The premiere of a new anime series and the imminent release of Volume 9 – presumably a crossover feature film with the – coincides with the premier of an anime series. Justice League, RWBYThis is the second time that the franchise has been in the spotlight. It’s been there many times before, but not always for good reasons. Now is the right time to take a look back at what we have received from this franchise thus far and reflect on how it has changed. RWBYIt has changed over time.
This exploration should begin with the overall plot structure and, more importantly, the implications of that structure for the show’s writers. At the beginning RWBY‘s plot structure was relatively simple: short arcs lasting only a few episodes each that mostly consisted of “good guys training to be hunters and investigating the bad guys” and “bad guys plotting in the shadows.” In Volume 1 alone we have the introduction to Beacon, the Emerald Forest mission, settling in post-team formation, the bully arc, and the arrival of the White Fang, each arc focusing on a single core idea and elaborating outwards from there. Volume 2 included the opening food fight that set up additional characters. RWBYInvestigating the White Fang, the school dance and the Mountain Glenn mission. Volume 3 can even be divided into two sections of Vytal Tournament matches or the Battle of Beacon. For the most part, each arc felt fairly self-contained and was slowly built up for the final explosion at the Battle of Beacon.
Beginning with Volume 4, the story seems to focus on longer and more complicated plot arcs. The march from Patch and Haven takes up all of Volume 4. Weiss’s journey in Atlas to recover his mental health, and Yang’s homecoming in Atlas take up most of Volume 4. Blake and Sun fighting the White Fang in Menagerie spans Volumes 4 and 5, as does the overarching “reunite Team RWBY” plot. Cinder returning home to Salem spans 6 & 7. While the Atlas plotline could be extended to all of 7 or 8, Salem’s arrival near the end of 7 provides some demarcation. Modernity is limited to Volume 6 which contains two major plot arcs, separated by a slight detour. This was the exception. RWBYThe plot arcs are longer than in previous volumes. As you may have noticed, many of these plot arcs overlap and run simultaneously, making the overall plot more complicated. While there were vague clues in previous volumes, this was mostly just the bad guys doing some secret thing until our heroes find it and take action to stop it.
Because I am able to easily understand why each arc is different, I have placed a lot of emphasis on their lengths. RWBYThe writing of’s on a micro level has seen dramatic changes along with these macro-level shifts. It is clear that even though it was early, RWBYWhile the plot is relatively straightforward, that doesn’t mean that the writing was not well-written. It lacked complex plot structures and detailed details of major events, but it made up for it tenfold with an incredible amount of creativity in setting, character, aesthetic and moment-to–moment concepts.
Volume 2 makes the strongest case for being the pinnacle in early books. RWBYWith unrestrained ambition, passion and a drive to find as many new and exciting ideas as possible. Want to have a food fight? The students will recreate their favorite attack styles, but with different food. It’s possible. Play knock-off Risk with your characters to learn the basic geopolitics. Get out of here. Four-way information search ends in them being chased down the busy highway by a mech suit. It’s possible. What about a school dance that focuses on the intimate and personal sides of characters and their relationships? Why not? You can use a corgi as a weapon in combat. Absolutely. This is a search and destroy mission. It reveals the remains of an underground city, where bad guys loaded up a train of bombs in order for them to break into it. RWBY you had me at “underground city.” It’s this borderline unhinged spamming of disparate ideas that all spawn off of the single, simple plot throughline of “the bad guys are building up their forces” that made early RWBYThis is such a joy to watch.
This is an important aspect of RWBYA large section of modern literature has been missing’s writing RWBYThis style switch was completely implemented around Volume 5. While early RWBYModern was more about wowing viewers with cool ideas. RWBY is much more concerned with concepts like setup and payoff, extensive lore-crafting, alliances and betrayals; concepts that you’re more likely to categorize as “plot,” rather than moment-to-moment ideas. Let me be clear: not focusing solely on plot is a bad idea. There are many shows that place great emphasis on their plots. This is not an inherently bad choice, but that is the choice that was made, and this shift from “minimum plot, maximum idea-building” to “maximum plot, minimum idea-building” could have still made for an engaging series.
Along with this structural shift came another shift. Most notably, Volume 5 in relation to RWBY‘s pacing. Volume 1 issues aside, I think it would be accurate to describe the pacing of the Beacon trilogy as “moderate.” The plot isn’t exploding everywhere every five seconds, but enough stuff happens on a consistent basis that it never feels like it’s plodding along. Volume 4, however, is the first major cooldown after the events at Beacon. This allowed for great moments of character building and a slow but steady buildup to the terrifying and thrilling Grimm fight at its climax.
However, this dialing back of the pacing was received…less than positively by a decent bulk of the fandom. This was not true for everyone, but it was enough to make Volume 4 a topic of conversation for quite some time. One that I strongly disagree with. Whether or not the idea of “not enough happened in Volume 4” actually made it to the writer’s desk, it appears as though these fans eventually got their wish, and it ended up doing irreparable damage to RWBYThe story of’s aftermath. Volume 5, the first volume. RWBYI began to have a habit of creating multiple plot threads simultaneously that needed to be completed by the end the volume. This was despite the fact that there wasn’t enough time to adequately convey all of the plot information and ensure that the characters were in the right moments of their individual arcs in order to make those moments happen.
This increased pace caused Raven Branwen’s storyline in Volume 5 to be the first major loss. The bulk of her volume is spent monologuing to Yang and Cinder, or whatever is confronting her at the moment. She provides little characterization or useful dialogue that’s not directly plot-related. Raven is a ruthless warrior who will do anything to make her family survive. So when she finally meets Yang in the vault, Raven feels out of place and unearned. They felt that this plot point had to be completed by the end.
I feel it’s high time that we address the walking tincan in the room. General Ironwood may have been the most interesting character writer out of the whole cast. At least, in his relationship to the world that he lives in. His descent into corruption, megalomania and other ills was established in Volume 2. This impending heel turn offered endless opportunities for his character development and as a starting point to discussions about the causes of fascism in societies. These ideas are best expressed by Ironwood’s gradual loss of consciousness over his paranoia, both legitimate and unfounded.
We reach Volume 7, and it is immediately obvious that Ironwood was made to fall by his script. Ruby and her friends lie to Ironwood all the time, even though A. not lying about comrades was the main takeaway from Volume 6 and B. Ironwood hasn’t given them much reason to doubt him. As soon as they arrive, he immediately puts all his cards on the table and gives them preferential treatment. He even grants them Hunter licenses, which they were unable to get after the fall at Beacon. They have not told Ironwood the truce, so nothing Ironwood has done is deceitful. They lampade this all through the volume, even trying to find reasons afterwards, but it feels totally out of character. This leads to many jump-the-shark moments in Volume 8, where Ironwood feels more like someone who was a delusional, maniac from the beginning, rather than someone who gradually slipped into fascism for survival. The trek from “closing our borders in case a war breaks out” to “dropping a nuke on the poor people to get a bunch of children to do what you want” needed way more time and proper setup than what we got. You can get frustrated with slow-moving plot points and jump straight to the good parts. In hindsight I think the total waste of potential that was General Cordovin’s Volume 6 was a sign this series wasn’t going to deal with topics like military fanaticism or the rise of fascism well. But when you try to speedrun your story, a lot of stuff is left behind.
This is, in essence, the greatest paradox of all RWBY‘s writing. It tries to pack in as much story as possible but ends up saying far less that it did when it was focused on a wave of creative ideas. The storylines of characters that could have been interesting and engaging are either cut to the bone or relegated by plot manipulators to one-dimensional characters who only get one moment of interest before becoming irrelevant to the story. This is a sign of a lack in creativity when plotlines are being developed. It suggests that writers care more about delivering the most relevant story points and moving on to the next set of plots than they do about creating intriguing and creative ways for characters to be fleshed out.
This lack of creativity is evident in the evolution of fight scenes throughout the years. This is the best thing about everything. RWBYWhen the series was just beginning to grow, Monty’s choreography as well as the explosive creativity of the combat were the most important assets. Between the “it’s also a gun” gimmick and just the sheer quantity of ideas for unique weapons, RWBYThe combat of’s was set up to succeed immediately by the variety of options it had for creating intrigue and variety in its fight scenes. And the rhythm and weight that the choreography provided bolstered this to great effect.
A second aspect of early planning is also important. RWBYThe location of the fights is something that isn’t discussed very often but is equally important to their success. The location of these fights can be a large chasm dotted with stone columns, a busy highway, a cramped workplace, or a dock full shipping crates. They provide both a dynamic space to move in and allow for different fighting styles. Many of these fights change their location as they progress. The adrenaline pump is kept high by moving from the city streets onto a rooftop, train or station to the square.
And almost everything I mentioned disappears. RWBYVolume 4 was the time that’s fights took place. It felt that the show was abandoning its attempts to impress viewers with dynamic weapon designs and combat settings for a longer period of volume. It’s difficult for modern weapons to be imagined. RWBYThese weapons are truly innovative and impactful. Marrow’s boomerang rifle is the only exception. We also see more minor variations of existing weapons as the series progresses. It’s hard to come up with new designs for every volume. But, this was an element of. RWBYIt’s been so appealing to its core, but it’s still very disappointing.
The fight scenes, especially in Volumes 4 through 7, are often empty rooms, streets without anything on them, or open cliff faces. This makes the fights less interesting and leads to overthinking the fight’s logic. The Haven Academy fight, Volume 5, is the most extreme example. It is so lopsided and slow that you are forced to wonder why everyone is standing there doing nothing while others are getting stabbed. While there are some exceptional cases, they are not the norm. It used to be the norm, but it is refreshing to see the positive changes in modern times. RWBY.
This discrepancy in idea concentration becomes more obvious when looking at the actual actions of the fighters. Although early volumes had a lot of choreography that was chaotic, explosive, unfocused and borderline unpredictable in terms of the direction each fight went in, later fights consist of just two or three characters in an empty room swinging their weapons fast. That’s because it was the norm for previous fights where the norm was creative insane like a girl who turned her grenade launcher in to a hammer, then used a stone bridge similar to a seesaw to fly through air like she was riding a boat, before curb-stomping a huge scorpion. This is not an isolated example. This was the norm in early times. RWBYEven at its most stylic, two to three characters swinging their guns really fast in an empty container pales in comparison.
I gave up almost all hope by the end Volume 7 RWBYI believed that the shift to genericism was inevitable and that all the things that I loved were here to stay. RWBY wouldn’t be returning any time soon…and then Volume 8 happened, and to my surprise, it brought back a lot of those elements that I thought had departed this franchise for good. Moment-to-moment concepts are becoming more creative and explosive. In some cases, the plot seems like it is trying to shift towards shorter arcs with smaller payoffs. The Schnee Manor fight is my favorite, and the fights themselves seem to be breaking away from the old empty box model that plagued this series so much.
Even though it had very little time before Volume 7, Ruby’s breakdown in volume 8 was a great moment. This is where Ruby and Yang finally come to terms the death of Summer, despite the fact that there wasn’t much. Volumes 5 and 6 turned Ruby into a hyper-stoic husk of her former self that always seemed to know the right answer to everything, to which Volume 7’s response seemed to be “let’s have her make the absolute worst decisions possible that are entirely out of character and stand in direct contrast to everything she’s learned,” so it was nice to see her get characterization that actually made sense for once and even tied back into her lyrics from Red Like Roses Part 2 all the way back in Volume 1.
Lie Ren’s emotional arc was the most memorable in Volume 8. This guy who speaks very little and then bottled up his problems and then expects everyone else to understand him when he explodes on them is something I have had to deal with in the past. It seems like one of the few major character stories that isn’t too rushed since Volume 7. This part of Volume 8 was a great read. Even though Nora’s identity crisis causes Nora to lose his connection with him, I am happy for the character’s final destination.
Volume 8 is far from being a smooth sailing volume, particularly in terms plot. Ironwood’s character went through a huge downturn that was unrecoverable at the end. There is still an overall sense of incoherence between the two sides. The show still has a long way to go in terms resolving the horrible plot decisions it made in Volume 5, which still have ramifications today. But, with Volume 9 taking us into an alternate universe, the show may finally get the directional reset and some visually intriguing imagery as well as character exploration moments, much like Alice in Wonderland.
We also need to discuss the topic, while we are on the subject. RWBYThe attitude of reference-seekers has changed. The majority of RWBYA large portion of’s visual aesthetic and sometimes part of its story are dependent on direct references from other media. This is especially evident in its references anime, fairy tales, and other media. Rooster Teethproperties and anything that adds a new dimension to the show’s visuals or a layer of meaning. It could be as obvious to have a villain’s look reference A Clockwork Orange so that he is immediately identifiable as innately evil. Or as subtle as Pyhra referencing Tex from Red vs. Blue so that she conveys her indomitable power and foreshadows her fate to fail.
Volume 7 will become more common in volume 8. RWBYThe jump was made from using media as a reference to merely copying ideas in bulk to using them as a few minutes. The setting of the Atlas Mantle dynamic is closely related to that of Battle Angel Alita. The talking Grimm is an obvious riff on Endeavor’s talking Nomu. My Hero Academia. Cinder’s backstory is essentially Cinderella with more fighting. While I appreciate the fact that they are trying to give more ideas at once and that there is a lot of copy-pasting involved, it does lessen the wow factor.
With Penny’s story of Pinocchio, this lack of transformativeness really bites. Ruby tells Penny in Volume 2 that being a robot does not make her less human than the flesh and blood people around her. She is proud to be her robot self, with her own personality and aura. Flash forward to Volume 8 and they turn her into a “real girl” anyway because a virus is taking over her robot body, thus completing her Pinocchio transformation, blue fairy and all, thus negating a previously solid message about human spirit and the nature of the soul. This uninventive reliance on existing narratives is not only annoying, but also causes the story to be hampered and can inadvertently ruin any positive feelings this character might have evoked. And yet, despite all of that, I just might, with an extreme emphasis on the word “might,” be willing to overlook the goofy plot stuff if it means a grand return to a torrent of cool ideas and more inventive fight scenes.
What I can’t overlook, however, is a new element present in the writing that I did not anticipate and, frankly, is far more troubling than rushed plot points or botched characterization, that being that the end of Volume 8 felt…mean. Not nihilistic. Not edgy. Mean. Ironwood becoming Terminator and killing noncombatants, because that’s how they wanted him to be written. In Vacuo, Atlas citizens were responsible for a massacre. This scene reminded me a lot more of Jurassic World. After Penny had been dead for 3 volumes, bringing her back was a mistake. Then, Jaune did it. Jaune is the man who is still traumatized from losing his best friend and has basically been the party’s healer since Volume 5. It feels too mean-spirited and mean-spirited in comparison to the way this show was written. This is something I didn’t expect this series to become, and I really hope it doesn’t for Volume 9. Although I am aware that writing styles can change over time, this tone contrasts with the themes of the show. It also highlights how the show managed to inspire hope and heroism at the darkest times. This element would keep me away from the show more than any other. RWBYIt will be a good thing if it is a permanent fixture. It is so concerning that I could not say more, but it can sometimes be quite easy to explain.
What about the new? RWBY anime, Ice QueendomI have to admit that I was both pleasantly and unpleasantly shocked by the movie in many ways. Although the fight scenes are spectacular and well animated, the sub-action scenes seem to balance this out. However, I think that stronger color design could have helped to mitigate this. The cinematography is superior and more impressive than any from og RWBYIt’s a great film, yet it still has a strong respect for its source material. And the soundtrack, while a far cry form what we’re used too, is so vivid and emotional that I can’t stop getting hyped up during the climactic scenes. The audio-visual aspect is at least as good. Ice QueendomThe perfect middle ground between the familiarity and the novel is called the “Standard”
But the story is an entirely different beast. While the episodes have some good moments, there are many that are better than the pre-existing material. However, there are still moments that I feel should have been closer to the source. It immediately leaves a strong impression on the original anime plotline. It is both unique and in keeping with the existing material. RWBY‘s sensibilities. It’s evident that the majority of these episodes don’t work unless you have seen the original series. This anime covers Volume 1, White and Black trailers, as well as the anime original content, in less than half the time it took to complete the series. The pacing of the later episodes will be more consistent. RWBYVolumes was like a sprint. Ice QueendomIt is similar to riding on a bullet train fuelled by a particle accelerator. Without prior knowledge of the series, it simply won’t work. You can either see it as a flaw or not, but it is what is.
RWBYIt has changed a lot over the years. I can’t believe how much I was able to see back in 2010 when the Red Trailer was pinned to the Red vs. Blue Season 10 finale. It’s not all good. I don’t blame anyone for getting off track at any point. Volume 7 was my first experience with the series. Despite the lackluster plotting and short character arcs I saw, I can still see the core of what I enjoyed. RWBYIt was special to be able to return, and I am excited for what lies ahead. Hesitant, ever-skeptical, but still excited, even with the looming threat from mean-spirited writing. Now we have to wait and see what happens.
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