The Team’s All Here: RWBY (Volume 1)

Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions
Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions

Last year, I wrote a short review on the pilot episode for RWBYan 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.

Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions
Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions

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.

Jaune (left) and Pyrrha (right).
Jaune (left) and Pyrrha (right). Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.

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.

RWBY Volume 1 is available for purchase in the Rooster Teeth Store on DVD and Blu-ray.

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.

First Look: RWBY

Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.
Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.

Last Thursday was the start of something magical: a fantastic new webseries created by Monty Oum (of Dead Fantasy and Haloid fame) and Rooster Teeth Productions (the makers of the long-running Red Vs. Blue series). This series is a love letter to anime like Soul Eater and fighting games like Final Fantasy, with a dash of rock music by Jeff Williams and great voice acting from the folks at Rooster Teeth.

The series focuses on four girls who attend Beacon Academy, a school that trains Huntsmen and Huntresses in the use of magic–or “Dust”–to fight the numerous monsters that have plagued the world since the dawn of time. With a combination of Dust and extremely powerful weapons, the four girls of Team RWBY (Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long) set out to save the world from villains and demons alike.

Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.
Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.

While the first full episode, “Ruby Rose,” premiered last Thursday, there’s been quite a lot of buildup for the series since last November. Four trailers  emerged over the course of several months, introducing each of the four girls, their respective fighting styles, and the overall tone of the show. Ruby’s a boisterous and plucky acrobat with an enormous sniper-scythe. Weiss is an elegant swordswoman, surrounded by snow and sorrow. Blake is a strong fighter with a whip-blade and gun, tormented by her dark past and a relationship with the equally dark Adam. And then there’s Yang, blonde and perky as she uses superpowered gauntlet-guns to beat her enemies into submission with a smile on her face.

But the first episode, after giving us a short monologue on the monsters that populate the world and the Dust that humans use to fight them, puts the focus on Ruby. When she nearly stops the robbery of a Dust shop, her skill with Crescent Rose (a.k.a. her High-Caliber Sniper-Scythe) attracts the attention of Beacon Academy. Ruby is invited to join the school, where her sister Yang is already enrolled and eager for her to join.

Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.
Copyright © 2013 by Rooster Teeth Productions.

“Ruby Rose” sets up both the fantastic world in which RWBY takes place and the premise of the show: magical girls fighting villains and monsters with insanely-powerful weapons and grace. But in between the beautifully animated action scenes that are Monty Oum’s trademark, there’s still plenty of comedy (Ruby is quite the adorable motor mouth) and some nice subtle moments of introspection and drama. It gives the audience its adrenaline high, then brings it down in a gentle lull with jokes and curiosity about the world that Oum and Rooster Teeth have created.

If the trailers and the first episode are anything to go by, then this series is going to be action, adventure, and art in one very alluring package.

RWBY is available on the Rooster Teeth website and the Rooster Teeth YouTube channel. New episodes air on Thursdays.

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. July 18, 2013 – present.