For many of us cartoons make up an important part of our lives, being the first form of fiction which many of us can remember from our childhoods. Needless to say I love cartoons, what with their unlimited potential to explore an artist’s imagination through movement and design. And Western Animation has certainly gone through an interesting evolution in recent years. Despite the protests of some nostalgia wanking rose-tinted glasses wearers ranting about how “awful cartoons are nowadays” and how “much better they were back when I was” and “these youngsters will never know real entertainment”, those of us who are able to look past simplistic biases would actually argue that cartoons nowadays are experiencing something of a Golden Age.
Many of today’s children’s cartoons, and even a few adult-oriented cartoons are heading into a more interesting place, with many TV series targeting larger audiences, learning from mistakes of the past to improve their own quality, placing greater emphasis on character development and drama, and taking greater creative risks, cartoons as of late have produced some of the finest quality story telling of any medium. The reason for this is likely a combination of factors, be they the presence of cartoon criticism online allowing creators to know what works and what doesn’t, or the presence of outside influences, particularly Japanese anime which often embraced mature writing. Whatever it is, the 2010s have been a decade of cartoons with greater depth and substance to them. Cartoons with fascinating world lore and complex moments of emotional drama.
Out of the cartoons that have made their mark on this era, three titles which I consider to stand out in particular are Gravity Falls, Rick and Morty, and Steven Universe. In case you can’t tell by the title, the last one is the one I’m going to talk about. Steven Unvierse is a Cartoon Network series about a young boy who was born to a human father and a mother from a group of beings called Gems. The young boy, Steven, whose mother Rose Quartz sacrificed herself to give birth to him, is subsequently raised by the three remaining members of the Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. The series follows the adventures of Steven as he grows to learn more about the world his carers have promised to protect, helped by his father Greg, his best friend Connie, and his pet Lion, Steven and the Crystal Gems take on the challenges that come. That’s the basic premise of the series at least, but of course there is more to it than just that. The series was the first on Cartoon Network to be created by a woman. That woman was Rebecca Sugar, a former writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time, whose work on that series is often considered by fans to be amongst it’s best.
The series has since it’s debut in 2013 become an International critical and commercial success. Praised for it’s mature writing, complex characterisation, music, comedy, boundary pushing representation of LGBT people, and science fiction and fantasy world building, the series has frequently been cited as one of the greatest cartoons currently airing. It is a series with a highly passionate and dedicated, if also controversial, fandom who has kept the series a constant presence in the modern zeitgeist. I myself was first introduced to the series during a visit to my Dad’s house, where my younger brother and sister would frequently watch Cartoon Network. The first episode I watched was Laser Light Cannon, which as I will expand upon later, was indeed a good place to start. The episode did certainly intrigue me to pursue the series further, which I was able to do thanks to a website called Kiss Cartoon, which unfortunately at the time of writing this is currently shut down. This website which featured every piece of Western Animation in existence allowed me to watch the series from the very beginning. The experience of watching it is something which I will go through in this following retrospective where I will convey reviews of every single episode of the series so far. This is to demonstrate my own analysis of each episode, to relay my opinions on the series as a whole, and provide a critical discussion for fans of the series who may be reading. Without further stalling for time, let’s begin!