Steven Universe Review: "Monster Buddies" (Season 1A, Episode 23)

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Looks like the Centipeetle literally has a rock. But can it inspire her? All we know is that it feels no pain.

Airdate: September 8th, 2014

Plot: Steven gets another pet! This time, it’s a pet that tried to kill him.

Yeah, remember the first episode, where Steven tried to beat the Centipeetles with Cookie Cat Ice Cream? Well, this time, he winds up accidentally un-bubbling one of them – the mother, in fact – and letting them regenerate. Against Pearl’s wishes, Garnet decides to let Steven domesticate her. That proves to be difficult, what with her spitting acid and all that. Oh, and it seems to have a hatred against the Crystal Gems.

Review: “Steven and the Stevens” explored Steven’s role in the Crystal Gem dynamic by temporarily removing him from anybody but himself, and noting how they bounce off of each other on a comic level. Now, “Monster Buddies” shows him and the trio engage in something of a division within the ranks – one where the personalities clash on a dramatic level.This episode explores the Crystal Gem dynamic alongside the whole “nature vs. nurture” and “love vs. order” conflicts. We see this debate all the time, from relatively small-scale ideas of classroom management, all the way to the highest echelons of our political sphere. It has shaped our ideologies, our media, etc.

This episode explores the Crystal Gem dynamic alongside the whole “nature vs. nurture” and “love vs. order” conflicts. We see this debate all the time, from relatively small-scale ideas of classroom management, all the way to the highest echelons of our political sphere. It has shaped our ideologies, our media, etc.

Steven so badly wants to take the Centipeetle that one attacked them in as a pet. (Yes, another pet.) He’s convinced he can tame it, that he can domesticate it. In a sense, he does. Hey, he does effectively teach her to shoot out acid whenever he makes a squack sound. In that sense, he does turn her into a weapon… making her sort of vaguely a part of the team. Steven’s persistence in trying to domesticate the creature really does showcase just how devoted he is to those he meets, that he is an eternal optimist.

There’s a problem with that, though – the monster gem that Steven raises seemingly can’t decipher (or accurately comprehend) what is a threat and what isn’t. Once they get to the Shooting Star, the mere sight of Garnet’s gauntlets is judged as a threat to her and Steven’s well-being, and she almost burns them. It’s a perfectly valid defense mechanism, but her reaction stems from what happened in “Gem Glow”.

Indeed, the monster falls on her own sword – causing the eruption, she pushes Steven out of the way of a falling stalactite. Down she goes, her physical form gravely injured.

So, that’s the end of the episode? Can’t domesticate all pets?

Well, I personally consider this one part of Steven Universe’s first five-part story arc. Often arraigned into “Stevenbombs” nowadays, I consider this the first true five-parter – this particular arc fleshing out Steven and his mother’s legacy, as well as seriously fleshing out the backstory of the Crystal Gems. What I’m saying is, we’ll get back to this episode later.

For now, we learn that Rose tried to do the same thing that Steven did – in this case, Garnet calls it “healing”. Again, we’ll get back to that wording. Still, we get two aspects from that piece of information…

  1. Steven is like his mother, and…
  2. Rose was actually rather fallible. Lt. Mary Sue, she was not.

This experience also reflects on the differences between how Steven takes care of the Monsters, and how the others do. When it comes to the trio, they appear to perform an immediate (if not pre-emptive) strike against the threat. Steven tries his hardest to calm the situation down, find more diplomatic means, with attacking being a last ditch effort. There’s clearly a dichotomy between the two sides, and makes you wonder how they would handle a serious threat.

Yeah… that conflict is really going to take hold.

Also, while it’s not necessarily important to the episode, one of the more interesting and lauded aspects of Steven Universe is how it managed to play around with some of the more “gendered” character tropes. The Crystal Gem Trio* are more warrior-esque, and tend to attack whatever comes their way as the first method of dealing with situations. Steven, meanwhile, is much more sensitive, with a focus on the emotional bonds between him and others. It’s not a “universal” flip of gender tropes, however. (Pearl is the most traditionally feminine of the Trio, for example – being graceful, a perfectionist, and a swordswoman with a conservative view on the art of sword fighting.)*

I never really focused on that aspect of the show – despite my own generally left-of-center political viewpoints, I think that just praising a show for its social progressivism tends to overshadow any other virtues or even flaws it might have – but “playing with the schematics of gender” is a rather quirky aspect of the show that Sucrose and Company intended from the start. I laud it for doing it well – not merely giving in to stereotypes and flipping the genders that are applied to those archetypes.

“Monster Buddies” is a very good effort from Season 1A. We’ve come a long way from Steven trying to save the Crystal Gems by eating ice cream. One episode left before the big one, but we’re building up right now, guys.

Tidbits:

  • The Centipeetle Mother is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, who has a prolific voice acting career voicing animals. These range from sentient fish (Klaus from American Dad) to non-vocal mammals (Perry from Phineas and Ferb).
  • This episode contains a quote that should not be as funny as it is – “This all happened today!” Even further, it really shows just how easily Steven can bond with whatever or whomever.
  • Note that Pearl refers to the Centipeetle as a “thing” and “disgusting”. We’ll get back to this later.
  • Oh, and Steven can bubble things. This is the kid that could barely summon his shield 22 episodes ago, and couldn’t deactivate his bubble until he and Connie almost drowned. We’re getting somewhere.
  • My question is, how could Steven not notice the acid on his back? I know he’s half gem, but still. Eh, must’ve been that upset.
Favorite Scene: The cream of the crop? Steven bubbling the “Chaaaaps!” Yeah, I almost wept.
Best Character: The Centipeetle Mother. She doesn’t say a word, and she still has quite a character… and a tragedy.
Memorable Quote: “Watch your head.” – Garnet, telling Pearl to watch out for the stalactites. I just love how stoically Estelle delivered that line.
Score: Silver. I’m admittedly not a pet person, so that puts it on the “low end” of the Silver episodes, but still, nice character development.

* Yes, I am aware that the Gems are technically genderless space rocks. Their physical forms have thus far been feminine, though, and they do use “she” pronouns. I’d assume that the casual viewer would likely not notice the technicality.

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