If there was ever a time to break out 3-D glasses, this episode would be it.
Actually no, it’s been reported to me by fellow reddit user JapaMala that people have tried viewing the climax with 3-D glasses to no avail. Disappointing but not entirely surprising with both the lack of blue and how it wasn’t nearly as jarring as watching 3-D videos without the accessory but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that the two would work in tandem. Discounting that mild disappointment, “Adventures in Light Distortion” is another really solid episode of Steven Universe, progressing the “Out of This World” story arc by focusing solely on the emotional state of Steven. Opting to resolve the character trauma before proceeding with the actual rescue mission, a wise and very Steven Universe, decision.
The guilt and worry Steven possesses over Greg’s abduction is palpable throughout the entire episode, as he continuously rushes to advancing the mission. From his frantic call to Connie asking her to watch over Beach City in his absence to his dismissal of any of Peridot’s suggestion that aren’t pertaining to the ships ability to flat-out function. It’s also clearly illustrated through his decision to ignore the Rubies they careened against during their space travel. His top priority is retrieving his father, and nothing is more important than that. Not to sound like I’m criticizing Steven, it’s almost impossible not to feel for a kid who simply just wants his dad, especially when he himself incorrectly attributes the situation as his fault.
This all builds to the episode’s climax which leads Steven’s technically isolated and in a dire scenario. I like how the scene is dominated in the Rubies’ visceral red color scheme (the scene would’ve totally backfired under a Peridot green) and how the situation itself mirrored Steven’s own emotional situation. Steven himself bluntly admits that he was rushing the mission in order to quickly rectify the situation and save Greg from Blue Diamond, so it makes sense that Steven would be forced to process these emotions through a conflict of speed. As the Roaming Eye travels faster than the speed of light, it risks ruining the mission by colliding with the Zoo itself, dooming everyone and the solution in both case being both needing to slow it down works wonderfully.
This even extends into how Steven’s ‘mistake’ ends up with them reaching their target ridiculously earlier than Pearl’s approach. Not only does this help alleviate Steven’s own guilt but it means the episode isn’t demonizing Steven’s emotional response. He managed to process through it before it became truly destructive but it was viable avenue to reaching peace. Of course, receiving the support from the Crystal Gems afterwards helps too, most notably from Garnet. Her line “Steven. You didn’t kidnap Greg. Blue Diamond did.” is probably my favorite in the episode, we so often blame ourselves when problems arise that we lose sight of those truly responsible. “Adventures in Light Distortion” is an effective emotional conclusion to Steven’s strife, voice acted brilliantly by Zach Callison, and now the series can focus on rescuing Greg from the human zoo. Emphasizing the human emotions involved first before detailing plot points is why Steven Universe is one of my favorite shows.
Outside of that, this episode is also notable for the visual style of the episode alone. It almost operates as the “Cheeseburger Backpack” of season four, an episode that is more jarringly off-model throughout the course rather than uniformity featured in later episodes of the series. Perhaps “jarringly off-model” is too harsh of a phrase but it’s been a long time since Pearl has looked more like a character from Adventure Time than one from Steven Universe. This actually helps enhance the material at certain points, the aforementioned faster than light segment as well as when things get too weird for even Amethyst but when not placed within a serviceable context it’s a little off-putting.
Finally, the episode itself was still a funny affair, especially involving Amethyst. There was a great sense of continuity to the humor involved her, I particularly popped for Puma Cub’s appearance or Steven referencing Amethyst’s tendency to reform early. Pearl’s inability to comprehend the human life-span from “Space Race” returns, this time funnier with Steven’s commentary. Although my favorite joke was Pearl’s insistence that they never listen to Peridot because she never tells them anything, especially since she only says that because of information Peridot communicated to them earlier. It’s a funny line on it’s own but within context it shines even brighter. So overall it’s hard to find much fault with “Adventures in Light Distortion”. I don’t think I like it as much as “Steven’s Dream” in re-watch, there’s just not as much visual nuance here, but it’s still an easy highlight of the season.