ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Jan. 27th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: Steven meets a mysterious pink lion during a Crystal Gem mission.
Cats have been the symbolic animal for Steven. Cookie Cat ice cream, Cat Fingers, Tiger Millionaire - all of them were specifically chosen or beloved by him. It is no coincidence that the animal he'll be meeting this episode happens to be a lion.
Steven and the Gems are in a desert for another routine mission. Columns and stairways made of sand with no sense of structure keep building itself before crumbling down and starting all over again; yet another work from a Gem. Steven hears a growl, forcing the Crystal Gems to check out the source of the noise. Garnet tells Steven to stay put, reassuring him that nothing dangerous is out here.
Steven finds shade to minimize the desert heat. Across from his viewpoint, he sees a large shadowy creature peeking from one of the columns. Steven panics and hides behind another column, but it immediately dissolves, giving the animal an excellent opportunity to pounce on the poor boy. Except it doesn't, the beast just stares at Steven, then lazily plops down in front of him. Meet Lion, a pink, er, lion of mysterious origin. Steven figures out real quick that Lion means no harm. The boy is ecstatic, cuddling the creature and essentially treating him like a kitty. Well, he's always wanted a pet.
The Crystal Gems return carrying a gem attached to a cushion. The Desert Glass was the cause of the shifting sands and should it touch sand again, it will start all over, so they have to be careful. They spot Steven with Lion and immediately try to ward it off, but Steven vouches for its tameness. The Gems relax, but they tell Steven it's time to go. He says his goodbyes and leaves.
Back home, Steven hears a scratching on his front door. It's Lion! Steven is thrilled that Lion has journeyed all the way just to visit him. Like any twelve-year-old, he thinks this is the coolest pet ever and treats Lion as such, energetically trying to get it to play with him. Lion does not give a flying saucer, just sitting there being, well, a giant cat.
When Steven realizes Lion isn't into games, he takes the animal to the one thing all creatures can appreciate: pizza! Steven goes to Fish Stew Pizza and asks Kiki (one of the daughters of the owner) for a large pizza, saying it's for him and Lion. Kiki doesn't believe he has an actual lion for a pet, but Ronaldo does. Steven drags them both to gaze upon his feline friend, but Lion has since run off. Ronaldo thinks Lion is invisible while Kiki assumes Steven is just pulling her leg.
Steven is angry at Lion when he catches the latter back home. However Lion is too occupied breaking into his house. Once inside, it roars, unleashing a sonic wave to the Desert Glass. Aggravated at Lion for ignoring him all day, Steven grabs the gem cushion and tosses it outside where it lands on the beach. Since it's touching sand, it goes haywire.
The Desert Glass goes crazy building random structures, creating a sandstorm along the way. Steven is caught in the middle and the Crystal Gems can't cut through. Lion rushes in and rescues Steven. Turns out it had been trying to get to the Desert Glass the whole time in order to protect him. With renewed faith, Steven hitches a ride on Lion's back and with the latter's powerful sonic waves, cuts through the sand to reach the Desert Glass and end this madness once and for all. The colors are great during this entire sequence, opting for solid tans and no shadows, giving it a simplistic, yet bold vibe.
"Steven's Lion" is a very standard Magical Boy and His Pet plot, but the episode isn't so sentimental that it comes off as schmaltzy as the trope tends to be. Lion is more than just, well, a lion. Other than its otherworldly pink color, Lion seems to understand human speech, it just doesn't care. Lion is still very much an animal and unlike most fictional pets, the creature doesn't always adhere to Steven's demands. Lion is exactly what you'd expect a giant cat to be: content to sleep all day and willingly ignoring Steven's antics. Its loyalty come out of their own decision and only when Steven needed it the most. Lion very much behaves like an actual cat and the delicate balance to maintain that and a sense of self-awareness means Lion is a bit of a wild card for Steven. That's one of the reasons Steven Universe works so well: it is optimistic and heartwarming without the saccharine cheese that it could have been. Push comes to shove though, Lion itself was the one who approached Steven first. Clearly, it is drawn to Steven. I mean, it is pink, so maybe there is something familiar in Steven that Lion previously seen with a certain someone else, hmm?
Just what is Lion has been one of the biggest questions in the show. Much like how fans theorize how exactly Steven was born, fans have speculated just who Lion is and what its purpose is. As of now, there's still no answer. For all we know, Lion is just Lion, but the magical powers it carries and the distinctive color of its coat means Lion likely is more than meets the eye.