Steven Universe Review: "Steven’s Lion" (Season 1A, Episode 10)

“Today, Optimum sent a lion to repair my cable. While it didn’t improve too much, I did see their Raining Tacos commercial. Four stars. Would recommend.”

Airdate: January 27th, 2014

Synopsis: While looking for a structure-generating Gem in the desert, Steven comes across a magical pink lion. Said lion doesn’t eat the kid – rather, the lion follows Steven and the Gems back to the Temple. There, Steven attempts to domesticate said lion like a dog… to less success. However, said lion might have ulterior motives for following Steven to the temple.

Review (SPOILERS): So… Steven gets a pet. Under different circumstances, getting a magical pet would be a sign that your show needs to have a bullet placed in it. However, we’re only in the 10th episode, so the conclusion can either be A) fastest shark-jump ever, or 2) quirky world-building. A closer analysis of this episode (ok, even a cursory analysis) would suggest (ok, confirm) that it’s the latter.

To elaborate on my first paragraph, introducing new characters within a domestic sitcom might just be the riskiest thing that a show can do. It’s damning if said character runs on zany situations. Once these characters are introduced, the fanbase tends to realize just how bankrupt of ideas the show and it’s cast and crew are. What typically follows is that members begin to renounce their fandom (in some cases, even regretting that they loved the show in the first place), before taking up another show to obsess about for a few weeks.

The Fairly Oddparents had a prime example of this pattern with the introduction of Sparky, a loud and quite obnoxious little dog who gets adopted by the Turners despite being an absolute wreck of a dog – digging the house, destroying the town, letting his owner almost die out of his idiocy, etc. Now, between the introduction of yet another new character, and the complete and utter unlikeability of said character, Oddparents is firmly seen as a show beyond saving, regarded as becoming the cliche TV it once mocked, running on the noise it generates.

Steven Universe, thankfully, chose a rather clever route to disassociate itself from shows such as Oddparents by having Lion show the one thing that Sparky didn’t in his show – restraint. (Hey, Steven Universe is basically Deep Space Nine meets ALF meets Full House. Note – if this review is your first exposure to SU, trust me, it’s much better than that preceding sentence makes it out to be.) In spite of having mystical powers, Lion doesn’t run on energy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most of the comedy around him focuses on his laconic actions – how he isn’t like a dog, but rather, is very much cool to sit around and not do any archetypical pet stuff.

Of course, he’s a cat. Yes, cats are quiet in real life. We all know that.

However, Lion, in spite of (or rather, through) his laconic-ness, possesses a rather well-developed character. He has patterns of behavior, a personality that slowly reveals itself through the episode, and might just be able to form a bit of a friendship with Steven. Most importantly, and this differentiates even further between Lion and the aforementioned Sparky, there’s a reason why he’s there that goes beyond “boy wants a pet, boy gets a pet”. In the short term, he does so to protect the world (and Steven) from the Desert Glass. We do get more reflection on his ties to Steven later on in the season, so at this point, he does remain a mystery – possibly even being more of an enigma than Garnet. However, no matter what, there’s definitely this sense that he’s designed to protect Steven for some reason.

Most of the rest of the characters get development – not earth-shattering development, mind you, but it does help build the world a bit more. Of note, we get a look at Steven’s interactions with the rest of the townspeople, as per the scene at Fish Stew Pizza. He’s fairly well-liked, even though, like most teens and adults, the locals still seem to treat him like the child he is. Which is understandable – Steven is still a pre-teen. (In particular, I love Ronaldo’s lines in this episode. The man is nuts, and I love it.)

There isn’t a whole lot of large-scale character development from the Gems, though. I did like Steven’s flair for theatrics, and Amethyst’s utter laziness (she even admits that she’s a bum). However, the largest piece of character development is, somewhat surprisingly, an off-hand comment from Garnet, as well as Pearl’s reaction – both of which, in hindsight, are tone-deaf. Arguably, very tone deaf.

Also, the animation and music are spectacular, as always. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail, but I should take note of how Lion is set up. The way he’s introduced does a pretty good job at providing an aura of mystery.

Overall, I don’t have too much to say. It’s a pretty good episode, if not one of my favorites. Solid, quirky, mysterious, well-paced… Steven Universe hasn’t really disappointed me yet.

Tidbits:

  • Onion returns at the Fish Stew Pizza – marking his second appearance. First off, isn’t he a bit too young to be alone at the Pizza joint? Second off, the dude isn’t any less creepy than he was in “Bubble Buddies” – he stares at Steven in an almost unnatural way. In five episodes, “Onion Trade” will come up. Fandom has argued that it is one of the weakest episodes of the show. Can Onion carry an episode? We’ll see.
  • I should bring up that there is actually a writer-run character blog for Ronaldo – “Keep Beach City Weird”. (Note: may contain minor spoilers for other episodes.) It hasn’t been updated since “Cry for Help”, but I have a feeling that could change very soon.
  • Still love how Amethyst protected the pillow… by putting it on top of a mattress fort. Absolutely. Perfect.
Favorite Scene: Lion’s first appearance was pretty cute. Stood out the most.
Best Character: Lion – a fine combination of grace, power, and even comedy. Second place goes to Ronaldo, mainly for the line…
Memorable Quote: “Steven’s pregnant?” Take a lucky guess who.
ScoreSilver  Solid, if nothing outstanding. It almost got a bronze, but I felt a bit generous and factored in a bit of hindsight – that, and we’re still a bit early on in the series. Expect less leniency as we reach the midpoint of the season.
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