Swankivy's Reviews > Steven Universe Orignal Graphic Novel: Ultimate Dough-Down

Steven Universe Orignal Graphic Novel by Talya Perper
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it was amazing

The third original graphic novel for Steven Universe is a new story for fans of Sadie, Beach City, and the Crystal Gems. It’s new content–unlike some of the trade paperbacks that collect previously released individual issues of the comics–and it’s lovingly written by Talya Perper, with illustrations by Meg Omac and a cover by Lorena Alvarez Gomez.

This graphic novel covers Sadie returning to the Big Donut to help out with a special event, but since Lars is currently in space, she needs help from Steven and the Gems. Her pride is on the line, wrapped up in her rivalry with another donut store as her direct competition, and she’s tasked with training the Gems and handling her preoccupation with Lars’s absence. It’s such a fantastic little addition to the show and ties in very well, with few glitches and all kinds of love–for the most part it is emotionally intelligent and true to the characters while still telling a satisfying story that doesn’t feel too isolated from what’s really going on in the television show’s story.

The story:

We begin with Steven helping his dad at the car wash and describing a dream he had. It was about Lars, but he dreamed of him just at the Big Donut doing regular stuff, and Steven feels pretty nostalgic about it. Then Sadie pulls up with a fancy vehicle and a company card asking for car cleaning service, and Steven “has a million questions.” After all, didn’t Sadie quit the Big Donut? Why does she have a vehicle? And what, pray tell, is “The Ultimate Dough-Down”?

Sadie explains that she’s come back to help her old employer participate in this annual contest because he basically begged her to return (using multiple forms of media), since the new employees definitely aren’t ready for such a thing. But even though Sadie reluctantly accepted the gig, she actually isn’t sure how she’s going to manage without Lars, since he always helped her but now he’s in space fighting Homeworld Gems with the Off Colors.

Steven, of course, volunteers his own assistance (and that of the Gems). Sadie is skeptical because the last time Steven helped her at the shop he caused a disaster with a fire salt prank, and she has no idea if the Gems even understand human food at all. But Steven assures her that they even had a non-disaster restaurant together briefly and the Gems will do great.

Training commences. The Gems arrive in their Big Donut shirts and watch the new training video; it’s still got Mr. Smiley in it, but it’s been updated, including everything from how to wash your hands properly to the increase in sales tax. Garnet watches attentively and passively; Pearl takes notes; Amethyst keeps seeming to fall asleep but insists she’s listening.

And when Steven gives them a pop quiz, he’s pleasantly surprised; all of them pass easily, even Amethyst (who evidently WAS listening). Sadie is ready to try them in the store, but she’s also seemingly distracted by her thoughts about Lars. Nevertheless, the Gems get to try their first day on the job.

The Gems do surprisingly well in their new roles. Pearl is so quick and elegant making and serving drinks; Amethyst is great at keeping the donuts flowing, and Garnet is a star at taking orders (managing to impress some customers by putting in their orders before they’d spoken; Future Vision sure is helpful in food service!).

Mr. Smiley stops by and also quizzes the Gems on their recall of policies and factoids, and he also finds himself impressed. When the day ends, Sadie is encouraged, and asks her special employees to just let her take care of closing up. She proceeds to have a strange, very realistic-sounding “conversation” with Lars as if he is there, with him teasing her and flipping between goofy and sincere. She goes to sleep hearing his voice and talking to him.

Sadie then has a weird dream where there are multiple versions of Lars in the donut shop, all representing a different side of him, fighting over her. The versions of Lars are bothering her to choose one of them, eventually swirling into a single Lars with whom she dreams about sharing an intimate moment. Steven also experiences her dream and is worried about her.

When the Gems gather to help Sadie get ready for the Ultimate Dough-Down the next day, Steven asks the Gems to help distract Sadie enough to avoid thinking about Lars too much. They agree to take this as a secondary mission to the day’s work. Sadie drives the vehicle to the site of the showdown and ends up almost immediately running into her major rival: it’s a smug fellow named King from rival donut shop King Kruller.

King gives an aggressive pitch for his food truck which seems primarily focused on shaming the Big Donut for being corporate. He introduces his “young, non stereotypically-attractive doughnut artists” and talks up his shop, suggesting the Big Donut is just corporate crap that provides bad service and bad food. He offers Steven an opportunity to switch sides if he ever wants to leave, and gives another pitch for his competition donut: the Craffle, a donut that looks like a Belgian waffle. One of their customers immediately wants to try it because “I love when food is two things.” Sadie is irritated.

However, King’s comment about the competition donut brings to light the fact that Sadie completely forgot to prepare a concept for their own competition donut. She’s ready to panic, but the Gems jump into action with suggestions … none of which are too appropriate or practical. Pearl’s got a donut hole idea that’s too much like another shop’s; Garnet just wants to put different donut halves together for donut fusions; and Amethyst wants to make donut pudding by throwing donuts in coffee, which tastes gross. Hmm.

While they’re trying to think of something, Steven suggests they put a tiny bit of fire salt on donuts (and Amethyst happens to have some with her for some reason), and they figure maybe this can be their special donut. Then Sadie’s friend and co-competitor Miyuki shows up from Smile Andagi. She’s the first human to test out the donut and finds it exciting, and asks them to come by and try her donuts later. They decide to go with the fire salt idea. From there, customers start arriving. Sadie takes orders and Steven delivers them, with Amethyst on the fryer, Pearl doing barista, and Garnet bagging donuts.

They’re busy, but King Kruller is apparently the hit of the party–their line is long, and they’re getting a lot of attention with how their employees are screaming about how much better their offerings are than those of the Big Donut. Sadie admits it’s all about branding. Steven’s wheels start turning on how they can brand themselves–to go louder and more charismatic. And he has an idea. Surprise, surprise: Garnet and Pearl are into it.

Sardonyx appears–the giant Fusion of Pearl and Garnet who loves the spotlight more than anything. And although Amethyst is sullen and Sadie is baffled by what’s happening, it turns out that Sardonyx is an amazing addition to the team when it comes to attracting business. She’s pure showbusiness … not to mention she’s pretty big. She is able to tempt customers into trying the Big Donut’s fire salt donut by treating it like a challenge. It works very, very well.

Business booms due to Sardonyx’s efforts, and with the increased activity plus Pearl and Garnet’s absence, everyone has to work extra hard inside the truck. Sadie ends up burning herself with coffee when she thinks Lars is there to help her, and Steven insists that Amethyst take her to the medical tent while he handles the crowd by himself. King sneaks over to find out what happened to all his customers, and in the confusion, he steals the fire salt and adds too much of it to the donuts meant for the contest judges. Yikes.

The judges arrive and each one gets a little introduction from an Empire City newsperson. One is into daring dishes, one is into technically good baking, and one is into “passion.” They are very impressed with King’s donuts and say very good things about them. Then they come to Sadie’s truck and are able to sample the fire salt donuts just as Sadie has returned with a bandaged hand. One of the judges is impressed by Sardonyx, but is reminded that they’re not judging the showmanship. And then they eat the donuts.

And of course, due to King’s meddling, it’s a disaster. All three judges begin belching uncontrollable flames, causing chaos. The judges run around trying to get relief but just cause more fire.

While the Gems try to chase them down and help them cough up the burning donut particles, Steven tries to contain the fires, but can’t find a fire extinguisher. Instead, he finds Sadie … who is crying in the wreckage, blaming herself for everything.

Steven puts it into perspective for her, explaining that she keeps thinking about Lars because everyone thinks of the people they love. He offers inspiring words for Sadie, calling up images of other people in his life who have been strongly affected by their feelings of love.

Steven assures Sadie that soon Lars will be back, but he reminds her that she can be Sadie even without Lars, and tells her how much they need her to be Sadie right now. She feels strong enough to help after that, and they venture into the fray with a fire extinguisher. The Gems have now each located one judge and have followed their training to make them expel the burning donuts, but now that they’re no longer burping fire, they have some strong words for Sadie.

King, approaching to gloat and give out business cards, accidentally reveals that he has the missing vial of fire salt in his pocket, and the truth comes out: yes, he spiked their donuts. He tries to play it off that he was just investigating their unsafe ingredients, but when he admits he just didn’t think it was fair for the Big Donut to have “pyrotechnics and holograms” (his interpretation of Sardonyx’s showstopping performance), the judges disqualify him. Sadly, the Big Donut is still disqualified for mismanaging their ingredients, but when a social media influencer shows up wanting to try their spicy donut, they’re granted permission to keep selling even if they can’t win the contest. They jump back into business.

At the end of a busy day, Sadie and Steven go visit Miyuki’s food truck to try her donut, since they’d promised earlier when she came to try theirs. They come to find that Miyuki won the judges’ prize, and she gives them some insight on how she makes her wonderful andagi; it’s all about focus and patience. She was so focused during the event, in fact, that she didn’t even notice all the fire earlier. She mentions having been inspired by a head chef she studied under to “keep your head down and cook.” Based on this perspective, Sadie kind of feels like maybe all the time she spent at the Big Donut wasn’t for nothing. They take her andagi and her advice to go.

On the trip home, the Gems and Sadie all compliment and encourage each other, and when they get back Steven gives the andagi to his dad to try. Greg loves them. They bid Sadie good night and she catches up with her mom, gets ready for bed, and goes to sleep. She is not troubled by weird Lars dreams that night. And neither is Steven.

Notable:

1. At the beginning, Greg’s really disturbed when Steven says he had a “weird dream,” but when Steven describes it being about Lars even though he’s in space etc., he expresses relief and says “Oh, THAT kind of weird dream.” I guess Greg was worried Steven might be about to talk to him about adult stuff and wasn’t sure he was up for handling it. Heh.

2. Multiple comics have been done about food-related contests, especially donut ones. There have been a couple donut-eating competitions and several scrambles for characters to compete making food. Seems like a popular topic for this show–it is after all pretty focused on food–and now another plot revolves around it with this new addition.

3. Dewey is shown as an existing employee at the shop; this places the continuity of the story sometime after the episode “Letters to Lars.”

4. There are multiple specific episode callbacks when they’re setting up the story. Sadie and Steven refer to previous experience with fire salt and the Big Donut training video, both of which were introduced in the episode “Joking Victim,” and shortly afterwards Steven references his restaurant from “Restaurant Wars.”

5. The references to the Big Donut’s training video song, “Do or Do Nut,” were spot on. If you’re super familiar with the song, you see it begins with the same old lyrics and then goes into transformed lyrics that fit really well with what you’d expect. It’s adorable.

6. The Gems were not-so-subtly using their special abilities to do so well as Big Donut employees. Pearl’s speed and dexterity made her an impressive and graceful barista; Amethyst used shapeshifting to serve and stock donuts in creative and effective ways; and (of course my favorite) Garnet kept charging people for what they were GOING to order before they ordered it. I laughed a lot when one customer thought she was reading their mind and wanted to give her a tip for it.

7. One of the canon rules of writing Garnet in the show is that she does not ask questions. When she wants information, she can still ask for it, but she does it in sneaky ways like “tell me what you saw” instead of “what did you see?” In this comic, however, several questions are assigned to Garnet which could have easily been rewritten to avoid breaking this convention. Garnet asks “One Boston cream, one chocolate glazed, and one large decaf mocha with extra whip, correct?”; “Medium hazelnut latte and a maple bar?”; “What did you see in the dream?”; “What if we cut two donuts in half and fuse them together?”; “Who did you have in mind, Steven?”; and “How did this happen?!”

8. Sadie drives! She hasn’t been seen driving in the show proper but Sadie drives the special vehicle for the Ultimate Dough-Down.

9. “I love when food is two things” is hilarious. I love that it’s established and then given only one callback–perfect comedy.

10. Sorry but Garnet’s idea of fusing donuts for donut fusions was cute as heck and I would eat that in a second. She’s sort of blushing when she suggests it too, just so proud of her idea. It’s adorable.

11. It’s really cool that Sadie has a competitor (Miyuki) with whom she is friendly, unlike her rivalry with King. It’s refreshing to see friendly competition existing alongside stormy rivalry, and I really liked the Miyuki character.

12. I like that the self-righteousness of King’s food truck was based on perceived ethical superiority, but it does kinda annoy me that advertising vegan donuts was part of what was designed to make these guys look insufferable. I’ve met the type, of course, but I do actually prefer food that’s more ethical and less corporate, so I guess I’m just personally annoyed that such things were used to make them look inherently judgy and condescending.

13. Sardonyx bending down to ask “Did you miss me?” and Amethyst flatly uttering “No” is one of the funniest exchanges in the comic.

14. Sardonyx references the “Ring of Fire” which you can completely hear her saying since she challenged Smoky Quartz with the Ring of Fire during the episode “Know Your Fusion.”

15. Some of the background extras look like the background extras who are based on Crewniverse members from the show. :D

16. I don’t watch any cooking shows but even I recognized that the three judges Grant Fiesti, Martha Berrybritish, and Takashi Koga had to be based on Guy Fieri, Mary Berry, and Takeshi Kaga. Correct me if I’m wrong.

17. Sadie doesn’t have her bandage anymore after the fire starts erupting at the Ultimate Dough-Down.
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Reading Progress

December 11, 2018 – Started Reading
December 11, 2018 – Finished Reading
December 14, 2018 – Shelved

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