Color is associated with emotion.
Which is super appropriate for RWBY.
This is yet another web series that my brother raved about…and then also mourned when later seasons “went loopy.”
It’s an anime-inspired adventure of four girls training to become hero-protectors of their world, fighting the monstrous Grimm from without and human divisions from within. The title comes from the first names of the four leads, which match their associated colors (and I was so proud I figured that out on my own, without having to read the Wiki page).
TL;DR— If you like stories that make you feel, this is for you!
The Colorful Cast
Each member of Team RWBY has a dominate color that dictates their character design…and to a certain degree their personality.
Yang is bright, loud, gung-ho, and quick-tempered.
Weiss is up-tight, cold, yet rigidly determined and precise…and so earnest.
Blake is…well, worried about her inner demons.
And Ruby has a heart – as big as the moon, as warm as bathwater.
All the characters have a “gimmick.” Even if it’s not a huge deal, there’s something to make them stand out…to give us a “hook” to hold on to and remember them by.
I hesitate to call them “larger than life”…but there’s definitely an emotional flair that makes these characters (all of them, even the side characters) latch onto you and not let go.
This individualism is carried over into the battles. Every single person has a personal weapon and fighting style…and a personal super-power called a “semblance” that usually informs their combat preferences.
Ruby has a scythe that’s bigger than she is, doubles as a sniper rifle, and folds up to the size of a notebook.
Weis’s style is all about precision and proper form…using her semblance of magic glyphs. Yang has wrist-mounted, punch-activated shotguns.
Everything is about jumping, flip-flopping, spinning, and using everything as a gun. It’s something you have to see for yourself.
The art style combines anime influences with a simplified feel, distinctive colors, and a feeling of momentum and energy that mixes with the magic system– you just have to see it for yourself!
Red-eyed creatures of darkness, the Grimm are spawned by negative emotions and attracted to panic, fear, and distrust.
They actually make sense of that old stand-by, the “don’t tell the populace what’s going on or they’ll panic” cliché. The cliché is still kinda tired, but at least there’s a viable reason for the policy when popular unease can literally attract sharp-toothed monsters to your door!
While we see bigger and scarier Grimm as the series progresses, it’s also very clear that their power comes from people…the bad guys who prefer widespread terror and bloodshed if it gives them power.
You can kill Grimm…but they just evaporate into smoke when they die. The deeper problem lies in the hearts of men.
Can a plucky little girl with a massive scythe do anything against that?
RWBY features many official songs, both as episode intros and for the end-credits.
Why are they so…catchy?
The lyrics are fine…clever and effective, but the rhyme schemes can be sloppy at times. The tunes are pretty, but hard to sing until you listen to them a couple times. (And lean toward the one-note, syncopated style of modern praise music at times.)
The style is like cinematic orchestral smashed with rock with a smattering of ballad, which is apparently my groove. And the performers are first class.
Yet…what elevates these to “play constantly on repeat”-worthy is—
We get a hint of this, Ruby’s theme song, in the first teaser short. The full version is a back-and-forth between Ruby and her dead mother…and it’s HEART-RENDING.
I think this is a credits song…I only found it through the soundtrack lists on Youtube.
It’s Miss Punchy Powerhouse on a power trip! The only downside is one of the verses has (ahem) words I can’t play in front of my parents…
This villain song has been in my head for a solid month.
Maybe it’s the innocents lying in pools of their own blood, or the “victory for hate incarnate.”
I have issues.
This is my brother’s favorite character because he sips coffee while launching students off the cliff.
The first few volumes take place in the magic school, and suffer from some of those clichés of “the students have to fix everything.”
And yet…Professor Ozpin is always in the back-ground, watching with wise eyes. In my brother’s words, he’s the “grown-up among grown-ups,” who knows way more than he lets on…and is patient enough to let the students grow at the pace they need – to become the protectors the world needs.
Along with Ruby’s uncle and the other teachers, he maintains the feeling that, yes, the grown-ups actually do know what’s going on…and when bad things go down, they have their eye on the long game.
This is one of the things that breaks in Volume 6, apparently.
It’s all very well to have twelve-year-old superheroes…but when stuff gets real, they need to have older, experienced warriors at their back.
But I stopped watching at the Volume 5 climax…which is everything you could wish for, bringing all players (junior and senior) together on each side of the battlefield for an epic show-down.
(By the way, Blake’s parents are AWESOME.)
Part of Yang’s personal quest is finding her mother, who abandoned the family when Yang was little.
By the time she finally meets her mother, though, she’s had time to develop her attitudes based on the unconditional support and encouragement she’s gotten from both her dad and uncle. (And her team.)
Weis comes from rich gentry…meaning her identity is wrapped up in her family name. Blake is a racial minority, and quarreled with her parents about how to respond to that.
And Ruby… Well, Ruby accepts everyone, whatever their race, appearance, or mechanical make-up.
And as the Volume 1 title song says, “Victory is in a simple soul.” It’s Ruby’s open-hearted optimism that has a chance to defeat this grim world (ha ha).
Two races exist in RWBY: Humans, and Faunus…basically humans with animal attachments (ears, tails, horns, etc.). While we get hints that the Faunus have been treated as second class citizens – excluded from restaurants and paid unfair wages – what we actually see is the activism group that’s started using terrorism to get their point across.
The show does a good job showing the problems that arise when activism becomes a goal in and of itself…when righteous indignation becomes hatred and selfishness.
Emotions again: even the characters on the “wrong” side have their motivations and feelings honestly explored. Their actions are unjustified, but we see how the feelings of oppression and revenge led them to this place.
What isn’t done so well is showing the original oppression that they’re reacting against. (Although a character short for Volume 5 does a pretty good job.)
Teamwork and Friendship
When the students arrive at “hero” school, they’re paired up and combined into teams in seemingly random fashion.
But the teachers apparently have a method to their madness. (See Ozpin above!)
Ruby and Weis, while initially polar opposites, are forced to work through their differences to become best friends.
Two other students – a try-hard who got in on forged transcripts, and a universally respected prodigy – are teamed as partners…and develop a beautiful relationship that spurs character development and EMOTION. They are still my most favorite couple although they are also the most TRAGIC one!
Heroes and Fairytales
Just as RWBY draws on classic fairytales for its art direction and character design, it also weaves into the themes and subtext questions like:
“Are fairytales just real stories we’ve forgotten?”
“Are heroes real?”
“The mighty warriors of the past all died…usually while fighting the darkness. Is it still worth doing what they did? Did they still accomplish something?”
People sometimes think of a “fairytale” as something full of improbable things with an unrealistically happy ending. But fairytales also have dark, scary, and depressing things in them.
This tense balance of tone also flows through RWBY.
They’re just little girls, learning how to be warriors. Their moves look really cool and colorful…until you see a glimpse of the real horrors out there.
The horrors that have killed real, grown-up warriors.
The series gets progressively darker, and we seem to ask the question:
“Can Ruby’s idealism really conquer Grimm?”
“Won’t her eagerness to befriend everyone bite her back one day?”
“Can this team of misfits really stick together and accomplish anything?”
“The villainess out there is so huge and horrible…so much worse than what these mere kids have faced so far. If the grown-ups couldn’t stop the darkness, how can we have a hope?”
As for the last question, the Volume 5 finale seems to say: “Together!”
The Never-ending Story?
My brother DNFed Volume 6, so I haven’t watched it (or the seventh volume currently streaming).
But the Volume 5 finale is a pretty perfect place to end things. Sure, there are lots of plot threads still in motion…but the character arcs have peaked, the teams have merged into cathartic awesomeness, epic battles have been pitched, and mini-bosses have soundly had their butts handed to them.
It is, in short, an ending of EMOTIONAL RESONANCE.
If you want to giggle, laugh, say, “Oh, that’s so cool,” and (ahem) sob like a little baby (like when Ruby is chit-chatting and telling all the school news to her mother…’s grave?)…try RWBY.
You can even watch it with your parents and younger siblings, because – while there’s scary, creepy, suspenseful stuff – there’s nothing you have to cover their eyes for. (Or their ears, unlike RoosterTeeth’s other show…Also, careful searching for fan art online!)
While it’s not necessary to start with them, these four character shorts will introduce Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang (er…hopefully hers will go over your kid sister’s head)…and then you can watch the actual episodes for FREE on Youtube.
Or get them directly from the creators at RoosterTeeth!