Not su critical, but I wish there was less human episodes and plot's loose ends weren't left forgotten for literal ages. I just, idk, feel like crewniverse wants us like lars or ronaldo too much
i mean, by definition it’s not forgotten if it’s brought up again. the show is just very long-term and demands you have a lot of patience sometimes (which makes it satisfying when it happens, but it can also be frustrating before that).
on the subject of humans: i’m not always super invested, but there’s always a rewarding or clever element. i like connie, kiki and sadie a lot. greg’s alright. the cool kids too. while onion’s not my favorite, his episodes tend to be solid and gives us interesting steven-characterization (onion gang was quite nice, they finally made me emotional about both onion and steven’s loneliness).
i have a buddy who loves lars with all his heart - i know he’s not the most popular character, but i like him alright, too. he’s the kind of teenager who can be a jerk without being a one-note bully. there’s a good post going around about you kinda need to see the humans to feel the payoff of them (spoilers) seemingly getting kidnapped in this next bomb, which will be another interesting mix of the human and magical elements of the show.
the “slice of life” elements also has another function, which i think is vitally important - in fantasy / sci-fi stories, there’s a lot of Othering. by which i mean, strictly good vs evil escapism where a lot of the time, the enemy is so inhuman they might as well be a natural disaster, not a person. good and evil is often decided by which magical species or alien race you belong to, not who you are as a person.
slice of life is the complete opposite - you have your jerks, but they’re still human. those stories rarely end with anyone being murdered for their crimes and this being portrayed as a “victory”. it’s pretty common that while the main character’s perspective expands, we get to know even those characters who we assumed were just cruel or bullies. everyone has some struggle going on, and the punishments for their crimes are not that they’re irredeemable or die. rather, they’re allowed to actually develop and/or have nuances to them.
both sci-fi and fantasy also have an expectation of war in recent years - there’s the expectation of constant high stakes and people getting killed. the plot is expected to constantly be the focus - we need to find the Thing to fight the Dark Side. we need to get to Place before Evil gets there first. the Chosen One needs to collect all five Orbs, four of which symbolize the four friends, and the fifth one will awaken her own power. the Enemy needs to be Stopped, their reasons are (usually) irrelevant.
on the other side, slice of life is very personal: everything is character-driven, and their motivations is the main reason to watch it. i saw a lot of surprise that “yuri on ice” didn’t have a traditional villain - my response was basically “…well, yeah, it’s slice of life”. that’s kinda how it usually works. especially in anime - you may not get to know every character equally well, and some will be deeply flawed, but no one is sorted into a box labelled “inhuman” or “evil”.
so what’s my point? well, steven universe continuously trains its audience to see slice-of-life elements in the ~magical space conflict. it tells you to see the characters through a ‘human’ lens, even the characters who aren’t human. part of how it does this is by adding surprising amounts of empathy and human solutions - not just to the beach city problems, but to the gem problems as well.
the first time we see two diamonds together - the Intergalactic Tyrants™ who most fanart depict as the final boss overlords all the “less-awful” characters will unite against in a Final Battle? oh, they’re grieving the loss of their fellow diamond. blue diamond is crying. their pearls are there, standing as a reminder of the hierarchy they champion, but neither element ruins the other - they can be sympathetic and deeply flawed at the same time. when it’s towards the people they care about, they even seem well-intentioned. yellow diamond chastises blue for not being a good leader to her people.
part of the reason this seems natural is because the show has portrayed its human characters as flawed, not as a faceless mass of “good people” who must be saved from the evil alien race. so it makes sense it would work the other way around too - everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with, and everyone makes (sometimes massive) mistakes. the human side of the show also helps steven cope with the gem side and make connections that are important to him, develop his character and fuel his desire to help.
we’re expected to see both gems and humans as people. part of this is because of the human side of steven’s upbringing - the old crystal gems are used to meeting allies and enemies, steven is mostly used to meeting people, even if he (like everyone) has his own biases between them, or thinks some of them are “mean”.
despite some people’s consistent insistence that any jerk we’re introduced to is just a villain, that’s it, end of story, steven universe continues to challenge those assumptions. time and time again. that’s part of why it’s so vital (to me) that no one are just killed off or bubbled forever, because the show has laid the groundwork that every life is unique, and suffering is never a good thing.
it can be a trade-off, like how we’re exploring rose’s shattering of pink diamond, and yknow, there WAS a war in the style of sci-fi/fantasy, but the show is critical of that solution. pink’s shattering did not, in fact, end the conflict - her death left countless gems leaderless, mourning and FAR from ‘liberated’ (in fact, many of them hate the crystal gems), and earth was still under the slow threat of the cluster… and how was that cluster solved again? not by force, but by talking to a hostile and vicious little green alien. then getting her help to reach the huge, suffering eldritch abomination in the center of the earth… which was also stopped by communication, not by force.
i know some will insist these are unrelated, but i think without steven’s human side, he would really “just” be another crystal gem. an empathetic one, who is curious about people, but not on this level. not one who opposes the idea of not just shattering, but wants to find a way to connect with everyone (as he is like no one and everyone), and has the kind of boundless optimism where he refuses to accept that this is just “the way things are”, or that suffering is ever necessary. everything is always changing on earth, and because of that, steven wants to believe everything can always change.