My Review of RWBY: Volume 5!

That’s right, I’m back, with one of the long time staples of this blog… A full-volume review of the newest incarnation of Rooster Teeth’s attempt at making their own anime! As usual, I’m not going into this with any real sense of structure, just gonna make it all up as I go. Before I begin, however, there are a few points I want to address.

1: There have been two RWBY manga released in Japan, and while I’m not gonna review them, I thought I’d give my thoughts on them here. The first one is mostly a retelling of the trailers, and it’s okay. There’s nothing really new or interesting about it, but it does it’s job, and I guess it’s worth a read. The other one is the first in an anthology series, and it’s awesome. It’s a slice of life featuring the main cast in different situations, and while nearly all of the art styles are easier on the eyes than the previous manga’s, the stories are also a lot more entertaining. That one I’d definitely recommend.

2: This new DVD/Bluray release is vastly different from the previous releases. This time, you can’t watch the volume as a film, you have to watch it episodically, with every single op and ed sequence preserved. They’re also unskippable, unless you’re really diligent about fast-forwarding. This does work in some ways, as I was speculating before how certain scenes would fare without episode breaks, but it also makes it a lot more difficult to judge the pacing of the volume… Something I suspect they took advantage of.

3: Remember a year ago, when I posted an editorial about how Rooster Teeth likes to steal things from anime? Well, to add to that, I’ve got a new one for you. Think about the relationship between Ozpin and Oscar: An ancient being is reincarnated into the mind of a small child, who acts as his avatar, can communicate with him, and can sometimes switch consciousnesses? It’s like Yugioh! It’s almost exactly like the bond between Yugi and the Pharaoh! If they didn’t steal this idea, then it’s a mighty big coincidence.

Anyway, getting back to the volume itself, it stands out in another way; It really doesn’t have a beginning. There’s really no inciting incident, there’s no strong opening to define the events that will follow… It feels like a continuation of the previous volume, which it is, but it feels more like a second half than a part 2. Which is strange, because volume 4 definitely had a definitive ending.

Much like volume four, this story is told through several different plotlines, each one featuring a different set of characters who only really interact between said lines once in a while. These plotlines start off with Weiss on an airship, Yang looking for Raven, Salem’s Lot plotting, RNJR and Qrow at Haven, and finally, there’s the menagerie storyline, featuring Blake, her family, Sun, and Ilia. Adam also gets some scenes, and Raven basically just exists in other peoples’ storylines.

However, in volume four, things were a lot more organized and consistent. The four main characters got their own storylines, while the bad guys and Qrow just kinda meandered while waiting to jump into them. Those main storylines didn’t all have action, but they were all actively moving forward and accomplishing important points for the narrative. In this volume, however, things aren’t really that well planned out. While Yang and Weiss’s storylines are moving forward, the rest of them are just kinda meandering, waiting for a cue to start picking up. This results in a good portion of the first half of this volume just feeling like a complete drag, with tone that’s all over the place, cuts between storylines that don’t gel with each other, and a ton of material that was clearly written in to keep it’s respective storyline relevant, but ultimately just winds up feeling like the kind of material that could have been left on the cutting room floor.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about this volume featuring a lot of ‘show don’t tell’ moments, and while I agree to an extent, I don’t think it’s quite as bad as they make it out to be. I mean, not quite as bad, but it’s still a problem. There are so many scenes where people explain things, and not all of them are badly written, but the sheer amount of them definitely over-shadows the ones that work. I thought the exposition scenes involving Oscar/Ozpin and Raven were handled really well, if perhaps a bit too wordy, and a little stuffed. The showdown between Adam and Sienna, on the other hand, could have been executed in half the time with a few small rewrites, and nothing would have been lost in translation.  Seriously, every other line, they were saying something that was just there to explain their relationship and history to the audience, and that all could have been skipped if they’d found a way to work Sienna into the story organically in volume 4. The same could be said for Ghira Belladonna’s entire speech early on, which accomplished nothing, and could have been held offscreen with only a few snippets of dialogue afterward about how it went and what he was trying to say.

Honestly, Blake’s whole spiel about her friends embodying certain words felt like a complete waste of time in retrospect, unless they were just trying to set something up in the future, or lay the clues for her being mildly autistic or something. We didn’t need to see Qrow looking for huntsmen, we didn’t need to see Blake and Sun looking for signatures, we could have easily just heard about those sequences in a few short snippets of dialogue while achieving the same effect. Hell, maybe then we could have had time to see something more interesting, like a stylized look at Raven and Qrow as youths, or some of Oz’s forms throughout the years, something to spice up the dialogue a bit.

And speaking of the dialogue, the other problem with this volume being so dialogue heavy is one that I found to be much more of a hindrance; The tone. From what I saw, there are very few scenes that contain more than one note. Most scenes are either light-hearted, action-heavy or dour, with little crossover inbetween. There are exceptions, mostly revolving around Raven and Vernal, but aside from that, there are some long conversations that needed some form of nuance to them. I mean, you can do small amounts of comic relief without pulling a Jar Jar, were you aware of that? When Blake and Ilia are angsting back and forth, could one of them maybe crack a joke or throw an insult?  Ilia’s only mode up until her redemption is “I have to do this,” even though when you take her backstory into account, she’d be perfectly justified in being a little more personally invested in the White Fang’s activities.

Or how about this; Does every single episode have to stop dead so somebody can make a speech? It’s annoying, and they rarely ever say anything we don’t already know. I don’t need to hear Ren gushing to know how important the main cast is to each other, or how much they’ve all grown. Ghira’s speech to the faunus just winds up cheapening the much more powerful and important speech his daughter gives later on. Ruby and Oscar’s heart-to-heart didn’t feel set up at all, and Oscar’s blow-up at her felt like it came right out of nowhere, and that’s WITH an understanding of his circumstances. Yang’s sudden meltdown over Blake is exactly that… It’s sudden, with her showing no signs that she’d even been thinking about Blake throughout all of volume four and five up until that moment, and it ends with the matter being resolved clearly and swept under the rug, when I really could have used some ambiguity leading up to their reunion.

The best moments in this stretch of the volume are the moments when storylines converge, making the over-all story feel less congested. Weiss converges with Yang, the two of them converge with RNJR, Raven converges the villains with RNJR, etcetera. When moments like this happen, the story gets tighter, and the focus of the writing gets a lot clearer. This eventually does streamline the story, and thank God, because things get a LOT better in the second half.

As the stories converge, and characters who were just kind of fucking around finally start to move into place, the importance of most of what we’ve seen so far becomes clear… And yes, I’m saying most because there was a lot of pulp this volume… But the final four episodes are glorious, full of action, high stakes, well deserved call backs and pay-offs, and a near-death tease that shook the world more than the ending of Infinity War(Don’t lie, you scoff now in hindsight, but when it first aired, you were worried and uncertain).

But I don’t feel like I can really talk about the ending without first talking about the message of this volume. Yes, there’s a message, and they lay it on pretty heavy throughout. It’s not a specific message, though, and I’ll admit upfront that it’s a bit on the generic side… It’s a message about doing the right thing, and holding the right values. It’s kind of all over the place in terms of what that means, but it’s still remarkably consistent. When you write a story with a moral message, it’s incredibly easy to fuck it up, either by coming off as too preachy, accidentally being hypocritical(How ya doin’, Deadpool 2?), or not backing up your point convincingly. Surprisingly, for all this volume does wrong, RWBY doesn’t fall into any of these traps.

Take, for example, the Faunus situation. We’ll ignore for now how little sense their oppression makes(although that’s been an issue since volume 1), and instead look at how the issue is being dealt with. Adam is working from a state of anger, and as Blake notes, spite. He wants to conquer the oppressors and oppress them right back, and he’s willing to go to any lengths to achieve this, even if means knowingly exaggerating the human threat by creating false-flag situations to drum up his peoples’ support. Blake wants to take the high road, to unite humans with faunus by saving them and protecting them, and purging the harmful individuals from their own ranks.

Realistically, either one of these approaches can work, but RWBY creates a scenario where Adam’s tactics backfire, people see him for what he is, and he winds up alone, with only his bull-headed anger left to rely on, and THAT gets him a thorough ass-kicking from Blake until he flees and tries and abandons the people whose loyalty he never saw as more than means to an end.

Raven is perhaps an even better example of this, as she’s shifty, dishonest, and fights for nothing other than her own survival, and her motives carrying a subtle echo of some of Roman Torchwik’s last words… If you can’t beat someone, don’t fight them. She doesn’t quite join the side she perceives to be stronger, but she does manipulate them to get the edge, sacrificing other people… People she was close to… Along the way, and hell, even Cinder makes a quip about her becoming a monster by killing the former Spring Maiden. Speaking of which, all of her scheming, all of her plotting and backstabbing, and all it leads her to is possibly the single greatest individual scene from the franchise thus far… A final confrontation with Yang, who gives her such a thorough verbal beatdown, calling her out on her bullshit in such a way that she actually convinces her to flee, and it all feels natural. None of it feels like part of a forced message, which is how messages are supposed to be delivered.

You don’t want to be a coward, or to act out of fear. History doesn’t look kindly on Benedict Arnolds, and neither does RWBY. You can run from your fears, or you can ally yourself with them, but they will catch up to you, and they will destroy you. It happened to Lionheart, it happened to Torchwik, and it could happen to you. You don’t want to act out of selfishness, because at the end, all you’ll have left is yourself, just like what happened to Raven.

The same thing could be said for acting out of anger or hate, though, and while there’s Adam to consider, Hazel is perhaps a more interesting case, as his hatred comes from a desire for revenge. He’s allied himself with Salem, not out of loyalty or a desire for power, but to get a chance to achieve satisfaction over the death of his sister. It doesn’t make logical sense to blame Ozpin for a decision that his sister made, but certain emotions know no logic… It’s not hard to assume that he felt powerless over losing her, and Ozpin is the only possible target for his frustrations. Of course, revenge is a self-destructive motivator, as shown by the harm he does to his body in pursuit of it, and the fact that he’s allied himself with killers to achieve it. There’s a reason that Blake’s storyline included a statement about forgiveness.

So what values does volume 5 promote? Well, once again, there’s forgiveness, as they showed with Ilia. Former enemies can become important allies if given the chance. It can also help you to find the sense of peace and purpose that eluded Hazel. Speaking of Hazel, there’s also selflessness, and the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the goodwill of others, which his sister fell to. But maybe the most strongly portrayed value is courage… This is kind of a basic idea, as I remember learning it from a freaking Mary Kate and Ashley movie when I was little, but true courage is when you’re afraid, and you don’t know if you’ll succeed, but you do the right thing anyway, as Yang said while verbally decimating her mother.

Of course, now it’s time for me to get on my soap box… This is all relevant to real life. Some of the worst experiences people can have are at the hand of other people acting in fear. We want to build a wall between nations because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We separate children from their parents because we’re afraid of our laws looking weak. We ban travel from other countries because we’re afraid one or two of them might hurt us. We do any number of insane and horrible things, from discriminating against queer people to performing genital mutilation on children, because we’re afraid of what our respective Gods might do to us if we don’t. We refuse to stand up to dangerously unqualified leaders because it might weaken our political parties.

And that’s just fear.  Entire wars have been fought just for revenge, costing outrageous amounts of money and far moire lives than whatever incidents sparked those wars in the first place.  We hurt others for the sake of our own interests, and while never specifically calling any of it out, Rooster Teeth used this volume to make a statement about it. In doing so, it arguably accomplished more than any other volume has to date.

Anyway, getting back to the fun stuff, the animation is still great. There are a few shots and angles that I found questionable, and there are a few background shots where extras are just standing around blandly, but those are minor complaints compared to where RWBY came from. I’ve heard people complain about the fight scenes being awful, but I never really felt that either. They’re certainly different, with no flashy spectacle fights going on, but these things went away for something I consider much better; Story-telling. In this volume, and also in volume 4, the fight scenes are used to tell stories. There aren’t any of Monty’s trademarked ‘rule of cool’ fights, where everything just feels like extended animation demos, but there’s actual plot and story going on.

This allows them to focus on things that were missing from the action of the first two volumes, and which the third volume brilliantly transitioned into having… Suspense, stakes, and drama. As far as visual issues, I’ve heard people saying something about characters teleporting, but when you consider the most popular action sequence was a food fight where Nora launched Yang through the roof at an angle and she fell down straight in a location completely different from the direction she’d been launched in, I’m willing to accept a minor flub or two in a fight scene that feels ambitious and engaging. I’ve also heard complaints that Ruby doesn’t develop this volume, but she got a ton of development in volumes 3 and 4, and not every character has to develop in every volume.

Although the fact that she hasn’t asked Ozpin about her Silver eye powers is, I will agree, fucking stupid.

Once again, as much as I love about this volume, it doesn’t go down as easy with the poor way the first half was executed. Yeah, everything comes together more-or-less perfectly in the second half, but for a 3+ hour volume that’s made a fucking 4 hour volume by the inclusion of all the openings and closings, those first two hours can be tough to get through whenever it’s meandering or wasting time, which is far too often. The dialogue, again, needs a lot of work, as it’s not unsalvageable, but it can’t continue to be like this going into volume 6.

I know it may look like I’m being really hard on this volume, but the fact that I’m giving it these kinds of criticisms is a sign of how far along it’s come. In the first two volumes, I complained about the things that stopped RWBY from being good. In volume 5, I’m complaining about the things that are stopping it from being great. I believe it can achieve the greatness that it had in volume 3 again, even if this just wasn’t the right time for it. I give RWBY volume 5 a 7/10.

  1. RWBY needs much tighter writing and some better acting. I hope Lindsay gives Ruby a more mature voice soon. I love it to death, but it’s my Monty bias speaking.

    • I actually thought Ruby’s voice got a lot better already. Volume 3, I honestly think she did a better job than Elizabeth Maxwell and Vic Mignona, and that’s saying something.

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