Steven Universe: On the Run
February 6, 2015 6:51 AM - Season 1, Episode 40 - Subscribe

Steven and Amethyst try out life out on the road.

posted by Narrative Priorities (15 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Alleged kids' show Steven Universe referencing Junji Ito is my everything.

So yeah. Holy shit, right? Homeworld Gems confirmed as doing something... bad to planets. Rose/Pearl/Garnet rebelled and chose the Earth over their own people. And Amethyst grew up (or at least spent her first however-long) with just a bunch of rocks and Gem-shaped holes and bleak canyon walls for company! (Does that mean she missed most/all of the fighting?) And the whole part with Amethyst and Pearl (whose total inability to be tactful still makes her my favourite) - "No, no, you're not a mistake, you're... the byproduct of a mistake!" MY HEART IS HEAVY WITH FEELINGS.

The Gem extraction/implantation drilling rig things are shaped like bacteriophages (METAPHOR!), which is awesome; weird to see them turn up in a second show after Dr. Phineas Phage in the Venture Bros. The central bit of the machines looks awfully organic, also - kind of sinister considering there's nothing organic about the Gems, or any of their other tech we've seen. Like, uh, where (or who) did all that tissue come from?

Oh also that line from way back in Steven's Lion - Pearl: "Are we really going to let him keep that?" Garnet: "We kept Amethyst." YOU ARE AWFUL SENTIENT POLYMORPHIC ROCKS STOP LAUGHING AT HER.
posted by emmtee at 7:46 AM on February 6, 2015 [12 favorites]

Amid all the serious backstory and Amethyst feels it's easy to forget the glorious graphic novel reboot of the No Home Boys. Thankfully Ronaldo and his hobosona have us covered.
posted by emmtee at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

No, you're crying at a kids show about magical gem creatures!

What a fantastic episode. In addition to all the worldbuilding, we see Steven show some real leadership. It surprises me that this show wasn't nominated for an Annie Award.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:11 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

A few observations:
- The globes from the Galaxy Warp appear again. It seems there's an upcoming episode that focuses on them.
- The No Home Boys is one of those bits of cultural detritus the show excels at constructing. It reminds me a bit of Dean Venture's affection for the Giant Boy Detective books. I wonder if Ian Jones-Quartey's presence of the production staff of Steven Universe has something to do with it....
- The cultural references the show's willing to make continue to astound me. Video games and anime, yes, but The Enigma of Amigara Fault? Wow.
- Setting aside that reference though, think about it from Amethyst's point of view. The inside of that lump of rock and dirt was the first thing she ever knew. Naturally she'd feel some connection with it. Were the new Gems then left to fend for themselves? In that case, there'd be no wonder about the Gems being kind of messed-up psychologically. Note, one big difference between Steven and the others: he had Greg.
- Why is it called a Gem kindergarten, "children's garden," a German loan word suggesting an educational institution and thus odd to hear from the mouth of Peridot, instead of a nursery?
- About the kindergarten, notice that it's the first Gem place we've seen on the show that's presented as desolate. Most of places the gang warps off to are lush and overgrown, but not here, even though, judging by Amethyst's age, it's been at least centuries since the place was operational. Also note, the colors are severely muted, even on Amethyst and Steven, while here. It really brings out the bright pink of Steven's bubble and the deep red of the stuff in the drill-thingies.
- In the fight, one of the drill-things is broken open, and red goop can be seen puddled out of it. Evidently whatever's inside those things is still wet after all this time. Is there some reason the Crystal Gems haven't destroyed these things?
- We get a definite indication that Pearl is more powerful than Amethyst in this episode. Evidently, Amethyst left this place with the Crystal Gems, so whatever upbringing she had was with them. Of course, that included Rose. It's also the first definite indication that the Gems we know didn't have similar origins, that Amethyst is different from the others. If Garnet turns out to really be a fusion, that would mean all three of the elder Crystal Gems have very different backgrounds from each other. We're also left to wonder what kindergartens (if they used them elsewhere) were like on the Gem Homeworld, or if the Gems have done this on other planets, or if Earth is special.
- Garnet's only in this episode at the very start. Her being left out of the scene at the kindergarten could just be narrative economy, since the focus is really on Amethyst and Pearl, or maybe there's a reason she didn't come along.
posted by JHarris at 3:47 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

This episode makes the brother-sister dynamic between Amethyst and Steven make a lot more sense, in terms of both the commonality of their origin (both born on earth, never having known the home-world) and in the differences in circumstances and upbringing. Both of which are pretty much constants for most siblings.

Thinking on it, if organic life is required for Crystal gem reproduction then Rose's healing/force bubble/plant monster power set starts to look a lot more sinister. We've seen that a Rose Quartz bubble can be a prison as much as a shield and the ability to grow and heal starts to look a lot more like farming or ranching if the destination is a giant evil gem machine.

We know Rose fell in love with life on earth, and seemed to think that it's different or unique. It'd be interesting to know, if using the life on earth affected the gems they made on earth, and how.

Crack theory time: Amethyst is the most human of the three 'full' gems, and the only one who we know was born on earth that's still intact. Maybe Gems created on earth otherwise inevitably fracture because using life on earth sets up an internal stress in them due to some property of earth life being different or incompatible with gem life. Maybe the space gems wanted not just to use life on earth but to make it more tractable and suitable for purpose.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:47 PM on February 6, 2015

The bacteriophages! I am freaking out about them, they creeped me out in grade school science and they're creeping me out in giant form in cartoons now. Actual bacteriophages store DNA in their faceted top bits, so whatever organic goo was in those things is perhaps what takes a rock and makes it recode itself into a Gem?

I love Pearl's musical motifs, and during the fight in this episode they were intercut with a few moments of Amethyst's musical motifs. When this happened before during Giant Woman and whenever they've dealt with fusing, the music has been sometimes discordant but ultimately came together. Here, it did a fantastic job of making Pearl's dominance scary and Amethyst's breakdown sympathetic without being cloying. Fantastic work on the sound in general in this. In a cartoon as stylized as SU, sound plays a big role in conveying things like texture and weight. Here, we really got to hear the sensation of the rocks and the dry, dusty chasm of the kindergarten.

As for the term itself, I think it makes sense if you're going literal, which it seems like the non-crystal Gems are prone to? I mean, a children's garden... growing your kids out of rocks, makes enough sense, right? Especially since those holes were in neat rows, like vegetables. Or maybe the newborn gems were put through an indoctrination period in the kindergarten, with play-fighting and getting a feel for their powers in a structured and safe space before leaving for the wider world, but Amethyst missed most/all of that because of poor timing.

This was also the first episode where I realized Amethyst's purple knee stars are actually holes in her pants.

Steven continues to show himself to be a wonderful mediator. When he realized that Pearl had to talk to Amethyst because he didn't know what he was talking about, he didn't lose faith in himself because he knew there was still a problem that he could solve - he looked at the options available to him. He didn't demand to know more immediately so e could be the one to do the talking. He used what he had to make someone else do the thing he knew they could do. One day he's going to use his powers of manipulation for selfish gain and it's going to backfire, badly.

So far I'm really enjoying each aspect of this expositional deluge. I'm not overly surprised by any of it, but there are some things I hadn't expected (like Amethyst being, relatively, a baby, sure. But her being born of Earth? No clue!) This means a lot of the hint and foreshadowing are doing their job perfectly, and I'm getting a coherent presentation of a world I just don't know everything about, but they're also balancing that with things I'm going to be excited and worried to watch happen.
posted by Mizu at 8:57 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mizu: “I love Pearl's musical motifs, and during the fight in this episode they were intercut with a few moments of Amethyst's musical motifs. ”
I knew I was forgetting something. I'm going to either have to wait until the posts go up to watch or make notes.

The music in this episode was fantastic. The free jazz theme that played under the fight scene in particular struck me as absolutely brilliant. I can't think of the last cartoon that had music as good as what's in Steven Universe. Maybe all the way back to Cowboy Bebop?
posted by ob1quixote at 10:34 PM on February 6, 2015

I watch anime for a living and a huge ton of non-anime cartoons for enjoyment and was raised in an extremely musical family. I tend to pay attention to the sound design of any given show pretty darn closely. Steven Universe's music comes from a different cultural place than Cowboy Bebop's and comparing anything to what is sometimes considered Yoko Kanno's finest work (not my favorite of hers, but it's up there) is a little... difficult to accept. I think there's a big difference in terms of the way music is used in each show. In SU each character has a style, often each place has a style, and it's occasionally anchored by a central narrative song by Steven, and sometimes bracketed or reinforced by ambient sounds that are mixed with the musical motifs to form a mood. Cowboy Bebop has a little bit of that here and there, but the music is less organically meshed with the show. That doesn't mean it's not an intrinsic part of the experience, just, the way it's used is different, so it's hard to compare. Another show with a soundtrack by Yoko Kanno that I think works in a way more like Steven Universe is Read or Die, which, well, everybody should go watch that too.

I will definitely say that western cartoons that aren't specifically made to be musical, (which are often for very young kids), usually don't have the kind of musical character that SU presents. I'm trying to think of another show for a similar demographic, or even an adult audience, and all I can think of is possibly some of the better episodes of Metalocalypse, but not really. There is of course Adventure Time, which in the scheme of things is kind of like the Zeus to SU's Athena.
posted by Mizu at 12:06 AM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

"This is where I was made, dude! Just *pop*, right out of this hole!" Made. That's a pretty weird thing to think about. It's never been mentioned before, where Gems come from. When Steven first finds out, and then he looks up to see all the other holes....

Amethyst: "We won! We shut this place down so the Earth would be safe from parasites like ME!"

There's something kind of heartbreaking, hearing Amethyst's joy of being back where the was. "I missed this guy! This is my climbing rock! And over there, that's the sitting rock!" "Hey Steven! Here's the hole I came out of!" She runs around laughing to be back, but the colors are so drab and dark, and the soundtrack's cues clash with her enthusiasm.

When Amethyst is leading Steven to the kindergarten, there's a shot that seems intended to illustrate that what it does is absorb the life out of the area, where there's a solid line between the grassland outside and the desert inside.

Am I mistaken, or did they play a few notes from Opal's theme near the end, when Amethyst hugs Pearl at the end?

I wonder if the kindergarten gems are the corrupted ones the Crystal Gems have been fighting?

I also wonder, if maybe Rose and the others caused the corruption in them, to stop them from harming the Earth, and their efforts to fight, and that's why they see it as their duty to protect humanity from them? Maybe they also see it as their duty to fix what they caused?
posted by JHarris at 1:57 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I will definitely say that western cartoons that aren't specifically made to be musical, (which are often for very young kids), usually don't have the kind of musical character that SU presents.

This is not true really, the classic Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons reveled in musicality, on a level not seen much before or since. The WB stuff, especially, they used tons of music and many popular songs from the day, some, like "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" and "Powerhouse," now best known for their inclusion in those cartoons. It's the best it's ever been done.

But that doesn't need to conflict with your larger point, that Steven Universe has great sound design.
posted by JHarris at 2:01 AM on February 7, 2015

Sure sure but that was how many decades ago, and also that stuff directly inspired the anime that SU is referencing, too. Like you say "on a level not seen much before or since". Exactly.
posted by Mizu at 2:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well you didn't specify you were talking about recently made stuff. Concerning contemporary animation, well, I haven't thought hard about it, but you might be right.
posted by JHarris at 3:41 AM on February 7, 2015

I can't stop thinking about this episode.


There is so much I want to know about the Gem Wars.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:04 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Watching this one again just now, I realized that throughout the show Amethyst has had a weird relationship with the idea of putting people or being put in a hole. She was nearly buried by the watermelon Stevens, she thought grounding Steven meant putting him in a hole, and I think here was one other instance. I can't help but think this may have been related to something that happened in the kindergarten.
posted by JHarris at 3:08 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The stuff about the "sitting rock" and "climbing rock" being important landmarks, you get the idea that Amethyst was sort of abandoned and left to go feral here. Like, the Crystal Gems came here, smashed all the machines and went away. And minutes later, Amethyst pops out of an overlooked hole, and nobody's around and she hangs around by herself for years/centuries until the Crystal Gems discover her.
posted by RobotHero at 3:55 PM on July 25, 2015

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