Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Steven Universe Segments 9 and 10: The Cats Meow

These segments both sort of involve cats, but not the kind that meow.

The first segment is "Tiger Millionaire", a pro-wrestling spoof. The plot is very basic. Amethyst feels oppressed so she takes it out in secret underground pro wrestling. In the end everyone reconciles and feels better. It's not readily apparent that anyone on the production team "knows a wristlock from a wristwatch" as the old saying goes. This illegal underground wrestling organization is so cheap that they can't even afford two announcers. I say it's illegal because it is taking place in an abandoned factory, but is it? Why would Sadie attend an illegal bloodsport? If it isn't illegal, why isn't it somewhere normal, like a gym or a high school?

Steven's wrestling persona is Tiger Millionaire, who is sort of a fusion of Tiger Mask and the Million Dollar Man. Well, mostly he's an under-the-top version of The Million Dollar Man (wrestling doesn't do the subtlety thing). Amethyst is the Purple Puma, who has no personality whatsoever (which is ironic). The majority of the episodes run time is spent with Steven and Amethyst pursuing the tag team belt, which is a mistake since Amethyst is omnipotent and invincible so there's not exactly much of a build up. Why should we root for them, aren't they gods taking advantage of mortals? We can't even root against them because the Purple Puma has no meaningful rivals!

Also, Steven isn't a tag team partner, as he's never tagged in. Tiger Millionaire is actually an interfering heel manager. Also, I hate to spoil the episode too much, but I couldn't get over the fact that it ends with 1) A speech referencing backstage events that the audience couldn't expect to understand, 2) faces and heels losing all definition and working to give an overpushed wrestler the belt and 3) getting the belt off of a ladder. This plot works for the viewer, but imagine all you were in the audience, you'd be totally confused. There's actually a wrestling booker named Vince Russo who used to be infamous for having matches a lot like that. It's kind of amusing if you think about it.

He did this twice a week for his adult life

The fight choreography is lackluster for an episode that is all about ridiculous fighting. Amethyst/Purple Puma's style never goes beyond striking except exactly once (she bear hugs somebody) and Tiger Millionaire never wrestles at all. Nobody has any fancy finishing moves, and considering the work Steven puts on making his character that's kind of surprising. I mean, look at Tiger Mask or The Million Dollar Man's finishers. Wouldn't it have been cool to see Amethyst do something like that. One of the beautiful things about animation is that you don't have to worry about safety or reality, isn't it? You could do spots that would make Sabu look like a wimp. Not only would it have been cool to see Amethyst or Steven do a Phoenix Splash, but also seeing Amethyst no sell someone's finisher would have been a good point to make on the whole emotional arc.

Dainty Step~

Maybe the fight choreography would be more impressive if I wasn't also watching Cowboy Bebop, one of the most impressive series of any kind in the field of fighting, but I digress. There actually is a lot of good, funny animation in this episode. Most of it involves Pearl being a drama queen. Above Pearl and Garnet are stepping onto a platform and Pearl does this goofy, exaggeratedly dainty step. It makes me laugh, but it's hard to describe in a screenshot.

The episode's biggest laugh come at the end after Pearl and Garnet find out about the wrestling thing (if you can't see that coming, I would recommend an eye exam). At one point Pearl makes the really exaggerated stance pictured above. It's hard to explain with stills why this is so funny. Reviewing animation reminds me of the old joke of "dancing about architecture".

This episode doesn't have the rushed feeling of the others, but it also feels like more of an idea for an episode than an actual episode. It hits all the emotional buttons, but it is obvious nobody really cared about the path between them. Fun but disposable.

"Steven's Lion" is the second segment in this episode and Steven gets a lion. So many of the characters of Steven Universe are drama queens (Pearl, Steven, etc) that it makes you remember how funny deadpan can be. Steven's lion is a good reminder of that. The lion often seems actively annoyed at his and The Gem's sillyness.

This has nothing to do with the review, but my screenshots all came out weird, so I can't illustrate this segment really well. Just imagine there's a picture of a desert here.

At the beginning, Steven & The Gems go to the desert to do a mission. The Gems leave Steven at a small dune in the shape of a semisphere, which is impossible but not important. More important is why do The Gems leave him halfway between home and the mission. Garnet says he is safe where he is, but he could be safe anywhere in the damn world!

So anyway, here Steven meets a giant pink lion. From what I have heard, with desertification there are actually lions in the desert now, which is sad. The Gems come back having captured a gem that made a sort of temple in the desert. Apparently this is a Bad Thing, but nobody explains why this is. We just have to rely on instinct. The sandstone objects it creates remind me of the desert stage in Mario 64, and that was bad guy stuff. So we know this thing is bad. They're kind of surprised to see Steven with a giant pink lion in the desert, but they're also magical alien gems, so what you gonna do? However, the Gems note that the lion is a wild animal and therefore cannot be domesticated. But, in a twist that forever changed A Boy And His Pet fiction, the lion ... followed him home!

If the thing was working, you would see a picture of Steven and his lion in front of his house. The "some kid selling auto insurance line" was funny.

So anyway, it turns out that Amethyst didn't protect the gem they collected and Steven moronically and melodramatically throws it on sand despite having been told that is a bad thing. Nobody even mentions that Steven is being a complete idiot here, but he wouldn't be able to if Amethyst arbitrarily decided to also be stupid. Amethyst is a complete plot device in this episode. She's so mentally checked out that it's like the firebrand punk of the last episode was replaced by Jeffery "The Dude" Lebowski. Despite the fact that they defeated the gem by themselves just fine earlier, The Gems can't defeat it now. It's up to Steven and his lion to save the day!

Here there would have been a picture of Onion being really mad. This is a transition to the next paragraph.

I skipped over the time Steven goes to the pizza place because it is pointless and only serves to introduce the fact that there exists a pizza place. The funniest thing in the episode is Onion's over-the-top reaction when he thinks Steven lied to him in the pizza place scene, but it could have been cut to make room for a better reason for Amethyst to not demonstrate basic competence.

This episode is more like the previous one in having a lot of notes to hit. It hits three separate metaplot notes loud as it can: 1) there exists a pizza place whose owners are friends with Steven 2) Steven is gonna totally gonna have a lion and 3) Amethyst is "adopted" (I don't know in what sense, but it's really obvious). Unfortunately, this overreach causes the writing to squish the characters into plot devices. The episode is really carried by the lion, who provides all the best comic and action sequences. Unfortunately, he can't carry the plot and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes.

These are the main composers for Steven Universe.

I haven't been mentioning it, but there's a lot of really good music in this series. Not to the level of Bebop, but still very good. One of the songs in one of the segments was a really cool drum thing, sort of like what they did with Birdman, or M'Boom. You can hear it here. I'm glad the creator of this show decided to give music an important part. See you next episode!

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