I loved Steven Universe, there was a time when I thought that it was one of the best animated series of all time. I want to begin by saying that the show is still good, it did what art should do, impacting the lives of people who watched it and then making them better people. The title of this is not "Why Steven Universe Sucks" it's "Steven Universe: Missed Potential & Underlying Charm".
Before we get into Steven Universe, I want to talk about something that I have personally been watching a lot of lately, Ben 10: Alien Force. Now, you may be thinking the only thing in common between these two shows is the presence of aliens. Alien Force has a more realistic art style, darker color palette and a story based more on action. But, I think Alien Force helped pave the way for a show like Steven Universe to exist, something that is serious and expansive. Steven Universe mixes the idea of a slice of life with a large space action story. While Alien Force had it;s slice of life moments, the episode where JT and Cash find alien tech and then try to attack Ben comes to mind it was still primarily based in a large space conflict.
These two shows ended up having vastly different audiences, yet they have a very similar concept at its core. A leader with powerful lineage has to lead their team to protect earth, learning about their past, how to be a leader, how to be a teenager and about what is beyond their planet along the way. The reason I bring this up is that what Steven Universe fails at, Alien Force succeeded. It created a strong main cast of characters that evolved with each episode and created a universe that felt vast and expansive. Steven Universe had this, sometimes.
When I talk about Steven Universe's missed potential, I mean that this show could have been a far more mature and well rounded story. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a kids show, but I believe that Steven Universe could have been far more fleshed out than it ended up being. There are two episodes that I want to use as examples for Steven Universe at its best, both happen to be in season 4. "Mindful Education" and "Storm the Room". These are episodes that focus on Steven, more specifically they focus on his response to the action surrounding him. In Mindful Education, we see Steven's distress from the actions he's done. In Storm the Room, we see Steven confront his mother, Rose Quartz, but since it is just a vision created by Rose's Room, it is more like Steven confronting his own fears and insecurities about her. These are two very minimal episodes, there isn't a major moment where Steven helps out someone in need, or redeems a villain or fights some evil gems. Steven spends both of those episodes inside his mind, most of the time. The gems are not there to solve his problems for him. In these two episodes, he feels like a real human being. Instead of the main focus being Steven trying to spread love to aliens, the main focus is Steven reflecting on his actions and his life. It is a moment of quiet and intimacy with him.
Compare this to Steven Universe Future, let's talk about two episodes in particular: Rose Buds and Homeworld Bound to discuss the missed potential of these episodes. In Rose Buds, Rose Quartz gems, who were freed after the end of the original series visit Steven on Earth. This could have been an episode where Steven has to face the shadow of his mother, instead of that there is a comical part where the other gems see the Rose Quartzs but overall, instead of Steven learning more about his relationship with his mother, the episode is about how the gems are too demanding on them and need to leave. This encounter didn't grow Steven, especially not in the way he did in "Storm the Room", where facing Rose made him more grateful for the human life he is able to live. Let's talk about "Homeworld Bound" now, this takes place after Steven shatters a gem, which is the worst thing anyone can do to a gem. It means they cease to exist. He goes to Homeworld, trying to get help from the Diamonds to make him feel better. Instead of "Mindful Education" where he faces his demons, whether it be Bismuth, Eyeball, or his mother the episode focused on the power of meditation and self reflection. Both of these Steven Universe Future episodes missed out on the growth and consequences of Steven's actions, they didn't show Steven facing his demons or becoming a stronger person.
But, Steven Universe is still a charming show. The Steven Universe ambiance is truly unique and comforting. While Ben 10: Alien Force may have had a stronger story, more interesting action and more interesting characters in my eyes, Steven Universe created stronger emotion. The music alone makes the show special, adding in the colors used and the art style as a whole, the show feels caring and comforting. At the end of the day, Steven Universe may not have had the best story it could, sometimes it felt like the story was an afterthought. It seemed like they were trying to appease the most people they could in the fanbase, focusing on a couple moments in the story arc instead of the story arc as a whole. They didn't want them to see the process it takes to grow, the main goal was to show the audience that they are loved and they can be better. Perhaps I am expecting too much from Steven Universe, it did what art should do, it made an impact on people's lives and helped them become better. Yet, I will always wonder what would happen if there were more episodes like "Mindful Education" and "Storm the Room".