Steven Universe beaming at Princess Adora, a giant woman.
Steven Universe beaming at Princess Adora, a giant woman.
Image: Cartoon Network, Netflix

Steven Universe’s explicit queerness and the way it didn’t shy away from having multiple characters embody said queerness was one of the most revolutionary things about the show because of the positive messages it conveyed to audiences about acceptance and love. More than that, though, Steven Universe sent a powerful message to the animation industry that people want more stories like this.

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Though Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are radically different beasts, the two series have an important bond outside of the fact that they’re both excellently executed shows about young people coming into their power to save the world from evil overlords. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly discussing the impact Steven Universe had on the animation space, She-Ra creator Noelle Stevenson explained how she was able to gradually introduce more queer elements into her own series (beyond Adora and Catra’s implied attraction to one another) as it progressed, specifically because she was able to point to Steven Universe as an example of a show doing just that and doing it well with a positive response for the public. That, Stevenson, said, made it possible for her to be fully open about exactly what kind of show she wanted She-Ra to be.

“Now, my cover’s been blown a little bit. It’s like everybody knows what my angle is. There’s no going back to pretending that these are not the kind of stories that I want to tell,” she says. “I do think it’s interesting because there’s still a little bit of nervousness around the idea that this will actually narrow the audience. Especially with what I’m interested in is telling central queer stories, not having queer characters necessarily just being supporting members. I want stories that are built around them. I think that we still have a ways to go on that front.”

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Though Cartoon Network’s obviously proud of Steven Universe and its success, the episode “Reunited,” in which Ruby and Sapphire get married, highlighted some of the obstacles the Crewniverse were facing to keep the show’s messaging intact. According to Cartoon Network’s global chief operating officer Rob Sorcher, many executives within the company expressed concerns about whether the show depicting two female-coded characters tying the knot would be “OK,” a question seldom (if ever) asked about shows in which straight, cisgender people get married.

“If you’re gonna question that, you have to have some supporting rationale around,” he said. “I looked into this matter and it became very clear to me that, for all of this time, we had been doing weddings on every single show that we’ve ever made—and, in many cases, there’s a specific wedding episode within all those series. The lightning and the heat around this particular topic was big, and it was then that I really understood what we were inside of here.”

It’s great that, ultimately, Steven Universe was able to break onto the scene and fundamentally change the animation game for the better, but it would be incorrect to say that there isn’t more progress to be made. Now that Steven Universe Future’s ending, everyone’s going to be looking to see what Cartoon Network’s next big critical hit is going to be, and one can only hope that when it arrives, it’ll take advantage of all the steps forward that Steven Universe made for the industry as a whole.

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Steven Universe Future’s final four episodes premiere tonight at 7PM EST on Cartoon Network.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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