Once Upon a Time
RWBY is an anime-inspired series created by the late Monty Oum for Rooster Teeth. The series takes many elements from fairy tales and legends as it weaves its way. It tells the tale of Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long. (Or, if you prefer, based on their colours devised by Monty: Red, White, Black, Yellow).
They live in Remnant, a world like ours – but not quite, for outside the safety of the main cities the world is plagued by monsters called the creatures of Grimm. It is these evil creatures that a select few are trained to defend humanity against, becoming huntsmen and huntresses at one of the academies. This is the path our four lead characters choose.
OK, so it seems odd that someone like me who is devoted to books and writing would dedicate a blog to a web show… But I absolutely love the creativity that’s gone into RWBY. The narrative and character development has been (almost) as good as in a book.
Monty Oum, a fantastic visionary
Monty Oum sadly died in 2015 at the age of just 33, during production of Volume 3. He never got to see his creation reach its full potential.
But he left behind the storyboards for the show, which his long-time colleagues Miles Luna, Kerry Shawcross (and the rest of the crew at Rooster Teeth) have taken forward. RWBY is a saga that like any good book is on its way to a definitive endpoint, in line with Monty’s fantastic original vision.
As Monty himself said, “keep moving forward”.
Synopsis (No spoilers)
A naïve young hero, a rich heiress, a troubled rebel and a fun-seeking party girl. These are the four disparate characters who come together at Beacon Academy to form team RWBY. Ruby and Yang are half-sisters, but none of the others know each other. They each have some hidden reason as to why they have chosen to become a huntress.
Besides our four lead characters there is a wide cast, including other students who take their place in the story. These include the clumsy Jaune Arc, famed tournament champion Pyrrha Nikos, calm and studious Lie Ren and the bubbly Nora Valkyrie. But the story is not all about college life, there are monsters and villains to be fought.
The story opens in Vale, one of the four kingdoms on the world of Remnant, and home to Beacon Academy. This is headed up by the enigmatic Professor Ozpin, who always seems to know more than he lets on. Everyone’s thoughts are on the upcoming Vytal Festival, a biennial tournament between the four academies on Remnant; but although Ozpin insists this is ‘a time of peace’, dark clouds are gathering and the creatures of Grimm are becoming more and more active…
It’s no spoiler to say RWBY is not all it seems when you start watching it. Perhaps I can put it like this. Volumes 1 and 2 could very loosely be termed as “all a bit Harry Potter”; volume 3 might vaguely come across as “Hunger Games-ish”; volumes 4 and 5 veer sharply from much of what we’ve known towards a “Lord of the Rings-esque” mood. And then there’s volume 6 and 7 onwards…
About Huntsmen and Huntresses
Huntsman and huntresses dedicate their lives to defending humanity against the creatures of Grimm. They are trained at one of the four academies across the world (such as Beacon).
Each huntsman and huntress has their own specific weapon, often crafted themselves. So Ruby has her scythe (which turns into a sniper rifle); Weiss has her sword (which casts glyphs and channels dust energy); Blake has a katana (which also shoots projectiles), and Yang uses a pair of shotgun gauntlets. In short, whatever it is, get used to the fact that in RWBY “it’s also a gun”.
Notice how the characters in RWBY get knocked around badly, but still survive? That’s because of their ‘aura‘; the strength of their soul, which forms a protective barrier around themselves. While this is useful for our heroes in a fight, ‘aura’ can quickly be used up and then they are vulnerable.
Everyone also has their own individual ‘semblance‘; this is a unique ability of some type. For example, this might be speed or the ability to use mental tricks; but sometimes it takes years for a person to unlock and discover what their semblance is.
About The Grimm
Despite appearances, the creatures of Grimm are not biological animals (so don’t be worried at the rate with which they are dispatched!) Instead these are creatures of destruction; perhaps something closer to demons. This is shown by the manner in which the monsters dissolve into particles when slain. I would say more about them, but that would bring in some pretty big spoilers!
Continuing the symbolic fairy-tale twists often seen in RWBY, the Grimm are not named for their animal shape, but by an alternative. So a crow-shaped Grimm is a “Nevermore”; a bear-shaped Grimm is an “Ursa”; a hornet-shaped Grimm is a “Lancer”; and so on.
A huge draw to RWBY for many people is the music. Perhaps the animation and voice acting starts off at a basic level (see below), but both songs and incidental music are on point from the outset. Each volume of the show has its own opening song and brings with it a number of fresh tracks. (Spoiler warning – the lyrics to each season’s opening song usually contains a fair amount of foreshadowing!)
Most of the songs are rock oriented, including up-tempo anthems such as “This will be the day”, “Red Like Roses Part 2”, “Die“, and “Nevermore”. But there are also slower ballads, such as “This Life is Mine”, “Mirror Mirror” and “Home”.
All the songs were written by Jeff Williams, with most vocals performed by his daughter Casey-Lee Williams, who was only 14 when she recorded the fantastic “This Will be the Day”. Jeff contributes much of the guitar work, which is pretty good stuff.
What you should know before watching
- The first volume of RWBY was made with very little budget. Accordingly, the animation isn’t the best (background characters are just black shadows). Most voice actors weren’t experienced professionals either, just people Monty thought would be ideal for the roles. (And they are.) But each volume sees this all take a step forward. For me this is part of the show’s charm. At the same time as the story grows and the characters flesh out, so the technical capability improves.
- RWBY was originally a made-for-YouTube show. Many of its early chapters can be very short!
- Besides the individual ‘chapters’, there are also a number of extra clips to watch which help explain the world of Remnant. There are also four initial ‘trailers‘ (pretty much ‘proof of concept’ pieces). You should watch these before starting the series – they will make sense later on!
- RWBY is heavily influenced by fairy tales. Each character is based on someone from fairy tales, lore or history. Part of the fun is figuring out who they are. Also, see if you can spot which childhood story is a big overall driver of the tale… I won’t give that away, it’s a pretty big spoiler! Be warned, RWBY is not something for younger children to watch – there are some pretty traumatic twists to come.
- Despite the fairy-tale theme there is – allegedly – no such thing as ‘magic’ in the world of Remnant. Instead, there is ‘dust‘; a compound formed of crystals which can be used as an energy propellant. It is used for multiple purposes – including (of course) weapons.
- Reflecting the ‘story’ element, note how RWBY is comprised of ‘volumes‘ (not series), and ‘chapters‘ (not episodes).
- RWBY is not just the tale of Ruby Rose (as some think). It is the story of all team RWBY. Unlike with some shows, Monty was adamant that he wanted four strong female lead characters; the storyline weaves to show backstory and development for all of them.
- The story of RWBY is long and drawn out, as in any epic. Not every question you have will be immediately answered. Even small details that at first look like plot holes end up being explained at some point. Why does the moon look shattered? Who is the narrator? What is Jaunne’s ‘semblance’? Has Professor Ozpin really made more mistakes than “any man, woman and child”? You’ll have to watch to find out!
A Personal View
I stumbled across RWBY purely by chance two years ago. It was a night when I had run out of books to read, searching for something vaguely entertaining to watch on Amazon Prime. The rough description made it sound a tad more interesting than the usual TV drama series, many of which had become formulaic. So, I clicked on the link to start watching Volume 1, not really knowing what to expect.
Opening impressions? Hmm… Well, the graphics were basic to say the least – but after a few minutes that didn’t matter. The characters, music, and sense of story from that opening scene with Ruby (trust me, you’ll know what I mean when you watch) sucked me into the world of Remnant faster than a gravity well.
By the end of the first volume, not only had I grown to care for the characters and wanted to know what happened to them – like in all the best books – but I also realised this was a story that was probably going to get a lot deeper, darker and more convoluted. And believe me, it does!
So. Is RWBY perfect? The best thing ever? No, of course not. Much as I love it, I’m not pretending this is a Pixar-standard production, an Oscar Winner or the equal of Studio Ghibli. Both technically and in some of its story there’s lots of holes I could poke. But there’s a certain undeniable magic in this little show that many others lack. To be honest, it’s been a long time since any series had me both laughing and crying quite so much as this one.
Above all else, there’s a lot of heart in RWBY.
Thank you, Monty Oum.
All RWBY volumes can be watched for free through Rooster Teeth’s website. The World of Remnant clips can also be viewed for free om Youtube. Volumes 1-6 are also currently on Amazon Prime in ad-free movie format.
For the trailers see these links: Red, White, Black, Yellow. As already mentioned, the trailers are very rough compared to the later volumes (and even the first chapter), but they portray useful character background. Trust me, in retrospect the trailers will make a lot of sense… even if they just raise a lot of questions when you first watch them.
To start the series, try Volume 1 Chapter 1: Ruby Rose (YouTube link for the first episode).
And with all that being said, back to my writing!
Ian Raymond, Created 19/04/20