Reading Between Reviews: RWBY

Web series are a bunch of fun.  You can follow things like Video Game High School by Rocketjump, an independently made series which isn’t quite a TV show, but isn’t quite the stereotypical internet series,  you have web cartoons like Cyanide and Happiness, short, quirky, disgustingly hilarious humor that’s right at home on Youtube, and a whole plethora of other diverse shows.  Considering that a certain web series is entering its fourth volume, and the hype train for said series is moving full speed ahead, no brakes, I figured I’d get this little post out here!

RWBY has been an interesting series, to say the least.  The brainchild of one extremely talented animator, Monty Oum, his joining up with Roosterteeth gave him the resources necessary to create this show, featuring strong female leads, a huge focus on action, and an immensely fascinating, immersive world.  At first, it seemed like nothing more but an experiment: a stab into a new world of Roosterteeth-produced animations, that, despite being very hyped up, seemed to be just an anime ripoff, a series with heart that lacked the finesse and quality to be something bigger.  Now, after three subsequently improving volumes, its own spin-off series, and the birth of a dedicated fanbase that continues to grow, RWBY has proven its staying power.

It’s an interesting series for sure, and is probably the fandom I am the most hopelessly lost in at the moment: but before Volume Four starts up on October 22nd, I just wanted to take a look back at everything that RWBY did right, and yes, what it did wrong.  The review starts now!

1. Story

In the world of Remnant, there are two absolutes: the existence of mankind, and the existence of the Grimm.  Beasts that feed off fear, sadness, anger, selfish desires, for as long as mankind has existed, the Grimm, too, have existed.  To combat these foes, mankind has united into four separate kingdoms – Vale, Vacuo, Atlas, and Mistral – and trained warriors known as Huntsman and Huntresses have emerged.  They fight to keep the peace against the creatures of Grimm, fighting so that all people may enjoy a safe, comfortable life.rwby-1

The Kingdom of Vale is where the story starts, as we follow titular protagonist Ruby, and her team, ironically named after her, as she strives to become a Huntress: a hero, like in the stories she has heard as a young girl.  As her first semester at Beacon Academy, a school for young Huntsman and Huntresses, begins, she meets a new team, makes friends, goes to class, and enjoys her life, all while training to be a defender of the world.  However, she and her team get caught up in events that threaten the peace of the world: revolutionaries, Grimm attacks, and a far more sinister enemy that links everything together await Ruby, and the strength of her small, honest soul is put to the test.rwby-2

RWBY’s story benefits a whole lot from two things: its world building, and its individual character arcs.  The story follows the perspective of Ruby and her team for the most part, and apart from slight flashes of other, more powerful characters, the audience is left in the dark about the grand scheme of things.  So far, the story has largely been about relatively small events, while teasing a far larger plot that encompasses far more than what we have been presented, and in that, it has done a wonderful job.rwby-3

Thanks to the way RWBY is set up, supplemented by World of Remnant shorts, we are given a TON of information regarding the workings of Remnant.  However, the story has not yet reached a point where we have experienced that information first hand, allowing for speculation, anticipation, and excitement to see those things finally play out on our computer screens.

Basically, it’s slow, at least for the first two volumes.  We only get school time shenanigans and stereotypical classmate drama, while all the while, something bigger is hinted at.  This is good in its own way, making the main characters more real, but it still lacks any true sense of suspense, at least for a while.  It’s clear, based on all this, that RWBY still has a long ways to go, making judging the story up to this point rather tough, as it seems that rather than focus on the overarching plot, the first three volumes focus on building up the characters and the world, putting them into position for the rest of the story to play out.rwby-4

2. Characters

RWBY has a huge focus, as of this point, on its main characters.  Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long are, next to the teasers of the immersive world of Remnant, the other main draw of the series.  Luckily for those who watch RWBY, its characters have a rather unique charm, and although we could point out flaws in series characterization, for some reason, I personally don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

The four main characters of RWBY are very…cohesive.  Very consistent.  We learn things about their separate motivations, their personalities, and yes, sometimes these moments feel a bit sloppy from a writing standpoint, but the characters themselves start to make sense regardless.  Weiss, heiress of the Schnee Dust Company, comes off as prissy and unlikable, but somehow, the series finds a way to show parts of her character that have her make sense, and, in some way, RWBY finds a way to do that with all four of the main cast.  Ruby, the innocent one,  is shown to have a unique kind of strength, Blake has reason for being so withdrawn, and Yang, the firecracker, displays a much deeper sadness than she lets on.  They’re given motivations, and thanks to songs on the OST that further flesh out their characters, we get to know more about them, beyond just what the main series has to offer.rwby-5

Another point I have to emphasize is that RWBY has EXCELLENT character design.  Top notch.  The main characters, based on their own respective fairy tale characters, have unique designs that are very good at expressing their own personalities.  Even disregarding them, almost every character introduced in the RWBY world has something interesting and cool: every time a character is introduced, you end up wanting to see their weapon, their fighting style, what kind of personality they can bring to the table.  In that department, RWBY is unique among other series, expressing characters through their designs in huge ways, and leaving just enough unsaid that those characters can have room to grow.2016-10-12_2-12-41

Essentially. RWBY’s characters, if I had to sum them up in one word, they just have charm.   They’re cohesive, they all seem to have a place in the world, and consistent personalities that leave a lot to the imagination.  For now, despite some blunt characterization at points, RWBY has done a great job with its characters, and only time will tell if it will continue to do so.

3. Style/Art

This is where, in my opinion, RWBY absolutely shines.  The story is intriguing, and the characters undoubtedly have their perks, but overall, these two things have been held back at some points, whether it’s because of lack of time, or sub-par writing, or some other factor.  However, from the very beginning, RWBY has had a great sense of itself, and undoubtedly had a unique style that no other series had really shown before.

Monty Oum was a legend, in short.  With his action packed shorts like Haloid and Dead Fantasy, it was only natural that he’d carry over such style into a series like RWBY, where almost every character has a weapon that’s also a gun, and a special ability on top of that.  From the very beginning, RWBY made it clear it was a series to be known, if anything, for its action choreography.  The four introductory trailers, Red, White, Black, and Yellow, established the series as something promising, and the series has held up on that, on more than just its action scenes.rwby red gif.gif

RWBY, I feel, has up to this point, been a snowball.  It started off small, had a few crazy good fight scenes and an awesome soundtrack, but was hampered by poor animation, sub-par writing, and just…overall average quality.  However, even from the first trailer, you can tell RWBY didn’t half-ass anything- it tried.  It has a story it wants to tell, and it has a way to do it, and throughout the first volume, it feels that there’s just some errors in translation- animation quality, amateur voice acting, but moments of quality, and action scenes that shine.  Come the second volume, and we have better everything all around, better character development, better animation, a polished artistic style, and an OST that is just as good as the first.  Of course, there are still noticeable flaws in the second volume, but not nearly to the extent of the first, and this improvement only escalates, come the third volume.rwby-6

Fast forward to today, and we have animation that, for the most part, no longer feels clunky, voice actors that feel much more at home than before, and a far wider array of colors and vibrance than the previous seasons.  Volume three, I have to say, felt like RWBY finally got to tell the story it wanted to.  Animation, characterization, the soundtrack, the tone and atmosphere of the show- everything took a step up, and looks unique.  Perhaps it does not have the quality that a show like Miraculous Ladybug would have, or the polish that some great anime or hand-animated works do, but for the unique style of animation that RWBY has created for itself, it doesn’t need it.  What it does, fits, and the great thing about that is it leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Wrap-Up!

I mention the different volumes because it must be understood, in reviewing RWBY, that it’s a web series, done over almost four years now, that went a long way to get to where it is now.  It had to prove its worth, funding had to be increased, and basically, it didn’t get to have the budget, or crew, of a big TV show from the getgo.  As such, it is a hard show to judge cohesively, simply for the fact that as of now, it has only gotten better and better-it hasn’t had a true slump yet.  It’s made promises to explore the world they created, to explore their characters, and to expand the plot, and as of now, right before the fourth volume is released, it seems that RWBY has kept those promises.

Now.  If you’re going into RWBY looking for technical perfection, then you’re looking in the wrong place.  It has definite flaws from a purely practical standpoint, especially at the beginning, looking at animation, spotty characterization at points, voice acting, and a slow story.  Despite this, because of its consistent improvement, entertainment value, and relatively engaging cast of characters, I don’t feel bad at all about giving RWBY up to this point a solid 8 out of 10.  It’s not exemplary – not yet at least – but it’s certainly a fun, crazy ride.

I’d recommend it for you if you’re willing to invest some time into the slower story at the start, but if you have that time, and have an open mind about it, I guarantee you’ll find something to enjoy about the series.

Shout outs to both the RWBY fandom in general, which is one of the greatest I’ve seen in any media, and Monty Oum, who gifted us with something great, and lived a good life.  And yo.  If you’re reading this, and HAVEN’T watched RWBY, but are considering it, get on it.  Volume Four drops on the 22nd of this month.  Join us on the hype train!rwby 7.jpg

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