Steven Universe Review: “Sworn to the Sword” (Season 2, Episode 5)

A frame from the Steven Universe episode "Sworn to the Sword"

“It was here that I became familiar with the human concept of a knight – completely dedicated to a person and a cause. This is what you must become, Connie – brave, selfless, and loyal.” – Pearl. Oh, this is gonna be a happy episode, right?

Airdate: June 15th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: After seeing Connie ward off a flock of seagulls (they flew so far awaaaaayyy), Steven encourages her to take up sword fighting under Pearl. Despite Pearl’s initial reservation, she takes up on the offer. However, in spite of Steven and Connie thinking they’ll make a great team, her teaching methods are unorthodox and a bit self-sacrificing… by which I mean, her methods are borderline suicidal.

Review:

Ever since I reviewed “Rose’s Scabbard” back in May, I’ve made it no secret that it is my single favorite episode of Steven Universe. Time and time again, I’ve argued that the episode is not only the pinnacle of character pathos, but manages to take a scenario that would be the height of melodrama and hit the perfect beat – between the fantastic score,  the fantastic visuals, the sobering climax, and the ambiguous ending, “Rose’s Scabbard” is known to reduce fans to tears. It was the episode that secured my fandom, and I will never regret it.

However, as I mentioned in the review, just because I think it’s my favorite episode doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the objective best. Not that I don’t think “Rose’s Scabbard” is a remarkable eleven minutes of television – it is. But I have entertained the idea that the show has produced episodes that, on a technical level, are better. In my head, I think of at least two episodes that raise that possibility. There’s “Bismuth”, the half-hour third season special that gave us the titular character and how she impacted the Crystal Gems.

And then there’s today’s episode, “Sworn to the Sword”. Coincidentally, it is the sequel to “Rose’s Scabbard”… as well as two other episodes – “Steven the Sword Fighter” and “Full Disclosure”. Continue reading

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Steven Universe Review: “Jailbreak” (Season 1B, Episode 27)

Steven Universe Jailbreak

“Tonight, there’s gonna be a jailbreak
Somewhere in this town!
See, me and the boys, we don’t like it.
So we’re getting up and going down!”
– “Jailbreak”, Thin Lizzy

Airdate: March 12th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston, Jeff Liu, and Rebecca Sugar.

Plot: After getting head butted by a brutish Homeworld soldier, Steven wakes up in a cell on a prison ship. Unfortunately, the cell doors don’t take into account human biology, so he’s able to escape. While looking for the others, he comes across three particular prisoners. One is Ruby, a tomboyish hothead desperately looking to initiate contact with her partner, Sapphire. Sapphire, meanwhile, is a more levelheaded and stoic prisoner who has been vocalizing through the prison, clearly to garner Ruby’s attention.

All while Lapis Lazuli has hit the depths of despair, resigned to what awaits them on Homeworld. Her desperation, however, does not take into account a prisoner rebellion – in particular, Ruby and Sapphire teaming up once again to try and fight Jasper.

Go on.

Guess what their strategy is.

Review (SPOILERS FROM MOMENT ONE):

Ah, yes. “Jailbreak”. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, and here we are – not only the final episode of Season 1, not only it’s climax, but also probably the single most well-known episode in the history of Steven Universe. Poll anybody on the street what they know about Steven Universe, and you’ll get a select few answers:

  1. “SECURITY!”
  2. “Isn’t that the show about that kid that summons weapons by eating ice cream? Even Into Darkness had a better premise than that.”
  3. “That fandom made me abandon Intersectional Marxist-Leninist Feminism and vote for Trump.”
  4. “Oh, yeah, one of the characters is actually two lesbians in a purple British trench coat.”

Yeah, that last one is what everybody thinks about. Garnet is not one person – she’s two people. As one person.

This is gonna be weird to explain… Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “The Return” (Season 1B, Episode 26)

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“E-vac-u-ate!” – Mayor Dewey, putting “get out of dodge” succulently.

AirdateMarch 12th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Vilecco.

Plot: Lapis’s warning was rather prescient, as a hand of death makes its way from space into Beach City. The town bails out, and Steven is sent along to keep them calm and help them carry on. However, Steven encounters a disquiet when he realizes the sheer scale of the conflict and that the Crystal Gems may have thrown themselves to the wolves.

Review:

Well, after two long years, here I am – the end of Steven Universe Season 1.

And what a season it was. I mean, consider that the show was advertised as “some kid rooms with aliens, eats ice cream, and acts like a dork”. Now consider that Season 1B has exposed our protagonists as psychologically messed up, unsure of what the hell they’ve been doing or will do, and you start to realize that either Cartoon Network’s marketing department is incompetent, or Sucrose played them (and, by extension, us) for fools. In a good way.

With Steven Universe cementing itself as a more (albeit not exclusively) serialized dramedy in Season 1B, it was imperative that the two-part finale serve as the coda to the themes that this season was built on. Now the question is – what does “The Return” do to make said coda as effective as possible?

The answer – it focuses on Steven. That’s a good sign.

(And it’s written by the duo that’s partially responsible for “Rose’s Scabbard”. Even juicier!)

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Rose’s Scabbard” (Season 1B, Episode 19)

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Kid… believe me. You haven’t seen the half of awkwardness.

“It held your mother’s sword. Nothing else could fit so perfectly.” – Pearl, not even trying to hide her crush on Steven’s dead mom when talking about the titular scabbard. And believe me, it just gets more unnerving from there…

Airdate: March 9th, 2015

Written by: Rebecca Sugar, Ravin Molisee, and Paul Villeco

Plot: At the Strawberry Fields, Lion unearths an old scabbard. Pearl instantly recognizes it as one to Rose’s sword and begins waxing quite a bit of nostalgia over it. Determined to have Steven comprehend its importance, she takes Steven to the storage cave where the sword is said to reside… and is shocked when Steven not only knows how to access the armor and weaponry, but that the sword lay in Lion’s mane. In fact, Pearl is quite shocked that Rose even had a lion in the first place.

A breakdown ensues.

Review (WARNING – LONG):

In 1990, the Pet Shop Boys released a single entitled “Being Boring” – a song about a man’s idealism being compromised by the inexorable march of time. Once mingling amongst the crowds of parties inspired by “a famous writer from the 1920s”, he reflects on having formed his own path of unfathomable success, all while many around him, including a particularly close friend, died. In spite of its comparatively weaker chart performance, “Being Boring” has become Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s most acclaimed song, and it’s quite easy to see why. It combines beautiful vocals; melancholic themes of love, loss, saudade, and regret; and gorgeous instrumentation.

Bizarrely, though, that song reminds me of a particular Steven Universe episode – “Rose’s Scabbard”. Now, I know what you might be thinking – doesn’t this connection seem a bit tangential? A pop record and an episode of a cartoon? When you put it that way, it might be. Still… may as well go to another dynamic duo – that of Steven and Pearl.

Full disclosure before we begin – Pearl is my favorite Steven Universe protagonist, and probably my all-time favorite character. Sure, many fans might feel enthralled by Garnet, or might really believe in Steven. Personally, though, Pearl is one of the most complex and well-written characters in western animation – behind the intellect she possesses is a character full of neuroses and faults, yet one that remains lovable.

Makes sense, then, that one of my favorite characters is the main focus of an episode that is cited as a fan favorite.

Yes, Steven Universe has had very few bad episodes. And most of them were more “mixed bags” or “mediocre” than downright bad. (“Fusion Cuisine” and “Horror Club”… aren’t making my hall of favorites.) Still, in this show where so many episodes are beloved, this episode, in particular, is hailed as a showcase of the writers in top gear – which, considering some of the episodes I’ve seen so far, is certainly no small feat.

Why is that? Are the fans overhyping this episode? What do I, some dork with a little review blog, think? Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “On The Run” (Season 1B, Episode 14)

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“This is where I was made, dude. One day, just – pop! – right out of this hole!” – Amethyst succulently and briefly describes her horrifying, horrifying genesis.

Airdate: February 5th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Steven is enthused by his book series, The No-Home Boys, and begins to romanticize the idea of living away from home, especially when he finds out about the genesis of the Crystal Gems. Amethyst is the only one that responds positively to Steven’s newfound enthusiasm – albeit because of her own issues regarding where she came from – and the two run away. Steven finds the life on the road to be less romantic, while Amethyst uses the escape as an excuse to take Steven to her birthplace – the Kindergarten. And thus begins a night of an almost unspeakable heartache.

Review:

The last time I reviewed Steven Universe, we got to see a darker, fallible side to Garnet. Meanwhile, in the real world, the United States of America had just voted to experiment with a real-life simulation of Tropico 4* a new wave of populism. This review is being posted just after the experiment was launched, what with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (I still can’t believe I typed those last three words as a fact.) How poetic. So, what better way to come back to Steven Universe than by an episode that shines a darker light on another main character?

When you get down to it, Steven Universe‘s central characters are all a part of tragedies pulled together, each one dealing with their aftermaths. From the start, it’s been established that Greg lost the love of his life. Pearl’s mental state is on the verge of a total collapse for various reasons (one of which we’ll see in a few episodes). Lapis Lazuli was trapped in a freakin’ mirror for years. And Garnet and the others, we’ll get to during Season 2 (and 3, and 4).

Here, though, we get a look at Amethyst and what happened to her. And damn, if this episode doesn’t prove that Steven Universe toes the line of tragedy, I’ve got nothing for you.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Alone Together" (Season 1B, Episode 10)

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“A Gem fusing with a human being? It’s impossible – or at the very least, inappropriate!” – Pearl. She probably thought the same thing way back when.

(Note: for those wondering where my review of “Warp Tour” is, I am going off of the order posted by Ian Jones-Quartey in terms of my episodic analysis. This allows for more consistent continuity in a show that thrives off of it.)

Airdate: January 15th, 2015
Written By: Katie Mitroff, Hilary Florido, Rebecca Sugar
Plot: Steven’s attempts at fusing with the Crystal Gems haven’t been up to snuff. After another failed round, he goes and meets Connie on the beach. There, Connie exposes her unease when it comes to dancing in public. With the two alone, they decide to dance together on the beach. One dance later, the two wake up as a teenager. A teenager. That’s singular.

Review:

Y’know, I’ve been thinking about a witty way to start this review. It’s hard, though. I mean, we’re talking about “Alone Together” – an episode that manages to be both undeniably sweet and still a bit terrifying. While my last review brought up the concept of the “Steven Universe Imperial Phase”, and noted that “Lion 3” was a massive step towards it by introducing Rose as a character, this episode may have very well done more to build the show’s cult following than any other so far, or maybe even since.

And it all is wrapped in one of the show’s central plot threads, the power of…

…fusion. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Lion 3: Straight to Video" (Season 1B, Episode 9)

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I wonder what kind of lunch my mom would’ve made me? Maybe actual space cookies! (sighs) I just wish I knew a little more about her. – Steven, unaware that he said the secret phrase…

Airdate: December 4th, 2014

Written By: Joe Johnston, Jeff Liu, and Rebecca Sugar. (Yup, the creator wrote this.)

Plot: Sadie, disenchanted with the fact that her mother kept making her lunches, tosses one of them to Steven. This gets him thinking… what was his mother like? Could he get one more hit at the woman who brought him into the world? Well, thanks to Lion, he can… although it almost results in his suffocation.

Review:

You know, there is a question that often presses into my mind when I think about a certain sci-fi show… when did the Steven Universe Imperial Phase begin?

Or, rather, what is a Steven Universe Imperial Phase?

Well, to put it simply, the Imperial Phase a term Neil Tennant (of Pet Shop Boys fame) coined to note an era when a production or producer (in this case, the show) is judged to have done no harm. In the case of Steven Universe, this entails emitting critically beloved episode after critically beloved episode, being hailed as something so awesome that one has to wonder if the show is being written by super-humans.

The second question is – has it ended yet? Sure, there have been incidents in the fandom that have left them fighting off a stereotype of overzealous SJWs who constantly post on Tumblr that Hillary Clinton is the second coming of all major religious prophets combined. And of course, this could lead to a prejudice that the show is a hotbed of quasi-progressive SJW groupthink*. Still, the show’s critical standing remains strong – ratings on The AV Club haven’t dipped below a B yet, and “The Answer” even got nominated for an Emmy. (Then again, given that “Jurassic Bark” lost to “Three Gays of the Condo”, the Emmys aren’t exactly paragons of what is good.)

The third is, of course, when did it start? Opinions in the fandom in terms of “first great episode” range from “Mirror Gem” to “Jailbreak” – so, generally, Season 1B can be deciphered as the general start of the show’s Renaissance.

I’ve mentioned this idea before – mainly concerning the two-parter “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem”. Still, I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet. Sure, “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” stretched the show’s boundaries from silly “monster of the week” into a myth arc that stretches through the galaxy. But after that, we had some inconsistent episodes, including two of my least favorite – “House Guest” and “Fusion Cuisine”.

Personally, I don’t think the Imperial Phase was truly confirmed yet with “Lion 3”, but it is not only a huge step towards the start, but it served as part one of a three-part link that cemented the show’s critical acclaim.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Ocean Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 26)

Before I begin the review, I would be remiss to not offer my deepest condolences to the victims of the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, as well as their friends and families. Not only was this the deadliest mass shooting in postwar US history – with 49 dead and 53 wounded – this was also (as far as I’m aware) the second deadliest domestic terrorist attack in postwar American history, superseded only by the 1995 Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City. That this particular massacre happened at a gay nightclub, in a region so many Americans associate with happiness and innocence, is especially heinous.

It goes without saying that this shooting was a disgusting act of hatred against LGBT people, an attack against all Americans and the values that the nation thrives on, and even a crime against humanity, which should have moved beyond acts such as this. I’ll save the political discussions for somebody else – partially because I don’t want this post to be overshadowed by talking points on issues such as homophobia, religious extremism, gun laws, tabloid media, and counter-terrorism. I will, however, proudly declare myself an ally to the LGBT Community.

And yes, I am very aware that Steven Universe is a show that has strong gay and transgender overtones. If anything, take the existence of this show – virtually unfathomable ten years ago in its current form – as a way of saying that attempts to set back rights and progress for LGBT people, especially via terrorism, will achieve so little in the end. As far as terrorists in general, no matter what ideology they use to justify their warped actions, well, Jon Stewart put it best after 9/11 –

“They live in chaos. And chaos… it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying.”

And, remember – letting terrorism deter you from doing whatever you would normally do – whether going to a nightclub or marching in a Pride parade- only gives these madmen a sense of victory. We can’t let that happen.

Now, on what is hopefully a far lighter note…


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“Your pain runs deep! Share it with me!” (I may have just gotten myself banned from Trek fandom for life.)

“I’m gonna bring the ocean back, or get really thirsty trying.” – Steven, stating his resolve. Gonna need a lot of water, kid.

Airdate: September 25th, 2014

Writers: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Last time on Steven Universe, Pearl introduced Steven to a magic mirror, the mirror proves sentient and begs to be released from its prison, the Borg capture Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rename him Locutus, Charles Montgomery Burns is shot outside Town Hall after angering the entire town, Kryten creates a franchise-killing dinosaur with the Time Wand, Bill manages to start the Apocalypse via a distraught pre-teen, President Bartlet and his staff are targeted by assassins, and Lapis Lazuli is released before threatening to drown the Crystal Gems in an act of revenge.

Just as Steven is being reprimanded and grounded by the Crystal Gems for insubordination, they find out that the ocean has receded. To nothing. This presents a problem – Beach City stands to lose quite a lot of tourism dough. Realizing that he helped screw up an entire town’s economy, Steven, the Trio (who nullify the kid’s punishment), Connie, Lion, and Greg all go out to bring the ocean back. En route to the source, Steven finds out about a schism in the Gem society.

Review (Spoilers):

So, in the last episode, Steven Universe raised the stakes plot-wise. It hinted that our heroes might be in greyer territory than we thought. that Lapis might be morally questionable while still coming off as tragic, and that there is a universe of Gems beyond Earth.

This episode merely serves to confirm what we learned in the past episode, yet does so in a way that supersedes almost every episode up to this point in terms of quality.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "An Indirect Kiss" (Season 1A, Episode 24)

Steven looking at a statue of his mother.

“Just today, you were crying about snakes!” “They don’t have any arms!” – Steven and Pearl, engaging in riveting conversation about the tragedy of snake biology.

AirdateSeptember 18th, 2014

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Steven and Connie have come a long way from almost drowning together. Now, they have a pic-a-nic together. Thing is, Steven’s undergoing a bit of an emotional malaise. Also, there’s a fence by the lighthouse where they are having the pic-a-nic. Steven notes that the two are connected, but that the story ends sadly.

Apparently, Steven and Amethyst were horsing around on the edge. One thing led to another, and Amethyst fell of the edge, onto her gem. It cracks, causing her eye to dilate. Thus, Pearl requested, and presumably constructed, a fence up by the cliff.

OK, that’s not a sad ending. Connie inquires about the rest, and Steven finally cracks.

Apparently, Rose used to have tears that healed Gems. Unfortunately, Steven can’t muster up the tears readily. To fix Amethyst’s gem (lest she be permanently damaged), they go for plan B. (And no, it’s not moving the town 5 miles down the road.) The quartet wind up at Rose’s fountain, which apparently has magical healing abilities. Unfortunately, the entire fountain is overgrown, driving Pearl to the brink of insanity. And Steven still can’t muster up the tears. An internal crisis ensues.

Review

This episode marks the second part of Steven Universe’s first five-part arc – one that fleshes out the Crystal Gems, Steven’s role in the dynamic, and everybody’s backstory. This time, we get a look at how Steven feels about the legacy he feels like he has to live up to. What follows is a very impressive episode – one filled with introspection and brilliance. Continue reading