Steven Universe – Mindful Education Review
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone! I’m sorry! None of them would let me help them! I had no choice!”
This past season has seen Steven subjected to some horrifying experiences and even more horrifying truths. As much as he may want to bring people together, there will always be those who reject his aid, and Steven Universe is not the type of show to forget the impact that would have on its main character. Mindful Education is the first great episode of the fourth season, and it gracefully touches on the subject of how best to deal with trauma while bringing Steven’s underlying issues into the forefront. This is a standout episode that delivers on great character development, a fantastic song by Estelle and AJ Michalka, an insightful lesson, and one of the best visual gut punches of the series. Mindful Education is an entry that embodies one of Steven Universe’s biggest strengths, its purposefully dissonant blend of heartache and hope.
Mindful Education begins with Steven and Connie preparing for combat training as Stevonnie. However, the training is cut short when Stevonnie hallucinates while sparring with a holo-Pearl and comes undone. The sequence bears a resemblance to similar scenes from Alone Together and Beach City Drift, and Garnet explains that this is caused by an imbalance due to one of the members of the fusion being unable to cope with their emotions. Connie reveals that she accidentally assaulted a student at her school when he bumped into her and her training took over. Steven initially suggests that sometimes you can’t help but hurt people and the best approach is to avoid thinking about it. However, Garnet takes them aside and insists the best way to deal with trauma is to confront it, so it doesn’t literally tear the fusion apart from the inside. This culminates in the song “Here Comes a Thought,” and the influences of guest animator Takafumi Hori can definitely be felt in this segment. The use of white butterflies as a symbol for troubling thoughts is a particularly inspired one, and the song can sit comfortably alongside “Stronger than You” and “It’s Over Isn’t It” as one of the strongest featured on the show.
Steven Universe deserves additional praise for the subtle hints it establishes over the course of the episode. From the beginning, it is clear Connie is distracted and is wearing her worries on her sleeve, but this also serves as a clever misdirection. Steven’s suggestion that sometimes you can’t help but hurt people and it is best to just try not to think about it isn’t just directed at Connie. Even after Connie has confronted her issues, there is still a lingering butterfly that Steven sees perched on Rose’s sword. Without spoiling too much, the training still doesn’t go as planned, as the thoughts that Steven has tried so hard to suppress being to rear their ugly heads. Without spoiling anything, there is an image formed as the representations of Steven’s traumas break down and are reformed into a single mass that serves to contextualize all the issues that he is facing and is easily my favorite moment in the episode. In those few seconds, without even a word, the full meaning of what it means to Steven that he cannot save everyone is laid bare, and it is legitimately heartbreaking. Despite the emotionally wrenching quality of the issues that Steven is facing, at its core Mindful Education is about how to deal with personal issues and how to ensure those issues don’t interfere with interpersonal relationships. None of the answers it provides are easy or serve as immediate cure-alls, but they are useful tools for the show’s audience to learn about.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- One might not notice, due to its smooth pacing, but “Here Comes a Thought” is actually the longest song to be featured on the show.
- I mentioned in the review that this episode had a guest animator, Takafumi Hori. He is a member of the anime production studio Studio Trigger which is best known for Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, and Kiznaiver.
- I mentioned in my review of Buddy’s Book that Birdy and I were in the process of getting Caveman caught up on Steven Universe. When watching this episode, he rejected the idea that Connie “beat up” her classmate since he didn’t consider throwing someone to the ground to count as beating someone up. That was until the moment Connie pulled out her phone and showed Steven an image of her with the kid where his arm was in a sling.
- Garnet’s cheerleading was hilarious. Fusion sign.
- Seriously. The look of disappointment on that face when it looks down at Stevonnie.
Mindful Education provides acknowledgement of the severity and weight of many of the issues that Steven has faced recently. It is a piece of masterful storytelling that teaches valuable lessons regarding one's natural inclination to run from one's problems, and how best to combat it. If I end up doing a season 4 review, this will be listed as one of the best episodes.