Hi everyone! This month OWLS, a group of anime bloggers, is having a theme of “bloodlines.” In this post, I am going to discuss modern concepts of family that exist within the Western cartoon Steven Universe. Here is the prompt for this month’s theme that I followed:
“Family means everything (or does it?)”
This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Family relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, and etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family? We will be exploring these questions and types of relationships in this blog tour—so enjoy!
What Do Families Look Like Nowadays?
There is this stereotype in society that a family should made up of one mom, one dad, and 2.5 kids. While there are plenty of families that fall in this category, the truth is that life is messy and so is the concept of family. Modern families, whether blood related or not, come in all shapes and sizes. Some children may grow up with only one parent. Some may have two moms or two dads. Others may have no parents at all, and rely on a different adult as their guardian. Even if a child has two parents, their living situation may not be “normal.” They could have multiple siblings or maybe their aunt or grandparents live with them as well. For example, if you include me, there are nine people in my fiance’s home because of her parents, siblings, and grandparents.
Different family types exist all throughout the world. However, they are not always common in anime, cartoons, and other forms of media. Many times in anime, the families will be the typical “one mom, one dad, and one or two kids” formula. While there is nothing wrong with this kind of family (my family is exactly this), the problem is that people in diverse homes need to be able to see different family types in shows and other forms of media. They need to be able to relate and know that their type of family is legitimate and perfectly acceptable. Because of this, diverse families need to be portrayed more often.
This is what brings me to the show I chose for this month’s topic: Steven Universe.
Steven Universe And Its Theme Of Family
On the surface, Steven Universe is just a silly Cartoon Network show, but it is actually very deep because the show subtly deals with many important issues. I could talk about all of these in-depth, but I am going to focus on its themes of family.
If you aren’t familiar with it, Steven Universe is about a boy named Steven who is a “Crystal Gem.” In other words, his body possesses a magic gem that lets him use special powers. He lives with three other female Crystal Gems that protect him and teach him how to use his powers. From the very beginning of the show, we are given a diverse family. Steven isn’t being raised by a mom and a dad. He is being raised by three women who are not related to him. Together, the three women try to teach him responsibility, and right from wrong. However, they all have very different personalities and discipline styles that often clash. In a lot of episodes, Steven gets confused about who to listen to because their advice is always so different from each other’s. In the end, though, they always come together and figure out a solution for whatever problem is happening. This is family. This is realistic. Moms and dads don’t always agree on what action to take. If a family has even more members, their varying opinions can complicate things even more. Steven Universe does a great job of portraying the real dynamics of a diverse family. No family is perfect.
So where exactly are Steven’s biological parents? Steven’s father is still in his life and lives nearby, but doesn’t actually live with Steven or the Crystal Gems. Steven and him have a good relationship, and, although he gets along with the gems, he doesn’t live with them because of certain complications. Again, this is a realistic example of a modern family. There are many children who love their father, but cannot see them regularly for whatever reason: divorce, separation, work, the military, and so on. Steven’s father basically represents the divorced father who gets to see the kids on the weekend. He wants to see and support his child, but that doesn’t always happen, which unfortunately happens very often to parents in real life.
What about Steven’s mother? She passed away… kind of. Before Steven was born, Rose (his mother’s name) was a Crystal Gem. When she gave birth to Steven, she gave up her physical form and Steven inherited her magic gem and powers. She is not there physically, but she is there spiritually, quite literally. There are many times where Steven is able to connect with his mother’s spirit and she helps him with whatever problem he is facing at the time. In real life, a child with a deceased parent will still, in some way, be connected to that missing parent (though of course not through a magical gem). Rose’s presence represents this. She also embodies another important theme for parent-less children. Throughout the series, Steven wonders about his mom. What was she like? What would his life be like if she was there? Why did she have to die? These are the thoughts that probably enter the mind of every child who has lost a parent. Steven’s personal struggle and his identity issues may be something that some children can relate to and find solace in.
On top of all of this, Steven Universe also shows colorful families. By colorful, I mean in terms of their skin color and sexuality.
The gems are all different colors. Not just black, tan or white- they are purple, red, blue, and so on. The Crystal Gems aren’t humans, so regular skin colors do not apply to them… But the message is clear. Despite having different color skin, the gems all get along with each other and do not fight over their skin. In real life, interracial couples and families exist in all colors. Children need to learn to that this is normal.
And last but not least, we have LGBT themes! *Spoiler alert... but it turns out that Crystal Gems can fuse together to become one person. And Garnet… is actually two people. Two girls. Ruby and Sapphire. The two of them love each other so much that they want to be together all the time, and are constantly joined in Garnet’s form. It’s made really obvious. The two of them are in love. So Steven isn’t just being raised by three women… he is being raised by two women and a lesbian couple.
Some of these progressive themes are part of why Steven Universe has become so popular. And it is really a wonderful representation of a modern family- all kinds of mixed up.
Even if Western cartoons aren’t really your thing, Steven Universe is truly special. It is funny, silly, and enjoyable… Colorful, musical, and calming… with subtle but important themes placed throughout… all tied together in one surprisingly deep and compelling story. If you get a chance, definitely check it out! It’s not just your average kid’s show.
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For the full schedule of OWLS’ August blog tour, click here.
You can also check out my last OWLS post here and see all of the previous OWLS blog tours here: