Quite frankly, it’s a miracle that I haven’t had to cover a Ronaldo episode yet until today.
Let’s cut to chase, I am not a fan of Ronaldo. On occasion the series utilizes him in a funny way, I quite liked how they handled him in “Restaurant Wars” for example and some of his lines are funny. His debut appearance where he accused Steven of being pregnant is one of the funniest jokes in the series to this day but overall he’s a lot to handle and for whatever reason, he finds himself the star of several episodes. One of season three strengths is that Ronaldo never found himself as a focus character for an episode, making that season an outlier. For what it’s worth, I do think “Rocknaldo” is the best Ronaldo focused episode (sans maybe “Horror Club” but that’s more of Lars episode in my opinion).
The premise of this episode is rather simple, after hearing from Steven that he’s been unintentionally vilifying the Crystal Gems, Ronaldo aims to make up for it by joining the team. This results in Ronaldo at his most unbearable, as he constantly pouts about being excluded from training and hoisting some false sense of superiority over Steven as “Bloodstone”, his Gemsona. In a way, the episode’s greatest strength is that it’s intentionally framing Ronaldo as a jerk. I don’t really think they succeed in making him funny but at least the reactions towards him are funny. Pearl in particular slays in this episode, from general reaction faces, to her praise of Amethyst’s lackluster performance was on-point, to her names for Ronaldo ranging from “Blood Fry” to “Fryrocko”, she remains a highlight. Amethyst’s line about Steven truthing him so hard that he died was equally entertaining. And Steven falling for Ronaldo’s BS earlier in the episode was a funny moment, and Steven’s truth-bomb on Ronaldo maintained a level of catharsis that this episode needed.
The issue arises in the conclusion, with Ronaldo’s “apology”. Even though he dubs himself “Jerknaldo”, he still makes the apology all about him. Part of this is Zach Steel’s consistent delivery as Ronaldo, there’s little variance between line deliveries. But the writing makes it clear too, half his apologize is him positing himself as the ultimate outsider. He remains steadfast in his own self-importance, even while admitting he was wrong he needs to make it clear that it was his own social standings that caused the rift. A way of deflecting fault into something providing him pity. In a way, I can understand that as a good motivator for his actions. Ronaldo was at least dedicated enough to swap out his shirt to match Steven’s signature color but it’s clear his goal was to achieve validation. And considering Steven is the only one interested in his pun pamphlets, his punphelts if you will, it makes sense that he’d attached to Steven’s life so hard, especially since Steven is at the epicenter of Ronaldo’s own interests. By the end I don’t think the episode delves deep enough into Ronaldo’s psyche for him to come across as anything besides annoyingly self-centered even in apology, but I know others feel differently. If nothing else, I am intrigued to see how his pro-punphlets on the Crystal Gems end up having any long-lasting effect on the plot. His advocacy of them will likely wind up as important, there’s been too many episodes dedicated to that thread for me to dismiss this episode as filler at least. Not that I’m prone to do that.
In terms of low-points of the season, I’m a little conflicted on rather I prefer this to “Onion Gang” or not. “Onion Gang” had a little more interesting things going on visually, whereas “Rocknaldo”‘s visual story threads end at blatantly giving him a pink shirt and tapped on star. And while I can’t yet talk about either of their later purposes yet for later reason, it seems “Onion Gang” wins on that end too. However, “Rocknaldo” has a lot more entertaining jokes in it for me, since it lacks the narrow scope of humor featured in “Onion Gang”. The moment where the Crystal Gems ‘fly away’ only to land a few feet away and walk away peacefully had me cackling the first time I saw it. Referencing “Cat Fingers” is something that’ll always get a smile out of me as well. And as much as I don’t like Ronaldo, he got at least one good line in, “It’s a replica from the anime I Can’t Believe My Stepdad’s My Sword.” For any fellow anime fan, there’s bound to be a few series that came to mind when he uttered that title. For me, it was the light novel, “I Reincarnated Into a Vending Machine” or “I Was Reborn as a Vending Machine, Wandering in The Dungeon”. So in terms of Ronaldo episodes, I feel comfortable in saying that this is funniest entry but relative to the series as a whole, it’s still bottom tier for me.