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So I wanted to write about how much I absolutely love Steven Universe. How it's basically the cartoon I wish I'd had around when I was 10 or so. Caveat; I might be really wrong here. I just wanted to write about it.

Something people like about the show is inclusion of Queer characters. I think this works because Queerness is much more a McGuffin than an all-embracing plot point. The Gems are lesbians not because it's important that they're lesbians, but because it's important that they are able to fuse and have romantic relationships, and hey, they're female. Rose is bisexual because her relationships with Pearl and Greg becomes a vital plot point. Stevonnie is MtF (sort of) because the relationship between Steven and Connie is crucial, and having Steven transition (sort of) facilitates that.

The result are stories which are what LGBT+ people want to see; not about Queers having to accept themselves and fight for acceptance in their own and larger communities, but simply representational stories in which someone with your identity is actually a main character for a change. It's like SU fell out of a wormhole from 40 years in a nicer future, when nobody really cares too much about orientation or assigned birth gender.

Far more important to those characters is that they're all affected by a long-past interstellar rebellion turned mopping up exercise, which might become very active and very deadly any time now. "Affected by a long-past interstellar rebellion turned mopping up exercise, which might become very active" sounds like the background to a favorite anime.

I'm old enough to remember when anime was still a huge revelation to us American kids -- you mean people did cartoons with big, long story arcs, that sprung surprises on you? (I love how SU still surprises me. We the viewers learn about the Gem War and Homeworld along with Steven and it really gives Homeworld this aspect of looming threat. For a while I thought Rose was one of the Diamonds, gone rogue -- now I know that she actually killed that Diamond, and there's a fullness of story I wasn't anticipating.) You mean people did cartoons with awesome giant swords, giant robots, and consequences like actual romance, or death? Whoa.

Steven Universe manages to do a lot of that classic anime storybuilding and still be very much an American show. You'll put on an episode with Steven being the classic slightly bratty American protagonist obsessed with doughnuts and Dogcopter, and then next episode there'll be some gigantic plot exploration that ends with him shivering in a ball as he realizes he -- and his mother -- are capable of doing terrible things. That sort of thing. Whoa.

I grew up with a lot of kid-focused media being soft-pedaled and I think children understand that the world is full of incredible hurt. Now that I'm older, I really appreciate that Steven Universe isn't really made for me; that it's intended as something an 8-16 year old might watch.

So... parental adults who are deeply, deeply flawed, and yet they aren't just a bad Simpsons joke, they're clearly capable caregivers? Finding independence from well-meaning but controlling parents? Having Pearl and Bismuth step beyond assigned societal roles to become truly expert at what they prefer? Trying to sort out the emotional mess of a caregiver having died? That you can be a chunky little kid and still be a fantastic athlete? Simply having a male apparently-white protagonist, only this time, it's okay that he's emotional, caring, and that his superpowers are about defense and healing? Heck, putting mindfulness to work for you?

This is all good stuff; things I would like my kids to see if I had kids, things I wish I'd seen in a cartoon when I was 10, and it's not phrased with the heavyhanded moralism of earlier cartoons.

The other thing about age here is that SU does a great job with "not everyone watching this is going to be 8-16." I was completely floored when the show included Yellow Submarine's Dreadful Flying Glove; I was completely floored when Jasper pounds the bejeebers out of corrupted monsters in subarctic Canada, and it's basically riffing on Sabertooth. I was never a Dragonball fan enough to watch the Rubies emerge from their spacecraft and go "oh wow it's a Dragonball reference!" But I know that happened.

The show is not perfect. But no show is, y'know? I'll definitely settle for an-at-least-okay-show-which-can-be-amazing. There are some episodes which aren't at all my thing, and that's cool; I've seen someone really tear into the show about racial presentation, and yeah they had valid points, but ultimately it's a more important to me that a cartoon actually have representation at all, than that it's a perfect representation.

And from here out we get into the art style. I think I'm going to settle down now, because there's no way I can praise the art style (especially those backgrounds!) without babbling incoherently about stylization and color use.
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