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Steven Universe
Steven Universe - Title Card.png
Genre
Created by Rebecca Sugar
Directed by Supervising Directors:
Ian Jones-Quartey (S1-2)
Kat Morris (S2-5)
Joe Johnston (S2-5)
Art Directors:
Kevin Dart (S1)
Elle Michalka (S1-2, 4)
Jasmin Lai (S2-3)
Ricky Cometa (S3-4)
Liz Artinian (S5)
Animation Director:
Nick DeMayo
Voices of
Theme music composer
  • Rebecca Sugar
  • Aivi & Surasshu
Opening theme "We Are the Crystal Gems", (performed by Zach Callison, Estelle, Michaela Dietz, and Deedee Magno Hall)
Ending theme "Love Like You", (performed by Rebecca Sugar)
Composer(s) Aivi & Surasshu
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 160 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
  • Rebecca Sugar
  • Curtis Lelash
  • Tramm Wigzell
  • Jennifer Pelphrey
  • Brian A. Miller
  • Rob Sorcher
  • Co-Executive Producers:
  • Ian Jones-Quartey (S2–3)
  • Kat Morris (S5)
Producer(s)
  • Jackie Buscarino
  • Supervising Producer:
  • Chuck Austen (S1)
Editor(s) Mattaniah Adams
Paul Douglas
Running time 11 minutes
Production company(s) Cartoon Network Studios
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original network Cartoon Network
Picture format 1080i (16:9 HDTV)
Audio format Dolby Surround
First shown in May 21, 2013 (2013-05-21) (pilot)
Original release November 4, 2013 (2013-11-04) – January 21, 2019 (2019-01-21)
Chronology
Followed by

Steven Universe is an American animated television series created by Rebecca Sugar for Cartoon Network. It is Cartoon Network's first animated series to be created solely by a woman. The show tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), who lives with the Crystal Gems—magical, humanoid aliens named Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno Hall)—in the fictional town of Beach City. Steven, who is half-Gem, has adventures with his friends and helps the Gems protect the world from their own kind. Its pilot was first shown in May 2013, and the series ran for five seasons, from November 2013 to January 2019. The TV film Steven Universe: The Movie was released in September 2019, and an epilogue limited series, Steven Universe Future, ran from December 2019 to March 2020.

The themes of the series include love, family, and the importance of healthy interpersonal relationships. Sugar based the lead character on her younger brother Steven, who was an artist for the series. She developed Steven Universe while she was a writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time, which she left when Cartoon Network commissioned her series for full production. The series is storyboard-driven; the show's storyboard artists were responsible for writing the dialogue and creating the action in addition to drawing the storyboards. Books, comics and video games based on the series have been released.

The series has developed a broad fanbase and has been critically acclaimed for its design, music, voice acting, characterization, prominence of LGBTQ themes and science fantasy worldbuilding. The series won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids & Family Program in 2019, becoming the first animated series to win the award. It also received a Peabody Award for Children's & Youth Programming in 2019. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards and five Annie Awards.

Synopsis

Steven Universe is set in the fictional town of Beach City, Delmarva, where the Crystal Gems live in an ancient beachside temple and protect humanity from monsters and other threats. The Gems are ageless alien warriors who project female humanoid forms from magical gemstones at the core of their being. The Crystal Gems comprise 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 understand his gradually expanding range of powers, he spends his days with his father Greg, his best friend Connie, his magical pet lion, other residents of Beach City, and the Gems. He explores the abilities inherited from his mother, which include fusion—the ability of Gems to merge their bodies and abilities to form new, more powerful personalities.

The series's first season gradually reveals that the Crystal Gems are remnants of a great interstellar empire. During their missions they visit ruins that were once important to Gem culture but have been derelict for millennia. The Gems are cut off from the Gem homeworld, and Steven learns that many of the monsters and artifacts they encounter are Gems who were corrupted by a Gem weapon of mass destruction and can no longer maintain rational, humanoid form. By the end of the first season, Steven learns that, millennia ago, the Gem empire intended to sterilize the Earth to incubate new Gems, but Rose Quartz led her supporters, the Crystal Gems, in a violent and apparently successful rebellion against this genocidal plan. The discovery and release of Lapis Lazuli, a Gem trapped on Earth for millennia, puts the Crystal Gems at risk from the Gem empire once more, leading to the arrival of hostile envoys Peridot and Jasper.

In the second season, Peridot allies with and eventually joins the Crystal Gems to prevent Earth's destruction by a Gem "geo-weapon" buried in the planet. During the third season, Lapis Lazuli decides to live on Earth with Peridot; Jasper is defeated and captured; and Steven learns that his mother assassinated one of the Gem empire's matriarchs, Pink Diamond. In the fourth season, as Steven wrestles with his conflicted feelings about his mother's actions, the Gem empire leaders Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond begin to turn their full attention to Earth. In the fifth and final season, Steven learns that in fact his mother was Pink Diamond, who faked her death to assume the identity of Rose Quartz; he uses this revelation to persuade the other Diamonds to try to take responsibility for and fix the damage they have caused.

Conception

Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe
Ian Jones-Quartey, supervising director of Steven Universe

In 2011, after former Cartoon Network vice-president of comedy animation Curtis Lelash asked the staff for ideas for a new series, Rebecca Sugar—an artist working for the network's series Adventure Time—described her initial ideas for what would become Steven Universe, and the project was chosen for development. While developing her show, Sugar continued working on Adventure Time. The series evolved from a short story written by Sugar entitled "Ballad of Margo and Dread", about a sensitive child helping teenagers with problems they cannot verbalize.

Cartoon Network executives commissioned the show after the crew's art presentation and Sugar became the first woman to create a show independently for the network. Before a production team had been appointed, Sugar tried to alter elements of the show's plot and developed the character's identity so her crew would have the freedom she did when she worked for Adventure Time.

Design

During the development of the Steven Universe pilot, Sugar focused much attention on the design of the world, adding notes to her drawings. Inspired by the idea of foreign figures (Gems) living human lives, she drew many sketches depicting their world and history. The series' design was also inspired by her and her brother's interest in video games, comics and animation. After the series was commissioned, Sugar decided to redesign everything to make the series "flexible and simple" for future production staff to add ideas of their own. During this time, the art director was Kevin Dart, followed by Jasmin Lai, Elle Michalka, and Ricky Cometa. Dart's artistic style has remained a great influence on the show long after his departure. Steven Sugar praised Dart's work and was inspired by him in college years, saying Dart had more ideas for the art than he did.

In the pilot, only two locations appeared (the Temple and the Big Donut). The Temple was designed by Ian Jones-Quartey, Steven Sugar, Ben Levin, Matt Burnett and Andy Ristaino. The Temple's dual faces were based on Guy Davis' ideas. Steven Sugar designed the rest of Beach City for the series; he was painstaking in his attention to detail. Sugar also designed people, houses, cars, buildings and restaurants. Because of Rebecca Sugar's redesigned drawings, the two original locations had to be redrawn.

To find inspiration for the show's backgrounds, the Sugars and Jones-Quartey went to their favorite beaches. The series' setting, Beach City, is loosely based on Delaware beaches Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach, all of which Rebecca Sugar visited as a child. Steven Sugar drew Beach City with a boardwalk lined with a variety of shops. He wanted it to have a "specific style" so viewers could believe it was based on a real location; he drew the roads and shops consistently oriented with the Temple and a water tower. The concept for the primary setting was inspired by Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump, which features a small environment in which the recurring characters live where they work. Steven Sugar made the boardwalk the focus of Steven Universe's human world.

Characters

During the early stages of production, Sugar worked on character appearance and personality development simultaneously; during this process of conception, she was heavily inspired by fantasy television characters she and her brother used to draw when they were younger. Lead character designer Danny Hynes, influenced by the design of Mickey Mouse by Disney artists, wanted the characters to be standardized, simple and recognizable. He proposed 24 human characters to the crew; Rebecca and Steven Sugar drew 22 designs—13 of which were made official. The coloring was done by Jones-Quartey. Rebecca Sugar merged several characters during the pilot development; supporting characters Lars and Sadie were originally created when she was in college. The Pizza family was based on Jones-Quartey's Ghanaian family, and Ronaldo was created by Ben Levin and Matt Burnett. Guy Davis, a childhood friend of the Sugars, designed the early monsters and Gem architecture.

Making a character "look alive" was always a priority in their design; according to Jones-Quartey, a character's emotions should be clearly delineated. The character design team's mission is for the characters to resemble a classic cartoon such as 1940s Disney cartoons, Dragon Ball Z or the works of Osamu Tezuka and Harvey Kurtzman. In drawing the characters for each episode, the crew has two weeks to make modifications. Character names and some designs were inspired by types of food, and some characters were redesigned because the pilot revealed discrepancies between appearances and personalities. Sugar planned for the characters' designs to receive visual benchmarks so the show's artists can draw them consistently. Sugar aimed to make the designs for her characters simple, flexible and consistent so the production team members would not become bogged down by over-complex details. This redesigning meant the appearances of the characters in the pilot episode differs substantially from their depiction in the television series.

Sugar wanted the Gems to resemble humans; she developed the Crystal Gems to ride a roller coaster of family life with Steven, whom they would treat like a brother. She wanted their gems to reflect their personalities; Pearl's perfect smoothness, Amethyst's coarseness and Garnet's air of mystery. According to Sugar, the Gems are "some version of me ... neurotic, lazy, decisive". Their facial designs were influenced by Wassily Kandinsky, who taught at the Bauhaus and encouraged his students to pair three primary colors—red, yellow and blue—with the three basic shapes—square, triangle and circle. Because of the characters' personalities, Garnet is square, Amethyst is a sphere and Pearl is a cone. Sugar wanted to give the Gems a superpower similar to those of classic cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny. The Gems' ability to shape-shift is a reference to older cartoons such as Tex Avery's work for MGM, where characters would change at will. Although the Crystal Gems are intended to be serious characters, the writers wanted them to be "funny and weird" as well.

Broadcast

The pilot episode of Steven Universe was released on Cartoon Network's video platform on May 21, 2013, and an edited version was released on July 20. The pilot was shown at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, and Sugar hosted a 30-minute panel discussion about the series at the 2013 New York Comic Con on October 13. Initially, thirteen half-hours (26 episodes) were ordered for the first season; on November 14, the season was picked up for an additional thirteen half-hours. The series was renewed for a second season of 26 half-hours on July 25, 2014, which began airing on March 13, 2015, and for a third season of 26 half-hours in July 2015. In March 2016, a production shuffle saw the second and third seasons subdivided to create four seasons of 13 half-hours each, making a total of five seasons. Finally, in 2016, following the decision to end the series, Sugar petitioned Cartoon Network to extend the fifth season by three extra half-hours to wrap up the story, making it 16 half-hours total.

The series premiered in the United States on November 4, 2013, on Cartoon Network with two episodes. In Canada, it began airing on Cartoon Network on November 11, 2013, and on Teletoon on April 24, 2014. It began airing on Cartoon Network channels in Australia on February 3, 2014, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland on May 12 of that year.

Beginning in 2015, Cartoon Network often aired new episodes in groups of five over one week—marketed as "Stevenbombs"—rather than one episode per week. The hiatuses between groups have irritated fans, according to The A.V. Club causing "agonized cries of a rabid, starving, pained cult following". The format, which is also used for other Cartoon Network series, has, in the website's view, contributed to the network's spikes in Google Trends associated with each "bomb". The A.V. Club attributed the effect to Steven Universe's unusual—for a youth cartoon—adherence to an overarching plot, which can generate "massive swells of online interest"—similar to the release of full seasons of adult TV series—which are "crucial to a network's vitality in an increasingly internet-based television world".

In May 2018, Cartoon Network apologized to fans after one of the channel's promotional videos contained unaired footage with significant spoilers for future episodes. In response to the video, former series producer Ian Jones-Quartey noted in a later-deleted tweet that "being a Steven Universe fan is suffering", alluding to the series's irregular and unpredictable airing schedule.

From June 2, 2018 to July 29, 2018, Steven Universe aired re-runs on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang.

Episodes

List of Steven Universe episodes

Crossovers

"Say Uncle" is a crossover episode with Uncle Grandpa that aired on April 2, 2015. In the episode, Uncle Grandpa helps Steven use his Gem powers when he cannot summon his shield. The episode contains an acknowledgement by Uncle Grandpa that the episode is not canonical. Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and other Cartoon Network characters from current and former shows made cameo appearances in the Uncle Grandpa episode "Pizza Eve".

Additionally, Garnet appeared in "Crossover Nexus", an episode of OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, which aired on October 8, 2018. In the episode, Garnet teamed up with K.O., Ben Tennyson from Ben 10 and Raven from Teen Titans Go! to stop the villain Strike.

Minisodes

Two volumes of mini-episodes have been released by Cartoon Network. The first one includes the extended title theme "We Are the Crystal Gems"; shorts in which the Crystal Gems teach Steven about Gems in a classroom setting; an unboxing video of Steven's new duffel bag; and a short in which Steven's pet lion is playing with a cardboard box. The second volume contains fives minisodes that show Steven cooking, performing karaoke, reacting to "Crying Breakfast Friends!", video chatting with Lapis and Peridot, and playing a new song.

Cancellation and sequels

According to Rebecca Sugar, she was notified in 2016 that the series would be cancelled at the end of the fifth season. She prevailed upon Cartoon Network to extend the fifth season to 32 episodes, in order to have room to complete the story, as well as a follow-up television film, Steven Universe: The Movie. Along with the film, Cartoon Network also greenlighted an additional season of 20 episodes, which would become the sequel series Steven Universe Future, taking place after the events of the film. Despite the show's end, Sugar has indicated that more stories could exist, but has stated that she needs a long break before deciding how to approach such a continuation.

Film

The follow-up TV film, Steven Universe: The Movie, was announced on July 21, 2018, at San Diego Comic-Con. A teaser was shown and was uploaded to the Cartoon Network YouTube channel. It was released on Cartoon Network commercial-free on September 2, 2019. The 82-minute film takes place two years after the events of the series finale; its plot centers on a deranged Gem, Spinel, erasing the Crystal Gems' memories to take revenge for her abandonment by Steven's mother. It gained critical acclaim, with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8/10 on IMDb.

Sequel limited series

The limited series Steven Universe Future, intended to serve as an epilogue to the main series, was announced at the 2019 New York Comic Con. Steven Universe Future premiered on December 7, 2019 and ran for a total of 20 11-minute episodes, including a four-part finale airing on March 27, 2020. Its narrative focuses on Steven dealing with his own emotional trauma in the aftermath of the events of the series.

Other media

Books

A number of companion books have been published:

  • Steven Universe's Guide to the Crystal Gems (October 2015, ISBN: 978-0843183160) by series creator Rebecca Sugar, with information about the Crystal Gems.
  • Quest for Gem Magic (October 2015, ISBN: 978-0843183177) by Max Brallier is a "colorful journal and activity book" for 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 first season's major songs.
  • What in the Universe? (February 2016, ISBN: 978-0843183481) by Jake Black is a collection of trivia about Steven and the Gems.
  • Best Buds Together Fun (June 2016, ISBN: 978-1101995167) by Jake Black is a "quiz and activity book" for at 8- to 12-year-olds.
  • The Answer (September 2016, ISBN: 978-0399541704) by Rebecca Sugar is a children's-book adaptation of the episode, "The Answer". It was seventh on The New York Times Best Seller list on October 2, 2016.
  • The Tale of Steven (October 2019, ISBN: 978-1419741487) by Rebecca Sugar is a children's book companion to the episode "Change Your Mind". Inspired by Sugar's experience of coming out, it retells Pink Diamond's decision to become Rose Quartz and to create Steven from the perspectives of White Diamond, Rose and Steven himself, each readable by rotating the pages of the book in different directions.

Nonfiction books covering the development of the franchise and compiling production artwork have also been published:

  • Steven Universe: Art and Origins (July 2017, Abrams Books, ISBN: 978-1419724435) by Chris McDonnell, with an introduction by Dexter's Laboratory creator Genndy Tartakovsky and a foreword by Rebecca Sugar. The book contains concept art, production samples, early sketches, storyboards and commentary by the Steven Universe production crew.
  • The Art of Steven Universe The Movie (March 2020, Dark Horse, ISBN: 978-1506715070) by Ryan Sands, which contains preliminary character designs and storyboards.
  • Steven Universe: End of an Era (October 2020, Abrams Books, ISBN: 978-1419742842) by Chris McDonnell, with a foreword by N. K. Jemisin.

Video games

The tactical role-playing video game Steven Universe: Attack the Light! was released on April 2, 2015, for iOS and Android devices. It was developed by Grumpyface Studios in collaboration with Sugar for mobile devices. Players control Steven and three Crystal Gems to fight light monsters. A sequel, Steven Universe: Save the Light, was released for consoles in October 2017. Another sequel, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, was released exclusively on Apple Arcade in November 2019. It was then rereleased on PC (Steam) and consoles in February 2021.

A rhythm-based mobile game, Steven Universe: Soundtrack Attack, was released on July 21, 2016, in the United States. A player-created Gem flees her pursuer through side-scrolling stages set to remixes of the series' music. Another mobile game, Steven Universe: Dreamland Arcade, was released in 2017; it is a collection of arcade games with characters from the series.

Steven Universe characters appear in Cartoon Network's kart racing game Formula Cartoon All-Stars and in the side-scrolling, beat-'em-up game Battle Crashers. In common with other Cartoon Network series, several browser-based games—including Heap of Trouble, Goat Guardian and Gem Bound—are available on the channel's website.

On February 26, 2019, Minecraft released a Mash-Up Pack based on Steven Universe, making it the second Cartoon Network series to receive one after Adventure Time.

On December 4, 2019, Brawlhalla, a free-to-play fighting game, added Steven Universe characters.

Comics

BOOM! Studios has published several limited comics series based on Steven Universe:

  • A monthly comic series, written by Jeremy Sorese and illustrated by Coleman Engle, was first published in August 2014. It ended in March 2015.
  • A graphic novel, the first in a planned series, was published by KaBOOM! on April 6, 2016. Also written by Sorese, drawn by Asia Kendrick Holton, and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, and based on a story by Ian Jones-Quartey, Too Cool for School is about Steven accompanying Connie to school.
  • A four-part comic miniseries titled Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems was published in 2016. It is written by Josecline Fenton and illustrated by Chrystin Garland, and the covers are illustrated by Kat Leyh.
  • A reboot comic series written by Melanie Gillman and illustrated by Katy Farina began publication in January 2017. It has also been written by Grace Kraft, and illustrated by Rii Abrego, Meg Omac, and Kat Hayashida. Since Issue 9 to Issue 12 and Issue 13 to onwards it is written by Kraft and illustrated by Abrego.
  • A second graphic novel called Anti-Gravity was released in July 2017. It is written by Talya Perper and illustrated by Queenie Chan.
  • A five-issue miniseries called Steven Universe: Harmony was first released in August 2018. It is written by Shane Michael Vidaurri and illustrated by Mollie Rose. The covers are illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage.

Toys and merchandise

In October 2015, Cartoon Network announced a line of toys based on Steven Universe, which would be sold by specialty retailers. For the 2015 holiday season, Funko made "Pop!" vinyl figures and Just Toys offered "blind bag" novelty products. PhatMojo sold plush figures and foam weapons, and Zag Toys released collectible bobbleheads and other mini-figures in early 2016. The following year, Toy Factory planned to sell a line of plush and novelty items. Cartoon Network sells a variety of products, including mugs, blankets and clothing, based on the show's episodes and characters.

Soundtracks

The first soundtrack album collecting songs from the first four seasons, Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1, was released on June 2, 2017. The soundtrack debuted at number 22 on the Billboard 200, number two on the Soundtracks chart, and number one on the Independent Albums chart. In Europe, it reached number 28 on the UK Album Downloads Chart, nine on the country's Soundtrack chart, 56 on the nation's official Compilation chart, and 174 on the Ultratop Flanders album chart. An album of songs from the fifth and final season, Steven Universe: Volume 2 (Original Soundtrack) as well as a karaoke album were released on April 12, 2019. Volume 2 debuted at number 24 on the Soundtracks chart, number 28 on the Independent Albums chart, and number 14 on the Kid Albums chart. A soundtrack for the movie featuring its songs and score was released on September 3, 2019, peaking at number 57 on the Billboard 200, number five on the soundtrack chart, number six on the Independent chart, and number two on the Kid Albums chart. The soundtrack for Steven Universe Future was released on October 23, 2020.

Five albums featuring the show's score were released on May 29, June 26, July 31, August 28, and September 25, 2020 respectively

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