AEL: FMA vol.3 and a LOT of SU episodes

18 days until I turn 36!

Fullmetal Alchemist volume 3 — I don’t remember Winry very well from my last read, but I have a vague idea that I liked her pretty well aside from her abusive tendencies. I enjoyed her introduction in this volume (aside from her abusive tendencies), and was pleased to see such a talented female character. I forget — do we ever meet any female alchemists? (Besides Izumi.)

Other people have talked about stock characters in much greater depth than I’m ever likely to discuss anything here, but can I just take a moment to say that the use of stock characters as main characters is annoying at best and at worst can be just too aggravating for words and harmful and offensive into the bargain?

This female manga/anime character whose chosen vocation is at odds with traditional femininity (thereby contrasting with other, generically feminine female characters and sending a pretty dismal statement about the setting), but who does have traditionally feminine traits underneath and wishes the oblivious male lead would see and value them, because she really does love him (and often doesn’t have much point in the story beyond that), but then also has a tendency to beat him over the head with a blunt object… I’m so fucking sick of her. I may like individual examples of this trope well enough on some occasions, but I would still be happy if I never had to encounter her again.

Steven Universe episodes

Steven Floats was cute but kinda boring, and I’m a little tired of new Rose powers. Drop Beat Dad was very trite, but not terrible or anything.

And then there was Mr. Greg. It’s probable that I’m mostly so attached to this episode because LESBIANS, but whatevs. I loved the tentative admission of the possibility of friendship between Greg and Pearl based not only on their mutual love of Steven but on their ability to communicate and connect.

But mostly I loved the heartbreaking intensity of Pearl’s big number. Obviously I was assuming all along that Pearl was in love with Rose, but I was never sure whether her animosity toward Greg — which seemed pretty harsh in We Need to Talk — was based on real jealousy or more of a lack of understanding of humans. Or possibly even a shallow understanding of how love works.

But from the way she refers to Greg in her song (and talks to him afterward), it seems clear that by now, even if she didn’t always, she recognizes his individuality and the genuine nature of his feelings. She recognizes him as a person capable of both loving and being loved, and possibly of being her friend.

She also indicates pretty well (not that we couldn’t tell) that her feelings for the absent Rose haven’t lessened, and that she doesn’t really know what to do about that. And Pearl is someone that thrives on knowing what to do, either through her own expertise or someone else’s orders. Which is why it’s so powerful, so important, to see her being able to accept (at least the idea of) companionship, understanding, and support from Greg in this situation where she’s at a loss.

P.S. I also loved the implication that they were all actually singing XD XD XD

Too Short to Ride was sweet. I love Peridot, and I love to see the new level of acceptance of her among the Crystal Gems. Amethyst’s real talk was a doubly effective moment in that it both made the point that Peridot has value apart from her gem skills, and demonstrated how far Amethyst herself has come to be able to make such a point.

I didn’t like The New Lars much at first, but when I watched it a second time (still trying to catch brother up), I enjoyed it more. Steven keeps pulling new powers out of his ass (or at least new aspects of existing powers), and that was annoying me; but then I came across the “Rose was actually a diamond” theory, and that mollified me somewhat.

I also liked the demonstration of Steven’s naivete in that episode better the second time. The first time, focusing mostly on Steven’s perspective, I kinda missed (as Steven entirely missed) the implication that Sadie believed Lars was trying to hit her up for sex. “That’s enough for Sadie!” was pretty telling.

And it interests me that Lars hasn’t actually done that. Sadie obviously thinks him capable of it, but the fact that he hasn’t actually crossed that line kinda indicates there’s maybe still hope for him? I think we’re all hoping to see Lars turn into a better person. I’m more hoping to see Sadie turn into less of a victim. Anyway, yeah, I liked this episode a little better the second time.

Beach City Drift was kinda meh, but I was fascinated by the usually so empathetic Steven’s reaction to Kevin. I feel like maybe Steven was so angry at Kevin because Kevin treated him in a way Steven, as a male, had never been treated before and certainly wouldn’t have been conditioned to expect to be treated: Kevin read Stevonnie as female, and acted toward them as jerk guys act toward females constantly, which must have seemed entirely alien and unprecedented to Steven.

Neither Restaurant Wars nor Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service made enough of an impression for me to have anything specific to say about them. Liked. Moving on.

Monster Reunion made me nothing so much as curious. The gradual and sometimes almost imperceptible worldbuilding in this series is one of its strongest features, I think, and little hints at things like the diamonds using some kind of WMD that affected their own warriors just as much as (possibly more than) the Crystal Gems are teasingly brilliant.

Alone at Sea — Typically I really like the 10-ish-minute episode format. Very rarely in the series have I found it too short a timeframe for the writers to do what they needed, and it works with my ADHD extremely well. It may be one of my favorite formats for a television show evar. In this episode, however (as in Gem Drill previously), I thought the events were just a little crowded.

The setup and the slow build with Lapis were great, but they took up just a tad too much time to leave room for Lapis’ confession and the encounter with Jasper at the end not to feel rushed and kinda lacking in the impact they should have had. I wish this had been spread out over two episodes. The desire on both their parts to re-fuse, as well as the way each of them approaches their “relationship,” deserved more screentime and dialogue.

Greg the Babysitter was a nice flashback. I’m super curious about Greg’s relationship with Rose, as well as how the events leading up to Steven’s birth/creation played out, so I gobble up anything from that era. This episode only really teased at answers to any questions I might have, but it was a solid and enjoyable story nonetheless, with several good moments of character building for Greg.

It was lovely to see Connie again in Gem Hunt. I adore Connie, and I loved to see her facing the realization that training =/= the pressures of reality. Also, Jasper’s appearance at the end was a wonderful shock. And in Crack the Whip (what an excellent episode title, BTW), I loved to see just how badass Stevonnie is.

The very natural and touching metamorphosis (or completion of the metamorphosis that’s already been slowly occurring) of the relationship between Steven and Amethyst in Steven vs. Amethyst, Beta, and Earthlings was absolutely wonderful. Their love for each other and desire to support each other has never been more clear or moving.

To see the two of them interact more like equals than they’ve ever done before both shows how much they’ve grown and changed and highlights their mutual insecurities, and their fusion is the culmination of that as they can for the first time meet on equal terms and, together, become more than what they’ve been and make something new and different.

Bismuth, however, felt… not very good. I liked Bismuth’s character design and the personality we got to know over the course of the episode, but she felt like a character that was rushed onstage and then rushed offstage just as quickly in order to facilitate various questions Steven needed to ask himself.

Yes, it’s very interesting to get further characterization of Rose and her secretive nature… but we’ve already been getting that from all the other episodes in this run. And whether it’s appropriate to kill enemies — particularly during a war — is a valid and very important question to ask… but it’s also trite as shit, and introduced nothing new to the story at this point.

I feel like the character of Bismuth was little more than a macguffin to make these needless plot points, and therefore that the special long episode — and she — was entirely wasted. It seemed far more like the episodic style of character-introduction-and-then-shelving of a far inferior series (quite possibly a series designed to sell toys) than an interesting and meaningful installment of this one.

So back to Beta and Earthlings. I’m really happy that they’ve moved toward multi-part stories across these short episodes, because I feel like the problem I mentioned with Alone at Sea and Gem Drill feeling rushed can then be avoided — but they can still stick with shorter stories that fit into the ten-minute-ish length most of the time.

Anyway, I find Jasper’s character extremely interesting. I thought at first (after her confession to Lapis) that she was going to be obsessing over fusion, that she was collecting the corrupt gem monsters in order to have a lot of gems to fuse with… and though I wasn’t exactly wrong, when that turned out not to be her primary purpose I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Having a fusion-obsessed Jasper running around inappropriately fusing with random crap all over the place would have been creepy and disturbing and fascinating, and could have raised a lot of interesting points.

But! A Jasper so bitter about her situation and surroundings, and the events that led to them, that she’s desperately expressing violent dominance over her makeshift “army,” like a little kid abusing animals, possibly in an attempt to address her own shortcomings, is also very interesting. I’ll take it. Sadly, I don’t know how much more Jasper development we’re likely to get in the near future.

What I really loved about Earthlings was the three bombshells dropped right in a row at the end — the appearance of Smoky Quartz, the revelation that Rose Quartz did something to Pink Diamond, and Jasper’s corruption. Once again, a big “Fuck you” to anyone that claims, “Oh, we just didn’t have time for XYZ.” So much impact in so little time.

The revelations in Earthlings and Back to the Moon (which latter mostly felt like a transition episode from one important moment to another) don’t exactly knock down the “Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond” theory, but they do make it seem less likely. It’s not impossible that the rumor that Rose shattered Pink was deliberately released to cover up Pink Diamond’s transformation into Rose Quartz, but I’m less convinced than I previously was. I’m afraid I’m just going to have to accept that Rose was unusually and bizarrely diversely powerful, and therefore Steven can keep having new powers and levels of strength. Ah, well.

Whatever I said about Bismuth, I do enjoy this focus on what Rose was like and how Steven differs from her, how he’s free to make his own decisions and cultivate his own attitudes because, however much he may be Rose Quartz, he’s not Rose Quartz. And Bubbled had some good moments to that end.

Kindergarten Kid was… OK. I still love Peridot, and I love to see her character growth, and the Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner shit was kinda funny, but slapstick is not my favorite brand of humor. Though, “You don’t poof easily, huh?” was pretty funny.

Know Your Fusion… Oh, man, I love Sardonyx. Her voice is just so chewy and wonderful. Of course, as she pointed out her very own self, this wasn’t about her.

I kinda divide the fusions we’ve seen so far into two types: the type that just wants to be together, and the type that has a specific goal (usually combative) in mind that requires a larger and more powerful form. Ruby and Sapphire like to be so close they’re literally a single person as Garnet; Connie and Steven like to be an experience together as Stevonnie. But for the goal of defeating enemies or destroying something big, an Opal or a Sugilite or a Malachite is required.

Of course there’s a sort of third type… or at least a third motivation for fusion… when a gem feels empowered by the fusion process, and doesn’t necessarily desire togetherness nor have a particular goal in mind, just wants to feel that strength and power again. We’ve observed that this isn’t necessarily healthy.

Anyway, I feel like Steven and Amethyst fused for yet another completely different reason, and turned into a new type of fusion. They didn’t do it deliberately with a goal in mind (although being Smoky Quartz did allow them to work toward the goal of the moment); and, though they do, of course, love each other, there was a lot less desire to be together or desire to be a shared experience than there was an intense feeling of connection in being similar in certain ways and having similar feelings about it.

Steven is the first known gem-human hybrid. Amethyst stayed in the ground too long and is undersized and flawed. Neither is a perfect example of the gem that they are, and each feels that. But they each love and respect the other, each think the other is better and stronger and more worthy than they are. And I think it’s that similarity both of composition and reaction to it that allowed them to fuse. And then, naturally, finding themselves fused into a stronger being, and recognizing their mutual feelings and how well they connect on this level, they were able to become even stronger.

And of course not Garnet, a togetherness fusion, nor Pearl, who has taken part in both goal-oriented and desire-for-power fusions, nor Sardonyx, whom at this point (now that Garnet and Pearl have made up) I would call a goal-oriented fusion, could understand the mutual-understanding fusion that is Smoky Quartz. Neither Steven nor Amethyst is what anyone expects them to be, and therefore of course Smoky Quartz isn’t what Sardonyx expects them to be.

I feel like, even by the end of the episode when Garnet and Pearl have seen some of the badassedness of Smoky Quartz, they still don’t really understand them. And honestly? I think that’s OK. Not everyone is going to get the nuances of everyone else’s relationships, the reasons why people love each other and interact the way they do. The fact that Sardonyx realized that this shouldn’t be about her and her understanding and recognition of Smoky Quartz, but about Smoky Quartz themselves, is enough.

Yikes, I can’t believe I finally got through all my thoughts about so many freaking episodes. I’m actually kinda glad they’re going back to a slower broadcasting schedule after this XD I can’t keep up! In fact, I’ma put off some thoughts on some other things (mostly books) until the next AEL just because I want to get this damn thing posted already.

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