RWBY Volume 5 – Terrific Triumph or Frustrating Failure?

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for RWBY Volume 5

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We may still have over a month until Volume 6 starts but I’m not leaving this year’s RWBY review until the last minute like previous years. Yep, it’s high time I got round to reviewing Volume 5, a season that my Entertainment Dome co-host and I didn’t exactly have the highest opinion of during its initial run.

But have those opinions changed? Is Volume 5 actually a lot better on its second viewing? Or is it still deserving of all the criticism we gave it? How about we just cut straight to chase and begin the review.

Positive: The Opening’s Actually Accurate

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I had promised to myself that, after the Volume 3 review, I’d stop bitching about the openings since I felt like I was just coming across as needlessly nitpicky and there were more important aspects to focus on, but I wanted to quickly write about Volume 5‘s since, unlike the previous ones, it’s 100% accurate to what happens in the volume.

Every scene featured in it ends up happening, from the slightly more symbolic stuff to the fights. It’s kind of my favourite opening by default because it feels like a perfect representation of what fans can expect from the volume, as opposed to previous ones that teased fights and scenes that ended up not happening.

Basically, I want every opening from this point onward to be more like this one. Though if they’re not, I won’t dedicate sections of these reviews to moaning about them.

Negative: Pacing is Weird & Sometimes Jarring

Anyone else feel like there was something off with this volume’s pacing sometimes? Volume 1 had a similar issue but that was more due to how some episodes would be really short and ultimately feel like nothing was progressed. That issue was fixed in subsequent volumes since every episode was at least ten minutes; I always came away from an episode thinking that at least something was accomplished. And while that’s not a problem with Volume 5, I can’t help but feel it has a different one.

Sometimes the transitions between certain scenes felt jarring; they didn’t feel natural, which is weird since I felt Volume 4 did a really good job of avoiding that issue considering it had to jump between several different story-lines due to Team RWBY being split up. Not so much the case here. It didn’t happen every episode but there were several moments where I asked myself “Wait, we’re back here now?”

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For example, we’d have a scene with Team RNJR, only for the episode to suddenly jump to Weiss’ story-line without any sense of build-up. Then we’d jump back to Team RNJR, only to go back to the Weiss plot to end the episode. There are other moments like this that I honestly feel would’ve worked better had they simply put the RNJR scenes together, rather than interspersing them in other (and honestly more engaging) plot-lines. It honestly doesn’t help considering other issues I have with Team RNJR in this volume but I’ll get to that later.

In short, I just don’t think the concurrent story-lines were handled as well as they were in the previous volume. It was spread too thin between too many central characters vying for importance and focus. Hopefully, with Team RWBY reunited, this’ll be less of an issue in the future.

Positive: The Maidens ARE Relevant

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Remember how a certain aspect/criticism from my Volume 3 review became irrelevant shortly after Volume 4 started airing, thus somewhat making my review outdated? Well, guess what?! A certain aspect/criticism from my Volume 4 review became irrelevant shortly after Volume 5 started airing, thus somewhat making my review outdated! Excuse me while I go scream into a pillow.

In all seriousness, though, it’s actually a good thing because it means one of my criticisms was addressed and rectified – specifically, I felt that by introducing the Relics as the new major McGuffins of the show, it kind of made the Maidens (the previous major McGuffins) seem less relevant. Fortunately, that’s not the case, as the show explains that the Maidens are the only ones who can gain access to the Relics, meaning there’s a reason why Salem needs their power outside of just being more muscle to fight the good guys with.

Considering how much of a big deal Volume 3 made the Maidens, it would’ve been infuriating if they became nothing more than just another set of powerful adversaries for the heroes to fight or something. While maybe having two sets of magical McGuffins is still a bit much, at least it’s been handled much better than I initially thought it would be.

Positive: Watts

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If you recall, I was very excited to see that Salem had a whole squad of villains that she was working with. Tyrian became an instant favourite of mine (even getting his own section in my Volume 4 review) and both Watts and Hazel left strong impressions but neither of them had enough of a presence to warrant writing about. Fortunately, we got to see more of them in Volume 5 and, while I’ll get to Hazel later, I want to quickly write about Watts because he is so entertaining.

Unlike Tyrian who was enjoyable for how off-the-wall and insane he was, Watts steals every scene he’s in because of how smug he is. He always acts like he’s the smartest and most important person in the room, and he is so deliciously superior about it. Christopher Sabat does a fantastic job making him oddly likeable despite this and you also get the sense that he can back up his superiority. He’s very rarely flustered; even when Raven insults him, he lets her words roll off like they meant nothing, almost taking pride in his status as “disgraced.”

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Not to mention he seems to be the only one Salem treats like an equal. There’s a genuine sense of respect between the two which is refreshing, considering most villain team-ups in other stories usually have both parties trying to back-stab the other, as well as slightly terrifying. We already know how powerful Salem is, so what exactly is Watts capable of to be considered on the same level?

I also love how little respect he seems to have for Cinder. I covered Cinder’s status before in the Volume 4 review and it’s great to see it somewhat continued here. Even though she’s back to full strength, Watts doesn’t seem to view her as anything more than a child who can’t let go of a pathetic grudge. It only makes you wonder if he’s more than just a spindly scientist. We have yet to see him fight and a part of me actually wants to see him remain as a non-combatant. It would make encounters with him all the more interesting, if he’s able to go toe-to-toe with the heroes without even lifting a finger. Here’s hoping, with the group heading for Atlas, we learn a little bit more about the good (?) doctor’s background.

Positive: Lionheart

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When I realised that Ozpin’s group were stand-ins for the main characters from The Wizard of Oz, I became very excited to see who would represent the Cowardly Lion (funnily enough, I originally thought that role would belong to Tai). And I’m pleased to say that Lionheart, while not exactly what I expected, was a damn good character.

While the Cowardly Lion references weren’t particularly subtle, Lionheart’s status as a turncoat was handled really well. He hasn’t turned on Ozpin out of disillusionment or malice, but because he’s scared. His first scene with Salem perfectly captures the horrid position he’s in, desperately trying to say the right thing and stay on Salem’s good side. It not only makes you wonder how Salem got her hooks in him to begin with but it further establishes how dangerous and powerful she is. Other dialogue from Qrow and Ozpin suggests that Lionheart, at one point, was a faithful friend so what happened to him to make him turn?

The show does a really good job at painting Lionheart as a victim. Several scenes show how regretful he is about what he’s doing; he absolutely hates himself for betraying Ozpin, even stating that he shouldn’t be forgiven. I think his voice actor, Daman Mills, is another major contributing factor. In many of his scenes, he just sounds so tired, desperate to escape the nightmare he’s trapped in. He’s honestly one of the more relatable characters in the show, at least in my opinion. I’m sure many of us would like to believe we’d stand up to Salem but, realistically, I think a lot of us would be equally fearful for our lives and do anything to stay alive.

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It’s kind of a shame that, come the battle at Haven Academy, Lionheart kind of goes deep into villain territory and attacks Oscar, planning to hand him over to Salem, but you could make the argument that he just finally snapped. I was wondering if maybe he’d get some form of redemption but he doesn’t. His last moments are spent attempting to flee the battle entirely and then begging for his life when one of Salem’s Grimm kills him (and maybe eats him?!) off-screen. It’s a pathetic way to go out but it’s also tragic.

Lionheart was probably one of the most developed and layered characters in the series so far. While he probably could’ve survived and contributed more and maybe even get further development, I think his character did what it needed to do perfectly – show how much reach Salem has. And if even an ally as stalwart as Lionheart would sell out his friends for his own safety, who else can our heroes really trust?

Negative: Sienna’s Death

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I can’t be the only who was super pissed when Sienna Khan died, right? When she was teased in Volume 4, it made me hopeful that her introduction as the leader of the White Fang would address some of the issues I had with the group. And when she appeared in Volume 5, she was ticking all the right boxes.

Not only did she have a killer design (seriously, I think she’s one of the best characters in terms of visual design), she had an interesting personality. Like Adam, she believed in and encouraged the White Fang’s more violent approach to achieve equal rights but she had her limits and thought Adam’s attack on Beacon was a step too far. It was an fascinating characterisation and I genuinely felt she would make a good impact on the story… then Adam just shanks her.

Why go to all this trouble to make an interesting and cool-looking character if her only role in the story is to job to Adam? Is it to highlight how evil Adam is? Because we kind of already knew that. I know Lionheart’s role did a similar thing for Salem and I complimented that but Lionheart did other things as well. He didn’t exist solely to die. Sienna did (plus Salem’s a more interesting antagonist than Adam anyway but I’ll get into that later).

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She doesn’t even go down swinging. Had she got to fight Adam, we would’ve at least got some entertainment value out of it, especially since we haven’t really seen Adam fight properly since the original trailers for Volume 1 (I don’t count his quick altercation with Blake in Volume 3 since it was very one-sided and he was just kind of slapping Blake about). But we didn’t even get that.

Basically, Sienna had a lot of potential that was sadly squandered. Had she been a much simpler character with a bog-standard design, it might not have felt as much of a waste. Hell, maybe her character didn’t even need to exist in the first place – just have Adam as the leader from the get-go and maybe combine a bit of Sienna’s personality with his. We did get to see a bit more of her in a Volume 6 trailer but all it did was made me wish she hadn’t pointlessly died.

Positive: Ozpin’s Backstory

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I’m honestly still a little surprised we actually got some of Ozpin’s backstory now. I feel like in the hands of bad writers, that mystery would be dragged out for, like, ten years. But not only is now the perfect time to actually go into this character’s personal history,  we also learnt enough of substance while still being kept in the dark about other details. Basically, it’s a decent balance.

While most of what Ozpin revealed was kind of guessed by a lot of fans, it still makes sense and makes Ozpin’s character far more interesting (I’ve been using that word a lot in this review). Until now, Ozpin was just the wise but mysterious mentor, always in the background but clearly more knowledgeable about pretty much everything that’s going on. His now revealed status as both a cursed immortal AND the wizard that created the Maidens sort of brings him down a peg and makes him more fallible. Plus, with him now inhabiting Oscar’s body, he’s actively getting involved with the plot as opposed to hanging back all mysteriously. He subverts a lot of the usual mentor trends and I’m grateful for it.  Oh, and I love how Aaron Dismuke, Oscar’s actor, also voices Ozpin when he’s in control; it’s such a nice detail and he does an amazing job too.

Furthermore, the revelations about his past show that he’s a lot more tragic than we realised. Think about it, he says he was cursed for failing to stop Salem before so… what happened? On top of that, imagine how much guilt he’s been carrying for who knows how long. And then as if that wasn’t enough, there’s the fact that, at some point, Ozpin will disappear, with Oscar taking his place and inheriting his memories. Despite the little info we have, it’s clear that he’s gone through a lot and it does a good job at making him sympathetic.

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But like I said, there’s still plenty we don’t know, like the exact nature of Ozpin and Salem’s relationship, and this volume teases that Ozpin may have done some less than scrupulous acts. It doesn’t do it very well but that’s something I’ll cover later in the review and there is still plenty of potential and opportunities to show Ozpin as a much more morally grey character.

As it stands, Ozpin’s character is going in a good direction and I’m interested to learn even more. Hopefully, though, he won’t end up overshadowing the main heroes.

Negative: Team RNJR Barely Do Anything

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One of the worst things a story could do is have its heroes be inactive, because who wants to see our protagonists sit around doing nothing until the plot comes to them? Unfortunately, that’s what happens here in Volume 5 with Team RNJR and it’s easily one of my biggest criticisms.

I know there’s a story explanation as to why they’re not doing anything but it doesn’t change the fact that it was both infuriating and boring. I’m not kidding, every time it cut back to that bloody house, I let out an audible groan because it meant the story was coming to a grinding halt for a bit.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the RNJR scenes were at least somewhat engaging but most of them really weren’t. The brief training scene was over super quickly and we never see any of them practice their fighting skills or improve themselves, and the conversations they have are pretty stock. The dinner scene in Episode 7 was nice but it quickly devolves into the characters essentially recapping some of the stuff they’ve done and making callbacks to previous events – it doesn’t progress anything. You don’t need the characters to explain to the audience how they’ve changed and developed; we were there!

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There could’ve been some neat character interactions here but, a lot of the time, the characters don’t really have conversations with each other and are more exchanging speeches. I love a good dramatic monologue but when they’re happening almost every ten minutes, I start to get tired of them. They don’t feel natural in the slightest and, most of the time, explain shit the audience already knows or figured out just from inference. Remember that scene in Volume 4 where Jaune was re-watching that video of Pyrrha as he trained? Remember how subtly that scene was handled? It didn’t need to be followed up on and it didn’t need to have Ruby and Jaune talk about it. A lot of Volume 5‘s scenes, sadly, aren’t handled similarly.

In fact, can I quickly rant about how there seems to be quite a number of unnecessary dialogue? And I don’t just mean some of the speeches. Like, there are some lines that I feel could’ve been cut and it would’ve made certain scenes a lot better. For example, the little exchange Qrow and Raven have before they fight.

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“Sometimes family disappoints you like that.”
“We’re not family any more.”

Ooh, good exchange there. Succinct and brutal. But then Raven adds:

“Were we ever?”

OK, not entirely necessary but, still, a nice line that perfectly captures their relationship. But then Qrow says:

“I thought so. But I guess I was wrong.”

You really did not need that last line. We got it; it was done. It’s a little thing but I do think that the volume could’ve been improved just a bit had they trimmed the occasional bit of dialogue. I swear the show’s been capable of displaying really good levels of subtlety before but it’s almost absent from this volume.

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Also, none of the interactions between these characters really change or develop their relationships, especially in regards to Oscar. Yeah, he talks to the others but I never felt like he was part of the group. Even after that one-on-one he had with Ruby, I couldn’t tell you exactly what their relationship is.

I apologise if this section’s kind of rambling but, if you want me to be concise then I’ll say this – a lot of this volume is actually kind of dull, and I never want to see our heroes literally sit around a house doing bugger all ever again.

Negative: The White Fang Sub-Plot

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I was already getting tired of the White Fang and their sub-plot in the last volume, but I was still a tad hopeful that maybe it could turn itself around. That hope died when Sienna did. Volume 5 is when I officially got sick of the bloody White Fang, because any subtlety, nuance or sympathy they may have or could have had was gone. They were now just a bunch of terrorists – more mooks for the heroes to fight.

It sucks because the White Fang started out as an interesting parallel to real-life racism/prejudice, but while RWBY still holds on to that parallel, it doesn’t necessarily work when the White Fang are so clearly in the wrong. And whenever the characters (specifically Blake and Ilia) start arguing about it, it just gets real old, real fast. Seriously, they’re just making the exact same points since the very first volume. Nothing’s changed or developed. The conversations are essentially:

“Humans are evil; we need to fight them!”
“Violence doesn’t solve anything!”
“Yes, it does!”
“No, it doesn’t!”

Rinse and repeat. Funnily enough, though, I did start to get a bit more engaged with it towards the end but that was only because the main plot with Team RNJR was getting boring. And, fortunately, this sub-plot seems to have been completely wrapped up as of this volume, with Adam’s plans foiled and him being forced to go on the run. While I don’t expect human/Faunus relations to suddenly be fixed overnight, I really hope it doesn’t become the focus again.

Positive/Negative: Ilia

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Wait a second, how can something be both a positive AND a negative? Well, what this basically means is that I’m in two minds about this subject. I feel like it has equally good and bad aspects and it didn’t feel right lumping it into one category or the other, which I feel perfectly captures my feelings regarding Ilia.

I wasn’t particularly fond of her introduction in the previous volume and, while she’s by no means a poorly written character and she has a good voice actor (Cherami Leigh), I never felt… anything towards her. Unlike Fennec or Corsac who I at least disliked (though for the wrong reasons), I was completely apathetic towards Ilia, even though the show clearly wants us to feel how Blake feels – heartbroken that a former friend has allied herself with would-be terrorists because she feels that’s the right thing to do… but I didn’t. I get she’s probably supposed to be a parallel to Blake but there was nothing about Ilia that I found interesting or engaging. She’s just kind of there, which is a shame since she’s also the first canonically gay character in RWBY (about bloody time if you ask me though does Blake really need ANOTHER love interest?).

I’ll admit, I was rather antsy about it at first. Don’t get me wrong, I love how it was revealed but she admitted her crush on Blake right before she left to go kill Blake’s parents. Having the first gay character also be one of the villains had me doing this.

Thankfully, after the assassination attempt is foiled, Ilia does switch sides, albeit rather abruptly. Like, it almost comes out of nowhere though she did display a couple doubts about the White Fang in an earlier scene. Plus, while she doesn’t do a whole lot afterwards, I much prefer Ilia as a good guy and actually wouldn’t mind seeing her come back as a minor recurring character and see how she interacts with maybe the rest of Team RWBY or even Sun.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this but, essentially, Ilia is probably one of the more superfluous characters in the show but that doesn’t necessarily make her bad. Plus, we finally got that LGBT representation that we’ve been promised for years. Hopefully, though, she won’t be the only one.

Positive/Negative: Adam

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Remember when Adam was cool and intimidating? Those were the days, because Volume 5 takes those traits and flushes them down the toilet, and I don’t know how. Everything about Adam in the previous volumes was setting him up as one of the most terrifying characters in the show. He was ruthless, powerful and seemingly unstoppable. His scenes in Volume 3 cemented how much of a threat he was. So why am I not afraid of him anymore? Well, it’s because Volume 5 presents him as a whiny, petulant brat.

It’s made clear that Adam doesn’t have the best interests of the Faunus at heart; he just wants to subjugate humans, so any interesting motivation he had is gone. Half of his dialogue has him monologuing like a generic supervillain and the other half makes him sound like a moaning teenager, and his voice acting doesn’t help. I’ve heard people complain that Adam’s voice really doesn’t suit him and I’ve tried to be fair to his actor, Garrett Hunter, since I feel like he did a really good job in Volume 3 but after this volume, I find myself kind of agreeing with that sentiment. His outbursts make it difficult to take him seriously. He doesn’t sound angry; he sounds like someone trying really hard to sound angry. And on top of that, when it looks like we’re finally going to get the long-awaited fight between Blake and Adam, he gets punked super easily and then runs away. My cool-ass fight scene literally ran away.

With all this criticism, you might be wondering why I also classified Adam as a positive. Well that’s because I considered the possibility that maybe Adam’s sudden descent into becoming a giant baby is actually intentional. Because if it is, then I’m all for that.

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I’ve expressed my fondness for these kinds of characters before – the ones that try really hard to be threatening bad-asses but, when that’s stripped away, they’re revealed to be pathetic and petty. I think it makes for a great subversion and having Adam go in this direction could actually make his character more interesting and even more despicable. The dude’s been the face of the equal rights movement for Faunus for so long, so imagine how other characters would react to find out that his motives are much more selfish? Hell, this one line from Blake only supports this theory:

“I’m here for Haven, not you.”

She’s not afraid of him anymore and recognises that, in the grand scheme of things, he’s unimportant and not worth her time. It’s arguably better than having her fight him (though I still want that to happen). Plus, I got to admit it’s hilarious that his plan is stopped because Blake and co. just called the police.

If this is the case, there’s a chance Adam could go on to become a much better antagonist in the future. His recent character short seems to tease that he’ll be getting some focus in Volume 6 and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing where it goes. Preferably, he’ll be more Kylo Ren and less Anakin Skywalker, if you know what I mean.

Positive: Weiss’ Growth

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OK, this section probably isn’t going to be particularly long or be as in-depth but, after re-watching this volume, I am just so happy to see how much Weiss has grown as a character since the first volume, and I’m even happier that she’s back with Team RWBY. After her quite frankly awful living conditions in the previous volume, it warms my heart to see her much happier here despite the circumstances.

While she doesn’t get as much focus or further development here compared to Volume 4, her few solo scenes were probably some of my favourites in this volume, especially in regards to how her summoning Semblance has improved. Even when she’s captured by Raven’s bandits, she doesn’t let herself succumb to despair. Instead, she immediately plots her escape. And when she’s joined up with Team RNJR, she’s allowed to relax and joins in with the antics. She’s still a tad haughty but, by this point, her attitude comes from a place of love, like when she threatens to pour coffee over Ruby.

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She’s noticeably become a lot more empathetic too. During Yang’s confrontation with her mum, Weiss is by her side trying to temper her. And later, when Yang is venting over Blake leaving them, Weiss uses her own personal history not to belittle Yang or act like she doesn’t have it as badly but to justify and reason why Blake did what she did. It’s such a far cry from how she was in Volume 1 where she was immediately distrustful of Blake because of the status as a Faunus and I love, love, love it.

Weiss has always been one of my favourite characters in the show but her scenes in Volume 5 have only pushed her further up in my eyes. And with the team most likely heading to Atlas next volume, I’m so looking forward to what awaits her back home and that she won’t be facing it alone anymore.

Positive: Yang, Raven & Their Relationship

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One of the things I was most excited to see in Volume 5 was how the relationship between Yang and Raven would turn out. We knew Yang was desperate to find her mother but it was left rather ambiguous as to why she was looking for her. Was she desperate to reconnect or was it to tell her off for abandoning her? Either way, I would’ve been satisfied since both of these outcomes had a lot of potential for good drama and characterisation. In the end, it was the latter, and I was especially happy with it.

While Raven only really started to get some focus in Volume 4, her one scene perfectly encapsulated the kind of person she was, and that person wasn’t very nice. So it was immensely satisfying to see Yang finally call her out for ditching her family and admitting that she only tracked her down as a means to reach Ruby, further displaying how much she loves her sister and that she prioritises her over Raven.

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In fact, can we talk about how great it is to see Yang back in action this volume? While you could probably make the argument that she recovered too quickly, it’s clear that Yang isn’t wholly the same. She doesn’t seem as spunky or loud as she used to be – not that that’s a bad thing. She acts more maturely and, while still capable of anger, isn’t as quick to jump to it and knows when to reign it in, like when she decides not to fight back against Mercury and runs off to catch up with Cinder and Raven. Looks like she took her dad’s lessons to heart.

At the same time, though, there are still traces of the old Yang left, most notably when she’s joined up with RNJR and is able to actually relax and catch up. Considering the slump she was in at the end of Volume 3, it’s just nice to see her able to laugh again. But there are still signs of her PTSD; it hasn’t magically gone away, with her arm shaking occasionally, usually right after a fight. It’s a little thing but it’s good to see the writers acknowledge that it’s still something Yang has to deal with and no amount of new arms is going to fix it. It almost makes me wonder if she’ll ever relapse if she encounters Adam again.

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I also want to write about Raven and how, despite how unlikable I find her, she’s possibly one of the most interesting characters in the show. It would’ve been very easy to depict her as nothing but a neglectful mother and possible villain but, as she keeps displaying, she has no allegiance to anyone but her tribe. Even when she aids Cinder and the rest at the end, it’s purely for self-preservation and I love how she not only justifies this but is repeatedly called out on it.

When Yang arrives at her camp, she’s happy to see her daughter and welcomes her to join the tribe because she’s proved herself. Raven won’t be winning any mother of the year awards but, in a way, she does love Yang and is proud of her. It’s only when Yang rebuffs her that she expresses disappointment but she still gives Yang the choice to remain with her. It’s also implied that she still cares about Tai considering one of her portals is connected to him AND the post-credits scene implies she went back to see him. And of course there’s her tribe which she repeatedly demonstrates an unwavering determination to protect. But as the volume goes on, a few characters call her what she potentially is – a coward. Even Lionheart (while not judgemental) straight up says he and Raven aren’t so different in how they’re kowtowing to Salem, even if Raven ultimately plans to double-cross her.

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Raven is a character that I feel like is very open to interpretation and could very easily be considered either a tragic figure or irredeemable, which is what makes her interesting. For me personally, I’m kind of in the middle. Raven had plenty of moments where she could’ve aided the heroes and her family but, in the end, her own desires to stay alive overtook her. She acts like she’s smarter than everyone else but she’s actually just a very selfish woman. The final scene between her and Yang perfectly highlights this and I love how emotionally charged it is, with Raven’s walls finally dropping as her daughter kind of disowns her, telling her to keep running… and she does, with Yang eventually breaking down because it sunk in that her mother abandoned her again. Their actors, Barbara Dunkelman and Anna Hullum, deserve so much praise for their performances.

I also want to quickly touch upon the twist that Raven was the Spring Maiden since I initially felt like it came out of nowhere and was nonsensical but, after a re-watch, there is clear foreshadowing and I love how it isn’t made clear if Raven actually “mercy” killed the previous Maiden or not. To reiterate, that is the best part of Raven’s character – her ambiguity.

Again, sorry if this section was a bit all over the place but there is a lot to unpack regarding both these characters and their relationship. For all the faults Volume 5 has, this is one aspect that the CRWBY nailed beautifully. It’s probably going to be a very long time until Raven comes back but I for one am excited to see what awaits both her and Yang in the future.

Negative: Raven’s Distrust in Ozpin

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OK, I know I just did a whole bit about why Raven’s a well-written character but there is one aspect to her characterisation that I absolutely dislike. And it’s not exactly a problem with her character per se but how it’s presented and written, and it’s the fact that she distrusts Ozpin.

On paper, this is a good idea. We know so little about Ozpin still so sowing some seeds of discord amongst the group could make for compelling drama. Ozpin might not be villainous but maybe he’s done some morally questionable things; things that could fundamentally change our perspective of him. The problem is that Raven does such a terrible job of putting this across. All she does is tell other characters (mostly Yang) and essentially the audience that we shouldn’t trust him without giving any concrete reasons why. And THEN she has the audacity to demand she be trusted, again, without any explanation why. No wonder Yang and Weiss took off immediately when they could.

“But wait, she DID tell them that she and Qrow were turned into birds by Ozpin.” That is correct but guess what? When he’s confronted about it, Ozpin immediately explains what he did, why he did it and that Qrow and Raven were WILLING participants, which Qrow also validates. On top of that, there don’t seem to be any negative side effects of the transformation so what exactly is there to complain about? Her argument essentially boils down to “Don’t trust him because I told you so.”

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Now you could say that Raven’s hypocrisy is intentional but the problem I have with tha is that it’s never really addressed. In fact, Yang does seem slightly distrustful of Ozpin when they meet up and demands no more secrets, which he happily agrees upon. Maybe he’s lying and he’s still hiding some stuff but so far there’s nothing to suggest otherwise.

It’s clear that, between Raven’s distrust and some stuff that I’ll get into in a bit regarding Hazel, the writers want us to be suspicious of Ozpin, but there’s honestly no reason to be. Hopefully this is something that’ll change in the future but a character doesn’t become morally ambiguous just because other characters say they are, especially when those other characters are the antagonists.

Negative: Hazel’s Motivations

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Man, Hazel was so cool when he first showed up. Soft-spoken but still intimidating, Hazel felt very out of place amongst Salem’s crew which only added to the air of mystery around him. And at first, Volume 5 kept that going pretty well, giving the impression that he was something of a pacifist who wished to avoid killing when it wasn’t necessary and took no pleasure in fighting children. I remember my Entertainment Dome co-host and I discussing what his deal possibly could be. And then the show not only shoves in and condenses his entire motivations in the space of a few seconds but manages to make his character completely underwhelming and less interesting.

At first it wasn’t so bad. In fact, Hazel’s sudden shift into monstrous anger towards Ozpin was exciting and terrifying. It’s always great when the quiet character loses it and goes on a rampage and between the music, his actor’s performance, his promise to kill Ozpin over and over again and his straight up stabbing Dust into his arms, it’s one of my favourite scenes in the show. It’s only deflated once Ozpin explains what his deal is. I know I said I wanted to know said deal but I didn’t think it would just be dropped in the middle of an already very busy final battle with little fanfare. Not to mention that Hazel’s motivation is so weak.

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With Hazel describing Ozpin as a “monster” and “evil,” his willingness to kill Oscar and him even saying “Tell him how you killed her!,” it looks like all the “Ozpin can’t be trusted” stuff will finally bear fruit. But it is instantly shot down with the explanation that Hazel’s mad because his sister signed up to be a Huntress and died during a mission. So, that’s apparently enough justification to not only despise Ozpin to to the point of wanting to murder him (even when he’s in the body of an innocent child) but also help Salem with whatever world-ending plans she has? I know grief changes a person but really?!

Even if you accept Hazel’s hatred of Ozpin (which is sort of understandable but I feel is over-exaggerated), his motivation is almost nonsensical and kind of stock and boring. I don’t know, I was just expecting a lot more from him. It doesn’t help that, much like Raven, Hazel is a hypocrite and said hypocrisy is never addressed. He unironically asks Ozpin how many more children will he let die when he’s in the middle of trying to crush Nora’s skull.

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This all leads back to the problem I explained in the last section – the show desperately wants to make us distrustful of Ozpin but it doesn’t. If Ozpin had actually killed Hazel’s sister himself, whether it be justified or not, it would’ve meant something. But her death was not Ozpin’s doing. Hell, Oscar even brings up that she must’ve known the risks. Hazel has the right to be upset but it feels like his actions don’t match at all.

Oh, and can I also add that making his voice distorted after he powers himself up was a really dumb decision? I know it was done to try and make him more intimidating but he already was! His voice actor, William Orendorff, already sounds deep and menacing. Adding that filter was not only distracting but actually made it a bit hard to understand what the hell he’s saying sometimes.

TL;DR, Hazel’s character is kind of lame now and it really infuriates me.

Negative: Barely Any Action

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Oh boy, now we get to one of my biggest criticisms of the volume. But before I do, I want to quickly clarify something. Back when Volume 1 was first coming out, it got a lot of flak from some viewers who thought there was too much talking and not enough fighting. They had clearly come just to see some cool Monty Oum-animated fight scenes. But it was clear that RWBY wanted to be more than an excuse for Monty to do his usual over-the-top anime-style fights – it wanted to tell a story. And that was fair. For all the grievances I had with it, I respected what it was trying to do. But even I felt starved for some action watching Volume 5 because, let’s face it, one of its biggest draws are its fight scenes, and there are barely any of them here.

Now that’s not to say that what action we do get is bad because it’s not. I’ll say it right now, I really enjoyed Weiss’ airship battle with the Lancers for its unique premise, Yang’s brief scuffle with the bandits was well-animated, the whole battle at the Belladonnas house was emotional and had some cool spots and Raven VS Cinder was a visual spectacle. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that most of the fight scene budget went into that final fight.

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The problem is that they’re spaced too far apart. Combined with the issues I mentioned regarding Team RNJR and it really accentuates the feeling that nothing is happening. What’s kind of annoying as well is that I feel like there were plenty of good opportunities to include some shorter fights throughout. For example, when Cinder’s group arrives at Raven’s camp. There could’ve been a bit where Emerald and Mercury fight off some of the bandits. Or some of the examples I’ve briefly mentioned before in this review, like Blake VS Adam or Adam VS Sienna.

I also can’t help but notice that we had more action in the freaking trailers. The Weiss and Yang trailers especially had some amazing fights. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I can’t help but feel like all their fight scene budget went into those trailers. And if that’s the case, maybe don’t focus too much on making original trailers next time if it’s going to hamper the actual show. But, again, I have no proof of this and I could be entirely off-base.

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Maybe the CRWBY simply didn’t want to put in fights where there didn’t need to be, which is fair enough. But if that was the case then the non-action needed to be more engaging than it actually was. And before you bring up the big-ass battle at the tail end of the volume, well, that has it’s own bundle of issues.

Negative: Ending Fights are Unfocused

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Let me set the scene. Our heroes have arrived at Haven Academy under false pretences. It’s a trap! Lionheart has betrayed them, Raven stands against them and has allied with Salem’s forces – a number of which, including the revitalised Cinder, have arrived, surrounding them. The stage is set for a war between the two factions as they battle over the Relic… SO WHY ISN’T IT COOL?!

OK, that’s a mild exaggeration. There are certainly cool moments peppered throughout. My personal favourites are Nora redirecting Hazel’s own lightning back at him and smashing him through a wall, Ruby headbutting Mercury and the entire confrontation between Jaune and Cinder, which was something I didn’t know I wanted until it happened and not only leads into that dramatic moment of Weiss getting stabbed similarly to Pyrrha and Jaune unlocking his Semblance to save her but is also responsible for possibly my favourite scene in the entire series so far.

Unfortunately, that’s all this big fight really has – moments. As a whole, it’s kind of a mess and very unfocused. While there’s nothing wrong with the idea, it never feels like any of these fights are fully developed or realised. Hell, a lot of them could’ve easily been the focus of a whole episode. Ruby VS Emerald, Qrow VS Raven, freaking Yang VS Mercury! We finally get a rematch between the two and it’s nothing more but a bit part in a bigger fight.

On top of that, whenever it jumps to a fight, the action almost comes to a standstill so the characters can exchange dialogue. And while I love mid-fight banter, it doesn’t quite work when, once said banter is over, we cut away from the fight to another fight and have the exact same thing happen again.

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Other issues include characters sometimes just standing around doing nothing (I guess they’re all following the honour system? But why would the villains stop attacking when everyone else is shocked by Weiss getting stabbed?) and in some shots, some characters are nowhere to be seen. These ones are admittedly a bit minor but it all comes together to make this big final battle for the volume really underwhelming and not as hype as it should be.

All in all, Volume 5 is probably the weakest in terms of its action and I sincerely hope the next volume is a substantial improvement.

Negative: Did Cinder Die?

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There is a very strong chance that this section will become super irrelevant and outdated once Volume 6 starts airing or at some point in the show’s future, but I wanted to posit this question just in case because, guess what, I have some strong opinions about it. And that question is – did Cinder die?

Now some of you are probably thinking “Well obviously she didn’t. There’s no way they’d kill her off here.” And maybe you’re right. I hope to God you’re right. But her defeat at the hands of Raven had a sense of finality to it. Between the music, the camerawork and the look of horrified realisation on Cinder’s scarred face as she instantly freezes and falls into the abyss, you get the sense that this really is the end for her. And if it is… WHAT?! THAT’S how you kill off Cinder?!

My issues with this are threefold. Firstly, Cinder had only just come back. Her brief encounter with Ruby at the end of Volume 3 left her damaged both physically and mentally. She spent the entirety of Volume 4 trying to recover and appeared in Volume 5 back to full strength and eager for revenge. So killing her off here feels anti-climactic. Secondly, she still had a lot of potential character development, between her desire for more Maiden powers and wanting revenge against Ruby. Hell, we still know nothing about her backstory.

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And thirdly, the entire series has been constantly teasing a fight between her and Ruby. Now I’m not saying Ruby should be the one to kill her since it’d be wildly out of character but you can’t allude to what could potentially be an amazing fight, especially one between two characters with a lot of antagonism towards each other, and then not do it. Yeah, the fight between Raven and Cinder was awesome but Raven only really became somewhat relevant to the story until this volume (or arguably Volume 4).

Let me put this way. Remember how the Harry Potter books kept teasing an eventual climactic battle between Harry and Voldemort? Well now imagine that, in the final book, Voldemort was killed by another character that had only recently been introduced whilst Harry was in another room far away fighting some minor villains. It’d be infuriating, wouldn’t it? You’d feel robbed of an epic scene. That’s how I feel about this.

But, again, I could be completely wrong. “Never saw the body” and all that. With any luck, Cinder will reappear either in the next volume or later, even more pissed off and with much darker ambitions. If not, then this could be the most boneheaded move the series has ever taken.

Positive: The Reunions

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I can bitch and moan about all the issues I have with Volume 5 but it still had moments that tugged my heartstrings. Actually, no, it didn’t tug them. It grabbed and violently shook them. I am, of course, specifically referring to the reunion scenes between the members of Team RWBY. It has been two years since we last saw the whole team together and I know I’m not the only one who was desperate to see them united again. Fortunately, Volume 5 delivered.

First of all, we have that scene of Weiss and Yang finding each other at Raven’s bandit camp, which was pretty humourous at first given that neither was expecting the other to be there. Also, it gave us this exchange:

“Your MOM kidnapped me?!”
“YOU kidnapped HER?!”

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But once everything had calmed down, Weiss just throws herself into Yang’s arms, gives her the biggest hug we’ve ever seen Weiss give and just say that she missed her, with Yang gently stroking her hair in return whilst Home, a track from the previous volume, plays. It’s short but sweet and gets all the necessary emotions across. I won’t lie, it nearly brought a tear to my eye. The next scene, on the other hand, DID.

Weiss and Yang have arrived at the house where RNJR is, and Ruby is stunned to see them and clearly struggling with all the emotions she’s feeling. She tries desperately to apologise for running off but Yang simply pulls her in for a hug and says “I love you.” Not only is Yang pretty much telling Ruby that it’s OK and she’s just happy to see her, but it’s also a follow-up to their last scene together in Volume 3, when Yang was jaded and depressed. The last thing Ruby said to her before she left was “I love you” and Yang never responded in kind. Until now, at least.

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The only way this scene could’ve been better was if Weiss got to join in, considering she had been separated from both of them for so long and they were essentially her family at this point. … Oh wait, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID! SHE’S JUST OFF TO THE SIDE ALL MELANCHOLY BUT THEN RUBY GESTURES HER TO JOIN IN AND SHE’S SO HAPPY AND THEY HUG AND IT’S BEAUTIFUL AND I NEED A MINUTE!

OK, I’ve calmed down now but I think I’ve made my point clear.

And then there’s the big one right at the end when the whole team is finally reunited with Blake’s arrival. We get that dramatic shot of Team RWY all seeing Blake across the way and her seeing them back but rather than catch up, they wordlessly agree that now’s not the time and to focus on their respective battles, with Blake later jumping in to assist Ruby and Weiss and they act like she never left.

And then later, once the fight’s over, Blake sort of awkwardly approaches them and is all “Hey, guys” and everyone else is like “Hi, Blake, uh, fancy meeting you here.” It’s not particularly grandiose but it works so well regardless. You know how I complained about how characters spend so much time giving long-winded speeches in this volume? Well, there’s none of that here.

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Blake just asks what’s going on, Ruby says it’s a long story and Blake replies with “I’m not going anywhere” – she’s letting them know she’s not going to run away again and she’s back for good. And I love how Yang, who was hurt the most from Blake’s departure, rather than make a big deal out of it, just smiles – a simple act that shows that she’s either forgiven Blake or she’s forgotten how angry she was and is just happy to see her again. Combined with the music playing, it makes for possibly the most satisfying scene in the entire volume.

The team is back together. They’ve overcome the pain of their separation and can now support each other once more. The journey ahead just got a little bit easier.

So, what’s my final conclusion? Well, sadly, while Volume 5 is marginally better on a second viewing and has praiseworthy moments, I still think my initial criticisms are valid. It has a myriad of issues that pile up and ultimately drag it down, and worst of all, it’s boring in a lot of places. When I was watching it to take notes, there were several moments where I nearly picked up my phone to check Twitter for a bit. I had no compulsion to do that with any of the previous volumes.

Does this mean I think it’s all downhill from here? No. I’m still excited to see what Volume 6 has in store, and with Team RWBY now back together, the weird pacing issues should be fixed. Maybe if the story’s slightly more streamlined and they trim the cast a bit (I think it’s time characters like Ilia and Blake’s parents exit the story for a bit), Volume 6 can remind us how good the show is capable of being. Our heroes’ next destination has a lot of potential; time will tell with the CRWBY utilises it.

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