The Trailers and Volume One
Well, after quite some time, it is the beginning of the end, and not in the cliched movie trailer sense, or in the cliched RWBY episode name sense. It is actually more comparable to that of a dying animal, not just because of the declining quality of the series but how this series of reviews is my least viewed on this blog. Regardless, I’ve committed to it and as such its time for me to finally finish this with a review of volume four and my final post on volume five to follow soon after.
[Spoilers for all of RWBY ahead]
Coming off of Volume three, I really can’t say that I was too worried about the future. I was impressed with much of the animation in three and despite some low points, I had faith that the animation team could only get better. I hadn’t considered how much of the assets in the three were the product of Monty or Shane Newville, the former no longer with us and the latter fired. Going into Volume four I had nothing but high hopes, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to get suspicious as the premiere crept closer.
The warning signs were at first unnoticeable during the reveal trailer. The phone recordings picked up from the panels at RTX certainly looked cool. Ruby was running around a burning village, wreaking havoc and even fighting a Gorilla-type Grimm, displaying some new abilities. Oddly enough, when the trailer was officially released about a month before the actual premiere and I could appreciate it in HD, the new RWBY became that much different from what came before.
Rooster Teeth animation had fully switched from Poser to Maya, which could account for many of the issues I have with RWBY’s animation now. That being said, I’m not an animator so I can’t say for certain what technical elements are to blame. For now, let me focus on what I can observe from this trailer and how it stacks up to previous fights from the series.
This trailer is a callback to the old character trailers from before the first volume and for what its worth, I do really enjoy it. There are small nitpicks I have but overall I think I’ve been too harsh on this trailer in the past. I do think though that the animation looks a bit too stiff at times and Ruby’s use of her scythe is less visually interesting to look at.
Scythes aren’t very practical weapons, but Monty found a way to make Ruby’s scythe combat look like ballet. Here though, the choreography isn’t as creative for how she uses it. Rwby isn’t spinning it around her body, nor is she really utilizing/compensating for the weight of the weapon. I will hand it to the animators though, what the scythe combat lacks, Ruby’s semblance more than makes up for.
It is a bit weird that in six months since the end of volume three and with no formal training, Ruby has been able to display a proficiency with her semblance never before seen. She darts around like a madman even more frequently, creates tornados and even disassembles and reforms in another location. Perhaps to compensate for a lack of skill animating scythe combat, the animators decided to exemplify another trait of Ruby’s abilities. This is certainly impressive.
Less impressive is the opening for Volume four, which released about a day before the premiere and made me instantly worried. I wasn’t too crazy about the song, but I was less crazy about the visuals. There were all sorts of awkward, stilted animations, and one particular shot of Blake that always makes me burst out laughing. I was not feeling good about the animation and even now looking back with more respect for the trailer, this opening still makes me cringe.
One trailer, one opening and a few early clips online still left me fairly optimistic, so now it was time to see how RWBY Volume Four would stack up.
The Game of Thorns
It’s been half a year since the end of volume three and the girls are separated across the world. We follow their individual stories as they deal with boring and poorly paced character arcs. Apart from Ruby and the remnants of team JNPR (lovingly referred to as team RNJR) journeying to Mistral, the other girls have smaller character arcs where not a lot happens.
This season is about all of them confronting their demons, growing as people and then reuniting but that last part doesn’t happen in volume four. In fact, it doesn’t even really happen until the very end of volume five. Realistically, volume four and five’s story could have been merged into one, slightly longer season and become stronger for it.
I truly believe that writers Miles and Kerry are treating RWBY as if it is anime Game of Thrones, hence this segment’s totally not stupid name. I wouldn’t be surprised if in between seasons they just watched the newest season of Game of Thrones, took a bunch of notes and then just translated what they believed to be the recipe for success into their VERY SERIOUS show about cute girls kicking ass.
(Side note: they even say in the volume five commentary that you can tell what the crew was watching based on what you see in RWBY)
Think about it, Yang spends her arc this season recovering from an event which has permanently affected her character, not unlike Jaime Lannister. They even both lost hands. Weiss finds herself imprisoned and surrounded by familial politics as she sets her sights on escape so she can pursue her true calling, like Sansa. It gets even scarier when you realize both characters started as total bitches and then became fan favorites.
The most detached from the other theaters is Blake, who finds herself in a faraway land where she will eventually form an army to thwart the enemy’s plan in a grand entrance. Who else could that remind you of other than THE Danaerys Stormborn Targaryen?
Finally, Ruby goes on a long, grueling journey through the countryside like… well… every Game of Thrones character- okay it’s not a perfect comparison but you see where I’m coming from… Maybe Arya but less cool. Anyway, I’m saying that the dynamic shift is both good because it puts Miles and Kerry out of their comfort zone, but bad because it creates a rather mediocre season where not a lot is accomplished by the end.
I HATED volume four when I initially finished it. I thought the show was losing its edge and refusing to evolve and fix the problems that had been plaguing it since the beginning. However, with the benefit of time I’ve realized that despite the animation setbacks, volume four did some things really well. In particular, they started to do something really interesting. They gave Ruby Rose an actual arc.
Rose in Bloom
For once all the other girls in team RWBY take a back seat to Rose for once, which is pretty refreshing if you ask me. This season finally puts Ruby in a spotlight, both in terms of her importance to the plot and her own progression that previous volumes have treated as side stories at best.
The first episode doesn’t exactly sell this early on. If anything, it focuses more on her as the guest of the remaining members of team JNPR. We see them all fight a Grimm who can possess inanimate objects, making them a part of its body, like some sort of twisted Katamari Damacy… ok so basically Katamari Damacy. Jaune is, weirdly, without a weapon during this fight. It’s admirable that writers just admitted he stood no chance against the opponent, yet I’m annoyed because it is a blank check for slapstick humor.
Joking aside it is explained after the fight that Jaune’s weapons and armor were being upgraded by a blacksmith using the remaining metal from Pyrrha’s armor. A sweet scene with a reveal of some truly awesome armor for Jaune, but all I could think about is why they didn’t just wait until after they killed the Grimm to upgrade it. Nitpicks aside, Ruby’s arc truly begin at the end of episode two.
Ruby wakes up at camp hearing Jaune training in a clearing while listening to a video recorded by Pyrrha. What could have just been another scene showing how much Jaune is suffering is made more weighty by Ruby’s observing of the event. Ruby has downed a big ole’ plate of survivor’s guilt and it feeling the consequence like the morning after a midnight run at Chipotle.
Ruby arrived seconds too late to stop Cinder from shooting Pyrrha and now blames herself for her death. Regardless of whether or not they were great friends or not, she is working alongside the man who loved Pyrrha more than anyone. To Ruby, failing to save someone, even if it was out of her control, is on her. And this leads her already objectionable qualities to be exemplified.
Ruby is not only a character whose strengths are underutilized but she also has detriments to her character that are never explored. Taking objectionable qualities about a character used to detract against the show’s quality and deconstructing those issues help make characters much stronger. Ruby never gets a chance to be a leader. This is because she is reckless and goes off on her own constantly to save the day instead of asking for help.
Volume four is all about punishing Ruby and forcing her to grow so she can protect her friends. It helps that her punishment also directly ties her to the main conflict and the main villain. The very first episode starts with an introduction to- brace yourself- more characters. This time a group of new villains with Salem, the mysterious main villain taking center stage. By center stage, I mean we learn nothing about her and she just sits around being evil.
Surrounding her are such imposing figures as Evil Mustache and Burly Man… I’m not going to dignify their inclusion by saying their names when they serve no purpose in the volume. Mustache guy is voiced by Vegeta though so that’s something. Those guys aside, there is one bad guy that actually leaves quite a mark. Tyrian is a Faunus with a scorpion tail who is sent to kidnap Ruby and bring her to Salem… I’m guessing because Ruby has those magical silver eyes, but we are still not sure why they are important. Oh, get used to that by the way.
Back to the topic at hand, Tyrian is awesome and even manages to outdo Cinder, Mercury, and Emerald who all together have about three lines combined and do jack shit this volume. It helps that he’s also voiced by Josh Grelle, one of my favorite voice actors in the industry. Whereas Torchwick was a charismatic mobster, Tyrian is obsessed and psychotic, with an equally magnetic performance to the former.
So when episode six rolls around and Tyrian drops in to introduce himself to team RNJR, I was pretty pumped. Apart from a fight in Blake’s story, the episodes since the first were pretty action light. Not only is the fight pretty cool, but Tyrian steals the spotlight, announcing his intention to steal Ruby away and then promptly kicking everyone’s ass.
Mini-rant time: When Tyrian knocks Ruby down, he goes in for the “kill,” though since he is kidnapping her we know he won’t kill her. But since he’s using his scorpion tail, he’ll poison her even if he intends to torture her for shits and giggles. I hope Salem has got anti-venom handy. But more annoying than that is that Jaune, like a fucking idiot, just stands in the distance, not doing anything.
Nora is tending to Ren, who is injured because… let’s be real Ren is kinda a shitty fighter, but Jaune has no excuse. There is no running in slow motion, no clutching an injury and then shouting “NOOOO!” He just stands and closes his eyes, apparently accepting what is about to happen to Ruby. Alright rant over, but this shit is what makes Jaune so intolerable to me.
Thankfully, here to save the day at the last second is Qrow, guarding Ruby against Tyrian’s attack just in time for a juicy cliffhanger. Up to this point, Qrow’s only appearance this volume was in episode four, “Family,” where we see him tailing the group. I realize this was confirmed in Volume three after credits, but I neglected to cover that. Also, Qrow can turn into an actual crow… so that’s neat.
Not sure why Qrow wasn’t on top of things immediately when previously we’d seen him right on the kids’ tails. Maybe he was plowing that waitress that flirted with him two episodes prior and was late. I wouldn’t put it past him and I’d even respect him more for it. Based on the shots of him running into town it looks like he entered a building just to bust through a wall and look good saving Ruby, so I’m not putting it out of the question that Qrow is just trying to look cool.
The fight in the following episode between Qrow and Tyrian is perhaps one of the best fights in the series. Characters don’t stand around too much, everyone responds to the threat pretty reasonably and the choreography is on point. Ruby’s near-suicidal tendencies lead her to intervene in the fight between the two, leading to Qrow having to save her, opening him up to an attack that ends up poisoning him.
Ruby has convinced herself that she has to intervene and help in any way she can but just ends up getting Qrow hurt. To detractor’s of Ruby’s quality of character, this may be another stake in the coffin, especially given the squeakiness of Lindsay’s line read “ThiS iS My FiGHt TOo!!!” (capitalization altered for comedic purposes).
Also, in an awesomely out of character moment, Ruby cuts off Tyrian’s tail. A bit annoying that the biggest visual identifier of that character is now gone, but it was nice seeing Ruby get her hands dirty, even if this out of character moment was not accompanied by a shot of Ruby’s face, signifying some sort of growth to her. I mean, I understand that killing is a part of the job that these characters need to adjust to, but I’m not sure the characters have gotten there yet, even if they should.
One expositionary episode later (I’ll cover that later), team RNJR is now low in spirits as they escort a poisoned Qrow, desperate to get to Mistral before his condition worsens. Along the way, they find an old decrepit town named Kuroyuri and Ren is wary about entering. Noticing his distress, Nora suggests they take the mountain path while Ruby and Jaune take the path through the town, so maybe they can reach Mistral quicker and bring back help for Qrow.
Let’s just appreciate this moment in screenwriting as an example of how to parse personal motivation with logical decision making in a show where people don’t always make great decisions. Anyway, you may have caught on that this final stretch of the season primarily focuses on Ren and Nora as opposed to Ruby. So she ends up feeling like a side character in another story, robbing her arc of the conclusion I now I realize I wanted all along.
That isn’t to say the arc doesn’t fulfill some of its promises though. Much like how Ruby was there for Jaune in volume one, Jaune is there for her. Ruby apologizes for dragging everyone on this journey. I mean, in her eyes, she’s responsible for Qrow’s affliction, Jaune’s grief and now Ren and Nora’s confrontation with her past. However, Jaune tells her that people followed her because she gave them the strength to move forward.
While I appreciate Jaune being the one to help Ruby this time around, I feel like they handwave a lot of the real conflicts within her arc. Ruby is reckless and has not really taken her position as leader seriously. In recognition of her failure to save people, she tried being selfless to avoid losing people but just got Qrow poisoned. The optimal “lesson” should be to admit that she can’t save everyone and not let her desire to save cloud her judgment.
When the Nuckelavee comes back and team RNJR teams up to fight it, the team works together really well to defeat it after the initial drama of Ren’s anger taking control and the sheer daunting presence of the Grimm takes its toll. Ruby helps construct the plan to kill the monster, but other than that her interaction in this battle does little to show how she has grown as a character.
So, what did we get instead? Ren and Nora’s story was pretty generic as backstories go. Both their parents are dead, Nora was an orphan and Ren became friends with her. The whole flashback isn’t well acted or well animated enough for them to justify spending most of an episode on it. The flashbacks could have been cut down.
When we cut back to the present, I’m actually pleased with how Ren is portrayed. Coming to terms with his past makes him way more expressive and his bond with Nora is actually handled really well. However, Ren’s new voice actor is not the best for the role. Monty Oum’s brother took on the roll in his stead after his passing but with RWBY getting hold of more professional voice actors, I think a better actor would better serve the character. I’m of the mind that you don’t even need to erase their arc from this finale while still giving Ruby a fair shake.
As it is, seeing Ren murder the monster was pretty cool, I just wish more thought went into deepening Ruby as a character. After the battle, airships come and take the gang to Mistral, completing their journey. Ruby’s big monologue a the very end of the volume seems to convey the point of her arc this season. She has gone from being an optimist with a savior complex who is naive to the dangers of the world, to an optimist with a savior complex who understands those dangers and is supposedly less reckless because of it.
In the end, the arc that I now realize was set up doesn’t actually exist. I wish they showed how Ruby came to hold this worldview through her actions rather than just words. Ren got exactly the type of emotional, cinematic conclusion that would have lent itself perfectly to Ruby’s tale of guilt and self-destructiveness. And Jaune got all kinds of hero moments that weren’t earned. His hero moment already was talking to Ruby, but that speech didn’t even check all the boxes of what she needed to hear.
The onus is now on volume five to sell to the viewer how Ruby has changed and how her interactions with her team will show their growth. As for whether it accomplished this, that’s a story for next time. Since the biggest chunk of volume four has been covered it’s time to bring our attention to the other members of team RWBY, as well as the advancements to the overarching narrative.
Yang, the Training Montage, and a Volume out of Time
Yang’s arc is the shortest and the scarcest of the four girls’ arcs. Surprising, since she arguably lost the most in the last volume. That being said, if this season needed one thing, it was better pacing, so I’ll take something short and sweet.
Yang is suffering from PTSD after Adam cut off her arm and for how dodgy the writing can be in this show, I think Yang’s condition was handled well. She freaks out at small things that remind her of the incident, experiences nightmares, and is generally afraid of what will happen if she goes back out into the world.
The real hero of this arc is Taiyang Xiao Long, Yang’s dad, voiced by Rooster Teeth founder Burnie Burns. Burnie is the perfect person to voice a dad character Tai’s role in Yang’s recovery is sweet… at least eventually. There’s a scene where Yang walks in on a friendly chat between Tai and some of Beacon’s teachers. Tai gets really patronizing, argues with her and makes a fucked up joke about her arm that’s only excused because then Yang laughs it off and says “you jerk.” What an odd sense of humor this family has. I can’t decide whether I like this scene or not.
Regardless, Yang’s arc gets simultaneously better and worse once Yang decides to put on a prosthetic arm gifted to her by General Ironwood. Better because now Tai becomes the dad of the year and helps not only train Yang over the next few weeks, but also gives that good ole’ anime dad wisdom. He tells her to control her anger, which she has promptly relied on as a crutch for winning most of her big fights in the series.
I said worse previously because Yang’s trauma seems to be resolved really quickly. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for her to reject the arm for longer, maybe try to go off on her own without it, fail and then after feeling like she has earned it, then putting it on? There are many ways to do it and my favorite was YouTuber Uniquenameasaurus’s suggestion, which I’ll link below.
Miles said at a panel regarding the time jump between volumes that it is about six to eight months but at another panel made it clear that they try to be ambiguous about time. Personally, I think this would just create more plot holes, but whatever. So… if we consider that at least six months have passed and Yang has had all that time to wallow in self-hatred, maybe I can forgive her just now beginning to take a step in the right direction. (source)
My point is they could have made her transition from “fuck this arm” to “fuck yeah, robot arm” a bit more earned. After that, her arc is on cruise control essentially, but I had a good time. There was some great direction and fight choreography and the interaction between Tai and Yang was sweet. Even then, Yang immediately getting the lesson Tai was trying to teach was probably a misstep, but a minor one.
How a Caged Bird Sings
Weiss’ arc was perhaps the best overall, partly because Weiss is my favorite and because it annoyed me the least. Well, at least there were few annoyances that were not intended to be annoying. Weiss is really getting cozy in her role as the Sansa of this series.
Her complete arc, clocking in at around 24 minutes, follows her as she deals with her asshole of a father and her conniving shit of a brother. There are some Star Wars prequel level politics surrounding embargos on Atlas because of the Fall of Beacon between Weiss’ dad and Ironwood, but soon after the real meat of this arc begins.
Weiss’ dad hosts a charity ball to convince everyone that Atlas is still on the side of peace and he wants Weiss to perform a song for the event. This is obviously an excuse for a scene just to hype up the soundtrack. The song she sings, “This Life is Mine,” is all about Weiss telling her father to fuck off and how she is no longer a prisoner to him. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear more of it
On the topic of music in RWBY, it feels like after volume three, the music is being used less and less effectively throughout the series. Maybe it is just the declining quality of the tracks by in large resulting in less memorable moments, but I get the sense that there are some excellent songs simply not being used from the soundtracks.
Granted, not every fight from volumes one through three used the mainline tracks from the OST. Some of my favorite fights like Pyrrha vs Mercury or Yang vs Mercury utilized background music without lyrics. These tracks aren’t as well remembered, but they fit with the fight choreography well. The fights were often choreographed to a beat so that the scene would have audio AND visual rhythm throughout. Even if the music itself wouldn’t be remembered, the entire scene would.
In volume five, This Life is Mine is used during a fight and the results are chill-inducing. Sadly, its one of the few examples of proper musical integration in that volume that doesn’t totally fuck with the rhythm. It’s one of the many things holding back the fights this volume, but there will be plenty of time to talk about that later. Here, I’m saying that using the song more effectively, and making use of the context that Weiss is on stage doing a performance could have left a greater impact.
Weiss’ real arc begins after she almost accidentally kills a woman by summoning a Grimm when she talks shit about Vale. This is after telling some blue-haired twink to fuck off when he hits on her and doesn’t even know that the charity dinner is raising money for Vale. Ironwood, like a badass, shoots the monster Weiss summons and walks off, saying Weiss is the only one making sense in this town. Later, Weiss’ father reveals that she will no longer be the heiress to the Schnee dust company and that her brother, Whitley will, in fact, claim that power.
Whitley was the only other member of the family introduced this volume, as her mother is only mentioned but never seen, yet we know she’s alive. He’s clearly evil yet Weiss outright says that he seems different, as if he’s supposed to be good. However, he, of course, is evil and is after her inheritance. He is such a piece of shit and I seriously hope he gets what’s coming to him in volume six. This is what I meant by intentionally annoying. He’s just the type of villain I want to see suffer.
This entire event shows just how much Weiss has grown, shunning the high society attitude she used to subscribe to. From here, Weiss spends a good deal of time (off screen, between other arcs) honing her ability to summon. When she finally achieves her goal, summoning the very knight she defeated in the White trailer all those years ago, she decides its time to peace out.
With the help of her butler, Klein (who they honest to god wasted J. Michael Tatum’s voice for), she escapes. She runs off on a supply ship heading to Mistral, hearing from Ironwood that her sister Winter is stationed there, and her story comes to a close.
This arc gave me some good fuck yeah moments, but I can’t help but feel the ending could have been much better. Imagine if before Weiss leaves Atlas at the end of her arc, there was a recital then and she surprises everyone with the full version of “This Life is Mine,” rock music and all. Just one big fuck you to her dad before she peaces out with her future in her own hand. I could write my own version of that ending I have enough on my plate as is.
My only other criticisms would be that Henry Merrigold seemed pretty pointless for having such a good character design and Klein was just bizarre. He has this weird trick where his eye color changes and so does his personality. Not sure if he is dissociative or if it’s his semblance, but it was a weird thing to just add randomly. All in all, I had only a few issues with Weiss’ arc, which is far more than I can say for Blake’s arc this season.
Blake, Bad Writing, and Lame Fights
I really didn’t enjoy Blake’s arc. It was the one that continually annoyed me, not only with cliched comedy and dumb bullshit but forced drama as well. Yet as I rewatch this volume for this review, I have gotten a lot of clarity about many things. Some that I like and some that I don’t. What I’ve realized is that this arc embodies everything wrong with the action and animation in RWBY.
That isn’t to say that there have not been good fights. Qrow vs Tyrian was possibly one of the best in the series, without being a Monty Oum fight. Yang vs Tai was well choreographed and paced as well, giving us a great hand to hand fight. Even battles like the one from episode one and 12 are passable but come with drawbacks to their animations (though episode 12’s fight is way better than the former).
I’m going to be referencing the animation analysis by YouTuber Cake quite frequently. I’ve made reference to his work before and highly recommend anyone interested in the animation of RWBY to check it out. I already discussed music and how RWBY’s fights don’t properly utilize rhythm, so I’m going to talk about weight, poses, and character. We’ll use Blake’s story as an example of all of these elements, making references to the rest of the series along the way.
Blake begins her arc this season alone and paranoid on a ship taking her to Menagerie, an island home to the Faunus. She takes off her ribbon and throws it into the sea. What should be a momentous development surprisingly lacks weight, both because it isn’t rooted in any positive development. Yet the nonchalance of how she does it can be seen as a positive sign of her growth regardless.
Either way, not much time passes before she notices a hooded figure watching her… and even less time passes before a dragon-type Grimm shows up attacking the ship. The hooded figure reveals himself to be Sun and the two face off against the Grimm, with the help of the ship’s captain. They kill it by using Blake’s sword to clip its wings and then piece it with the front of the ship, bombarding it with cannon fire.
On paper, it sounds like a really clever plan, but the execution in animation looks… off. The abuse of weight in animation can very easily make something look jarring or unnatural. In this case, Blake and Sun jump incredible distances, but unlike in volume two where I could excuse them jumping from building to building because of how it looks, here the abuse of weight and the way they move makes it look like something out of Dragonball.
The best example is when Sun uses his duplicates to jump up into the air and then Blake uses each of them to get a boost, finally kicking off of Sun to get high enough to attack the dragon from above. On one hand, the posing is done pretty well in this scene, but the way Blake flies slightly above Sun, descends onto his shoulders, and THEN kicks off, all while Sun seemingly just floats in mid-air, kills the scene.
I do like when Sun catches Blake as she is falling, though. It’s the one good use of weight when the crater forms in the ground and when they are jumping through the field of rocks I didn’t mind as much either. It’s not an awful fight, but the abuse of weight and some of the worse examples of posing leave a lot to be desired.
There is a moment when Blake is just holding a pose in mid-air in what certainly seems like real time. Similar to the fight in episode one where Ren just holds a pose in mid-air, awkwardly. I will say that the song in the fight, “Like Morning Follows Night” is awesome though.
After this fight, Blake and Sun have their moment to catch up, as Sun assumes that Blake is going after the White Fang for revenge. In reality, she is going home to see her family and get away from everything. Blake is at the height of her paranoia, believing that she is just a danger to her friends and that she needs to fight things on her own if she even intends to fight. Sun is basically there for comic relief and to tell her that’s bullshit.
Now, cards on the table, I found Sun insufferable when I first watched volume four and I still think his portrayal leaves much to be desired, but I do understand critics saying that Blake is a bitch this volume. She acts way too aggressive at times and I’ll admit that. You could say my annoyment at the portrayal of Sun overshadowed that, but the real enemy is the writing.
Sun tells Blake he’ll stay with her in case the White Fang tries to go after her. When the two finally get to Menagerie, the show exhibits a classic example of telling, not showing. But also, trying to show but failing. It’s explained both here and also in of the world of remnant exposition series (yes those still happened) that the island was a gift to the Faunus after the war.
Blake explains that what was meant as a gift feels more like a way to get a subjugated class to keep quiet. She talks about how the island is two-thirds desert and unlike Sun’s home of Vacuo, the deserts are a lot more dangerous. This is what they say, but we don’t really see why it is so bad there. I get wanting equality rather than just being “separate but equal,” but everything the viewer sees is a tropical paradise.
If they wanted us to feel the plight of the people, they should have shown it. They actually try to make it seem like the problem is overpopulation by having a few lines dictating that everything is overcrowded, but there is so much space on the roads. It’s bustling but there is still plenty of room shown on the screen. Everyone on the island looks like they are happy too.
You know, back in like volume two I called that Blake’s father would be the leader of the White Fang. Granted I assumed he would be revealed as a villain, but still, I was pretty proud. Seeing it revealed here that Blake’s family are practically royalty was pretty funny for Sun’s reaction. Meeting Blake’s parents was an even better surprise.
Blake reunites with her parents and apart from Sun being comic relief, not much happens until they get a knock on their door. Corsac and Fennec are two Faunus brothers with improbably cool designs and pretty good voice actors who come to meet with Blake’s dad.
Blake and Sun are reasonably distraught by this and run to the door. Weird, since Blake was very adamant about not wanting to fight the White Fang during her trip to Menagerie. Here, we learn that Ghira does not actually know that the White Fang was there at Beacon… What? But just a minute ago Kali said that they saw what happened to Beacon but they didn’t know that the White Fang was involved?
Yang’s arc literally starts with a televised broadcast about Adam Taurus being pursued by authorities. Already there shouldn’t be any intercontinental communication, but the TV reports on news regarding Atlas. so I’m assuming that the writers just don’t pay attention to their own lore from the World of Remnant series.
Even if we say that any overseas information has gone through other channels of communication and that the broadcast we saw was local only, Blake’s parents should have still known about the White Fang’s involvement in the attack. Regardless, Corsac and Fennec say that the action’s of Adam’s splinter group doesn’t reflect the views of the organization.
Of course, like every other depiction of this civil rights group, they are of course evil and working directly for Adam. But that’s the last we see of them until the end of the volume anyhow. Now we get my favorite part of Blake’s arc, when she goes and talks with her dad, only to break down, apologizing for everything she has done. Though for even a sweet moment such as this, there has to be an interruption by Sun.
This is where Blake starts to get very unlikable. I get not wanting to endanger friends or worse yet, get dragged into trouble you would rather avoid, but Blake not even letting Sun give her a warning about new info he has learned was pushing it. Her throwing his phone into the tree line was just the icing on the forced drama layer cake.
Now for the absolute worst part of blake’s arc and volume four as a whole. The chase scene. Blake and Sun pursue an assailant hiding in the trees, whose presence is made known when Blake throws sun’s phone. What a convenient bitchy thing to do. They chase the spy to a rooftop just begging to be used for a fight, and this is where my biggest complaint with animation in the post-Monty era rears its head.
The reason I think Sun was so annoying to me for so long was not just because he was annoying because he is actually pretty adorable when I think about it. He’s about the same as he always was, he’s just poorly written at times. Like when the spy is revealed to be a chameleon-type Faunus named Ilia, who Blake knows, he says “You know her? But she doesn’t even look like a Faunus-” and then he gets hit by Ilia’s Electro-gun whip thing.
So first off, why does it matter if she’s a Faunus or not? Blake’s friend list is not limited to Faunus, nor is it unfathomable for her to be a Faunus indistinguishable from humans. Even if I could excuse the question, him going down from such a weak ass hit after just sets me over the edge.
In volume one, yeah Sun was the wacky one with style, but he backed it up by being a good fighter. There is a reason I want to see Sun fight more, because the one time he used those gunchucks, was one of the coolest fights in the entire series. Ever since then only one other animator has dared to make him use it and just you wait because boy oh boy is it good.
Sun pins Ilia down with her semblance while Blake goes to grab her phone, which presumably has important data on it. It just kinda appeared in her hand so a bit of a jump there but fair assessment. Sun just kinda gets tired out and Ilia gets free, pointing her gun at Blake. This is when Sun asks that very important question and gets injured.
Character is a more important element of animation than many give credit to. It is not only a key principle of animation but of writing, because it accounts for the very thing that people argue about in any action show: power scaling. Sun is useless in this scene because he is surprised by something he shouldn’t be, gets attacked, and goes down because apparently now using your semblance decreases your aura, even though that would have made the Vytal Festival much shorter since their health was measured in aura.
Regardless, characters in RWBY don’t fight the same way, and not just because of the choreography, posing, rhythm and direction. It’s because the animators don’t consider the characters when constructing the fights, nor their predetermined abilities or weapons.
It ain’t even just Sun not using his gunchucks. Don’t know if you forgot, but Blake’s sword is two in one. It is a sword, that folds at the hilt, which is a pistol. The folded form, when thrown attached to the ribbons that Blake uses, can be thrown like a kusarigama, assisted by the gun’s recoil. The sheath of the blade is itself a sword that, combined with the katana, create a cleaver.
It’s easy to forget because Blake has not used half of those features since episode one of volume three. I know her arc has been pretty low action, but trust me, things don’t get much better in volume five. Like I said, it isn’t just Blake’s arc that suffers from this issue. Ruby doesn’t quite use her scythe the same way and even the fight between Qrow and Tyrian had some weird moves, like Qrow doing this weird ballerina spin that’s totally out of character.
RWBY is not always the most well-written show, but even at the worst of times, it could be pretty cool to make up for it. Seeing Sun hold his own just a bit longer and maybe actively take a hit for Blake instead of just being an idiot and getting hit might have made me appreciate the animation a bit better. When the limits imposed upon animation by the staff end up altering the characters, you get bad fights.
Thankfully, Sun redeemed himself by being the voice of reason the next time we saw him. As he recovered from the injury, Blake scolded him, telling him that this is exactly why she ran away. She continues to irrationally scold him for offering help that she clearly needs and he calls her out on it. He tells her that it isn’t her choice whether or not her friends want to help her and she’s only being cruel by shutting them out. He even appeals to Blake’s friendship with Yang, which hit me in my soft, Bumblebee shipping soul.
This is about where the arc ends. The data on the phone that Blake and Sun captured confirms that Adam is planning a coup to take over the White Fang and then attack Haven Academy. Blake, now thoroughly learnt by Sun, declares that they are going to stop them and take the White Fang back.
Blake was really unlikable, Sun was nerfed beyond the ability to look cool, the writing was all over the place, and the animation was generally bad. This was the worst arc of the volume by far, but I can’t say things got better when volume five started. Although, that’s far from being only a problem with Blake’s side of the story. Speaking of…
Ozpin did, in fact, die at the end of volume three. I’m still not sure why they didn’t show it, nor why Salem was suddenly interrogating Cinder about whether she did kill him when they clearly had a conversation together that took place during/ after the Fall of Beacon. The very conversation from episode one that we didn’t realize was a conversation until the end of volume three? Remember that?
Apparently, Salem doesn’t. I assumed that Cinder teleported him to Salem or something, they talked, and then she killed him. I don’t know how to justify things if it was Cinder that actually killed him. But then again, we wouldn’t want to clarify the timeline or there might be plot holes, ey writers?
I jest, of course. Ozpin is alive and he’s inside a little boy. You are god damn right the pun is intended. Oscar Pine (ugh) is a farmer boy who starts hearing Ozpin’s voice in his head. Apparently, Ozpin can reincarnate after he dies. Most of Oscar’s story- all 10 minutes of it- is just Oscar accepting his circumstances and then following Ozpin’s lead to Mistral.
This honestly would have felt more appropriate as the intro to volume five, considering how little of an effect it has on this volume. Can’t help but think those ten minutes might have been put to better use. Oscar’s voice actor is notable however, voiced by Aaron Dismuke, most renowned for voicing Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist when he was a kid. I can’t say I’ve been wowed by his performances since he has gotten back into the business, but his performance is done well here.
I’ll have plenty more to say about Oscar and Ozpin in volume five, however. The other major development this season was episode eight since it was officially the exposition episode. So… we remember how in volume three we learned that there are the four maidens with unimaginable power, even though their power never seemed that imposing? Well, now there are four more plot devices that the villains are after.
There are four relics housed in each of the four kingdoms that together would allow someone to “change the world.” Is that for better or worse, cause if they are that powerful then why not use that power to get rid of Grimm entirely? You know what, I’m not gonna get into this. Fatmanfalling on YouTube did maybe 20 minutes on this alone in his volume four review. Just watch that if you want the real analytical critique bordering on nitpicking.
We even got some lore about the creation of the world, generic as it was. There was a good god that made cool stuff, but his shithead brother liked destroying things and making monsters. The brothers got together though and said, “hey, why not make something for the Grimm to kill?” and thus, humans were born. Sometimes all you need to find common ground is a little bit of grim humor (laugh now).
When I watched this episode for the first time I was annoyed at how many seemingly pointless plot elements they were adding. This season had no maidens at all and now they were adding all kinds of shit to the story out of nowhere. To make matters worse, we still don’t even know if Cinder got the relic from Vale. Unless the dragon was the relic.
Speaking of which, Qrow had a chat with Raven in episode four. Nice to finally have a full scene with Yang’s mom, and even nicer to see the strained relationship between her and Qrow acted out so well. Raven’s voice actress can be a bit dodgy with line reads, but Vic Mignogna… he’s always great to listen to. Clearly, no one knows where the relic is (probably not even the writers when this was written), but we do know that Raven’s tribe is harboring the Spring Maiden.
In the end, team RNJR and Qrow have made it safely to Mistral, Oscar is just about there, Weiss is on a cargo plane heading there and Yang is riding there on her bike. Blake’s arc is gonna have her stay in Menagerie a bit longer (again, she’s essentially Daenerys), but I mean, this team won’t be fully reunited until the very end of volume five anyway.
As for the others, Tyrian is out of commision, Cinder has no lines, Mercury and Emerald are just sidelined completely, and the other two new villains have no presence. But Mustache guy is seen in the office of the headmaster of Haven Academy. Who knew the headmaster based on the cowardly lion would be vulnerable to the enemy.
All joking aside, Volume four was about as functional a piece of storytelling as the other volumes and maybe more so. I was bitter for a long time about the changes in animation, but I’m beginning to appreciate the good about this season more as time goes on. I still think volume two sets the gold standard in terms of incredible fights and being a generally fun show to watch, but a lot of that is nostalgia admittedly.
Funny thing is, I don’t think I would have given four the chance I did were it not for the dumpster fire that was to follow it one year later. For as much vitriol as I spewed for this volume, I had no idea how much was actually done well until I saw how bad volume five was. And… I know I promised this would be the end, but I’ve gone on and on for over 7800 words about this as I’m typing this current paragraph… I need a break.
Is volume four the worst in the series? Hell no. Is it the best? Depending on what priorities you set as a critic, possibly. They tried to give Ruby an arc but screwed up when they gave Jaune all the hero moments and a big spotlight to Ren and Nora. Yang’s arc was cool but could have felt more earned. Blake’s was terrible and Weiss’ was best but boring.
After all of that I will happily say that RWBY volume four was still a better story than the last three volumes because it was the first time that it felt like the writers were really trying. Yet oddly, it also felt like the last…
To Be Concluded in Part Five…
Conclusion – Volume Five
I know, I should have made this months ago, and I should have just gone the extra mile and put both parts together, but come on I’m finally getting this shit out of the way. That’s worth celebrating. And hey, if it makes you feel better, expect the final part within the next two weeks, since I’m holding myself to a schedule now. Already have all the notes so it will be no time before I’ve made my peace with this series. Hope you all enjoyed jumping down the rabbit hole with me and as always, I’ll see you next time.