Last year, I wrote a short review on the pilot episode for RWBY, an animated series that came from the collaboration of Monty Oum and Rooster Teeth Productions. But now I’ve had a chance to look over the entire first season (or “volume”), so I feel I owe it a real in-depth analysis. Did it hold up as well as I’d hoped from watching the first episode?
Short answer: Yes.
The world of RWBY is set in a modern yet mythical kingdom called Vale, where young men and women train at academies to fight monsters called the Grimm and develop their skills in a team. Ruby Rose is one such Huntress-in-training, having to get along with her older sister Yang, the arrogant but perceptive Weiss, and the mysterious Blake. While they take on monsters and learn to hone their talents at Beacon Academy, the all-girls team find themselves confronting major issues in the world, such as the treatment of the half-human Faunus and a criminal conspiracy to steal large quantities of Dust, the magical substance that gives human beings their power.
Because it’s a Rooster Teeth show, the talent among the voice actors is brilliant. It’s easy to laugh around the chipper attitude of Ruby, Yang, and Nora, but the show can be very dramatic, too, bringing in heartfelt performances through characters like Pyrrha, Jaune, and Blake. Even the faculty goes beyond being a cast full of teaching stereotypes, showing some depth and background as warriors and leaders in their own right.
Of the whole cast, my favorite character has to be Pyrrha Nikos (voiced by Jen Brown, whom some of you may know as Carolina from Red vs. Blue). She doesn’t have quite the bubbly personality of Ruby or Yang, but she’s one of the most skilled fighters in the show and a generally cheerful person. What makes her interesting, though, is how the show pairs her up with her natural contrast, Jaune Arc (voiced by co-writer Miles Luna). He’s awkward and usually in need of rescuing, but he’s got a sense of empathy that makes him and Ruby great friends, as well as someone Pyrrha can guide in their training.
Pyrrha’s essentially the mentor figure to Jaune’s audience stand-in, guiding him (and those of us watching) in the nuances of RWBY’s world. It could be easy to make her into a pure exposition-spouting character or a female badass with no other personality traits, but she’s allowed to flourish as a person. And unlike some other action heroines, Pyrrha doesn’t lose any of her strength to make way for Jaune as a traditional hero. The show emphasizes their pairing more than anything and even handles their romance as implied rather than explicit.
Since this is a Monty Oum production, I suppose I ought to say a word about the animation. But one word won’t do it justice. The animation is excellent, taking so much of the physics-defying grace and acrobatics that we saw in Dead Fantasy and Haloid. Every fight sequence is a ballet of magic, impossible weapon combinations, and over-the-top gymnastics. People go flying when struck by energy blasts, while Hunters of every color go toe-to-toe with mindless black-and-white creatures of Grimm in beautifully designed forests and ruins. It’s the kind of animation that seems to fit a shonen anime, but the pacing and quality here is beyond what we’ve seen in most Western animation. A lot of the fights remind me of the beautiful training sequences between Po and Shifu from Kung Fu Panda, odd as it may sound.
In the end, both the show’s cast and animation can be described in the same way: funny, quick, and lovingly detailed. While some viewers may not be anime fans or enjoy scenes of teens fighting monsters and gangsters (and really, who wouldn’t enjoy that?), the show itself does carry some amazing comedy and quite a few moments of drama and compassion. Come for the brilliant action, but stay for the bonds of friendship.
Bibliography: RWBY. Directed by Monty Oum. Written by Miles Luna, Kerry Shawcross, and Matt Hullum. Produced by Burnie Burns and Kathleen Zuelch. Music by Jeff and Casey Lee Williams. Rooster Teeth Productions. Original run: July 18, 2013 — November 7, 2013.