TL; DR summary: For those of you trying to get into the RWBY series, I highly recommend watching the DVD or Blu-ray releases. Find a way to rent it or buy it, just don’t watch it on YouTube (it’s not the best way to view the series). I cannot comment on Steam’s online streaming because I don’t buy video titles from Steam.
I tried watching RWBY Volume 1 long ago on Rooster Teeth’s YouTube channel when it was first released and didn’t go very far. I liked the action and the character designs (a scythe that transforms into a sniper rifle? Sure!), but didn’t like the pacing. Maybe it was because of the YouTube format — I really disliked the original opening theme (This Will Be The Day), and having to listen to it for every single episode was very grating. I stopped quite early into Volume 1, the part where Ren goes Max Payne on the giant Grimm snake, and that was it.
So 10,000 years later
after the return of the Burning Legion, I finally decided to rewatch the series on my sister’s BD collection of Volumes 1-3. I went in with zero expectations (like always), and came out impressed but feeling angry at the same time.
I was exceptionally impressed by the action sequences in RWBY. I’m an action junkie who enjoys a good action show and I rate RWBY on the very high-end of the action scale. I briefly googled Monty Oum, the creator of RWBY, and according to his Wikipedia page he’s a martial artist and fan of videogames. He’s also a big cinephile, which is not surprising. To produce the high quality of action in RWBY, you need to be a fan of action and understand the principles of making good action scenes. I’ve blogged about it before a few times, so I won’t retread too much on this same topic again. Good action fight scenes need to be succinct and easy to follow — the viewer must know who is winning and why they are winning. It also needs to be paced properly to keep the viewer engaged. Having a good soundtrack can help immensely — the original “Red” and “Yellow” pre-series trailers nailed this perfectly.
And all this was done in RWBY without resorting to any cheap bullet-time tricks, which has been overused ever since The Matrix made it popular at the turn of the century. There is one fight scene in Volume 2 involving Ruby Rose where the screen is partitioned into comic-book panels. I’m not sure if this was an intentional homage to Samurai Jack, which popularised this method of animation.
Sadly, Oum died in early 2015 while Volume 3 was still in production, and I’m not sure if this affected the ending of Volume 3. Because I was a bit angry after finishing Volume 3.
The ending of RWBY Volume 3 contains what many people call the Deus ex machina (DEM) plot device, a sudden and abrupt resolution from nowhere that is not explained, not expected, and we the viewers are just simply forced to accept it. I hate DEMs, dammit. But before I get to that, let me just summarise the rest of my thoughts about Volumes 1-3 as a whole. It is very important.
Warning: Spoiler break starts here. Stop reading if you haven’t watched RWBY Volumes 1-3.
RWBY is a coming-of-age story about four girls and their group of friends who are training to become Huntsmen and Huntresses, the defenders and protectors of the world. The story centres around their training academy, Beacon, a somewhat similar version of Hogwarts where the teachers are just as wacky as the students.
There’s several recognisable fictional archetypes for each of the characters, based on their design and fighting style: The hot-headed pugilist who punches shotgun shells from her fists; The classic tsundere ice queen who seems unapproachable on the outside, but just merely wants to be the best fighter she can become; The invincible warrior woman who has never lost a battle; Shotgun shell fists; The mecha musume robot loli whom I’m absolutely convinced was inspired by Nu-13 from the BlazBlue series; The drunken, disheveled fighter who has surprising wisdom and knowledge to match his martial renown; And of course the protagonist prodigy who hides an omnipotent, latent power underneath her youthful exterior. And shotgun shell fists.
No, seriously. SHOTGUN SHELL FISTS. Or fist. She can only punch with one arm now, dammit. @*7a*&*SS*(&.
It’s a different experience rewatching Volume 1 as one continuous, uninterrupted movie without the niggling cuts needed to separate each episode on YouTube. The pacing problems of watching Volume 1 on YouTube were totally eliminated. Within the blink of an eye, two hours had passed and I had finished Volume 1 without getting up from my backside. The true hallmark of any great show is its ability to keep you hooked from start to finish.
I use the word “pacing” a lot to describe my entertainment, be it pro wrestling matches or movies or TV shows. The Vision of Escaflowne, an old anime title from 1996, remains one of the best paced shows I have ever watched. It knows how to mix things up and pace itself properly at the right times. One moment you’re watching giant robots dueling each other, the next moment there’s adventure, plot intrigue, character interaction, and a bit of romance to appeal to both the shounen and shoujou demographic. And towards the end, when you’re preparing yourself for the grand finale, there’s a giant “wtf” moment tossed in to leave you stunned.
RWBY Volume 1 sets the tone for the series, introducing us to all of the main characters, the setting, and the overall narrative. Volume 2 ups the ante, as all of the key villains are revealed and begin to make their move. There is still a lingering “Saturday morning cartoon” feeling though. The heroes and villains both take action, but nothing gets really resolved as both sides are still left standing after the dust settles. This is where Volume 3 steps in and pulls out an The Empire Strikes Back. The show suddenly takes a dark turn after Yang gets deceived by Emerald’s mirage, we finally get to see the main villain’s backstory, and a few important characters start to die after they are killed.
Look, I saw Pyrrha’s possible death coming from more than ten miles away. There’s a lot of foreboding to that moment in Volume 3. Even her name is a big clue. I’m positive it’s a reference to Pyrrhus, from which the phrase “Pyrrhic victory” comes from in English. But like Cinder said, even if you already predicted the outcome, there is still joy in witnessing how it all unfolds. I just wasn’t expecting that horrible DEM moment immediately after her death.
I’m very happy that RWBY didn’t resort to an anti-climatic cliffhanger. Dragon Ball Z is exceptionally guilty of this. Every time something even more bad happens, every time the tension gets escalated, like when Ozpin lost (?) his duel to Cinder, or when the Grimm dragon breaks out (no Hanzo jokes please), I was half expecting Volume 3 to just end right there, i.e. “Stay tuned for Volume 4 to find out what happens!”. But no, we got a proper ending and conclusion, except that the creators chose to use the wrong method.
Everything was built-up perfectly and paced meticulously leading to Pyrrha’s death: Penny’s utter deletion, Yang paying the price for going berserk against the wrong foe, Roman finally getting offed in the manner that he deserves. And then you decide to use a Deus ex machina to end everything, after all of that mammoth effort. It was around 1am when I finished Volume 3. I promptly switched off my PS4, texted an angry message to my sister, and went to sleep while muttering “ch** ***” under my blanket.
End of spoilers.
It seems that all of my favourite action shows, the ones that put a really strong emphasis on quality, cinematic fight scenes, are all tarnished by one niggling flaw. Do you believe in destiny, of good action shows always having that one glaring drawback? The Wachowskis could not live up to the hype of the first Matrix movie, and had no damn clue how to make two good sequels. Samurai Jack was blessed and cursed with a creator who didn’t care about story at first, then changed his mind more than a decade later. Kill la Kill had a crappy finale because its studio ran out of budget. The original seven-volume Kara no Kyoukai was merely being (too) faithful to its source material, ending quite awkwardly. Even Mad Max: Fury Road was criticised for having very little plot and character development, an argument which I will leave for another day.
Perhaps RWBY’s other intrinsic flaw is its digital format. I know some friends who were in the same boat as I was: They heard a lot about the series, tried to watch it on Rooster Teeth’s YouTube channel, but stopped watching after a few episodes because of the same problems I mentioned in my first paragraph, without having a taste of the good parts.
I once told a good friend that I will only watch Game of Thrones on Blu-ray, once the BD box set for each season is released. Usually this takes six months to a year after the TV season is aired. So yes, Season 7 of GoT has just started but I am still at Season 6 for the BD release. There’s a reason for this. Not because I want to binge-watch everything in one go, but because I absolutely hate spoilers with a passion. I would rather wait a full year to watch the latest season comfortably on Blu-ray, instead of being spoiled by social media while trying to download the latest episode.
And YouTube is a very dangerous place to watch a new series — anything from user comments, video thumbnails, hell, even the “recommended videos” list that is automatically generated on the right side can have spoilers.
I guess the lesson learned here is: Nothing is perfect, even in entertainment. I will still watch Volume 4 once the Blu-ray arrives, and I will definitely purchase the Japanese dubbed versions of Volumes 1-4. I will play BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle once it’s released. I don’t know what sort of strings Rooster Teeth pulled with Arc System Works to get Ruby Rose into the game, but I’ll still play it.
But next time, please, leave your damned DEMs at the door. It is very important. Rest in peace, Monty Oum.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the author’s favourite characters are Yang, Penny, and Pyrrha.