The Fall of Steven Universe and Voltron

While I initially felt alone in being critical of the show Voltron, I may have been vindicated. Because fans are starting to turn on the show.

What happened? Allura.

Before the major controversy happened, a lot of people were starting to point out that, for a character who’s coded as black (dark skin and voiced by a black actress), she didn’t really look black.

Picture an African American (or look them up on Google images). What do they typically have in common? Full lips and big, wide noses. You’re hard pressed to find an African American woman with a tiny, upturned nose. And of course they have a wider range of hair styles, too. This is what Allura looks like.

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Note how she has none of those features that are common with black women. It just looks boring and generic. A lot of people pointed it out (and made some awesome edits and redesigns), but things just got worse.

If you watch the show, you might be given the impression that Allura is an adult, given how mature she is (by her looks and personality). She’s actually a teenager.

So…you can’t have the black teenager look and act like a black teenager. All the other teenagers look and act their age, but suddenly, the black girl has to look and act like an adult. Given how black children and teens are perceived to be older (and more violent and scary) than they actually are and therefore less innocent, this is…not a good implication.

What’s worse is that now that Allura is a teen, the possibility of an Keith/Allura/Lotor is very high (since it happened in the original show). You know, Keith, the guy with more chemistry with men and absolutely zero with her until the very tail end of season 2. The guy a lot of people have been hoping to be gay (and be in a relationship with Lance). Nope, can’t have any explicit LGBT characters! Can’t let Allura be with a character she actually has chemistry with (Shiro)!

Trust me, I’m not exaggerating or alone in this. A LOT of people are upset by this, especially black fans. That’s not very good.

So wow. That show got spurred very quick! Which reminds me of another show that’s going downhill: Steven Universe. You can find a lot of info on why this show has gotten so hated recently (just check the “su critical” tag on Tumblr), but basically, the show has been nothing but endless filler and cop out, horrible animation (the characters have consistently gone off model and fat characters have been slimmed down), bad characterization, and unfortunate implications (apparently you’re just as bad as your oppressors or abusers if you fight back against them, and the 14 year old is never wrong).

What the fuck happened? How did these two shows that started off with so much promise go downhill so quickly?

Well, for Steven Universe’s case, it was a myriad of reasons. Like, Rebecca Sugar has a lot of cool ideas and an earnest interest in telling a good, diverse story, but she’s hampered by bad writers and storyboard artists that don’t properly communicate (Lauren Zuke tried to force in a Lapis Lazuli and Peridot romance, and the lead writers, Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, don’t exactly have the best resume if you look them up on IMDb), an over-reliance on filler to stall time for her to get the story figured out, and terrible executives at Cartoon Network that will fuck with the show’s airings. And also, I know this is a conspiracy theory, but I feel that once the show got brownie points for being diverse, the crew stopped giving a shit. They figured they could ride the success of the praise to stay relevant, but people have started to point out the flaws (again, check out the su critical tag, but once you make an episode about a fucking human zoo you’re in deep shit). I just hope the show manages to end on a high note because at this rate I don’t think it’s going to last much longer given the ratings.

I think a similar thing happened for Voltron. I mean it did try to be diverse (none of the Paladins are white men) but it kind of failed (Hunk’s character is nothing but food and fat jokes, no one can agree on Pidge’s gender, and we discussed the problems with Allura). And honestly, I don’t think it’s as well-written as the previous shows Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery worked on (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League: Unlimited).

I guess, ultimately, this is cautionary tale of not being fully committed to diversity or consistent quality writing, and how it can turn off fans completely. So, if you’re an aspiring writer and creator, look at the criticisms these shows get so you can avoid them yourself, make sure you get in with a good network, and make sure you have qualified (and diverse!) staff. Then you can create a show that will be loved for a long time.

In the meantime, let’s hope these two shows improve. I would rather they die heroes than live long enough to see themselves become the villain.

Attack The Light will make you nostalgic for the old Steven Universe

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Remember season one of Steven Universe?  With beautiful bright colours, lots of creative monsters, rich worldbuilding and lore, and characters that were likable? Well, that’s all gone now. Instead it’s been replaced by filler episode after filler episode, horrible character and relationship development, and the lore is gone.

The problems really began midway through season two. Pearl’s characterization reared its ugly head. It became clear that she was so obsessed with Rose and feeling validated that she was willing to endanger children and violate Garnet in order to get what she wanted, and would not properly apologize without making it all about her, and she hasn’t really gotten any better (she was shown in later seasons to illegally race with Steven frightened in the backseat and tried to rip his gem out when he was a baby to get Rose back). Peridot’s transition from bad guy to good guy was rushed and it was during said transition she showed her ugly side. Garnet’s character development pretty much went out the window when she was revealed to be a fusion: now she constantly has to remind everyone she’s a fusion and how she loves fusion fusion fusion and occasionally be the wise old helper black woman. Amethyst has gotten a little development but not much. Lapis hated Peridot for an episode, had her boundaries violated, but suddenly, she and Peridot are BFFs. And oh god, Steven has become unbearable. He’s basically a mouthpiece for the writers and no episode is allowed to focus on a character that isn’t him. Where is Yellow Diamond? Where is White Diamond? I think after the Cluster conflict was resolved, the show didn’t know where else to go. We had a few good episodes, but by season four, the show has just gone way downhill.

So, I’m still upset about that. So when I looked through my iPad and saw that I had the app for the mobile game Attack the Light, I thought, “well, I’m finished school and bored, so let’s see what this is about”.

I was in for a ride.

The game reminded me of how good the show once was. The colours were lush, it was rife with unique and challenging monsters, and we got to explore the compelling set pieces. It explores more of the lore and worldbuilding that made the show so great in the first place. Best of all, it’s a really great game onto itself. It really makes you think: you have to come up with strategies to beat the enemies, and you go back and learn more about how to complete a level of the game.

I was so addicted to the game I finished it in about four days. The game is free last time I checked (if it isn’t it wouldn’t be too expensive) so if you can go download the app and play it for yourself. It’s a blast. It may be a little frustrating at times (some of the bosses are very difficult) but once you figure out how to beat them it’s so rewarding.

It makes me hope that one day the show can return to its former glory. No more filler about Steven’s racist family or domestic Lapis and Peridot: show me more of Homeworld and how to make peace with them. Until then, I’ll always have the game and the first season.

 

One Last Post on ‘Steven Universe’

SPOILERS AND UNPOPULAR OPINION

So tonight’s episode of Steven Universe was…very awesome and very frustrating at the same time. Or rather, it started off great but then took a wrong turn for the third act.

At first, I was so excited. Finally, some character development from Connie and knowing more about her life outside of Steven and her parents! Finally, we get to hear Garnet sing again! And we have a really great song about facing your problems and working together to get through them in a healthy way! It was awesome…and then it got undone by the climax.

At the climax, after the song, Connie has learned to make up for her mistakes. After accidentally hurting a schoolmate, she apologizes to him and everything’s good. Then Connie and Steven fuse again to train more, and we get a glimpse of Steven’s problems. He’s upset over the fact that he couldn’t save Jasper (fair enough, she was going to hurt him if he tried), the Eyeball Ruby (there wasn’t anything stopping him or the Crystal Gems from saving her or the other rubies by looking for them in their spaceship but okay), and…Bismuth. Even though he just bubbled her away and there’s nothing stopping him from unbubbling her, reconciling with her with the safety of his friends, and maybe having her chill out elsewhere. She wasn’t exactly malicious, she was just very upset, hurt, and traumatized. So…good job lumping these characters together, show.

Then we get this ominous shot of Steven’s perspective of his mother:

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I think the implication here is that Steven feels responsible for the death of his mother, or he feels like he can’t measure up to her, or both.

Anyways, after all that, Stevonnie falls into the sky and unfuses. Steven cries and says: “I didn’t want to hurt anyone! I’m sorry! None of them would let me help them! I had no choice!”

Except…you did have a choice. Again, maybe you really couldn’t save Jasper or the Rubies (at least, not on your own, you could’ve got the other Gems to help you), but there is literally nothing stopping you from making amends with Bismuth. And honestly? These lines all read to me of Steven feeling extremely sorry for himself but refusing to take responsibility. Instead of doing what Connie does and tries to make amends, he just pities himself and makes it sound like all those gems (who are very unfeminine, mind you) are just too damn unreasonable and irredeemable.

In the end, Connie has to comfort Steven and they manage to work through the situation together. It ends with Stevonnie lying on the grass and saying “I’m here” and that’s it.

Look. I have to be extremely honest: I’m really, really frustrated with Steven’s character. He’s fourteen years old but he acts like an eight year old. He’s too innocent, too idealistic, too childlike, and he’s not behaving remotely like a teenager. He doesn’t talk about his problems at all (not even angrily venting at the Crystal Gems even though he feels like they discreetly hate him) or vent out his frustrations. The show is presenting him as this perfect little kid who isn’t allowed to properly grow up or develop. This is getting especially bad because he’s not facing proper repercussions or taking responsibility for possessing people’s bodies or tossing Gems into space, nor is he allowed to get any help for how badly he feels. It’s especially embarrassing that he needs to be comforted by someone YOUNGER than him even though it should be the other way around. I understand that Steven is sheltered and all, but it’s getting really old and grating to see him stay like this for YEARS.

I want him to be honest with the Gems about how he feels about them and his mother. I want him to emphatically yell “I am not my mother. I AM STEVEN”. I want him to really rebel, and not just disobey orders in order to ‘help’ them. I’m just tired of Steven being a precious cinnamon roll ALL the time. Precious cinnamon roll characters are good for movies, but for television shows, where we see the character go on for a long time, it gets annoying. You want them to go through some form of development. And I think it’s precisely because of Steven being a cinnamon roll that he’s not properly dealing with his feelings or getting the right help for his bottled up emotions. Instead of telling the Gems how he feels and how he’s hurt and angry all the time, he just acts sad.

And this is why I’m officially done with this show: I’m tired of Steven’s character. I no longer get any enjoyment out of him. At first I could tolerate him (he was fine, but didn’t do anything for me) but now Steven actively repels me. I’m bored and frustrated with him. I want him to actually grow up and mature and act like a real teenager. The point of the show is that he’s half alien and half human, and I feel like we get too much of him being an alien.

So I’m signing off. I’ll keep tabs on any worldbuilding tips and more fusions (I want to see all of the Diamonds!) but I’m not going to keep watching the show. It’s just gotten way too frustrating for me. I just hope by the time the show ends I can start enjoying it again. I don’t want to leave it completely with a bitter taste in my mouth.

So About that Steven Universe “Special”

*SPOILERS*

After a lot of hype, a special 22 minute Steven Universe episode “Bismuth” aired, introducing a new crystal gem.

I suggest the first thing you do is go and watch the episode to get a good idea of what we are getting into it, but I’ll summarize it as best as I can.

In the episode, Bismuth, who had been kept bubbled in Lion’s mane, is now freed, and reintroduced to the Crystal Gems. We spend the first half or so of the episode establishing Bismuth as a strong character who is a great warrior and an even greater blacksmith who dearly loves her friends but absolutely hates Homeworld. And to be honest, she does have a good reason, considering how Homeworld was responsible for the death of almost all her friends.

At first, she and Steven get along well, with Bismuth reminiscing how Rose, just another Quartz soldier, said “hey, why are we defined by our purposes?” and started the rebellion, helping Bismuth realize she can be more than her predestined purpose.

But then the episode takes a very dark turn when Bismuth introduces Steven to a special weapon, called The Breaking Point, which can shatter and completely destroy Gems in the blink of an eye. Bismuth states that she would’ve used this weapon to win the war and destroy the Diamonds (the main oppressors/antagonists of the show) but Steven is horrified. They have a fight, and it ends with the weapon being destroyed and Bismuth being bubbled again.

After I watched the episode, I immediately felt uncomfortable. Other than Jasper (who is currently depicted as a monstrous villain), Bismuth is the only big, muscular, masculine, almost butch character in the show, in addition to being heavily black coded (dark skin, dreadlocks, a deep voice provided by a black actress). While she is a fairly complex character and far from evil, she is still depicted as aggressive (a very damaging stereotype to both black women AND non-feminine women) and in the wrong. I understand that the show, being for children, can’t exactly outright condone extreme acts of violence, but I feel like there could’ve been a better resolution than simply bubbling Bismuth and dismissing her as ‘extreme’ and ‘too far gone’. I understand Uzo Aduba is a big name actress and they can’t have her on all the time, but it still rubbed me the wrong way that they felt the best way to leave the character off was back in a bubble (and not, say, dropping her off somewhere peaceful for her to chill out).

But what makes this especially discomforting is how Bismuth’s narrative is compared to the narrative of the skinnier, smaller (and more conventionally attractive) characters.

Pearl manipulated Garnet into fusing with her and put two children in danger more than once. She is forgiven, depicted sympathetically, and continues to be a main character.

Lapis Lazuli stole the world’s oceans and put multiple people in harm’s way,  and has been shown to not particularly care about Earth. She is forgiven, depicted sympathetically, and continues to be a main character.

Peridot has tried to kill the Crystal Gems multiple times, has had a hand in the ethically horrendous cluster experiments, is shown to not have any respect for certain gems (and fusions entirely), and only became loyal to Earth when she became disappointed with her superior. She is forgiven, depicted sympathetically, and continues to be a main character.

Bismuth tried to make a weapon of dubious ethics in order to win the war, liberate her people, and is clearly traumatized by what happened. She is depicted as aggressive, wrong, and put in a bubble, not to be seen until further noticed.

Funny how only the big, black-coded, heavier-set character gets this treatment. Funny how the only OTHER big, black-coded, heavier-set character, Sugilite, is also demonized. And funny how the only other big, heavier character is a villain.

A lot of people, mainly black people, are upset over this episode. This season has been seriously hit and miss, and after this, my faith in the show has dropped significantly.

The reason why this show’s problems stick out so much is because the show is also astoundingly progressive. It’s one of the few shows with prominent LGBT representation (where no one dies or is a villain) and tends to have other good messages as well. So when I watch a show expending something good and important and then come across an episode that is deeply problematic, it’s beyond jarring.

I guess at this point, I can only hope that Bismuth will come back sooner than later (and be shown in a much better light). It’s the least the show can do.

UPDATE/EDIT

The next episode revealed that Rose Quartz shattered Pink Diamond and that the Crystal Gems knew about it. This not only has massive unfortunate implications (if you’re white and feminine, killing is justifiable, but if you’re black and butch, you’re just a murderer), but it made the characters look like absolute hypocrites. As the show went on Steven realizes that Bismuth wasn’t entirely in the wrong, but still kept her bubbled. As of 2017/05/30, it looks like maybe Rose didn’t shatter PD after all. So this is all really frustrating. She needs to come back and have a better resolution. She needs to be portrayed in a better light. I’m just tired of a show that gets applauded for being oh so diverse treat their minority-coded characters like garbage while giving their whiter and skinnier characters more attention and humanity.

The Most Beautiful Steven Universe Episode

Steven Universe has been rather infamous for its many long hiatuses, but now it is back with a vengeance, kicking off a new season with the very powerful double feature, “Super Watermelon Island”/”Gem Drill”, with more episodes to come.

While the show has made some duds every now and then, it has also produced some of the most beautiful and/or powerful moments in television history, my personal faves being “Jailbreak”, “The Answer”, “Keeping it Together”, “On The Run” and “Chille Tide”. But I got to say “Gem Drill” is probably SU’s greatest episode to date (well, maybe next to “Jailbreak”).

SPOILERS AHEAD!

For starters, this is one of the most intense moments in animation I have ever seen. Throughout the whole thing there’s a constant, looming threat that the world could end at any moment, and Steven and Peridot may not be able to save it. The show is also complemented by some gorgeous (and frightening) imagery. I can’t find a lot of good images, but when the reach the Cluster, Steven keeps seeing flashes of the ghosts of the Gems who were shattered long ago:

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Steven gets more and more stressed throughout the ordeal, until his sense of reality is warped, the world around him begins to dissolve, and he falls into some sort of trance:

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Without willing it, he can now talk to the Cluster. It is established throughout the show that Steven has psychic abilities allowing him to communicate and astral project through his dreams, but I wonder if he was going to fuse with the Cluster (his gem wouldn’t stop glowing).Well, whatever happens, we get this really atmospheric and haunting look inside the Cluster’s fragile mind, and of how the shattered Gems that consist of it want to be free, but can’t.

It’s here that Steven actually talks to the Cluster, helps it, and encourages it to find companionship within itself in a safe bubble. In other words, he finds a peaceful, nonviolent, and even loving solution to the catastrophic problem.

What I love about this episode is that it would’ve been very easy to have Steven and the Crystal Gems merely drill into the Cluster and destroy it. But the show decides to reveal an alternative, unique solution to one of it’s biggest threats. It humanizes the Cluster, which is something that most people would not humanize or even sympathize with, giving it depth and making it sentient. You don’t really see that a lot in media.

I think it kind of connects to me because I kind of relate to it in my experiences as a neurodivergent. Peridot’s words of how the cluster gems are so broken that they’re beyond repair really hit home for me; in real life, it’s common to label a lot of severely disabled people as ‘vegetables’ that can’t experience life to the fullest and are often institutionalized and not given any autonomy. A lot of people look at them with pity and scorn. So it’s nice to see a show that takes a bunch of gems that are mentally and physically disabled and starts to see them more positively. The Cluster chooses to put itself in a bubble where it can reconnect with all its pieces and is ultimately seen as something almost beautiful. This gives me hope for the other bubbled cluster gems currently residing in the Temple.

I was utterly blown away when I saw this episode. I hope there will be more episodes of this magnitude later in the show. For now, “Gem Drill” is definitely one of the best episodes and one of my fave moments in modern animation.

My Top Ten Animated Shows

I must confess, it is much harder for me to watch shows (be it animated or live action) than movies because TV shows tend to be very long, hard to find, and I can sometimes lose interest. So, when I’m able to watch a show and actually stick with it, it becomes very special to me. Here are some of my faves (this time, I will include anime because honestly I don’t have enough ultimate fave American animated shows to make a top ten list). Here we go!

Continue reading “My Top Ten Animated Shows”