Happy New Year, everyone! Now that we’ve hit 2017, we should really start thinking about a rapidly approaching decision – Will “the 20’s” will refer to the 1920’s or the 2020’s?
Irrelevant slang aside, 2016 was a really tough year. Even for those of us who escaped 2016 personally unscathed, the events of the year still dealt a heavy blow to any remaining optimism we had in reserve. (And for those of you who couldn’t care less about the events of 2016 because of a personal tragedy that blacked out everything else… I have no words.)
Because 2016 was so trying, it seems like a good time to reflect and re-center ourselves. Toward that end, I’d like to suggest a certain animated show that I binged over the course of 2016, that always manages to make me smile and rekindle a bit of the hope that 2016 nearly snuffed out. That show is not:
Yeah, holy crap, no, it’s not Bojack. Also an amazing show, but WOW is it depressing. Not today. I’ll cover Bojack later. Rather, today I want to talk about:
Steven Universe! A Cartoon Network show I first started watching on my way home from Thailand at Ethan’s suggestion (thanks, Ethan!) that I have only become more obsessed with over time.
In short, the show centers around the titular character Steven, at center in the above image. In the most abstract sense, the show is about Steven growing up and learning about himself as a half-human, half-non-organic-alien (Gem) hybrid. The three beings around Steven (from left to right: Pearl, Garnet, and Amythest) are three Gems that make up Steven’s family and live peacefully among humanity as its self-appointed protectors.
Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking: “Gems? Aliens? Cartoon Network? Really? So it’s a kids show and it only makes you smile because it’s simplistic, preachy, and sugar-coated”. In fact, you (the hypothetical you, anyways) couldn’t be more wrong. It would be a dire mistake to judge Steven Universe by its cover. Underneath that bright, saturated and lovably-rounded exterior, the show has:
- An intense sci-fi plotline spanning the entire show, which is currently midway through its fourth season
- A cast of deep and real characters, each struggling with their own personal demons
- A cast that is, in terms of the voice actors for the main characters, majority female and majority non-white
- Blunt and empathetic discussions about real issues that have no simple solutions, like colonialism and healthy relationships
Even while tackling depressing and difficult issues, Steven Universe remains positive and upbeat. The essential moral lesson of the show as a whole is that the right combination of empathy, patience, determination and self-value can overcome any challenge. In the face of insurmountable odds or a crisis of faith, you still have control over yourself and who you want to be. As 2016 showed us, the world can sometimes be terrifying, chaotic, and downright depressing. Even with the worst that can possibly be thrown at you, you can still try to be better than you were yesterday, to believe in yourself and those around you. Not because doing so will grant you magical anime powers to accomplish the impossible, but because if there’s a change to be made in the world around you, it has to start with you.
Really, watch the show. Episodes are only ~11 minutes long (with two fitting in a standard half-hour TV block) and the show starts to get good even within the first ten episodes, so think of it as if I were suggesting that you watch one episode of an hour long show. I’m going to end with a long quote from the season two episode “It Could’ve Been Great”, in which one character tries to convey this sense of optimism, despite everything, to another. Take from it what you will, and happy 2017!
1: Working hard is important, but feeling good is important too
2: What are you talking about? (Presses trigger of electric drill)
1: Hey! Bzzzz… What is that, a C? (Plays a C on their ukelele)
2: The drill? (Presses faster speed of electric drill, playing a G)
1: Oh my gosh, now it’s music!
1: Well yeah, it’s music. Like.. this. (playing) Do re me fa so la ti do! (Plays a chord)
2: Do me so do
1: (Plays a chord) Isn’t it pretty?
2: That’s exceedingly simple
1: (Plays a chord)
2: Do me so ti
1: (Plays a chord) We’re making music!
2: What is the point?
1: (Starts playing a song)
2: You’re not making anything
1: Well if it isn’t anything, then why does it sound so good?
2: I guess it’s just interest, do me so do, devoid of substance or purpose, a hypothetical pattern, do me so ti, for the satisfaction of bringing it to completion!
2: Interest without meaning, solutions without problems…
1: And then you just add words. Here’s one I’ve been working on..
Life and death and love and birth,
And peace and war on the planet Earth.
Is there anything that’s worth more
Than peace and love on the planet Earth