Steven Universe: Future just wrapped up with a big lesson on self-kindness
Steven Universe: Future just concluded the entire Steven Universe Universe, and we’re all in need of some good vibrations. Dem of The D&eM is here to have a look at how this show really sets a standard for understanding mental health and self-kindness.
A still from the opening credits of Steven Universe: Future. Cartoon Network (2019).
The following article talks about the importance of mental health and taking care of your self as much as others. Please consult Beyond Blue if you are in need: 1300 22 4636
In the early years of animation, cartoon characters were more likely to hit each other with a hammer than give each other a hug. Today the nature of cartoon programs could not be more different. Wholesome stories, wonderful little songs and challenging themes are things many show writers are tending towards in the hopes of not only tapping into something fresh but tapping their audience’s sense of self-reflection.
Enter Steven Universe
In 2013, a cartoon called Steven Universe first aired on Cartoon Network. Seven years on this show and its subsequent instalments, Steven Universe: The Movie and Steven Universe: Future is still dealing with the same themes of struggling characters in all manner of problems, including that of self-kindness.
If you have never seen Steven Universe I’ll bring you up to speed.
The show follows Steven, son of Crystal Gem Rebellion leader and war criminal Rose Quartz and rock star Greg Universe. Aside from alien encounters, Steven spends his time solving his friends’ problems, which grow in size as ‘evil’ Gems come to earth to challenge the almighty Rose Quartz, who they think is Steven.
Steven is joined by the remaining Crystal Gems: Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl – or as the fandom knows them: Tall Mum, Fun Mum and Bird Mum respectively – who experience their own emotional growth throughout the show.
All three Steven Universe entries take on progressive ideologies, love and death and of course mental health, through songs, hugs and a decent amount of crying. Steven Universe: Future, in particular, takes the idea of self-kindness and self-care to the next level.
Steven Universe: Futuuuuuuuure *ting*
* * * SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED * * *
If you need more information, I’d firstly recommend watching it all the way through. For those more impatient folks amongst you though (yes, you), I have this spoiler-filled plot device from the start of Steven Universe: The Movie about each character’s arc and motivation as a second option.
Finished? Up to speed? GREAT!
So as you now know, we start Steven Universe: Future with “the whole galaxy saved” and everything resolved, leaving a massive question: “What’s left for this new story to sort out?”
This is not the same silly 13-year-old Steven we met in 2013’s Gem Glow; Season 1 Episode 1 of the original show. This is a 17-year-old Steven, who has seen and been through a lot;
like, A LOT.
So much, in fact, he’s experiencing a lot of negative effects on his mental health.
Not only has he taken the full brunt of his Mother’s thousands of years of mistakes including the people she hurt, the lives she ruined and worlds she destroyed (the normal family dramas), he hasn’t actually dealt with the resulting emotional trauma.
“But, Dem…” I hear you cry “Steven has had years to deal with all of that! Surely he’s dealt with it in a healthy way!”
Look, I’ll give him this, he’s developed a coping strategy:
“ignore my own problems and help others instead!”
His trauma becomes more and more apparent in the story, as his emotional problems appear in wild ways, including: self-deprecating cacti, crushing energy force fields, and finally the manifestation of Steven’s inner demons emerging to destroy his home and everyone he loves.
To sum up the final episodes. Big Monster. Fight. Happy end.
The Steven Universe difference
But why is this show special? Why is it different? Two reasons.
One – The relatable Monsters
Steven Universe takes the reality of mental illness and turns it into something tangible that even a child can understand, and young adults are just beginning to cope with. These are struggles so many young people of 2020 deal with and are so infrequently discussed.
Ideas of letting go of the status-quo to embrace a new one; leaving friends behind to make new ones; understanding family and their decisions; dealing with huge revelations and changes are topics heavily covered as well as their impact.
In all honestly, they should really have called it “Steven Universe: Early-to-mid Twenties, all you’ll encounter and how to survive!”
In the current climate, it is especially relevant to look at these real yet invisible forces that strike us down from the inside and out.
Two – Dealing with those Monsters
So often, we see serialised content forget their characters have seen the very worst of the world. Writers push emotional trauma to the back burner to hope we forget about it. This trend can be attached to the silliness associated with animation and its subject matter throughout history.
In modern cartoons, often issues of mental illness and trauma are represented as monsters destroyed by the protagonist through violence, in a very traditional triumphant-hero style of plot. This is also what happens in Steven Universe.
All those relatable issues cause Steven to snap. He is physically twisted by his self-hate and anxieties into a monster that under ‘normal’ circumstance The Crystal Gems would fight. But they can’t fight Steven!
The Crystal Gems are always represented as punching things into submission, with Steven coming through with a non-violent method to save the day and make a new friend. With Steven gone, however, the characters are at a loss, watching their friend and family member tear himself and the world apart.
Steven’s long-time friend and romantic interest, Connie, has the solution: they must be Steven’s Steven.
Instead of knocking this monster down and hoping he changes back, the Crystal Gems reason with him. They give this monster-Steven a big hug, remind him he’s not a monster, and tell him they love him no matter what. They remind him of his best and that his worst moments don’t define him.
With this, the big monster is reduced to the same crying, anxious and depressed young adult he once was, still in need of growth and healing, but surrounded by the friends and family he originally pushed away.
With this, a monster is defeated, not with a weapon, but with kindness and love.
The Message of Steven Universe: Future
This is the message of Steven Universe. Without seeming like an 90s special or a Care Bears movie extract, Steven Universe: Future challenges its audience to think about how you deal with yourself and others in times of great stress and self-torment.
It shows, you cannot fix everything in one fell swoop, but you can start with the smallest actions and build your way up. Talking about your problems or troubles, having a good cry, a warm hug, and some good company are a fantastic way to start feeling better, and this is the resolution of this show.
“Be kind to yourself as much as you are to others. Take your time.”
Something Steven understood, but never let himself experience in full.
Take a moment out of your day
At the moment, inner demons are almost certainly a part of everyone’s lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think we can all learn a little something from Steven right now. Call a friend, start a conversation online, check-in, and remember to take “just a little time” to be human.
Dem is currently a host and producer of SYN show ‘The D&eM’ on Wednesday nights as well as a host and contributor of SYN flagship ‘Player One.’