RWBY Volume 8 – Deliciously Dark or Dreary and Dismal?

RWBY Volume 8 is a weird one, because when I watched the final episode, I was left feeling really unsure of how I felt about it. If you listened to the RWBY recaps on The Entertainment Dome, you’ll know that my co-host and I were otherwise enjoying it until that last episode. For a short while, I reconsidered whether Volume 8 as a whole was actually quite bad and I just hadn’t realised yet.

This meant I was very curious to rewatch it in one sitting; to see if the things I liked/didn’t like about it were as good/bad as I initially thought they were. And to figure out once and for all how Volume 8 compares to the previous ones in terms of quality.

Positive: The Tone

One of my favourite things about Volume 3 was its much darker tone compared to the first two. But Volume 8 arguably has it beat in that department. The scenario alone is the most dire so far – our heroes caught between Salem’s invasion and Ironwood’s forces while Mantle and Atlas remain in jeopardy – and unlike Volume 3 where its darker nature was gradually built up throughout, Volume 8 hits the ground running.

With the stakes higher than they’ve ever been, every episode was honestly anxiety inducing. While there are thankfully plenty of lighthearted moments throughout to give the audience and characters a breather, there is a dreaded uncertainty that lingers over it all. It was almost impossible to predict what would happen next and every episode ended with my heart in my throat. I even felt anxious watching it on the second viewing despite knowing what would happen. Not to mention it lent itself well to some great development/moments for certain characters.

We definitely need a more chill volume after this one, but it’s good to see the show not hold back from crafting incredibly tense and horrid situations. At the same time, much like with Volume 3, it never goes too deep into the darkness (except for maybe one bit but I’ll get into that later) and makes sure there are scenes of calm, comedy, and love peppered throughout to keep our hopes high. After all, it makes the moments of loss and hurt all the more painful.

Negative: The Action’s Kind of Weak

This one’s a bit hard to explain because I wouldn’t classify any of the action in this volume as ‘bad.’ Some of the set pieces are perfectly enjoyable, like the hoverbike chase and the fight on top of Amity Colosseum. But there was something… lacking, I guess.

When I think of RWBY action, I think of the Nevermore fight in Volume 1, Qrow vs Tyrian in Volume 4, Blake and Yang vs Adam in Volume 6; fights that are super fast-paced but can still be followed, that are creative in how the characters use their weapons, skills, or the environment, that are filled with little moments that you only spot on repeated viewings. I’m talking about the kind that elicit a sense of awe and excitement every time you watch them. And honestly, Volume 8 didn’t really have anything like that. I think the closest it got was when Team JNR, Oscar, and Winter teamed up against Ironwood but that fight was disappointingly short.

The worst case is the whole finale, which is eerily similar to Volume 5 in how it kind of makes the same mistakes. Team RWBY vs Cinder, Winter vs Ironwood, and Qrow vs Harriet are fantastic fight concepts, but because it’s juggling all three at once, none of them are fleshed out and fail to be as epic as they should have been. That said, to give Volume 8 credit, it at least HAS fights and what we do see is still decent, as opposed to Volume 5 which had very little action and what action there was was shockingly poor most of the time (plus Volume 8‘s non-action stuff is infinitely more interesting than Volume 5‘s non-action).

I kind of want to give Volume 8 the benefit of the doubt because it was being made in 2020 when the whole world had shut down due to COVID-19 and the crew had to all work from home. They’ve demonstrated before that they can make really good fight scenes and maybe they struggled with that due to circumstances out of their control.

But, for whatever reason, the action this volume was simply not as strong as it could’ve been. Again, none of it’s bad and it’s mostly pretty decent, but the show’s done better and hopefully it will return to that standard with Volume 9.

Positive/Negative: Ruby & Yang’s Disagreement

Having Ruby and Yang have a slight falling out in the first episode was such a great idea. What better way to up the stakes than having personal drama within the hero team? Sometimes it can backfire, but Volume 8 avoids this since, rather than have Ruby and Yang together the whole time and constantly bickering, the team splits up, with Ruby leading one half and Yang the other.

Plus, while the team has dealt with interpersonal drama before, it being between Ruby and Yang made it all the more shocking and engaging. We’ve never really seen the two fight before and it’s stunning to hear Yang, who has always stood by her sister and followed her lead, suggest that maybe letting Ruby be in charge wasn’t a good idea. Not out of cruelty or anger, but because things simply haven’t worked out and maybe it’s time for a change of perspective.

Ultimately, Ruby and Yang do want the same thing, but it’s their beliefs that clash. Whereas Ruby is looking at the bigger picture, Yang wants to prioritise helping the people who need it right now. Rather than put stock in a plan that may or may not work, she’d rather make a tangible and guaranteed difference. The show also thankfully never paints either one of them for being in the wrong, using it to further drive how dire things have got and act as a catalyst for the team splitting up, which in turn leads to some neat opportunities for interactions between characters who otherwise have barely spoken with one another (e.g. Yang and Ren).

So, how come I’ve also classed it as a negative? Well, it ends up not really going anywhere. While the fallout does clearly linger on Ruby and Yang after they split up (although, humorously, it’s implied Yang cares more about Blake’s opinion of her than Ruby’s), the two of them seem to immediately make up once they’ve reunited. The scene where Yang tells Ruby she wasn’t wrong to have hope and take a risk on the Amity plan is nice and all, but the whole thing feels somewhat underdeveloped.

I think what I ultimately wanted was for the disagreements to escalate. For things to start small before ending with Yang splintering from the team. Basically, this should have been set up in Volume 7. Perhaps having Yang being uncomfortable with some of Ruby’s decisions before gradually becoming more vocal with her disagreements but always being shut down. It’s not a bad little character arc, but it winds up being a small piece of the plot rather than a main plot arc.

Positive: Jaune

Not a lot to really say here, but I just liked how Jaune was handled in this volume. He admittedly takes more of a backseat to most of the cast, much like in Volume 7, but that’s because what we’re seeing is a character who has completed his own arc, and it’s nice. While he is still the same lovable goof we met in Volume 1, it’s evident how much Jaune has grown since then.

Unlike everyone else, he seems to be the only one with a firm head on his shoulders; the direness of the entire situation isn’t clouding his judgement and he winds up acting as a mediator. Ruby and Yang want to pursue different plans, so Jaune recommends they split up to achieve both. He attempts to defuse tensions between Yang and Ren, he comes up with a rescue plan for Oscar that also benefits Winter and the Ace-Ops; he’s almost the only thing keeping the team from spiralling at points.

The obvious stand-out moment is when Ren comments on how he detects no fear in Jaune. Realistically speaking, that should be a cause for concern (fear is a healthy aspect that keeps you safe and alive), but I get the intent behind it. It’s meant to further highlight and re-enforce Jaune’s character growth. He’s no longer the clumsy idiot trying his best or the heartbroken soul struggling with survivor’s guilt; he’s a leader unafraid to face whatever darkness is ahead of him and fight for his friends.

All things said, it’s also clear that the writers have new intentions for Jaune and plan on giving him a new character arc. What that will be isn’t entirely apparent yet, but I’m curious/cautious about it considering a certain something that happens at the end (again, something I’ll cover later).

Negative: A Lot of the Same Points are Repeated

RWBY has always had a bit of a tendency to repeat the points it wants to make to an annoying degree, as if it’s worried the audience won’t pick up on them. It’s partially why I grew tired of the White Fang subplot and Volume 8 has a similar problem of the show presenting a core conflict with no right answer and having the characters make the exact same arguments rather than progress things in any meaningful way or demonstrate how difficult the situation is through actions.

At the beginning of the volume, the team is split on whether to address the problems right in front of them (help Mantle) or focus on the bigger picture (alert the world about Salem). Later on, a similar thing happens when Salem begins her attack on Atlas. The group wants to help Atlas but May argues that Mantle needs them more. Ultimately, what the volume is asking is, if given the choice, should you strive to save everyone or prioritise and focus on helping the people you believe need it most? It’s a good, difficult question but, whenever it’s brought up, it just feels like the show is spinning its wheels:

“We need to save everyone!”
“But there are people who need our help now!”
“But by saving everyone, that includes those people!”
“But they need help now!”
“But we should be helping everyone!”

The scene between Team RWB and May in the Schnee manor is probably the worst it gets, with their argument not really progressing anything. I’ve always felt RWBY can do a good job of presenting complicated scenarios and making sure there is no one right answer, but having the characters constantly bicker about it isn’t the best way of doing that.

I’m not even entirely sure how it’s really resolved. Ruby and Yang’s respective plans quickly fall apart (perhaps to signify how they can only succeed when united?), and the team does come up with a scheme to stop Ironwood and evacuate everyone from both Mantle and Atlas. Although that plan doesn’t pan out when a bunch of citizens wind up dying because of Cinder and the ones who survive are left stuck in a sandstorm.

Maybe the whole point was to simply present increasingly dire circumstances and how the characters react to them. On that front, then Volume 8 does do a good job. But if the characters are going to regularly discuss the themes of the show, those discussions need to evolve and progress along with the plot. Otherwise, you’re just writing the same scene multiple times and no one wants to watch that.

Negative: Oscar’s Character Still Feels Undercooked

Look, I like Oscar fine as a character and his situation is effectively tragic, but it really feels like the writers don’t know what to do with him most of the time. His introduction to the main cast already felt rather abrupt, almost as if he was a last minute addition, and despite being an important figure in the story, it never feels like he gets enough focus. His whole deal about being a host body for Ozpin, forced to take part in a war, and knowing that his very being will eventually vanish as he merges with Ozpin is a great character concept, and yet here we are four volumes later and his character seems to have barely progressed.

It’s bad enough that he seemed to get over the whole ‘losing your identity’ thing in Volume 6 off-screen, but when Ozpin comes back, Oscar is surprisingly bitter about it despite briefly sticking up for him at the end of Volume 6. It’s this line in particular that throws me:

“I’m not upset that you left. I’m upset you came back.”

Gonna be honest, I never got the sense that Oscar was kind of glad about Ozpin being gone. I can’t think of a single scene from Volume 7 that even so much as implied that. He also mentions truly feeling like part of the group but, again, his interactions with the other characters don’t seem all that different from before. If anything, the team had readily accepted him way back in Volume 5. When it looked like he ran away in Volume 6, everyone was feverishly looking for him and certainly not because he’s Ozpin’s host. I hesitate to call Oscar a static character, but the show hasn’t really done anything with him beyond his displeasure of feeling like another one of Ozpin’s lives. I honestly kind of want the merging to happen sooner rather than later just so we’re done with it.

Fortunately, Oscar does have a couple of shining moments this volume. He manages to weather out Salem and Hazel’s torture, he reconciles with Ozpin despite knowing full well they’re closer to completely merging (him admitting he’s scared to use Ozpin’s magic because it speeds up the process is a nice detail), it’s him who manages to reach out to Hazel and gets him to switch sides, and he stands up for Emerald after she joins the heroes (I’d love to see those two form an odd friendship later on). But I hope, going forward, he either gets a new character arc or the show at least stops repeating his already perfectly established fears.

Positive: The Ace-Ops (Except Marrow & Winter) Suck (But They Get Better)

Okay, this one may be a bit weird to explain but I love how unlikable the Ace-Ops get in this volume. After initially being portrayed as these elite idols for our heroes to aspire to be more like, they become nothing more than dutiful goons for Ironwood to boss around. Any respect other characters or the audience may have had for them is long gone. I certainly lost it when Harriet and Elm outright blame Penny for Winter’s injuries and say she stole the Winter Maiden’s powers.

It’s interesting because (with the exception of Marrow and Winter), they’re all awful in different ways. Vine seems to completely lack any sort of scruples and is on board for whatever Ironwood’s plans are so long as they get results. Same with Elm except she’s not interested in any sort of mediation. And when she does start to get uncomfortable with her orders, she still nods along. And Harriet is outright spiteful and mean. It reaches a point where you wonder if she doesn’t care what Ironwood’s orders are, she just wants to hurt the people who wronged her and get some payback. Let’s not forget that she was ready to bomb Mantle even after Ironwood was captured and foiled. She literally had no reason to continue that plan except out of pure spite (and being blinded by her own grief but we’ll get to that later).

Marrow and Winter are the only ones visibly wrestling with their situations. Of the original four, Marrow is the one openly questioning Ironwood’s decisions, showing disgust at him even sending Atlas students to the front lines against Salem’s invasion. It takes Ironwood threatening to bomb Mantle for him to finally reach his breaking point and, while his timing is awful and nearly gets him killed, it’s incredibly satisfying to see him call everyone out. I especially love this line:

“Do you even believe what you’re saying anymore? Do any of you believe in anything?”

It also makes perfect sense for Marrow to be the first to defect given that he’s a Faunus. He’s experienced oppression and prejudice just for existing and saw his role as an Ace-Op as an opportunity to stick up for and protect people, only to discover that he is now aiding the oppressor. And the show doesn’t even focus on that; it’s actually some decent subtlety.

As for Winter, after spending the majority of her screen-time as this super badass warrior for her sister to idolise, she too finds herself becoming another loyal dog for Ironwood and she hates it. Her usual confidence and self-assurance is practically gone and, like Marrow, she believes she has little choice but to follow Ironwood’s orders because it seems like the best and only option she has. I think, at some point, she only obeys Ironwood out of fear. Perhaps from the moment she witnessed him coldly murder one of the council members. She certainly looks afraid after Harriet rats her out to Ironwood for letting Jaune, Ren, and Yang go, which is an emotion we’ve not really seen Winter express.

I don’t know if it was intentional or not but her Ace-Ops outfit is a nice metaphor for her situation. To me, the Ace-Ops armour looked out of place and potentially uncomfortable, and maybe that’s the point. Ironwood decking her out in those colours is his way of forcing her into a position she doesn’t want to be in, restricting her own freedom of choice. Thankfully, she eventually switches sides too.

By the time Volume 8 ends, however, the rest of the Ace-Ops come around, even emphatically stating that they are friends despite their insistence of remaining purely professional, (which addresses one of my Volume 7 criticisms). It even culminates with Vine, easily the most methodical of the bunch, to make the purely emotionally driven decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of his friends. It’s actually tragic that, had they been able to be honest with their feelings, especially their mutual grief over losing Clover, perhaps they’d have defected far sooner.

The Ace-Ops will likely be gone for a while now, but they played their role this volume perfectly and their ending is satisfyingly tragic. Hopefully, next time we see them, they’ll be ready and waiting to fight alongside Ruby and friends again.

Positive: Pietro’s Overprotectiveness

Another minor point here, but it’s one that addresses one of my, albeit minor, criticisms from Volume 7. To quickly reiterate, I didn’t like how casually Pietro acted when he talked about reviving Penny. The volume did later reveal that he can’t keep rebuilding her over and over, establishing that Penny can die permanently, but I was kind of let down by how affable he remained. He rarely showed concern over Penny flying into danger despite her death and I felt like the whole thing was a missed opportunity for good drama.

Thankfully, Volume 8‘s more dire circumstances push his parental instincts into overdrive. Pietro plays a pretty small role all things considered, but as he’s working to get the Amity Communications Tower working to spread Ruby’s message, he noticeably becomes more controlling of Penny’s actions, outright ordering her around at points. It’s obviously born out of worry and Pietro eventually makes his feelings very blunt when he’s told to think about the big picture:

“I don’t care about the big picture! I care about my daughter!”

That one line was really all I needed. I finally got to see the inner grief and trauma that was probably eating this man up long before Volume 7 even started. Just because he was able to build her back together didn’t make her death any less painful and it’s an experience he never wants to relive. It’s ultimately a very tiny detail compared to everything else, but one that I greatly appreciated and helped make Pietro that much more of a tragic character come the volume’s end.

Positive: Ruby’ Message

The message itself isn’t what I’m focusing on for this section, but more so the scene itself. While the world being alerted of Salem’s existence is a big deal for the setting and story, I love this scene mostly for rather superficial reasons. Namely, getting to see a bunch of the supporting characters as they react to the news. Aside from it simply being cool seeing them all again, it’s a nice reminder of how many allies Ruby and co. have made and how they’ll all likely be eager to help however they can. Ilia’s scene in particular, with her receiving a call from Ghira, makes me very excited.

We even get to see the shopkeeper from the very first episode again. And Glynda, who hasn’t made an appearance since Volume 3! Not even a cameo in the RWBY Chibi shorts. She doesn’t have any lines but, honestly, that shocked expression on her face was all I needed.

We also get a heart-breaking moment with Tai’s reaction to the message. It’s really short but you can draw so much tragedy from it. He hasn’t seen his baby girl in who knows how long. And when he does, it’s in a global message describing possibly the worst situation she could be in and then the message is cut short, leaving her fate ambiguous. Tai can do nothing but cry out for her as he sits in an empty dark house with only his dog to comfort him.

Oh, and then there’s Salem’s reaction to the whole thing. After spending so long trying to hide her existence, I expected her to at least be a little miffed at Ruby’s message. But as it plays on Tyrian’s scroll, Salem’s only response is to pet him and smile. What does she know that we don’t? Or is she simply not at all bothered and actually glad she doesn’t have to hide anymore? Either way, I feel Salem’s only going to become even more dangerous from this point onward.

Positive: Cinder’s Backstory

I’m just gonna say this right now: Cinder’s backstory is the best part of Volume 8. After so many years of wondering, the show finally answers the question of how Cinder became the way she is and it is appropriately tragic and, in hindsight, painfully obvious. Considering her name and glass-themed Semblance, I kind of feel like an idiot for not realising that her past would be more or less identical to Cinderella’s (although I don’t think the Cinderella fairy-tale ended in a triple homicide).

Granted, some bits aren’t explained like how Cinder became an orphan in the first place but we don’t need to know every aspect. All that matters is that Cinder presumably spent most of, if not her entire childhood as the victim, pushed around and bullied. And when she was miraculously pulled out of that shitty life, it wasn’t out of love or sincerity; it was so she could be a quiet and submissive slave who exists to only do as she’s told.

In only a couple of minutes, we are shown how much emotional abuse she goes through at the hands of her mistress and vindictive twin daughters, which soon turns physical when she’s fitted with a shock collar to further keep her in line and dehumanise her. It’s borderline uncomfortable and the accompanying song, The Truth, only makes it worse: a domineering piece of music with lyrics that are just a bombardment of orders and reminders that Cinder’s life is worth nothing in the eyes of her ‘family.’ It’s the last few lines that I think hit the hardest:

“You’re no good I hope you know
That your life is of no use
And the truth is that
No one’s ever loved you”

The only bright spot in Cinder’s life is her meeting and friendship with Rhodes, a huntsman who upon realising Cinder was effectively being tortured and was probably already a hair’s breadth away from snapping, tried to mould her into a huntress. The promise of a better life once she turned 17 and the training sessions were assuredly the only things that kept Cinder going through all the pain. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough but, as awful as they all were, the murders of the twins and Cinder’s mistress do not feel satisfying for the audience… well, the look on that cow’s face as she realises Cinder’s grown numb to all the electrocution was a little satisfying, but her just getting her neck snapped is rough to watch.

What’s worse about that moment is the smile on Cinder’s face afterwards. It’s not a creepy smile of vindictiveness. She doesn’t relish in the murders; she’s just happy to be free of them. Her smile is one of relief and elation that she’ll never be hurt by them again and can forge her own life. And Rhodes, the one person she trusted and had any sort of meaningful attachment to, pulls his weapons on her because she’s a criminal now and it’s his job to bring her in.

I’ve seen some people, both jokingly and seriously, call Rhodes the worst character in all of RWBY, blaming him for Cinder’s situation and calling him an idiot for not getting her out of that woman’s hands immediately. And while I’m not going to defend him, I think some are overlooking that maybe Rhodes’ ineptitude was intentional. Let’s look back to Cinder’s little speech from Volume 3 when Pyrrha accidentally killed Penny.

“This is what happens when you hand over your trust, your safety, your children, to men who claim to be our guardians, but are, in reality, nothing more than men.”

While the purpose of that speech was to spread dissent and basically assassinate the reputation of the academies and the people in charge, it takes on a whole new context now that we know of Cinder’s relationship with Rhodes. Huntsmen and huntresses don’t just exist to deal with Grimm, but to help people in general. In the eyes of many, especially children, they are heroes.

Yet no huntsmen nor huntresses came to help Cinder. Whether out of genuine or deliberate ignorance, everyone who passed through that hotel made no attempt to aid her, except for Rhodes. And what does he do when he cottons on? Confront Cinder’s abuser? Inform local authorities or child/social services? Forcefully take Cinder away to raise her himself or put her in better hands? Nope, he essentially tells her to tough it out for seven more years and then she can legally leave. My point is that the entire huntsman system, not just Rhodes, failed Cinder, which no doubt only further pushed her into Salem’s grasp. She wasn’t only promised power, but the chance to dismantle the system that ignored her and left her to suffer.

To be fair to Rhodes, I think he did realise his mistakes in the end. Even though Cinder killed him, his last moments were spent patting her head and giving her a smile that could be read as apologetic.

Cinder’s backstory also paints her current situation in a new tragic light. She’s effectively traded one abusive relationship for another, all in a desperate pursuit for power, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if Cinder is even aware of this. Not to mention her relationship with Emerald. She finally has someone in her life that wants to form a meaningful bond with her, someone who genuinely likes her, and she routinely pushes them away, either out of distrust or obliviousness.

For the longest time, all we really knew about Cinder was that she craved power and control, and her backstory perfectly explains why that is. I’ll be discussing more about Cinder’s possible future later on, but I don’t know how anyone can’t feel even a twinge of sympathy for her. She’s not one of my all-time favourites, but I do think Cinder is now one of the best characters in the whole show.

Positive: Salem’s True Motives

Does anyone else think the reveal of Salem’s true motives was a tad… simple? I remember as I was watching this volume kind of reeling a bit from how casually it’s dropped but, regardless, I’m glad it’s been explained.

I was always a tad confused about why Salem was getting the Relics together if doing so would summon the gods and, in turn, get humanity wiped out. I almost wondered if Ozpin never mentioned that to her. After all, how can you conquer a world with no people living in it? But the truth is far simpler and had me slapping my forehead. Of course she wants the gods to come back and erase everything, because it would mean she’d get to die too. This is assuming Ozpin is correct and Salem doesn’t have some other hidden agenda but it makes perfect sense and it’s incredibly messed up that all the horrors and tragedies our heroes have suffered is because of one woman’s glorified suicide mission.

It’s also hilarious how Tyrian is clearly the only member of the villain squad who knew. Cinder, Emerald, Mercury, Watts and Hazel would obviously be far less willing to go along with her schemes if they knew what the end goal was. I think it’s easy to dismiss Tyrian as the stupid one of the group given his unhinged nature, but he’s demonstrated that crazy doesn’t mean dumb and there is some irony to be found in how he knew more about Salem than ‘smart’ characters like Watts.

Positive: Good Guy Whitley & Willow

Ever since Volume 4, I was convinced Whitley would eventually overshadow his asshole father and evolve into a full-fledged antagonist, possibly even joining Salem’s inner circle. Not only was I 100% wrong, I actually much prefer the direction his character took. You could probably argue that his transformation from Jacques Jr. in the making into a decent person was rather rushed but 1. he was never going to get any major focus or a season long character arc and 2. what we got was still effective.

I honestly expected Whitley to be incredibly hostile towards Weiss and her friends considering they are the reason his dad got arrested, something which clearly upset him. But, he still lets them into the mansion (although he didn’t really have much of a choice) and, later on, calls Klein to treat Nora. Not as a favour to Weiss but out of genuine altruism, possibly inspired by Ruby’s own words. Just look at the way his eyes light up when he figures out a plan to help all the refugees in Mantle.

Maybe this is meant to demonstrate that, deep down, this is who Whitley’s always been and his more negative traits were purely a result of his father being the only family member he could interact with for most of his life. It lends some credence to what Willow was implying in Volume 7; without his sisters or mother, who else did Whitley have to turn to but his dickhead dad?

At the same time, however, Jacques’ removal doesn’t immediately fix Whitley’s relationship with his mother nor does it undo all of Willow’s own psychological trauma. Whitley almost treats his mother with disdain when she emerges from her room, still with a bottle in her hand. Willow is still a sympathetic character and her panic attack during the Hound’s invasion is another reminder of her own pain, but let’s not forget that, in the end, she neglected Whitley.

Thankfully, the Hound winds up providing Willow the opportunity to start mending her and Whitley’s relationship, overcoming her alcoholism to assist Weiss in tracking the monster down and eventually saving Whitley’s life with her own Semblance.

I remember automatically assuming that it was Weiss who did it considering her summons have become a key part of her arsenal, but then it’s revealed Weiss wasn’t anywhere near Whitley, meaning it had to be Willow. She’s probably never used her Semblance in years and yet it triggered in that moment to protect her son. It’s subtle and the show never extrapolates on it afterwards, but what a fantastic little moment for Willow’s character.

I do wish the Schnee family as a whole got a lot more focus in the past couple of volumes, but it’s still incredibly satisfying to see them overcome their past grievances and the division created by Jacques and get on the path to becoming a proper family again.

Positive: The Hound

I think the Nuckelavee from Volume 4 is still the scariest Grimm in the show so far, but the Hound is a very close second. While it’s design may not be as imaginative (it is, at the end of the day, a large dog), the thing manages to exude terror. It helps that it makes an impactful entrance, effortlessly and mercilessly beating poor Oscar into the dirt like a savage animal.

And then the thing stands up on two legs and displays intelligence by using Oscar as a shield and straight up talking. When Ren demanded it give Oscar back, I chuckled at the thought of the Hound just saying “No.” So when it did exactly that, I lost my mind. Considering every other Grimm has more or less been a mindless monster, the simple act of making the Hound smart is enough to make it threatening.

On top of that, its monstrous roar, deep voice (provided by Jason Liebrecht aka Qrow’s actor), and its body-horror shapeshifting ability make an all around disturbing package that amps up the dread in every scene it’s in. The fact you can hear what sounds like bones cracking whenever it alters its body is a minor but perfect detail that further emphasises how unnatural the thing is.

Personally, Episode 8 is one of my favourite episodes in the whole series primarily because of the Hound, along with the accompanying music. Seeing it successfully break into the Schnee mansion and stalk the place with purpose, with none of the heroes able to stand up to it, is unnerving even on a re-watch. Part of me feels like its defeat was a bit too easy; I mean, Ruby does her silver eye thing and it falls through a window. It’s almost comical and nearly takes away its threatening aura.

But it pulls it back when it’s revealed that there’s a person inside it. And not just any person – someone with silver eyes. This is a detail I honestly missed because I was too distracted by the horror of someone being turned into a Grimm, with the poor man only able to repeat Salem’s instructions with half of his face deformed. But once I realised the silver eyes thing, it adds another level of horror to the Hound’s existence – the knowledge that Salem may have done this before, both as a means to combat against silver eyed warriors and for cruelty’s sake. And as one last reminder that it was once a person, it leaves behind a skeleton when it dies.

The Hound is not only one of the best Grimm our heroes have encountered but, even in defeat, it sets a chilling precedent for more of its kind to appear. Hopefully, any future silver eye/Grimm hybrids have unique designs and aren’t just the Hound again, but the possibility of something else like it showing up is exciting and terrifying, especially if this was Summer Rose’s fate.

Positive/Negative: Hazel, His Motivations, His Redemption, and Death

I genuinely feel sorry for Hazel fans. What could have been one of the most interesting characters in the show ended up being one of its messiest. I’ve already bitched about Hazel’s characterisation in my Volume 5 review so I’ll try not to spend too long reiterating what I said there. What I will say is that Volume 8 nearly, nearly, fixed my problems with him and I have to give credit where it’s due.

For starters, it does a better job of establishing his motivations. Beforehand, it seemed Hazel’s only reasoning for joining Salem was the death of his Huntress sister, which he blames Ozpin for. This always seemed extreme to me, but in this volume, we hear of Hazel’s first encounter with Salem and, suddenly, things make a lot more sense.

His reasons for joining Salem are twofold. First, he came to the conclusion that she was unstoppable. No matter how many times he killed her, she’d come right back. No use fighting something that cannot be killed. But then he also learned that she was the reason Ozpin founded the academies, the reason why children learn how to be Huntsmen and Huntresses. From his perspective, Ozpin was raising child soldiers to die in a war they could never win. That is a far more interesting motivation and fits the gentler personality Hazel demonstrated in his early appearances. He doesn’t want world domination, but to destroy a broken and flawed system that is getting innocent children, like his sister, killed.

But it often feels like his actions are at odds with his motivation. For someone who wishes to stop Ozpin from sending children to their deaths, he seems to have little problem with beating the shit out of them, as demonstrated by his brief scuffle with Nora in Volume 5 and his torture of Oscar. Sure, Oscar says he’s pulling his punches and some of his dialogue suggests that he takes no pleasure in it, but he’s clearly not pulling his punches that much as evidenced by Oscar’s black eye. He even calls Ozpin a coward for allowing Oscar to suffer when he’s the one doing the torturing.

Maybe the point is that Hazel’s too blinded by his own desire for revenge, or that he’s deluded himself into thinking that he’s fighting for a good cause when he’s just lashing out in grief. A line from Ozpin does suggest that is the case (“You haven’t done what you’ve done for justice. You’ve done it for yourself. Because [Salem] pushed you to think it would help you”). But I don’t feel the show does enough to really demonstrate that and fails to make him as complex as he should be.

Even his decision to defect from Salem is handled rather messily. On paper, I have no issue with it. Hazel may have been dedicated to the cause, but out of Salem’s forces, he was always the most likely to leave and join the good guys given his personality. But it feels like the show skips several steps in his transition from villain to hero.

When Oscar, obviously sensing an opportunity to bring Hazel to their side, unconditionally entrusts him with the password for the lamp, Hazel decides not to summon Jin himself but make Oscar do it to make sure he’s telling the truth. Fair, but when it does work, that alone seems to be everything Hazel needs to defect, to realise that he should do what his sister would do and stand against Salem. But how did he reach that conclusion? Most of his on-screen exchanges were with Ozpin, not Oscar. It was Ozpin that told him the truth about Salem and her real goals, but he chose not to believe him because, well, he hates him. But apparently Oscar simply surrendering info he needed was enough to convince him not to ally with Salem any more?

It’s not like trusting Oscar means he’s now forgiven Ozpin or anything. Although to be fair, I’m glad he doesn’t. His line to Oscar of “No more Gretchen’s, boy” is nice and succinct, establishing that he’s putting his trust squarely in Oscar. But Hazel’s defection should have been built up gradually over the course of multiple volumes. It’s not entirely out of character for him to do so, but it would feel a lot more natural if we had seen him and Oscar develop a proper relationship, maybe even friendship, throughout several encounters and allow Oscar to eventually break through to him. Here, though, he manages it with only a couple of sentences.

Sadly, this also leads to Hazel’s death, shutting down any potential and further grow or exploration of his character. He does go out in a literal blaze of glory and seeing him pummel Salem over and over is delightfully satisfying. Him grabbing her from behind and setting them both on fire is metal as hell too. In the end, though, I don’t mourn Hazel himself but his potential, which was completely squandered. He and his fans deserved a hell of a lot better.

Positive/Negative: Emerald’s Redemption

Kind of repeating myself here but my problem with Emerald’s defection is not that it happened to begin with, but its execution. Like Hazel, there was always the possibility of Emerald ditching Salem’s group, between her expressing some sympathy during the attack on Beacon in Volume 3 and it becoming more evident that she was really only there because of Cinder. A brief scene in Volume 6 seemed to tease the possibility, with Tyrian telling her and Mercury they should do what makes them happy. Combined with Emerald’s own dialogue, she was clearly not as devoted to Salem and her cause as Mercury.

But on re-watching Volume 8, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact trigger for her leaving and switching sides. We don’t see the moment where she comes to make this pretty major decision. This is probably something she’s considered for a while, but what was meant to be the final straw that pushed her into leaving? Is it because she overheard Ozpin’s talk of Salem’s end goal? If it was, I don’t think the show ever made that clear.

If anything, it seems she only leaves because she happened to be in the same room as Hazel when he decided to defect. “Oh hey guys, what’s going on in here? Oh we’re ditching Salem, okay, I guess I’ll come with you guys.” Maybe if her and Hazel had more of a defined relationship, that would make sense but the two have barely talked to each other throughout the whole series. Their only real interaction has been when Hazel tried to protect her from Salem in Volume 6 by taking the blame for Cinder’s failure.

What I find most perplexing about it all is that it happens completely independently of Cinder. Everything Emerald has done has been for Cinder. So, you would think that Cinder would play an integral part in Emerald leaving. But Cinder wasn’t even there. She was busy doing something else. And Emerald never seems to express any concerns for Cinder or regret that she left without talking to her.

It would make sense if Emerald finally realised that her relationship with Cinder is completely one-sided on her part. But the last conversation they had was Cinder expressing some restrained frustration that Emerald brought them back to Salem’s lair after she failed to take Penny’s Maiden powers. Had Cinder lashed out, verbally or physically, and expressed no regrets at her treatment of Emerald, that could’ve been the wake-up call Emerald needed. Cinder’s actual reaction is otherwise pretty tame and hardly seems like the kind of thing that would demonstrate how toxic Emerald’s relationship with her is. As far as I’m concerned, Emerald is still in denial and sees Cinder as an actual friend. I could totally picture her approaching Cinder and trying to convince her to leave Salem.

It’s a real shame too because I do like seeing Emerald aiding the heroes. Even though she has yet to completely earn their trust (I love how Ruby looks ready to rip her head off when she shows up with Oscar), she has some fun interactions with them given she’s far more cynical and there are early signs of her trying to atone for her past actions. She already has a nice bond with Oscar and I’d love to see her develop some friendships within the group and adjust to hanging out with them. It’s just frustrating that it feels like the writers were sticking to a very rigid deadline; like Emerald had to switch sides this volume regardless of how much or how little it had been built up.

Positive: Savage Watts

Honestly, I’m only including this in the review because this is both Watts’ best scene and one of the best scenes in the entire series thus far. It’s not only entertaining because we get to see Watts finally lose his patience with Cinder (with his voice actor Christopher Sabat absolutely nailing the performance), but it’s also a satisfying verbal takedown of Cinder’s entire character.

Everything Watts says about Cinder is 100% correct. In her one-track desire to obtain more power, she has only suffered failure to an almost embarrassing degree, failing to acquire more Maiden powers no less than three times, and completely scuppering Salem’s own plans. And all because she think she deserves it after having an abysmal childhood. Watts really does put it best:

“You think you’re entitled to everything just because you’ve suffered, but suffering isn’t enough. You can’t just be strong, you have to be smart. You can’t just be deserving, you have to be worthy. But all you have ever been is a bloody migraine!”

And he says this while Cinder is holding him by the throat atop a building, ready to just let him drop to an undignified death. But Watts doesn’t care, even releasing his grip on Cinder’s arm to highlight how he’s really had enough of her attitude. If he’s gonna die, he’s gonna call her out on all of her bullshit and let her know how pathetic and petulant she really is.

Shockingly, this kind of works in his favour since Cinder doesn’t drop him; she lets him live before sitting down and just quietly sobbing because, deep down, she knows he’s right. It’s an incredibly rare moment of emotional vulnerability for her and almost makes you feel sorry for her. We get a glimpse of the broken child behind the mask and it’s enough to make Watts take a chill pill and drop the issue.

Like I said, this is just a fantastic scene and it leads to some tremendous payoff for Cinder’s character going forward.

Positive: Qrow and Harriet’s Parallels

One of the nicest surprises of Volume 8 was seeing the parallels between Qrow and Harriet; seeing how Clover’s death affected them, and how they deal (or fail to deal) with it. During his time spent in jail, Qrow is mostly silent, keeping to himself and clearly playing Clover’s death over and over in his head, wishing things could’ve turned out differently. Even though I’m very much of the belief that Clover was partially responsible for his own death, it makes sense that Qrow would blame himself. And, at first, it seems the only thing that will give him any sense of closure is killing Ironwood. While he does need to be stopped, it’s pretty obvious that Qrow is more motivated by revenge. Not just for being arrested but Ironwood was ultimately the one who ordered Clover to bring Qrow in. In a way, it’s just as much Ironwood’s fault that Clover got killed.

Fortunately for Qrow, he has Robyn for company. Had she not been in prison with him, he most likely would’ve succumbed to his darker thoughts. But she not only gives him an understanding and compassionate person to talk to, she’s able to rightly call him out on how his desire to kill Ironwood is purely driven out of selfishness rather than it being the right thing to do. She’s also one of the few people to really understand what it’s like to be distanced from people due to her Semblance. It’s a little detail that I never considered but, as Robyn points out, having the power to know when people are lying would make a lot of people wary of getting close to her. Thus, the two are able to strike up a nice friendship that stops Qrow from going down a more self-destructive path; one that most certainly wouldn’t have dulled the pain of losing Clover.

Harriet, on the other hand, has no one to help her get through it. Much like Qrow, she channels her grief into anger and hatred, directing it at near enough everyone around her. I was surprised by just how nasty she gets at points and it only becomes clearer that she doesn’t follow Ironwood’s orders entirely out of loyalty but almost apathy. She doesn’t really give a damn about who’s in the right; she’s throwing herself into her job and willing to go ahead with Ironwood’s morally reprehensible plans (like blowing up Mantle) just to shut out the pain.

The sad part about all this is that Harriet had people who shared her grief and could’ve supported her in the Ace-Ops, but they’re all so emotionally stunted. As I said earlier in the review, they do care about each other, but they prioritise being soldiers first and friends second, and it completely bites them in the arse. By refusing to acknowledge or discuss Clover’s death and how it affected all of them, Harriet’s grief overwhelms her and ultimately leads to one of them – Vine – dying to save the rest.

My only, admittedly minor complaint is that it feels like the show implies that the reason Harriet took Clover’s death the hardest was because she had feelings for him. I’m talking about this brief exchange between her and Vine:

“Clover was… He was…”
“… Important to you.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it but if this was the case, I’m not a fan of it. Not only does it feel unnecessary since it doesn’t change anything, but it comes out of nowhere. I can’t recall a single moment from either Volume 7 or Volume 8 that insinuated Harriet had a crush on Clover and having this revelation in the second to last episode of the volume is far too late for it to matter.

Regardless, I quite liked Qrow and Harriet’s arcs this volume. I think there’s potential for the two to find common ground in their relationships with Clover and help each other come to terms with their grief. Harriet in particular will hopefully not drown herself in sorrow over Clover and Vine’s deaths, and instead be motivated to do and be better going forward.

Positive: Ironwood Gets Worse

In my Volume 7 review, I pondered where Ironwood’s path would take him. He had been cemented as a major antagonist, ready to do and sacrifice anything in his efforts to stop Salem. He was even willing to shoot and kill a child yet I felt there was still a lingering possibility that, come the end of Volume 8, he’d eventually realise his actions were only doing more harm than good and side with the heroes. BOY WAS I WRONG.

Ironwood doesn’t double down on his shitty behaviour; he triples down, attempting to emotionally blackmail Penny into surrendering and blaming Ruby and co. for what follows should Salem break through Atlas’ defences. Early on, however, the show is willing to highlight his positive qualities. One of his first scenes in the volume has him share a private moment with Winter, thanking her for sticking by him and admitting he wouldn’t know what to do without her. It’s a nice moment of compassion and kindness that shows that there is still something resembling a good person buried inside him.

But this is immediately followed by him calmly shooting one of the rightfully angry council members for the mere crime of asking questions. The lack of hesitation well and truly eradicates any ambiguity that Ironwood is a villain. One with good intentions, but a villain nevertheless. And he only gets worse from there.

His fear and desperation grow alongside the direness of his situation, prompting him to make more questionable decisions like recruiting Watts to hack into Penny (something that results in Penny nearly dying and leads to Watts’ escape) and using Yang, Jaune, and Ren as leverage. He’s more than willing to threaten the lives of teenagers to get what he wants, and he even suggests it with an amused chuckle for not thinking of it sooner.

It all comes to a head when he decides to just bomb Mantle. After all, the only reason Penny and her friends are disobeying him is because of Mantle so if he gets rid of it, they have no reason to fight him, right? It’s a twisted decision that rightfully leads to Winter and Marrow’s defection and truly sees him become no better than the villains he wants to stop. He’s no longer just ready to leave innocent people to die, he’ll kill them himself if need be. It reaches a point where you stop feeling any sort of sympathy for him.

He even appears to become needlessly petty by the end, casually killing Jacques for literally no reason as well as show zero self awareness with this gem of a line during his fight with Winter:

“I’ve only done what’s best for Remnant, and no one is grateful!”

That really sums it up, doesn’t it? Anyone who’s pushed back against him is ungrateful or naïve. Only he knows best, refusing to consider anyone else’s feelings or beliefs. In the end, this flawed but noble man who wanted to protect people descended into a bitter, deluded, selfish bastard. He even has the audacity to shed a tear over Winter’s betrayal, failing to see the significance of even his most trusted soldier turning on him.

The most tragic part of Ironwood’s arc is that he gets no opportunity to atone. As Atlas falls apart around him, he tries one last act of defiance by aiming his gun at Cinder and Salem, but he can’t even pull the trigger, be it out of physical or emotional exhaustion. He is left to drown, alone and remembered as a tyrant that pushed away his friends and allies. It’s a rough yet necessary conclusion to his story to demonstrate what happens when you allow yourself to be dictated by your fears.

Positive: Ruby Hits the Breaking Point

Ruby has always been the most optimistic member of the main cast; the shining beacon of hope that can pull others out of the darkness. So there’s nothing more enticing than the possibility of seeing her of all people finally break. We got a little taste of it in Volume 6, but that was more a result of her losing her patience with everyone else’s growing apathy and despair. In Volume 8, though, we start to see her really struggle with the monumental weight on her shoulders, specifically towards the end when Ironwood has issued his ultimatum.

As Ruby herself states, little has really been accomplished. The wider world seems to have just ignored her pleas for help, the destruction of Salem’s whale was but a temporary setback given Salem’s immortality, and no one in Atlas or Mantle is any safer. And the heroes are too caught up with arguing with each other to meaningfully achieve anything. This line in particular almost feels like Ruby is addressing my complaint of how the characters tend to repeat the same arguments:

“Then nothing has changed! We’re in the exact same spot we were yesterday. Arguing what to do while the Kingdom waits to die.”

This is followed by a sweet scene where Ruby is the one who has given up on being hopeful while Yang, immediately shifting into big sister mode, is telling her that having hope is not intrinsically a bad thing and that it’s better to take risks than do nothing at all.

Aside from it being heartwarming, the scene serves as a reminder that Ruby is still a kid. She’s really not meant to be making these sorts of decisions. On top of the revelation of the Hound and it setting up the possibility that her own mum has already met the same fate, no wonder Ruby is so emotionally drained and ready to throw in the towel. In the end, after being everyone else’s beacon, it’s her friends who help pull her back from the brink.

That said, I feel like what we saw here was but a precursor. Considering what happens during the climax, I fully expect Ruby to fully succumb to the grief; for the losses to become too heavy for her. Whether this leads to her completely shutting down or lashing out at the world around her, I can’t say, but I’m very excited about the possibility, if only to see how her friends and family help her through it.

Positive: Ren & Nora

Ren and Nora really have come a long way, haven’t they? What were once just Jaune’s other teammates are now not only part of the core cast, but are perhaps among my favourite characters in the show. They’re definitely my favourite couple… well, favourite canonical couple (#Whiterose4life). And Volume 8 may very well be them at their best.

Let’s start with Ren. I think I mentioned this in a previous review, but I never expected him to get any sort of major focus. Even after Volume 4 explained his backstory, I figured that’d be it, only for Volume 7 to come along and start teasing a new direction for his character. Given his growing unease about the fight against Salem, his initial willingness to follow Ironwood’s orders, and his encounter with Neo, I honestly expected him to potentially betray the team, deciding that Ironwood’s methods, while not ideal, really were the better option.

That obviously didn’t happen since what Ren was grappling with wasn’t the outcome of the mission, but his own insecurities. It doesn’t become apparent until after he, Yang, and Jaune lose Oscar and, after keeping his feelings bottled up for so long, he finally lets loose about how none of them were ever truly ready to be Hunstmen and how even their victories meant nothing because they got all the important decisions wrong. Ren has always been guarded and reserved with his emotions so it’s shocking to see him of all characters lash out at his friends, even going so far as to call out Jaune for cheating his way into Beacon. You could argue that he’s ultimately projecting his insecurities onto everyone else, especially since he clearly immediately regrets what he said to Jaune.

A part of me wishes we spent more time with this version of Ren since he overcomes his internal struggles in just a couple more episodes or so, but it’s still satisfying to see him finally realise that having emotions and attachments to people isn’t what makes you weak. A revelation that perhaps was spurned by witnessing how coldly the Ace-Ops appeared to treat each other and earns him a nifty evolution for his Semblance. I’m not that big of a fan of him spelling out precisely why the Ace-Ops lost their fight with Team RWBY in the last volume but it is what it is.

What makes up for it is that Ren’s fears of emotional attachment are conveyed relatively subtlety. It explains why he’s been more hesitant to commit to his relationship with Nora despite his feelings for her and, as I pointed out at the time, certain scenes from Volume 7 only fueled his fears of being more honest with his emotions. What happened when he agreed to an intimate moment with Nora? Tyrian attacked and killed a bunch of people. When Neo disguised herself as Nora, Ren had a moment of weakness that stopped him from attacking her, even though he knew she wasn’t the real Nora. That resulted in Neo escaping with the lamp. Of course this would all lead to him seeing his emotions as a crux.

For me, though, the bigger surprise was seeing Nora, after so long, get some proper focus and insight into her character. Since Volume 1, she’s mostly served as Ren’s goofy friend who can hit stuff real good… and the show not only admits that but shows what kind of effect that has had on her. Her relationship with Ren was already pretty strained by the end of Volume 7 and, with the two separated for the first time since the beginning of the series, Nora’s own insecurities bubble to the surface. She admits that she’s been dependent on Ren for so long that she doesn’t actually know who she really is and feels like her physical strength is all she’s good for.

In turn, this leads to her severely injuring herself by absorbing too much electricity in order to help Penny. While it is easily one of her finest moments in the whole show and she looks sick with those new scars, it highlights how little self worth she seems to have. If being strong and hitting stuff is all she’s good for, then that’s all she’ll do regardless of how much it may hurt her. She unfortunately doesn’t get quite as much focus this volume as Ren considering she winds up unconscious for most of it, but you got to take the crumbs when that’s all you’re getting.

Ren and Nora’s arcs come to a head once the heroes all reunite at the Schnee mansion and their heart-to-heart is easily one of my favourite scenes of the volume, maybe even in the whole series. Ren finally allows himself to be open and honest about his feelings, apologising for letting his insecurities hamper their relationship. And when Nora starts being self-critical, he doesn’t hesitate to point out that she’s wrong and she has value beyond being physically strong. What’s great is that he is 100% correct. While Nora hasn’t had as much focus as other characters, she’s also regularly proved that she’s not just the quirky but strong airhead she thinks she is, having demonstrated to be an emotionally mature, compassionate, hard working young woman who will always stick up for people.

This then leads to Ren saying those three magic words. I honestly never expected he’d be the one to say it first, but it also feels oddly appropriate. The fact he kind of stumbles over it at first before sincerely committing to it is the icing on the cake. Yet, in a nice role-reversal, Nora admits she’s not quite ready to commit to their partnership since she needs to undergo some self-discovery of her own. I remember during my first time watching Volume 8 thinking maybe the two would ‘break up’ as it were. Maybe Nora would even leave the show for a bit, but what we got is much more satisfying. They’re not quite ready to be a true couple yet, but they know they love each other and, for now, that’s all they need.

Positive: Ambrosius

I honestly never considered the other Relics having their own spirits so Ambrosius was something of a surprise to see. I initially had reservations about the idea, but he quickly grew on me thanks to his personality. As a being tied to the act of creation, making him something of a prideful architect was a smart decision that helps distinguish him from Jinn. His somewhat snobby attitude could have made him too unlikable but the show thankfully gives him enough positive traits. He respects what he considers stellar craftsmanship (as evidenced by his reaction to Penny) as well as Team RWBY’s plans for saving Penny and evacuating Atlas and Mantle. I think a lot of creatives can relate to his desire to be challenged and make things that are unique and interesting.

What I particularly love, though, is that his trait of doing exactly what he is asked for is used against the heroes. Weiss’ comment of making the portals a one-way trip to Vacuo is so innocuous that you never consider the drawback until you see Oscar is unable to go back through it. I just think this was a really neat way of elevating the drama without making Ambrosius a dick for no reason since this was an established character trait of his and he’s supposed to be an impartial character. Plus, much like Jinn, it draws on from the genie inspirations and how plenty of stories make a point to be careful with what you wish for.

All in all, Ambrosius is a neat additional minor character and I’m now curious to see what the other two spirits of Destruction and Choice are like.

Positive: Yang’s “Death”

Let’s be real. No one actually believed Yang had been killed off. I certainly didn’t. Even as she seemingly disintegrated, I was like “Eh, she’ll be fine.” So, how come I’m listing this as a positive? That’s because the purpose of these fake-out deaths isn’t to trick the audience, it’s to trick the characters. And if executed right, they can still be incredibly emotional moments. We’re not meant to actually be sad about Yang’s supposed death, but instead feel the emotions of her friends. And frankly, this scene, for as brief as it is, is near perfect.

From the way time seems to slow down as Yang takes Neo’s attack, to the echoes and lack of music, to Blake throwing her weapon to lasso around Yang only for it to just barely miss, leaving Yang to silently fall into the abyss below… if I was on the writing team and this scene was pitched to me, I’d be slamming the table going “Yes, that’s going in! Don’t change a thing!”

It’s ultimately the commitment to the bit that makes it work. Even if they knew the audience wasn’t going to buy it, the writers and animators did everything they could to make it seem like it actually happened. And like I said, the characters aren’t genre savvy. As far as they knew, Yang was killed and Blake’s scream and subsequent breakdown is heart-wrenching. I’ve heard some people criticise Ruby for barely reacting to her sister’s apparent death but, in her defence, she was probably too shaken by how quickly it happened and she was immediately assaulted by Neo, so she hardly had the time to register it.

The rest of the fake-out deaths definitely don’t hit as hard since they don’t get as much focus and, by that point, the show isn’t pretending anymore. They’re just there to highlight the ever growing direness of the situation and get our heroes into Volume 9. I just wanted to highlight Yang’s because of how well it was pulled off, making it one of my favourite scenes in the volume.

Negative: Penny’s Death

Oh lord, here we go. Easily my biggest point of contention with Volume 8 and the thing that honestly soured the whole thing on my first viewing. So much so that it made me think that everything that came before wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I’ll be blunt, I think killing Penny was one of, perhaps the most boneheaded decision RWBY has ever made.

For starters, she had already been killed off once before back in Volume 3. Yes, the possibility of her coming back was always there (it was something I even insisted would happen), but it wasn’t necessarily a guarantee. For all intents and purposes, she was dead. Then the show pretended to kill her again in this very volume, only for her to manage to survive. Even if this death sticks, it’s already not as impactful because we’ve seen it twice before. There’s technically no rule against it but I’ve always maintained that you should never kill off a character more than once. The first death is the only one that matters; any more is just going to make the audience groan and wonder why they were brought back to begin with.

This isn’t even like the Yang fake-out death where it’s mostly for the characters’ sake. Penny’s death is clearly meant to make us, the audience, feel distraught. To leave us weeping or at least heartbroken that this poor girl’s life was so tragically cut short. But I wasn’t upset, I was more annoyed than anything. Not even with Cinder for mortally wounding her, but with the writers for going through with it.

What does Penny’s death even accomplish? What is its purpose? To demonstrate how evil Cinder is? Well, we’ve always known that. To ramp up the despair for our heroes? Well, things were already pretty horrendous with civilians either dying or being stuck in a sandstorm with Grimm coming at them, and some of the heroes already believed to be dead. And since Penny’s Maiden powers went to Winter, another heroic character, and not Cinder, it doesn’t really change the situation that much except we have one less good guy on the roster.

Honestly, I think my biggest issue with it is how unnecessarily cruel it is. Penny gets to be an actual flesh and blood human and, before she can really take advantage of that, she’s just killed off. That’s a fun conversation someone will get to have with Pietro. “Hey, you know how you thought your robot daughter died? She lived and became human! She’s definitely dead now though.” Why you gotta do Pietro dirty like that?

Oh and let’s not forget that the one who kills Penny is actually Jaune. In order to prevent Cinder from draining Penny’s Maiden powers, Jaune essentially partakes in an assisted suicide that is undoubtedly going to scar him for at least a volume or two. I’m guessing this is so Jaune can get another character arc considering he had come to terms with Pyrrha’s death and his own survivor’s guilt, but this just seems like a bizarre direction to take him in. Especially if it just results in him needing to overcome another kind of trauma. Maybe it’ll pay off in the long run? At least I hope it does. If this is never really explored, then they made Jaune kill a friend of his for no good reason.

If Penny had to die this way, though, why Jaune? I don’t think the two have ever had a scene together and are mostly friends through association. Wouldn’t it have been far more tragic and appropriate if Ruby had to be the one to do it, especially considering how hard she tried to keep Penny safe and alive, unwilling to lose her again. Maybe she balks and just refuses despite Penny’s pleas, forcing Jaune to step in and do it. That would’ve made for some interesting character drama and put some focus on Ruby and Jaune’s friendship, something that I don’t think the show has really explored all that much.

Maybe the cruelty is the point, maybe Penny’s death is deliberately unfair, but I can’t help but feel unsatisfied with this being how Penny’s story wrapped up. I think there was a bit more potential that could’ve been done with her as a human, such as getting acclimatised to her new body and learning that she has new limits even with her Maiden powers. Plus, while I’d like to avoid doing any sort of ‘re-writes’ with these reviews, I couldn’t help but come up with a scenario that I personally think would have been more narratively satisfying but still offer that cruel despair the writers may have been aiming for.

Don’t kill off Penny. Kill off Winter.

Winter manages to overpower Ironwood all on her own and rushes to that void area where the citizens are being evacuated. Just as Cinder is about to deliver the killing blow against Penny, Winter, still haggard from the previous fight, dives in and takes the hit instead. I think this would’ve worked really well since Penny saved Winter’s life while fighting Cinder in the previous volume (so Winter’s returning the favour) and it would be a great act of selflessness from Winter after spending most of the volume following Ironwood’s orders, leaving it up to literal children to do the good work she should’ve been doing. Also, it would still be tragically cruel since Winter would never be able to reconnect with her mother and brother. Just as the Schnee family manages to break free of Jacques’ grip, one of them is snatched away, leaving a hole that can never be filled. Plus, we could’ve had a nice arc of Weiss coping with losing her big sister because, frankly, she’s well overdue some proper focus in my opinion.

Forgive the self-indulgence and feel free to disagree with my ideas. Even though I obviously prefer it, it’d be arrogant to assume that it’s inherently better than what we got, but it was the best way for me to surmise why I simply don’t like the decision to kill Penny. I know this may sound hypocritical considering I’ve loved the darker direction the show’s been going in since Volume 3, but this was just too bleak even for me.

Positive/Negative: The Other Major Deaths

On the subject of character deaths, let’s run through the other notable ones since I have mixed feelings about them. First, Jacques. Look, the dude sucked and I’m not particularly sad to see him go, but did anyone else find his death a bit too mean? It honestly made me feel a bit sorry for him. I think my real issue with it is that it just seemed uncharacteristically petty for Ironwood. Why did he even bother? To remind the audience he’s still an asshole? We’ve known that the whole volume. I also think they missed a trick with Winter not learning of her dad’s death. Could’ve been interesting to see how she’d react; would she have been shaken since he was still her dad or would she not give a shit?

Next, Vine. Honestly, his death was perfect. There’s a beautiful irony in how the least emotional member of the Ace-Ops is the one to make the very emotionally driven decision to sacrifice himself to save his friends. It also serves as some nice repercussions for Harriet’s actions and will hopefully motivate her to be a better person and more honest with her emotions going forward.

As for Watts… okay, admittedly, there’s nothing technically wrong with his death. It’s actually almost satisfying that he’s outsmarted by Cinder of all people and just left to burn to death, futilely smacking against a window knowing, for all his genius, he got played by someone he deemed intellectually inferior. I’m just bummed because he was one of my favourite villains and I’d have loved to see him do more. He never even got to interact with any of the main heroes which feels like such a missed opportunity.

Lastly, there’s Ironwood. At first, I actually found his death rather underwhelming but, upon reflection, his was perhaps the most fitting of all. He doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory or heroic defiance. Salem and Cinder basically ignore him and leave him to die alone. He didn’t even have the strength or willpower to fire his gun at them. His final thoughts were either regret over having pushed everyone away and knowing he’ll die a hated man or despair knowing he had failed. Maybe a bit of both. I think I would’ve preferred it if we got to see his literal last moments. Maybe a shot of a rush of water coming at him and he just silently stares ahead, closing his eyes just as the water takes him, but that’s just a personal thing.

Positive: Cinder’s Actions in the Climax

As dangerous as Cinder has always been, she stopped being actually threatening a long time ago thanks to her constant losses, her increasingly petulant attitude, and Salem’s introduction as the real big bad of the story. Volume 8 changed that, specifically its last couple of episodes. After Watts’ verbal smackdown, Cinder surprisingly took what he said to heart. She worked smarter, not harder and, in doing so, managed to retrieve two Relics for Salem, kill off several of her adversaries (or so she thinks), get rid of Neo and Watts, and get away with all of it. She even lied to Salem’s face about Team RWBY using the lamp and blaming Ruby’s death on Neo, and it seems like Salem bought it.

Maybe that’s not the case at all but, for the time being, it feels like Cinder has really been elevated as a villain. She’s not just one more lackey for Salem, if anything she feels much closer to being her number two, especially with Watts out of the picture. Given her deception, I almost wonder if she’ll eventually surpass Salem, becoming the true final villain of the series. After all, Cinder is constantly lusting for power and I can’t imagine she’ll want to keep playing second fiddle to Salem for much longer, especially if she ever finds out Salem’s true objective.

For all its faults, Volume 8 was entirely worth it for Cinder’s arc alone. Her backstory helped elicit some sympathy but, as the finale demonstrates, that broken little girl is long gone. She’s been shedding more and more of her humanity (both figuratively and literally – what if she replaces more and more of her body with Grimm stuff?) and is now one more monster for our heroes to overcome. Here’s hoping her development sticks and she only becomes more manipulative and dangerous in the future.

Extra Minor Points

Before I wrap up with my final thoughts, there are a bunch of other details that I didn’t want to dedicate whole sections of the review too but wanted to mention anyway. In case it’s not obvious, things I liked have a + sign next to them while things with a – sign I didn’t like.

+ The opening theme song, For Every Life, might be my new favourite
+ Neo steals every scene she’s in. There are too many little moments of hers that I can mention
– Where were the flying monkeys? I was promised flying monkeys and they barely showed up this volume
– The racist old lady. Bad writers, you drop that plot point right now!
– Everyone just kind of watches the Hound beat the shit out of Oscar. I get they’re in shock but they have guns, use them!
+ Happy Blake
+ Ruby and Penny’s friendship and their interactions. No wonder people ship these two
+ Weiss getting sucked into the tube
+ “And my name is Penny.” Queen shit
+ Nora hitting all the buttons in the elevator
+ Penny just explaining how Ruby’s Semblance works, and Blake and Ruby’s reactions to it
+ The whole “read the sign, Bill!” scene
+ This shot:

+ Pietro taking control of Penny’s body. Her body and mouth movements are so stiff and jarring. It’s a nice, little reminder that her body is still that of a machine and possible foreshadowing of Watts’ takeover
+ Weiss and Blake being Nora’s supportive aunts
+ Salem making little shadow versions of her daughters. It clearly shows she hasn’t forgotten about how they all died and it is likely a very sore memory for her
+ I also appreciate that Salem recognises Ozpin and Oscar as two different people. It would’ve been a tad trite if she treated Oscar as Ozpin
+ Cute Aliens reference with Maria in the mech suit
+ Neo getting one-shotted by Penny’s laser
+ Even though I was convinced she wouldn’t die, Penny getting hacked and falling from Amity is still really effective
– They got AmaLee to voice the stepsisters but she doesn’t get a song on the soundtrack?!
+ How is it that Salem showing support for Cinder is still so unnerving?
+ “I outrank you.” Queen shit
+ Klein, the most powerful character in the show, comes back. Should’ve sent him into the whale. He’d drag Salem out by the ear and single-handedly save the day
+ Blake reassuring Ruby and admitting that she looks up to her
+ This shot:

+ Also this shot (although I am butthurt we were denied Weiss summoning a Nevermore):

+ Team FNKI got drafted for war? Wow, you suck, Ironwood
– Marrow getting Jaune’s name wrong again. I know it’s a call back to a gag in Volume 7 but it did not belong in an otherwise tense and dramatic scene
+ The animation on Salem when she regenerates
+ “Summer Rose! My mum!” Somewhere, Raven is crying and she doesn’t know why
+ All those shots of the whale exploding. Like, hot damn, that shit was amazing
– Why didn’t Blake and Yang kiss when they reunited?! The moment was right there!
+ Weiss telling Emerald to shut up
– Ironwood’s big gun. It just looks really silly and super unwieldy.
+ “You’ve done the right thing.” “I have. Feels weird.” Queen shit
+ Pouty Winter
+ Penny giving everyone hugs after turning human
– Why did Winter just leave Ironwood’s gun on the floor of the prison and not lock it up somewhere?
+ Blake going feral on Neo
+ Qrow flying through the windshield to attack Harriet. Legit thought he was gonna stab her
+ Weiss using Blake’s weapon against Cinder
+ Qrow silently screaming for his nieces
Friend is a good song, but a part of me feels it wasn’t a good choice for the credits. It felt too happy for what was otherwise an extremely dour ending


So, was Volume 8 actually really bad? No, not really. In fact, if we judged it purely on the good stuff, it’d probably be one of the best volumes in the whole show. It’s certainly home to some of its best moments. Yet, for all the good it does, there are just too many problems weighing it down, some of which are incredibly aggravating and disappointing. In the end, I think the best way to describe Volume 8 is ‘flawed,’ which is why I think it appropriately finds itself somewhere in the middle when we rank the volumes from best to worst:

  1. Volume 3
  2. Volume 6
  3. Volume 7
  4. Volume 4
  5. Volume 8
  6. Volume 2
  7. Volume 1
  8. Volume 5

I’d still say there’s a significant difference in quality between Volume 2 and Volume 8, but I ultimately had far less issues with the likes of Volume 4 and Volume 7. And this volume has still left me intrigued and excited for Volume 9, which looks to be a little more light-hearted while still dealing with the ramifications of what came before. I’ve got pretty high expectations; let’s hope Volume 9 meets at least most of them.


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