A breath of fresh air
I was extremely disappointed by the official review for this series, as I feel it misinterprets all of the positive messages that should've been fairly obvious and gives an unfair impression of the show as a whole. Every single character is unique in body type and personality, most noticeable with the three female "Gems". The varying body shapes strike me instead as a message of diversity, defying the standard of typical cookie-cutter character designs, presenting their differences as a completely natural reality. No one comments about how fat or thin the characters are, or if their hips are wide, or if their lips are plump. It isn't pointed out, it's simply allowed to be, and everyone coexists peacefully despite obvious physical differences, just like they should. There's no stereotyping so much as there is merely a diversity in physical appearance, which if anything is a positive message to spread for children. To deny the existence of plump lips or portly body figures is, if anything, the most insulting thing possible for those who have them. Go tell someone in real life how you feel bad for them having plump lips and say that they should've been made differently. See how they react.
Now that I've offered my two cents on the "exaggerated stereotypical markers", this show is definitely so far a shining example of everything a cartoon should be. It's appealing to children but can also be enjoyed by adults. Kids should have a lot of fun with Steven's misadventures and parents, along with older viewers, will find that despite the seemingly simplistic nature of the series, there's actually a lot of very subtle touches that make it so much more interesting than at face value. It's clear that a huge amount of effort is put into each episode. It hits all the highs and lows of an emotional rollercoaster, which is crucial for making the audience not only enjoy the show, but feel for the show. If there's nothing but sunshine and humour, the happiness feels flat. If there is nothing but unhappiness and jerks for characters, viewers feel nothing but apathy. A perfect example of this cartoon's astonishing emotional depth is the recent episode "So Many Birthdays". It's one that adults will understand better than kids, but contains so many moments of humour, heartwarming, and soul-crushing sadness that it is definitely worth an open-minded watch.
What definitely sells the show for me is the characters. They are all fantastically written. Definitely the crown jewel in this regard are the three female Gems, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. As mentioned above, they have completely different designs and personalities, but a huge part of the fun comes from seeing them play off one another and Steven himself. All of them play different roles in the life of their young ward, helping him in different ways and guiding him with their personally distinct methods. They're a team of fantasy-like warriors that protect humanity from perils, usually Gem monsters. Garnet is the stoic leader, a figure of calm stability and silent wisdom, yet the very rare occasion she shows emotional vulnerability adds another layer of depth to her character. Amethyst is wild and carefree, acting as an irresponsible yet fun-loving sister figure for Steven. She's rude, coarse, and a bit portly, but she doesn't care what others think of her and doesn't feel the need to conform to anyone's standards to feel accepted. Pearl is uptight and strict, but also very motherly and gentle to Steven and seems to act as a stand-in for his own deceased mother, Rose Quartz. She's the intellectual, often coming with plans against enemies, but isn't always above it all, especially when dealing with her polar opposite Amethyst. What I found very interesting about Pearl in particular was her ability to be stuck-up, yet be completely justified for it anyways. She'll freak out and get overprotective of Steven, but its always when there's a genuine risk to his safety, and she isn't a killjoy just for the sake of being one. Steven himself is definitely also a very refreshing character in recent cartoon history. He's a young boy that is by no means perfect, is plump without being self-conscious, and tends to screw things up for his sister-figures with his childishness, but by all means always has his heart in the right place. More remarkable is the fact that he's a young boy who idolizes and strives to be like three older female role models, who despite being very powerful and beat up monsters daily, are unquestionably feminine. I can't immediately think of any cartoon premise that has a young boy looking up to women, but can think of plenty examples where a young girl will look up to a male role model. While not wrong, it's definitely reassuring to finally see a reverse of the common scenario.
The reason why I can't consider any of these characters stereotypes is because, taken from the Oxford dictionary, stereotyping is "A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing". All the characters clearly have tons of depth to them and cannot be defined by a mere few attributes, which is remarkable considering that the time of writing, this series has only had fourteen episodes thus far.
The setting of the series takes place in a small town by the beach side, appropriately named "Beach City", but occasionally we get reminded of the fantastical locations that also exist when the Gems go off on their missions. So far, it only adds more mystery to the story universe and can breed some very interesting theories. The Gems themselves are certainly quite mysterious in their backstories. There are still many questions waiting to be answered, such as what are the Gems exactly and are they the only ones left? If they are, where did all the others go? This can definitely be intriguing for older viewers to consider, and the mystery builds suspense while small bits of info are dropped casually across the episodes.
As for violence, it's definitely there, but I find it relatively tame, especially compared to super hero cartoons. The first episode consists of some combat against a hoard of over-sized centipedes, but the battle is bloodless and the creature disappear into smoke upon defeat. "Teen Titans" is another example of a well done cartoon, but it had far more violence, yet I remember both myself and my friends being unfazed by it when I was in second grade. In short, there is violence, but hardly anything too excessive, unless you have issue with your child seeing even the slightest hint of physical combat.
Steven Universe, from what has been seen so far, is a stellar example of a well-done show. It's definitely a jewel among the disappointing wrecks for cartoons that have emerged in recent years and harkens back to a period of time to cartoons that were almost universally considered to be fantastic. It's deep, emotional, bright, subtle, humorous, colourful, well-animated, well-realized, and a perfect example of a cartoon that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I strongly suggest looking past its colourful and silly exterior and to give it an open-minded watch right next to your kids. You might be surprised at how much you'll enjoy it.