My Review of RWBY Volume 1

Today, I’m going to do something a little different. I normally only review anime, but I’m making an exception, as this is a very popular show that’s been lovingly adopted into the anime community, to the point that there’s serious debate going on about whether or not it should be called anime, pretense be damned. No, I’m not here to review Legend of Korra… I’m here today to review RWBY, the anime-inspired web series that was conceived and directed by Monty Oum of the Rooster Teeth team, the same godsends who gave us the Red vs. Blue series. Unlike Avatar, this show airs on Crunchyroll, so if it gets their stamp of approval, it must be good, right?

If you haven’t read my ‘fifty signs’ list, I’m going to let you in on a little secret… I love Red Vs. Blue. I own all eleven seasons on DVD, and I’m not talking about the Ten Years box set… I bought all eleven DVDs as they were being released.  The show started off as a comedic fanfic, and efforts to built a plot off of this led to the first five seasons being sort of a train wreck, but it’s gotten a lot better since then, plot holes aside.   I even own a copy of The Strangerhood, for Flag’s sake! Being generally heads over heels in love with the Roosterteeth universe, I jumped at the chance to watch their take on the anime medium. I preordered a copy of RWBY… Because I don’t like waiting in between episodes… And gave it a fair shot, eager to love it.

I hated it.

The reason I’m telling you this now is because this show has some serious fanboy backing behind it. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like seeing a show you love slandered, then far be it for me to waste your time… You might as well skip the rest of the review, and go stare at some jangling keys or something. For the rest of you, who are curious about WHY I hated it, let’s continue.

If I’m to describe my feelings for this show, then I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. The show opens up with a prologue set to LOTR style British voice over exposition, and while I can normally tolerate this kind of thing, RWBY is kind of a special case. I had to listen to it four times in a row to figure out what the hell they were talking about, and it still sounded like bullshit. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go a little out of my way here, and show you the prologue in it’s entirety. I know that’s tacky of me, but there’s a point to be made here.

“Legends… Stories scattered through time. Mankind has grown quite fond of recounting the exploits of heroes and villains. Forgetting so easily that we are remnants… Byproducts… Of a forgotten past. Man, born from Dust, was strong, wise, and resourceful. But he was born into an unforgiving world. An inevitable darkness, creatures of destruction… The Creatures of Grimm… Set their sight on man, and all of his creations. These forces clashed, and it seemed these creatures were intent on returning man’s brief existence to the void. However, even the smallest spark of hope is enough to ignite change, and in time, man’s passion, resourcefulness, and ingenuity led them to the tools that would help even the odds. This power was appropriately named Dust. Nature’s wrath in hand, man lit their way through the darkness, and in the shadow’s absence came strength, civilization, and most importantly, life. But even the brightest lights eventually flicker and die. And when they are gone, darkness will return. So you may prepare your guardians… Build your monuments… To a so called free world, but take heed… There will be no victory in strength.”

Okay, time to put my ‘inconvenient questions’ gloves on.

1: If the past has been forgotten, why bring it up at all?
2: If you say that mankind likes to record the past as legend, then doesn’t that conflict with the idea that we’ve forgotten our origin?
3: Was man literally born from dust?
4: Why do the creatures of Grimm want to eradicate us?
5: Why is this inevitable?
6: Seriously, were we such a threat to them BEFORE we got our hands on the weapons that they just decided we needed to go extinct?
7: At the very least, wouldn’t we make a good food source?
8: How exactly was dust created, and from what? How did that work, exactly?
9: Why did you get so negative and ominous, all of a sudden? Is this show eventually going to be about the end of the world?
10: If the world of darkness came before man was introduced to it, then wouldn’t our eradication just bring things back to square one? This may actually be the first series I’ve ever seen that accidentally acknowledge the fact that, without people, the world would be just fine and dandy.
11: Who the fizzity-uck are you talking to? The audience, or the characters? There’s supposed to be a point to opening narration. It’s exposition, and it’s supposed to tell the audience about the world the story takes place in, but half of that shpiel sounds like the kind of speech a heroine gives to her opposing force at the end of a war movie.

Yeah, not only does this pretentious pile of pathos not have anything to do with the tone or direction of the story… At least in the first volume… But it sounds like every single word of it was pulled directly out of someone’s ass. It paints mankind as a flawless, glorified victim in a cruel, unforgiving world that wants to get rid of us. This is an all too common sentiment. It’s the idea a lot of Americans adopted after the terrorist attack of 2001. Instead of asking why the terrorists were going out of their way to attack us, plenty of people adopted the eagerly supplied idea that they were jealous of us for having freedom. And if that example’s too touchy a subject, look at movies like The Ring, The Grudge, and Darkness Falls… The common theme in those movies, as well as in a lot of horror movies, is that good, unassuming people wind up bringing horrible fates down upon themselves through no fault of their own. “No, we didn’t do anything… They’re the ones in the wrong!” I can’t stand this reasoning at all, regardless of whether the example is fictional or non. Portraying your protagonist as an innocent victim is the easiest way to make them sympathetic… It’s also the laziest, and in some cases, the most arrogant way.

I picked this prologue apart so thoroughly because, when I really think about it, there is no better way to show you just how idiotic and poorly thought out this series is. Because trust me, people, the carpets match the drapes.

Getting back on track, RWBY is the story of Ruby Rose, a girl who co-ordinates with her name by wearing all black and red and dressing like a Hot topic version of Red Riding Hood. She gets in trouble with some generic thugs led by an Alex DeLarge clone, and winds up face to face with two of the higher-ups from a very prestigious warrior school. She asks to be let in, and they say yes, because entrance exams are for pussies. Seriously, when you compare this little piece of logic to the backstory of the only developed male character in the series, it feels even more stupid.  Yeah, I’m sorry, it’s kinda hard to take someone seriously when they feel guilty for sneaking into the school, when the main character only got there through nepotism.

She has a sister named Yang Xiao Long, who wears yellow and looks nothing like her. She also has an entirely different last name, and despite the fact that it’s a more asian sounding name, she’s way more American in design. Because absolutely none of that needs to be explained at all. She’s apparently based on Goldilocks…  Or Tifa Lockhart, if you prefer.  They team up with Weiss Schnee, a snooty white-wearing tsundere girl who’s based on Snow White, and Blake Belladonna, a black clad bookworm who’s based on Belle. She has cat ears, but somehow hides them with a giant ribbon.

Get it? Red, Yellow, White, Black. RYWB Err, I mean RWBY. They’re all blatantly color coded, and they’re based on fairy tale princesses. The rest of the characters are based on either mythological figures or actual historical figures, or hell, just fictional characters from everything from Wizard of Oz to Clockwork Fucking Orange, and none of this has any importance to anything whatsoever. Except maybe the creepy, childish fetishism that some of the character designs suggest.

Is it too late for me to review something else?

I’m not saying that blunt, obvious themes are necessarily a bad thing. Color coding your series works either when it’s subtle, when there’s a reason for it, or both. The characters in Red vs. blue were color coded because… That’s the joke. It’s an ongoing battle between a red base and a blue base. In a show like Revolutionary Girl Utena, the color coded hair that was assigned to each character had a deep, metaphorical meaning about the personality, complexity, and fate of each character. Fairy tale references are a much more difficult thing to get right, because it’s something you have to commit to. You have to use just enough to get your point across, or throw everything but the kitchen sink into it and tie it up tightly like Princess Tutu did. Even a show like Okami-san, which failed to use them well in it’s own right, was at least whimsical enough to have some sort of purpose behind it.

But in RWBY, they just threw in reference after reference, random idea after random idea, without ever stopping to worry about whether or not any of it had an actual coherency. When you’re mixing the Disney Princess line with the likes of Thor, Achilles and Joan of Arc, it’s high time you take a look back at your character roster and figure out what the hell you’re trying to say with it. But then again, based on the story structure… It goes from a fast paced action story to an afterschool special about tolerance and anti-bullying with all the grace of a drunk steer… I really don’t think Monty Oum cared what he was doing at all. And considering how heavy handed and on-the-nose some of this material can get, that’s not anywhere near a good thing. In fact, I’d be much more willing to bet that he was just reading off a checklist of established tropes throughout the entire writing process.

And as far as the four main characters go, there’s very little substance there. Blake and Yang, who are supposed to be partners, have the least chemistry and development out of any other confirmed partnership in the show. This probably has something to do with how undefined they are. Yang is Ruby’s older sister, and pretty much nothing else. Oh, but she has big boobs and a skimpy outfit, so we’re supposed to like her. Blake is a figure meant to draw the subject of anti-fauna racism into the main story, and pretty much nothing else. Oh, but she’s a catgirl, so we’re supposed to like her. Ruby and Weiss are at least interesting and somewhat likeable, with an actual dynamic between them, and between the two of them, at least Ruby’s kind of an original creation. Weiss is pretty much every snooty uptight tsundere you’ve ever seen!

Ruby herself has some charm and individuality, with her upbeat happy-go-lucky attitude and laundry list of social disorders… Yes, they seriously start to sink in upon second viewing, and I’ll talk more about this in another post… And while her childish attitude and lack of experience can get annoying really fast, it IS refreshing that her flaws aren’t played as strengths. Of course, with those very same disorders actually becoming popular in real life… Social awkwardness has become a turn-on in recent years, to the point that people fake it just as often as nerdiness and bisexuality… There’s still a really creepy moe-feeling about her.

There are many, many different measuring sticks you can use to judge a series. Some people have measuring sticks that say “Bad is the absence of good.” If this is the method you subscribe to, then look no further, because there is nothing good about this show. The characters are annoying and entirely archetypal, the voice acting is embarrassingly bad… Yang’s Gravity Falls delivery being a particularly sour note… and the writing is inane and completely incompetent. The characters never, even once, talk or act like real people. The sisters don’t act like real sisters, but instead act how nerdy grown men may FANTASIZE about them acting. The world building is poorly thought out, and it won’t stop shoving it’s head up it’s ass to force feed us morals that the story doesn’t even bother to follow.

Yes, RWBY, racism is wrong.  Discrimination is wrong.  I agree with you.  Now how about you be a dear and explain to me why there aren’t any black, hispanic, or middle eastern characters in your cast?  A lot of anime may be racially homogenized, but you’re not anime.  Yes, bullying is wrong.  Doing cruel and hurtful things to others in the interest of self satisfaction is wrong.  So why are we joking about breaking the bully’s legs?  And why doesn’t it sound like Pyra is joking about it?  Is that really the answer to stopping a bully?  Hurting them?

What’s that, RWBY?  There’s no such thing as pure evil?  I’m not so sure on that one, but I see your point.  Even some of the most evil acts in history were performed by people who thought what they were doing was right, or who suffered horrible acts themselves.  It’s an interesting argument.  So, what’s the redeeming quality of those Creatures of Grimm?  Do they want to eradicate us for a reason?  Are we misunderstanding them?  Yeah, they never seem to actively attack anyone who isn’t provoking them, and yet nobody shows any remorse for killing them.  If this is a reveal you’re building up to, you’d better act quick about it, before your messages sound any more disingenuous than they already do.

The biggest problem with this show, when you get right down to it, is that it can’t even go a full minute without reminding you about how awful it is. This Herculean exploit is achieved through conflicting information, continuity errors, constant abuses of basic physics, and some of the worst CG animation I’ve seen in my entire life. This animation isn’t just bad by today’s standards… This animation is bad even by Sega Dreamcast standards. I don’t even think an animator from Food Fight would be able to look at it without sending it back for a revision.  You could make the excuse of RWBY not being made by an actual movie studio, but considering how good the animation in RVB was in the latter seasons, that defense really doesn’t hold up.

There are times when it seems like good material is actually trying to escape from this crap heap. There are a few jokes that aren’t lame, but they’re effectively ruined by arbitrary gestures and anime-based facial expressions. There are a few actions scenes that could be generally exciting, but even if you look past the terrible animation and execution, it all feels so derivative. The pacing also tanks right at the beginning of the second act. Or, you know, what I assume to be the second act. I never saw this in an episodic context… I’m talking about right after the three teams are formed.

I know there are some people who love this series. But I can’t, for the life of me, understand why. Comparing this show to actual anime is like comparing a hand turkey to the Mona Lisa. I think this show is worthless. I won’t say there’s no point to it existing, as it does seem to have some genuine love and effort put into it, but I will say that I really don’t get the appeal. There’s some good here and there, and I’ll admit that the action figures look really cool, but when I look at the whole picture, I can’t imagine that a single original thought went into it.  I don’t know why it got popular, but I’m glad it did, because otherwise, I would never have had to wonder just how humans, humans with monkey tails, humans with bunny ears, and humans with cat ears could somehow evolve side by side, hating each other, while monochromatic monsters on all sides threaten to destroy and eat them.

Whatever. It took me two hours to figure out something that it apparently took Weiss twelve hours to figure out… I don’t care. I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about volume 2, I don’t care. RWBY is a pointless, incompetent mess, and the only reason I have ANY plans of watching it again is because I can’t get it off my mind without picking it apart in an Inconvenient Questions post in my blog at some point in the future. If you want to call it an anime, then I’m going to judge it like I’d judge an anime. I give RWBY a 2/10.

Oh, and by the way, my fiftieth post is coming up next weekend! To celebrate that milestone, as well as my thousandth view, I’ll be posting something special next Saturday. See you next time!

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