Featured Image by Shirow Miwa, Author of the RWBY’s manga adaptation
It was February 1st, 2015. I had gotten back from school and was ready to relax for the night until my friend sent my other friend and I a single text.
“Guys, Monty didn’t make it”
I had already known that Monty was in the hospital for several days, but not one part of me thought he would actually die. My friends and I were heartbroken and while it felt too disrespectful to ask, I’m certain everyone was thinking “what’s going to happen to RWBY?”
It would go on, as it turns out. We got a glimpse of the fight animation from the tournament arc at the following summer’s RTX convention and things were looking pretty cool. Despite that, I was extremely cautious of how well the show would look, how good the fight scenes would be, and whether or not the story would finally start improving. Even when Volume Three ended up premiering on October 24th, 2015, I wouldn’t have a concrete answer, but it was certainly the beginning of a new era of RWBY, for better… or worse.
[Spoilers For All of RWBY Ahead]
Looking back on the series at this point, people regard volumes one through three as a singular era in the lifetime of the show. This is in regards to how monumentally the show shifts from a narrative and visual perspective. A lot of things change by the end of volume three after all. Volume four and onward are then seen as the new era of RWBY. But if you look at every volume of the show from a production point of view, volume three is particularly distinct.
The four character trailers, volume one, and volume two all comprise their own distinct era. A middling attempt at a fantasy show that was saved by its action choreography the creative potential of Monty and his team. Volume three is where we begin to see the last of the assets created by Monty or even resembling his style while simultaneously being introduced to the new styles of animation and direction which will proliferate the volumes afterward. The results are… mixed.
RWBY’s Failed Tournament Arc
I am not an expert on tournament arcs, nor am I an expert on shonen Anime as a whole, but I can hazard a guess as to the broad strokes of how to use one to properly advance your plot. Tournament arcs are perfect for a show like RWBY because with so many boring supporting characters clogging up the show, you could easily put a minimal amount of effort into making them a bit more interesting, having them get into cool fights, and then spend the bulk of the final matches developing the main cast.
To better understand the complexities of tournament arcs both good and bad, I refer you to Gigguk’s analysis of My Hero Academia’s tournament arc, agreed to be a truly great arc of that nature. In contrast, I also recommend Digibro’s dissection of the tournament arc from the Asterisk War, which isn’t quite as well regarded. From these two videos alone you can get a grasp of what typically makes an arc of this nature good or bad. With this in mind, RWBY really dropped the ball with their Vytal Festival arc.
Let’s not waste time: RWBY’s Tournament arc is completely pointless. It is pointless because the main plot is clearly more important to the writers than anything the tournament could offer, even if it would benefit the show. By now, we already know that Cinder, Mercury, and Emerald are planning to sabotage the tournament and, as we come to learn, are actively tampering with it. I’m not necessarily opposed to a tournament arc being interrupted but so much time is dedicated to the villain’s plot that no considerable time is spent on the tournament.
Tournament arcs are a break from the main conflict or even a stop gap in between conflicts. Traditionally, the dramatic stakes aren’t life or death. Rather, the stakes are simply who wins and who loses, and the major characters all have a reason for why they want to win. Sadly, because it is already established that the tournament will not end with a winner, the concept of motive is lost in this arc. None of the characters, team RWBY especially, have a motive to win.
Volume two ended so abruptly and volume three throws us into the first fight so quickly that we aren’t given any time to really know what the characters motivations are going into the tournament. Everyone just goes “oh yeah guess there’s a fighting tournament in a couple weeks. Guess we should practice for it.” They fight in the tournament because they have to. When their motivation for going into a fighting tournament is about as deep as my motivation to take a midterm exam, I have very little reason to get invested in the arc.
It would not have been hard to give these characters motives to fight. What if Blake wanted to win and then reveal to the world that she is a Faunus, becoming a role model to young Faunus, thus enacting positive change without resorting to terrorist actions like she used to.
Weiss’s motivation is in plain sight but was never really expanded with the tournament. She wants to change the perception of what her family name to something more honorable, rather than scarred by her father’s actions. I can’t even think of a motivation for Ruby and Yang, considering the former has almost none to start and the latter’s motives have little in the way of a parallel to winning a tournament.
It is clear the writers intended to forgo the added character motivations because there was a set in the stone event that would render those character arcs unfulfilled. To its credit, there are some interesting things that happen to Yang, Blake, and Weiss this season, but all these developments have nothing to do with the tournament arc. The tournament only exists because there needs to be an event that Cinder sabotages so that Beacon and Vale become overrun with Grimm.
Theoretically, they could have kept that part the same and still developed the character’s motives. That way, the finale would have made a point that each of the characters’ motives would remain unfulfilled. This would have made the already tragic ending even more so. That being said, there is plenty more going wrong for the arc than just a lack of motive.
Another detriment to this arc is how it is constructed. Admittedly, there are some ideas behind the Vytal festival that are really impressive and I would love to see the festival expanded upon in a spinoff series in the future. The arena is a flying fortress that moves between the kingdoms each year and the battlegrounds are randomized, simulating different environments. A volcano, dense forests, desert sands, destroyed cities and more.
It’s perhaps the only element of this tournament that makes it unique in a positive way.The admittedly creative ideas on display are simply wasted because of a myriad of other problems plaguing the show. Before the very first fight between team RWBY and a team from haven, it is explained that the tournament is divided into three parts. A 4v4 team tournament, a 2v2 doubles, and the 1v1 singles.
I’m sure another show could make it work well, but RWBY does not. Ruby and Blake do not participate in any matches beyond the very first fight. Even if the girls had motives to win, neither of those characters would have been able to achieve their goal. I suppose it would be a team victory though, but had the tournament just been 1v1 matches, you could cut out all of the bullshit. What I can’t be as lenient on though is that absolutely nothing is done to make Ruby Rose a deeper character.
The very first scene of volume three got me excited in a way that was bound to disappoint me later on. The first scene showed Ruby Rose visiting her mom’s grave. It was a sweet scene, but looking back, it was less of an indication that Ruby Rose would actually become a more interesting character and more that it was a scene for the fans. This was the first episode of RWBY after Monty’s death after all. What better way to ease people into the new season than an emotional scene of Ruby visiting the grave of the very person that gave birth to her.
That revelation hurts doubly so considering the elements necessary to give Ruby a more active role are right there. Since tournament arcs are basically just superpowered sporting events, there will always be major characters in the audience watching. This means you can have the observers dispense expository dialog about characters, their fighting styles, their pasts and give their own thoughts on how the match will go.
Ruby is the perfect character to fill this role. One of her most interesting traits is her interest and expertise in weapons that was introduced in volume one but never expanded upon. It’s not much but it is a hell of a lot more than we are given and would make her involvement in the arc a bit more than presumably eating food at the fairgrounds and making shitty jokes. She can’t keep getting off easy just because she is occasionally cute.
One other major strike against the mechanics of this arc is that the tournament has no brackets whatsoever. Instead, the matches are randomized. The narrative reason for this is that Cinder needs a way to tamper with the order of the fights so that she can sabotage the tournament, but thinking about this tournament as an actual sporting event, it is just stupid.
The reason brackets are used in tournaments is that you can easily plan out when you are going to have to compete next and plan accordingly. If everything is randomized, then every active competitor has to be ready at all times for a fight, which is just unrealistic considering it isn’t in real combat and it is a fucking sporting event. Bafflingly, the explanation of the 1v1 round featured a visual of a bracket, but then during the actual finals, they just keep using the randomization.
So why couldn’t Cinder just generate the bracket herself when she planted her virus in volume two? Because not even Cinder knew exactly how she was going to sabotage the festival. Well, to her credit, it is implied that she did, but then she finds out that Penny is a robot, and suddenly it’s like “well, looks like my job just got easier,” but we didn’t even know what the original plan was. They could have just written it so that Cinder already knew it and planned everything from the beginning.
I think RWBY would have benefited from having the “Fall of Beacon” and the tournament arc be separate events and arguably, separate seasons. At the very least, the Vytal Festival should not have been a tournament at all, but just an event in the story like a celebration that ends up being tampered with, in the same way, leading to a climactic battle that would have wasted far less time pretending to be something it isn’t.
So what exactly is the Vytal Festival if not a good tournament arc. Well, the Vytal Festival is a collection of fights ranging from great to terrible that further illustrate RWBY’s problems as a tournament arc. Simultaneously, they give us an opportunity to assess what RWBY’s fight animation is like now that Monty is gone. Now that we have covered each of the major strikes against RWBY’s tournament arc, namely lack of motive and a winner, it’s time to look at how RWBY tackles the more basic elements of a tournament arc.
Direction & Visuals
For the most part, the premiere fight was pretty on point, with all the high points I expect of a good RWBY fight. Blake has a cool fight with a girl on a hoverboard and Yang has a pretty sick hand to hand fight with the enemy team leader. It even ends with a team attack resulting in Yang taking out the final three opponents in one hit. The fighting quality fluctuates a lot throughout this season and this fight is one of the high points, though not without some drawbacks.
Ever since the end of volume two, it feels like there are a lot of times where characters will just stand around letting things happen without interacting. The first instances where I noticed this originate in volume three and this has persisted up to the now completed volume five.
For example, Ruby and Weiss both attack this one dude. Weiss attacks him with a ranged attack, but he dodges and runs right past her, eliciting no reaction from Weiss when she could have possibly attacked him up close. He then jumps over Ruby’s attack and she reacts somewhat but still doesn’t attack. This all leads to him throwing some dust crystals to the hoverboard chick fighting Blake, and everyone just lets it happen for some reason.
Monty was always good about making sure every character had something to do. In Dead Fantasy 2 [as seen below], Tifa was trying to drink some potions to get a one up on her opponents, and all the opposition attack her to try and stop her. They didn’t just stand around letting Tifa get an advantage over them.
If a character can attack their opponent, they should. If they don’t, there needs to be an explanation, visually or through dialogue, for why they don’t. Maybe they have decided it’s too dangerous or perhaps they are injured, etc. In the case of RWBY, there often isn’t a good explanation.
I still defend that the arena being able to simulate multiple environments is an awesome idea, but the artwork’s ability to present these backgrounds and make them look good is dodgy. The arena is half ice and half volcanic. A cool idea, but the blurry textures and color design clash with the characters. Many of the environments in the tournament suffer from this issue, partly because they aren’t used to their full potential and partly because they don’t look that appealing. Despite my gripes though, this was a stellar opening to the season that got me pumped. My mood would quickly change in episode two though, as the next two fights would leave me wanting much more.
Episode Two’s Lame Fights
Team JNPR’s debut fight is when it begins to dawn that the creative team is starting to run out of ideas when it comes to weapons and characters. The first three opposing teams in the tournament are some of the blandest and uninteresting characters, with a few exceptions. The hoverboard chick and the girl with the rope dart in the first fight were cool because they had striking character designs and cool weapons. Everyone else though is just so boring.
I’m not even necessarily bummed about the character designs as much as I am the lazy weapons. I get it. Transforming weapons were a big part of what drew people to the series. Crescent Rose is one of the coolest weapons I’ve ever seen and the potential such a weapon holds is brilliant (if used properly). If I had a critique, it would be “less is more.” Rather than a guy firing buzzsaws off his arms, how about just some daggers. You can give the daggers a distinct look, maybe, but you don’t need everything to be a gun as well as a melee weapon.
Sometimes they do less, but they go too far in the other direction. One of the opponents in this fight has just a baton. Like, a retractable baton. I wouldn’t even necessarily mind a less creative weapon if the fight choreography and visual direction made an effort to make the characters seem cool.
This fight is littered with awkward close-ups, some ugly looking shaky cam and explosion effects that flat visually (a common issue in RWBY). Plus there is an insultingly long sequence in which Nora’s semblance (the ability to absorb and displace electricity) is explained through a monologue by the announcers. Instead of cutting away or perhaps offering an explanation after the fight has occurred, it happened while she was being electrocuted and the guy just sits there, listening to the explanation. And then Nora hits him in single-handedly the laziest piece of animation in the entire series.
The fight ends exactly how the last one ended. Nora defeats the majority of the team in one hit, just like Yang did, but this time it doesn’t feel well-earned. In the end made it seem as though they never posed a threat from the beginning, at least not to Nora, who could just wreck them all at once. Thankfully the next fight would try a bit harder to ramp up the dramatic stakes by actually having some members of the team lose, albeit ruined by some annoying attempts at comedy.
Team SSSN is finally brought together for the first time and in the same episode. They are up against another team of presumably original characters submitted by the community. To their credit, their designs and weapons are significantly cooler and for once there are actual casualties on the winning team, not that the other two members of SSSN have any established power levels.
Really, the idea that either Scarlet David or Sage Ayana would get any ample screentime is a sentiment that can only be followed by disappointment. Sage gets knocked out almost immediately, with only one speaking line, yelling at Neptune for being an imbecile. At least Scarlet gets some decently choreographed swordfights, that’s more than Neptune gets.
With half the arena a desert and the other a pirate ship in the “ocean,” it’s revealed that Neptune is afraid of water. Not oceans or deep water as it is fake and, as we later learn, waist-deep, but just… water in general. I get that it is comedic, but to anyone expecting to finally see more of Sun and Neptune showing off their skills, this was a slap in the face. The entire fight consists of Neptune doing almost nothing and refusing to help even if he could just attack from long range since his trident turns into a FUCKING RAILGUN!
The parts that annoy me the most about the two fights this episode are the moments when I feel like the show thinks I’m stupid. Scarlet hanging one of his opponents from the mast of the ship rather than just shooting her or Neptune tiptoeing to the water to electrocute it, and most of all, the three remaining opponents all being electrocuted in the most cartoonish.
Ignoring the startling fact that the third fight in a row has ended with at least three opponents all being taken out at once, RWBY is still awkwardly trying to merge comedic mores from hand-drawn animation into it’s 3D and it just looks off. Considering that I will spend a lot of time in the future critiquing just how lacking the fight choreography is in future volumes, fights like these are even more problematic because the animators aren’t trying to push themselves to try and emulate Monty’s style.
Jobbing & Rivalries
Here comes my favorite part of these RWBY reviews: the part where I get to actually talk about the things that I like. And holy fucking shit the first fight of the 2v2 match gave me an erection that only the best episodes of RWBY can offer.
Team CFVY, as mentioned in my last review, was only really introduced when they were so that we would know who they were and think they were awesome. In contrast, their debut in the tournament is honest to god a good example of Jobbing in RWBY’s tournament arc.
Jobbing is when a well-established character gets utterly demolished in a match in order to show just how powerful the character who beat them is. The character who ends up jobbing is typically someone who has previously posed a significant challenge to the protagonist or is otherwise acknowledged as powerful.
The choreography is full throttle for this fight as Mercury takes center stage. His fighting style and the sheer mobility presented in how he messes with Coco and Yatsuhashi reminds me why I find Mercury to have some of the coolest fights in the series. It’s the sign of a truly great animator when a simple detail like “he kicks” or “she punches” can be used to give so much character to the fights. Mercury doesn’t fight quite like any other character in the series and the fight becomes more interesting when he begins to play off of the different styles of his opponents.
Emerald’s technique is different, favoring that of a hunter. She separates the group by pulling Coco into the forest and then fucks with her by using her semblance to make her think that Yatsuhashi is with her. But Yatsuhashi had already been defeated seconds before, and as Coco looks to the scoreboard and realizes this, Emerald deals the killing blow.
By far the best fight so far, it puts Mercury on a higher pedestal than even before and sets expectations very high for his later fights. If this tournament actually was going to end and Mercury and Emerald were just having fun demoralizing the other opponents, his eventual 1v1 match against RWBY would be the hypest shit ever, but since that fight ends up being manipulated to stir controversy and get team RWBY disqualified, there isn’t much payoff because I’m not sure what parts were staged and what parts were genuine, if any.
Still, it’s altogether a much better attempt at jobbing than the intro to episode five, which shows Penny just strolling through a 2v2 match against two fuckboys from CRDL. It’s not like we didn’t already know that Penny was a total badass, but this scene doesn’t quite impress in the slightest when these guys got the shit kicked out of them by Pyrrha.
Equally integral to the lifeblood of a tournament arc is the establishment of rivalries and RWBY only has about two good examples, both within the same match. Yang and Weiss go toe to toe with Flynt Cole and Neon Katt of team FNKI, both of which are representative of memes. The former an inside joke from Achievement Hunter, one of Rooster Teeth’s other endeavors and the latter based on Nyan Cat.
Neon, much like the meme she is based on, is annoying and intentionally so. Her main goal is to get on her opponents’ nerves, and since Yang is known for her short temper, she falls right into her trap. It’s the kind of small rivalry that makes it so much more satisfying when they are actually defeated. Although the actual moment of her defeat is made a bit anticlimactic since she is defeated in a shitty looking explosion. It’s also kinda funny to look at since we don’t even see her fall back to the ground.
On the other hand, we have Weiss’ rivalry with Flynt, which immediately becomes personal before the match starts, as Flynt blames Weiss’ family for running his father’s dust shop out of business. Had Weiss been given a more concrete goal for winning the tournament, perhaps this could have been a greater stepping stone on her journey but as it is there is a nice resolution when Flynt begins to respect her after she tried sacrificing herself to save Yang.
This fight by far had the strongest use of music. As Flynt Cole carries a trumpet and uses music as a weapon against Weiss. As such we get some jazzy, orchestral renditions of classic RWBY songs. Neon, meanwhile, adopting a raver aesthetic, brings upbeat club music with as she pisses of Yang in delightful fashion.
The last two fights don’t need much commentary. Both take place during the 1v1 portion. The first is the fight between Yang and Mercury and, as previously stated, it is ruined a bit by the fact that the outcome is fixed. Despite that and the lack of any notable music tracks, the fighting is your good old fashioned brawl. Both combatants play off each other brilliantly. What it lacks in music, it makes up for in sheer craftsmanship.
The final battle between Pyrrha and Penny is much the same, with the added dramatic tension fo Pyrrha’s stress impeding her ability to focus, causing her to telegraph her ability more than usual. Again, if the battle was leading to an actual conclusion for the tournament, this fight would be even better. The fight gets bonus points regardless since it is a throwback to Monty Oum’s unfinished Dead Fantasy.
If anything can be gathered from meticulously analyzing seven fights from a tournament that I already claimed to be a terrible tournament arc, it is that the writers of RWBY could certainly make a great tournament if they tried. Without devoting everything to the tournament, the rivalries and motivations all become pointless. It’s just a collection of cool fights. And hey, I like fight scenes, but when the other half of the story is clearly more important to the writers than those fights, it shows. Now, what really matters is whether or not the plot that superseded those fights was worth it.
The Tragic Tale of Volume Three
The main plot of volume three, that I have managed to spend about 4,000 words avoiding until now, is actually pretty good. In addition to some fascinating lore and a few new characters whose additions are actually welcome, we get an emotional conclusion with plenty of action that sets up a continuation that any RWBY fan was just dying to see disappoint them in the future.
The first of several plot threads going throughout is the inner circle of Ozpin, Goodwitch, Ironwood and Ruby’s uncle, Qrow Branwen, who only needed one episode to be the best character in the whole show. Qrow is voiced by mother fucking Vic Mignogna this is honestly one of his best vocal performances. The gruff voice he gives is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before. He arrives in episode three, when Weiss’ sister, Winter shows up, voiced by Elizabeth Maxwell who some may recognize as the voice of the Major in Ghost in the Shell Arise.
Winter is kind of a bitch, as she is an incredibly formal and business-minded woman in the military who clearly has a strained relationship with her sister. Regardless, Weiss is excited to see her again and the two begin taking a tour of the campus, or at least they try to. Qrow shows up, drunk off his ass, and begins Ironwood of betraying Ozpin, which pisses off Winter and then – Hey, would you look at that! Only three paragraphs later and I’m already critiquing fights again.
This fight is the first time I began to witness the new style of fight choreography that would soon become the norm in the newer volumes, yet it was so much more enjoyable than the team JNPR or SSSN battles because it at least cut out the bullshit. As far as animation quality goes, there are a lot of sudden stops that break the flow of the characters movements and some awkward moments, like a scene at the beginning where Qrow begins dodging Winter’s slashes and then does an awkward bow, before Winter slices down, hitting Qrow’s huge sword that just randomly appears on his back behind his cape.
Still, I’d be lying if it wasn’t cool and brimming with character. We are even teased at Qrow’s weapon transforming into a scythe, but Qrow puts it away so Winter can get in trouble for attacking him when Ironwood suddenly appears. This is obviously so the writers can blue-ball us for the big reveal later, but the actual reveal isn’t anything too spectacular.
Ruby has a short, cute reunion with Qrow that just makes it so clear where Ruby gets any small piece of cool about her from and then he goes off to get scolded by Ozpin and the rest of the inner circle. Winter is dismissed and then we begin some good, old-fashioned, cryptic foreshadowing, a favorite of the RWBY writers.
Essentially, Qrow is pissed because he has been kept out of the loop while tracking down the as of yet unexplained enemy of the series and is especially cross with Ironwood for bringing his entire army to Vale, which as he and Ozpin view it, is only going to put people on edge. There is some more cryptic foreshadowing and then Ozpin says they need to look for a “guardian.”
There is still stuff we just don’t know at that moment, such as the villain they are talking about or who “Autumn” is, but enough info is given that we know that these characters are part of their own secret society, fighting enemies that aren’t known to the world or more specifically, the main cast.
There is also a nice attention to detail when Ironwood picks up his phone and you briefly see the chess piece symbol synonymous with the virus Cinder planted, hinting that Cinder has just gotten access to Ironwood’s files. For all the small visual gripes that build up, tiny details like that and the foreshadowing cited in these early volumes are a testament to the groundwork laid by Monty.
The theater surrounding this Ozpin’s group was one of the most interesting components of volume two’s story, probably because it was well acted and I wasn’t yet disappointed by the answers to my questions. The buildup is only as good as its payoff, and while the answers we would get in just a few episodes were comprehensive, they bring with them a range of other issues I have.
Apart from the CFVY 2v2 match, episode four spent time on the character arcs of Weiss and Yang. Weiss’s arc sort of establishes two conflicts and resolves one of them immediately. The first is that Weiss’ father cut her off financially, and the second is that Weiss isn’t able to activate her summoning ability, a semblance passed down through the Schnee family.
She tries and fails to activate it, as Winter tells her to visualize the enemies who “forced her to push [herself] past who [she was], and become who [she] is now.” Winter changes the subject to their father and tells her that she can either stop ignoring his calls or continue going off on her own, mastering her abilities and learning more about herself.
Obviously, she takes the latter path of action. She basically resolves the first conflict by deciding not to answer her father’s calls, but her summoning won’t come into play until the very end of the volume. It doesn’t even contribute to her match with Yang in the following episode. Speaking of Yang…
Yang is still searching for her mom, and that quest seems to have found new life with the introduction of Qrow into the series, as we see a photo of team STRQ, the team that Ruby and Yang’s parents were a part of. Again, this won’t really come back into play until later a few episodes later, but the placement of these scenes makes this episode seem like a missed opportunity.
The very next episode is when we see the 2v2 match between RWBY and FNKI but neither Yang or Weiss’ conflicts introduced in the previous episode impact this fight. This goes back to what I said about motive as a driving force in a tournament arc. Even if the motive wasn’t for them to win the tournament, they could have at least tried to make their matches impact their character arcs.
At the end of episode five, Ozpin picks Pyrrha to be recruited and be let in on all that juicy exposition to come. Given that her skills, character, and reputation make her a prime candidate, I can’t even quite disagree with the logic behind this choice. Remember this moment though, as it will serve as another hole in logic holding Ruby back from being a major player in the plot.
The first half of episode six reveals some of the most monumental revelations in the series. Pyrrha is summoned to Ozpin’s office and they discuss a fairy tale called “the four maidens.” Here we are regaled with a story about an old man visited upon four sisters who showed him kindness, and who repays their kindness by bestowing them with powers. Each of these “maidens” is named after each of the four seasons.
It’s a cute story that Ozpin reveals to be the truth. The setup to the episode is great. Most of this time, it has been made clear that there is some sort of threat looming that the audience does not fully grasp, but that these adults do. Framing this episode from Pyrrha’s perspective, we are finally given answers. If I have any problem with this, it is how exactly they explain the maidens and the show’s failing ability to pose them as a consistent threat.
This might come off as a nitpick, but one line of dialogue from Ozpin explaining the maidens baffled me to no end.
“What if I were to tell you that there were four maidens existing in this world, that could wield such tremendous power… without dust?”
Pyrrha replies, “you mean, like a semblance?”
“Like magic,” responds Ozpin…
Hold on, aren’t semblances just magic? I mean, think about the world that they live in. Ruby can teleport and evaporate into rose petals, Pyrrha can control metal, Nora channels electricity, and so on. That is totally magic. Aura is basically mana and semblances are essentially magic. As for Ozpin’s comment about dust, none of the characters aside from Weiss need to use dust to use their semblances. Apart from being contradictive, I don’t really buy that the maiden’s existence would be that tough of a pill to swallow.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the powers that these maidens possessed were more well defined. Later in volumes four and five, the maiden’s powers are super broad to the point that there doesn’t seem to be any difference between any two maidens. Worse yet, they maidens are never really sold as being that much higher in terms of power level compared to the rest of the cast.
Pyrrha goes below the school with Ozpin, Qrow, Ironwood, and Goodwitch (the inner circle as I like to call them) and we learn more about how the maiden’s powers work. Specifically, how the powers are transferred. The maidens’ powers are passed on to young women when the previous owner dies. Typically it will be the last person in their thoughts, but should that person not meet the qualifications, the powers disperse randomly. Pyrrha is told that the current Fall maiden was attacked and that part of her power was stolen.
Pyrrha is shown the current Fall maiden, Amber, being kept alive in a machine, and is told that they can’t reveal the truth of the maidens for fear of the truth causing a panic or simply rejected. Furthermore, it used to be common knowledge, but maidens became easy targets due to their powers and their existence became secret.
By this point, Pyrrha accepts the responsibility of becoming the Fall maiden but realizes it is a bit more complicated since she can’t inherit the power naturally. Since Amber’s power has been split, the second half will likely seek out the first, so Pyrrha must choose to undergo a procedure binding Amber’s aura to Pyrrha. They are unsure of what this will do to her though, so they give her the choice and tell her that by the end of the tournament, they will need her decision.
This is an actual good example of conflict influencing a tournament arc. Pyrrah is now burdened with a choice that will end up killing Amber and possibly changing her forever. Because of this, the next two episodes leading up to her fight with Penny are that much more tense, because now the fight is determining whether or not Pyrrah is strong enough to sacrifice who she is to become a hero.
The scene transitions rather artfully from a shot of Amber on life support, directly to Cinder in the stadium, confirming that it was, in fact, her who attacked Amber. This brings us to Yang’s fight with mercury, which kicks of the finals with a bang. After the fight ends with Mercury’s defeat, Yang begins to walk away before a disgruntled Mercury leaps to attack her, prompting Yang to bring him down with a righteous shotgun blast to the leg.
The joyous moment is short lived though as Yang looks to the monitors and sees herself attack Mercury while he is just standing there. To the audience, Yang just attacked a defenseless man. Cinder’s plan is now in motion as the populace is shaken by the turn of events and the incident is attracting more and more Grimm to the city because the Grimm are attracted to negative emotion.
There isn’t much to say about episode seven, we see how Cinder met Emerald and Mercury, make a deal with Adam and the White Fang to attack the city. Emerald was recruited for her ability to create illusions, explaining that she was the one who tricked Yang. Mercury’s dad was originally supposed to be hired but Mercury killed him, making him a much more pleasing candidate. We even discover that he actually has robot legs rather than simply shotgun boots. Finally, they attack the Fall maiden and steal only half her power before Qrow shows up.
Aside from some awkward cuts of animation during the big battle, the episode has some interesting direction. Between the key plot points, we hear dialog filling in the gaps between, set against a black screen and a soft instrumental which cuts to a halt whenever the next scene begins. This is when volume three starts to get a lot darker, not that this tonal shift came as a surprise to those savvy enough to catch on. Even this volume’s opening was much darker, foreshadowing what was to come.
Episode eight is the most satisfyingly emotional episode of the volume, as well as the first real standout moment from Blake. Team RWBY is informed that they have been disqualified, much to their dismay. Ruby and Weiss both believe Yang’s story but Blake is actually unsure what to think. Despite how sad it is, her hesitance is totally understandable.
She spent years watching Adam turn into a villain and now she sees something very similar to that and she isn’t immediately willing to trust it. It’s a surprisingly human moment. Sure, she ends up believing her anyway because it’s the first time it has happened, but it also gives greater focus to Blake’s past traumatic relationship with Adam, which will become very important at the end of the volume.
In the meantime, Pyrrha is still stressing out over the choice in front of her. There to console her is Jaune, who finally pushes the relationship past friends and into the realm of “totally, mutually in love.” Jaune’s function both serves as a pleasant payoff to one of the series’ best pairing, but also the source of Pyrrha’s greatest stress. Trying her best not to reveal what is really going on, she tries explaining her situation, leading Jaune to tell her to tell her that if she wants to save the world, she can’t let anything get in the way.
It is exactly what Pyrrah needed to hear, yet the exact opposite of what she wanted to. She has spent so much time pursuing Jaune and now that she has him she is reminded that much more harshly that she could lose him if she agrees to Ozpin’s proposal. It causes her to break down and the only thing that kills the scene is when Pyrrah pushes Jaune against a wall with her powers. It feels forced and only hyperbolizes the message already conveyed in the scene.
In a shocking turn of events, Ruby actually does something. She notices the connection between team CFVY’s defeat the results of Yang’s match against Mercury. This leads her to a confrontation with Mercury behind the scenes while Pyrrah’s fight against Penny rages on. Now, Ruby has to fight without a weapon so she can stop Emerald from tricking Pyrrah into killing Penny. Except… she fails.
Pyrrah uses too much of her power and rips Penny into pieces, killing her and devastating the crowd. Adding insult to injury, Cinder hijacks the broadcast and begins sowing the seeds of discord, painting this tragedy as the product of political tensions. Most importantly though, it gets people fucking terrified.
The Grimm are storming the city. Adam’s forces in the White Fang invading. Neo makes her return, breaking Torchwick out of his cell on Ironwood’s airship, and blasting the other two ships out of the sky, and turning Ironwoods’ robots against the good guys. Oh, and a dragon just kinda bursts out of a mountain and flies to Beacon… two seasons after this finale and I still have no explanation as to why that dragon was there. Whatever, the point is that the Vytal Festival is officially over and now the “Battle for Beacon” has begun.
Ruby Rose’s (Fleeting) Time To Shine
The climactic conclusion has finally arrived and it starts off stronger than I ever expected, with Ruby continuing to show the slightest signs of actually becoming cool. Coming off of the emotional ending of the previous episode, Pyrrha is frozen in terror in the middle of the arena as a flying Grimm comes down.
Out of nowhere, Ruby comes in and strikes the Grimm with one of Penny’s own swords, letting out an impassioned cry “Leave her alone!” And to make things cooler, every member of the cast joins in for a big, multi-team attack on the giant Grimm, slaughtering it in epic fashion. Ruby takes charge, calling in her Crescent Rose and leading the group out of the stadium, where they plan to head into the city.
It’s like the payoff that volume two desperately needed was finally being delivered, or so I thought. See, there is a running joke amongst the community that Ruby Rose is a terrible leader. She is constantly abandoning her friends or heading into danger without calling them. In all of the series so far, Ruby has had only two moments where she seemed to be a competent leader.
The first was in volume one, episode eight during the first fight against a Nevermore and the second is in volume two, episode four when they fight Torchwick. She has only had two episodes to really shine as a leader and everywhere else, Ruby is an objectively terrible leader. So when Ironwood is presumed dead as he tries to get back his ship, pushing Ruby to ditch her friends (again) and go to stop Torchwick, you could be forgiven for getting a bit anxious.
And yet miraculously, this show managed to give us one of the most important moments in Ruby’s character arc. She gets into a fight with Torchwick and Neo on top of the ship and gets utterly stomped by a team far better aversed in teamwork than she could ever dream. Ruby manages to defeat Neo in a move that you can view as either stupid and anticlimactic or totally funny (I was the former) and you think she is about to snatch victory for herself when the show decides to finally challenge her morals.
Roman starts beating her down with his cane, telling her how dark and fucked up the world is and how her idea of justice is just a fairy tale. It is by far the single greatest moment in her character arc and depending on who you are, it was completely fucked up within seconds. Torchwick is eaten randomly by a Grimm and Ruby kicks the grim into the ship, sending it tumbling down before she grabs her scythe and dives down towards the school.
I find the death a bit anticlimactic but it is possible to view Torchwick’s death as an even stronger lesson towards Ruby’s character arc. YouTuber fatmanfalling, who has built up a reputation for harshly reviewing RWBY, made a video below analyzing this scene and how important it is for Ruby’s character arc. In it, he talks about Torchwick’s death as the most important lesson for Ruby. Either his sudden death either proves him right and begins to change Ruby’s perception, or she continues to be naive believing it to have resulted from a form of Karmic retribution.
Watching this fight this way makes it so much more interesting and awesome, but the quality of this scene relies on the story afterward taking advantage of the lessons given and addressing what Ruby actually learned. What I mean is that if volumes four and five don’t actually try to show that Ruby changed because of these lessons, this scene will be for nothing. And even then, this would require them to keep making Ruby’s involvement in the plot feel integral, something they have had an issue with since the beginning. Regardless, I highly recommend checking out the video below.
The polar opposite of this scene happens right before it when Weiss and the other students are seen fighting some of the mechs that team RWBY fought in volume two, yet they are all having trouble defeating them. Thanks a brief line from Winter in episode four stating that the mechs in volume two were only prototypes, so I suppose I can buy that even bigwigs like team CFVY are struggling. My problem with this scene is the character who defeats the robots, both in the logic behind their abilities and the decision to focus on them at all.
Velvet Scarletina, the bunny girl on team CFVY finally reveals her semblance after the small tease at the end of volume two and while the reveal did surprise me by how creative it was, the more I’ve thought about it, the stupider it is. Velvet’s only defining character trait has been that she takes lots of photos. As it turns out, she actually takes pictures of characters weapons and semblances and then creates holographic projections of them during combat, allowing her to mimic multiple characters fighting styles at once.
Sounds cool right? Well, it certainly looked cool and gave the animators a chance to pay homage to some iconic moments in the series by reusing the animations with Velvet at the center. Consider the following. Her ability seems to be utilizing the weapons and techniques of characters who are already there, fighting the robots. If those SAME people were struggling with this robot, then why is she able to defeat them with those same weapons? The show is arguing that Velvet is suddenly supposed to be stronger than these other characters.
Maybe I could excuse this if it wasn’t for the implications of her ability’s limitations. At the end of volume two when they introduce her, she is about to unleash her semblance when Coco tells her not to waste it because she has “spent all semester building that up.” Even before this fight, Coco tells her to “make them count.” Does this mean that every time she copies a weapon, she loses the ability to duplicate it until she takes another photo of the weapon she is mimicking?
If so, this makes her a huge liability in battle, enough so that when she got back from a mission in volume two, she said that it was really tough, but she had Yatsuhashi protecting her. Her semblance isn’t even a trump card because it doesn’t destroy all of the robots. She gets punched on the ground, and then Weiss jumps in to save the day, finally activating her summoning ability and generating a giant arm which cuts the robot in half.
You might wonder what point I am trying to make here as I spend several paragraphs analyzing about one minute and 45 seconds of screentime (yes I timed it). It’s because I don’t know why the writers think I care about Velvet enough to find any worth in a scene with so many logical flaws. Velvet isn’t a character. She was designed to show that the Faunus were discriminated against, further building the world and setting up other, more important characters. The only reason she gets any attention is that the fanbase became obsessed with her.
I remember when I got into Attack on Titan at the peak of the fandom’s popularity and seeing people talk about Mina Carolina like she was an important character. In reality, she was just some girl who died and when you look back at the early chapters, you realize she was really good friends with Annie Leonheart, the Female Titan. Piecing their relationship together makes Annie a more complex character, but the fanbase was obsessed with her. A good writer knows to not let the fandom’s obsessions dictate cannon too much, but a bad writer will cave in and create scenes like these.
Velvet doesn’t have a character arc to justify this scene. It would have been so much better if Weiss was the one stepping up to fight the robots after activating her semblance. Even then, Weiss’ character arc had the bare minimum of setup with little development throughout the season. Weiss goes from not being able to summon to summoning, with no real arc to push her from point A to B.
And really, that’s what I’ve been talking about this entire review series. If RWBY stopped wasting time to try and make new characters and develop every part of the ridiculously huge cast list, maybe we could actually make the ones that already exist stronger. I have no doubt that the writers could work wonders if they did. After all, that scene with Ruby was really good. Now if only there was more stuff like that, perhaps I wouldn’t need to waste a couple hundred words picking apart one minute and 45 seconds.
A Lover’s Quarrel
The encounter we all saw coming finally happens as Blake is reunited with Adam. I am both impressed with Aaron Zach’s performance as Blake and roll my eyes at the corny voice acting for Adam, which has only received minor improvement since the Black trailer. Despite that, however, the scene is captivating in large part because of how dark it gets.
By this point, RWBY was becoming a much darker show after episode nine. The end of episode 11 was when the show began to just mercilessly punish anyone foolish enough to become emotionally attached. Blake engages in a fight with Adam but loses, getting stabbed in the gut, before Yang shows up, charges at Adam furiously and is struck down by Adam, who cuts off Yang’s arm. Look, I really want to just say good things about this fight, but this fight breaks so many rules that it is impossible to ignore it.
Firstly, there is barely any fighting going on in this scene. Blake and Adam lock swords, but then she just gets knocked to the ground, her only attempt at resistance being two bullets fired in the same position. Adam stabs Blake without ever breaking her aura and then does the same to Yang. One could argue that he was able to defeat Yang easily because of his implied ability to absorb energy and then displace it through a quickdraw, and I see no reason as to why that argument can’t hold, but with RWBY’s rules constantly being contradicted, it is a shallow victory at best.
According to a controversial letter by former RWBY animator Shane Newville, this entire encounter between Blake, Yang, and Adam was supposed to be an actual fight. As in, a fight between Blake and Adam, followed by a fight between Yang and Adam after Blake’s defeat. Monty had allegedly already had assets created for this fight before he died too. I’m not too happy about this fight being potentially cut, as it would have made the tragic end feel so much more earned.
The Fall of Pyrrah
The writers weren’t content breaking my heart just once it seems and saw fit to end Pyrrah’s story in even more depressing fashion and without the gripes that held back Blake’s story. Pyrrah goes beneath the school with Ozpin to give Pyrrah the maiden’s powers. Oh and Jaune is there too, if only for the dramatic irony of not knowing what is happening and forcing Pyrrah to make a difficult choice in front of the boy who she fears losing in the process.
They begin the transfer of power while Jaune stands guard, but Jaune hears Pyrrah in pain, gets concerned and lets down his guard. Cinder arrives, firing an arrow into the chamber holding Amber and Cinder receives the final half of the Fall maiden’s powers. Ozpin tells the two of them to get the fuck out of there and call for Goodwitch, Qrow or Ironwood, who managed to survive his ship’s crash. In the meantime, Ozpin stays behind to face Cinder alone.
Outside, Pyrrah and Jaune hear Cinder rocketing up to the top of the tower, meaning that she has already defeated Ozpin. Gee, I would have liked to see more than just 30 seconds of that fight at the beginning of episode twelve that we got. Pyrrah tells Jaune to run, he protests but Pyrrah silences him with a kiss and then pushes him into one of Beacon’s stupid rocket-propelled lockers and fires him towards the city, leaving her to challenge Cinder. I like this scene, even if Pyrrah made the foolish decision to believe that Jaune would actually call Qrow or Goodwitch.
Instead, he calls Weiss, who was already helping Ruby search for Jaune and Pyrrah after Ruby sees the horrendous state her team is in. She’s practically high on the thrill of heroism after her last scene so I guess she says “fuck it, better gonna go throw myself into more danger.” As they approach the tower, Ruby claims “I have a plan.” Apparently, the writers didn’t know what that plan was because the next we see them, Weiss is the one who projects a bunch of glyphs on the tower for Ruby to ascend, and the way it is written makes it seem like it was all Weiss’ plan.
Meanwhile, at the tower, Pyrrah does her best Magneto impression and lifts herself up to the top Beacon tower to grace us with the last good fight scene of the season. What it lacks in the typical speed of a Monty Oum fight, it makes up for in its polish. Through all its logical contradictions, RWBY really shines through the allusions to other works of fiction and folklore. Pyrrah’s aesthetic is heavily inspired by that of the Greek god Achilles, so it was only fitting for her to be defeated not by the destruction of her weapons, but an arrow to the ankle.
Ruby shows up just seconds to late as she witnesses Cinder fire an arrow through Pyrrha’s chest. Her character arc is the most tragic in the show, but it is also likely the best. She lacked control of her own life, tormented by her destiny and the power given to her, and her only outcomes would all- appropriately- be pyrrhic victories (victories in which the casualties rob the victor of any substantial satisfaction). I will once again direct you all to a video by fatmanfalling on YouTube who goes even deeper into the complexities of Pyrrha that I doubt even the writers pondered.
Ruby, having just witnessed Pyrrha’s death, suddenly goes super saiyan, the screen goes white, and Cinder kinda evaporates. She isn’t dead, as we will see her plenty over the next two volumes, but Ruby has just awakened a random power to save the day. The battle of Beacon is now over.
“End of the Beginning”
The very first thing we see after the deus ex machina is Ruby waking up in her room back at her house in Patch, the island where she grew up. We meet Ruby’s dad, Taiyang Xiao Long, voiced by Burnie Burns of Rooster Teeth. He explains that the big dragon at Beacon is frozen and that Ruby really “did a number on it” but Ruby doesn’t remember a thing.
Qrow comes in to explain some things and give a pretty big callback to volume one. Firstly, Qrow reminds Ruby that when Ozpin first met her, he mentioned how she had silver eyes. He explains that people with silver eyes are rare and that old legend says that they are extremely skilled warriors with incredible power. It’s your typical “chosen one” schtick but for the time being, it looks as if Ruby is finally going to be an active part of the conflict from here onward. Plus we finally have a good reason as to why Ozpin let Ruby into his school so early.
Finally, Qrow briefly explains that he has been working with Ozpin and tips off Ruby that the enemy’s trail leads to Haven before leaving. Ruby goes to see Yang and learns that everything has gone to shit. Weiss has been dragged back to Atlas by her father amidst the controversy surrounding Atlas robots attacking civilians. Blake ran away, afraid of losing any more of her friends (not that the rest of the girls know that). Worst of all, Yang is still traumatized from losing her arm and is furious with Blake for abandoning her and their friends.
Everything is pretty shitty, but as fall turns to winter, Ruby and the remains of team JNPR go off on a journey to Mistral to hopefully catch those responsible or at least prevent another attack. As this happens we get another callback, although this one is far more impressive.
At first, it sounds like just a continuation of the narration from the beginning of volume one, before the tone suddenly drops like the box office for Justice League and it becomes clear that this isn’t just a narration. It is a conversation between Ozpin and the main villain of the series, a woman named Salem.
And so ends volume three, and I didn’t actually hate it, despite what these some 9,000 words might imply. I enjoyed it as much as volume two but for different reasons. Like volume two, three had an ample amount of enjoyable fights that were, for the most part, choreographed and animated with care, even if they were a bit rough around the edges without Monty. Like most of the series so far, this volume continued to show that Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross are not that great of writers and their story lacks focus.
Unlike volume two, however, the conclusion actually had dramatic stakes and finally made an effort to develop Ruby by challenging her naive and self-destructive sense of duty and even managed to give us the single best character arc in Pyrrha’s story. If volume two was the highlight in terms of animation and visual storytelling than volume three stole the show for its conclusion and (some of) the writing.
When I first finished volume three, I couldn’t wait for what came next, because the show took such a drastic turn in tone and suddenly changed the entire landscape of what the show would be from then on. It is hard not to get excited watching that finale. I was left with on a cliffhanger, all main characters at their lowest points and separated from each other. Depending on who you were, you either couldn’t wait for the next volume, or you were thinking “how are they gonna fuck this up?”
To Be Continued in Part Four…
Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
It took me two full months to get this review out. My original plan was to finish this and the next part by the time of the volume five finale, but… we all see how that turned out. Remind me never to commit to a project this big again. Whether you have seen RWBY or not, I hope you enjoy reading my ramblings about this flawed series that I actually kinda like. The next part may be my most negative as we get fully immersed in the post-Monty era of RWBY. Thanks for reading and as always, see you next time.