Further Thoughts On ‘Steven Universe’
I was hesitant to talk about this show again so quickly after the first time, but then I decided that I had a lot to say about occurrences that came up after my review.
Not necessarily anything substantial to say, but a lot.
In regards to my feeling on the series as a whole, I’m glad to say that it’s record of “not a single bad episode” remains untouched, and in retrospect I feel rather bad for not just going all out and giving it a perfect 10.
Now I probably wouldn’t bother talking about the show again (regardless of its newfound popularity) had the events of the past several episodes been particularly note-worthy. So, with no criterion or order beyond that, here’s an opinionated and spoiler-filled look at some of the most interesting developments on the show.
Perhaps the biggest talking point of season finale ‘Jailbreak’ is the revelation that Garnet is actually a fusion of two separate Gems by the name of Ruby and Sapphire. Though the pair have a rather brief introduction, the one thing about them that we learn is that they are unequivocally in love. Predictably, the fanbase exploded in a manner very similar to another awesome cartoon from just a few months prior.
And yes, this relationship is a definitively a romantic one. There’s really no way it couldn’t be; it’s two individuals making the conscious decision to spend the entirety of their lives together in one body. And that’s a life that’s several centuries old at the very least. Though we spend barely any time with either of them separate (and what we see of Ruby is a pretty abrasive), this conceit alone is enough to make both of them endearing.
There’s been some question over whether or not Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship sits right, and whether or not it devalues Garnet’s character, however slightly. I for one think the idea that being an amalgam takes away Garnet’s integrity as her own character is a pretty baseless one. How many other pieces of media have used some sort of “split in halves” trope to display a characters duality? Garnet’s situation is essentially one of those, but with tons more meaning due to the fact that the two start out separated.
On top of that, this is something that’s been foreshadowed throughout the entire series up to this point, not just with visual cues but in seemingly innocuous bits of Garnet’s dialogue.
Were it to turn out that Amethyst or Pearl were the one who were fusions, then I think it would have fallen flat. The two other gems just aren’t stable enough personalities to feel like the product of a “perfect” bond. Garnet, on the other hand, is so comfortable in her own skin that it makes perfect sense. She is infallibly confident and secure than any other character barring maybe Steven himself (another character who is the product of love).
So no, I don’t think the fact that again isn’t exactly who we thought she was devalued her at all. If anything, it adds value to nearly everything we’ve seen her do up to this point.
Plus, it came with an awesome song.
The above reveal wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the introduction of brand new character I the form of Jasper, who comes crashing into the show as the final confirmation that the Gems we’ve been following were part of a massive civil war with their own people.
Jasper is a bit tricky to talk about since she’s probably the character we know least about, though there are kernels there to analyze. All I can definitively say about her personality-wise is that she’s a great big jerk. Though that’s subject to change, I’m skeptical if it ever will. The “Moral Event Horizon” is a tricky concept, and this show is definitely one optimistic enough for me to think it doesn’t really have one. The idea of “the one thing you do that is so bad there’s no coming back from it” doesn’t seem this show’s speed, though I like to think Jasper is effective because she brings that into question. I don’t exactly like Jasper, like, at all, but the possibility that I could is always there.
The thing about Jasper is that she’s very tone dissonant to the rest of the show. She’s violent, harsh and humorless in a show where every other character carries themselves in a very lighthearted or at least somewhat comedic manner, even other gems who have been shone in antagonistic lights. Lapis Lazuli caused a lot of harm over her anger at being imprisoned, but when talking to Steven she’s calm and amiable, and Peridot has a pretty big comedic element to her. Jasper, from what we’ve seen of her, doesn’t seem like the type who’d fit in with everyone else on the show even she stopped being antagonistic.
On the visual end of things, her design conveys perfectly how much she’s supposed to carry a different mood to anything we’ve seen on the show before. Even the monsters the gems fight are either really colorful or really streamlined. Jasper’s got a giant intimidating toothy smile, semi-realistic eyes compared to everyone else’s giant expressive ones, really “brutish” body-language that suggests she’d really like to hurt you, and a primarily dark color scheme without any primary colors to balance it out like Garnet has.
The truth is Jasper’s really the first clear cut villain the show’s ever had. Until her appearence every episode either had a monster of the week with no motivation beyond “eat” or “destroy”, or was a simple slice of life where our protagonists caused their own problems.
I think using Lapis Lazuli as a precedent for a “reformed” Jasper (or even Peridot) is a flawed idea as I don’t find that “reformation” or “redemption” accurately describes what Lapis’ went through. She serves as an antagonist in ‘Ocean Gem’, sure, but I think sometimes people forget that the preceding ‘Mirror Gem’ was dedicated to characterizing her as someone we sympathize with before she even appears onscreen. We associate her as “Steven’s friend in the mirror” before anything else. Even afterward, the only emotions she displays are ones we can relate to; home-sickness, betrayal, and powerlessness. The Gem’s attempts to bring her down with violence are shown to be ineffective, and it’s Steven’s reaching out that placates her. Jasper, by contrast, is incredibly powerful and wants for nothing, so we have no relatable motivation to attach to her. Violence actually proves to be the way to go with her, and the only reason it doesn’t take is cause she’s a sore loser.
I don’t necessarily say this to undermine the people who want Jasper to become a good guy, but only to suggest that it’s not very likely. Even if it was, I feel like it would undermine her place in the series. Jasper is a hard wake-up call to the fact that the Homeworld Gems are ultimately the series’ antagonist. The impending threat stand to lose some of its bite if their herald gets domesticated any time soon.
On a personal level, Jasper’s arrival and defeat left quite a big impact on Steven, not the least of which is him questioning whether or not he’s his own mother. I think this may be the first time in a non-time travel circumstance that I can write that sentence.
We’ve known since the top of the show that Steven inherited his gem from his mother, and the implication throughout certain episodes is that this equates to them essentially being two manifestations of the same being. It’s only now that any of those implications have hit Steven, and only time will tell where the show goes with his feelings on the subject. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much now, but I feel like it would be a wasted opportunity not to touch on the idea that he’s not really what makes himself. We’ve seen him express a desire to have known his mom plenty, but never anything in the way of comparing himself to her.
I really hope the show continues to explore this, as it could raise all sorts of deep questions. Can Steven really be called an individual? Is he just a construct for Rose’s subconscious to act through? Will it be a big deal for him if that turns out to be the case?
Going by everything I’ve just said, it only figures that a lighthearted little story is the type of thing the show needed after the season finale left such an ominous cloud over everything. ‘Say Uncle’, a crossover with the utterly absurdly and purely comedic ‘Uncle Grandpa’ (which I’ve also reviewed) was just that. Prior to the episode’s actual release there were rumblings of it being meant to air much earlier than it did. I’m glad that didn’t end up being the case, because after ‘Full Disclosure’ and ‘Joyride’ (a pair of episodes where Steven deals with the emotional stress of everything that’s recently come to light for him), the placement of this episode as is couldn’t be any better.
Beyond one scene that displays what I found to be a genuinely heartwarming moral, the entire crossover is really just an excuse to have a laugh. It’s fourth-wall breaks, fandom references and call-backs all around, with some less-than subtle commentary on viewers’ reception of ‘Uncle Grandpa’ itself. The gems (all suffering from some tongue-in-cheek character exaggeration) decide that because Uncle Grandpa is a weird dude they don’t understand, that they should destroy him. Ultimately Steven has to teach them not to be idiots, and claims that just because Uncle Grandpa is different, doesn’t mean they have to attack him.
As someone who’s always felt a amount of sympathy for said show, I think it was really big of the ‘Steven Universe’ staff to not put one show down in favor of another. Not like I expected anything less. Even better is the fact that the episode actually led to some people giving ‘Uncle Grandpa’ another shot. Not everyone has to like it, but to at least give it a chance is nice.
But like I said, this is primarily a joke episode, and as that I think it actually made me laugh more than any regular episode of either show can claim to. Something made me laugh hard at least once in every scene. Special mention goes to Pearl, who gets hit the hardest with the out-of-character stick and as a result gets some of the most insane delivery from DeeDee Magno-Hall. That combined with her over-the-top animation makes her easily the most fun part of the episode, though I also found it amusing that by contrast this is probably Amethyst at her most quiet and calm.
Also, HOOOORAYYYYY for the death of Pizza Steve!
‘STORY FOR STEVEN‘:
One of the faults that fans have spotted with the series is that some of the world building suffers from the 11-minute format. I’ve honestly never had this problem myself, as I think the show uses it’s pacing masterfully enough to negate this being an issue…. Until this episode, that is.
If there’s a single episode of this show that could have benefitted from being much longer, it was this one. It’s not really a huge problem, as the episode feels like it got just enough in there to serve its purpose, but as a result it’s the first time I think an episode felt truly rushed. After all, the ‘Story For Steven’ is ultimately two stories; how Greg met Rose and subsequently how he fell out with his vain and overbearing manager Marty. Both of these aspects flow well enough, but they Greg’s relationship with both Rose and Marty felt like it could have used at least another scene to feel totally natural. As it ends up, he has three interactions with one and two with the other. It’s not so much that I think this needed to be a two-part episode, since this could be accomplished with maybe just three or so minutes extra. I would almost advise having cut the opening and closing with Steven himself, but then we’d have no framing device. Given the options, I’m not really sure what I’d have reasonably done to fix this issue. I don’t think this is necessarily a sign that the show is outgrowing its format so much as it is that no conventional format would have allowed this story exactly what it needed.
Back to the subject of Marty, while he is definitely a two-dimensional evil manager stereotype, I at least have to hand it to both the writing and his voice actor for making him sound like a believable variant of said stereotype. That, and I highly doubt that we’ve seen the last of him, which just leaves me wondering what exactly his purpose in the larger story of the show will be.
‘ATTACK THE LIGHT‘:
Adding to list of draws to the series, a mobile RPG was recently released in the form of ‘Steven Universe; Attack The Light’.
The story is simple and straightforward, like an individual episode of the series. The Gems bring home a weapon that houses an army of Light creatures. In a moments that the Gems honestly should’ve predicted, said army gets loose the moment Steven gets his hands on the thing, and they set to destroy the creatures before everything can go to pot.
The story’s not really the draw of the game, so much as it is the gameplay. Said gameplay is pretty standard RPG fare, though I found the combat system unique in a lot of places. The Gems do all the actual fighting, whilst Steven is relegated to healing, status buffs and carrying items. The use of “Star Points” to perform certain attacks makes for an interesting shake up, as the gem’s aren’t necessarily limited to one attack or action per turn. With the proper use of items, it’s actually possible to finish a fight without even letting your enemy get one attack in. Granted, that probably won’t happen until you’ve been playing for a while.
The game also has some explorative elements, as you have to search for hidden gemstones in order to unlock certain smaller areas.
The main appeal of the game outside of the action though is the humor. The dialogue, as relatively sparse as it is, is all in-character and pretty funny. Steven also gets quite a few voice clips in which he comments on RPG tropes. As a sucker for self-aware jokes, I dug that quite a bit.
I also find it hilarious how Steven is the only one who actually starts out the game at level 1, while the other Gems are all over 9000 (and yes, the game itself makes that reference).
In terms of visuals, the art style is simplified but still recognizable, though I admit the three-fingered hands are a bit…creepy. Graphically, everything’s smooth and appealing, but the game isn’t immune to graphical infidelities on certain occasions.
It’s undoubtedly a fun game, and I’d recommend it to absolutely anybody who’s familiar with the show, or just anyone who’d like a good RPG.
It’s times like this were I’m both glad and not glad that I released my review of this show before it’s popularity practically doubled. On the one hand, I get to be the guy who says “told you so” in regards to how great it is, but I the other hand, the recent developments have sort of colored how I view the series as a whole in a different light, even if only slightly.
In a short time, this show has gone from being one among many current favorites in my eyes, to one of the better shows Cartoon Network has had in its entire life cycle. There’s undoubtedly going to be more major developments as the series goes on, and I see myself talking just as much about those (hopefully in a more timely fashion).
Consider it’s current score a perfect 10/10.