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The number of shows, both anime or otherwise, that I would consider truly important to myself is one that fits comfortably within the number of fingers on my hand. Steven Universe, for better or for worse, is one of them. The show’s final season, Future, was not only good in all senses of the word, but it has also come to remind me just how much I have both grown as a person, and still need to grow.
Steven Universe and The Hero’s Journey
Many who watched “Steven Universe’s” first episode and nothing else probably assumed the show is pretty simple, at least in the sense that it is just a stupid cartoon and and has no deeper sociocultural implications. In that sense they would be wrong. However, looking at the through a critical lens, it feels pretty accurate to say that everything up to future is just a repetition of The Hero’s Journey.
For those uninitiated with the idea, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth describes a broad literary category in which some hero gets called on to face a challenge, goes on an adventure, and comes back transformed. This makes sense because, as anyone who has seen the full series can attest, “Steven Universe” is nothing if not journeys and transformations, both literal and figurative.
In fact, one of the first, and arguably most important, journeys Steven takes is one where he, and those watching, learn about Fusion. While on a mission with pearl and amethyst, Steven is captured by a giant bird, and so Pearl and Amethyst are forced to fuse in order to save him.
Fusion throughout “Steven Universe” serves as both a power up for the gems as well as a storytelling mechanic. It involves two gems becoming one and taking on a new form, and also signifies a more intimate relationship in gems, both emotionally and physically. Often times it serves as the resolution of a given story arc within the show, when a conflict has come to an end, and to characters understand each other more.
“Future,” however, is quite the opposite.
Steven Universe Future as a Deconstruction
One thing that remained constant throughout “Steven Universe” until the series’ final season was Steven’s quest to find out about his mother’s identity, which he ultimately did. Still, despite getting the answers he wanted, and saving the universe along the way, Steven was still left feeling a sort of emptiness
As Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, confirmed in a recent interview, “Future” was Steven finding out who he was, in contrast to all of his adventures that came before. In this way, “Steven Universe’s” final season was an excellent deconstruction.
All throughout the series prior to “Future,” Steven’s own identity is consumed by the shadow of his mother Rose Quartz, who it turns out is also Pink Diamond. Each mission was creating a path forward towards his goal of finding out about his past. But this goal was not without its struggles and harms.
Identity and Mental Health
One of “Steven Universe’s” best traits is its Stalwart commitment to the idea of inclusivity and acceptance of others, especially in regards to gender and sexual minorities. Most of the gems that populate the world of “Steven Universe” remain gender-less while pretty clearly presenting female, a nod to Rebecca Sugar’s own non-binary identity.
This kind of acceptance and understanding is present in Steven as well. He is presented with many tough situations throughout the show, most of which it would have been easier to simply write off the other characters in the show as evil. However, Steven operates off the fundamental principle that every person is deserving of kindness, and chooses to take on their burdens.
Still, as it is explored in “Future,” this ends up being detrimental to Steven’s physical and mental health, to the point where his gem powers run rampant and cause him to turn into a monster.
I think it is also important to emphasize relationship between someone’s perception of the world around them and their mental health. Although Steven is literally his own person throughout the whole show, to him, it never feels that way because everything he does was either in service of finding out about his mom or rescuing other people.
In other words, nothing Steven ever did before the events of “Future” was for himself. On top of that, he was put through many life threatening situations, which caused him a lot of stress on top of what he was going through.
This realization in “Growing Pains” was probably one of the most self-reflective moments I have had in a while, and it honestly made me step back and look at the more traumatic experiences in my life.
It is easy to forget that aside from its important messages and critiques of social norms, “Steven Universe” has always been a show with mostly good writing, and its latest season is no exception.
“Future” manages to keep itself focused on the topic Steven’s identity, and rarely veers from it, unlike the show’s first five seasons, which were, in a lot of ways, littered with plenty of unnecessary filler. Each episode feels like it has an intended purpose within the arc, and ultimately moves the story forward.
The season also handles tone incredibly well. While the first few episodes come across as light-hearted, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that the story to come will be much less so. However, the show never has to sacrifice coherency to make this jump, and in that respect does a great job.
The ending was also standout moment of the series. The last episode of the series shows Steven telling the other crystal gems about his plans to move out. While getting ready to leave, he wonders why they are not more concerned. As he is getting ready to go, he confronts them about this, and the four of them break down crying.
It is a great vignette that highlights one of the show’s most important messages, that people should always be honest about their feelings.
The End of Steven Universe
It is at times like these that my head usually rushes to thoughts like “If only there was one more season, one more episode,” etc. I think now is not the time for thoughts like those. Just like Steven himself, it is important to let this chapter close, so that a new one may open. While it is worth appreciating “Steven Universe” for the foreseeable future, it is also important to understand when to let a good thing end, and now is certainly the time.
I have always felt Final Thoughts was a bad title for these kinds of posts because, in reality, this probably will not be the last time I talk about this show. In fact, I have thought about doing at least a few more analytical posts on this show, but at the moment I am not sure. Time will tell, I guess.
Do you have any strong feelings about “Steven Universe Future?” Let me know in the comments.
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