Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Top 10 Best Steven Universe Episodes

The best episodes of an already amazing series! (so far)
Ah, Steven Universe. Even though it began airing in November of 2013, it exploded in popularity this spring and has since become one of the most highly regarded kids show of the past decade. In the span of three days, I marathoned every episode of Steven Universe out of curiosity at first, but then out of sheer adoration. I freaking love this show now, and it's awful that I'm going to be in another country when new episodes start airing again. That got me thinking; if I could only watch one episode of Steven Universe before I leave, which one should I watch? Which then made me realize "Oh wait, I have a review site! I'll just make a Top 10 list!" And here we are.

So since Steven Universe is a show where each episode is about 11 minutes long, I figured that a Top 10 list would be the perfect way to introduce new viewers to the show. The show is still airing, and pretty much all of the episodes are great. These are just what I would consider to be not only the best starting point for a new viewer, but also the showcases the best comedy, character moments, and drama. Now you're entitled to whatever opinion you want regarding the show, but these are just my personal favorite episodes. Some are episodes fans love, some not so much, but the fact is that I love these episodes and I encourage you to track them down on TV, Cartoon Network's site, or through some elicit back alley den of the internet, because this show deserves it. With all that said, here are the Top 10 Best Episodes of Steven Universe.

#10: Friend Ship (S2 EP15)
It seems kind of fitting that the most recent episode would rank on this list, seeing as how it was the conclusion of the most recent storyline "The Sardonyx Saga". For those uninitiated, our heroes, Steven, Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet, were tracking down a villain named Peridot, who was using a radio tower to transfer back to her home planet after she was stranded on Earth (long story short, watch the season 1 finale). Pearl and Garnet fused together to make Sardonyx, an extremely powerful gem, to destroy the tower. However, Pearl kept on returning to repair the tower so that she could have more opportunities to fuse with Garnet and feel stronger than she actually is. Garent was righteously none too pleased about it, so she's been furious at Pearl since with Pearl trying her best to make up to Garnet.

"Friend Ship" was the culmination of the arc where Pearl became desperate to try and catch Peridot to make up to Garnet, but becoming more reckless because of it. It results in the Crystal Gems being trapped by Peridot and forcing Pearl and Garnet to actually talk. What makes this episode so strong is that we can see a clear arc of how Garnet and Pearl not only develop from the beginning of the arc, but the beginning of the episode. When they finally do talk, we learn about both of their insecurities, their inner thoughts, and just how important fusion means to Garnet. Admittingly, this episode would have more impact if you saw the entirety of the storyline, but the episode still stands strong on its own. It's well animated, we learn a lot about our main characters, and we see that Peridot is actually a pretty interesting and clever villain too. It's everything that you could want out of a good climax.

#9: Together Breakfast (S1 EP4)
Steven makes breakfast one day and tries to find the other gems to eat with him. That's the whole episode. On the surface, it's nothing too spectacular, even if it made a good Tumblr meme, but what makes "Together Breakfast" so good for me is that we finally get to know more about the Crystal Gems. Up until this point, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl were present, but we knew little about them besides that their were magical gems/aliens that protected Steven. Here, we finally learn about their personalities and even where they live. Pearl is very neat, orderly, elegant, but can be very much like an overprotective mother, Amethyst is a brash slob that mostly wants to have a good time and a good laugh, while Garnet is quiet/serious about protecting Steven and saving the Earth. We obviously learn more about these characters as the show progresses, but it's your basic primer for the characters.

We also get a lot of surreal and interesting visuals throughout the episode, like a chase between Amethyst and Steven through a tripper outer dimension, and a fight between a gigantic breakfast monster. It's fun, informative, and just a solid episode that finally kicks the show into gear.

#8: Arcade Mania (S1 EP11)
Not many people talk about "Arcade Mania", and I can understand why. It doesn't do anything to advance the overall plot, it's a filler episode, and the only bit of information we learn about the characters is that Garnet has three eyes. So why is it on this list? Well, I just really like the humor. After a fight against a recent monster, Steven decides to take the Crystal Gems to an arcade to unwind and have fun. He introduces them to a bunch of different games, and while all of the results are pretty funny, Garnet becomes entraced with beating an arcade rhythm game to the point that when the monster of the week makes another appearance, Garnet is brainwashed into beating the game.

I honestly can't explain why I like this episode so much. Maybe it's just the gamer in me talking, but I love seeing an arcade and watching characters interact in said arcade is just fun to me. It doesn't do anything spectacular, but it doesn't need to. It just needs to be funny, have some good visuals, and a showdown between Garnet and Steven at Meat Beat Mania, where the only way you could win is to beat your meat. I'm sorry, but I just can't deny the appeal of the concept to me.

#7: The Test (S1 EP38)
Fun fact: This was the first episode of Steven Universe that I watched. I decided to watch this episode on TV, and it interested me enough to watch the entire show, especially in its anime references and the overall moral of the episode.

"The Test" is a sequel of sorts to an earlier episode. It turns out that the Crystal Gems tested Steven in an earlier episode unbeknownst to him, a test that he failed at by the way, and Steven wants to try a new, even harder test that the Gems would create. They abide, and Steven is off on a solo adventure through a dungeon of the Gem's design.

What stuck with me about this episode isn't the initial premise, which is a fine premise, but the twist halfway through. I won't spoil what happens, but it leads to a great conversation between the Gems about how they're raising Steven and whether they're fit enough to be his guardians. After all, Steven is the reincarnation of their former leader Rose Quartz (more on her in a bit), so they're not only caring for him because they love him, but because they're still protecting their former mentor. Not only that, but "The Test" discusses the nature of lies and why people lie to one another. Do you lie to protect someone from harm, or lie to make others feel better? Can you trust your friends, or should you be honest with them, even if it hurts their feelings? Add in the "Congrtulations!" scene from Evangellion, and you have a great episode of Steven Universe.

#6: Say Uncle! (S2 EP1)
I have never once seen an episode of Uncle Grandpa, another recent Cartoon Network show. After seeing "Say Uncle!", I feel like I had enough exposure to Uncle Grandpa to last a lifetime. 11 minutes of this man is absolutely insane, and I fear for my overall sanity if I was to see a second more of him. Still, he made probably the most hilarious episode of Steven Universe yet.

In this non canon episode, Uncle Grandpa just decides to visit Steven and help Steven learn how to use his powers. No one knows about Uncle Grandpa's fourth wall destroying, multiversal, reality bending powers though, so his interactions with the Gems are disastrous at best. However, everyone is absolutely brilliant in their comedic rolls. Pearl nearly goes insane due to Uncle Grandpa, sporting some of the best animation she's ever had, Amethyst just rolls with the insanity, while Garnet is pure deadpan about it and acts like living in a plot hole is no big deal. Just trying to describe this episode is insane enough, but the feats that Uncle Grandpa performs are just out of this world. Want to see him rise from the ocean with singing dolphins? Want to see him shoot several Bee-zooka's at Steven before going to shoot a death ray at him? Want to see him cause Pearl to break down in tears due to his talking fanny-pack? This episode has it all.

Most of the time, the humor of Steven Universe is solid, but nothing that that's memorable. Comedy usually isn't that memorable. You see it once, you laugh, but later on even when recalling the joke, you don't get that same amount of humor from it. "Say Uncle!" is still funny no matter how many times I see it. It's memorable, it's insane, it's Uncle Grandpa.

#5: Garnet's Universe (S1 EP33)
"Garnet's Universe" is an episode where Steven imagines how Garnet's day was when she left for a mission. The result? Steven Universe meets Dragon Ball Z meets Gurren Lagan. 

This is the most anime the show has ever gotten, and it is glorious. From a long journey involving strange characters to a magical location, to power levels beings worthless, to a giant epic showdown where Garnet's fists obliterate an entire dimension, over the top does not begin to describe this episode. When I first saw "Garnet's Universe", I didn't really give it much thought outside of being an homage to classic action anime. After repeat viewings, I'm convinced this is the best action that the show has ever seen. Yes it's clearly imitated an incredible action anime, but the doesn't diminish the fact that the action is solid. Plus, you can't deny that Steven Universe is at its best when it's acknowledging its anime roots. When it's trying to be Sailor Moon  or Revolutionary Girl Utena, the show is great. Likewise, when it's trying to be Gurren Lagan, it's also great. Just put more anime in Steven Universe, and we'll be good.

#4: Giant Woman (S1 EP12)
What really is there to say about "Giant Woman"? It's the episode that every fan loves and is legitimately one of the best episodes the show has ever made. What's the plot you may ask? Garnet asks Steven, Pearl, and Amethyst to find a golden beetle in a sky temple. However, Pearl and Amethyst are not getting along too well, mostly because they are arguing about fusion, where the two gems can combine to form one super gem. Steven, smitten by this has one goal. All he wants to do is see them turn into a giant woman. Plain and simple.

This was the first episode of the show that felt like it was bigger than all of the other episodes. It cemented that Steven Universe could create lore, high concepts, and even catchy songs. We learned about what fusion was, and our minds instantly asks hundreds of other questions. What would the other Crystal Gems look like if they fused. Are there other Crystal Gems? Could they fuse with each other? Fusion opened the door wide for Steven Universe fans to explore, and the awesomeness of fusion was further exemplified when Amethyst and Pearl fused to make Opal, who could kick so much ass it wasn't even funny.

This and the next three episodes expanded the avenues that Steven Universe could travel on. It could be more than just a simple kid's show and be something cool, charming, and entertaining for both children and adults. "Giant Woman" was the first step in expanding the show's horizons for me.

#3: Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem (S1 EP21&22)
Yes, I went for a two parter for my number 3 spot, but it seemed like a tragedy to split this two parter up, though I will admit that the second part is better than the first part. Still, my list, my call, and while "Friend Ship" can be enjoyed on its own, I couldn't say the same for "Mirror Gem" and "Ocean Gem".

One day, Steven finds a mirror that could play back anything that it sees. Pearl originally tries to use this to teach Steven about Gem history, but because the mirror is cracked, it can't remember that far. Once Steven starts to take it around and it sees his life, the mirror is able to talk to Steven through stringing together words that it overhears. Once the Gems find out about this, they instantly become suspicious about the mirror and try to take it back. Steven runs away and at the mirror's instruction, breaks it. It releases Lapis Lazuli, a Gem that was trapped in the mirror for centuries. However, she despised her prison, both the mirror and Earth, and takes all of the water on the planet to try and make a bridge to her home world. So it's up to Steven and the Crystal Gems to stop Lapis before she dries up the whole planet.

As a two parter, it's paced beautifully. Moments are given just enough time to have enough of an impact, and the eventual climax between the Gems and Lapis is well deserved. Plus it's just great to finally see another Gem. For over 20 episodes, we've seen only the main three Crystal Gems and had no confirmations that there were any other Gems besides our main heroes. "Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem" definitively said that yes, there were other Gems, and they weren't always friendly. Adding on the ending of the episode that added more mysteries and asked if they were even more Gems waiting in the universe, and you had a two parter that made the show better than it ever was before.

#2: We Need to Talk (S2 EP9)
So for this entire list, I've neglected to mention Greg Universe or Rose Quartz, Steven's parents. The biggest reason for that is that they aren't really relevant to the main story. They have several episodes dedicated to their romance to explain how Greg knows about Gem culture, or to provide further details and character development for other characters. I just don't have any interest in these two characters, even though Rose should be much more interesting than she should be.

That being said, I love "We Need to Talk". It's an honest episode that shows the first time that Rose and Greg were actually in love and had genuine chemistry. Greg was mostly a slacker musician up until this point and Rose was just fascinated with human culture, but didn't understand humans. Think of Starfire, but potentially not as genuine. In this episode, Greg tries to fuse with Rose, even though it is impossible for humans to fuse with Gems. That doesn't stop Greg from tyring as he gets advice from a young Garnet and Amethyst, though Pearl is not a fan of Greg at all. In fact, she fuses with Rose right in front of his face just to show off that he could never have the same connection that Pearl has for Rose. And yes, I mean that very literally.

After Greg tries and fails to fuse, Greg breaks down in front of Rose and asks them just to talk as people. No more thinking that humans are quirky, no more being fascinated with human emotions, just two people that love each other talking about how they feel. It's simple, but it's beautiful. They're even honest enough to both admit that love is torture for them, but they don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It shows the depth that these two have for each other and lay the foundation for future episodes that will hopefully expand upon their relationship. I love this episode, but it doesn't nearly compare to my hands down favorite episode.

#1: Rose's Scabbard (S1 EP45)
Pearl is my favorite character in Steven Universe. She tries to be in control and the rational one, but time and time again, she's trying to fill in Rose's shoes. Shoes that she could never fill. Pearl decides one day to take Steven to Rose's secret armory, an armory that no one else knows about expect for Pearl and Rose. However, Steven had already been there. Steven's pet lion, appropriately named Lion, took him there before, and also has several of Rose's most prized possessions in his mane, including Rose's sword. This revelation makes Pearl realize that even Rose kept secrets from her, which shakes Pearl's entire foundation.

Through all of Pearl's interactions during this episode, it becomes painfully clear that Pearl was in love with Rose. She reminisces about Rose, she values all of her possessions, and she deeply misses the fact that Rose is no longer with her. She died to make Steven, which begs the question if it wasn't for Steven, would Pearl still have Rose to love? She talks to Steven as if Rose is still alive inside of him and if he retains any of her memories or thoughts. When that reality starts to sink in, she shuts down and escapes from everyone. When Steven nearly falls down a cliff to his death, Pearl doesn't do anything. She just sits there, too shocked to do anything. When Steven does finally reach her, she just questions what life owuld be like if Rose was still around and not Steven.

For a kids show, this is heavy material. Not only do we have regret and loss, but we also have Pearl, who normally is the foundation of the show, at her absolute weakest. She can't deal with Rose's death and she questions whether Rose kept things from her own lover. But all that matters is that Steven thinks that Pearl is still amazing, bringing Pearl to tears. Rose may be gone, but Steven still exists. The rest of the episode is Pearl explaining to Steven in a montage the various adventure she had with Rose and Steven trying to cheer Pearl up in his own way.

This is what makes Steven Universe such a good show. This is by far the most brilliant drama the show has produced, and it all relates to love, loss, and acceptance. I would watch this episode on loop again and again for days, but it will still have the same gut wrenching impact it did the first time. "Rose's Scabbard" is simply a sublime episode of a sublime show. A masterpiece of children's animation. Watch it, let the feels come, and come back again to appreciate it all over again.

1 comment:

  1. Good Choices. You should do a top 10 favorite cartoons list.