RWBY Volume 1 – Kickass Anime Action or Disappointingly Mediocre?

(originally posted July 11th 2014)

(WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for ‘RWBY Volume 1’)

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The second season (or volume) of Rooster Teeth’s animated show ‘RWBY,’ created by infamous internet animator, Monty Oum, is almost upon us now, so what better chance is there than to discuss the first volume? Have my original thoughts on the show changed since my first viewing? Well, that’s what this post is about, isn’t it? Read on as I break down the positives and the negatives to determine my feelings on Oum’s pet project.

Negative: The Trailers Were Horribly Misleading

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I remember when the first trailer appeared at the end of the final episode of ‘Red vs Blue Season 10.’ It began with an air of mystery to it. A girl no one had seen before, an empty land covered in snow, a slightly haunting melody playing over it… and suddenly, BAM. The girl takes on an army of wolf-like creatures with a cross between a scythe and a sniper rifle. Suddenly, the calm eeriness was replaced with blood pumping action and I was left trembling with excitement.

The following three trailers had a similar effect, with the last two even beginning to shed some light onto the world itself and what the story may hold. I was in love with the image of modern technology being juxtaposed with magic and fairy-tale creatures; images of terrorist organisations, seedy gangs, wars, cultures and four young women being brought together to travel their world and do battle with dark creatures and villainous forces rolled around in my mind. The hype was certainly real. Then the show started… and they were going to school.

Nothing in the trailers even indicated a high-school setting, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be massively disappointed in this choice. There have been loads of high school animes before; why did this one have to go down that route? Unlike ‘Red vs Blue,’ which faced limitations due to being filmed using a pre-existing game engine, ‘RWBY’ had none of that. They could do what they want so long as they could animate it, and they settled on such a generic setting. When that first episode ended, I wasn’t left with bated breath wanting more. I just had a horrible thought that we had got too excited, and things would soon go downhill.

Positive: The World Itself is Interesting

As I mentioned earlier, the mixture of advanced technology and typical fantasy really appealed to me. I don’t know exactly what makes it so intriguing, but there’s something enjoyable about seeing large, cathedral-like buildings and medieval-esque towns being populated by people wearing modern clothing and carrying guns.

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The weapon design is probably one of my favourite aspects; you can tell whoever’s in charge of making these things was having fun. At its most basic, it’s essentially taking an item, and making it a gun. It’s simple but weirdly effective, and there’s clearly a lot of love being put into how they work. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing Ruby’s weapon change from gun to scythe; it’s hypnotically intricate.

I also love the theming; how every character, monster, weapon etc. is based off of existing stories. The main four characters have some basis in classic fairy-tales (e.g. Ruby Rose being Red Riding Hood), Jaune Arc is named after Joan of Arc, the monsters known as Beowolves being named after the book ‘Beowolf;’ whether it’s blatant, subtle or obscure, it’s something I greatly appreciate and adore. Stuff like this shows that the creators love their work, which always makes for a plus.

Negative: The High School Setting

Like I said, me and many others were greatly disappointed to find out that the plot would take place in a school environment. Admittedly, this could be bias on my part, as I am not fond of this genre at all. I avoid teen dramas like the plague, particularly ones set in school because it’s always the same characters doing the same stuff. Boys complaining about how they can’t get a girlfriend, girls complaining about how they can’t get a boyfriend, students being rebellious and upsetting their parents, fights breaking out, friendships being broken, the alpha bitches and jock bullies making everyone’s lives miserable – it gets painfully predictable. Plus, I’ve been to school. Why would I want to relive the worst parts about it?

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Fortunately, this setting hasn’t completely nullified what ‘RWBY’ is essentially about, and has avoided the predictability that other shows might suffer from. With the exception of Team CRDL, the generic bully characters who only exist to be bullies. When Episode 12 ended with Cardin doing the typical blackmail routine on Jaune, a part of me died. Here was a show with so much creativity behind its world defaulting to shit you can probably find in ‘Saved by the Bell.’ I have hopes that Cardin may get some development given the events of Episode 14 (where Jaune saves him from a monster) but they aren’t high, and if some theories about Volume 2 are right, they may not happen.

Positive: The Characters and Writing are Great

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Despite my gripes with the plot, I consider the cast themselves to be well-written and likable in their own ways. I love Ruby for her peppiness, Jaune for his awkwardness, Nora for her hyperactivity; every character has their own voice, which is an absolute must. Even bitchy Weiss is weirdly hard not to like.

I think the writing helps this a lot. I didn’t know what to expect from the trailers, but once the show started, I was surprised by how there was a strong sense of humour. It shouldn’t be that surprising since Miles Luna, who now writes for ‘Red vs Blue,’ is one of the writers for this show. There were plenty of moments that made me chuckle, whether they be through dialogue or a sudden but welcome visual gag.

My one worry is that we might find ourselves in an abundance of characters all fighting for screen-time, but as long as the writers know who to focus on, that shouldn’t be a problem. Hell, ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ had tons of characters but they all got a chance to shine without ever getting in the way of the main characters. That being said, I’m looking forward to seeing how these characters progress in the next volume.

Negative: The Animation Can Be a Bit Awkward

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When the show was first being distributed via the Rooster Teeth site, many people noticed a few animation glitches. Since episodes were released on a weekly basis, this meant some things would just get overlooked. Episodes were later released on the YouTube channel, with those glitches removed and certain animations being tweaked. Personally, I’d have preferred it if they put more time into episodes to make sure they were fine before releasing them (even if it meant delays), and even with those fixes, there were still some issues.

The animation is certainly not horrendous; it’s decent for the kind of show they’re making, but the odd mistakes are extremely noticeable. Some characters will walk as if they’re slightly drunk, arms and hands can be incredibly stiff and hang awkwardly by their characters’ sides and everyone has the same damn running animation. I know some people will defend it, saying it’s not a big budget production so we shouldn’t expect it to be great. True, they don’t have the same budget that other animated shows have, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for sub-par animation. The people working on this are clearly talented animators and these aspects should be improved. Never settle for less. Besides I hate complaining about this since…

Positive: The Animation Style is Really Nice

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I want to call it cel-shading but I believe Monty has gone on record saying it isn’t. Whatever it is, it’s pretty damn nice to look at. The character models have had quite a bit of thought put into them, with each one having their own distinctive style and exude personality without the characters even needing to speak. I’m also a fan of the rose petals effect that seems to follow Ruby everywhere, even though it’s not clear whether it actually happens or is purely artistic.

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Plus, while I criticised the animation, I feel like they did a good job on the facial animation, especially the eyes. I can’t help but grin sometimes at their expressions, and there have been a nice variety across all the characters. And since it seems eyes will be rather important later on, let’s hope they keep this quality up.

Positive: The Fight Scenes Are Kick-Ass

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Monty has become quite famous for how he animates fight scenes. Look at his work on ‘Dead Fantasy’ or ‘Red vs Blue’ and you’ll see plenty of similarities; high octane action that is almost hard to follow, unique fighting styles for every character, and a complete disregard for gravity and physics. And they are amazing.

I don’t know if he plans every part of a fight out or if he just makes it up as he goes along, but it’s obvious that a lot of effort has gone into the fights; they’re so fluid and smooth that the characters actually feel alive. He also could’ve just said that Ruby had super strength to explain how she swings that scythe around, but no – she uses the recoil of her gunshots to move around. It’s the same for all the others – no two characters fight similarly and it makes it all the more engaging.

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I particularly love it when characters work together (i.e. Episode 8) and seeing the sick combos they can pull off – I actually prefer it to the one on one fights, because seeing four guys taking on one is more awesome in my eyes, as it makes the one seem more powerful and reinforces how important teamwork is.

It’s the one thing I can feel reassured on about Volume 2 – the action will no doubt be splendid. I just wish that same amount of effort went into walking animations.

Negative: The Voice Acting is Kinda Meh

I know they’re not professional voice actors. I know that it’s cheaper to just get guys from the office to do the voices, but that doesn’t mean I can’t comment on how it’s not that great, and for some it can be distracting. You can have the best writing and characters ever, but if the voices aren’t convincing or bland, people will lose interest.

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To be fair though, it’s by no means terrible. Honestly, I think it’s somewhat okay. The four main leads all do decent jobs, especially Lindsey Jones as Ruby, who manages to be peppy and squeaky without being annoying. I fell in love with the voice when I first heard and it quickly pushed Ruby up my favourite characters list.

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I also think Gray Haddock, who voices the villain Torchwick, is having some fun playing the bad guy and I think it turns what could’ve been a basic, bland antagonist to a far more enjoyable one, and it makes me hope he doesn’t get side-lined by the new villains that we’ll be seeing later.

But sometimes, lines feel like they were done on the first take – this could be because, again, as non-professional voice actors, they’re not yet comfortable in voicing these characters. Hopefully, practice will make perfect.

Negative: The Pacing Got Weird Sometimes

Whereas ‘Red vs Blue’ could get away with having 5 minute long episodes, I think ‘RWBY’ cannot. ‘RvB’ had more emphasis on comedy than story, so it didn’t matter when barely anything happened; we came to get laughs. With ‘RWBY,’ story is clearly the focus, so when an episode ended after only 5 minutes, I felt like barely anything happened, especially with episodes that were titled ‘Part 1.’

I think parts 1 and 2 should be considered a full episode, but by releasing part 1 and then making us wait a week for part 2, we are essentially only getting half of an episode. Again, though, people will bring up the budget argument, but I’m sorry. They are treating this as its own fully fledged show. It is being distributed through CrunchyRoll (an anime streaming site) alongside shows that do have the budget, which means it wishes to be considered equal to those shows.

I think it would’ve been better to release both as the full episode on a bi-weekly basis. Fortunately, this is something that has been recognised and will actually be happening with Volume 2.

Positive: The Soundtrack is God-Tier

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If there’s one thing I can wholeheartedly say I love about ‘RWBY,’ it’s its music. I don’t know where they found Jeff Williams but the man must’ve been left to us by angels.

The guy manages to create such a wide range of musical pieces, be they slow piano medleys to suggest calmness or sadness or head-banging guitar solos or, my personal favourite, ominous Latin chanting.

Obviously, though, Mr Williams isn’t alone; he does work with other musicians, which means more diversity in its background music. At times, it can sound like typical anime-like music during more comedic sections, and then suddenly, there’s a banjo and a violin playing, and I adore it.

Special mention should also go to his daughter, Casey Lee Williams, who sings all the vocal tracks. Each one is so different in tone and style, yet she pulls them off so well – one minute, she sounds melancholy, letting the lyrics almost echo around her, and then the next she’s belting out at the top of her lungs. I have a great admiration for people who can hold a note for long periods of time.

While I certainly can’t recommend purchasing the DVD, I can recommend the soundtrack, which is on iTunes. Give it a listen, and then buy it. Or buy it now. Just give them the money for it.

Negative: Team RWBY Didn’t Do Anything

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This is probably my biggest complaint with the show. It’s called ‘RWBY,’ named after the team RWBY. Admittedly, they didn’t form until midway through the show, which is fair enough – it’s the first volume and we need to see how the team is formed, and we got to see their first instance of teamwork in Episode 8 when they took on the Nevermore (that big-ass raven). But after that, they, as a team, didn’t do much.

Sure, Ruby got some development, Weiss got some development, we learned stuff about Blake – in fact, Yang was the only one to not get any real character focus, which is a damn shame since she was initially my favourite member of the team when all the trailers were out.

What’s really annoying about it is that there was a perfect opportunity for a truly awesome moment of unity and friendship between them in the final episode.

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Blake has run off, encountered Torchwick, who is working with the White Fang, the organisation that she left when they turned from peaceful protestors to terrorists. Torchwick seems to have the upper hand when suddenly Ruby appears. This should’ve been the moment where Ruby, Weiss and Yang all appear to back up their teammate and friend. The fight would bring Weiss and Blake closer together and Weiss would realise that no matter what Blake might’ve once been, she’s her teammate now, and together they would beat Torchwick and send him and his cronies packing.

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That is not what happened. Instead, Ruby gets one-shotted by Torchwick and new character Penny (who we’ve only known for maybe ten minutes) decimates everyone single-handedly, with Weiss and Yang appearing late and all of Weiss’ development happening off-screen. I was so disappointed by this decision, especially with the choice to have Penny be the turning point in the fight. I know it was meant to be a display of her power and no doubt foreshadowing for Volume 2, but I’ve spent the last 16 episodes getting to know Team RWBY; I’m emotionally attached to them – I want to see them kicking ass and taking names, not someone I’ve only just met.

It really left a sour taste on my mouth, which is particularly bad for a final episode. You want a season to end with people screaming “Hell yeah, that was awesome. Can’t wait for the next one.” Not “Ugh, what a disappointment. Hope the next season is better.”

Positive: There’s Still Plenty of Potential

In the run-up to the release of Volume 2, Rooster Teeth released a few behind-the-scenes videos that showed the creative process, and those videos have restored some faith I had in the show.

It’s clear that they’ve listened to the criticisms; they’re aware of the problems the first volume had, and now, things can really kick off. The animation is looking slightly better; episodes will be released bi-weekly which gives them more time to work on them and, if the trailer is anything to go by, the story will truly begin, and our heroes battle against these unknown villains will be a big one.

Between this and all the good things I’ve had to say about the show, is why I can’t hate ‘RWBY’ like some others do. It’s certainly very flawed, but a rough start is better than a shoddy finish. Though I promised myself to not get too hyped for Volume 2, Monty and friends are making that very difficult. Try not to disappoint, guys.

Team RWBY

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2 thoughts on “RWBY Volume 1 – Kickass Anime Action or Disappointingly Mediocre?

  1. Pingback: RWBY Volume 4 – One Step Forward or Two Steps Back? | What I Think

  2. Pingback: RWBY Volume 2 – More Mistakes or Impressive Improvement? | What I Think

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