Starring Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkleman, Kara Eberie, Arryn Zech (all voice)
Directed and created by Monty Oum
IMDB Rating: 8.4
The ongoing web-series of international acclaim (apparently) and more than a million viewers brings a quirky bunch of child-fighters together, with the future of humanity in the misfit-friend’s hands. I usually only take two paragraphs to sum up anime series’, however given the size and uniqueness of this, I quickly found out I had much more to say…
RWBY (pronounced ruby) takes place in the fictional world of Remnant, a world once dominated by evil creatures called Grimm that hunt and kill humans. Nowadays towns and cities have been built and protected from the evils of Grimm. However, there’s still a need for protection, and schools across the world train Hunters and Huntresses to protect the people from the evil in the world. The series follows Ruby Rose and her friends as they progress through Beacon Academy, one of the world’s most prestigious schools. As they train they begin to find out more about the evils in the world, particularly an organisation called the White Fang, once a simple protest group that has taken a dark, dangerous turn.
Now, before I properly start the review, there are two major talking points with RWBY that I would like to explicitly talk about first:
The Art of Machinima
Machinima – the use of real-time computer graphic engines to create a cinematic production.
I would usually talk about this nearer the end, but it’s undeniable that the machinima style of RWBY makes or breaks this for most people before it has even been seen, and I suspect it has done more breaking than making. I actually looked at this many months ago but straight up dismissed it because of its ‘videogame’ style.
Admittedly it does hinder the production in areas, particularly in early episodes. Running looks more like skating, the mouth syncing is usually poor and robotic and crying was impossible until the current series (fyi they’re really going to town on it now they’ve worked it out). However, while it takes away in some areas it gives in others, particularly the excellent fight scenes which wouldn’t look half as good in a traditional 2D anime style, let alone live-action. Once I got used to it, which happened fairly quickly to be fair, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Wait, Six Minutes!?
The second thing to jump out at you is the runtime. Out of the 16 episodes in Volume One, only 4 have a runtime of over 10 minutes, with Vol. Two & Three episodes all running around 15 mins. For someone who started off reviewing movies, this is incredibly short.
However, because I joined the train so late, the tiny runtime actually made the series more accessible, super easy to digest, and something I always say is important for these which is how easy you can drop in and out of the show. It just filled a boring gap in the day with some light entertainment.
The problem I have now is that I’ve caught up. Now I’m left with the idea of waiting a week just for a few minutes of action and then it’s gone again. I really doubt I’ll get used to that, and I can’t imagine I’ll be as excited by this series by the time volume 3 has finished.
P.S. Netflix UK (and perhaps other regions) recently had volumes 1 & 2 available in movie form, with volume 1 lasting about 1hr 30 and volume 2 more than 2 ½ hours long! While this may sound better than 10 min episodes, this really doesn’t work as movies due to the cutting and should only really be seen in its original form, available on both YouTube and producers Rooster Teeth’s website for absolutely free.
Now that the major issues are out of the way, time for the actual review!
If a TV series could be bi-polar, this would be it. I’ve never seen anything that can be as captivating in one breath yet in the next be the cheapest bit of nonsense I’ve ever seen. That’s a feat in its own.
While the story itself is very linear and simple, it is captivating in its simplicity and the detail in the world beats almost anything else I’ve seen in animation. The writers find a delicate balance between being funny and being cool, using a sense of innocence in the relatively dangerous characters to put a smile on your face while still allowing them to look cool during fights.
On the characters themselves, while they’ve done a really good job of creating many unique people (particularly using colours), the characters themselves are slightly one dimensional. Almost all of them can be summed up in a few words, and personalities sometimes change in an instance to suit comedic needs (something I don’t personally have a huge problem with).
While this story may have a comedy side that appeals to some, for me the best thing from RWBY is the fighting. I recently said that the fight scenes in Japanese anime Unlimited Blade Works were the best I’ve ever seen, but RWBY runs this seriously close. The fight scenes are very similar in the two, both extremely well-choreographed, especially between fighters. However, the 3-D nature of these fight probably makes these even better than UBWs!
The fight scenes are like beautiful dances, but that’s not even the best thing about them. What’s even better is the array of fighters and fighting techniques there is in the series! An incredible collection of fighters in all shapes and sizes, wielding all sorts of weapons make each fight seems as unique as the last. There’s no easy way to explain how many different weapons there are, so I’m just going to write them all down. As a rule of thumb, most of them are a melee weapon with artillery built in:
Rose’s Scythe / Weiss’ Rapier / Blake’s Gambol Shroud / Yang’s Power Gloves / Jaune’s Sword and Shield / Nora’s Hammer / Pyrrha’s Sword Javelin / Ren’s Blade Guns / Penny’s Flying Swords / Coco’s Handbag Gatling Gun / Sun’s Nunchucks / Reese’s Hoverboard / Roy’s Saws / Nebula’s Crossbow / Flynt’s Trumpet / Melanie’s Heels / Roman’s Cane / *Neopolitan’s Parasol* / Amber’s Staff / Oobleck’s Thermos / Peter’s Blunderbuss and many more…
Kudos to the team, because to still come up with original weapons is some feat!
On a side note, every fight needs a winner, and you get the feeling that the creators are reigning in or overpowering characters for the sake of plot. This has made it hard to gauge at all who the strongest and weakest fighters are, minus the very best and worst. However, this doesn’t take away from the spectacle itself.
*My personal favourite, one of the coolest fighters I’ve ever seen in anything!
On the voice acting, the quality’s solid but unspectacular. Particular shoutouts go to Arryn Zech, playing the conflicted, mysterious Blake and Samantha Ireland playing livewire Nora – both polar opposites but both very good voice performances.
I should also say how much I love the soundtrack to this series, particularly in Volume Two. Created by Jeff and Casey Lee Williams (I’m assuming, perhaps foolishly, that they’re related), the soundtrack has a cool retro videogame vibe, instantly reminding me of the Sonic Adventure videogames I adored as a little kid!
Past the fight scenes, the directing by the late Monty Oum is solid throughout, his style not to dissimilar to what you would see from a stereotypical film director. Again, following the bi-polar theme, some of the cuts leave a lot to be desired.
Overall, I have found myself hooked by this series. Negatives, particularly the lack of character depth, can be labelled at many great pieces of TV and film besides this (e.g. Pulp Fiction, Scott Pilgrim), and the ease of its comedy mixed with really well designed fight scenes make this a great piece of light entertainment. If it was like most things on YouTube (e.g. made by just a handful of people) this would have to be considered a remarkable achievement. However you get the feel just from watching the credits that this is a major production. Given it’s a major production it should be judged against other anime’s, in which case this is very good, but not the greatest all round production I’ve seen.
But hey, it’s free, so who cares!