ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Feb. 17th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: Steven takes the Crystal Gems to the local arcade; hilarity ensues.
Steven Universe has shown the Crystal Gems interacting with humans a couple of times in the past, but they’ve largely been hands-off. For every scene of the Crystal Gems riding on teacups at the local amusement park (and even then, Pearl’s reactions reveals a staggering lack of commitment to it) or literally wrestling them at a secret event, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst seem content to stay away from any major human interaction as much as possible. The general scope seem to be that they view the natives as well-natured, but inferior creatures; worth protecting, but fragile in the grand scale of the universe. “Arcade Mania” has Steven giving it the ol’ college try by attempting to incorporate the other half of his world to his guardians…with very disastrous results.
Pearl chides Steven for wearing a nylon jacket since it creates those swishing noises, something that could ruin their stealth mission. Steven trips and nearly falls to his death, but Garnet catches him in time. Unfortunately their surprise attack is ruined when the creature stirs, not from the nylon, but Steven’s screams. Garnet takes that sucker down in an impressive battle scene. Steven is just as enamored, in awe over her speed and seeming ability to pick up on the monster’s attacks. The creature reverts to its dormant Gem state, but its drill-like parasites escape by digging underground. Pearl is concerned, but Garnet tells her if they’ll be a problem in the future, then she’ll handle them.
Steven thinks a completed mission deserves a reward, so he treats the Crystal Gems to the local Funland Arcade. Garnet and Pearl are reluctant, but they got nothing better to do, so they relent to Steven’s enthusiasm. Amethyst just goes along with it because she’s Amethyst. Steven takes Pearl to the Road Killer arcade racing game, Amethyst to the skeeball course so she can win tickets, and Garnet to the fighting game Teens of Rage (amusingly developed by Carpcom) where she takes it literally and punches the screen. A nervous Steven takes Garnet to an actual punching arcade game where she can really show off her stuff. She hits her opponent so hard it flies off the board.
Steven finally takes her to Meat Beat Mania, a rhythm game where you shake meat drumstick controllers to match the beat (basically Samba De Amigo.) Garnet gets the hang of the game rather quickly. The same cannot be said for the rest. Pearl is enraged that she’s losing to Road Killer, unaware that to win the game is to drive recklessly. Amethyst meanwhile performs the age-old tradition of skeeball-cheating by dumping ball after ball while atop the goal post. Mr. Smiley gets wind of the damage to his machines and when that happens in Funland, it’s a safe bet that Steven and the Crystal Gems are nearby. Steven quickly drags the Gems home, but Garnet is too mesmerized by the game to notice. Since he’s in a hurry so no one can get in trouble, Steven tells Garnet to meet them back once she’s done.
The next day, Steven asks what their next mission is, but that depends on Garnet. She’s the boss not just because her personality means she’s the obvious candidate qualified for it, but due to her heightened perception. She’s able to figure out the next mission from it, though how is never elaborated just yet. The other information is that Garnet often goes on missions alone, indicating her often tight-lipped, highly secretive nature.
Since he has some free time, Steven heads to the beach with a metal detector. All he gets is a silver dollar, another detector, and alien starfishes that can turn into a drill. It’s the parasites from earlier, now back with a vengeance. The starfishes heavily outnumber the team and their incredible speed means none of them can fight back. Steven correctly deduces that they need Garnet.
She’s still at the Funland Arcade, hypnotized by the game to the point where outside distractions doesn’t even reach her. Steven climbs atop Garnet to shield her eyes from the game, accidentally removing her sunglasses and revealing a very distinct physical attribute of hers.
Garnet has a third eye located on her forehead. This is why she has “heightened perception” as the extra eye lets her see things beyond what the average Joe or Gem can spot. Noticeably it’s the only eye that moves while the rest are glued to the screen. Garnet’s third eye means she is unbeatable at Meat Beat Mania, but the precise focus means she’s consumed by it. “Why didn’t we see this coming?” Pearl asked earlier when the starfishes attacked. Garnet did, but she’s too distracted by the game to fix the issue.
Steven unplugs the game, but Garnet merely electrocutes it back on. There’s only one option left, Steven must beat Garnet at Meat Beat Mania. He uses up all his quarters, but he still loses. Desperate, Steven breaks the game’s screen, snapping Garnet from her trance. She runs off to do battle. Steven wants to help, but Mr. Smiley caught him breaking the arcade cabinet and concludes he’s the cause of the mess from yesterday (yes and no) and forces him to clean up everything up. Steven is forced to watch the fight from the sideline. On the plus side, he finds a quarter.
Past episodes had the Crystal Gems’ interactions with humans as largely incidental. “Arcade Mania” brings that to the forefront to emphasize just how out-of-touch they are with Earth culture. Despite the 6,000+ years they’ve inhabited the world, the Crystal Gems have always viewed humankind with mixed results. Pearl is blatant on her condescending superiority to humans. She doesn’t hate them and has gone as far to learn some of their tools of the trade, like driving a car or preparing a meal. In Pearl’s case, this is likely out of pragmatism, an accommodation and side effect of raising a half-human child. She, too thinks humans are worth protecting, but she doesn’t attempt to understand them on a personal level. To Pearl, humans are frail, mortal beings who needs their protection.
The same could be said of Garnet, though she’s a little harder to deduce. Pearl avoids humans unless prompt because she views it as a waste of time otherwise. Garnet might have distanced herself just for both their species’ sake, though this episode reveals she’s not really interested in their affairs either. She’s less willing to be condescending about it though.
That leaves Amethyst as the sole Gem who will go out of her way to embrace the beauty of human culture. She’s the only one at the arcade who doesn’t immediately protest; when Steven introduces skeeball to her, she takes to it like a bug to a zapper. “Tiger Millionaire” had her blow off steam via wrestling, an earth event. Amethyst has indulged in pleasure that are absolute requirements for humans (eating and sleeping) that Gems don’t need to do at all. Much of this makes sense in a future episode, but it can easily be explained through her casual no-holds-barred personality. She does whatever sounds interesting to her and Earth has enough variety to fuel her Id.
In any case, taking on Steven as their new charge means having to learn and accept the human half of him. They can’t just ignore it anymore, it’s a vital part of his life that cannot and should not be ignored. It is very fortunate that they care for the boy that the Crystal Gems will go above and beyond to do whatever human project he wants to do that day.
“Arcade Mania” reveals another Gem ability, something unique only to Garnet. Her keen perception means she can anticipate what’s to come. This neatly explains how she was able to keep toe-to-toe with the Gem monster earlier and reacting to its attacks effortlessly. A later episode will delve into her future vision, so it’s to “Arcade Mania’s” credit that they managed to introduce and explain Garnet’s powers without spoiling the full extent of it.