So, what is RWBY?

RWBY posters, volumes 1 to 7

RWBY is an anime-inspired series created by the late Monty Oum for Rooster Teeth. It tells the tale of Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long (or, if you prefer, Red, White, Black, Yellow). They live in Remnant, a world like ours – but not quite, for outside of the main cities it 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, and this is the path our four lead characters choose.

It probably seems odd that someone like me who is devoted to books and writing would dedicate a blog on their website to a web show, but I absolutely love the creativity that’s gone into RWBY, and the narrative and character development has been (almost) as good as in a book.

What you should know before watching

Images of Ruby Rose from Volumes 1 and 4

  • The first volume of RWBY was made with very little budget. Accordingly, the animation isn’t the best (most background characters are just black shadows); and many of the lead voice actors weren’t experienced professionals, just people Monty thought would be ideal for the roles (and they are). But every volume sees both these elements take a big leap forward. For me this is part of the show’s charm; just as the story grows and the characters flesh out, so the technical capability improves.
  • RWBY was originally a made-for-YouTube show; so many 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).
  • RWBY is heavily influenced by fairy tale elements; each character is based to some extent on someone from fairy tales, lore or history. Part of the fun is figuring out who. And see if you can spot which childhood story is a big overall driver of the tale… However, it is not something for younger children to watch – there are some pretty traumatic twists in the story.
  • Reflecting the’story’ element, note how RWBY is comprised of ‘volumes‘ (not series), and ‘chapters‘ (not episodes).
  • Despite the fairy tale theme there is – allegedly – no such thing as ‘magic’ in Remnant – instead, there is ‘dust‘, a compound formed as crystals which can be used as an energy propellant. Dust can come in a number of varieties including fire, ice and electricity; it is used for multiple purposes – including weapons.
  • RWBY is not the tale of Ruby Rose, but the story of all team RWBY. Unlike in many anime, Monty was adamant that he wanted four strong female lead characters.
  • The storyline in RWBY is long and drawn out, much as in any epic. So, when you start watching, not every question you have will be immediately answered. Even small details that look like plot holes end up being explained at some later point: Why does the moon look shattered? Who is the narrator? What is Jaunne’s ‘semblance’? And has Professor Ozpin really made more mistakes than “any man, woman and child”? You’ll have to watch to find out!

Monty Oum sadly died in 2015 at the age of just 33, during production of Volume 3, and 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 and 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.

Synopsis (No spoilers)

Images from volumes 2 and 4]

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 to form team RWBY at Beacon Academy in the kingdom of Vale, one of the four kingdoms on the world of Remnant. Ruby and Yang are half-sisters, but none of the others know each other, and they each have some hidden reason as to why they have chosen to become a huntress.

Besides our four lead characters there are 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 far from being all about college life, as there are monsters and villains to be fought.

Beacon Academy itself is headed up by the enigmatic Professor Ozpin, who always seems to know more than he lets on. He maintains a relaxed approach in running the academy – unlike his friend General James Ironwood, a headmaster in the militaristic kingdom of Atlas. However, 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 Grimm are becoming more and more active…

It’s no spoiler to say the story of RWBY is not all it seems when you start watching it. Perhaps if 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”; whilst volumes 4 and 5 veer sharply away from everything we’ve known towards a “Lord of the Rings-esque” mood. And then there’s volume 6 and 7 onwards…

About Huntsmen and Huntresses

Blake and Yang foing their jobs, volumes 4 and 1

Huntsman and huntresses dedicate their lives to defending humanity against the creatures of Grimm, and are trained at one of the four academies. This training is not just theory – students are there to learn how to defeat these monsters.

Every huntsman and huntress has their own specific weapon, which they have often crafted themselves. So Ruby has her scythe (which turns into a sniper rifle), Weiss has her sword (which casts glyphs and channels dust), Blake has a katana (which also shoots projectiles), and Yang uses a pair of shotgun gauntlets. In short, in RWBY, whatever it is… “It’s also a gun”.

Notice how the characters in RWBY get knocked around pretty badly but still survive? That’s because of their ‘aura‘; using the strength of their soul to form a protective barrier around themselves. This is useful for our heroes when fighting, but aura can quickly be used up, and then they are vulnerable.

Everyone also has their own ‘semblance‘; 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 student to unlock whatever their semblance is.

About The Grimm

Images of the Grimm from volume 1 and volume 4

Despite appearances, the creatures of Grimm are not biological animals (so don’t be worried at the rate with which they are dispatched!) but are creatures of destruction; perhaps closer to demons. This is shown by the manner in which the monsters dissolve into particles when slain. I would say more about them here, but that would bring in some pretty big spoilers!

Continuing the symbolic design twists often seen in RWBY, the Grimm are not named by 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.

The Music

Jeww Williams and Casey Lee Williams

A big draw to RWBY for many people is the music. Perhaps the animation and voice acting starts off at a basic level, but the songs and incidental music are on form from the outset. Each volume has both its own opening song and brings with it a number of fresh tracks.

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”. Spoiler warning – the lyrics to each season’s opening song often contain a fair amount of foreshadowing!

All the songs were written by Jeff Williams, with most vocals performed by his daughter Casey-Lee Williams who was just 14 when she recorded “This Will be the Day”. Jeff contributes much of the guitar work, which is pretty good stuff.

A Personal View

Images from volume 4 and volume 6

I stumbled across RWBY purely by chance two years ago, on a night when I had run out of books to read, searching for something vaguely entertaining to watch on Amazon Prime. The description made it sound a tad more interesting than the usual drama series, all of which had become a bit formulaic, so I clicked on the link, not really knowing what to expect.

Opening impressions? Hmm… 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 it) 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 and darker (and it does).

So, is the series perfect, is it the best thing ever? No, of course not. I’m not pretending this is a Pixar-standard production or an Oscar Winner. Both technically and in some of its overall arc there’s lots of holes I could point; but there’s a certain magic, a quirkiness and fascination 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; with volumes 1-6 also on YouTube (along with the World of Remnant clips); volumes 1-6 are also currently on Amazon Prime in ad-free movie format.

For the trailers see these links: Red, White, Black, Yellow; note these are very rough compared to some of the volumes and even the first chapter, but they portray some useful character background. (Trust me, in retrospect the trailers make a lot of sense.)

To start the series, go to Volume 1 Chapter 1: Ruby Rose.

RWBY Volume 1, Ruby Rose

And with all that being said, back to my writing!

Ian Raymond, Created 19/04/20


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