Series Review – RWBY Volume 3

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Roosterteeth

The second season of RWBY was a resounding success and fans could not wait to see what the future had in store.  Production was moving along smoothly on Volume 3 when the unthinkable happened.  Monty Oum, the creator of RWBY, passed away suddenly.  Monty had an allergic reaction during a simple medical procedure that left him in a coma and he was unable to recover.  He was only 33 years old, but in those 33 years he managed to touch millions upon millions of people with his work.  This is evident by the outpouring of grief when news of his passing became public.  To this day, I have not seen anything that compared to the tears shed by this fan base.  After a period of recovery, questions began to arise whether or not RWBY would continue.  Given Monty’s reputation as a workaholic, it was only fitting for Roosterteeth to honor his memory by keeping the show going.  There has been some recent drama about Monty’s legacy and I don’t want to comment on it that much because it’s a rather pointless conversation to have.  It’s impossible to know just how this show would have turned out if Monty had not passed away.  He was very open to cooperation, so who knows what would have changed even during the writing process.  The show was left in very capable hands though.  The best way to honor Monty’s legacy is by continually improving and ending up with a great product.  In this regard, Roosterteeth succeeded in every way imaginable.  RWBY Volume 3 was an astounding piece of work that managed to make the leap from good to great.  I’m Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story

The third season opens up with the start of the Vytal Festival, a tournament between the various kingdoms of Remnant.  It’s the stereotypical tournament arc, but works very well with this series.  It allowed the story to present the fights in a much more balanced manner.  That is, the action is perfectly placed throughout this entire season.  As a result, the time between the action scenes is used much more effectively as well.  I also enjoy how the Vytal Festival is used as a framing device for the overall plot.  As the tournament progresses, the story keeps ramping up. Volume 3 also succeeds in fleshing out the wider world of Remnant.  Various characters from other countries offer an insight into just how these countries function in the larger world and an even more interesting glance into the plight of Ozpin’s group as they try to fight the forces of evil.  There is also a mythical element introduced as well with the concept of maidens.  I won’t spoil it here, but I absolutely loved the introduction of this element.

The story for this season also marks a significant change for the series.  I would characterize the first two seasons as relatively light-hearted, with very miniscule levels of drama.  Volume 3 starts like that, but slowly gathers a sense of darkness.  The plot is much more serious with actual implications that drastically change the main characters.  It also corrects a problem that I had with the second season, where the villains’ plan was rather lackluster.  The scheming in this season is much more engrossing and does a great job at making the villains an actual threat to the main cast.  The last episodes were so serious enough that Roosterteeth had to issue a statement that warned parents of the heavy nature of these episodes.  I also loved how this season ended.  I criticized Volume 2 for wrapping up everything too nicely.  However, this one solidly wraps up an arc, while perfectly setting up the next season.  Overall, this season presents a much darker story that feels like the culmination of the work done by the previous two seasons.  It fleshes out the world while simultaneously creating some very real threats to the main characters.

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Characters

Volume 3 features the best characterization of the entire series so far.  The darker plot manages to put some of the main characters through an emotional gauntlet.  Even the build up to these emotional moments is handled very well.  For the majority of the characters, this season marked a growth into adulthood.  The events that these characters had to go through will have implications in not just Volume 3, but the entire series as it moves forward.  For the sake of review, I will discuss a few of the character arcs in vague terms to not overtly spoil them.

Pyrrha is elevated to main character status in this season.  Her central conflict manages to expand beyond the romance plot of the second season.  I talked earlier how this season marked a turning point for a variety of characters.  For Pyrrha, this change involved a significant burden that only she could shoulder.  Her character arc focuses on her choosing whether or not to accept this burden and the consequences.  This struggle was rather heartbreaking.  The glimpse of vulnerability that the viewer saw in the second season comes to the forefront in this season.  Seeing Pyrrha begin to break down under the pressure is heartbreaking, but is my favorite character arc this season.

Weiss and Blake also see a sense of development from story elements introduced in the past season.  While Weiss’s trouble with her family was hinted at in the last season, it is brought out in full force this season.  Despite her rather regal attitude, Weiss is the black sheep of her family to her father.  Despite her sister’s cool attitude, it becomes apparent that Winter loves Weiss tremendously and is aware of the family drama.  It creates a rather tense feeling for Weiss as she battles her father’s influence in order to make a name for herself.  The White Fang also makes another appearance and directly challenges Blake to address her issues.  Blake’s tendency to run away from her problems is fully addressed towards the latter half of this season.  Yang is also forced to run through the emotional gauntlet as a result of a variety of events that take place during this season.  By the end of the season, she is emotionally broken and for a good reason.  Anything more would be delving into spoiler territory, so I’ll refrain from further discussions of the characters.  Just know that the characterization of this season is the best of the series so far, and presents a great starting point for the next season.

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Animation

I’ll quickly address the elephant in the room here. The loss of Monty had a significant impact on the quality of the action scenes.  Honestly, the action scenes are not bad at all; some are even some of the more entertaining of the series.  They just lack that special something that characterized Monty’s work.  The animation staff has enormous shoes to fill in this regard and it’s never going to quite be the same. Given how much they stepped it up with this season, I can definitely see the action animation improving in the next season.  It’s going to be a bit of a growing process for the animators and audience alike as the show evolves with its action animation.  That being said, there are a plethora of action scenes in this season due to the tournament nature of the plot.  Each one is highly entertaining and shows off the large array of abilities possessed by each one of the teams.  A really great fight sequence occurs quite early on as the viewer gets to witness the fighting prowess of Ruby’s Uncle Qrow.  This fight is oozing with personality as Qrow nonchalantly throws off his assailant’s attacks.

One more aspect of the animation had such a large change that it took me by surprise.  The moments outside of the action scenes have taken another drastic jump in quality.  The character models are much more expressive and showcase a much wider range of facial expressions.  The movement of the models has also improved and showcases of level of fluidity that eclipses the quality of the previous seasons.  The backgrounds are also just as vibrant and possess an array of little details that add on to the overall quality of the scene.  The lighting has also improved which showcases the improved character models and backgrounds in a much better way.

The final improvement with the animation comes from the direction and cinematography.  The great cinematography was a highlight of the action scenes in past seasons, but really was not a part of any shots outside of that spectrum.  Now the non-action scenes possess a multitude of cleverly positioned angles which is a drastic improvement on the relatively static shots of the first two seasons.  Overall, it is a much more cinematic take and greatly improves the scenes.  Naturally, the action scenes could not live up to the genius of Monty’s work, but all other aspects of the animation were significantly improved.

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Sound Design

There is not that much to talk about with the sound design.  It more or less maintained the excellent quality of the previous season.  Jeff and Casey Williams return to provide a bevy of songs that perfectly capture the mood of the series.   A lot of these songs have a rather dark flair to them which matches the darker tone of the story.  The orchestral pieces are a lot more noticeable as well, or at least they were to me.  The background music of the Qrow fight in the third episode is one of my favorite instrumental pieces of this series.  Again, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the official soundtrack release.

As for the voice acting, everyone knocked it out of the park this season.  The light-hearted tone of the previous seasons did not allow many of the voice actors to show off their acting chops.  I am happy to say that all of the voice actors excellently adapted to the darker tone.  Each and every one of them managed to perfectly capture their character’s reactions to the darker events that happened in this season.  Even the newer characters introduced maintain a certain level of quality in terms of voice acting.  Overall, the sound design maintains what worked well and manages to excel despite the changes in theme.

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Final Verdict

The third volume of RWBY represents a season that finally managed to completely overcome the problems that plagued the first two seasons.  Almost every aspect was improved immensely: the story had real consequences, the characters had great arcs and the non-action animation had a level of fluidity that the previous seasons lacked.  The show only faltered in terms of action sequences, but no one can ever replicate what made Monty’s works so special.  It’s going to be a bit different going forward.  However, this was the best season of RWBY yet and an overall great show.  I give Volume 3 my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval with a recommendation to buy it on Blu-ray.  Given how great this season was, I am confident in Roosterteeth’s ability to continue to make RWBY.  Monty may be gone, but he will never truly die because he still lives on in his creations.  One man’s work will influence a whole generation of creators for years to come and that is surely a beautiful thought for someone who made a career out of creating.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

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