My Review of RWBY Volume 4!

Well, the time has come, it’s time to talk about RWBY volume 4. I’ve promised to do it, you’ve asked me to do it, and I’ve built a tradition around reviewing these seasons, so now I have to do it. So let’s do it.

Or, you know, we could do something else. We don’t need to do anything proactive or creative. We don’t need to do anything constructive. We don’t need to talk about our feelings for something, be they positive or negative, because really, we don’t need to do anything. Let’s Just Live.

Yeah, isn’t that a great song to describe a show about heroes? Let’s just live. That’s all we need to do. Look, I know that’s not what the song’s technically about… It’s not about falling into a stasis and just staying there… But it’s the chorus of the opening theme, so those words immediately feel attached to the show, and I don’t feel they worded it very well compared to what they probably intended. They meant to convey a message of “Don’t give up, take each day as it comes, and leave our regrets behind us,” which sounds like the message of the rest of the song, but “Let’s just live” is a terrible way to summarize that. honestly, this is probably the one thing in the series that needed the show’s catchphrase “Don’t stop moving forward” more than anything else. And honestly, the song doesn’t get off to a great start either.

Most songs in the RWBY catalogue make no attempt at symbolism, with lyrics that are on-the-nose and always say exactly what they mean, making them sound lazy moreso than direct or honest, and while Let’s Just Live isn’t the worst offender this season… We’ll get to that… It gets under my skin pretty fast. The lead-up to the first chorus feels like it’s just one step above “Hey, remember last season? It was tragic, the good guys lost, now we’re all broken up!” And there are so many wonderful ways you could deliver this sentiment in metaphor. I’m no fan of purple prose, but it’s better than no prose at all. Don’t just explain shit, put some magic into it. The theme to volume 3 was able to pull this off with it’s foreshadowing. But then again, that’s probably the problem… There was nothing to foreshadow this season. Because nothing fucking happened.

Yeah, remember that scene from Clerks(Or Clerks 2, not sure), where someone described the three Lord of the Rings movies by just walking? That’s kinda how I feel about this season. Everything that happened was just another random event in a series of random events meant to draw out the transition from point A to point B. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing… this season was used more for character and story development than anything else… But the only significant thing that happens is Yang getting her new arm. Oh, by the way, spoiler alert for that sentence. Honestly, Yang’s whole arc was about overcoming the sentiment of “Let’s Just Live.” That’s exactly what she was trying to do. She just wanted to be one-armed, stay home, do chores… And just live. Volume 4 isn’t the worst of the bunch by far, it’s probably second best after volume 3, but it definitely has the worst theme song.

It’s also probably the worst in terms of story structure, if you’re watching it in film form. Rather than telling a fluid story like volume 3, or a series of arcs like volumes 1 and 2, volume 4 takes the Game of Thrones approach, doling out it’s stories in bits and pieces that deal with different characters in different places, different situations, and according to one fan theory, at different times entirely. To be fair, if you’re watching it episode-by-episode, this isn’t too bad. It works on some level. If you’re watching it on DVD or Blu-Ray, however, you’re watching a three hour movie that tells itself through constant peaks and valleys rather than three distinct acts. Hell, volume 1’s three arcs don’t work as acts either, but I’d still take what that volume did rather than a bunch of different climaxes that seem to have to struggle to outdo each other.

Yeah, remember that one powerful moment in Mulan, where the innocent joy of the team is shattered when they come upon a ruined village and the cold reality of war comes crashing down upon them? That happens three fucking times in this volume. Literally, THAT happens, minus the doll. I mean sure they had different contextual intentions, but the effect kind of wears off a little each time. It’s also hard to keep up the tension of a long, intense battle when you keep cutting away to family squabbles and fight training. Once again, it works fine if you’re just watching it episode by episode, but the movie itself is a terribly paced, exhausting experience. Volume 3 kind of had this issue, but nowhere near as bad. It really only needed to cut a couple of scenes to tidy it’s pace up, and it would have been fine. This volume, however… I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t recommend buying the physical copies. Watch it on their website, the way it was originally released, and skip the opening song each time.

Anyway, the fellowship is disbanded, and out of the six stories being told, four of them are about the main cast embarking on their own individual arcs. Yang must overcome her PTSD and accept her new arm, Blake must stop running and turn to face her problems, Weiss must deal with and forsake her family, and Ruby… Well, she does a lot of walking and fighting. I didn’t say they were all gems. But that actually provides the perfect segway into what feels most predominately like the main story… The quest of RNJR and Uncle Qrow that began at the end of volume 3. And it is certainly a quest. They travel on foot, battle enemies, move through three destroyed villages, two of which are awkwardly named Demon Lesbian and Black Lesbian… No, wait, the literal translation of yuri is lily, isn’t it? My bad. Anyway, Ruby and Jaune get a little bit of development each… We find out what’s on Jaune’s shirt, and Ruby’s resolve to never again watch someone get hurt gets brought up… But nothing really interesting happens until Ren and Nora’s backstory comes up.

Oh, and Qrow’s fairy tail about humanity, but let’s just gloss over that by saying it’s either heavily metaphorical, or complete horseshit. I did notice it’s similarities to the origin of Nightmare Moon, though, so I guess it’s more like ponyshit.

And honestly, their backstory is probably the highlight of the entire season. It contains shades of Attack on titan, but as I said before, rip-offs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and Rooster Teeth has a strong history of using them well. We meet them as kids, Ren with loving parents and Nora as a street rat, and they wind up as the only survivors of a Grimm attack on their home. Ren’s power is also revealed, although not adequately explained, and they form a bond that will last a lifetime, which feeds into the final villain of the volume perfectly. Having said that, they’re ship isn’t ever directly confirmed, so my theory about Ren being gay has not been disproven yet. But like I said before, nothing big happens in this volume. I mean, at least nothing important or meaningful. The fight against the Knuckleavy Grimm is cool, and the fight earlier against Scorpion Lanister is also cool, but after all the fantastic action at the end of volume 3, it all just feels so small. The fight against Scorpion Lannister does nothing for the story but force Qrow out of hiding and turn him into a plot point, and the fight later does nothing but… well, nothing. Yeah, it feels right after Ren’s backstory, and they needed a big fight to end the volume on, but he and Nora already felt like they’d overcome the tragedy. There weren’t any lingering flaws in them that needed to be resolved by that fight.

And if I’m being perfectly honest, the way they killed that Grimm kinda made me uncomfortable. It got pinned down and slowly chopped to pieces while screaming in pain and horror. Jesus Christ, heroes! When a wild animal kills someone, you don’t torture it, you put it down humanely! And as far as I can tell, that’s exactly what the Grimm are… Wild animals, fighting us for food and the territory that we keep taking from them. I know what the Grimm did, but where’s the evidence that it… Or any of the Grimm… Are truly evil? There are those scenes in fiction where a character like Ren has the opportunity and the justification to fuck up the shit of a disgraced villain, and it is not just cliched, but damned important, that they take the high road and refuse, rather than lowering themselves to such savage cruelty. I’m honestly not sure what this says about the writers and their attitude towards good and evil, but I’ve honestly considered it a sham this entire time that we’re supposed to believe the Grimm just blindly want to kill us for no reason.

Anyway, the fights are nice, and this season needed to keep up it’s action tally, so whatever. Moving on, let’s go to Blake next. She’s running home so her friends don’t have to gewt dragged into her shit and hurt over her anymore, and the writers decided to pair her with Sun because I have no fucking clue. Did they do it so she’d have someone to interact with, and so she could explain things to him for the sake of the audience? Did they do it to tease the black sun pairing that won’t happen if the writers know what’s good for them? Did they do it to have Sun secretly hook up with Blake’s Mom off camera? Because that’s totally what’s happening in this story arc. Blake’s half cat, and her mom’s half cougar. We learn more about the White Fang through this arc, Blake develops to become a bit stronger emotionally, and her role in volume 5 looks to be something war-related. On a more confusing note, is it just me, or does Menagerie look like it was ripped right out of Final Fantasy X? I don’t know why Blake’s Dad thinks her outfit doesn’t cover up much… She’s the most conservatively dressed person on that entire damn island.

Weiss has gone home to her family, they’re assholes, wealthy society sucks, and people expressing ignorance and/or downright apathy to wars the tragedy at Beacon pisses her off. She gets grounded, disinherited, and escapes the estate with the help of her butler, who’s purpose in the story is to show off how fucking amazing J Michael Tatum is as an actor. Yes that is him. What can I say about this arc? Well, aside from Weiss growing a bit, I’m honestly worried that this whole story thread will amount to nothing. It explored the Schnee family, particularly the political leanings of the family, that both male members are complete assholes. Unless they become villains, however, the entire story will basically be pointless. Honestly, the Schnee family storyline felt so disconnected from everything that not only was I expecting Whitley to kill Weiss at the end, I was actually a little disappointed that he didn’t. I love Weiss to death, but that’s how little her arc felt like it mattered… The whole thing leading to a tragic twist at the last minute would have actually redeemed it. It would AT LEAST have given the volume an event that could match or even top the death of Pyrrha, though.

Hey, remember earlier, I said that the opening theme wasn’t the most on-the-nose song of the volume? I was referring to a song that Weiss sings, called This Life is Mine, and it’s a whole other barrel of awful. It’s a song about Weiss not wanting to be controlled by her father, which it makes painfully obvious, because of course it does. “You can’t control me… My life is mine… I’m not your pet…” Only it’s way worse than any other offender because it’s not just in the soundtrack, it’s a canon song in the story. Weiss sings it at a concert her Dad organizes. Try to wrap your head around that. Her father organizes a concert and forces her to perform for a crowd of nobles, so she sings a song about openly and explicitly defying his rules and being disobedient. Now, he seems to me like the kind of guy who takes careful control of everything. I refuse to believe he’d let her sing at the concert without at least reading her lyrics beforehand, or hell, writing her damn song for her, and there she is basically singing “Fuck you Dad” to the entire world, not hiding that message behind any subtlety, nuance or metaphor whatsoever, and he doesn’t even notice?

Yang’s story is okay. It was pretty much as predicted. Rooster Teeth knew we were all expecting her to get a robot limb, so they didn’t bother making a reveal out of it, which was smart. We see her out of bed, moping around the house and trying to do chores, and her development up until she puts on the arm is purely emotional, although I admit it goes by kind of fast. Personally, I was hoping this story arc would feature her having picked up a drinking problem, as she has a family history of alcoholism and emotional damage that she might need the bottle to numb. I feel like that would have made her story so much more interesting than it wound up being. What we got feels kind of cheap and empty, but once the arm is on, she actually gets some better development relating to her fighting style and her similarities to her mother. That’s really all I can say about her arc… I don’t think she got all that much screen time, did she? The other two arcs are ive at the evil lair, which served little purpose other than to introduce some new villains while keeping Cinder in the story and explaining what happened to Ozpin. And speaking of Ozpin, his consciousness floats to new bodies when he dies. He’s now taking over a little grouch named Oscar.

So to summarize… It doesn’t work as a film, because the structure and pacing are shit. Virtually nothing happens, and it basically amounts to a transitional volume, POSSIBLY setting up the upcoming fifth volume, assuming THAT volume isn’t a transitional volume meant to set up volume 6. It was awkward, it’s been heavily divisive, and I thought it was pretty damn good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as great as volume 3 was, but at least it’s retained the character writing and smart dialogue that that volume introduced. Yeah, the structure’s terrible, but looking at it another way, it was also hugely experimental. The structure of volume 3 was a major departure from the structure of the previous seasons, and it wound up paying off immensely, so you can’t blame Rooster Teeth for looking at a volume where everyone’s been split up and taking it in a Game of Thrones style direction. It didn’t really pay off, but honestly, with what they were doing, I can’t think of a better way that they could have done it. I just think they could have done it exactly the way they did, only better.

And if there’s one thing that’s improved dramatically since volume 3, it’s the visual quality, which is saying a lot, because volume 3 ITSELF was a huge step up in visual quality. The animation in volume 4 is so amazing that there are some moments where if you’re not looking carefully, you’d swear it was stop-motion animated. This is partially due to just how intricate the lighting and shading is in comparison with the previous work, and just how much realism it adds to every texture, especially to people, and even more especially to their hair. That’s not to say there aren’t a few animation errors… An extra’s shadow walks out of sink with him at one point, and there’s a particularly embarrassing moment early on where Jaune attempts to sheath his sword, but it winds up attached like a magnet to the back of his wrist instead for one brief shot. It’s more errors than volume 3 had, but WAY less than volumes two and three had.

I feel like, if this volume were a movie, it would be Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1. There’s not a lot going on, and a good chunk of it wouldn’t have mattered if left on the cutting room floor, but there’s just so much character development and good writing in it that I can mostly forgive it’s rather lackluster execution. It’s biggest problem, I feel, is the lack of surprises, twists, or big moments. For the first three volumes, particularly at the end of volume 3, there were so many moments that I enjoyed watching peoples’ reactions to. I haven’t watched any reactions from volume 4, mainly because there just aren’t any moments that feel like they carry that special RWBY magic. Even at it’s worst, this series has always been known for it’s energy, and I don’t feel any of that here. No… I take that back. I do sort of feel that magic in Ren and Nora’s backstory. I guess I could watch some reactions of that. But you know, this review’s gone on a bit too long, so I’m just going to say that yeah, this volume was pretty good. It’s lacking in some areas, it’s awesome in some areas, it’s kind of a mixed bag, but as far as RWBY’s offerings go, it’s still on the better end of the scale. I give Volume 4 a 6/10.

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