The most shocking twist RWBY has delivered is that volume four was actually good. It only took a lesser product to make me appreciate what I had. When volume five started airing, my excitement was dwindling. Over one divisive volume, I went from optimist to pessimist and was only giving this volume the grace period as a hope that the problems could be solved.
Rewatching volume five with a more balanced critique may have allowed me the same clarity that I went into my review of volume four with. Sadly, even the clairvoyance of one willing to forgive couldn’t excuse what volume five did wrong. Even amongst those who may have enjoyed this season, I can’t imagine that this is perceived as anything other than the worst of the series.
[Spoiler for all of RWBY Ahead]
Volume five is boring. If four was about team RNJR walking for 12 episodes, then five is about everybody sitting around and talking about nothing for fourteen episodes. That’s right, this season was extra long and somehow managed to feel like it had less than any before it. Fewer fights, a poor conclusion, and some baffling screenwriting decisions really made it hard to like this volume.
I would attribute the character trailers to this, if only slightly. I guess since Ruby got her own trailer the previous year, Rooster Teeth countered by making trailers for every character but her. An odd decision, as every trailer before volume five, with the exception of Blake’s, would have felt right at home before volume four. Perhaps Ruby’s apparent central role in the main plot could account for this, but even Ruby’s passable arc was dwarfed by Yang’s or even Weiss’.
This decision is oddly symbolic of how this volume treats Ruby, but we’ll jump over that fallen bridge when we come to it. Honestly, I don’t think any of these trailers were necessary and the time that went into them could have gone into more fights during the volume proper. Granted you could argue the same about Monty’s trailers prior to Volume one, but those were at least well choreographed and felt important in the long run.
The original four trailers established the characters, their fighting styles and foreshadowed inner conflicts and background for the then unknown cast. They occasionally fumbled inaccurately portraying the characters, like in the Red trailer, or suffered from bad acting like in the Black and Yellow trailer. However, they were also bitchin’ action showcases from one of the internet’s hardest working animators.
The closest to this is Weiss’ trailer, yet even then it doesn’t really feel like anything that needed to be told. We see Weiss from before her battle with the giant knight in the White trailer, undergoing training against Grimm summoned by Winter, her older sister. This actually is pretty cool as it could be inferred that Weiss was only allowed to leave because she passed tests laid out by her older sister. This actually makes the original trailer hold more weight.
That being said, the placement of the trailer is odd. Sure, we went from seeing Weiss’ success in battling the obstacles in her path, and now we see one of her many failures. This would have done better as a precursor to her arc in volume four when she was at her weakest. Although since Winter says “I won’t always be there to protect you Weiss” and then promptly is not seen this entire season, I suppose I can forgive a few nitpicks I have.
As far as fighting goes, it is as I said: passable. Her posing at times goes against the ballet dancer motif of her style, yet other times overcompensates in regards to that style. Something about the way the fight is choreographed, the camera angles and the occasional awkward pause bothered me. Plus two moments where I caught myself asking why Weiss would do what she did. Still, this trailer at least fulfills its promises narratively, unlike Blake’s trailer, which doesn’t even feel like it belongs to her.
Blake’s character trailer is more accurately the Ilia character trailer. The trailer follows Blake and Sun tracking down a member of the White Fang. This is interspersed with a flashback of Ilia telling Blake of her childhood and the tragedy that pushed her to become a member of the White Fang. Since Ilia wasn’t introduced until late into volume four, clearly this trailer couldn’t have been released before that one.
Still, this trailer does little to put Blake at the center, making me question why it even exists. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Ilia’s backstory is very interesting and well acted. Cherami Leigh Kuehn is an incredible voice actress, perhaps most known recently for her role as Makoto from Persona 5. However, even with the conceit that Blake used to be allied with Ilia but now is her enemy, the entire setup makes no sense.
Blake’s arc revolves around her and Sun trying to rally support to go and save Haven academy, but here she seems to be hunting White Fang members. This has no actual connection to her story. They had a story to tell- a good story to tell- but they needed to implement Blake somehow so they could technically have a trailer for each of the girls. Even the song that plays over the end slate is about Ilia.
The action involves a chase but there is little in the way of an actual fight. The guy they are chasing sends a cart tumbling down a “hill” which is really at normal elevation but they tilted the frame. Since Sun apparently can’t do shit while using his semblance, he stops the cart and then Blake corners the target, only to be stopped by Ilia.
I think that if the writers really wanted to make the best use of time, they would have made this trailer a part of the actual volume. As a trailer- and especially the one about Blake- it is fairly disappointing, but imagine if this was the cold open to a new episode. They could give us some background for Ilia while also interspersing it with Blake’s continued struggle (there are other scenes that could have fit way better).
Weiss’ trailer got by with only a few nitpicks and Blakes was improperly focused yet still intriguing, but Yang’s was the worst offender. It failed both narratively and visually. Set before Volume one, it follows Yang and Ruby sparring hand to hand, when suddenly a big Grimm shows up and fights Yang. Then Yang kills it… that’s it.
Yang’s fighting style is way off, evading attacks using her shot gauntlets instead of punching with them. Choreography suffers for this and other typical bad animation calling cards arise like characters standing still letting opponents hit them. She also manages to somehow kill the thing just by breaking its arm. It’s not quite as awesome as a shotgun blast to the head. She pulled a “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” in volume one hitting that fucker with like 30 rounds out of anger but here the sucker goes down like a kid at soccer practice.
Narratively it’s just pointless and painfully forced. Yang tells Ruby that she can’t always run from her problems and that she has to face them head on, blatantly addressing her own faults in the present day. There is no other narrative point other than that and that Yang promised to always be there for Ruby (nice going on that one by the way).
While I’m discussing the four main girls, let me talk about the new outfits since I somehow forgot to address them in my last review. I’m conflicted. On one hand, it is refreshing to have new costumes at all, but I’m not a fan of all of them. Ruby has traded in the gothic fairytale look for a more medieval traveler vibe. It looks good and fits well with how she has developed since she is more mature and social.
Yang’s outfit is an upgrade in every capacity, covering more of her body with dark browns and hints of black accompanied by the same bright accents of gold. Weiss’ outfit was blue and gray, matching her mood during volume four, but there is a lot of color synergy lost between the whole group when put side by side. Achieving this by usually having a few colors shared among the outfits of an ensemble help make the group look more appealing to the eye. Still, it doesn’t look bad.
Finally, Blake’s new outfit. I would have no problems with it whatsoever if it weren’t for the white coat she wears over the outfit. When the character primarily associated with white is wearing less white than you, there is a problem. I’ll admit, it is weirder that Blake would still bear her midriff after being stabbed in the stomach at the end of volume three, though.
Honestly, I may just be salty because I know that no official outfits for the characters will match the awesomeness of those by Shirow Miwa. The manga author responsible for the character designs of Studio Trigger’s Kiznaiver and the official RWBY manga adaptation made his own outfits and they are by far my favorites. I could go on for a long time about this, but I’ll just post this picture and hopefully, you’ll understand why the post-time skip outfits haven’t exactly wowed me (with the exception of Yang).
Slow Beginnings and Wasted Potential
Volume five’s first episode was not exactly as indicative of the dumpster fire that you may have been expecting based on my strongly worded foreshadowing above. A lot actually happened this episode, and my only complaint was that a lot more could have happened with better pacing and a more “show, don’t tell” mentality.
Team RNJR and Qrow have arrived in Haven and- oh shit we already have an inconsistency. I didn’t even get two paragraphs in. Well anyway at the end of volume four it was heavily implied that the ships that saved everyone after the Nuckelavee fight took them straight to Haven so Qrow could get healed up. I mean the interior decorating in their base was pretty similar to the place they were in then.
So it stands to reason that they already got to Haven, yet the very first scene is Qrow introducing them to the city. The logical explanation would be that they got Qrow healed up at a safe area just outside the city and got a formal introduction once he was back to full mobility. Makes sense, but it’s all still a little off the more you look into it.
Plus, the after credits scene at the end of volume four showed Qrow at a bar meeting Oscar who reveals he is Ozpin. Because of this first episode, where we are shown this exact scene again, we know that it is not unlikely that parts of four’s ending were set within the beginning of volume five.
On a more humorous note, I prefer to think that the ending of Volume four takes place after Qrow brings Oscar back to the house RNJR is staying in while drunk. That way, when Ruby goes to Qrow in bed and he says “aren’t I usually the one saving you?” it is not an injured, healing Qrow saying those words, but a drunk. Ruby was probably thinking “aww you’re so fucking drunk old man” and laughed it off. Anyway, I’ve gone about this long enough and we already addressed last time that the writers don’t understand their own chronology.
After lots of hype, we are treated to some matte painted backgrounds and illustrations of pedestrians in day to day life in Mistral. This is about as far as we get in terms of interaction with the kingdom, with the exception of Qrow walking around searching for huntsmen later. We don’t really learn anything new about it or grow a bond with the people of it because the characters always seem to just stay in the same place.
Qrow takes them to visit Haven Academy, where they are to meet with Leonardo Lionheart, the headmaster of the academy. Here we are treated to a hefty dose of exposition right in the first episode. We learn that those four relics we learned about the last volume are locked in vaults that only maidens can open. So when they spent an entire volume not expanding on the maidens at all, this is what they had in mind. It would have been nice to know that earlier.
Because they specifically need the spring maiden, they have another problem entirely. The spring maiden apparently has been gone for years and Qrow believes she is with her sister Raven, after their last conversation. This is where the show begins to have a problem with “show don’t tell.” Later in this review, you will find that I’m not too happy with how little development Raven and particularly the supposed Spring maiden, Vernal have.
This could have been easily remedied by the episode cutting away from Haven and seeing Raven and Vernal in their camp. We can develop their relationship and even explain some of what is already said in the existing scene, but with time more effectively utilized.
It seems like they are about to go find the spring maiden, but Leo tells them that there’s been an increase in Grimm after the incident at Beacon. As such, it will be hard to get huntsmen in time and that they will have to wait until he can convince the council to lend them the necessary huntsmen.
This is all a lie obviously since Leo is already working with Salem under the supervision of Arthur Watts (evil mustache guy) who I will now dignify with his name since he actually does stuff this season. Because team RNJR is now basically on standby, they do absolutely nothing for nine episodes. Yeah, I’m not kidding.
You know why I actually liked Ruby Rose in volume four? Because the scene that stood to push her to grow the most in volume before it finally had a payoff. Ruby was feeling all the inner turmoil she should have after everything that happened and felt guilty. Even though the ending of volume four practically delegitimized Ruby’s arc, there was still a chance that five could have sold how she changed. Her reuniting with her team especially would have been the perfect time to accomplish that.
But no… now Ruby is just sitting around not doing anything. Not even Jaune is doing much. The whole squad basically takes a break while every other poorly-paced arc catches up to them. What’s worse is that they almost gave me exactly what I wanted. In episode three, Ozpin explains through Oscar that he has been alive for thousands of years, cursed to reincarnate.
They acknowledge, yet don’t outright say that Leo might be up to something, so Qrow basically decides to go and enlist huntsmen from around the kingdom that aren’t necessarily busy with missions. In the meantime, Ozpin elects to have everyone train so they will be more prepared when they come to face Salem’s forces. He directly acknowledges Ruby’s ineffective hand to hand skills and Jaune’s still undiscovered semblance and I was getting pretty excited.
And then episode four happened. Ruby and Oscar are having a hand to hand sparring match and it’s all basically played for laughs. Although, its confirmed that aura is something that must be actively engaged so that kinda excuses certain characters dying randomly. Instead of maybe using a training arc as an excuse to have the characters further confront inner conflicts, we get an explanation about semblances.
It’s as if the writers were trying to explain it to people who had never watched RWBY up until this episode. It’s just pointless exposition that gets even more pointless when Ren deadpan gives a speech straight out of an after-school PSA. Even the music feels corny as hell. The newest info we get is that there is a supposed connection between a person’s semblance and their personality.
Going back to my previous point about the character trailers and how they could have been implemented into the series itself, this is the perfect example. Episode four begins and ends with Yang’s story. This training arc comes in the middle of that and feels out of place. It would have made the episode flow so much better if the episode began with Ruby excitedly training to get better at hand to hand.
From there, we transition to the trailer’s footage, which already ends with Yang thinking back to that memory in the present day. After that, all you need is her arc in that episode. Not only would it add another action scene to the episode, improving the pacing, but the overall flow of the story would be more smooth. If there is one thing that volume five needed, it was a better flow, but more on that later.
Ruby’s best moment wasn’t even anything we hadn’t heard before. Ruby walks in on Oscar training and he begins to get emotional. He is becoming overwhelmed with the gravity of what he is getting involved in and lashes out at Ruby, asking how she can be so calm. What we get is a pretty nice moment in which she explains that she persists because the people who she has lost would have done the same if it was her that died.
Like with my critique of the end of volume four, I believe words will only fix half of the problems with Ruby as a character. She needs to prove that she’s made a change to how she used to be and the best way to show that is through how she improves as a huntress and as a leader. If they wanted to accomplish this, they could have followed through on making a full-fledged training arc while they wait for everyone to arrive.
Mixed Fights, Good Messages, and the Return of the Gunchucks
Since the characters’ journeys begin to converge beyond this point, lets shift gears and talk about Blake’s arc, which remains the most disconnected from the rest of the goings-on. I’ve said before that volume four and five could have been combined with better pacing and Blake’s arc is the thesis of that notion. It feels padded out in the worst ways and prolongs what isn’t an awful lot of screen time over ten episodes.
But we see Adam again, finally. Though after this volume you will likely wish he never returned. We find him in episode two speaking with Sienna Kahn, the current leader of the White Fang, voiced by the ever-talented Monica Rial. She’s cross with him about his attack on Beacon and commands he does not attack Haven.
I get that they wanted to give everyone new outfits, but Adam’s is not one that needed changing. It’s simply not as cool as the sleek “samurai meets Korean boy band” look he had previously. Worse, Adam’s voice actor continues to disappoint me more and more with every line read. He’s the edgiest villain since Vergil and even Vergil managed to make his edge sound cool. Thankfully we have a far cooler villain to compensate.
Hazel, the other villain I neglected to name in the last review, finally serves a purpose and his appearance in this episode set him up as a really cool character. He’s the resident strongman of the group, but he possesses a calm composure and a pacificist outlook that leads him to seek understanding from his opponents. He says to the Sienna “no one needs to die today.” He’s the most interesting villain and he’s only been on screen for about maybe a minute so far (not counting the last volume).
Sadly, instead of Hazel convincing Sienna to work together with them, Adam just kills her. Yeah, they really did waste Monica Rial for this one episode. It’s all a coup de tat as all the soldiers close to Sienna turn on her as Adam stabs her through the gut. He tells Hazel that Salem no longer needs to worry about the White Fang’s cooperation before sitting on the throne like a total prick. If it wasn’t for the awful line reads, I might actually like him as a villain.
Hazel is the best thing to come out of this episode. The frustration he feels having witnessed such a pointless death serves to add an element of compassion to him as a villain that we rarely see from this show. I would be interested to see how they utilize him down the line, but as for his scenes later this volume, they don’t really give me a lot of hope.
Back in Menagerie, Blake confronts Ilia about the scroll they took from her during the battle the last volume. The evidence needed to incriminate Corsac and Fennec turns out to just incriminate Ilia, making it look like Corsac and Fennec are innocent. I can’t decide whether this was clever and the antagonists were planning ahead, or whether this is dumb as shit. It’s probably the latter.
Regardless of the fact that they can’t arrest anyone, Blake is confident that they can rally support to go help Haven Academy. Ilia warns Blake not to get involved and Blake of course declines. The “Blake” character trailer made it very clear that this season would focus more on their relationship and that is evident almost immediately. Whereas she was practically just an extra in four, she is a lot better utilized this time around.
Side note: I know this is random, but I hate Ilia’s outfit. I think long pants and high boots would make her outfit much cooler. In her current outfit, she just kinda looks dumb, but that’s just my preference. If I’ve been too harsh on her in the past, it is likely because of this honestly and I know that’s silly but I get that way about the character designs.
In episode three, Kent Williams gives a great performance as Ghira. He comes before all of Menagerie, informing them of Adam’s plot and rallying them to go help protect Haven. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is crazy about ditching their lives to help humans in a far-off land. Ilia tries trying to turn the crowd against them by calling them cowards who would ask them to aid the very people who have kept them down.
Since Sun is an idiot he tries to attack her in the crowd, but she escapes. Yeah, even with her being a wanted criminal, that’s not exactly gonna win over the audience. And it clearly doesn’t because the next time we see them (episode five), they are failing to get anyone to join them. Try not getting volume one flashbacks when they decide to have drinks at another cafe.
Rest easy, it’s not all exposition. However, instead of just putting the footage from the Blake character trailer over say… footage of Blake and Sun trying to get recruits, they just have Blake tell Sun what happened to Ilia’s parents. At least Blake is acknowledging that she has been running away for too long and that she needs to help Ilia, who is acting more or less just like how Blake acted the last volume.
The rest of the arc is fairly simple. Ilia learns that Sienna is dead and is ordered to kill the Belladonnas at the behest of Adam. Now, I like the idea of Adam’s vendetta basically dooming his regime from the beginning because he is obsessed with Blake, whereas Blake gets over Adam and thrives because of it, but Corsac and Fennec just going along with it without the slightest misgiving make no sense.
Killing the Belladonnas would only actively incentivize the people of Menagerie to rise up against Adam and the White Fang. Especially when Ghira says they’ve got two months until the attack. Bad planning aside, Ilia agrees with the plan and- three episodes later- lures Blake out with a letter to trap her. Also, Ilia flat out admits that she was in love with Blake, so three cheers for gay representation. I’m not even joking I think that’s neat.
She’s aided by some other evil Faunus with great designs but terrible voice acting. Seems they took my advice on simpler weapon design though. The spider Faunus has a pretty cool looking dagger and gets into a short fight with Sun when he shows up.
It should probably be a good sign that Blake was smart enough to invite Sun to what she assumed would be a trap, but it’s also dumb that Sun didn’t strike when the iron was hot or get the police to swarm them. Still, it’s not as bad as what comes later. The battles that ensue are both the best and worst examples of what the animators of RWBY are capable of.
The worst comes in moments such as when Sun and Blake arrive at the Belladonna mansion to help Ghira. Motions that Monty would have animated and presented within seconds are drawn out for ridiculous amounts of time and the problem of characters just standing around is at its worst.
Blake creates an ice duplicate, trapping Corsac and Fennec’s weapons in the ice. Then Sun, Ghira, and Blake just stand there dispensing dialog while the two baddies patiently wait for their fire daggers to melt the ice. They don’t pull out the extra daggers they have and our heroes don’t attack while they are down. She practically hand wrapped this shit for you idiots.
Meanwhile, Blake’s mom Kali continues being adorable but also does some improbable things. Like blocking bullets with a wooden tea tray or knocking out one of the stronger enemies in one hit…. off screen. Blake goes to save her mother and finds herself alone against Ilia. One cliffhanger later, We get the fight, linked below.
Now I swear I actually have some compliments to dispense, but I have to be rough with this fight considering how they animate Blake. As I’ve said before, the animators do not do a great job of taking all of a character’s established abilities into account when constructing a fight scene. Not only does Blake not use her sword in its cleaver form or dual wield the sword and sheath together, but the sword itself is also shorter.
After some very slow choreography, Ilia manages to disarm Blake by electrocuting her sword and then turns off the lights so she can blend into the darkness. Upon first viewing, I was initially just disappointed in the speed and choreography, but I can’t believe I never realized that THEY FORGOT BLAKE CAN SEE IN THE DARK.
Instead of a sick night vision fight, Blake uses incendiary rounds to ignite the greenery lining the upper balcony. Despite all that, I will say that the animators finally managed to give a decent fight. The pacing was better and apart from Blake using only a fraction of her arsenal, the choreography is actually good. Even better, Blake uses ice bullets to freeze Ilia’s weapon before pinning her down and trying to snap her out of it.
There was a lot of intermittent dialog throughout the entire battle that I don’t mind, but the only thing saving the generic dialog is the performances. The real highlight, surprisingly, comes when Sun arrives. For the first time since the very end of Volume one, Sun uses his motherfucking gunchucks and it is fucking marvelous. Kim Newman deserves major props for animating this scene and they better give her the reins on more scenes from here on out.
Fennec dies, Corsac is shocked by a now turned Ilia after Blake forces her to admit that she didn’t know what else to do, and the fight comes to an end. The final part of this whole arc is genuinely awesome when Blake addresses the crowd that’s gathered outside the house. She points to the wing of the mansion in flames (that she caused but whatever) and points out how Faunus did this to themselves.
She goes on to say that when others speak on your behalf and you don’t agree with them, you have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t speak your mind. There have always been parallels between the plight of the Faunus and real-world minority groups and civil rights organizations but this is the first time that it has felt meaningful in a way. So congratulations Rooster Teeth, you didn’t fuck up your message (mostly). Ilia and countless others from throughout Menagerie band together with the Belladonnas to go and save Haven Academy.
Blake’s arc throughout volumes four and five was frustrating, to say the least. Tons of forced drama, characters making stupid decisions, and a complete lack of understanding of the characters’ abilities. That is to say nothing of the myriad of other directing hiccups that seriously killed my immersion. The political message at the end was well executed, but if what preceded was even half as good, the entire arc would have fared better.
Thankfully, while Blake’s arc was slowly approaching an iffy conclusion, the rest of the cast was on the fast track towards reuniting as Weiss and Yang had some interesting developments early on.
Better Battles and Unexpected Reunions
Weiss’ story got off to a pretty good start and its all thanks to Pilot Boi. Everybody loves Pilot Boi, myself included. Turns out when a character, however small, is important, people like them. Who knew? A distress call comes in and Weiss says they should go help. Pilot Boi declines, stating it would be too risky and Weiss doesn’t battle him on this. It takes a lot for Weiss to be able to actually take no for an answer, and it goes to show how she has matured.
The next episode the same ship getting a distress call finds its way to them, with a swarm of flying Grimm on their tail. The ensuing fight sees Weiss and Pilot Boy Millenium Falcon-ing their way to victory, and the two have some enjoyable banter along the way. The fight doesn’t get really interesting though until the Grimm’s queen arrives.
Remember the last review when I mentioned the misuse of the song “This Life is Mine?” Well, this fight used it perfectly. Rewatching this fight with that song was nigh chill-inducing. Weiss summons her knight to jump out of the plane, cutting the large Grimm in two.
I also appreciate the improvements to Weiss’ movements. In volume four it always felt awkward when Weiss would perform a spin to create her glyphs, but the animations are much improved this time around. My only real criticism would be the occasional awkward posing. Weiss stands in a way I hardly think anyone in a skirt would stand. I really just wish they would switch to the manga designs. Oh and Weiss legit dabs and that’s just too much. I get that it was part of the motion to summon a glyph but I don’t trust that the pose was unintentional.
Sadly even a display as adequate as Weiss’ wasn’t enough to stop their aircraft from sustaining enough damage to crash. When Weiss comes to, she finds not rescue, but a bandit tribe. Particularly, the Branwen tribe. The same tribe that Yang is currently looking for. Oh yes, they’re really gearing up for this shit. Rest assured, they don’t pull a Walking Dead where Yang never realizes she is there.
But like… they killed Pilot Boy. I should have guessed this would happen when they didn’t give him a name, but at least have Weiss find him injured and then take off his helmet so he can die to tell her his name. Then at the least Weiss would have one more reason to keep fighting and an experience to grow from. She doesn’t even ask where he is after she’s kidnapped. This pisses me off the more I think about it.
Weiss finds herself trapped in a cage, but plans to attempt an escape with the help of her knight thing (they really need a name for it). She gets into a conversation with Vernal, the girl who is obviously supposed to be the Spring Maiden based on the opening alone. Vernal tells her she’s gonna be ransomed back to her father. Weiss responds, bluffing that her sister Winter will come to look for her when she realizes she hasn’t made it to Mistral.
The bluff doesn’t pay off, as we find that everyone associated with the military has been called back to Mistral. So now she’s got to save herself, which ties in perfectly with the character trailer that should have been a part of the show. This poetic evolution for her character really sells that Weiss steals the show this volume at least before the last four episodes screw everything up, for everyone.
Meanwhile, Yang is searching for Raven and that is more confusing than it should be. I’ve realized that watching RWBY, there have been several times that I have not quite grasped how much certain things make no sense until they are pointed out by someone who clearly cared more. At the end of volume four, Yang stops her bike at a fork in the road. One road leads to Kuroyuri, but with the name crossed out and “bandits” written in its stead. The other reads Mistral.
Based on the positioning of her bike, alone, it is obvious that she is heading to Mistral to reunite with Ruby. Plus, if there is signage for Kuroyuri, where RNJR did battle at the end of four, there is no doubt that she is close, especially by bike. And yet, she is searching for Raven. Now, this alone isn’t enough to offend anyone not nitpicking but just keep all this in mind when we learn why Yang is visiting her mom at all.
We first join Yang at a gas station that also doubles as a bar, which is the single worst idea ever. Clearly, there aren’t traffic laws outside the borders yet there must be alcohol age limits since the bartender asks Yang if she’s old enough to drink. Bad world building aside, Yang punches a guy when he comes on to her and it should be awesome but its furthest thing from.
You’d think she punches him and he would fly right out the door, or maybe through the wall. Nope! He bounces off the ceiling and floor like he’s in Looney Tunes. This is the first action scene we witness in volume four and they can’t even make Yang punching a dude cool. The bartender gives her a drink for free for punching the dude and asks where she’s going. She says the Branwen tribe and the guy she punched offers to show her the way. Nothing could possibly go-
It’s a trap
Not that Yang was an idiot of course, and when we rejoin the most awkward bike ride ever, they arrive in a clearing just begging to be littered with unconscious bodies. Sure enough, the vessels of future concussions come out in droves and Yang lets loose her surprisingly uncool looking shotgun in her mechanical arm. Her Ember Cecilia looks so daunting because they morph from simply bracelets into large imposing gauntlets, but her arm just juts out a tiny little barrel. All I’m saying is that it’s not as cool.
What is cool is Yang kicking the shit out of these bandits. Sure the guys holding guns getting into close range is a bit dumb, but the choreography managed to give me a similar vibe to the old Yellow trailer. Hand to hand combat still seems to be the most consistently good fighting style the post volume three crew can animate.
So what was Yang’s reason for diverging from her path of going to Mistral to visit her mom? It was so she could get to Ruby… wait, what? She did it this way because she couldn’t be certain that Ruby made it there yet. Except, she got a letter from Ruby that was written once she made it to safety. Maybe my initial theory was correct and they just were in a town close to Mistral.
But either way its bullshit. I refuse to believe Yang left before getting Ruby’s letter because then the letter is pointless. By the time Yang arrived, she had to suspect that Ruby had made it. It would make sense if Yang wanted answers but she fucking stirs the pot by telling Raven that she only wants Raven to help get her to Haven.
In her defense, it’s not like it would waste too much time. Raven’s semblance allows her to create gateways to those who she has bonded with. But since a few episodes later Yang is sitting down, subjected to exposition, she could have just made that her objective, safe in the knowledge that she had an easy way to make it to Ruby.
Oh but if Yang didn’t get into a disagreement with Raven, then they couldn’t have an excuse for Yang to punch a guy through a tent, revealing Weiss’ position. I’m guessing that was the thought process in the writing room. Well, I have a fix. Maybe Yang could have turned slightly and noticed Vernal carrying Weiss’ sword and then got into a fight demanding where she got it. Boom, suddenly a fight is justified.
As it is, Yang and Weiss’ reunion had me cheering. After so long there was some reunion of some kind and it felt good. There’s even a legitimately funny line that made up for all of the bullshit. Raven stops everyone from getting into a fight so Grimm doesn’t swarm the place and tells the two to go inside her tent for some exposition tea. The episode became almost perfect once Weiss jumped into Yang’s arms for an embrace. This sudden and much-needed gesture was exactly what I needed.
I would say that the two arcs I’ve just covered above, and some parts of Blake’s are the extent of what I’d consider “good” in this volume. That tender moment of reunion really did put me in a state of false hope that I’d soon regret because the next few episodes are when volume five fell HARD.
Talking, Talking, and Bad Directing (Now With More Talking)
For all of the slow moments of volume four, at the very least the entire volume was paced adequately with three major fights. The fight against the Grimm in episode one, the two fights with Tyrian and the Nuckelavee fight at the very end. The pacing wasn’t perfect, and a lot of the RNJR story could have been cut down, but at the very least they kept me watching.
If the appeal of volume four going forward was seeing these admittedly impressive fights, then the appeal of five was that of a train wreck. It’s only hard to look away because you want to know if it could get any worse. Episodes five through nine are just all talking and exposition. Only the occasional cuts to Blake’s arc have even the slightest action.
Episode five was just team RNJR and Blake’s arcs. Six is when we resume Yang and Weiss’ tea time with Raven. Must have been a hard journey walking into that tent, so I’m glad they took an entire episode to get inside. I really don’t want to get off topic (I have a lot more to cover) but Raven’s voice actress is just terrible. She slurs a lot of her dialogue, possibly because of an accent or if English is her second language, but she is a test of patience all on her own.
There are about six minutes of poorly executed exposition, in which we learn one new thing and for the sake of dramatic irony, Yang and Weis learn three. Raven just goes on and on about how they don’t know anything and how they should doubt what others tell them. When she’s not prolonging the reveals she’s dispensing the most “nothing” dialog imaginable.
So what do we learn? We learn that Qrow and Raven went to Beacon not to become huntsmen but to learn to kill them for the sake of their tribe. There is a potentially interesting note about how Ozpin pushed team STRQ to fight Salem in the same way that he also encouraged and enabled team RWBY. Except, Ozpin never revealed any the stuff about the maidens or the relics or Salem to team RWBY.
We’ll talk about how much of an idiot Ozpin is later but I’d like to congratulate Yang for finally moving the scene along and flat out asking Raven to just tell them the secret. And to her credit, Raven tells them who Salem is and how she wants to kill humanity. I get that Raven is supposed to be all mysterious but its just poor writing when she just runs the gambit of every sage character cliche before she advances the plot anywhere.
Oh! My favorite fucking part is when they continue to pretend that magic does NOT fucking exist. Raven turning into a fucking raven is not earth-shattering information beyond the fact that it is a supernatural ability that is not a semblance. Almost every cool thing that these characters do are magical so while I get being surprised, their reaction towards Raven’s ability is overboard the minute they act like it is other-worldly.
Raven gives Yang an ultimatum to stay with her and shit or go to Qrow through a portal. Thank Christ the writers didn’t have Yang send Weiss through the portal and stay because I would have punched a wall. Earlier this same episode Qrow was searching around for huntsmen to go to Raven’s camp. It was actually pretty sad because he couldn’t find anyone and there was a family that clearly hasn’t seen their mother in ages and is likely dead. So just as Qrow is despairing his failed quest, Yang shows up.
Ruby, Weiss, and Yang finally reunite and it is cute as fuck. The cherry on top was Yang making up for her last conversation with Ruby by saying, “I love you.” One group hug later and we’re… back to… mediocrity. Ok, it’s not terrible, the next episode has the three members of RWBY and the three members of JNPR all gathering around for some ramen like real weebs.
They go around swapping stories from their character arcs and Yang shows off her new arm, to which Nora promptly challenges her to an arm wrestling competition. Some of the dialogue felt a little self-gratifying at times and could have been a bit more natural. The pinnacle of the writers trying to convince the audience that they’ve totally fixed all of the problems was when Ren opened his big mouth.
Ren going out of his way to say “look at how much all of us have changed,” is not a substitute for actually showing the development of these characters in a meaningful way. They even try to imply that Ruby has gotten less reckless. Yeah, I’ll wait until they actually give me a fight scene where her leadership skills are put to a serious test before I believe Mr. After School PSA’s little monologue.
Far be it from the writers to be content with just one scene of everyone talking, now its time for everyone to get caught up. To Miles and Kerry’s credit, they wrote the setup really well. We cut to everyone in the room and they have all been brought up to speed. From this moment on, they practically have a blank check to plan their next move or dispense new info or hell, even just expand and clarify on what we already know.
What they decide to focus on, is that Ozpin gave Qrow and Raven the ability to turn into birds. For some fucking reason, this does not sit right with the characters and I have no idea why. Yang actually gets mad, but there has been no apparent downside to their affliction as of this moment. They can go between forms with no problem. Somehow, they use this as an excuse for Yang to be like “there can’t be any more secrets” but it’s all based on nothing and wastes more time.
If you’re gonna be mad, how about be mad that Ozpin reincarnated inside a young boy whose conscience will likely meld with Ozpin’s after a certain point. That’s pretty dark and has consequences for a major character. At least Ozpin eventually does get back on track, admitting that he was the old man in the story of the maidens who granted the four women their powers.
In fact, let’s play a game called “What Else Could They Have Talked About?” How about whether or not Ozpin was the King of Vale? Or maybe if Ozpin is legit a god? Also, I’m pretty sure Ruby still does not understand what makes her eyes special so maybe we could expand on that. You know I’m not thinking big enough, how about we play “What Could They Have Shown Instead?”
Both this episode and the one before it seem to be centered on information tied to events in the past. Considering the interest among the fanbase, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to just have a flashback? There are a lot of times where they sit around talking about shit that they could have just shown to us. People want to see team STRQ, so why not finally show them all when they were friends? In fact, you could have made flashbacks a running theme throughout the volume.
Imagine Raven giving her account of team STRQ’s involvement and her brewing distrust of Ozpin (and the reason she distrusts him) and then Ozpin can give his perspective the next episode. Personally, I would have loved to get a flashback involving Ozpin so I don’t have to hear Aaron Dismuke give a bad Shannon McCormick impression.
Back to the actual show, Yang proposes that if they are going to work together, there can’t be any more secrets between them. Oz agrees and because they can’t (won’t) progress the plot yet, he tells them to spend time together for the time being. We then cut to Raven’s camp, where the villains are plotting.
I realize I forgot to mention the antagonists plan this volume. Let’s see how quickly I can breeze through this. They paid Jessica Nigri for more than one raspy line, so Cinder, Mercury, and Emerald are tasked with convincing Raven to give up the Spring Maiden. Then they will go to Haven where they will steal the relic and the White Fang will destroy everything else as cover.
Also, sadly Tyrian does not make an appearance this volume, despite Cinder being told to fetch him so Salem can “have a word with him.” Well, I suppose equivalent exchange is a factor. Tyrian did all the work last volume so now the rest of the villains have to step up. So Cinder, Mercury, Emerald, and Watts show up at Raven’s camp at the end of episode seven. There’s some good banter and then Emerald walks to the gate, weapons drawn for some sweet, kickass-
They don’t fight. Yeah, we never see Emerald or Mercury fight anyone. The guy at the gate, who is also the guy who Yang punched? We never see him again so I’m just gonna assume he’s dead. This is all unfortunate but at least the next is good. In fact, it might be the best of the volume. See talking is not the problem, what characters talk about is the problem.
Here it’s actually quite meaningful. There is an arc that is introduced and concluded in a single episode. Ruby, Weiss, and Yang are all drinking coffee and watching the sunrise when Blake is brought up, to which Yang is still clearly holding a grudge. She even lashes out at the others when they question why she feels this way.
So then the MVP of the volume Weiss goes to talk to her. She tells Yang about how her family and how Weiss has felt lonely too. She explains that everyone experiences and deals with loneliness differently and that Blake ran because it was how she thought she could protect them. She consoles Yang and promises her that Blake will come back to them.
It was sweet and optimistic and made me love Weiss even more. Although Ruby peeking her head inside to see if the plot revolved itself did make me sigh in disappointment, only because I knew Ruby would not get any arc half as interesting for the rest of the volume.
The next episode resumes picks up from the end of the fight we didn’t see. Vernal informs Raven that Cinder’s crew and Watts have arrived, which should have been obvious if a fight did occur. But then again, it’s not like anyone had to animate anything so maybe it was just a very quiet fight involving two major villains who wield firearms.
There are almost nine minutes of Raven negotiating with them. Watts makes the proposition that all they need to do is help them open the vault and acquire the relic and then Raven will no longer be hunted by Salem. So Raven then counters with her own condition for cooperating. She wants Qrow dead. Raven proposes using Lionheart to lure everyone into a trap so they can kill them. This obviously catches Cinder’s attention.
Despite Watts’ concern, Cinder takes the bait and they all have a deal. They will lure everyone in, a battle will ensue at the same time that Hazel and Adam attack the school and the evidence of their presence will fall with the school. At first glance, this is a pretty good plan, but it is taking a huge risk on an otherwise flawless setup. Cinder taking a gamble because of revenge is fine, but Raven is the one who planned it, so what’s her game?
Initially, it would seem to be just the desire to kill Qrow because if she helps them, he will “become a problem.” Thing is, I feel like he’ll be too busy trying to fight Salem’s forces, especially if that’s where Raven’s involvement in the plan ends and she goes off to live alone with her tribe. That’s assuming that they aren’t killed, which even Raven says is very likely. So then we get the real reason she proposed this plan and its not the smartest.
She talks with Vernal later that episode and proposes that in order to protect themselves, they need the relic. So they propose stealing it at the height of the chaos. It’s kinda a loose, loose situation. Fight back, you die. Help them, very likely die. Take the very thing the antagonist wants most all? That is most certainly going to get you killed in the long run.
It would make a bit more sense if at the end she just opened the vault and gave it to Qrow, betting he would survive. It would make Raven unlikable, conniving, and sinister but she was already a villain. Then her conflict with Yang later would make as much sense, without painting Raven as an idiot. There isn’t really a foreseeable end that makes Raven seem smart, but that might be the intention. To paint her as strong but reveal her to be weak.
Oddly enough, Watts disappears after this. He isn’t seen for the rest of the volume because he goes back to Atlas, likely to build Tyrian a new tail. Sad to see him go, but I’m glad he and Tyrian will likely be volume six’s main antagonists.
Episode 10 opens on Qrow and Ozpin having a chat with Ruby, despite the last episode’s cliffhanger promising a fight between Blake and Ilia (if you are noticing a pattern, just you wait). Ruby comes in while they are dispensing more filler dialog and Qrow continuing to ponder why so many huntsmen are disappearing.
Ruby actually asks a really good question: where is the Beacon relic? Apart from not seeing Ozpin actually die, we never heard what happened to the relic. Based on some of Salem’s dialog we know she didn’t find it either. Ozpin actually has the balls to say “I was wondering when someone would ask.” FUCK. YOU. You had the entire second half of episode seven neatly cut out to tell us so much important shit and you were waiting for someone to ask the right question?
I used to think Ozpin was a really cool character, but ever since he got trapped inside a kid with shitty fashion sense I’ve realized that Ozpin is a fucking idiot. He tells Ruby that he made finding the relic a bit more challenging and then Ruby says “I’ve just got one more question.” JUST ONE?! Oh, I hope it’s a good one.
And she doesn’t even ask it, Oz just says “no, my cane is not a relic.” HA! Good one. Hey, why don’t you tell Ruby how her eyes work and why a crazed murderer tried kidnapping her last volume? Maybe she’d like to know why the most dangerous person on the planet is gunning for her. No, well too late because the plot called and its time to kick into high gear.
I’m not kidding, Qrow literally gets a phone call from Lionheart telling them to meet at the school the next night to discuss the plan to go to the bandit camp. [side note: why did they not ask Yang and Weiss about their numbers and defenses since they were at the camp they would be going to?] Nine episodes of waiting come to a close and it is time for the final four episodes of volume five, but not before I have thoroughly addressed one of the biggest issues I have had in the last two volumes.
I have been holding off talking about this until the right time, but RWBY’s direction is horrible. Specifically, the placement of scenes in these episodes. There is little to no narrative flow and the multiple cuts between these various stories actively break the tension. This was a problem in volume four and it persists and then hits critical mass here in five.
In episode six of volume four, Qrow showed up at the end and we had that cool cliffhanger. You’d think that the next episode would start right at the next second of that fight, but instead, we open on Oscar’s arc, that I’ve already said could have just been put at the beginning of volume five and even a scene with Weiss and her father before we return to the fight.
Volumes of RWBY have always been edited together and presented as a film on Blu-ray releases, with the exception being five, which just had them play as episodes. Regardless of whether RWBY is being viewed as a film or as a show, though, this kind of haphazard editing and directing breaks tension. Now in volume four, it may not have bugged as many people because hey, at least we got the fight in the very next episode.
Volume five not only does this more, but it gets worse because the show is also boring and in the case of episode seven’s ending, cheats us out of action. And then in episode nine, which was almost entirely dedicated to Raven’s negotiations, scenes from Blake’s arc are put in, seemingly at random.
That scene, by the way, was Blake and Sun getting back to the house and then the cliffhanger of Blake and Ilia facing off. The scene I described with Qrow getting a phone call from the writers is what the next episode opened on. The second half of the episode finished Blake’s story. Why not reverse those two so that episode 10 leads perfectly into episode 11?
I could go on, but the constant cutting between the different stories without any meaningful flow is the greatest weakness of the director. I don’t think every episode needs a fight, but every episode should at least feel relevant and important and respect the time of the viewers. I don’t think that volume five was paced well at all. And you know, I may not even have a problem with volume five up to this point if the conclusion was worth any of that waiting.
The Battle of Bullshit
Here’s something funny. My friend told me as volume five was slogging through its midsection that it had to pay off. She told me that they had to be building up to an epic conclusion. When I head that the volume would be 14 episodes, I figured they were right. Sure enough, that was the intention. The execution, however…
10 episodes of buildup and all that time spent talking before this and they still permeated all four of these episodes with fucking talking. I get it at first when all the players are lining up for the battle. Credit to Vic Mignogna, Qrow’s reaction to Leo’s betrayal is on point, blaming him for the deaths of every huntsman in the kingdom, piecing together that he gave Salem info.
Even Ruby tries to reason with Raven with a speech to no avail and getting hit with a fireball. But of course, the spark to ignite the ignite the biggest battle of the volume has to be Miles Luna’s self-insert, Jaune Arc. He starts screaming at Cinder, asking what the fuck is wrong with her and telling her he’s gonna make her pay. Cinder must have rewatched the entire series in her head at that moment and responds with the funniest line in the whole series, “who are you again?”
So the fight starts and it becomes a trainwreck almost instantly. The characters all politely wait their turn before the camera switches to them and they start their fight. Jaune is up against Cinder, Ruby against Emerald, Yang against Merc, Weiss against Vernal, and Hazel fights both Ren and Nora.
Oh and Leo fights each other but its all drawn out because its also Oz revealing himself to Leo and- oh shit I guess Leo is a Faunus. Never was revealed before but he legit has a lion’s tail. Regardless, Oscar attacks him with the same shitty cane he’s been using since the beginning. Leo starts talking crazy because I guess he’s a coward and insane. Lots of screen time that could have gone to other, better things.
Each fight throughout these four episodes, at least in this room, feel like they are happening in a universe independent of the other fights going on. The camera is positioned and the perspective altered so they don’t have to have two separate fights going on in the background. There are a lot of camera shots that are simply cheated throughout the entire production.
None of the battles are focused on for long enough to actually be considered meaningful fights. The fight animations from the opening are reused but as characters watch their fights from a distance. Weiss vs Vernal gets some decent choreography, but also Weiss making some dumb decisions (turning your back on your opponent? really?).
Meanwhile, Cinder is fighting Jaune and toying with him basically (the only way that Jaune still living makes sense). She goes in for the kill, but Ruby’s silver eyes activate and Cinder’s powers shut off. This of course also means that Ruby is passed out for the time being.
So Jaune takes the opportunity to go in for the kill and gets pretty close. I’ll give him credit, most other characters in this shitty battle would politely wait for their opponent to recover, so good on ya. Jaune falls over though and the plot demands that minor inconveniences be stretched out for the sake of drama, so Jaune is essentially indisposed while Cinder bitches him out.
And then the episode ends with her running a spear through an already weakened Weiss. And since this is clearly a big moment, everyone stops to look, but not even just the people who give a shit. Even the villains stop and stare instead of following up with another attack. Because this is where the episode ends, so everything has to come to a halt.
I felt nothing when this happened, mainly because it would have no connection to the resolution of her character arc and would just be a middle finger to us. Plus, the marketing and the opening were hyping up the reunion of team RWBY and Blake doesn’t even show up until two episodes later. So fuck this forced drama bullshit and fuck Jaune too. I know Miles probably put his soul into his vocal performance and I’d be wrong to say it wasn’t good but I’m honestly so done with Jaune getting everything in this show.
But guess what, Weiss got fucked just so Jaune could finally unlock his semblance and don’t worry, it’s not quite as dumb as just healing. Instead, it’s just stat buffing. Jaune begins using his own aura to amplify Weiss’ allowing her to heal her wounds. Look it’s not a terrible idea, I just hate the execution, especially since everyone’s on break time by the time the new episode starts.
Cinder is just standing there, basking in her own evil, Mercury is politely waiting for Yang to stop Gawking, and We don’t even see Emerald or Vernal. Oh my god, I didn’t even realize that Qrow and Raven were just gone until this scene. Suddenly everything gets somehow worse once Hazel realizes that Oscar is Ozpin.
Firstly, Hazel gets uncharacteristically angry and starts stabbing himself with dust crystals to charge up, which means electricity courses through his veins. It also means he turns from cool, collected bad guy to generic angry tough guy with generic dialog and so generic it hurts voice modulation.
As Ozpin tells Oscar, Hazel’s sister went to Beacon to become a huntress, and then died in training. Cool motive, but Hazel’s presentation doesn’t come close to how interesting he was when he was introduced. They also try to give Oscar an arc, and here is where I realize that he’s kinda just been there this whole time and I think I give less of a shit about him than Ruby. That’s saying something.
Oscar’s arc has been going from one who doesn’t want anything to do with this life of danger because it wasn’t something he agreed to, to one who does. It’s just that the minute he does, Ozpin takes control and fights for him because Hazel is too strong.
Because Ozpin is there, Cinder, Vernal, and Raven all descend the elevator to the hidden vault. Cinder says they have the upper hand, which is true, so maybe they should use their combined strength to kill them while they are weak, but no, the show must go on, so they go underground so there can be even fewer people engaged in actual combat.
Ruby clocks in and catches up, seeing Jaune helping Weiss, yet taking his hands away from the wound he was covering only to tell him not to stop. The energy pulsating from his hands didn’t stop but it was funny to see Ruby almost cut Weiss off life support.
She runs over to help Yang, who is getting attacked by Emerald and Mercury, who not Nora nor Ren was attacking. Now that Ren and Nora are on Jaune defense duty and Qrow is helping Ozpin, Ruby makes herself useful, backing up her good ole’ sis. Yang asks if she is alright and the next thing Ruby did got a loud “FUCK YOU” the first time I watched. She says “no, I’m angry.”
BITCH! You had four volumes to get angry! You don’t get to sleep on every opportunity to become a more interesting protagonist and give Jaune every hero moment and then suddenly start acting like you earned anything this volume. You sat around in a house for 10 episodes for fuck’s sake. All Ruby got was one scene where she used the same attack Ozpin used on her during training after being disarmed. It’s awesome and she has a cool line, but it’s all incredibly unearned.
Meanwhile, below ground, they get to a rather pretty location home to the vault of the relic. Vernal goes to open the vault as per the agreement with Cinder. The end of episode 12 is actually pretty well shot and directed for what its worth. Raven slowly reaches for her sword as she and Cinder wait for Vernal to open the gate, but Cinder freezes Raven in place.
Then she stabs Vernal with her left arm, the one we haven’t seen beneath the red sleeve. Turns out that arm is made of Grimm and she begins draining Vernal’s power… except she doesn’t because Raven is the actual Spring Maiden. Now, I’ve heard people criticize the twist and I get it, but I didn’t actually mind it.
It really was a matter of whether or not they thought we were dumb enough to fall for it when a character named Vernal was the spring maiden, but there is so much theming going on with the names in this show that I didn’t really care. I’m not a huge fan of Raven, but everything in this underground scene is so much better than everything above that it was hard not to be entertained.
But that’s kinda the problem isn’t it? I mean, this volume was supposed to be the payoff in a lot of ways. In establishing these characters, there are a lot of matchups that just click from a writing standpoint. Rivalries in an action show are big parts of these battles because you need matchups that make sense. This whole battle either doesn’t fulfill those matchups when they happen or never has them at all.
Cinder has had this vendetta against Ruby since she did, whatever the fuck she did at the end of volume three. Ruby never ends up fighting her. The rivalry goes nowhere because they couldn’t figure out how to properly plan these last four episodes, but also because they decided that Ruby had no part to play in it other than being there.
It gets even worse once Blake shows up. Nora hits Hazel through a wall and the White Fang soldiers just kinda sit around and watch. Blake shows up with her army of furries and she’s lucky that Adam only brought like 11 dudes to this very important battle. All the crowd assets used for the citizens of Menagerie and they couldn’t make Adam’s forces look a little more daunting?
Honestly I kinda like Blake not even needing to start with guns blazing. The people of Menagerie show up, then the police and when Adam goes for his detonator, Ilia’s like “ha no! I disarmed them.” Watching Adam just ham it up while he’s clearly fucked was amazing, even with the shitty voice acting. Less amazing is the “fight” that ensues.
The same man that chopped off Yang’s arm in one swift blow, is defeated in one double handed chop by Blake. Adam, the man who cut a spider mech in two leading to one of the most beautiful shots in the series. Blake is using OG Star Trek fighting techniques against this dude… while dodging into his sword swing. Weiss is back on her feet summoning like a boss and they all notice Blake is there. Oh but now is when they decide that talking in the midst of a major fight is a bad idea.
Yang runs past idiots Emerald and Mercury, with the latter grabbing her arm, prompting Yang to just detach it. She jumps down the elevator shaft after her mom. Ruby gives Blake a nod and she runs back outside to go deal with Adam because clearly the last thing anyone wanted to see was teamwork. Meanwhile down below, the single best fight of the entire volume happens, just… between a mediocre side character and a villain who I like even less. (Fight begins at 09:00 in episode 13 above).
But it’s the closest to feeling like an actual bonafide RWBY fight in a long time. I gotta say though, the maidens don’t seem that threatening and the scope of their powers seem very broad. Every previous fight involving a maiden always seems to have a caveat. “She was inexperienced” or “she was fighting Pyrrha fucking Nikkos” but when we see Cinder fight anyone else its always Jaune. There is not a lot of reason for me to feel threatened.
As for the Maidens’ broad powers, they have all forms of elemental powers and even levitation, regardless of what season of maiden they are. Regardless, the more I watch this fight the more I like it for its technical qualities alone. Aside from one awkward looking shot of Cinder rocketing upwards, it looks better than any other fight the entire volume.
Fast choreography, consideration of the character’s skills and abilities, and the mechanics of their weapons explored. Raven’s sword can switch blades to different types of elemental blades. The only flaw is that Raven points out how Salem’s left arm has no aura but never takes advantage of that information when she’s pinned against a wall and having her power drained out of her.
The other thing this fight has going for it is the music. It uses the song “All Things Must Die” and its the second time that a Casey Williams song has been used during a big fight, yet the first that it has felt like a true RWBY fight. Not every great RWBY fight employs songs with lyrics but it’s a trend that felt so lost throughout this volume. It was nice to hear it during a fight in mid-air as they jumped from falling boulder to boulder, slashing away.
This is still the battle of bullshit, though, and I firmly believe this whole fight to be built on the back of bullshit. So much so that it ruins a good thing. Cinder even fucking dies. She gets kicked off the edge of a bridge and Raven freezes her in a moment just as cool as the fight that preceded it. So Vernal died firing the shot that distracted Cinder and I really wish they made me care.
Had they maybe given her another scene or two maybe I could have felt more for her, but as it is she existed to misdirect the audience. Cinder’s death was cool, but ultimately without any substance. She’ll either die and her rivalry with Ruby will have been for nothing or she’ll come back again and really overstay her welcome.
Raven opens the vault’s door and then Yang appears and the 13th episode comes to an end. One more episode and just enough bullshit to fill 22 more minutes. First things first we gotta belittle Adam just a little bit more. I was hoping for months that we would see either Blake and Sun vs Adam or Blake and Yang vs Adam. Since the latter is off the table, I could at least look forward to the former… for 7 seconds (believe me, I timed it).
Not even Sun’s gunchucks can make up for how shitty the fight is. half that time is shots of Sun firing his gunchucks at an off-frame Adam. This is the weakest payoff to a character arc ever and I know Blake was supposed to rise above Adam but Adam would absolutely fight for more than two seconds.
But seven seconds is better nothing I suppose. Once Blake decides to finally join the others inside, it looks like team RWBY (three-fourths of them at least) is about to kick some ass. RWBY calls out Weiss and Blake’s team attack name “Checkmate,” they race towards the camera AND-
we cut to yang underground talking to raven
CAN THEY NOT MAKE SOMETHING COOL?! I seem to remember the end of volume four having a lot of action, some of it pretty cool. These people made the Tyrian vs Qrow fight, they know how to make fight scenes. Why did they think this was a good idea?
Raven and Yang have a confrontation. Yang asks about what happened to the previous Spring maiden, knowing that Raven likely killed her. This whole discussion is about Yang calling Raven out on her bullshit. How she is afraid of Salem and how she’s nothing like the woman her dad told her about. Then Yang offers to take the relic instead so that Raven won’t be chased any longer. Raven has nothing left to say when all is said and done, says she’s sorry, and leaves.
It’s actually not a bad scene. It’s a good exchange of dialog and for once I don’t mind Raven’s acting, but Barbara’s performance doesn’t match the tone nor what the animation would imply her voice to sound like. I’ve criticized Barbara’s voice acting before, but I really think she needs better vocal direction. I swear her performance wasn’t always like this back in the older volumes.
Yang goes inside the vault, grabs the relic, but not before dropping to her knees and weeping. When we cut back to the fight above ground, it’s over… two volumes of waiting for the team to get back together and we don’t even get to see a fraction of the team fight. Emerald is all like “Cinder will come back, just you wait!” but then, well, she’s in for a surprise.
Yang comes up from the vault and Emerald loses it, creating a large illusion of Salem to distract them while Hazel and Mercury carry her out of there. Can you imagine how fucking confused Blake must be? I mean she doesn’t even know what maidens are, she is three volumes behind.
Adam ran like a bitch, the White Fang is in tatters, the villains have run like hell and the four girls are finally back together. Yang accepts Blake back and they all share a complete group hug, over one of the more touching tracks from the soundtrack. Before we can delude ourselves into thinking any of that was earned, Qrow (who’s just been there kinda) goes to Oscar, who delivers a message from Ozpin before passing out. Take the relic to Atlas.
Oh and Leo got stabbed to death.
Closing The Book
And so ends the fifth volume of RWBY. The longest and worst volume. I stand by my statement that a lot of the content in four and five could have been cut or replaced with flashbacks or more visual storytelling and that they could have been combined.
Blake and Weiss’ stories from volume four could have been their own episodes very early on, with RNJR’s quest being cut down severely. Yang’s arc could bookend the Tyrian encounter and preceded the Nuckelavee fight, which could have admittedly given Ruby more screentime. By midseason, RNJR would be in Mistral, Ruby would write her letter and everyone would be in route. Everyone’s arcs from five could stay mostly the same, but they could cut exposition and add more character stories.
Remove the bulk of the negotiations from episode nine and just reveal what Raven is doing during the final battle. Give Ruby an arc while she is waiting around in Mistral and try to have her get stronger. Add flashbacks instead of just exposition dumps. When you have a chance to get everyone in a room and talk, actually reveal relevant information to move things along, past what will be immediately necessary. And explore the world more! I want to see Mistral.
I do want to clarify what I did like this volume (I know, shocking). A lot of the artwork is really good and even a step up from the last volume. For what Ruby’s written arc lacks, the way she animates and looks is quite appealing visually, and many characters follow suit. Background art may suffer when they resort to cheaper matte paintings than actually designed sets, but there were some shots that really impressed me.
Despite the script’s stupidities and redundancies, the new talent brought on board did an excellent job in their roles. Josh Grelle as Tyrian in volume four, Cherami Leigh Kuehn as Ilia, Vic Mignogna as Qrow (obviously), and all other big-name voice actors did great with the material given.
Scenes of character animation have improved if only slightly in regards to run cycles and as mentioned the fight animation, when it happened, wasn’t terrible. The final battle notwithstanding. The producers need to listen to feedback on these fights. Use the animators who did well more and kick those who aren’t. People like Kim Newman who made the sun vs Ilia fight are doing the lords work and whoever worked on the Raven vs Cinder fight has got their head in the game.
RWBY volume five is not without fights or without action but doesn’t match its predecessors when it dispenses it. It is not without well-directed sequences or well-written scenes, but it lacks the consistency and flow to make to be anything praiseworthy. It’s a step down from even volume one and worse than anything that volume four threw at me.
RWBY was never well written or smart or without glaring issues holding it back, but in Monty’s hands, it felt like it could only get better. Sure there is more money and more flashy visuals now, but Monty’s eye for choreography and his direction are lost. We lost it after the one volume that I would consider really good. Volume two really did save the series. Am I saying that Monty would have made the show perfect? Hell no.
I don’t hate Miles, in case my snarkiness through these five reviews would lead you to think otherwise. I do not think he is a good writer though and he needs to work on his craft and listen to his critics more. This is true of director Kerry Shawcross and especially Gray Haddock, who has blocked several of his biggest critics on social media.
I’ve had as many changes of heart throughout these reviews as the reviews themselves have had title changes. And since this is technically a review, I’d say RWBY is not worth your time. There’s more bad than good. The good is either the product of individuals no longer with us or is secondary to a story filled with inconsistencies and unnecessary filler. I’d say it lost its way, but I’ve just spent five long reviews criticizing literally every part of this series, even volume two, which I’d say is certifiably good.
Volumes one through three could have gotten a pass because it was a smaller show, growing with each volume in scale and scope, but that’s not the case anymore. RWBY is big now. It’s not just another silly web series from the guys who made Red vs Blue. It is a big web series that is taken seriously by internet award shows and internet critics alike.
If they are going to take it seriously, then I will too. If I’m rude or incendiary, that’s because that is the style that best entertains myself (and hopefully my audience). And in case someone from Rooster Teeth actually reads this, I would never spend this much time if some part of me did not actually like this show. I am a fan and I write all of this because I want these writers and animators to improve. I’m willing to bet I can fall in love with it again given the right circumstances.
One of my favorite shows used to be Arrow on the CW. It was a dark take on Green Arrow, the DC superhero. The first season was dark and serious and filled with great action and an awesome cast of characters. The second season got even better, eventually creating spinoff shows with even more superheroes. But the third season lost me.
Characters made the same mistakes that they should have already learned their lesson from, the plot became contrived, and the action quality suffered. I ended up dropping the show by its fourth season and figured that its time was over. Until just a few months ago. After three years and three missed seasons, I started watching again.
I heard that the fifth season had taken a huge step towards improving. So I skipped season four and hopped back in. The action was greater, the show was shifting back to the more down to earth crime-fighting. The showrunners listened to the criticisms and in one season taken the show from its lowest point to its highest peak. Now here I am awaiting the seventh season, which looks to change things up in some inventive ways.
Maybe I’ll be disappointed again, but the fact that the show won me back after three years is no small thing. I think RWBY can pull the same kind of magic trick. So if you have been reading through all these reviews, wondering if RWBY is worth it, I’d say watch volumes one and two and see what you think. For those of us that have watched, let’s be honest, we are gonna wait to see if volume six gets any better, but they’ve got a long road towards winning me back.
So if you’re disappointed with the series, let Rooster Teeth know. Because even if we can’t always agree on what the best direction for this show is, I think we all want to do right by Monty. And since everyone decided it to be the Monty quote that will be repeated for eternity, I’ll end this series with the same piece of advice.
Keep moving forward.
RWBY is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll, YouTube, and RoosterTeeth.com
Holy fuck I actually did it. I actually finished the series. Only a day late but I think I did good considering. Expect more regular content from here on out. First impressions and Reviews are on their way, starting (hopefully) with a review of Megalo Box. As for a future review of RWBY going forward, you’ll have to wait until the next volume is over to see if I still care (I bet you I will). Thank you very much for reading this series and as always, I’ll see you next time!