Steven Universe Review: "Arcade Mania" (Season 1A, Episode 11)

Before anybody asks, the fact that Onion is watching this shows two things – either Onion finds this unusual, or he’s looking for another way to win a prize that, as far as I’m concerned, is above his age level… I think.

Airdate: February 17th, 2014

Synopsis: After failing to capture the spinoffs spawned by a Drill Creature in a cave… Garnet declares them to not be a threat, and calls the mission over. The Gems proceed to go to the local arcade, where Garnet trashes two games before getting hooked onto Meat Beat Mania, a rhythm-based games where the player shakes various meat-based products. And by hooked, I mean she ignores the return of the mini-Drill Creatures.

Review (SPOILERS): Steven Universe is a show that thrives on continuity. It’s not noticeable in the first half of the season, but the show’s world-building provides a lot of foreshadowing to events that will impact the rest of the series. The first half of Steven Universe’s first season is genuinely aided by the power of hindsight – either that, or a really sharp eye. Speaking of which, “Arcade Mania”, at first glance, one of the show’s more “pedestrian episodes”, is very much aided by hindsight. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t hold up on it’s own merits.

Our first few interactions with Garnet seemed to indicate that she was very much a stolid character – no-nonsense, stoic, focused. And, for the most part, they were right. However, the past few episodes have shown a lighter side to the once (and still) enigmatic leader of the Crystal Gems. She’s taken Pearl and Amethyst out of sight for “messing with Steven’s funky flow”, joked around with the kid, and even was able to comprehend why Amethyst was going to wrestling matches late at night.

Now, we get to see a vice – she becomes hooked to Meat Beat Mania.

Remember Dance Dance Revolution, a game which made everybody think they were both getting exercise and learning how to dance like Tony Manero? Yeah, imagine that with meats. And meat puns. It’s pretty stupid, and very, very addictive. Garnet – of all people – gets sucked in.

But why?

Well, something’s obviously getting her third eye hooked to the screen. (Yes, she has three eyes. Bit of a shock, right?) What is it? Well, let’s leave a full explanation for a later review. All I’ll say is that it takes the potential drawbacks of her id, and fuses it with the potential drawbacks of her superego, all to the detriment of her mission. Hey, not every Kirk-esque “medium decision” will work.

However, in the immediate term, it does appear that her third eye possesses some powers of it’s own. What they are, we don’t know, but it allows her to master the game. On a larger level, this episode reinforces the idea of Garnet being the Crystal Gem most likely to maintain a sense of focus on her mission. Or at least, we get an exception to the rule. She slips up when it comes to the Drill Parasites. Now, was she just focused on the immediate effect of defeating the Drill Creature, or eliminating any later threats. Once she gets her focus, she gets it at the worst possible time.

One thing I definitely liked in this episode is that Steven is still awkward with his relationship with the Crystal Gems – he sends Pearl and Amethyst to arcade games more suited for the opposite. This implies that the Crystal Gems still have a relatively distant relationship with Steven – whether it be that they’ve been fighting monsters for the past week, or if Steven only recently began living with them.

Going further, Pearl’s comment of arcades being “a fascinating way for humans to waste their time” is a golden Spock-esque reaction, one that showcases just how alien she is. Unlike Garnet and Amethyst, who at least seem to comprehend the concept of the arcade, Pearl is still confused on how and why we would waste time.

On a somewhat personal level, I have fond memories of arcades… hotel arcades, mind you. When I was younger, me and my family took a couple of trips to Orlando, and pretty much every hotel we stayed at had a little arcade – perfect to waste time. (Obviously, it was minor compared to, well, everything else in Orlando, but still.) That, combined with odd trips to my local Dave and Busters, means that episodes like this one bring back fond memories.

Other than that… not a too much to talk about regarding this episode. Really, with the exception of some foreshadowing, the exposure of the third eye, and some subtle character development, this episode is one that can be skipped without fear of missing much. It’s not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination – it’s funny, quirky, and cute. However, it’s not a must watch.

Tidbits:

  • Onion returns… again… and just becomes even more of an enigma. He wins a scooter (implying he has too much time on his hands), and in his next scene, he just sits there, watching Steven challenge Garnet at Meat Beat Mania. Also, I have to wonder what a kid who looks no older than 10 (and that’s at max) is doing at an arcade… presumably alone. Maybe the culture is different in DelMarVa than it is on Long Island.
  • What is this – the fourth episode out of the past five that had Mr Smiley? I’m starting to think Sinbad met a friend for lunch at the CN Offices, Sucrose and Company noticed, and asked him to record a few lines because they couldn’t find another voice actor. (Either that, or he took the job to try and stave off future trips to bankruptcy court.)
  • Steven threw a silver dollar to the side. Most brilliant piece of subtle social commentary this show has had… up to this episode. (Side note – I am all for changing from the bill to the Dollar Coin, but that’s a rant for another time.)
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: Amethyst playing Skee Ball… and ignoring the rules. “Imma win an airplane!
Best Character: Garnet, for pretty obvious reasons. Most character development, plus exposure of vice, plus the fact that she’s playing a video game makes this episode brilliant.
ScoreBronze. Solid, but not too memorable.
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