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The Radical Empathy of ‘Steven Universe’ (Column)



The final epic battle of “Steven Universe” isn’t one between mates and foes, however between Steven Universe and himself. After six years and practically 200 episodes, each the present and character took the time to ask themselves some essential, existential questions: What occurs to a hero after they’ve already saved the day? Who’s Steven Universe, and what makes him so particular?

Steven’s ensuing spiral into self-doubt, and the gorgeously intuitive approach the sequence guides him out of it, is heady stuff for any present, not to mention a youngsters’ cartoon awash in pastels and uplifting musical breaks. Nevertheless it’s additionally a sometimes bold arc for “Steven Universe,” and subsequently a becoming one for it to finish on — even when watching it wind down with such skilled care makes its departure all of the extra bittersweet.

“Steven Universe” started as a candy sequence a couple of boy (voiced by Zach Callison) and his three “Crystal Gem” alien guardians — Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), Pearl (Deedee Magno), and Garnet (Estelle) — and shortly reworked into an astonishingly intricate saga of resilience and hope. It constructed a world wherein aliens and people help and study from one another, wherein real love crosses binaries and galaxies, wherein the hero of the story’s strongest weapon is his emotional intelligence. As Steven and his mates confronted down their fears and shared of their joys, Rebecca Sugar’s deeply empathetic present grew to become one in all tv’s smartest, interval. It additionally grew to become an increasing number of difficult as Steven, half-human and half-Crystal Gem, found the customarily disturbing reality about his powers and ancestry. In between heartwarming tales of friendship and sharing donuts got here bittersweet victories and laborious classes about what it means to outlive. With the preternaturally compassionate Steven main the Gems, although, they at all times managed to tug via. Because the theme track put it: they’d at all times save the day, they’d at all times discover a approach. 

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However within the remaining 20 episodes of the Cartoon Community sequence — a coda to the principle sequence arc collectively known as “Steven Universe: Future,” which ended with Friday evening’s sequence finale — the present made clear that it wasn’t about to take the simple (or at the very least extra elastic) approach out of its personal cataclysmic occasions. Not like many cartoons made for youngsters, its characters wouldn’t bounce again unscathed like nothing had ever occurred. As a substitute, “Steven Universe: Future” explored the aftermath of the present’s game-changing adventures and the way its characters would alter to the brand new regular of not having to discover a method to save the day. In doing so, it additionally allowed Steven the room to have a real disaster of religion by giving him nothing to do — no wars to battle, no mates to rescue — however be himself, whoever which may be.

After teasing us with just a few idyllic episodes in regards to the peaceable new establishment, “Steven Universe: Future” plunged face-first into Steven’s confusion and trauma with the sort of consideration typical of the sequence. Used to being the one who helps everybody of their time of want, Steven refused to let anybody assist him in his personal. Confused by his debilitating melancholy throughout an objectively secure time in his world, Steven blames himself for not with the ability to cope higher, even when a physician gently means that he’s nonetheless coping with an entire lifetime of trauma. Misplaced with no outlined goal, Steven loses his grip on who he’s and what he needs. 

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Placing the present’s hero in this sort of precarious place, and displaying some startlingly unflattering sides of his psyche within the course of, is a large danger that, within the present’s remaining 4 episodes, pays off. The “Steven Universe” group may be very conscious of its viewers — a cross-section of starry-eyed youngsters and adults — and trusts them to know Steven’s struggles, having adopted him to the ends of the galaxy and again once more. Similar to Steven’s family and friends on the present, we would like nothing greater than for Steven to know that he doesn’t must shoulder everybody’s burden, that he’s greater than sufficient on his personal, that he’s worthy of affection even when he doesn’t consider it himself. 

That grace of extending an open thoughts and sympathetic hand — not simply to your folks, however to your enemies, and to your self — is the legacy of “Steven Universe.” It put love first, not simply by saying so (as is straightforward sufficient to do), however by doing so (as is typically tougher than we’d care to confess). In taking its characters’ emotions severely even once they couldn’t, it assured its viewers that we, too, deserve the sort of compassion we may be extra more likely to prolong to others. To find hope within the darkest locations, it confirmed how disaster can result in catharsis. In assembling chosen households that confirmed up each day to take care of each other, it confirmed us the right way to help one another, and the way asking for assist isn’t a weak point, however a necessity. In making its heroes highly effective by advantage of their generosity slightly than their bodily pressure, the sequence flipped conference on its head and heralded the sort of emotional fortitude that too many take with no consideration or dismiss out of hand. “Steven Universe” imagined an revolutionary world wherein the most important energy an individual (or gem) can have is kindness. It would sound easy, however as “Steven Universe” proved time and again, it’s the sort of future that’s price combating for.

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