ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Nov. 13th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: When Garnet returns from a mission, Steven crafts an elaborate tale to try and guess what she may have done.
"Garnet's Universe" opens up with a scene so cute it pukes rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns all in one fell swoop. Garnet returns from a solo mission, but Steven is nowhere to be found. Knowing where the boy is, she feigns ignorance until he jumps from the joists and onto her hair. Stoicism may often be the first indicator when we think of Garnet, but Steven Universe has established from the beginning that she is amused with Steven's childish antics, will often encourage it, and just as frequently fall for Steven's puppy dog eyes. This scene is a quiet moment between the two, but the entire episode derives on Garnet lovingly humoring Steven. When Steven spots the latest bubbled Gem, he asks what she did. Garnet instead challenges Steven to decipher what she may have done. Cue elaborate story time with Steven!
The animation noticeably changes from this point on, taking on a cheaper look with a garish coloring scheme. Garnet warps to the middle of the woods and is immediately ambushed by a cloaked figure with bombs. Garnet catches up to her foe and removes the garb to reveal a bipedal frog: it's merely Hopper, Garnet's ally. She was testing Garnet's abilities, is all.
Suddenly a rabbit attacks from behind, but Garnet counters her attack in time. That would be Hoppy, another companion of theirs. Hoppy and Hopper are both impressed that Garnet's been keeping up with her training, but they can always do more. Garnet would be all for it, but they have an important item to find, whatever it may be. Garnet wants to wrap this up as quick as she can because she has someone important to go back to. Steven. It's Steven. Because it's Steven's story. Even better, Garnet states he's her favorite person, but she has yet to tell him that because she doesn't feel strong enough. But enough sentiments, they venture forth on their mission.
As they traverse through the woods, they run into an unconscious teen who falls from the treetops. The character looks like Ronaldo, but with a ring-like hairstyle. Fittingly, his name is Ringo and he's the caretaker of a far-off temple. Hoppy asks how Ringo got his injuries. He said he was tricked by a Foxman who merely wanted to see the temple's greatest treasure: The Gem of Ultimate Power. The Foxman double crossed him and harnessed the power for his own evil deeds, banishing Ringo in the process. Ever since then, Ringo has been searching for someone strong enough to fight the cunning canine. He doesn't mind if he has to part with the gem, he just wants the shrine back. Garnet and her animal friends are more than ready to face the Foxman.
They reach the shrine where the Foxman is. He's none too pleased to see Ringo and even less so with the others. If they want to pass, they have to defeat him. The Foxman easily smacks Garnet and her friends, sending them straight out of the temple. Garnet realizes she needs to get stronger, so cue the training montage! Garnet expands her gauntlets until it towers over her body. She thinks of Steven in order to give her the inner strength needed to master her new abilities. Once she has succeeded, it's back for Round Two!
Garnet beats the Foxman without breaking a sweat, but a shocking plot twist occurs! The Foxman was the real caretaker of the temple all along! Ringo was the deceiver, having used Garnet and pals to get the Gem for himself! He uses it to turn himself into Ultimate Ringo. Using his vast powers, he transforms Foxman into an onion ring, then teleports the rest of the team into the Ringo Zone where his powers are at its strongest. Hoppy and Hopper do their best to fend off Ultimate Ringo, but they get nowhere fast. Garnet decides to unleash her full strength, so she cast aside her hair, giving her the extra lift she needs to stay toe-to-toe with Ultimate Ringo. Even then, it's not enough, he pummels her to the ground. Garnet takes out her photo of Steven, dramatically apologizing for failing him. Ultimate Ringo takes the photo, turns it into an onion ring, and then eats it. That was the last straw, Garnet isn't playing now! She regrows her hair until it's twice her size, then expands her gauntlets to deliver one final blow, ending Ultimate Ringo's tyranny once and for all.
Garnet retrieves the Gem and traps Ringo in his dimension forever. She restores Foxman to normal, then leaves having learned a valuable lesson about love and some such. Steven concludes the story and while Garnet humors the boy, she tells him that's not what really happened. Oh well, it was still a cute story.
Steven Universe's biggest reference point comes from the shojo genre. The themes of love and the strength it embeds with the central cast, a team of Magical Girls, bright colors, and LGBTQ representations echoes the likes of Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. All of them were prominent and influential animes of the 90s, a likely part of Rebecca Sugar's childhood. "Garnet's Universe" is an attempt to test out a shonen style series and many of its tropes are reminiscent of the genre from twenty years back. Power levels, frequent fight scenes, a heavy focus on training, and high risk adventure recalls the likes of Dragonball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and the like. Plenty of these elements have carried onward to present day and it makes sense the twelve-year-old Steven would be enamored by these shows to craft a story riddled with familiar archetypes. Everything from Magical Girl transformations, rows of streaked lines to indicate intense moments in battles, and panel cuts means "Garnet's Universe" is a loving meta-filled tribute to the animated source that Rebecca Sugar endowed into Steven Universe.
It's also a great look at how Steven sees Garnet, as an incredibly strong role model who uses her powers to save the day and still find time to make it home to her favorite person in the world: Steven. It's portrayed in a exaggerated format, but what do you expect from the perspective of a preteen? I like how self-absorbed it is, too, one where Steven is the emotional catalyst for Garnet's motivations. It's likely a deliberate call to Steven's position as the central protagonist, but it's exceptionally cute that Steven has both the confidence and childish ego to think about himself like this. "Garnet's Universe" is a fun romp, but I'd also argue that it emphasizes Garnet as the powerful, staunch warrior she is, one that future episodes will embrace and deconstruct.