Well I never did get around to making a season 1 review of this show so instead I decided to do a lengthy write-up/essay about it in a new segment called “Your Brain on Toons” where I’ll be doing these kinds of analytical writings. Though I imagine this isn’t something I’ll be doing very often since there aren’t too many shows I could see myself doing this for, and the fact that this was honestly almost soul-crushingly difficult to write. Anyway, enjoy
I said this before when I talked about the show on my recommendations list, but Steven Universe is a show with a strong emotional core. It knows how to consistently deliver on heartwarming moments (or severely traumatizing ones) and is very much sincere in that respect in a way a lot of other shows aren’t. Though lately I’ve noticed that in addition to all that, it also excels in one very specific area pertaining to it. Specifically in having a very deep understanding of relationships.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show for me has been in regards to how it treats the concept of fusion. Generally when you think of “fusion” in most fictional media (or just ya know, anime) you’d imagine two characters merging together to become someone stronger ala Dragonball Z with Goten and Trunks becoming Gotenks. While that aspect of it certainly exists in this show, it’s much more interested in looking at it as a metaphor for stability in relationships. Of course the word “relationship” doesn’t pertain only sexual or romantic ones, though that certainly is a big part to fusion here as it’s…pretty hard to ignore what some of those dances are going for. Rather it extends to relationships of varying degrees and each one requiring a certain degree of balance. For the sake of consistency though, we’ll largely just stick to the romantic aspect.
Stronger As One
Given the whole “fusion as a relationship” metaphor, it’s fitting that the most stable relationship in the show is in fact a fusion. While we haven’t seen much of Ruby and Sapphire themselves yet (and most likely won’t going forward, given that speaks for itself), it’s easy to see the strength of their relationship within Garnet. She takes pride in being the literal product of a healthy relationship, and honors it by choosing to stay fused as much as possible. As such, she offers some pretty sound advise in that area, and encourages some of the other characters to seek out those kinds of relationships. Most notably in her reaction to Steven and Connie fusing for the first time (not in THAT way you sickos) in the episode “Alone Together” as she understands the significance in it being representative of a deep level of affection.
Garnet’s relationship literally speaks for itself
Though much as Garnet is an ideal in regards to most relationships, as a solid level of stability can be difficult to achieve, it’s also not one that glosses over the amount of effort involved. Garnet herself states in the episode “Love Letters” when turning down a guy trying to hit on her, since she’s not interested (and is also ya know, literally made of lesbians) , that the concept of love at first sight isn’t something that really exists. A real relationship is a process and one that requires a lot of communication in order to work since you well…have to actually get to know and understand the other person involved. While the show seemingly betrays this notion in the episode “Story For Steven” where we see Greg giving up his current life to be with Rose just from being attracted to her, it’s ultimately reinforced in a later episode “We Need To Talk”. While attraction at first sight is very much a real thing, the two realize that it’s not much to build a relationship on and that they really rushed into things. It isn’t until they decide to actually talk about their differences (which in this case are pretty extreme given how literally different they are) and attempt to better understand each other that the relationship really takes off and becomes something more meaningful. The strongest relationships we have in life are forged of those kinds of honest attempts at communication, and SU really gets that.
A Really Bad Match
Of course for every positive there’s a negative and so while SU knows the importance of healthy relationships, it also has a very clear understanding of unhealthy relationships. In regards to how that’s portrayed in fusion, this is best scene in ones like Malachite (Lapis + Jasper), being indicative of relationships that are about desperation or dominance over the other person. Neither of these can hold themselves together for very long and it’s displayed pretty well by the actual fusion itself and Lapis’s struggle to maintain control over it. Though obviously those aren’t the only kinds of unhealthy relationships that exist between people, as even genuine affection can become unbalanced when taken to certain extremes. While the exact extent to which Rose ever returned her feelings is , currently ambiguous, and it’s probably for the best it stays that way, Pearl’s feelings towards her aren’t(which to be honest, I’m sort of surprised hasn’t gotten a lot more attention, given how much people on the internet lost their minds over Korra’s ending) and intensely so. Although rather than any sense of balance, her sense of devotion has been shown to be much more obsessive than romantic, leading her towards self-destructive behavior in order to convey it. With the source of that obsession now gone, however, she instead projects that same desire on to Rose’s son, Steven.
Slipped up a bit there, Pearl
Similarly to Garnet, she takes pride in having that kind of relationship, and is very much wiling to push others towards it, as can be seen in the episode “Sworn to the Sword” with how she convinces Connie to utterly devote herself to Steven’s existence. The unhealthiness of it is of course, acknowledged, and it’s largely portrayed as her greatest character flaw. Though at the same time, the show also understands the importance of not outright denying those feelings, as doing so would mean denying any sense of sincerity in them, and it’s a lot smarter than that. Instead the solution here seems to be Pearl gradually coming to acknowledge Steven for who he is (though not in any kind of romantic sense because…duh) rather than just Rose’s extension as well as finding her own sense of self-worth, but it’s a process that will obviously take some time before it fully develops.
“I think you’re pretty great”
To Fuse or Not to Fuse
Having touched on both stability and instability in relationships, there’s one other important aspect that the show also covers: that relationships should generally be a choice. How much say a person has in choosing to begin a relationship bears a lot of significance in how well it’s maintained, and forced relationships are ones that typically end in disaster for those involved. In terms of fusion, this is most clearly displayed with the abomination from the episode “Keeping It Together” that’s composed of several shattered gems being forcibly merged together into a monstrosity. Garnet’s reaction to seeing it is appropriately a disturbed one as she has the best understanding of a strong relationship out of the cast, and doesn’t even feel it should be acknowledged as a fusion. Real relationships, even unhealthy ones, come from willing attempts at connection, or at the very least, a genuine desire to be with the other person. When that element is taken out of the equation, it’s not really a relationship and it’s something I’m glad the show presented as it’s an important element in driving home the whole theme of fusion.
Yeah, this really is just downright wrong
So these are some of the various ways in which Steven Universe takes a look at relationships. Truth be told though, I only really scratched the surface here as there are various other platonic and familial relationships that it approaches very well. While that’s not particularly groundbreaking for fiction, the extent to which it’s portrayed here really stands out among a lot of other media, and especially for a kid’s show. It’s just one of the many components that fuse together to make SU such a compelling little show, and one that continues to excel.