Keep Beach City Weird: A Quick Guide to Steven Universe
Have you ever wanted to watch Steven Universe, but not sure where to start? Have you ever wanted a fan of everything cartoons to show you the way into Steven Universe? Then don’t fall out of the Warp Pad as I give you a very quick and easy guide into the world of Steven Universe without spoilers. Slightly without spoilers. I promise to keep them to a very dull roar.
Steven Universe premiered on Cartoon Network in November 2013 and has been crushing the ratings on the network. It was created by the epic Rebecca Sugar, she started as a storyboard revisionist then promoted to storyboard artist and composer for Adventure Time. Steven Universe is grouped in a block of shows that include: The New Teen Titans, Clarence, Adventure Time, Amazing World of Gumball and more. Not to be bias about them, but it’s the best show right now.
Steven Universe is about…. Steven Universe, a boy that is apart of a group called The Crystal Gems. The Crystal Gems have sworn to protect the earth from whatever comes their way so the inhabitants will have a somewhat peaceful existence. They fight, battle, laugh and cry, but in the end Steven and The Crystal Gems always save the day. The episodes are only about 11 minutes long each, but they’re always a hilarious, powerful and sometimes serious 11 minutes of screen time. Steven Universe isn’t like any other show on Cartoon Network, but has been compared to Adventure Time for its underlying themes of personal issues that Rebecca incorporates into the episodes. (We’ll talk about this very soon.)
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Let me be your super unofficial quick start guide into the world of Steven Universe!
If there is a girl who is dominating things over at Cartoon Network, it would be this cutie right here. Rebecca Sugar has earned everything she has and more just by being herself. Previously a storyboard artist, composer, storyboard revisionist, and writer for Adventure Time, Rebecca was responsible for some of the most awesome episodes of the show including “It Came from the Nightosphere,” which earned her a Primetime Emmy Nomination in Short Format Animation. It introduced us to “The Fry Song” about Marceline’s feelings towards her father, which Rebecca also wrote. She is also responsible for the episode “Simon & Marcy.”
When Cartoon Network approached her to do a show on her own, she came up with the marvelous Steven Universe. Rebecca is the first (let me repeat this, Rebecca is the FIRST) woman at Cartoon Network to acquire her own show. That’s a big deal, especially since Cartoon Network is almost completely dominated by male creators and artists. Since Steven Universe took off, Rebecca Sugar has thrown herself into the show and made it the success it’s become. Rebecca even uses elements of her own life and personality in Steven Universe. For example, Steven Universe is based off of her brother Steven Sugar (who also works as a background artist on the show). The Crystal Gems are the three ways she acts around her brother and different versions of herself. Greg Universe—Steven’s father—was inspired by Rebecca’s father and voice actor Tom Scharpling. And Amethyst is inspired by a college friend of Rebecca’s.
The most amazing part about Rebecca Sugar isn’t all of her awards and recognition, however, it’s that Rebecca Sugar seems like one of the sweetest people on the planet. She cares about everything she’s doing with Steven Universe. She’s an inspiration to people who want to create something new and can have fun with it. Some creators kind of go off the mark over time, but Rebecca listens and cares about what happens in her team, and just seems like an overall sweetheart. Also, another very cool fun fact, Rebecca made a comic book about an intergalactic pug fighting crime in space. I kid you not, although I don’t think that it is available in stores or online anymore.
It’s always fun to start off with a place, especially if the place is as beautiful as Beach City. Steven Sugar, background artist for Steven Universe, has said that Beach City is a combination of the places that he and Rebecca used to go when they were younger in Delaware. Run by the politically unappealing, but always aiming to please, Mayor Bill Dewey—voiced by Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson—he calls his town a “magnet for disaster.” To be fair, Beach City has a bustling life to it that you really wouldn’t expect and some fantastic residents and businesses to go along with it.
To me, it feels like your average boardwalk, but more beautiful and with many unique charms. There’s a lot of different places to have fun, including the amusement park Beach City Funland, Beach Citywalk Fries, Big Donut, Beach City Funland Arcade, Fish Stew Pizza (I know, that name right?), The Lighthouse, Greg Universe’s car wash called “It’s A Wash,” and many many more! Greg has made a joke in one of the episodes that there are like fifteen people living in Beach City, but that can’t possibly be true.
The Crystal Gems and Steven reside outside of the city, living above it in the Beach House and Crystal Temple—the Crystal Gems’ headquarters. They keep watch over the town and the beach making sure no one can harm the residents of the small city. When you’re watching Steven Universe, one of the things you’ll be amazed by is the amount of detail and creation it took to make a place like Beach City. Steven Sugar clearly put his all into the background art and it’s absolutely stunning.
Another awesome fact about Beach City is that there’s a blog about it; however, it doesn’t contain the mundane facts about the city, but the weird and exciting details only paid attention by one man. One of our many colorful Beach City Residents, Ronaldo Fryman, runs a blog called Keep Beach City Weird that details all of the strange happenings in Beach City. (It’s run and updated by the staff of the show, and they’re pretty brilliant at it!)
Steven Universe wouldn’t be able to exist without it’s shining star. Voiced by Zach Callison, who gives life to the adorable kid, Steven Universe is a young boy who is half human and half gem, due to his father being human and his mother being a Crystal Gem. Crazy right? Rebecca Sugar has said in an interview with Hot Topic, “… he’s the product of fantasy having this love affair with reality …” since the Crystal Gems are supposed to be fantasy and his father is real.
Steven is an enthusiastic kid who’s completely full of energy and life. He is caring, while also being carefree, and it sometimes gets him into trouble, but most of the time it helps him be the person he’s meant to be. He inherits the gem of his mother, after she gives up physical form to have him. Steven is then raised by the Crystal Gems, who try and help him uncover his powers and unlock his potential.
The Crystal Gems are the protectors of the earth. Rebelling against their home planet, the Crystal Gems stay on Earth to keep the planet safe from harm from any unwanted gem activity. The Crystal Gems consist of Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, and of course Steven. Garnet is the de facto leader of the Crystal Gems; she’s mysterious, quiet, and independent. A giant woman with a lot of mystery to her, Garnet has a lot that comes with her as a Crystal Gem. Sadly, I can’t tell you more without spoiling, but watch the show to find out what’s cooking inside of Garnet. Garnet is voiced by Estelle, the singer of the smash hit “American Boy” and a stone cold fox just like her character. While the other two Gems show their personality on their sleeves, Garnet is always the one to keep it together until something big happens or someone is hurt or threatened. Garnet will not take crap from anyone and is the undeniable heart of the Crystal Gems.
Pearl is the neurotic mother that you’ve always wanted. She’s protective and fiercely loyal, but also needs to maintain a sense of order before she goes mental. Pearl is the brain of the Crystal Gems and group dependant; she needs the group in order to function, because that’s her primary main objective. She’s militant in her actions, always needing that order around her. Pearl’s voiced by Deedee Magno-Hall, an actress and singer and has an amazing singing voice. In the Hot Topic interview, Rebecca says that she’s most like Pearl.
Amethyst is the last of our Crystal Gems and the most chaotic. Voiced by Michaela Dietz, she brings a sense of comedic relief in her abilities and personality alone. Amethyst is somewhat the baby of the group. She’s rambunctious and sometimes very rude, following her own path instead of what the others want for her. She doesn’t listen to authority, and when you see her room, it’s lined in chaos and hoarding. Rebecca says that Amethyst’s room is the closest to hers, and Amethyst is based on a college friend she’s had. A fun fact is that Amethyst’s color palette is based off of Lumpy Space Princess of Adventure Time.
The Gems use the powers of their gems to summon their weapons and fuse together. Fusion is when two or more Gems combine themselves into one powerful Gem. For example (slight spoilers), when Amethyst and Pearl dance they combine themselves to make Opal (voiced by the beautiful Aimee Mann), a Giant Woman that is capable of manifesting both Amethyst and Pearl’s Gem powers into something greater (end of slight spoilers).
Rose Quartz and Greg Universe
Let me wipe away my tears. These two lovebirds are what it took to create Steven Universe. They were from two very different worlds, but somehow made it work. Greg was a rock star, traveling the country in order to support and make a name for himself until he met Rose Quartz, the mysterious pink haired lady of his dreams. He’s very kind, sweet, and slightly full of himself, but that’s what a rock star comes with, right? Greg Universe is voiced by the brilliant Tom Scharpling, giving Greg the heart and rock star soul that he has. Steven and Greg have a tender father-son relationship. Since the Crystal Gems live with Steven in the Beach House, Greg lives in his famous Mr. Universe van running his beloved car wash.
Rose was the leader of the Crystal Gems and a very true leader in every regard. Rose Quartz found the good in everyone, including the things that didn’t like her back. She gained a loyal following with her fellow Crystal Gems and traveled to Earth to protect the planet she loves. When Rose met Greg, they fell in love almost immediately. She became pregnant with her first child, but there was a slight problem with a Gem carrying a baby. She constructed her physical womb to hold Steven and had to sacrifice her physical form in order to bring Steven into the world. Rose is a symbol of love and utter sacrifice as well as devotion. The Gems and Greg miss her constantly and consistently. How could they not when she’s so awesome? Rose Quartz is voiced by none other than Susan Egan, who you may know as Meg from the Disney movie Hercules. Oh yes, the casting got real.
Connie Maheswaran is Steven’s very best friend. She’s the second human (besides Greg) who interacts with The Crystal Gems on a daily basis. Connie is voiced by Grace Rolek, who gives a sweet tone and harmony to Connie’s voice and personality. Raised in a very over-protective household by her mother and father, Connie is a sweet girl who wants to see more of the world than what her parents let her see. She’s intelligent and brave beyond everyone’s expectations and she discovers a new world when she meets Steven that she’s totally into. Connie’s into fantasy and plays the violin as well.
The heavy opposite of the Crystal Gems, the Homeworld Gems are basically the bad guys of the story. Born on Gem Homeworld, like the Crystal Gems (except Amethyst, who was born in Kindergarten), they use the powers in a more advanced way than the Crystal Gems do. In later episodes, the Crystal Gems are very confused about the Homeworld Gems, knowing that they’re out there, but with their new technology and power, they are unaware of how to stop them. The Homeworld Gems are the ultimate threat to Beach City and the Earth itself.
The Homeworld Gems consist of three Gems named Peridot (Shelby Rabara), Jasper (Kimberly Brooks), and Lapis Lazuli (Jennifer Paz). Peridot is a mechanical Gem highly advanced in her technology and engineering skills and can often be seen getting highly frustrated when people break her things. Jasper is the hard-hitting (literally) de facto leader of the Homeworld Gems that is bit of an a-hole to be honest and doesn’t get any better. Lapis Lazuli (one of my personal favorite Gems) is a hydrokinetic Gem whose powers are amplified with water. She’s a sweet Gem who doesn’t get all the crap she gets.
Citizens of Beach City
There’s just something about the citizens of Beach City that puts a smile on your face. They’re just normal people having to deal with “alien beings” coming to destroy their town once in awhile. They’re honest and hard working people who enjoy life in the city that they know and love. Since there’s a couple of different people in Beach City, I’ll give you the rundown of some of the families and friends from their local businesses.
From Fish Stew Pizza, we have the Pizza family. Kiki and Jenny (Reagan Gomez-Preston voices both of the twins) are teenage twin sisters while their father Kofi (Godfrey, yes, your friendly neighborhood childhood hero Godfrey) owns the pizza place and their grandmother Nanefua (Toks Olagundoyo) helps run it. Beach Citywalk Fries is owned by Mr. Fryman (Billy Merritt) who has his sons Peedee (Atticus Shaffer) and Ronaldo (of the Keep Beach City Weird Tumblr and voiced by Zachary Steel) working in the shop. What’s interesting about this family is that their hair actually looks like fries. I’m probably the only one who finds that hilarious.
Another interesting family in Beach City is Onion’s Family. Onion is a little boy who can be a very unsettling character due to the fact that he’s just walking around Beach City all day without anyone with him. Although he’s kinda creepy, Steven is one of his friends and he doesn’t talk very much. Along with Onion, there is his dad, Yellowtail (Tom Scharpling) who we don’t see very often since he’s a fisherman and Sour Cream (Brian Posehn), as well as his rave loving step-brother who doesn’t want to be a fisherman like his father Yellowtail.
A couple of hot spots for Beach City and its residents are Big Donut, Funland and Funland Arcade. Lars and Sadie are co-workers at the Big Donut and are two of Steven’s closest friends besides Connie. Lars is voiced by Matthew Moy and one of the first characters I’ve ever seen with plugs in his ears. Sadie is voiced by Kate Micucci (you might know her from the comedy group Garfunkel and Oates) and is one of the first female characters I’ve seen with unshaved legs. They’re absolutely perfect for each other and for the show. Mr. Harold Smiley used to work at the Big Donut, but now runs Funland and Funland Arcade. Super cool fun fact: Mr. Smiley is voice by none other than Sinbad. Yes, that Sinbad.
Music is a central part of Steven Universe. From the theme song all the way down to the current episodes, music has always been a main part of the show. They can range from catchy jingles, such as “Cookie Cat,” to full length songs, such as Garnet’s “Stronger Than You.” They are sung by the show’s voice actors and they totally rock it every time, especially Greg Universe’s voice actor Tom Scharpling. Since Rebecca was a composer for Adventure Time, she lends some of her skills and forever growing talents to the songs that she creates for the show. You can find some of the demo’s she’s composed through her Tumblr. You can also find some of the arrangements and melodies from Aivi & Surasshu on their SoundClound.
Also, as a part of the Steven Universe series this month, Check out some of the best Steven Universe songs so far from season one here.
Themes in Steven Universe vary from episode to episode, but always come back to the center of love and friendship between Steven and the Crystal Gems. That might sound completely cliche saying love and friendship are the main themes but it truly has those qualities. The show can be completely silly and deal with love, humor, compassion, courageous and more, but can also deal subjects like: heartbreak, betrayal, anger, loss and grief. The great thing about this is that it allows each of the characters to deal with personal struggles and emotional feelings they have towards each other and towards themselves.
When Rebecca Sugar was a storyboard artist for Adventure Time, she wrote Marceline in a way that brought her issues with her father to the world in the episode “It Came from the Nightosphere,” instead of glossing the issues over into what the world wants to see. Rebecca has continued the theme of personal struggle and themes inside of Steven Universe, especially with the big theme of lose with Rose Quarts (his mother and The Crystal Gems’ original leader) being gone. Rebecca has not only Steven struggling as the main character, but also everyone in the cast struggling around him. She’s not hiding these characters emotions in the dark or pushing them to the side to let other characters get their spotlight. She is allowing you to see that even though these are cartoon characters, they are capable and eligible to feel the same emotions that we feel and let us learn from them.
The diversity in SU is truly outstanding. Most people are used to seeing white cartoons with token black characters. Things stay happy and clean until the credits start to roll. This show however, clears away those stereotypes of the typical cartoon to make it fun and happy, but to still keep an emotional and diverse pull at your heart strings. Steven Universe is the dawn of a new kind of cartoon. It’s a cartoon filled with tenderness and understanding while still being a cartoon. It is full of thought and has feeling to it instead of the same mindless nothing.
Crewniverse (The Creative Minds Behind Steven Universe)
How could Steven Universe be the wonderful show that it is without the help of an amazing staff? We all know Rebecca Sugar as the creator of Steven Universe and her brother Steven is the background artist and inspiration for Steven, but the support that they have to make the show as wonderful as it is can not be overlooked.
Ian Jones-Quartey was the supervising director for Steven Universe, but sadly he has stepped down from his position. He currently voices a character on Bravest Warriors, and his new show, Lakewood Plaza Turbo, is going to premiere on Cartoon Network soon.
Producer Jackie Buscarino can be heard in Steven Universe as Vidalia and voices characters for Gravity Falls and Adventure Time. Matt Burnett is a writer for Steven Universe and is the type of writer that leads the fans into a completely other direction when he gives information. Hilary Florido is a storyboard artist for Steven Universe that used to to be a writer for Regular Show.
Jeff Liu is a writer, storyboard artist, and occasional composer for Steven Universe. In the Hot Topic interview, he shows that he can make music off of Game Boys that are used for the show. The one that he created was the Cookie Cat rap in episode one. Kat Morris is a writer and storyboard supervisor for Steven Universe, as well as the Regular Show. Danny Hynes is an animator on the show and also from my home state of New Jersey! He’s done animation for Adult Swim’s Venture Brothers. And there have been so many amazing art and animation directors, such as Elle Michalka, Ki-Yong Bae, Jasmin Lai, and many others!
The staff of Steven Universe is such an important part of the series that I couldn’t get them all. There are so many voice actors, animators, background artist, storyboard artist, designers, and more that contribute to this show. They carry the show on their backs and make it through the process, and they seem like the best team in the world for giving us Steven Universe. We should give them boxed candles and our eternal love and devotion for everything they’ve done.
That’s all you need to know about Steven Universe! I hope you enjoy the show as much as I am. If you get into the show and you want to know even more about Steven Universe and The Crystal Gems, please pick up Rebecca Sugar’s book, coming out on October 6, 2015, called Guide to the Crystal Gems. There’s also a graphic novel coming out in December 2015 called Too Cool for School about the friendship between Connie and Steven. Finally, there’s a comic book series by Boom! for Steven Universe. It started in August 2014 and continues today. Get all the Steven Universe things and Keep Beach City Weird!