Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cartoons I Love: Steven Universe

Steven Universe. A show unlike anything else on television. An emotional masterpiece. An A+ work in character study. A cartoon that breaks down barriers left and right. I could go on. So I will!

If you're not watching Steven Universe, you need to be. Especially kidlit authors! At the moment, you can watch the first season on Hulu, or you can purchase all of Steven Universe on Cartoon Network's Youtube channel or on Amazon Instant Video. There are nearing 100 episodes, which may sound overwhelming, but the run time of each is short (11 minutes), so in reality 100 episodes is actually more like the length of one season of an hour long network show.

This wonderfully imaginative, heartbreakingly sincere sci-fi fantasy is created by Rebecca Sugar, who originally hit the spotlight because of her fabulous work on Adventure Time. She also is the first independent female creator for a Cartoon Network show. Woo!

For first-time viewers of Steven Universe, this cartoon may seem deceptively simplistic. At the beginning, the animation isn't solidified (it takes the first 15-20 episodes before characters are regularly "on model"), and the show feels episodic (it isn't--you want to watch it all, and in order, to fully grasp and appreciate what is going on).

Me, as Steven (complete with tummy gem!) last Halloween.
Steven Universe is about a boy, Steven (surprise!), and his three guardians, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. These characters are known as the Crystal Gems--a group of mysterious alien beings who protect Planet Earth from the Homeworld Gems. They each have a gem on their body, and their gem is the source of their powers and who they actually are (which makes more sense if you watch it, I promise).

Steven is the odd one out of the Crystal Gems--he's half human, half Gem. The first and only of his kind. His dad, Greg, is human, and also plays a significant role in the show, as does Steven's eventual human friend, Connie. An eclectic collection of townspeople that we get to know and love also come into play quite frequently. Steven's mother was Rose Quartz, a Crystal Gem who gave up her life to bring Steven into the world. Steven inherited her gem, but never got to know her himself.

As I said, at first, the adventures are fun, but nothing overly dramatic, and they wrap up neatly. The "slice of life" stories are similarly quaint. For the first 5-10 episodes, you might think that while cute, this show hardly adds up to the award-worthy levels I'm claiming it deserves.

This isn't because the world is simple. This is because we are seeing the world through Steven's experiences. And as he grows, so does the complexity of the setting, plot, and most importantly: the characters.

While I greatly enjoy both the setting and the plot (oh man oh man, does the plot get intense), I'm going to concentrate on the characters for the rest of this post. Because its in the characters that this show stands apart from the rest.

Each of the main characters--Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl--not only get character development themselves, but get an intense web of relationship development with one another. As Steven grows, he starts to see and learn the backstories behind his guardians. The fact that his mother, their once leader, gave up her life for him, is a crucial piece of information about how the Crystal Gems feel about both him and his father, Greg. And that's just one part of the puzzle. Every character is treated with care and realism, from the main cast to the various townspeople to the villains--a rarity for kids' television. The relationships between them all is a hot mess, reflecting real life so poignantly you forget you're watching an animated show about sentient space rocks. But at the heart of it all is Steven, who believes so firmly in the good in others that you can see why he has the power (perhaps actual power) to bring people together.

I've learned a lot about character development from watching this show. I study it, to be honest. I can't think of another show that can make me feel this much in such a short run time, and it is 100% due to the depth of the characters and the emotional truths they bring to the surface.

Oh, and did I mention the lesbian relationships? On a show actively airing on Cartoon Network? Multiple instances of main characters as lesbian or bisexual? And did I mention how this isn't a big deal in the show? It's just accepted as normal? Beautiful. What a time to be alive.

Finally, Steven Universe isn't Steven Universe without its music. From silly/catchy songs like Do or Do Nut, to powerful emotional pieces, like from this Tuesday's episode. (Video is mildly spoilerish, but honestly this song doesn't reveal any big secrets you couldn't have already figured out from the first few episodes.)

Moral of all of this: GO WATCH STEVEN UNIVERSE. RIGHT NOW. AND BRING TISSUES. You won't regret it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Juno: July 4th

Something is coming for Jupiter this Independence Day. 

No, that's not a tagline for a summer blockbuster. It's 100% reality! NASA's Juno Mission will reach the biggest planet of our solar system on July 4th of this year.

Artist rendition of Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

Launched in 2011, Juno has been traveling through space for nearly five years to reach the gas giant. One of it's biggest tasks is to actually reevaluate the "gas" part of Jupiter's "gas giant" status. There may be a (relatively) small solid core somewhere under all those storms!

In addition to determining if Jupiter has a solid core, one of Juno's other main priorities is to study the planet's magnetosphere. A magnetosphere is the region where interaction happens between a planet's magnetic fields and solar winds from our sun. Earth's magnetic fields help protect us from solar winds, and our resulting magnetosphere stretches 40,000 miles off the surface of our planet in the direction of the sun. Away from our sun, the tail direction of our magnetosphere stretches 370,000 miles!

Earth's Magnetosphere. Credit: NASA.

Jupiter's magnetosphere stretches out 2 million miles.

The big question is, how is Jupiter producing its magnetic fields? For Earth, we produce it by the convection of liquid iron in our planet's core. This movement results in flowing electric charges, which induce magnetic fields. But what is it inside Jupiter that accomplishes this same effect?

That question and more will soon be answered! Keep your eyes on space news this summer.