Mental Health Takes The Front Seat in “Steven Universe Future” | REVIEW!

After a groundbreaking, seven-year run, the world of Steven Universe comes to a close with an epilogue limited series titled Steven Universe Future. Throughout his life, Steven has always put everyone else’s problems before his but now that everyone is living their best life he will have to face his own demons. Steven Universe Future is created by Rebecca Sugar and it stars Zach Callison, Deedee Magno Hall, Estelle, Michaela Dietz and Grace Rolek.

Minor Spoilers for Steven Universe Future ahead!

The Steven Universe Series Finale, “Change Your Mind” was meant as the final goodbye to this universe. Creator Rebecca Sugar fought for more time with this world and these characters and from that, we got Steven Universe: The Movie which Cartoon Network used as an opportunity to promote new episodes, hence Steven Universe Future. That being said, Future acts as an epilogue and since the entire story so far has been revolving around Steven, it makes sense that Future will mostly have time for his story rather than the secondary characters. However, Future does make time for other characters and give them a proper send-off but at the end of the day, Future is all about Steven and I feel like not many people understand that.

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Steven Universe Future is arguable Steven Universe as a franchise in it’s prime. It gives me immense joy saying that since this is the last time we will ever see these characters. It does something animated shows rarely ever do and that is showing us that all of these insane events we have been watching unfold actually do affect the protagonist, even the wacky filler episodes. We get to see an older, more complex Steven battle with himself and his inner demons which have been brilliantly set up since the start of the show. I love how this show tackles PTSD, anxiety and trauma because it unfolds in such a scarily natural way that it actually becomes unbearable to watch at times. Seeing Steven struggle with his mental health so openly gave this limited series a breath of fresh air because while other animated shows like The Legend of Korra have done this, it was only for a couple of episodes. Future’s entire existence is to explore Steven’s mental health, examine his thoughts and mentality and most importantly learn from it.

Most people’s complaints with this show have to do with the secondary characters. Steven Universe Future does indeed introduce some new faces but it’s important to remember this is a limited series so we don’t have the time to go back to them if they’re not important. Characters like the new Lapis Lazuli’s were just a fun idea. Pink Pearl was a final exploration of the toxic behaviour of Pink Diamond so Volleyball was really all we needed. Cactus Steven never really served any importance beyond showing that Steven needed to be easier on himself, something we know he doesn’t easily do. Aquamarine was just there to show there will always be haters. As for The Diamonds, we indeed needed more time with them, especially White Diamond but that time wasn’t needed in Future, it was needed in Season 5 of the original series. Their role in Future was to show how far they’ve come. That being said I love how the limited series brought back fan favourites like Lars, Sadie, Spinel and Jasper. Their roles actually had an impact on Steven’s mental health journey, for better or for worse.

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Another thing some fans complained about was the lack of songs and while I love me some Rebecca Sugar music, I think I know why it’s not heavily present in Future. Sugar has once said in an interview that songs are reserved for when a character feels an intense emotion in which talking can’t do it justice so they sing. In Future, everyone’s problems are resolved except for Steven but considering the situation he was in, it makes sense that he doesn’t sing.

As a goodbye and as closure, Steven Universe Future leaves its fans with the best possible send-off. As a whole, Future is essentially a coming-of-age story featuring a protagonist we’ve known for seven years. Watching Steven grow up, change as a person and become an adult, meaning going through adult problems and learning how to be independent is something that hits close to the fans’ hearts because we have all been there. There are episodes which portray growing up too fast or becoming a drastically different person than when you were a child that I connected to a deeply personal level. Even the episodes which discuss trauma and anxiety, there are elements which I can understand on an emotional level as if I’ve actually felt them despite never having gone through a traumatic event. This is how well Steven Universe Future works as a character study. The episode “Mr Universe” which is an episode solely revolving around Steven and Greg and their eventual argument was something I have never seen done in animation before, it felt like a scene from an actual coming-of-age movie.

As someone who treats voice-acting as acting, Zach Callison gives his all into a vulnerable and heart-shattering (pun-intended) performance as Steven Universe. The show demands an intensely emotional performance and he delivers every single time. His performance in the episodes, “Growing Pains”, “Fragments” and “Everything Is Fine” is emotionally powerful and it stuck with me just because of how relatable it is but also because I care deeply for him. Grace Rolek also gives a stellar performance as Connie even though she appears in a couple of episodes. Her speech in “I Am My Monster” is all you need to know about how much she cares and how much she knows Steven. That she can see right through him at times better than his own family. Again, I have to praise the performances from Callison and Tom Scharpling as Greg in the episode “Mr Universe”. It was nothing short of amazing.

Outside of great performances and a great story, there are other qualities I want to touch on which won’t be picked up by everyone. The animation, for example, while it looks like Steven Universe, it has that same iconic look and aesthetic, the way the characters move or their posture is another thing. One thing I noticed while watching “Mr Universe” was that Steven talks with his hands, even while driving. His fingers move up on the wheel when he makes a point and I found that so fascinating that a 2D show on Cartoon Network would put in little details like that. The writing is also another factor in what made that episode so realistic. Steven and Greg argue like a parent and teen would and I would know, just like most of you can too. In the final episode, I loved how the lines worked in both ways where it feels like the characters are saying goodbye to us, the fans. That made me all the more emotional watching it.

Overall Steven Universe Future is a series which works on many levels. It works as a deeply emotional character study and it also works as the final arc in the Steven Universe story. The writing, animation and voice-acting come together to create a profound story which will give fans closure to these wonderful characters. Rebecca Sugar has left quite the legacy with this franchise and I know for a fact that neither she or us will ever forget about this world and these characters.

RATING: A

Thank You, Rebecca Sugar and Steven Universe

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