ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Apr. 9th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: Pearl teaches Steven how to use a sword, but they both get more than what they bargained for.
Rainy weather is a perfect day to watch a movie; Steven and the Crystal Gems gather around to watch Lonely Blade IV, a Japanese samurai flick. Steven is enamored with the fanciful swordplay, but Pearl is offended at the lack of realism behind it. She knows she could do a better job demonstrating proper sword techniques and she does know a thing or two about swords. Steven instantly requests a lesson.
They go to an old Gem temple to train. Pearl breaks out a solid hologram of herself as a tool to use for practice. Pearl and Holo-Pearl perform an elegant battle, complete with choreography lifted straight from Revolutionary Girl Utena. Steven Universe has a lot in common with the shojo genre – magical girls, a hero who utilizes love above all else, pretty coloring scheme, etc – that references such as Utena is commonplace and frequent throughout the show.
After that bout of dramatic swordplay, Steven enthusiastically asks Pearl to teach him right now. Holo-Pearl is set to training mode so Pearl can show Steven the basics. Unfortunately he’s an impatient little ball of cotton and doesn’t care much for the proper foot technique, he just wants to learn something cool. Pearl lectures Steven for his impatience, breaking her concentration long enough for Holo-Pearl to ram its sword through her. Ahh, there’s that good ol’ mood whiplash. Steven watches with tears in his eyes as Pearl tries to reassure him everything will be alright…then she explodes back into her Gem form.
Garnet and Amethyst tells Steven that when Gems get badly hurt, they revert from their physical form back to their primary gem state in order to rejuvenate. Pearl will be fine. Steven cheers up and anticipates Pearl’s return. How long can it take? Five minutes? Ten?
Try two weeks. Steven is growing impatient and even Amethyst notes that she’s taking her time. Fortunately they have the next best thing: Holo-Pearl! Steven tries to get the other Pearl to act like the one he knows by getting it to clean up his room. Holo-Pearl mistakes a sword-wielding action figure Steven has (an amusing reference to Cloud Strife) for a challenge and stabs the thing. He tries to get it to criticize Amethyst among others, but all Holo-Pearl knows to do is whatever Pearl programmed it to do: teach sword lessons and accept challenges. Steven gets fed up and runs off.
Another rainy day occurs and that means movie night. Steven takes Pearl’s Gem to watch Lonely Blade V together, but Holo-Pearl keeps bothering them. The movie gets a little too real for Steven and he remembers the events that lead Pearl to her current state. Steven feels guilty for letting this happen and when Holo-Pearl keeps pestering him, the boy loses it. He angrily yells at Holo-Pearl for not being the Pearl he knows and love, inadvertently triggering the Advanced Mode Training. Now Holo-Pearl gets serious. It nearly kills Steven until the latter remembers Pearl’s advice to find the perfect moment to strike. He thrusts a mop at Holo-Pearl, defeating it and dismantling the hologram once and for all.
Steven learns a valuable lesson about patience and accepting things for what they are. At least until Pearl finally reforms with a new outfit. Steven is ecstatic while Pearl laments the messy state of the house.
For the longest time, I thought Pearl’s new outfit was drawn for the animators’ benefit. For some reason I thought that her transparent ballet skirt was hard for the animators to draw, thus requiring a new, easier model to work with instead. Later episodes reveal that may not be the case. Indeed, a new look is what the Crystal Gems often like to do whenever they’re in stasis. Much of this has relevance to their subversion of Gem culture, something I’ll get to in due time. For now, it’s a lovely garb for Pearl. Personally, I always did love her second outfit over the first.
“Steven the Sword Fighter” proves the tone is slowly starting to shift. If most of the earliest episodes were lighthearted and demonstrative of the Kid-Protagonist-With-Cool-Powers narrative at its straightest, these current batch – arguably started by “So Many Birthdays” – prepare you for the emotional stakes of future episodes. Slowly Steven’s impatience and naivety is starting to backfire on him. Previous lessons had Steven blissfully unaware of the unintended mess he creates until it’s shoved in his face. Even then, he retreats to his old self without much thought. After all, they’ve gotten out of scrapes before and they will again. Witnessing a sword jammed through Pearl is a whole other level though. It’s a visceral moment for Steven and until Garnet and Amethyst reassured him otherwise, he very well could have watched someone he loved die. Even then, it lingers in Steven’s mind and for once, maybe this is a consequence he not only has to live through, but deal with. Steven doesn’t quite learn his lesson by the end, but it’s a subtle and gradual step into his character development. He was lucky this episode, but if he isn’t careful, he might not be next time.