“What did you do today?” “Tell me what you think I did.” – Steven and Garnet, the latter painfully unaware of the story that she is about to hear.
Airdate: November 13th, 2014
Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu
Plot: As Garnet comes back from a mission, Steven inquires as to what she did with her time out. Garnet wonders what Steven thought she did.
Thus begins Garnet’s Universe.
Warping into a goofy, cartoonish universe, Garnet meets her animal friends, Hopper (Deedee Mango-Hall) and Hoppy (Michaela Dietz). During the middle of training, the three are interrupted by a humanoid stranger, Ringo (Zach Steele), who wants revenge on the Foxman (Matthew Moy) for stealing his habitat protecting the Gem of Ultimate Power. After Garnet’s first meeting with the Foxman proves less than exemplarily, she winds up training her way into higher power. However, Ringo has played a cruel trick on all of them.
Well, after the boring bit of awkwardness that was “Fusion Cuisine”, I needed a bit of a cleanser to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Thankfully, we got one – and this time, we have an example of the show breaking the format while still feeling like a Steven Universe episode, and being a very good episode at that.
And, believe me. “Garnet’s Universe” is, quite possibly, the single most unusual episode of the show. Which, considering what this show is about, says a lot.
Steven Universe has already been called an Americanized version of an anime by many, many animation pundits. Rebecca Sugar herself, in a Reddit AMA, has even said that the show is a three-way fusion (…yeah…) of Future Boy Conan, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and The Simpsons, and has even declared herself a fan of Anime. Jacob Chapman, an editor and a reviewer on the website Anime News Network, has even taken note of the parallels to various classic anime. Hell, the Steven Universe Wiki is loaded with references to Anime and Manga.
This episode takes those anime influences – particularly in the more action-oriented Shonen genre – merges it with video game parodies, and cranks the influences up to hyperdrive.
And that’s where my discussion of Anime largely, albeit not entirely, ends. I mentioned in my Tidbits for “Keep Beach City Weird” that I’ve never really been too interested in anime – I’ve watched bits of it, but never really invested myself. To me, it’s a genre that I’ve never really looked too deeply into. I do want to get into Cowboy Bebop sooner or later, but it’s never been a priority for me. In effect, I’m an outsider as far as the genre goes.
The entire episode is framed as a story told by Steven. Already this cements his appreciation for anime, as well as retro video games. While the story he tells does contain quite a few cliches, it’s all handled lovingly, with a nice little wink to the audience. And besides, the story that’s told is so zany that it can’t be taken seriously. Compared to “Fusion Cuisine”, this works better as a comedy – mainly because it knows it’s ridiculous, and any plotholes can easily be excused with “it was in the mind of a pre-teen who truly admires Garnet”.
And that’s what the story is about – Steven wondering what the most enigmatic guardian in the house does. Indeed, not only does Steven not seem to know a lot about her, we still don’t know much about her – her laconic nature hasn’t cooled off too much since we first saw her. While willing to lay the hammer down (as in “Mirror Gem” and “Fusion Cuisine”), she’s also the one most likely to humor Steven’s antics without getting as directly involved as Amethyst. Garnet also appears to be the least severely flawed of the trio – lacking Amethyst’s loutishness and Pearl’s neurosis.
To Steven’s eyes, this makes her probably the most intriguing character. And, of course, his story portrays her as a classical hero – the integrity of Atticus Finch with the physical power of Goku. She is badass personified. Can’t defeat an antagonist? She weight trains, and gains tons of power rapidly. Still can’t defeat him? She takes off her freaking hair, flies, and then kicks his ass. And what ultimately breaks down the antagonists’ final defenses? The power of love… for Steven. Ace Rimmer has nothing on Steven’s version of Garnet. What a gal.
Of course, there is far more to this story than Garnet kicking ass. To this end, we have four other characters – Hopper, Hoppy (Steven – as creative with proper nouns as the show’s writers), Ringo (who doesn’t own a yellow submarine), and the Foxman.
Hopper and Hoppy are clearly stand-ins for Pearl and Amethyst. (The two are actually voiced by Mango-Hall and Dietz, respectively.) Hopper – the stand in for Pearl – is portrayed as the technician of the trio, what with her “power level analyzer” (which Garnet breaks). Clearly, Steven admires Pearl’s qualities as the tinkerer, the engineer of the Crystal Gems, even if her finest achievement so far did almost kill him. Hoppy – Amethyst – is bequeathed with a sword. While this might seem at first glance like a creative misfire (Pearl is well-skilled with – and was once impaled by – a sword), consider that Amethyst is quicker to suggest direct physical confrontation than the other three gems (which isn’t saying a whole lot, but still.)
Obviously, the two of them don’t get too much depth, but it’s still cool to see the parallels.
It’s Ringo, though, that intrigues me more. There is no doubt about it – he is Ronaldo. And his characterization is not flattering. Not in the slightest. He’s a slimy, triple-faced, backstabbing Judas, lying about the Foxman in order to gain power on his own merits. Remind you of Keep Beach City Weird, anybody? All those theories, his delusion in kidnapping Steven, all in order to power his own ego. Obviously, he left a mark on the kid – one that can only be worked through with several sessions of therapy. (Given what happens over the next couple of seasons, though, several might be an understatement.)
Slightly less intriguing, yet still rather notable, is the Foxman. A pastiche of Lars (down to Matthew Moy’s voice), the Foxman is portrayed with a rough exterior, fighting Garnet simply to stay on the hill. However, we later learn that he is the true protector of the Gem – that Ringo simply lied just to get power on his own merits. Clearly, Steven thinks that Lars got a raw deal in life, and that at his heart, he’s a good person with a grumpy exterior and who is unfairly maligned by the world around him. Let’s see how long this kid’s optimism lasts until it collapses.
Reflecting the fact that this is Steven’s mentality, again, is the animation style. Obviously patterned on a hybrid of retro anime and Super Mario Brothers, the style ranges from comically cute to dramatic, all without losing that simple edge. The movements, outside of the training sequence, are jerkier than Steven Universe itself. It really fits the episode’s over the top tone, as well as the childish mentality of the show’s protagonist.
And, yes, this episode is over the top. Garnet’s rating scale? The breaking of Garnet’s rating scale? The Ringo Zone? The smiling mountains? The power the Gem yields? It is so over the top that it goes back to being awesome. It’s all tongue in cheek, and it really works well.
Honestly, this episode is miles funnier than “Fusion Cuisine”. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it the funniest episode of Season 1 overall. Pretty much every joke in this episode works, even if you’re not so familiar with the source material (here, here.) While I wouldn’t rank it alongside the epics of “Ocean Gem” and “An Indirect Kiss”, it is certainly a fine effort from a fine writing duo.
“And then you came back here, and I got you, and you were blind! And that’s what you did today.”
“…Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.”
- I really, really liked the intro to this episode. Garnet enters, looking for Steven, only for Steven to sneak up on her and jump on her (cartoonishly bouncy) hair. “Tiny hands! My only weakness!” It is one of the cutest moments in the entire series.
- I like how the start of Garnet’s Universe has Garnet jump off the warp pad… and her hair flattens and goes off-center. She simply adjusts it. Oh, and her hair is weighted.
- On less hairy situations, I like how the “enchanted power onion” is indicated by an Onionized version of… well, Onion. That’s the least of the segment’s puns. If I had a dollar for every time Hopper and Hoppy made a hop pun, I would be able to buy a copy of Madden 17.
- Also, Ringo turns the Foxman into an onion ring. That’s just strange.