Steven Bomb 5: Out of this World Review

So after nearly two months, Steven Universe returned into 2017 with a new Steven Bomb. I say nearly two months but some people already watched the episodes a few weeks ago, when all five of them were released to the public in what many initially thought to be a leak, but was actually intentionally done by Cartoon Network as a promotion for their app. This has drawn criticism to the studio for the possibility that it could affect the ratings of the episodes when they would broadcast proper.

Although the studio has in fact done this with their other series before, it is only with this incident that people noticed. This could perhaps be because their other series don’t have as much of an older audience who would notice mundane backstage details which the younger audience don’t take an interest in. This does display how passionate that largely older fan base is in regards to the series. As tempting as it is to frame Cartoon Network as a villainous empire who seek to destroy creativity and enjoyment of good shows by sabotaging the best one they have right now, really it wasn’t done to sabotage the series, it was merely a business strategy which perhaps didn’t work with the structure of the series being less episodic than most cartoons.

Anyway, I myself refrained from watching these episodes until their actual broadcast and did my best to avoid the inevitable spoilers that would arise from this incident, which allowed me to come back to the series with a fresh perspective. In the time between this and the last episode I was able to create this blog where I’ve so far been able to create a retrospective on the older episodes of the series, and not much else due to my own procrastination. And so now that I can write about these episodes with a fresh perspective, I can at least rely on the fact that I have something to do that can keep me with something to do on this blog more regularly.

With that long introduction out of the way, let’s finally talk about the fifth Steven Bomb, a story arc titles Out of this World, which takes Steven and the Gems further from Beach City than they’ve ever gone before.

Image result for steven universe out of this world

4.10: Steven’s Dream

Steven’s Dream begins with Steven having a dream. A dream about a windy and withered landscape with pink flowers set apart from the toned down greenery of the environment. Steven ultimately wakes up next to Greg with tears on his face. Steven has by this point in the series experienced enough prophetic dreams to know that this dream has to mean something. He probably associates the pink flowers in the dream with his mother, but of course the flowers in his dream, as seen in the picture above, aren’t roses.

Greg takes Steven home, informing him that the movie they were watching while he slept was about aliens who were abducting cows to use their milk for a cereal planet., and of course this is clearly more than just a throwaway gag (very few throwaway gags in this series really are), as references especially involving aliens do tend to hold a mirror of some sort to the Gems and Homeworld. In this case it could either be a reference to what we already know about how Homeworld once used the earth to gain access to it’s resources, or it could be foreshadowing something else later on.

Anyway, the dream causes Steven to talk to him about his mother, specifically questioning Greg knew about her past and the fact that she killed Pink Diamond. This offers us some insight into how Greg sought to improve Rose’s perspective on life and her regret over her actions, showing the more serious side to their relationship which we haven’t seen before. This moment of clarity helps Steven to go to bed, where he ends up having the same dream but extended to include a vision of an old object he recognises. Contacting Connie, this object is confirmed to be the Palanquin, as seen in the journal from Buddy’s Book, which observant viewers already noticed before this episode looked exactly like the seat that Blue Diamond was seen sitting in, in The Answer. By this point it is obvious to the viewer and Steven that the object likely represents Pink Diamond more than Rose Quartz.

Steven hopes to gain answers on the object from the Gems once they enter the room. Amethyst doesn’t know, Pearl seems reluctant to discuss it, both keeping in character. Garnet however breaks from her usual cool headedness to adamantly refuse Steven’s curiosity in a fierce outburst. We have seen the Gems and Steven get into arguments regarding their history before of course, and I thought at first that this scene would simply be treading old ground until Steven said “I thought we weren’t going to keep any more secrets from each other” as if he was reading my mind in that moment. The fact that they have seemingly had this exact same conflict before and still refuse to tell Steven about it helps the argument between them to become especially unnerving.

After  Steven storms out of the room, Garnet tries to confront him more calmly, clearly feeling a sense of dread regarding the situation. A sense of fear even. It is clear here that her future vision has caused her to know what will happen if he goes there, but she cannot do anything to stop his inquisitive nature. I’ll talk more about this aspect later. Steven meanwhile takes the issue to Greg, who is more willing to go along with Steven’s wishes, and so takes them to Korea, where the Palanquin is located. They fly there with the help of cousin Andy, making an unexpectedly quick return after his first appearance just two episodes earlier.

So anyway, “the Universes are going to Korea”, and so we get a quick montage of Steven and Greg going sightseeing around Korea. This sequence is pure filler, but does what filler should and still be entertaining so that it doesn’t matter. The setting also helps to distinguish the sequence from the rest of the series, where we are normally used to the American setting of Beach City. The most notable part of the sequence is when they’re walking in an animation studio, and are given a fourth-wall breaking gag in which Greg sees himself being drawn. Again, this throwaway gag is more than it initially appears as the picture being drawn is specifically of Greg’s face later on in the episode. I was wondering if they were going to at some point see the border between North and South Korea, but of course they don’t. I mean, I know the series can get a bit dark at times, but I don’t think it’s going to include something like humans being forced against their will into prison camps. Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

So anyway, they eventually go to the location of the Palanquin, where they see a different Palanquin than that from Steven’s dream, this one is blue and in fresh condition. And then, they quickly notice the actual Palanquin they were looking for, being visited by a large Gem in a Blue hood, crying. This of course is Blue Diamond, accompanied by her Pearl, whose vision Steven was seeing through in his dream, and whose gigantic tears keep coming through his eyes as a result of his empathy powers. Having previously seen the Homeworld Gems as being ruthless and bureaucratic, the fact that Blue Diamond is mourning the loss of someone she once knew sets her apart from the others we’ve seen so far, showing that despite the apparent repressiveness of the Homeworld regime, even Gems on Homeworld do still have feelings and sympathies with each other.

This is what draws her to Greg once he is discovered by them, and empathises with her over the fact that they both lost someone very dear to them. Of course, the fact that the one he lost is the one who killed the one she lost is something he doesn’t choose to bring up. Taking pity on him, Diamond decides to save him from the impending doom of the cluster (unbeknownst to her that it has been deactivated) and kidnaps him. As her ship leaves, Steven tries to stop them with his jumping power but to no avail, being rescued by Garnet. Before she tells him in full about why she tried to stop him from going, it is already clear why she was afraid. Blue Diamond was previously seen in The Answer as the master of Sapphire, and was the one who threatened to shatter Ruby for fusing with her. Garnet, more specifically the Sapphire side of her personality, is clearly afraid of Blue Diamond like nothing else because of her past with her, but her fear evidently caused Greg to be kidnapped. And so she promises to rescue him, setting up the quest for this arc.

So much happened in this episode that it was difficult to breathe at times Being packed with continuity, emotional moments, expansion of the Homeworld mythos by showing a new side to the Gems, taking us to another country to prepare us for how far this arc is going to go. This is an instant great episode in the series canon, and a brilliant way for the series to return, and now let’s continue.

4.11: Adventures in Light Distortion

Go back to that joke I made just a few paragraphs earlier, about he possibility of Steven going to North Korea and the series tackling the idea of humans being taken away and put into prisons. Yeah, that was building up to the beginning of this episode, where it is disclosed that Greg is being taken to a zoo for humans that Pink Diamond once had. One which Pearl is apparently familiar with, helping them to know where to go. Yeah, it’s actually going to go there, though obviously less dark than a North Korea episode would be.

After a that, we see Steven speaking on the phone to Connie, who is not coming on the mission with them, instructing her to stay behind and do their work while they’re gone. I get the impression this short scene is going to build up to something, it wouldn’t have been in the episode otherwise. More importantly, we see that Peridot has altered the Ruby’s ship so that they can use it, and tries to explain to them that the gravity engine she has installed works by “bending reality” before they rush off into space. Although a rash decision on Steven’s part, it does show the urgency of this mission in how he hopes to rescue his father as quickly as possible. Even though we the audience know that they are going to successfully rescue Greg, the characters in the series themselves don’t know this for certain, and so the drama comes from their emotions.

So this episode is split into three parts in terms of tone. The first third of the episode is largely a build up for the main premise of the episode, where Steven and the Gems try to figure out how to get the ship to go faster after Steven is informed that going at normal speed will take them 70 years to reach the zoo, which Pearl is ambivalent to. I know she’s the most alien of the Gems, and they aren’t affected by long timespans, but surely she would realise the urgency of getting there much quicker than that. We also see them go through an asteroid field, and then hit some of the Rubies floating in space. I’m noticing that this arc seems to carry quite a lot of continuity with previous episodes so far, and they even mention that they should do something about the Rubies when they return.

The second third of the episode is largely focused on comedy regarding Steven trying to get the gravity engine to work properly. This results in a sequence of the Gems changing shape and size as a result of the titular light distortion caused by the ship, initially being shrunken to Ruby size because the ship is designed to accommodate Rubies, I thought we would get a scene of Garnet defusing here to be unaffected by the change but that didn’t happen. They then shrink to a much smaller size (I’d like to see which class of Gems that size belongs to), then grow to Diamond size. Of course, the comedy of this sequence never manages to match the preceding line from Steven “Bring on the Syrup” in response to the possibility that he would be squashed to a pancake.

The final third of the episode takes a more serious route, as the ship suddenly goes into an extremely fast speed, resulting in the Gem’s forms being disappearing as a result of going at a speed faster than light. So this is basically Ludicrous Speed from Space Balls, the room even shifts to a plaid red colour as Steven is pushed to his chair by the force of the speed. Ok, despite that silly reference, the moment is actually quite serious as Steven, now all by himself, tries in desperation to reach the button to stop the ship before it crashes into the zoo. The soundtrack accompanying this scene is intense, a repeated percussion of loud electronic drums which beats the intensity of the moment. Zach Callison also deserves props here for his evocative turn as Steven, forced to confront his inquisitiveness and how he has led them to this point where they may not survive. It is a powerful scene, and easily the high point of the episode.

Steven naturally manages to reach the button, preventing them from crashing and allowing the Gems to return to their forms as they arrive at the zoo 70 years earlier than expected. I didn’t mention this in the previous review, but the ambient music that now plays in the closing credits has also changed to include an urgent piano melody. Just like “Love Like You” before it, it seems this song is also going to slowly progress as the series goes forward. What it will sound like afterward, we will have to wait and see, and how it reflects the direction of the series. But right now it does sound significantly more foreboding than it’s predecessor.

As mentioned before, this episode is split into three thirds, a quick build up, a comedic middle, and a serious final act. The final act is easily the best of the three, giving Steven a moment of self reflection in a very drastic moment, escalated by the soundtrack and the excellent performance from his voice actor. This episode did ultimately feel more like a slow build up for the arrival to the zoo, which we will visit next episode.

4.12: Gem Heist

Having spoken of the possibility of Garnet defusing in the previous episode, first thing she does so in this episode to get through the zoo under the guise of delivering Steven to the zoo as a Sapphire, with Ruby, Pearl, and Amethyst as her servants. So once they go outside we get introduced to a few new characters, the Amethyst guards who are significantly taller than our amethyst while having a similar raspy voice to her, and Holly Blue Agate (voiced by Christina Pedi), the apparent head of the facility, whose elitist personality is quickly established through her condescending attitude towards the Amethysts while holding a strong reverence for Sapphire.

That is the main attribute of the character throughout the episode, that she holds a strongly traditionalist view regarding the roles of certain Gems. Whether that be through instructing our Amethyst (which is what I’ll refer to her as to distinguish her from the others in this review) to stay behind with the others, instructing Pearl to open the door for them and chastising her for speaking just a quick line of dialogue, which is enough for her to be considered “chatty”, and when Ruby tries to distract her by lying about leaving the ship’s engine on, is dismissed by her in a way which brushes all Rubies as incompetent. Then there is when Steven talks, which she simply hears as gibberish despite them speaking he same language.

The bulk of the episode revolves around the comedy of the bad acting of the gang as they try to keep up with the scenario. This is especially difficult for Ruby, whose proneness to anger causes her to become enraged when Agate tells a very one-sided account of the story of the Diamonds versus the Rebellion on earth, which she is only able to vent out once she leaves their company. Incidentally, the way that she and Sapphire signal each other through winking is cleverly done considering how Sapphire only has one eye. The audience can tell that how this is distinguished from a blink is in how hard her eyelids press.

And to  be honest, there isn’t really that much more to the episode worthy of mention. Not that it’s a bad episode at all, the comedy works well and it does give us our most in-depth view yet of Homeworld with how the different classes of Gem are treated by Agate. But the episode does ultimately feel like more filler until the next episode. It ends with Steven being taken into the zoo, the other Gems seemingly unable to do anything that wouldn’t break their cover. After a sequence of Steven going through a machine which puts him in new clothes and cleans him, he lands in the zoo which is considerably nicer looking than the earlier dialogue would lead us to believe.

4.13: The Zoo

So Steven and Greg are reunited in the zoo, where there are other humans whom Greg has gotten to know. The inhabitants of the zoo have an extremely upbeat attitude, almost inhuman in how they constantly smile and speak with a limited vocabulary, and have names such as Y6 and J10. They all have a heavily androgynous appearance and have developed their own peaceful culture with each other. They have certainly been raised in an environment which is extremely different from that of earth, growing up apparently without knowing about anything outside of the zoo. While Greg seems to have taken to the abundance of happiness in this environment, Steven is a bit more sceptical, something which lends to what becomes a theme in the episode concerning maturity.

The inhabitants of the zoo are basically children. They are given play time by their management, and get to live in a world without worries or consequences, instead allowed to live in peace and harmony with one another. They similarly take a quick liking to Greg because of their innocent nature. Greg, who views responsibility as a burden, enjoys the routine here, even to the point of sometimes showing reluctance at the prospect of leaving, though he does still agree with Steven’s assertion that they should leave when the opportunity arises. As such, Steven ends up coming across as the more mature figure of the two. This is a result of the fact that he has grown up with responsibilities built up around him, and the fact that he has had multiple experiences of overcoming difficult obstacles through his adventures with the Gems, something Greg is less experienced in.

Of course, in addition to maturity, another point of philosophy which this episode addresses is the status of the humans in the zoo as prisoners. Though that is what it looks like from Steven’s perspective and to a lesser extent from Greg’s, to them it isn’t a prison. Sure, they wouldn’t be allowed to escape, but they also never think to do so. Prisons are generally intentionally made to be unpleasant places to stay, as a form of punishment to the prisoners, even if they are still given food and sleeping facilities to live. This facility is first and foremost a zoo. It is not a place where people are sent to be punished, but rather to be preserved, and as such are treated with necessities for living while still having the area accommodated specifically for humans to flourish, as evidenced by the tropical environment (humans are most naturally accommodated to warm environments) and simulation of night and day for their daily routine.

Indeed, the people are so heavily adapted to living in an apparent utopia that the concept of “hurt” is alien to them. The next revelation we learn of the zoo, which turns out to be a breaking point for Greg, reveals how they reproduce, you will notice that there are no children amongst the inhabitants. It is done through a matchmaking ritual where in certain individuals are paired together by selection of the Gems. Incidentally, the fact that the inhabitants are directly communicated to by the Gems, showing that they do indeed speak the same language, leads me to believe that the ignorance shown by Agate in the previous episode was merely to maintain her own prejudice.

Speaking more on the concept itself, and going back to the idea that the humans here are similar to children mentally, I am reminded slightly of Huxley’s Brave New World, the premise is certainly similar to that of this episode, in which people are controlled by being given what fills them with pleasure, rather than forced to accept reality through direct totalitarianism. That book even included a detail about how even children had sex with each other, participating in the conformity of the society from an early age. Of course the difference is that sex (although not directly mentioned here because Kid’s show, but that is clearly what is intended for the humans) is done for the purpose of reproduction, whereas in that book, it was merely a pleasure which infertile humans conformed to. Still, I think there is certainly a thematic similarity to be seen between the two narratives.

Anyway, Greg doesn’t agree to go through with this, explaining to the inhabitants the concept of choosing who one wishes to be with. Their love of Greg causes many of the inhabitants therefore to choose him, including many of the males (god, I love this series), but when he rejects them, they become saddened by the rejection, exposing them to the concept of hurt the hard way. This causes a group of amethysts to come into the zoo to calm them down. Steven and Greg attempt to use the opportunity to escape, but are swiftly captured by one of the amethysts.

This episode was highly interesting thanks largely to the themes it presents such as Maturity, Imprisonment, Conformity and Pleasure. It’s certainly one of the most philosophical episodes (seriously, I ended up citing Aldous Huxley as a reference for the episode). The paradise setting distinguishes it from the rest of this arc, set largely in space, while also keeping it as an integral point in the arc. It is of course where the previous episodes, which have mostly just been build up, were headed. And now we only have one episode left of this arc.

4.14: That Will Be All

So we immediately start off from the end of the last episode with Steven and Greg being taken into a room full of amethysts, rather than kept inside the zoo. We see that our Amethyst, who was notably absent and unheard from afterwards during Gem Heist, has also been captured. But this quickly turns out to be an act, as she has actually spent her time bonding with the other amethysts, who like her were born on earth and whom she feels an immediate connection with due to sharing the same status. There are also apparently jaspers in the facility who share space with the amethysts.

Much like Adventures in Light Distortion, this episode can be separated into three separate parts. The sequence with the amethysts is the first part, which is interrupted when Agate stampedes into their way, causing them to hide Steven and Greg. Agate, who is blue, is preparing for the arrival of Blue Diamond, her apparent master. This establishes that, as well as class, the Gems are also divided into colour groups based on who their master is. Agate herself also shows that, in addition to being an extreme elitist, she is also apparently a massive racist as she critiques the amethysts for being “oddly coloured”. Anyway, so the amethysts storm out of the room, allowing Steven and Greg to escape undetected.

The second part of the episode takes place inside a giant, pink room filled with bubbled gems. Specifically, Rose Quartz gems. We then see Blue Diamond enter the room, still saddened like she was before. And then we get Yellow Diamond, less of a meme this time around, but still maintaining her established stoic personality. She proceeds to scold Blue Diamond for her seemingly sympathetic attitude, particularly regarding the gems in the room, who were apparently all bubbled after the rebellion, since a Rose Quartz led the rebellion. Yellow even goes so far as to say that they all should have been shattered long ago. Yet unexpectedly, she does even show some semblance of empathy towards Blue, again showing a softer side to the Diamonds which he hadn’t seen before this arc.

To convey her frustrations, Yellows orders their pearls to begin a song which she sings. “What’s the use of Feeling Blue” I suppose is meant to be a villain song. It certainly gives off that vibe at the start of Yellow’s singing with the commanding and uncaring tone punctuated by the loud drum beats in the backing track and the higher notes she performs. Most of all, it is a villain song because of the way in which she seeks to motivate Blue throughout the song. And yet it still shows a more human side to the Diamonds, as both she and Blue seem to feel sadness over the death of Pink Diamond, the difference is that Yellow has moved on from the past to concentrate on the present whereas Blue still feels sadness despite it having been such a long time ago. The use absence of “blue” after “feeling” in some pauses of the song’s structure does cause me to wonder if she does still hold malicious intend however, as her apathetic attitude does make it seem like she would be opposed to feeling any emotion period rather than just sadness.

While the song is being sung, Greg and Steven make their way to the door before Agate leads Sapphire into the room. Luckily Blue doesn’t recognise Sapphire, who is clearly still frightened to be in her presence, kept warm (visually even) by the presence of Ruby, and is thus able to come up with a believable excuse for bringing another human to the zoo. The downside to this is that it convinces the Diamonds that, since they believe the earth still has yet to be destroyed by the cluster, they can go back to earth to collect more humans for the zoo, setting up a very visible and early return.

So the third part of the episode is the escape, where Agate accompanies Sapphire and the Gems to the ship while Steven and Greg do their best to hide through a grown Amethyst, using the trust between them and the amethyst guards to ensure they don’t report anything, and least plausibly go underneath her as she looks up. But inevitably, she does manage to spot them entering the ship. Naturally, she blames the amethysts for this, all evidence to the contrary, before Ruby and Sapphire fuse into Garnet to stop her from capturing them, wrapping her in her own whip. This is the moment when the Gems manage to reclaim their authority.

I didn’t mention this when talking about Gem Heist because it wasn’t so apparent to me during that episode (the comedic side tended to overshadow it), but in that episode, the Gems were clearly in a position where they felt particularly vulnerable due to being deep inside the enemy’s territory. The defuse of Ruby and Sapphire during their time here symbolising that vulnerability (a sort of PG rated stripping naked for Garnet), and so her fusing together in order to stand up to their enemy represents how they have re-attained their control of the situation.

The amethysts don’t do anything, and even cheer them on, showing that they may have resparked the rebellion by gaining new allies away from earth. The victorious attitudes from each of the Gems in the last scene is quite entertaining to behold. Our Amethyst refers to them as the “famethyst” displaying her more human personality through use of slang. Garnet teases the possibility of pushing her with her fist glove before instead using her normal hand. Pearl uses logic to avoid having her report this, informing Agate of the negative repercussions of her allowing this to happen. And so they all manage to safely get away from the facility and return home.

Oh, and the music in the end credits shifts once again, into a segment where the piano has melded more into the ambience of the background.

*

And so the arc ends. Over all hardly the best arc we’ve had, it established a destination for the characters to reach and took a long while for them to reach it. That is the biggest case against the arc that I can make, though there is another one I can manage other people making which I will get to later. The worst offender of this was Gem Heist, easily the weakest episode of this bomb due to the fact that it felt like lagging through a corridor with only the beginning and ending of the episode making any momentum, but even that episode still managed to pack in a good amount of character-based humour to keep me engaged, as at no point during these five episodes did I ever feel bored. The individual episodes themselves each felt like mini packets of clever writing and lovely character moments, Steven’s Dream had foreshadowing, Adventures in Light Distortion had high stakes emotions, The Zoo presented ethics and That Will Be All expanded the series as a whole by establishing a subtly placed plot point in how the Gems new connection to the base is clearly going to come back to the series later on.

I can imagine some people not liking how inconsequential they may have perceived this arc, as in the end the Gems are able to escape without worrying about Homeworld coming after them, though of course we do know that the events of this arc did change something, we got to see a new side to Homeworld, more silly and human and even emotional than compared to the initially stoic earlier appearances of Homeworld Gems. The Gems now have allies in the zoo’s amethysts and established an intention for the Diamonds to return to earth in a brief scene, so we know that this will cause them to return to earth. Of course there were some plot threads that weren’t completely resolved, such as the humans who are still locked inside their habitat, but this arc wasn’t really intended to disclose story arcs, rather to build up new ones, the series is certainly far from over for now after all. So now, Steven Universe is back, and the next few episodes do look as if they’re going to take a calm break, though considering that many other recent filler episodes have expanded their game to match the quality of more major episodes, I am optimistic in regards to the future of the series.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s