In an article about 'Steven Universe' the character Rose Quartz sings into a microphone.

‘Steven Universe’ — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Character Assassination

Even the most well-regarded animated shows have their faults.

Airing from 2013 to 2019, “Steven Universe” has come to be one of the most popular animated television shows of recent years, and also one of the most debated. As much as the show has been praised for its queer representation and excellent soundtrack, it has also been criticized for the sheer amount of filler episodes and its attempts to make the fascist villains of the story — the Diamonds — sympathetic. However, out of all of the subjects of debate, both fans and critics can unanimously agree on one thing: the character of Rose Quartz sucks.

Despite being portrayed as a loving protector of life on Earth and leading a rebellion against galactic colonizers, Rose is a selfish and emotionally immature character. While she remained morally upright for the majority of the show, everything changed after a sudden twist that altered everything the audience and the other characters in the show had known, valued and cared for.

Who is Rose Quartz?

In “Steven Universe,” Rose Quartz is part of an alien species known as Gems: a group of space colonizers intent on building their empire. The leaders of the empire are beings named the Diamonds, who are portrayed as powerful and ruthless — similar to fascist dictators. Gems are crystals and minerals that take physical form and have many different abilities and powers. Each of these beings can change shape at will, the only permanent part of their physical form is their signature gem, which is embedded somewhere on their body. If these gemstones are badly damaged, their bodies explode and their gems have to recharge like batteries to rebuild their physical forms; if their gems are broken or even shattered, that’s as close as they can get to death.

Rose Quartz served under Pink Diamond’s Earth colony until she recognized the beauty of life on Earth and resolved to preserve it. In order to save the planet from strip mining, Rose led a rebellion against Pink Diamond, whom she eventually shattered. From the rebellion came a thousand-year-long war, which resulted in thousands of Gems going missing or shattering, leaving Rose stranded on Earth to protect it. After thousands of years, Rose met a man named Greg and the two had a child named Steven. However, in order to create their child, Rose had to sacrifice her physical form and bestow her gem on Steven.

Sounds good right? The story of a being who led a rebellion to protect all life on Earth and eventually gave her life to have her child. How could somebody like Rose Quartz possibly be a problem? Well, because Rose isn’t actually Rose: she’s Pink Diamond. How so? Gems can change their physical form, so Pink Diamond decided to take on the form of one of her subjects and explore her colony.

Granted, Pink Diamond could’ve had a change of heart and decided to commit to the whole Rose Quartz bit. Nope! When the rebellion started and escalated into a war, she played both sides so she could still keep her titles and her privileges as Pink Diamond. This isn’t just a major twist, but a complete character rewrite. Even if planned from the beginning, the two characters bear no resemblance; the old Rose Quartz was assassinated.

This is worse than literally killing off a character (and by extension all of their potential) because rewriting a character completely changes not only their personality but also their relationships with other people. Once the characters and the audience realize this, they now have to reconsider their relationship with the new character and question the value of the old character. For example, the rebellion is no longer about protecting life on Earth, but about preserving a planet where Pink Diamond can have a place to look at flowers and mess around with humans.

It’s not just the rebellion we must reconsider, but her relationship with every character in “Steven Universe.” Pink Diamond initially treated Greg more like a plaything than a person with wants and feelings. Furthermore, as Rose Quartz, she told an illegal fusion (a single being made up of two Gems) named Garnet that she could be anything she wanted to be without considering her unchecked privilege as Pink Diamond. She told Bismuth to not shatter Gems so she could end the war faster, and hid Bismuth away for thousands of years while maintaining that she ran off and got lost.

And poor Pearl, dear God!

Pearls are basically made to be slaves, but Rose inspired Pearl to become her own person. Pearl joined the resistance, fought tooth and nail as Rose’s second in command, stayed devoted to her and even fell in love with her. Sounds like a compelling narrative right? A slave running from her master and joining the resistance to fall in love with her commander sounds like a storyline that could have sparked some interesting psychological analysis. It could have.

It turns out that Pearl was also Pink Diamond’s pearl. The reason she was so devoted to Rose was because she was made to be devoted to Pink Diamond. Suddenly, Pearl embodies the creepy dynamic of a slave falling for her master. This is highlighted when Pink tells Pearl not to reveal the secret of her true identity, saying it’s her “last order.” With this new change, it becomes difficult to ascertain what kind of character Pearl actually is, since we don’t know where the sovereign individual begins and the subservient slave ends.

All in all, the reveal of Rose Quartz’s true identity destroys the foundation of her character. This nature-loving ecowarrior was a colonizer all along, and everything around her suffered as a result. Everyone close to her was forced to question the basis of their relationship with her. The rebellion was designed to protect her personal playground. This is nowhere near all of the terrible things Rose, or Pink, is responsible for, but never bring up these criticisms to a fan of “Steven Universe.” It’s a sore subject, to say the least.

Jacob Puestow, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

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Jacob Puestow

University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Writing and Applied Arts

Jacob is an independent writer from Manitowoc, WI who favors short stories, articles and poetry. He is also a gigging musician, recording engineer and composer/lyricist.

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