Reading Steven Universe: End of an Era and Steven Universe: Art & Origins back-to-back really highlighted their differences, I think. Art & Origins was more broad in terms of the characters and narratives and behind-the-scenes elements it touched on but was more limited in what it could say about those things (clearly being careful to avoid spoilers and network backlash), whereas End of an Era feels more focused yet also more open and honest. There is a chapter, for example, about the fight for explicit queer representation in the form of Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship and eventual marriage, which higher-ups wanted to censor.
There was a really interesting exploration of Gem gender – about how they can be read as women or as allegories for women but do not conceive of themselves that way – which develops into a discussion about femininity and how traditional gender roles and expectations can affect the way we think and feel and navigate the world (“They aren’t expected to be loving or kind—they’re expected to be powerful [...] And when they arrive at love or kindness, it gets to have a specificity and depth of meaning decoupled from an expectation that they should be naturally emotionally intuitive or gentle, which they generally are not.”) That part really resonated with me. I thought it was beautifully insightful.
Having Rose’s characterisation laid out in full did make me see her in a new light. Her “intoxicating [...] self-destruction,” the way she opts for reverence in place of respect, and the significance of Greg’s request to be treated as an equal are all unfurled and dissected. White Diamond gets a similar treatment. I had recognised her lack of identity and interpreted her consequently as a machine to be stopped rather than a person to be reasoned with, yet this book explains that she is a person and shows how her fragile sense of self is actually a key part of her characterisation. It was unexpectedly enlightening; I was provided with a new framework which recontextualised aspects of the series I’d interpreted in a completely different way before.
There’s so much more I want to gush about but I think I’ll wrap up this review here. I actually prefer End of an Era to Art & Origins, and I absolutely adored that book so that’s no mean feat! Likewise, this is a book I would recommend in a heartbeat :)
Moderate: Toxic relationship and Emotional abuse
Minor: Misogyny, Bullying, Grief, and Homophobia