Series Review – RWBY Volume 1

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Roosterteeth

What exactly makes an anime? Despite the variety of genres and visual styles, anime remains an all-encompassing classification.  The next three videos will focus on a series that has created an endless debate on what is and is not an anime.  It is obviously heavily inspired by the magical girl genre as well as the powered high school genre.  One point keeps being brought up, it’s not an anime because it was not made in Japan.  To me, it is a similar argument as the difference between whiskey and scotch.  At the broadest level the difference is merely because of geography.  Of course, the differences become greater the deeper you go, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the end.  It might not be an anime on a technicality, but I will treat this show as I treat any other series.  Of course I am talking about Roosterteeth’s series, RWBY, more specifically the first season.

Before I begin, it’s important to realize that this first season was the product of a very small pool of people, especially compared to traditional anime production.  So expectations should be tailored accordingly, given the shorter runtime compared to other anime.  It just was not feasible given the almost test-like nature of the first season.  It was Monty Oum’s and Roosterteeth’s first foray into something of this caliber.  With that being said, I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story

The story takes place in the world of Remnant.  This world is filled with creatures known as Grimm.  Before the series, mankind was able to fight back through the use of an element called Dust.  In the present day, Dust is used as the backbone of the weapons used by characters known as Huntsman and Huntresses.  The plot focuses on a group of four girls as they attend the prestigious Beacon Academy, where they are trained to become Huntresses.  It’s a similar concept to HunterxHunter, but with an academic twist.  Huntsman and Huntresses battle the creatures of Grimm and protect humanity.  The first season follows the formation of teams while the antagonist organizes a series of robberies throughout the city of Vale.

RWBY’s first season is rather generic with a few problems amplified by the format.  A lot of time is spent establishing the world and the characters, with the overall plot not receiving much focus at all.  Instead, the first season mostly features small character arcs that introduce a variety of plot details about the main characters. The shorter runtime exacerbates this problem, but I cannot exactly fault them too much.  Establishing an entire world in such a short amount of time is extremely difficult to do well and it was necessary in order to ramp up the show in later seasons.  Season one is oozing with potential that was not fully realized, but ended up being an indication of how great the later seasons could be.  It’s the equivalent of the first Assassin’s Creed game where the first game was considered good, but had a lot of faults that prevented it from ascending to greatness.  Assassin’s Creed 2 saw a refinement and a variety of fixes to the problems that plagued the first game.  The later seasons of RWBY see a similar level of improvement, but that is going to be covered in the next two videos.

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Characters

The series initially appears to have a focus on the four person team comprised of Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang.  While this is initially true, it would be more correct to say that the first season places a heavy emphasis on two other characters: Jaune and Pyrrha.  Ultimately, it feels like Ruby and Yang are underdeveloped compared to some of the other characters when it comes to this first season.  Yang especially does not receive that much time compared to the other members of the main group.  With that being said, let’s go through a brief rundown of a few of the main characters.

Ruby is the main character of this series.  She is relatively naïve, but this is due to her younger age.  She was accepted quite early into Beacon due to her amazing combat ability.  It’s amazing to see her hold her own despite her lack of experience.  She often butts heads with Weiss mostly due to her innocent, but impulsive personality.

Weiss is the stereotypical rich girl of the group. She often comes across as irritable and can display an especially bad attitude.  Deep down though, she can be quite the good person when her brashness subsides.  Weiss has rather tenuous relationship with her teammates at the beginning of the show.  Her character arc of the first season largely deals with her opening up and trusting her teammates.

Blake is a rather mysterious character.  Her backstory is actually an integral part of the plot of the first season so I won’t get into too many details in fear of spoilers.  Initially she starts off reserved with a desire to just be left alone.  Blake can also get very riled up, to the point where she will gladly speak her mind.  As the series progresses, the viewer learns why she acts the way she does.  It’s actually one of the more interesting arcs of the first season.

Jaune is a person that means well, but is ultimately unqualified to be at Beacon.  It is quite apparent early on that Jaune is a step behind the rest of his classmates.  He also receives quite a bit of the very limited run time of this series. He often is used as an audience surrogate, at least before he starts to come into his own.  Give his lack of experience, the broader combat concepts are explained to Jaune, which allows the audience to learn of this world’s mechanics.  Despite his lack of experience, Jaune actually proves himself to be an excellent leader.  Even if he doesn’t quite have the abilities of his team, he is able to coordinate them to perfection.

Overall, the characters that do receive focus are developed pretty well.  It just takes time for them to grow from the very generic beginnings.  Again, this is another problem exacerbated by the very short length of the season.  Also, Yang doesn’t really receive any character development until the second season.  When you combine this with the pacing problems of the story, it’s actually a big issue.  I can’t fault them too much though; the short length was used effectively for what they had time to do.  Much like with the plot, this was a sign of how good things could be once the introductions were done.

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Animation

From the instant I viewed the Red Trailer; it became apparent that this show would offer a level of animation that was unparalleled for a web series.  This series was created by Monty Oum, the genius behind the Dead Fantasy Series and Haloid.  As a result, the fight animation carries his trademark style of fluidity and fast-paced animation.  Every fight scene carries the perfect balance of disbelief while adhering to some sense of real world physics.  The way the characters use momentum to influence movement in mid-combat is astounding.  This also extends to the very creative weapons used by the main characters.  These help with the amazing action scenes by creating a very unique fighting style for each character. Ruby uses the momentum of her sniper shots to assist with her scythe swings.  The same could be said for the other characters.  Nora expertly uses a grenade launcher that morphs into a hammer.  Her scenes are an absolute great example of this concept of momentum and the genius of Monty Oum.

Sadly, there are some dips in the animation quality.  Outside of the action, characters move awkwardly and with a certain degree of stiffness.  Just look at this one scene where Ruby demolishes a tray of cookies.  It can be especially jarring given the excellent quality of the action scenes.  This problem also extends to the rather washed out backgrounds. My main method of critique involves the use of black silhouettes as stand-ins for other students. This looks so out of place and really brings down the overall quality of the show.  I understand it was a measure to save time on background characters, but give the sheer absurdity of these silhouettes; it was not a good call.  Remember though, RWBY is one of the more unique shows in terms of actions scenes to the point where I would recommend watching RWBY solely to view these amazing sequences.

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Sound Design

Much like the animation, there are a lot of things that are great and not so great about the sound design.  The sound effects have a wide range of quality.  Some fit the weapons perfectly while other sound like compressed MIDI files.  It’s a relatively weird issue that really should not have been one in the first place.

The voice acting is similarly a mixed bag in this first season.  The voice actresses for Ruby, Jaune, and Weiss come straight out of the gate with strong performances.  Other voice actors took a bit of time to grow into their role.  In particular, Yang’s voice actress never really overcomes the rather greenhorn performance.  However, this is not that surprising given the character’s lack of presence in the story.  It is also important to remember that this first season featured many first-time voice actors.

A universally loved aspect of RWBY is the soundtrack by Jeff Williams.  It would be more correct to say the songs that feature the talented Casey Williams on vocals are the main draw.  This father-daughter duo managed to create a variety of songs that perfectly compliment the amazing action sequences. In fact, I would say that the soundtrack adds on to the series as a whole and lessens some of the overall rough edges of the first season.  I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone check out the soundtrack in addition to the show.  In a nod to anime, RWBY also features a heavily stylized opening that would be at home on anyone’s favorite opening list.

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Final Verdict

It is very difficult to write a review on this first season.  It certainly is rough around the edges, but the core of this series is absolutely solid.  Given the many critiques I had, I don’t want the misconception that I did not like this show.  In fact, I am a big fan of RWBY and loved the first season despite its problems.  RWBY represents something much more than a simple web series.  It managed to be popular enough that the series was released with a Japanese dub in Japan.  An anime inspired series made in the United States managed to be exported to Japan.  That is absolutely insane.  I can certainly see why this series managed to find such a wide audience.  The core of the story is solid, with a large variety of interesting main characters.  On top of this core, lies the astounding action animation and the phenomenal soundtrack as well. Despite the faults, the good does outweigh the bad in this first season.  I give RWBY volume one my Watch Rating.  While the first season was far from perfect, it was a short, but entertaining romp.  Most importantly, it carried something that a lot of shows lack, potential.  RWBY managed to improve immensely on its first season.  Join me next week for a review on RWBY’s second volume.

Watch Rating

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