Let me be very up-front about this: I am reviewing Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe for the same reason I was compelled to watch it in the first place, that being the presence of a character named Amethyst.
My interest was further piqued when I found out creator Rebecca Sugar worked on Adventure Time and had written the episode “Simon & Marcy”. She’s also the first woman to create a show for Cartoon Network.
In the limited observation of a very-early-30-something with no actual kids, kids’ cartoons seem to be pretty gender-targeted. Not to say there isn’t some crossover in fandom (bronies, anyone?), but usually you can watch a cartoon for about 5 seconds and figure out whether it’s targeted at boys or girls. Steven Universe clearly and effectively targets both. Watch the opening theme here:
Nothing about it screams “Boy aisle!” or “Girl aisle!” but it doesn’t try to be devoid of gender, either. It’s at once boyish and girly. The color palette is a pleasant medium between primaries and pastels.
So, how about the show itself? Steven Universe (Universe really is his last name) has taken his late mother’s place in a group of intergalactic superheroes called the Crystal Gems. The surviving Gems – Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl – are like aunts to Steven, teaching him how to use the powers of the gemstone he inherited from his mother, Rose Quartz. He also gets help from his flakey but caring human father, former indie rocker Greg Universe.
What really makes this show fun to watch is the sense of familial affection that permeates it. Rebecca Sugar named the title character after her younger brother, who does background art for the show. I totally see my 10-year-old nephew in Steven. I see a little of myself in all of the Crystal Gems. Garnet’s decisive confidence. Pearl’s cool-headed logic. Amethyst’s unapologetic lack of damns to give. And her name. Her beautiful, fabulous, awesome name.
Most of the shows I watch on Cartoon Network are either outright made for adults (anything on Adult Swim), or ostensibly made for kids but catered to a significant teen and adult fanbase (Adventure Time). Steven Universe does feel like it’s being written primarily for kids. But it’s written well for kids. Which also makes it enjoyable for adults, if you’re the kind of adult who goes to Pixar movies unaccompanied by a child. Will I watch it? Not in its actual time slot, where it competes with Bones and How I Met Your Mother. I will, however, catch up on it online when I feel like watching a quirky, endearing cartoon featuring a superheroine named Amethyst.