or the other Gems, whether to help them save the world or just to hang out. He explores the abilities passed down to him by his mother, which include fusion — the ability of Gems to merge their bodies and abilities to form new and more powerful personalities.

The first season slowly reveals that the Crystal Gems are remnants of a once great interstellar civilization. Most of the locations they visit are ruins that were once of great importance to Gem culture, but have become derelict for millennia. The Gems are cut off from their homeworld, and it becomes apparent that the monsters and artifacts they encounter are Gems who can no longer maintain rational humanoid forms. In parallel, flashbacks related by Greg develop the history of Rose Quartz and her relationships. By the end of the first season, Steven learns that the Homeworld Gems intended to sterilize the Earth to incubate new Gems within it. Now, 5,000 years after Rose Quartz led the other Crystal Gems in a violent and apparently successful rebellion against these genocidal plans, the homeworld's machinations once again extend towards the Earth with the arrival of two hostile envoys, Peridot and Jasper. In the second season, Peridot is forced to ally with the Crystal Gems to prevent Earth's destruction by a Gem abomination growing in the planet's core, while Jasper remains locked in a struggle with Lapis Lazuli, an errant Gem.

Development

Concept and creation

The titular character, Steven, is loosely based on Sugar's younger brother Steven Sugar,[4] who is one of the series's background artists.[5] Growing up, Sugar would collaborate with Steven and other friends to create comics.[6] In an interview with The New York Times, she commented on developing the background of the show's protagonist, expressing her desire to base the character from the viewpoint of her brother growing up "where you're so comfortable in your life because you get all the attention, but you also want to rise up and not be the little brother."[7]

Beach City, the setting of the series, is loosely based on Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach, Delaware, all places that Sugar visited as a child.[4] The supporting characters Lars and Sadie were originally created in Sugar's college days.[8] The Gems are, according to Sugar, all "some version of me... neurotic, lazy, decisive".[9] She wanted their gems to reflect their personalities – Pearl's perfect smoothness, Amethyst's coarseness, and Garnet's air of mystery.[10]

"God forbid a piece of media not include super masculine self-insert super powered hero characters for straight males to identify with."

— Series story editor Matt Burnett in response to fans asking for male Gems[11]

The unusually strong female presence in a series about a boy – all major characters except Steven and Greg are female – is intentional, according to Sugar. She intended to "tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children" because she considered it absurd that shows for boys should be fundamentally different from those for girls. In terms of plot, according to her, the series is developing towards a far-off end goal, although everything in between is kept flexible, in part, because her own intentions have "changed since I've started because I’ve grown up a lot" while working on Steven Universe.[12]

Sugar said that Steven Universe was influenced by the anime series Future Boy Conan and Revolutionary Girl Utena, as well as by The Simpsons.[13] Musically, she considers Aimee Mann "a huge influence".[14] She described a theory underlying the series as "reverse escapism", that is, the notion that fantasy characters would become interested in real life and would want to participate in it. The titular character, Steven, personifies this "love affair between fantasy and reality".[5]

Voice casting

Zach Callison (Steven)
Estelle (Garnet)
Deedee Magno (Pearl)

The 17-year-old American actor Zach Callison, who has appeared in several animated series and films, voices Steven in his first leading role on television. Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is voiced by Estelle Swaray, a noted British singer, songwriter and actress. She was asked by Cartoon Network to take the part, her first voice acting role.[15]

For her colleagues, the actress Michaela Dietz and the actress and The Party singer Deedee Magno, the roles of Amethyst and Pearl were also their first part in an animated production.[16][17] The comedian and writer Tom Scharpling, who voices Steven's father Greg, is better known for his radio work, notably as the host of The Best Show with Tom Scharpling. Grace Rolek, who plays the part of Steven's friend Connie, was also 16 years old at the series's start, and has appeared as a voice actress in animated productions since the age of five or six.[18]

Production

A part of the storyboard and script from the episode "Island Adventure". The storyboard artists for the show are also the writers, and create script and storyboards in conjunction.

According to Sugar, production for Steven Universe began while she was working on Adventure Time. Her last episode for the latter series was "Simon & Marcy"; following that episode, working on both series simultaneously "became impossible to do". Similarly, she encountered difficulty in the production of the episode "Bad Little Boy".[19] As executive producer, Sugar works on every part of the series including art, animation and sound, but considers herself "the most hands on" at the storyboarding stage.[20]

The series is developed such that the outline for an episode is passed to storyboarders, who then draw and write the episode simultaneously. The resulting storyboards are then animated based on traditional paper drawings by one of two Korean studios, Sunmin and Rough Draft,[21] based on the production crew's designs.[5]

Steven Universe features songs and musical numbers produced by Sugar along with her story writers, who collaborate on the lyrics for each song. According to Sugar, not every episode is meant to feature a song. She has instead opted to use them only occasionally to avoid forcing creativity.[19]

On November 14, 2013, 13 additional episodes were ordered for the first season.[22] On July 25, 2014, the series was renewed for a second season,[23] and began airing on March 13, 2015. It was again renewed in July 2015 for a third season.[24]

Broadcast

The pilot episode for Steven Universe was released on Cartoon Network's video platform on May 21, 2013,[25] and again in an edited version on July 20.[26] The pilot was also exhibited at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con,[27] and Rebecca Sugar hosted a 30-minute panel about Steven Universe at the 2013 New York Comic Con on October 13.[28]

The series premiered in the United States on November 4, 2013 on Cartoon Network, with two episodes.[29] In Canada, it began airing on Cartoon Network on November 11, 2013[30] and on Teletoon on April 24, 2014.[31] It also aired on Cartoon Network channels in Australia from beginning on February 3, 2014[32] and in the United Kingdom and Ireland since May 12, 2014.[33]

Episodes

Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 52 November 4, 2013 (2013-11-04) March 12, 2015 (2015-03-12)
2 52[34] March 13, 2015 (2015-03-13) TBA

Crossover

"Say Uncle", the crossover episode with Uncle Grandpa, aired on April 2, 2015. The episode follows Uncle Grandpa helping Steven restore his shield after he is unable to use it. First trying various weapons of Uncle's on the beach, they warp away through a "plot hole" when the Gems attack to protect Steven, and when they finally catch up with the two again, Steven regains his ability.[35]

Other media

Short films

The first short released, called "Just Lion Things", was styled like a Vine, released to both Vine and tumblr, and has Lion trying to fit in a bunch of boxes.

A short film made available in July 2015 called "What are Gems?" has Pearl teach Steven about the nature and abilities of Gems.[36] In October 2015, another short in the same series titled "How are Gems Made?" has Amethyst teach Steven about how the Gems came to Earth, and how they're created.[37] The films are inspired by omake clips from anime series such as Gunbuster, in which characters teach the audience about aspects of the series's lore.

Another short, "We Are the Crystal Gems",[38] debuted at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con. It is the extended version of the title music and second opening sequence, and begins with young Steven moving in with the three Crystal Gems.

Companion books

Several companion books are to be published by the Cartoon Network Books imprint of Penguin:

  • Steven Universe's Guide to the Crystal Gems for Humans (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183160) by series creator Rebecca Sugar contains information about the Crystal Gems as well as original art.
  • Quest for Gem Magic (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183177) by Max Brallier is a "colorful journal and activity book" aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds.
  • Steven Universe Mad Libs (October 2015, ISBN 978-0843183092) by Walter Burns is a Mad Libs word game book.
  • Steven Universe: Live from Beach City (February 2016, ISBN 978-0843183498) is a music and activity book with chord charts and sheet music for the major songs from the first season.
  • What in the Universe? (February 2016, ISBN 978-0843183481) by Jake Black is a book of trivia about Steven and the Gems.

Video games

The tactical role-playing video game Steven Universe: Attack the Light! was released on April 2, 2015 for iOS and Android devices.[39] It was developed by Grumpyface Studios in collaboration with Rebecca Sugar for mobile devices. Players control the four Crystal Gems in fights against light monsters.[40][41]

Steven Universe characters also appear in Cartoon Network's cart racing video game Formula Cartoon All-Stars. As with other Cartoon Network series, several browser-based games are made available on the channel's website, including Heap of Trouble, Goat Guardian, and Gem Bound.[42]

Comics

BOOM! Studios published an ongoing monthly comics series based on Steven Universe written by Jeremy Sorese and illustrated by Coleman Engle.[43] A preview appeared in Adventure Time: 2013 Spoooktacular #1.[44] The first issue was published in August 2014.

A graphic novel based on Steven Universe, the first in a planned series, is to be published by KaBOOM! in December 2015. Also written by Sorese and drawn by Engle, Steven Universe: Too Cool for School focuses on the friendship between Steven and Connie as he accompanies her to school one day.[45]

Toys

In October 2015, Cartoon Network announced the launch of a line of toys based on Steven Universe, to be sold through specialty retailers. For the 2015 holiday season, Funko will make "Pop!" vinyl figures, and Just Toys will offer various "blind bag" novelty products. In spring 2016, PhatMojo will sell plush figures and foam weapons, and Zag Toys will release collectible bobbleheads and other mini figures. In 2017, Toy Factory is to sell a line of plush and novelty items.[46]

Reception

Steven Universe received widespread acclaim for its art, music, voice performances, storytelling, and its characterization. As an "equally rewarding watch" for adults and children, according to James Whitbrook in io9,[47] and "one of the stealthiest, smartest, and most beautiful things on the air" in the view of Eric Thurm in Wired,[48] it attracted a quickly growing fan base.[49]

Production values

Critics praised the "breathtaking beauty",[50] "intriguing, immersive environments"[51] and "loveably goofy aesthetic"[47] of Steven Universe‍ '​s art. They noted the distinct look imparted by the soft pastel backgrounds,[51] as well as the series's "gorgeous, expressive, clean" animation.[52]

The chiptune-inspired music by the duo of Aivi Tran and Steven "Surasshu" Velema was also often highlighted in reviews, with Oliver Sava in the A.V. Club mentioning its range from "peppy retro" to Ghibli-esque "smooth jazz piano".[51] The musical numbers featured in some episodes are distinguished by their "uplifting determination", according to Thurm.[53] As Whitbrook wrote, they evolve from "little (...) goofy ditties" to become an integral part of the storytelling, with the much-lauded song performed by Estelle in the first season's finale being "a rap about the power of two women in romantic love, delivered during a fight aboard an exploding spaceship. It's as awesome as it sounds".[47]

Reviewers also appreciated the voice acting of the broad ensemble cast. Tom Scharpling's Greg,[54] Zach Callison's "exuberant and expressive"[55] work as Steven and Grace Rolek "singing her heart out" as Connie[53] were among the actors particularly noted for their performances.

Writing and themes

Steven Universe covers a broad range of themes, including a low-key slice of life portrayal of childhood, an examination of unconventional family dynamics, an intensive homage to anime, video games and other pop culture mainstays, as well as being a "straightforward kids' show about superheroes", according to Thurm.[56] Hope Chapman of Anime News Network noted that the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon are visually and structurally Steven Universe‍ '​s strongest influences, as reflected in its "predominantly playful tone, interrupted by crushing drama at key moments", as well as in its "glorification of the strengths of femininity, dilution of gender barriers, and emphasis on a wide variety of relationships between women, aimed at a family audience".[57] Other Japanese cultural icons the series references include Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, Cowboy Bebop and Dragon Ball Z, as well as Studio Ghibli movies and Junji Ito's horror manga The Enigma of Amigara Fault.[57]

The series's "masterful sense of pace", wrote Whitbrook, allows the series to subtly integrate elements of foreshadowing and worldbuilding into individual scenes that almost imperceptibly make an overarching dramatic narrative emerge from what might appear to be "monster of the week" episodes.[47] The series's conceit of telling a complex story from a child's perspective means that its exposition remains "artfully restrained, growing in ambition with the series" and Steven's character, in the view of Thurm.[48] Steven Universe‍ '​s measured pace also allows its characters to become "more complex and interesting than most of their counterparts on prestige dramas",[58] in Thurm's view, developing "as real people and not entities serving narrative functions".[55] The series explores increasingly challenging facets of their relationships, such as the notion that Pearl may in part resent Steven because he is why his mother Rose no longer exists,[59] or the point where Pearl's "all-consuming passion" for Rose[53] becomes self-destructive. Even the action showpieces are on occasion cast as philosophical arguments, such as when Estelle's song presents the climactic fight in "Jail Break" as the contest between Garnet's loving relationship and Jasper's "lone wolf" attitude.[58]

"Gender is at the forefront of the conversation surrounding Steven Universe", according to Erik Adams in the A.V. Club, who noted as remarkable that "the show's superheroes are all women".[50] As, among other things, a self-aware pastiche of "magical girl" anime, the series subverts that genre's premises, according to Whitbrook, by having Steven, a boy, embody the loving femininity of the typical magical girl protagonist – without being mocked for it or losing his masculine side in turn. Writer James Whitbrook also says that the series was ultimately "about love — all kinds of love", including nontraditional forms such as the both motherly and friendly bond between Steven and the Crystal Gems, as well as stating Garnet as a "physical embodiment of a lesbian relationship".[47] Autostraddle's Mey Rude wrote that Steven Universe was the most recent animated series aimed at a younger audience to feature significant representation of queer themes, such as through the androgynous fusion Stevonnie and the relationship between the Gems Ruby and Sapphire. This, according to Rude, reflects what she claims is the growing prominence of these themes in children's cartoons: previous depictions were either subtextual or minimal, such as in the 2011 Adventure Time episode "What Was Missing" or in the 2014 series Clarence, or more explicit but unexplored, such as in the 2014 finale of Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra. In Steven Universe, on the other hand, LGBT themes appear prominently in the first season.[60]

Adams highlighted the "groundbreaking and inventive" portrayal of the complicated "mentor/caregiver/older sibling dynamic" between Steven and the Crystal Gems[50] in a series that, at its core, is about sibling relationships, according to Sava.[51] A notable emotional difference to Adventure Time and Regular Show, wrote Thurm, is that while these series deal with their protagonists' transition to adulthood, Steven Universe was, at least in its first season, content to be "enamored with the simplicity of childhood".[52] Nonetheless, Thurm noted, by the first season's end, Steven had slowly grown from an obnoxious tag-along kid to being accepted as a Crystal Gem in his own right, a change brought about by increased insight and experience rather than merely age.[58]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2013 Behind the Voice Actor Awards[61] Best Male Vocal Performance by a Child Zach Callison (as Steven for "Steven Universe") Won
2014 Annie Award Outstanding Achievement in Character Design in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production[62] Danny Hynes and Colin Howard Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Production Design in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production[62] Steven Sugar, Emily Walus, Sam Bosma, Elle Michalka, and Amanda Winterstein (for "Gem Glow") Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role - Young Actor[63] Zach Callison (as Steven for "Steven Universe") Nominated
Behind the Voice Actor Awards[64] Best Vocal Ensemble in a Television Series - Comedy/Musical Cast of "Steven Universe" (for "Steven Universe") Won
Best Female Lead Vocal Performance in a Television Series - Comedy/Musical Deedee Magno Hall (as Pearl for "Steven Universe") Won
Michaela Dietz (as Amethyst for "Steven Universe") Nominated
Best Female Vocal Performance in a Television Series in a Supporting Role - Comedy/Musical Kate Micucci (as Sadie for "Steven Universe") Nominated
Best Female Vocal Performance in a Television Series in a Guest Role - Comedy/Musical Jennifer Paz (as Lapis Lazuli for "Steven Universe") Won
Susan Egan (as Rose Quartz for "Steven Universe") Nominated
Best Vocal Ensemble in a Television Series - Comedy/Musical Cast of "Steven Universe" (for "Steven Universe") Won
2015 Primetime Emmy Award[65] Short-format Animation "Lion 3: Straight to Video" Nominated

Home media

Video on demand

Depending on the customer's region, Steven Universe is available through various video on demand services such as Hulu, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon Video, and Xbox Video.

DVD

Episodes on the Steven Universe DVDs are not in original broadcast order. In the table below, the episodes are listed in the order they appear on the DVD, and are numbered according to the order in which they were originally broadcast.

Region 1
DVD title Season(s) Aspect ratio Episode count Total running time Release date Episodes
"Gem Glow" 1 16:9 12 132 minutes January 13, 2015 2 ("Laser Light Cannon"), 1 ("Gem Glow"), 6 ("Cat Fingers"), 7 ("Bubble Buddies"), 9 ("Tiger Millionaire"), 10 ("Steven's Lion"), 15 ("Onion Trade"), 12 ("Giant Woman"), 14 ("Lars and the Cool Kids"), 19 ("Rose's Room"), 18 ("Beach Party") and 22 ("Steven and the Stevens")

References

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