RWBY Revisited

“For a guy who hates RWBY, you sure like talking about it.” This is a comment I’ve received often, and while I’m quick to say that it’s not entirely accurate, it kind of was for a while. When I first watched it, I was almost as miserable as I was when I watched Pitch Perfect the first time. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything I liked, but there was just so much lameness and lack of quality in between. After watching season 2, my attitude did improve towards it a bit… And yes, the fact that I haven’t posted anything about it since then IS because that review went up literally a day before Monty Oum died. I’m sorry about that. I’m also sorry about my videos where I called RWBY fans stupid… That wasn’t cool of me.

Unlike most shows that I have predominately negative opinions of, RWBY stuck with me, and I often talked about it with the few fanboys that I’m friends with at work. Online, I alternated between making snide comments to piss people off and actually defending it when people referred to it as an anime. I guess it could be considered an honorary one? I couldn’t stay away. I still had things to say, but wasn’t sure how or when to say them. To make matters worse, Yang vs. Tifa was announced for the Screwattack Death Battle series… Which turned out to be awesome, and you should totally watch it… And much to my surprise, I actually found myself rooting for Yang.

To be fair, I was never a huge fan of Tifa. In FF7, I only used her when I couldn’t use literally anyone else. I like her as a character, but gameplay wise, well, let’s just say I suck at playing slots. I bet on Yang, knowing she had an edge, and as a result, a friend of mine has to get over his insecurity and watch Free! Yay! Following this, and you’ll already know this if you follow me on Youtube, the third season premiered, and I actually thought it was really good. Did this mean I’d become a fan of the very show that I’d once proudly given a 2/10? Had I developed the same perverse love of it that I did for the eternally mockable Buffalo Bills, the only difference being that RWBY had overcome my bitching and actually made the play-offs? Well, let’s see.

I’ve had some things to get off of my chest about Monty Oum and his most famous creation for a while now, and I’ve been holding off on it, nervous to say anything publicly about a man who’s so recently and tragically passed away. That’s not to say I think the deceased should be free of criticism… Robin Williams and Paul Walker died recently, and I had no problem joking about either of them the day of… But with Monty, I did kind of feel the need to tread lightly for a bit. That’s why this post isn’t going to be entirely negative… I won’t make any cheap insults, I won’t use any hyperbole… This is just going to be a professional analysis of his work, and why the new episodes prove both the positive and negative things I’ve been thinking about him.

I’d just like to say off the bat that I didn’t know Monty Oum. I never met him at any cons, I never interacted with him online… We were complete strangers, so for all I know, he had other hobbies and interests that I know nothing about. The only endeavors of his that I know anything whatsoever about are the professional ones, specifically the videos he created… Dead Fantasy, Haloid, RWBY, and some animation for Red vs. blue. Based on this work, and only on this work, I’ve made an observation; In terms of his video output, he was only genuinely talented at two things:

The first one was fight animation. Monty was a master at this kind of work. He knew how to choreograph and execute fight scenes involving any given number of fighters… From one on one melees to epic multi-person brawls. He even knew perfectly well how to use large numbers of fighters in such a way that he never used any of them too much or too little, and it never felt like anybody was being wasted or forgotten. And if you need an example of how easy it is to screw that up, watch Fairy Tail sometime. The other one, in general, is cinematography. While his animation may look seriously awkward whenever there isn’t any action going on, it’s still framed and angled beautifully.

Other than that? His work was mediocre at best. He was an animator, not a writer, and not a director. This is why Dead Fantasy and Haloid work so well… They required his strengths, and none of his weaknesses. And I’m not just saying that because I don’t like RWBY. I love Red Vs. Blue, and I still think the first five seasons of that show were amateurish at their very best and painful to sit through at their very worst. Roosterteeth weren’t writers at the start… They had experience with Machinima, but in terms of writing, the humor was only funny the first time around, and the plot was flat out incomprehensible. The reason it works in the long run is that Red Vs. Blue wasn’t intended to a be a serious series like RWBY was… It was created to be a comedic nerd fanfic, and their ambitions grew faster than their talents. They learned through experience, and after paying some serious dues in seasons 6-8, the series finally became genuinely good in season 9. With RWBY, I hate to say it, but the change in quality between the Monty Oum seasons and the fledgling new season is like night and day, and I think I can explain why.

Monty Oum had a catch phrase; Never Stop moving Forward, and it came into play in his work.  His approach to story-telling, from what I’ve been able to put together, was to do whatever the hell he wanted with it, damn the consequences. It didn’t matter how it looked… It didn’t matter if it made sense… It didn’t matter if there was any substance of depth to it… He had ideas, and the sooner he could put them to film, the better. He charged through his stories like a locomotive, paying no attention to things like character development or quality control. It was an issue of priorities, and I can prove it with a quick glance at season 2.

A new season equals a fresh start. It offers you a valuable chance to look back at past mistakes, and iron out any complications that may still plague you. So, in season 2, did Monty focus any of his attention on clipping errors, making sure characters’ hands didn’t disappear into the things they were touching, and so that doors didn’t disappear into the floor when they were being opened? Did he acknowledge that Blake storming off from her friends looked too much like a clip from a bad Shakira music video? Nope! The biggest change in season 2 was the addition of jiggly boobs. Because who cares if peoples’ hands are still disappearing inside their combat skirts… Gotta use that extra effort to make it a little easier for the basement dwellers to jerk off to your characters!

Those jiggles, by the way, are the most hideous that I’ve seen since Eiken. It’s like watching small squares trying to keep up with larger squares moving beneath them. They make the boobs in High School of the Dead look realistic. And to those of you claiming I’m perverted for noticing them when you didn’t, sorry, but I’m a critic, and it’s in my nature to notice things. Also, who notices it and who doesn’t isn’t enough of a factor to change the fact that it’s there.

And you can apply that issue with priorities to his writing, too. He wanted the product to be appealing. Who cares if the characters are being developed, when your whole selling point revolves around recognizable character tropes dressed in fetishy fairy tale outfits jumping around a bunch of action set pieces, like an animated version of Sucker Punch? The brainstorming process for RWBY could basically be described as “I have ideas and anime references I want to make, let’s make it happen!” There were only a few instances of character development in the first two seasons, and the only one that didn’t feel creepy and manipulative was Jaune’s growth into a leader. The other ones floated between forced writing and fetish-teases, like revealing a character was a cat-girl and implying possible girl-on-girl action between several characters.

When I watched the first episode of season 3, I could tell instantly that the series had improved. How? Because the very first scene was a completely straightforward, patient and atmospheric shot of Ruby Rose talking to her mother’s grave. Aside from the tonally inappropriate song Red Like Roses part 2, and… I THINK some part of season 2? This is the first time her deceased mother had ever been addressed in the story, and it was done with so much actual restraint and maturity. And since then, we’ve also been given some hints that Weiss’s family life is going to be explored and fleshed out. I’ve hate-watched RWBY for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve genuinely felt excited to see what’s going to happen next. I’ve spent so much time seeing these characters in dangerous situations, and now I’m finally being given a reason to care. On top of that, Kerry Shawcross and Miles Luna(the remaining writers) are taking their time with the humor, making for much more effective jokes. I’d take a million instances of JNPR arguing among themselves during battle over even one moment of Ruby saying “I drink milk.” These episodes contain so much of what RWBY’s been lacking up until now… Patience, maturity, comedic timing, and effort that goes beyond creative ejaculation.

Well, those are the improvements that are made in season 3. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was something of substance missing. Monty Oum’s absence isn’t just evident in the presence of quality control… It’s also just as noticeable as it’s lack of imagination. Because, let’s face it, there was something really unique about Oum’s devil may care approach to story telling. The lack of focus made for a story that was often unpredictable, and almost always batshit insane. His ideas were so outlandish and random that even the most intense logical scrutiny can’t scratch them. I mean, The Forest of Forever Fall? A small dog popping out of what’s basically the mailing equivalent of a Pringles can? What can you even say to that?

Yeah, the new season has gone a few episodes without any lame jokes or animation glitches… Which is a record for RWBY, by the way… But it’s also overlooked a lot of opportunities to express the weirdness and off-color humor that people love about it. For example, when the four main girls sat down at a booth to order ramen together, Monty would not have missed the opportunity to have them all order something insane. Hell, there would have been tentacles coming out of them, and whenever Yang didn’t have anything to say, she’d have been in the background of each shot balancing her bowl on her nose, or something. Those stalls looked way too normal and tame. It just… Doesn’t feel right.

RWBY didn’t become popular because it had good writing. It became popular because it was a fast, colorful action cartoon starring a handful of attractive teenaged character designs in fairy tale fetish outfits. People were drawn in by those elements, and they stuck around for one of the most unique experiences an American cartoon has to offer, brought to them by a creator who clearly believed in and had a passion for his series. That’s all well and good, but why did I stick around? Why would I continue watching something that I rated with a 2/10 and a 4/10, and why do I not hate it as much as I used to?

I thought long and hard about this, and the answer I came up with might surprise you. I stick with RWBY because I consider it a landmark in American animation. One of the reasons I enjoy independent movies is because they’re made by creators who don’t have to filter their ideas through major studios. RWBY takes this concept a step further, as it doesn’t even have the FCC or MPAA to appease. While it was produced by Rooster Teeth, and Shawcross and Luna had a hand in writing and directing it, RWBY was entirely Monty Oum’s baby, and since it was a legally original series full of legally original characters, he had every bit of freedom to do whatever he wanted with it. He didn’t have any networks to please, he didn’t have any expectations to fill… He told the story he wanted to tell, and he let the audience choose itself.

Have you ever noticed how RWBY is clearly aimed at adult otaku, and yet it still doesn’t contain any content that parents would object to? Or how about the fact that the characters are clearly designed to appeal to the male gaze, yet they still kick enough ass to be empowering to women as well?  That’s called mass appeal, and it’s executed so well in this series that literally anybody can enjoy it. Hell, even I enjoyed it more often than I’ve admitted. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad from a critical perspective, because at the end of the day, it’s an unfiltered, uncompromising passion project that offers an intimate look into the imagination of it’s creator, yet it still appeals to a surprisingly wide audience. And that’s a level of success that no stuffy, know-it-all critic could possibly challenge… Which isn’t to say we’re going away anytime soon. Sorry, but for reasons I’m going to be explaining in a more general post next week, lovers and haters are BOTH necessary components of any piece of media.

Well, those are my thoughts on RWBY, after taking months to digest it all. I still hold onto most of the criticisms I’ve made about it, but at the same time, I’m seeing it in a much more forgiving light than I used to. It’s proof of what an animator can accomplish with the right resources and a little help, without and restrictions holding it back, and for that, I’m glad it exists.  The third season is going to be different, which seems to always be the case when the original creator leaves their project… See My Little Pony and Community for more on this… But hopefully, the negative changes will either iron themselves out or be quickly forgotten. I’m happy to see the series go forth with better writing, because RWBY is evolving before our eyes, and we all deserve to see where it’s heading.

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