So… I wrote myself into a corner, didn’t I? I started writing about RWBY almost two years ago, when I gave the first season a 2/10, and called it one of the most miserable viewing experiences of my life. Less than a year later, I came in with a slightly cooler head, and reviewed the second season, giving it a 4/10. Unfortunately, that review went out the day before Monty Oum passed away, so I decided to leave the series alone for a while… And I did just that, until late last year, when I decided to revisit the series and express my opinions about the late Mr. Oum. Well, for a show that I hated right from the start, RWBY has somehow become a part of my life, and especially a part of this blog, so I really don’t have a choice but to review the third season, now do I?
Well, first of all, I’m going to start by backtracking a little bit, and retroactively retracting one of my biggest complaints from season 1: I hated the opening narration from that season, and thought it was a droning pile of pretentious poop. Well, now that I know a little more about where that monologue came from, thanks to the closing narration of season 3, I’m able to look back on it with quite a bit more leniency. It was confusing and out of place, but looking back, it works really well in retrospect, so yeah, there’s something about the abysmal season 1 that’s been totally rectified. Does this mean I’ll be raising it’s score? Well, no, I don’t think it would be very ethical of me to rewrite a past post… Although an older and wiser Naru is extremely tempted to remove the Clannad dude from his Favorite Characters list… But my feeling NOW is that it’s more of a 3/10. Make of that what you will.
Well, getting onto the review, the very first scene of episode 1 starts with Ruby on a cliff, talking to her mother’s grave, and this one scene speaks volumes about the quality of the season to come. First of all, let’s talk about anime references. Prior to this moment, the most well written anime reference that this show had was the dog, Zwei, an obvious reference to Ein from Cowboy Bebop. That reference sucked ass, as it felt forced, it didn’t fit into the story naturally, and it had ‘look at how much we love anime’ written all over it. In this season, both the first and last episodes contain references that were so subtle, natural and relevant that I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else notice them. Protagonists talking to the graves of lost relatives on a cliff is a cliche as old as time, with a special example being Battle Athlete’s Victory. The moment when she wakes up in bed after encountering Cinder in the final episode is so reminiscent of Shinji doing the same after piloting the Eva for the first time that I honestly wish they had her say “An unfamiliar ceiling.”
Secondly, the art and animation have improved dramatically. Even the very first shot shows what the animation team is now capable of accomplishing with lighting and ambiance, forming one of the most beautiful animated skylines I’ve ever seen. The shot then shifts to Ruby, and the difference in facial animation between Season 1 and 3 is immediately heart-stopping. I complained in RWBY Revisited that the team in charge never took any time to focus on quality, instead just moving from scene to scene, and that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore… Every blade of grass in this scene looks beautiful, and they clearly took their time choreographing every single turn and swivel of the camera. What’s more, in terms of writing, this is an example of how touching the series can be when it shuts up, cools down, and commits to the development of it’s characters. Ruby feels more relatable and vulnerable in this moment than she did in any moment that came before, and of course, it only gets better from here.
Immediately following this scene, when we finally get to the tournament itself, there are several new characters introduced as members of opposing teams, and they are ALL designed with enough inspiration and detail to be main characters in their own right. Even the background characters, with no lines at all, still look interesting, with their own stories to tell. Compare that to the colorless blobs of season 1. One of the most noteworthy differences in character expressiveness is in the fact that they finally got rid of all the horrible ‘waterfall tear’ animations that made the previous seasons’ attempts at being anime so deeply, deeply laughable. In fact, all anime facial expressions have been wiped clean, and replaced with realistic signs of emotion… The tears look real, and that’s good, because the tears are aplenty in this volume. I don’t think they reuse a single expression, and the amount of mileage they get out of the characters’ eyes is astounding. In any given scene, and in any given situation, you can tell exactly what a character’s thinking and feeling. On top of this, I don’t know how they improved their motion capture animation… Better direction? Better models? I can’t say, but the characters’ movement has improved just as much as anything else.
The hideous breast jiggle animations are gone, save for a few contained shots in a fight between Yang and a roller-skating enemy who was apparently based on Nyancat. No, I’m not kidding, they confirmed it themselves. Seasons 1 and 2 were plagued by an issue where people’s hands would melt into whatever they touched, hands and fingers moving through things they were grabbing, and swinging right through their skirts. It was the most obvious problem with the series, and my least favorite thing about it, so I’m happy to say there is not ONE animation error in this entire 3 hour season. I don’t think they found a way to fix the collision detection, so they just avoided the problem altogether, which is still a-okay in my book. No, I take that back… There’s a moment where Ruby is hugging and clinging to her Uncle Crow’s arm, and I had to rewind twice just to appreciate how well the borders of their bodies were controlled. This is one fantastic looking season.
But it would all fall flat without great voice acting, which is yet another aspect that hit it’s peak this volume. A handful of legendary anime voice actors have joined the cast, in addition to the amazing Yuri Lowenthal. Elizabeth Maxwell, of Ghost in the Shell fame, is playing Weiss’s big sister Winter, and her veteran acting status naturally presents a feeling of elevation between her and her little sister. Laura Bailey has a small role, and there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue for her, but what she does have she knocks out of the park. But these names are just icing on the cake… Vic Mignona has joined the cast as Ruby and Yang’s uncle Crow, a cocky drunk whose fuck-it attitude hides a deep-seated sense of loyalty and duty to his loved ones. There’s a lot of joking in the commentary about how Blake and Weiss should start hitting on him, and I have to admit, I wouldn’t blame them if they did.
I’d like to think it was an after-effect of being in such close proximity to the anime voice actors they grew up with and respected, but every actor has stepped up their game in this volume. The four main characters (and a few others) have arcs and challenges of their own this season, and as intense and dramatic as they get, there are moments in the vocal performances alone that might move you to tears. This is the first season where I considered Ruby to be a legitimate main character, and not because of the grave scene… I mean the handful of moments where her inability to save someone devastated her, and yet she still stepped up to do either try again or reach an all new level of power. She shows so much courage in this story, and Lindsay Jones’ performance is as powerful as a damn Falcon punch. In a cast that has some legendary actors in it, hers is the one that will stay with you the longest.
I used to think of Yang as one of the cast’s weakest characters, as she was little more than Ruby’s sister to me, and I similarly thought of Weiss as Ruby’s frenemy… Basically, I saw both of them as if they were defined entirely by their relationship to the main character, and to make matters worse, I saw Blake as a mouth-piece for an anti-bullying message who was defined by her plot. The second season did a little to rectify this, but it was THIS season where they all came into their own. Yang’s cocky pride is challenged when an entire arena full of people start to accuse her of purposefully injuring an opponent, and then it all gets stripped away from her when a reckless attack leaves her crippled and depressed in bed at the finale.
Blake took her lessons about standing her ground and facing her problems to heart, as she encountered a ghost from her past, but the effort ends in tragedy… Not only for her, but for the friend who attempted to protect her, which you would think would directly undermine the lessons she learned about asking her friends for help… And appropriately enough, she runs away at the end to fight her past by herself. Weiss, as it turns out, is more than just a tsundere and comedic foil… She’s portrayed here as someone who is well aware of the legacy of her family, and is feeling strained under the pressure of trying hard to live up to them. Even her sister wears a loose strand in her hair as a sign of solidarity with her against their strict family. Her friendship with Ruby is also at a point where there’s no questioning it… In fact, let’s be honest, the entire team of RWBY has hit it’s peak as a well-oiled machine and a deeply bonded quartet of friends, which is why their break-up at the end is all the more tragic.
So, there’s an inherent issue with Rooster Teeth’s work that I’ve never really gotten into in detail, and it reaches further back than RWBY. This series is presented in two formats, just like Red Vs. Blue was. It was initially released in episodic format on the site, but later retooled into a film for the DVD release. Unfortunately, a series has different pacing demands from a movie, so it’s not uncommon for the DVD versions to feel lengthy and sluggish, particularly in that one season with all the time traveling(3? 4? I don’t remember which). When the first season of RWBY was aired in it’s initial release, there was nothing wrong with one plot being resolved so another could start, as it was just a series adopting a new arc. But as a movie, it’s barely watchable.
The first season of RWBY, on DVD, feels disjointed and jarring, as half of it is school antics and action, but then the second half is really more of an after-school special, focusing on the dangers of bullying and discrimination. The second season wasn’t much better, and while I wish I could say that season 3 was able to eliminate this issue, they kind of weren’t. Now, I’m not saying it has the same story problems… Far from it. The plot of season 3 is told in one single, flowing narrative that evolves gradually, with the dramatic shift in tone two thirds of the way through having been built up and foreshadowed enough to not be even in the least bit jarring. This gives character arcs more time to pan out, and it gives new concepts like the seasonal maidens fairy tale more time to set in before they get their pay-off.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it has perfect pacing… It’s better than in the previous seasons, but I’d be lying if I said it needed to be 3 hours long. Because it FEELS 3 hours long. You could make the argument that everything that happened was important in some way, and you’d be right for the most part… For the most part. I’m sorry, I have to be cruel here, they could have solved this problem completely by cutting out the Team SSSN fight against Team NDGO. Yes, it’s true that they already cut the two-on-two JNPR vs. SSSN fight, and yes it’s true that they had to air this fight as a tribute to their Indiegogo backers, but the whole sequence did nothing for the story or plot. Hell, none of SSN’s team members were important either. Damn it, I found a flaw. Oh well.
And here’s the part of the review you were probably waiting for… There are a lot of really heavy spoilers in this season, way more so than the previous seasons, and good god, they blow “Blake is a catgirl” right the hell out of the water. These are a very important talking point, and I really want to go over why each one was important, but in order to do so, I have to assume you’ve already seen season 3. So now you need to do your part, and go watch the thing if you haven’t already.
First of all, Emerald’s semblance is that she can create illusions that are unnervingly convincing. She had already previously used it to frame Yang, and now, she uses it to scare Pyrrha into accidentily murdering Penny. Yes, this is of course after Cinder rigged the match-ups so that the robot Penny would fight the magnet-using Pyrrha. This moment officially kicks off the final act of the film, and before you ask “Why Penny?”, I’m pretty sure they picked her for two reasons… first of all, since she’s such a pure character, it symbolizes that the show just lost it’s innocence. Which it certainly has. And secondly, if you’re looking to ramp up the body count, you might as well kill off the robot, who could possibly be brought back in future seasons. Cinder uses the fact that Penny’s a robot disguised as a person to trick all of Remnant into distrusting Beacon Academy, thus setting the division of humanity in motion as Grimm begin to over-run Beacon. All of the participating students(save for NDGO) fly to Beacon to engage in battle.
The next big spoiler is one the fans had been waiting for for a long time… The reveal of what Velvet Scarletina’s powers are. This is the one moment I won’t spoil, because I do consider it the single best moment of the entire season, but it does not disappoint. It takes something you may have noticed about her subconsciously but never questioned and does the most awesome thing possible with it. The reason this was important was because things are about to get really dark, really fast, and if you’re going to prepare your viewers for that kind of a ride, you’re gonna want to put them in a forgiving mood by fleshing out the character that they basically willed into relevance… A sort of Derpy Hooves, if you will, minus the troublesome social issue.
Then you have Roman Torchwik, who was rescued, given a ship, fought Ruby, kicked her ass to a surprising degree, only to get eaten by a Grimm. Not only is this the best Deep Blue Sea reference I’d ever seen, but I get it. I read through the Dark Tower book series last year, and I was kind of shocked when the Man In Black was killed off-hand in the final book. But as I thought about it, it made sense… Steven King doesn’t plan very far ahead when he writes, so it makes sense that the villain he created first might fall out of favor, leaving him no choice but to kill him and lend more credibility to the much better villains that took his place. I feel like the same thing happened to Torchwik, who was disposed of to show that Cinder’s Grimm horde didn’t give a flying fuck who they killed.
And then you get the double whammy… Not only does Cinder kill Amber and take the Fall Maiden powers, but Yang attempts to save Blake from the lead faunus, only to lose her arm in the attack. Now, when you have a serious threat that your characters are trying to avoid, it’s extremely important that they fail. People enjoying a hero’s story don’t want to see him prevent the ultimate evil from occurring… They want to see the ultimate evil occur, so that their hero can better themselves and defeat that evil. Thus, yes, Cinder HAD to acquire her powers. And as far as Yang’s arm goes, it was important to show that in this series, particularly in this portion of it, nobody was safe, not even the central cast. Anyone can be hurt. Anyone can be killed. It makes the stakes feel real to the audience. Also, it sets up the moment that inspired more fan tears than the ending of FF7’s second disk and the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones combined.
Pyrrha goes after Cinder, after kissing Jaune and sending him off to get help. In so many words. She puts up an admirable fight, but just as Ruby’s about to show up and help her, Cinder kills her with an arrow to the heart. It’s a visceral, heart-rending moment made only more real by the gutteral noises that Jen Brown makes as her character’s life runs out. Ruby witnesses this first hand, yet another friend that the spunky, happy-go-lucky hero was unable to save, and the music is just perfect here, building up her reaction, which has become one of the biggest questions heading into season 4.
It took me a long time to decide whether this or Velvet’s reveal was my favorite moment in the volume, because that reveal was pure fan service, and this one… The Death of Pyrrha… Was such a bold, necessary decision. One of the basic rules of character development is that if the most powerful hero in a story isn’t the main one, then they have to be killed off so the rest of the cast can grow. Pyrrha spent three years being a big fish in a small pond, and now with the rest of the main cast all about to embark on new journeys, her absence will provide more strength for them than her presence ever could have. They’ll need the strength that Pyrrha’s memory will give them… Blake to face her past, Yang to overcome her depression, Weiss to deal with her family, and Ruby to fill the hole in team JNPR that two orphans and fake enrolee could never fill otherwise.
I love volume 3 of RWBY. It’s about on par with post-Recollection Red Vs. Blue. There is literally nothing about it that hasn’t improved since season 2, with the sole exception of Jeff Williams’s composing and Casey Lee Williams’ singing, both of which have been quite frankly perfect since episode 1, leaving no room for improvement in the first places. This season took every ounce of potential RWBY had and realized it, retroactively raising my reviews for each of the previous seasons by one point. I can’t wait to see where this story is going, where the characters are going, and just in general how it can possibly top itself next. I still don’t think the pacing was on point in film form, and if I’m being honest, there’s a scene where Pyrrha dumps exposition by telling Ozpin a story he already knew, so there are of course still flaws to iron out, but compared to what came before, this season is a masterpiece. I give RWBY volume 3 a 9/10