Steven learns the limits of the Crystal Gems’ power the hard way. Also, a boatload of anime references.
But first, a shot of the temple in the rain. Because I haven’t gotten the chance to showcase that fascinating piece of architecture yet…
The four of them are spending the rainy afternoon watching a movie (it’s unclear if it’s supposed to be an anime or just a Japanese samurai movie) when Pearl starts to get nitpicky about the swordplay.
Pearl: Oh, come on, this is ridiculous! Just look at their form! This is nothing like real sword fighting.
Steven: Sh! It’s just a movie, Pearl.
Pearl: Well, if you ever want to see a demonstration of proper sword techniques, I’d be happy to show you.
Pearl creates a holographic double of herself because apparently none of the other Crystal Gems are a match for her in fencing.
HoloPearl: Do you wish to engage in combat?
Pearl: Let this be the perfect battle.
HoloPearl: You’ve already made a mistake by challenging me!
Pearl: We shall let our swords decide.
Thus we get our first taste of sword-fighting in this series, and also quite a bit of animation clearly modeled on (if not outright copied from) Revolutionary Girl Utena, which features sword dueling as a central device. Even if they did copy some animation sequences, I would not blame them, because Utena has tons of great sword fighting.
Animation aside, though, there are plenty of other areas this show was obviously Utena-influenced – like the combination of serious character drama and surreal humor (though this show leans much more towards the latter), or its suspicion of “the system”, or turning gender norms on their heads…
Anyhow, once Pearl has successfully piqued Steven’s interest with her epic duel with her holo-self, he naturally wants to learn himself, but when she slows down to teach him the basics, he quickly loses interest.
Steven: Aw, can you show me something cool? Like the boomerang blade!
Pearl: Steven, you know that’s not a real sword technique!
HoloPearl: Parry. Parry. Thrust.
Pearl: Steven, these are real sword techniques, not those silly things from your movies! It’s about waiting carefully for the perfect moment to-
Even knowing this will all end up fine doesn’t stop this moment from being gut-wrenching.
Pearl: Whoopsie-daisy! Steven, it’s okay, I’m gonna be just- *poof*
Amethyst: Steven, it’s okay. Pearl’s gonna be just fine.
Steven: Wh-what do you mean?
Garnet: Sometimes, if our bodies are badly damaged, we release our physical forms, and retreat to our gems to regenerate.
Steven: So she’s gonna be okay?
Amethyst: Don’t worry, bud. This kind of thing just happens sometimes. Usually to me.
Garnet: Always to you.
Amethyst: Hey, I’m scrappy! What do you want?
And yes, “poof” appears to be the technical term we’re going with for when a Gem gets hurt so badly they need to regenerate.
And much like the poofing in Fruits Basket, evidently it’s impossible to predict how long it takes to return to a regular physical form. In this case, two weeks pass with Pearl still recovering in her gem. And then Steven starts acting stupid.
Steven: Hey! If real Pearl can’t be here, there’s always the next best thing!
HoloPearl: Do you wish to engage in combat?
Amethyst: Steven, cover that thing back up.
Steven: But it’s like Pearl! Look at it!
Amethyst: Yeah, that ain’t Pearl.
This is the kind of stupidity I actually buy (at least from a child). He’s lonely, and feeling a bit guilty for getting her hurt in the first place, and since she’s taking so long (long enough that even the other Gems find it unusual), he might even be wondering if she’ll ever come back.
But this Pearl was made for fighting, so that’s all it’s capable of (besides looking like Pearl).
Steven: Why must you destroy the things I love?
HoloPearl: Challenger defeated. Continue?
Steven: I hate you, I hate you! You’re nothing like Pearl! Pearl is smart, and she always wants to protect me from danger! All you want to do is fight me!
Steven shows some mild symptoms of PTSD, with certain words triggering flashbacks to Pearl’s “death”. Again, I like how it feels true to actual childhood experiences – a lot of kids experience trauma indirectly when someone they love gets hurt, and especially when they themselves feel responsible (reasonably or not). I’m not exactly sure what those kids are expected to take out of this story, though, as I highly doubt they’d literally be able to face off with a physical manifestation of said trauma.
Funny enough, Steven never touches a sword in this episode. But he does provide a reference to the first episode of Utena, wherein the protagonist wins a sword duel despite wielding a non-pointy bamboo practice sword which the opponent had already cut up with a very real sword.
Then, with HoloPearl defeated, Pearl finally regenerates!
You may notice Pearl’s outfit is a bit different – less ballerina and seemingly a bit more practical/athletic. Turns out the “shapeshifting” thing applies to their clothes as well as their bodies, so their appearances in general are very intentional…which also means Amethyst’s outfit is intentionally sloppy.
Next time: Steven actually uses a sword (but still not to stab things)…