Category Archives: The Power of Stories

RWBY Volume 5

RWBY Volume 5 is over, which is the que for me to either cry with joy because we have another season to enjoy in its entirety or weep because I have to wait another who-knows-how-many months for RWBY to start up again.

If you’ve read my Volume 4 analysis, you already know how I feel about RWBY. Put briefly, I love it. RWBY and RoosterTeeth (the small entertainment studio who produces it) are awesome. The following post consists of all the pros and cons I felt made an impact on the Volume 5’s overall quality.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING – Don’t continue reading if you’ve not watched RWBY Volumes 1-5. Unless you’re one of those weirdos who enjoy knowing what’s going to happen. In that case, keep sucking the joy out of good stories, ya freak. It’s a free country.

 

Plot Pro – Converging Storylines

Boy, am I ever happy to have all the storylines coming back together. One of my biggest complaints with Volume 4 was that RT tried to change RWBY into a show with multiple, world-spanning plotlines. I have no problem with this if ample time is allowed for something of such magnitude. That is not the case for a show like RWBY, where we have roughly three to four hours per volume released in 15-to-30-minute segments. If RT ever decides to expand its volumes to 6 hours with 30-to-60-minute episodes, maybe RWBY could swing such a change. As it is, I’m glad RT has pulled all the disparate storylines back together. It’s going to work much better in the long run.

 

Character Arc Pro – Yang

I cannot get enough of Yang. Her character arcs each volume have been among the few done consistently well. This volume was no different. Still struggling with PTSD and deep-seated abandonment issues, Yang comes through – again – as both a role-model and a stellar character. While I do have a lot of issues with the ending of the volume, RT managed to bring Yang’s arc to a poignant and powerful conclusion in her verbal standoff with Raven. What symbolism! What revelation! What good storytelling! I think it was overlooked by a large number of RWBY viewers, but the contrast of Raven and Yang in the final scene was fantastic. Yang is told throughout the preceding seasons that she is like her mother. She’s the indomitable firecracker; everyone sees Raven in her that way. But at the conclusion of Volume 5, we see that Raven – who Yang has always longed for and felt a certain connection to because of the aforementioned similarities – is not like Yang at all. Raven is a pale imitation, a broken, hypocritical mockery of Yang. Raven is the false face of courage and strength, a façade of bravery covering a selfish heart. Yang is a counter to that. The genuine symbol of facing your fears, of true courage. What a neat contrast.

Yang 1.gif

Visual Pro/Con – The Fights

Guys – ugh, I don’t know how to say this – the fights are just…kind of…lame now. Action is not why I watch RWBY, which you know from my Volume 4 analysis. Great action is a bonus for me, not an essential part of a solid story, but RWBY has capitalized off of some incredible action in the past. That is not so true anymore. The fights have been lackluster since 1) the death of Monty Oum, 2) the departure of Shane Newville from Rooster Teeth, and 3) the switch from Poser to Maya. Now, I’ve designated this as a con and pro because while the fight scenes are still a far cry from Monty’s Poser masterpieces, they have improved immensely from Volume 4’s nonsensical battles devoid of any kind of established physics. That’s my huge pro for the fights this season. Thank you, thank you RT for introducing physics back into your fight scenes. No more Nora flying in spirally circles for unknown reasons, thank God, and for that I’m grateful. Yang’s fight with the bandits is a nice little action piece and a good example of the return to cause-and-effect, physics-driven combat. Raven vs Cinder had some questionable stuff, but at least there I can chalk up some of the physic-breaking to magical powers. Also, Sun’s gunchucks finally made a reappearance. YEAH! I love those things.

Pyrrha vs CRDL 2.gif

Beacon Trilogy combat…

Now to the con of the issue. Yes, the fights improved from last season by reintroducing physical rules, but they’re still a far cry from most of the Poser combat. Pyrrha vs CRDL, anyone? Holy beatdown that was awesome. Pyrrha vs Penny? Pyrrha vs Cinder? (Guys, I miss Pyrrha. It’s a clinical condition at this point.) How about RWBY & JNPR vs the Nevermore and Death Stalker? Or RWBY vs Torchwick and Co.? There are too many remarkable fights to list them all here! What happened? (Maya happened. It looks great for aesthetic, but it has hampered the combat.) I guess I should just label this #ImissMonty.

Volume 5 combat

Versus Post-Beacon combat

Plot Twist Pro – The Spring Maiden

Here’s the thing: I saw it coming. I totally called that Raven would be the Spring Maiden, but I’m pretty sure I’m one of a very few people who did, because the RWBY fandom’s collective mind exploded onto the comment section when Raven removed her mask to reveal magical-flaring-maiden eyes. This was a well-executed plot twist on Rooster Teeth’s part. Not only did it succeed in taking the vast majority of the audience by surprise, but it did so without coming out of left field. Go back and watch through Volume 5 again; you’ll kick yourself for not seeing the signs. The fact that Raven wore her mask during the confrontation with Cinder and Co. at the bandit camp is what made me suspicious. We never saw Vernal’s eyes light up as both Amber and Cinder’s had when using maiden powers. Raven telling Vernal not to use her powers against Weiss clinched it for me: Vernal could not be the Spring Maiden, and Cinder was about to get a nasty surprise.

RT did an incredible job of pulling off this plot twist with just the right amount of hints and foreshadowing. Very well done.

 

Plot Con – Pacing Problems

This was a great season in my opinion. Much better in every conceivable way to Volume 4, which suffered from a general aimlessness. That being said, Volume 5 suffered from its own share of pacing problems. Now remember, I’m the guy that won’t ditch RWBY because I’m not getting enough eye-popping action, but the amount of sheer exposition is this season is a bit overwhelming. Then, after extended periods of talking, talking, filling the audience in with monologues, and yet more talking, we get to an action scene.

Things are happening! WHOOHOO! Let’s get this party star–,

Wait. What? The result amounts to a tense verbal exchange and a brief flash of combat to let the audience know that, indeed, things are happening – they’re just happening off camera. Then, we cut to more expository dialogue between other characters. *Sigh.* I do like character and plot development, so… Wait. What? Are you kidding me? We cut away from a scene where stuff is actually happening to get dialogue that doesn’t amount to much more than verbal chest-thumping? *Yanks out fistfuls of hair in frustration.*

I could go on, but I might intrude on the next con’s territory. So let’s go ahead and jump into that, since it’s connected to the pacing problems.

 

Storytelling Con – Delivering Expectations

RT had a serious problem delivering on anticipation this volume. Plot revelation after plot revelation, potential fight after potential fight – RT continued to set up exciting scenes that they then never delivered. People were getting angry. Very angry. I wasn’t in the camp of those pitching fits and threatening to stop watching RWBY altogether. I thought many such viewers were being far too venomous with their criticism for a show and company that literally stakes its reputation on fan input and interaction. However, I will admit that these rioters had a point. RT failed to deliver on a lot of drama, action, and tension that they themselves hyped. In essence, this season got into a bad habit of making promises that they not only didn’t keep, but kind of yanked away at the last moment. Most of the disappointment viewers felt about the volume’s climax (the last few episodes) had to do with RT not delivering on expectations they’d built up throughout the season.

 

Visual Pro & Con – Animation

That this is both a pro and con should surprise no one who knows me, because I regularly both rail about and begrudgingly praise RWBY’s animation since Volume 4’s release. Does the Maya animation introduced post-Beacon look fantastic? Absolutely. Would I have RT switch back to Poser animation for the remainder of the series? In a heartbeat.

Geez, guys. Poser is the canon RWBY look, and always will be. That’s why the new stuff will always be at least partially a con for me. It doesn’t feel 100% like RWBY anymore and hasn’t since we left Poser at the end of Volume 3. Some of the characters feel different as well with the Maya visuals, and that disparity in appearance is always going to bug me. The Poser look was unique. It helped RWBY stand apart from other shows. Now it looks much akin to other anime, and I personally feel that to be a loss. RWBY shouldn’t try to be like anything else. It’s RWBY! An anime, video game, westernized storytelling mashup, and that individuality is a huge part of what makes it special. Monty picked Poser for his creation, there was a reason for that, and part of the spirit of the show departed not only with Monty, but with the switch in visual style as well.

*Deep breath.* Rant over.

HOWEVER, the visual quality this season is fantastic. I’ll be the first to admit that RT Animation is getting better and better at putting out a gorgeous show. No one can accuse RWBY of looking cheap anymore. It’s now unquestionably professional-level.

Maya vs Poser.png

Maya animation vs Poser. I prefer the classic Poser style, but this comparison shows the stunning visual detail Maya provides over its predecessor.

Character Development Pro – New Interactions Between Old Favorites

Everybody loves Yang. Everybody loves Weiss. But they are characters we rarely associate with each other, despite being teammates in a tight-knit family. This season we got to see some long-overdue interaction between the two of them, and the manliest of tears were shed as a result. (Not by me, of course. Other people who might have felt emotional at Yang/Weiss’s very touching reunion and bonding scenes.) I just had something in my eye. That’s all.

Yang and Weiss reunite.gif

It was nice to see Weiss and Yang grow as characters together, sharing intimate moments that have so far been kept to more well-established friendships like Ruby/Weiss and Blake/Yang. We know they are teammates and friends, and we know they have a tight bond. We’ve just never gotten personal scenes to witness it in previous seasons. How refreshing to see into Team RWBY through a much implied but largely unexplored relationship. Just thinking about Weiss leaping into Yang’s arms and telling her how she missed her…

I may need to go to the hospital to remove all the debris in my eyes.

 

Awesomeness Pro – Return of the Gunchucks

Why have we not seen the gunchucks since the BlackSun vs. Torchwick fight in Volume 1? I mean, the gunchucks are freakin glorious. Why wouldn’t Sun break those bad boys out a bit more often? How can swinging a glorified quarterstaff be as effective as shotgun nun chucks? Use the most lethal weapon in the arsenal a bit more often, buddy. Maximum combat effectiveness, maximum badassery, and maximum aesthetic style all in one sweet weapon package. Blake won’t be able to resist Sun’s manly charms for much longer if he keeps whippin’ out the big guns.

Gunchucks Volume 5.gif

Character Pro – Sun

And speaking of the monkey god himself, Sun is just awesome, right? He is steadily growing to be one of the best characters on the show, and there’s no question at this point (in my mind) that he’s one of the best role models RWBY has to offer. What an optimistic, caring, selfless guy. So he’s a bit awkward sometimes and makes cringeworthy jokes. So what? Everybody’s got their faults, and what few Sun has are really less faults and more endearing quirks.

Sun Wukong.gif

I have heard some excellent counterarguments in the past, mainly along the lines that Sun is a flat character, that he has no motives or goals of his own. There could be some truth to that; it’s a good observation. I, personally, feel that Miles and Kerry have made it pretty clear that Sun’s motivation in life is service. He literally just wants to help people (which can be seen in most if not all of his actions), and he especially wants to help those he cares about. That’s a pretty awesome purpose for your life, and it makes me respect and appreciate him much more than when I thought he was going to be that overused devil-may-care love interest. (That was my initial impression when he appeared in Volume 1. I’ve since learned better.) Bottom line: Sun’s a great character and I can’t wait to see more from him in future volumes.

 

Storytelling Con – Mishandled Emotional Moments

Sorry, guys. It’s time to switch back to some cons after that happy spree of pros, and the first is the flood of emotional flops. The dramatic moments came fast and furious this Volume – how could they not? Team RWBY gets back together! Yang finally finds her mom! Blake’s longtime friend tries to kill her parents! Abandonment issues! Dastardly betrayals! Revenge fantasies! The list goes on and on. This should be a gut-check of a season based off of the content it covers, but most of the scenes that could have elicited powerful responses just fell flat. Don’t get me wrong, there were some beautifully handled moments – Weiss and Yang’s reunion, Ruby and Yang’s reunion, Qrow’s realization that all his Mistral friends are dead – but the majority of the emotional content didn’t provoke a good payoff.

Ilia’s struggle to rediscover a conscience and Blake’s determination not to give up on a friend? That should have evoked redemption feels of the highest caliber. It didn’t. It kinda felt like attempted murder that conveniently halted once it became clear the jig was up.

Raven tries to kill her own brother? Meh.

Yang’s faceoff with Raven at the volume’s conclusion? While I loved the character comparisons, symbolism, and themes, the climactic moment itself was pretty bland considering it was a discovery that Raven is basically a version of Yang who’s been consumed by fear.

These are but a few examples. A lot of emotional moments were completely overlooked or strangely mismanaged, and it’s hard to put a finger on why.

By the way, do you notice anything about the well-handled moments in comparison to the poorly handled ones? They’re short and poignant. They’re moments that seem to speak for themselves. Very little is said, and very little needs to be said. (RT excels at these snapshot moments.) It’s only when the scenes and topics are dragged on and pontificated upon that they tend to lose emotional punch. My advice for Miles and Kerry would be to focus on what they do well, (Brief, poignant moments) and use huge emotional aces only when it is absolutely crucial to RWBY’s overarching series plot. (Ex: Volume 3’s conclusion.) I wish I had more constructive criticism to give here, but I don’t. I can only say that emotion should have been welling out of me at some of the heavy scenes, and it just…didn’t. I can’t even say why. All I know is that those moments didn’t do what they were designed to do: inflict the audience with major feels.

 

Character-building Con – Weak Backstory for a Strong Character

Hazel’s a cool character. No doubts there. It’s nice to see a gray villain after the string of pure evil villains we’ve had thus far. (I love the villains in RWBY, but Hazel is a refreshing change of pace). Hazel could have been fighting with the good guys in a close alternate reality. So props to RT for his creation. However…

Wow. Epic fail on the backstory for what had previously been a super intriguing character. What could this guy’s motivation be? He’s obviously got a moral code, yet he’s helping Salem and Tyrian and Cinder and all these seriously evil people with seriously disturbing goals. It’s got to be something wild…

Nope. He’s just okay helping burn the entire world so he can get revenge on Ozpin for something that is difficult to pin on the headmaster in any logical way. Great.

Haxel Reinhardt

It seems super lame, that’s all, and a completely illogical motivation for trying to bring about the end of the freakin world for Remnant’s version of Lucifer. Gretchen Reinhardt was a person with a purpose, who made a conscious decision to join a very dangerous profession in order to help people, knowing full well that it might cost her life. And, yes, it did. How does that have anything to do with Ozpin? Yes, he is in charge of training future huntresses. Training to do something extremely dangerous strikes me as something that carries a large degree of risk in and of itself. Could he have been negligent in some way? Possibly. It’s not discussed. Based on what we know at this point, Hazel’s reasoning is weak all around.

A better idea would be to say she died fighting against Salem. After all, it’s already been established that some people think Oz recruits a bit underhandedly for his fight against his nemesis. There are characters (and fans) who are still bitter about how Oz “maneuvered” Pyrrha into what they view as an inescapable decision or even blackmail. If she had died in the fight against Salem, Hazel could have reasonably rationalized blaming an unscrupulous, power-hungry immortal using anything (or anyone) necessary to overcome his rival, including emotional manipulation.

 

Tone Pro – Music

RWBY’s music has always been fantastic in the past, and that has not changed with Volume 5. In fact, “The Triumph” may be my favorite intro song yet. (This is saying a lot. “This Will Be the Day,” “Time to Say Goodbye,” and “When It Falls,” are all just incredible.) Jeff Williams continues to nail this show’s themes and atmosphere with his music.

 

Personal Responsibility Con – Does Justice Mean Nothing?

I have a problem with the Ilia storyline this volume, especially with the way it resolves (with Blake forgiving and trusting Ilia completely). Let me be clear, I have no problem with forgiveness. It’s one of the best, most wholesome actions in the world. I’ll go into more detail on the value of forgiveness after I finish with this rant on justice.

Does no one else have a problem with Blake’s blanket forgiveness, acceptance, and trust of Ilia? No? Just me? Like, what the hell? I don’t care if she was a good friend in the past. She tried to MURDER her parents and destroy everything she loved. Then – oh, this is good – when the nefarious plot fails, Ilia switches sides at the last plausible moment. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? She was willing to kill her family not a half-hour before!

I’m not saying Ilia’s conversion is not genuine. (Though I would counsel Blake to be more cautious. Why would she have Ilia of all people disarm the bombs at Haven? If Ilia had been shamming to escape punishment, that would have been the perfect opportunity to just…you know…leave the bombs active and ensure Adam’s success). I think that Ilia has seen the errors of her ways and realized Blake is right. But I also have a strong sense of justice. There are consequences for our actions, and there should be consequences. Do I think Blake should forgive Ilia? Absolutely. That’s a wonderful message and the best thing Blake could do. However, that forgiveness should be on a personal level. Personal. Not in a societal or consequential sense.

Revenge and retribution are detrimental and evil sentiments. I think it’s fantastic that Blake wanted to help Ilia. I think is wonderful that she doesn’t wish to “get back at” Ilia for trying to kill her family. Vengeful glee at Ilia’s downfall or incarceration would not have made me proud of Blake. Her mercy, understanding, and forgiveness did. But that is a personal sentiment, something she should absolutely embrace on a person to person basis.

Ilia’s crimes are bigger than that. They are beyond the personal. She tried to do downright evil things that affect human (or faunus) society as a whole. Attempted murder (not of just any individual, but the leader of Menagerie, which makes it political assassination), blackmail, coercion, treason, and terrorism. Many RWBY fans seem to be skimming over a rather damning list. This is not the petty crime of a misguided teenager; this is serious international terrorism. Such actions should have appropriately serious consequences. Taking Ilia’s unique circumstances into account can certainly have bearing on the result, and that is where mercy, empathy, and compassion can play a role, but for society’s sake and the sake of justice, there need to be consequences for her very real and dangerous crimes. Blake should forgive Ilia and be there for her, yes, but she should also allow her to bear the consequences that her decisions have produced.

Forgiveness is good and essential, but so is justice. I think we often forget that.

 

Feel Good/Moral Pro – Forgiveness

Now, all that rant being said, I loved the theme of forgiveness in Blake’s storyline this volume. What a beautiful and essential message, especially in today’s vicious social and political climate. It wasn’t preachy. It wasn’t forced down the audience’s throats. It was a subtle, gentle reminder that personal responsibility, forgiveness, understanding, and love are ultimately how people change the world for the better. Blake never gave up on Ilia. What a great story arc with multiple applications for our own world. I cannot stress enough that RT did a fantastic job of presenting this concept for our consideration without pushing an agenda. Blake’s speech has a beautiful simplicity to it that highlights the wisdom at its heart.

If only we were all so wise beyond our years. I certainly wish I was.

 

Character Growth Pro – Blake/Adam Dynamic

Blake has come a long way since the end of Volume 3. From a scared, angry, and conflicted young woman running from her past, she’s become a wise, confident, and purpose-driven leader who has decided to confront her mistakes and learn from their lessons. Adam had such power over her in Volume 3. Terrible power. Because she had allowed her past mistakes to paralyze her. At the end of Volume 5, we see a very different dynamic between the two. Blake is now the one in control of their relationship because Adam cannot move beyond their history. He is still stuck in the hatred, spite, and hurt of Blake’s leaving him. She, on the other hand, confronted who she’s been, learned from it, and grew as a person. My explanations do not do it justice, but I like the intertwined character arcs and the opposing paths they explore: One of a person who uses the past as a crutch, and the other who uses it as a catapult. Good stuff.

 

Speculations

This is neither pro or con, just an observation I want to discuss. Everyone, with the exception of me, seems to think that Cinder is dead. I have a hard time believing that plausible. Yes, I know she got beat up by Raven, encased in ice, then thrown down a massive hole, but hear me out. In the single confirmed instance we’ve seen a Maiden die (Amber), we see that her power transfers immediately upon death. We see the power come out of her body and fly into Cinder onscreen. Now, consider: Cinder would be thinking about one of four people when she died – a) Raven, who just defeated her and threw her from a cliff, b) Ruby, who is her obsession, c) Emerald, her protégé, or d) Salem, her mistress. Any other candidates, known or otherwise, would be improbable based on what we know of Cinder thus far. With the exception of Salem (who I believe to be incapable of directly receiving the Maiden powers because of age or…otherness), we would have seen any of these candidates receive the Fall powers. They were all there where we could see them during Cinder’s fall (heh heh). We do not witness anyone suddenly receiving powers, thus, the logical conclusion is that Cinder is alive. Possibly much more mangled, but alive. With the accumulated damage from Ruby’s silver eyes and that plunge, we might see only a scarred sack of flesh in a dress next volume, but Cinder will be around in the future to further frustrate our heroines and heroes.

RWBY Volume 5 Poster.png

RWBY Volume 5 Conclusion

Despite a lackluster ending, Volume 5 was an entertaining addition to RWBY, and a step up from the dip the series took in Volume 4. Has it yet returned to the quality of The Beacon Trilogy? Not in my opinion, but the transition from essentially a boarding school setting to a world stage is a huge and difficult undertaking. I’m sure it will continue to entertain, excite, and challenge us in the future.

Ultimately, RWBY is about people – people who live in a fantastical world and deal with fantastical problems – but people who struggle just as we do to find our way. It’s specifically about a group of people who care about each other, want to help others, and be the best people they can be. And that’s why I love RWBY. I identify with that, and the most important part of a good story is identification with the characters and themes. Whether its dealing with past mistakes, feelings of impotence, parental expectations, the burdens of leadership, or any number of other things, I think everyone can find part of their personal struggles in the RWBY cast, and that marks RWBY as a stellar tale to experience.

 

That’s about all I have. I hope you enjoyed my take on RWBY Vol.5!

What are your thoughts? I can talk RWBY all day, so let me know your opinions, dissenting or otherwise!

Also – RWBY fans, I’m sure this applies to you – if you love Science Fiction or Fantasy, be sure to try out my books. Ironheart: The Primal Deception, The Arrival, and Goddess are all available on amazon! Thanks for reading!

Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

News for all my fellow science fiction and fantasy fans: it has come to my attention that one of the great sci fi and fantasy writers – indeed one of the founders of modern fantasy – passed away in January. Ursula K. Le Guin’s death was as markedly quiet as her work, though her writings somehow managed to combine that quiet success with insight, lyricism, and a world’s worth of endlessly compelling themes.

Unfortunately, I’ve not read many of Le Guin’s contributions, but the few I have experienced had special influences on my journey both as a reader and a writer. In particular, A Wizard of Earthsea, that classic of fantasy literature on par both in style and prose with The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, touched me deeply. It was perhaps the first book where I realized what profound meaning, symbolism, and import could be infused into the pages of a written work. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from the powerful conclusion of that tiny volume, which managed to hit me as hard as any thick tome.  What a powerful tale she wove with Ged, one that mirrored in many ways my own, as I’m sure it has for many a reader over the years. That struggle of growing up, at once both unsure and utterly confident, climbing to the top of the world only to fall upon reaching the zenith. Pride has knocked the wind out of me on many occasions, just as it does Ged. But confronting our faults and continuing on is one of the true themes of Earthsea, and I found myself bettered by the experience. Truly great stories remind us of powerful lessons we already know, and the reminder is often beautifully given. A Wizard of Earthsea gave me a great many such touching reminders, and for that I will always be grateful to Mrs. Le Guin. If you’ve never read Ged’s tale, I encourage you to pick it up. It is a lyrical, poignant journey delivered in sparse but haunting words (and it’s the original book to introduce the “Hogwarts concept” of a wizard school made famous by J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter). Other groundbreaking works by Le Guin include The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

Thanks for all the wonderful stories you brought to the world, Mrs. Le Guin. Your ability to touch us both emotionally and intellectually will be missed.

Have any of you been moved by Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories? Which are your favorites? Are there any that affected you as Ged’s did me?

The Current News in Storytelling – Beauty and the Beast

The big news in storytelling right now is Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, which is causing quite a stir with not only its enormous box office haul, but also its social commentary. I’m writing, of course, about the uproar over Disney having included their first-ever gay character. (Symbolically they’ve already done so in a previous prominent Disney film, but, from what I understand, Lefou is the first to be openly portrayed as gay). Now, we’ve already discussed my views on agenda in stories, and I’ve not yet seen B&tB, so I’ll refrain from commentary on if they violated my number one rule. I will have to present some opinion here, however, and the blowback could get nasty. I struggled for a long time trying to decide if I should write a post over this, since it’s such a charged issue. I certainly have no desire to introduce politics into my website’s storytelling vibe, but it is the biggest storytelling news of the day, and storytelling, in all it facets, is what I claim to cover.

So, without further ado: Beauty and the Beast, a gay Disney character, and immediate bickering. This is the big storytelling news right now, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’m left wondering if this should actually be a big deal, because it all boils down to one fact.

This is America, ladies and gents, and – call me crazy – but in America, you’re free to live however you want, provided your actions don’t endanger others.

If you want to live a homosexual lifestyle, be my guest. You are an adult and an American. You’re free to live how you see fit.  If you believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, then, by all means, continue to believe that. You are an adult and an American. You’re free to believe as you see fit.  When you start trampling on each other’s right to freedom, that’s when I get cranky.

No, you can’t live in a bubble where you are never exposed to same-sex couples. Newsflash, you live on a planet with other people. You will run into individuals/lifestyles/moralities/actions/cultures/viewpoints with which you do not personally agree. Other people are not required to behave as you believe they should, nor are they required to share your principles. If that were the case, society would have already agreed to my proposal for weekly worldwide watch-parties of The Lord of the Rings.

No, homosexuals, you cannot live in a utopia were everyone agrees with your lifestyle. Newsflash, you live on a planet with other people. You will run into moral codes that do not jive with your personal views on morality. Other people are not required to accept you, your lifestyle, or anything at all, really.  This is America, remember? In America, people are free to live as they want, believe as they wish, and support what they like.

Wow.  That got to be quite the rant. If you’re ready for a conclusion, here’s my take on the matter: People are free to include gay characters in their stories. Why? ‘Cause ‘Murica. People are free not to like that a story has gay characters and refuse to support it with their business. Why? ‘Cause ‘Murica. We may not be the most virtuous or enlightened country on the planet, but by God we’re the freest. And the thing about freedom? There’s a good chance it won’t ever foster the best in us, but it does allow us the chance to be best we can be. In my opinion, that’s really all we need.

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 3)

(This is Part 3 of a four-part post.)

*SPOILERS*

Con: Goodbye, Innocence.  Welcome to the Real World

This one isn’t so much a legitimate complaint as a personal preference.  Let’s face it.  The tone of this series has changed.  Drastically.  I often miss the harmless banter of the early days at Beacon, because now I have to deal with a never-ending stream of despair, melancholy, weighty discussions, angst, disappointment, grief, and uncertainty.  For Grimm’s sake, if it weren’t for the lifeboat known as Sun Wukon, I’d have drowned in the misery.

And, yes, I’m well aware that this sobering atmosphere had a point.  The first trio of volumes, and its soul-crushing conclusion, symbolized youth and the inevitable loss of innocence.  But I don’t have to be any more pleased about it in RWBY than I was in real life.

Pro: Fan Favorites Get Some Well-Deserved Screentime

I love the four girls, and I love my boy Jaune, but it was nice to see some background primary characters get some significant screentime.  Few characters have deserved backstory attention and character development as much as Ren and Nora.  (Except for…maybe…Pyrrha.  Too bad that will now never happen).  Ren’s significant arc this season, while a bit hackneyed, was welcome.  I mean, how can you not like the guy?  This was Ren’s volume to shine, but we also got to see a satisfying amount of focus on Nora as well, which everyone always enjoys.  Renora shippers (who, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone) around the world are rejoicing after Vol. 4’s conclusion.  It’s basically canon now.

Con: Machine of God

All aboard the HMS Deus Ex Machina!  No, seriously.  In this instance, the deus ex machina was actually a ship.  A flying frickin’ ship.  RNJR has defeated the big nasty.  Whew.  Still far from Mystral, they’re not out of the woods yet – literally or figuratively.  Qrow could die!  How are they going to save him?

But wait! What’s that?  It’s a bird! It’s a plane!  It might as well be superman, because it pulled both RNJR and the writers out of a hole as effectively as any godlike alien from Krypton.

In one instance of many in a finale rife with letdowns, a scouting ship swoops down out of the sky to pick up our weary, but triumphant, heroes from the predicament in which Miles and Kerry had written them.  Way to use author-god powers to pull your characters out of a spot!

Guys, the use of deus ex machina is just bad writing, plain and simple.  When a storyteller pulls characters out of a trouble with a random intervention, plot always suffers.  For the most part, characters need to work themselves out of their own problems.  As happy as I was to see RNJR reach their destination, it felt somewhat hollow.  The question of Qrow’s survival drove a lot of the tension this volume, and instead of finding a way for RNJR to save him, RT went with: *Shrugs shoulders* “Eh, they just got picked up.”  I understand why they did it.  They were crunched for time.  They would have needed another two episodes or more to satisfactorily get the team to Mystral and/or save Qrow.  But, frankly, a time-crunch is not a satisfactory excuse.  All it does is reinforce my original criticism that they tried to fit way too many plot threads into too little time.

Con: Falling Asleep During a Horror Movie

Our big baddie of the volume (besides Tyrion) was set to be a truly grueling obstacle for our heroes to face.  I’m speaking, of course, about the Nucklavee Grimm.  RT did a great job building up this adversary; I was riveted by suspense.  That, I thought each time I saw more of its grotesque body, is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.

And then the Vol. 4 finale happened.

Wow, what a disappointment.  I thought we were going to get some kind of grim reaper/apocalypse horseman type of grimm, and instead we got Mr. Fantastic.  Have you ever fallen asleep during a horror movie?  It kinda felt like that.  What was supposed to be terrifying, horrifying, and every other kind of fying ended up being a bit of a joke.  I never felt like the characters were in in true mortal danger, which contrasted tellingly with the last few episodes of Vol. 3, a time when I chewed off all my fingernails because the suspense was so hardcore.  Instead, I spent more time laughing at the absurdity of Stretch Armstrong.

Great buildup, but the final monster just did not deliver on the hype.

Pro: The Cabal

Expanding world = expanding cast of characters.  Not least of which is a virtual cabal of new villains!  We get another faunus villain (and c’mon, who doesn’t think that freaky scorpion isn’t scary?), as well as a few other, still enigmatic new faces.  I’ve no doubt we’ll see more of Hazel and Watts in future volumes.  It’s disappointing Torchwick will no longer be with us, and I’m still wondering when Neo will make her reappearance, but you can’t have everything in life.  Salem’s coven more than makes up for the absences and expands the conflict into a global one in the process.  Following the finale, I still have no clue where Hazel is going, Tyrion is as crazy (or more so) than ever, and Watts clearly has some maneuvering up his sleeve with Leo.  Everyone still loves to hate Cinder after last season, and I can’t wait for her to get back into the field with her trio of collaborators: Mercury, Emerald, and rage-fueled revenge.

Con: Snow White and the Mediocre Character Arc

Poor Weiss got the boring end of the plot this time.  Her character arc?  Pretty much nonexistent.  The whole plot thread served basically as a vehicle for exposition on her father’s greedy self-interest, the wealthy’s indifferent apathy, and Atlas’s growing isolation.  Weiss had nothing to do all season except wallow in self-pity and escape at the end.  Now that we have been informed of the state of affairs in Atlas, I’m looking forward to Weiss being a part of something important again.

Pro: I Burn

How good was Yang’s character arc?  Just really good, right?  It was super short, but it fit.  I was worried her developmental arc would take her through a depressed, self-pitying stage, which just wouldn’t have been appropriate for who she’d been established to be.  I burn, her theme says, can’t hold me down.  Yang is the girl who will get back up every time she gets knocked to the ground.  A prolonged stage of depression and self-pity would not have been true to her character.  PTSD was a much better choice and an excellent Volume 4 adversary for RWBY’s indomitable firecracker.  She struggled with the psychological and physical wounds inflicted by Adam (and those inflicted, unintentionally, by Blake), overcame them, and set off to be the person she is: Ruby’s protector and an unstoppable hero.  Simply and exquisitely done.

Con: This Show’s Not Big Enough for the Two of Us – Does RWBY Need Two Princesses?

This is, again, more of a personal preference complaint, and a super small gripe.  Personally, I disliked the reveal that Blake’s parents were basically royalty.  I saw it coming from a mile away, but that didn’t mean I was happy about it.  Why do our protagonists have to be born into importance?  Weiss has filled that role already; we don’t need another one.  Part of what made Blake a compelling character was the fact that she was a rogue, a nobody who made something of herself because she wanted to change the world.  Call me crazy, but this smacks of the “Disney” plot type, where the protagonists are generally some type of nobility, “born into greatness” if you will, with something special about who they were born to be.  This is America, dammit, where we don’t need bloodlines for greatness (in theory).  We forge it ourselves, even if we come from nothing.  Come on!  How about we have a commoner hero for a change?

Pro: A Sun in the Heart of Darkness

Seriously, everybody.  This show has been kinda a downer since…well, you know.  The unspeakable events of Volume 3’s gut-wrenching climax.  And let’s be real, the saving grace keeping alive the flickering flame of lighthearted fun is Sun Wukon, who qualifies as a figurative star shining into an otherwise gloomy plot.  Thank goodness that guy was around bothering Blake with his optimism.  And on top of the lighthearted tone he brings?  He’s proving to be one of the most selfless and likeable characters on the show.  (Yes, yes, go ahead and rail at me, Bumbleby fans.  Just because you feel your ship slipping away doesn’t make it any less true.)  Sun never gives up on Blake, despite her repeated relapses into despair and misplaced anger.  So far, he’s a wonderful example of unconditional love in RWBY, committed to helping the people he cares about even when it’s inconvenient and downright painful for him.  Blake clearly needs to let off some steam building up from all those feelings of guilt and impotence, and the guy offers himself up as a sacrificial target for her frustrations.  Never complaining, never retaliating – just being there again the next she needs him.  Gents, take a note or two.

Pro: Meet the Parents

A couple who is actually loving and supportive of their child?  Ghira and Kali, I would like to shake your hands or bring you in for a giant family hug.  Raven, Jacques, Alcoholic-mom-of-the-Schnees, get your crap together.  Tai, you’re doing great too.  Good job, buddy.  But the Belladonnas.  The Belladonnas.  Wow, is it nice to see a healthy family dynamic or what?  Here’s hoping we see a lot more of them in the volumes to come.

And who didn’t enjoy poor Sun’s predicament?  That was good stuff.  Ghira will figure out eventually that Sun’s a self-sacrificing gentleman, I’ve no doubt.

Pro: Dad Shorts

You know, I was really worried that Taiyang would wind up being “that typical dad character.”  (I mean come on.  He wears dad shorts.  Dad shorts.)  But that didn’t end up being the case at all.  He is unique, with his own individual flavor, and, of no less importance, his own distinct parenting style, which was probably as important (or more so) than any other factor.  Current stories, when they’re trying to introduce a loving father, typically fall into the same old stereotypes over and over again.  RT managed to avoid that with Tai, while still showing that he cares deeply for his girls.  This is a dad that doesn’t pull punches (sometimes literally), even when he knows it might be painful.  You get the impression that he is devoted to Ruby and Yang, hard but fair.  What a relief after the dearth of “cool dads” who have come to typify fatherly love in contemporary storytelling, appearing more like a buddy to their kids instead of, uh, you know, a parent.  Clearly, Tai believes that hard truths will end up helping his daughters more in the long run than it hurts them in the short term, and that is a refreshing mindset that contrasts beautifully against the typical portrayal of father figures.  You’re awesome, Tai.  Thanks for being the dad character without “being the dad character.”

Con: Sinking Ships

I swear to Grimm, if any of you launch a ship of Jaune/Qrow because of that lingering scene in the finale, I’m going to set something on fire.  Probably your house.  We’ve got approximately twelve thousand too many ships in this fandom already, many of which could be labeled as ‘inappropriate’ at best.  Seriously, get a handle on your imaginations, ya perverts.

Pro: The Evolution of the Tin Man

Ironwood has always been a good but misguided character since his introduction in early Vol. 2.  It’s nice to see him grow this volume as a unique, deeper character in his own right instead of acting in his usual plot role of a well-meaning foil to Ozpin’s wisdom.  Whether or not you agree with his political decisions this season, most everyone has come to see him in a…much more favorable light than they had before, because of his obvious good intentions, protective nature, and defense of a browbeaten Weiss.  And though we are meant to see Ironwood’s isolationist approach as a bad decision, it certainly shows that he’s growing as an influential character in the show, making choices that fit very well with his Lawful Order personality and his attitude of safety before all other considerations.  I’m very interested to see where they go with his character in later volumes.

Conclusions

All in all, Vol. 4 easily takes the regrettable prize of my least favorite season of RWBY thus far.  It has its good points, but it suffers from a number of plot problems, artistic departures, and a lack of the signature Monty style I’d come to associate with the show, making it impossible for me to put it on the same level as the Beacon Trilogy.  Many of my complaints stem from my original point that Roosterteeth tried to grapple with nearly ten plot lines in a three-hour window, instead of the two or three they followed in the previous seasons.  The rest of the problems were stylistic choices that really boil down to personal preferences, such as the animation change.  Many viewers were very happy with the switch to Maya.  I was not, and that’s something I’m just going to have to deal with as RWBY moves forward.

But Vol. 4 is still recognizably RWBY, and it had many commendable aspects as well.  Besides, this was likely always intended to be something of a transition period, and, as I know from writing such chapters in my books, transitions are never the equivalent of the stages they leave, nor are they comparable to the next big act they’re meant to introduce.  Mystral’s underworld is looking like an exciting place to explore; hopefully RNJR (and a reuniting team RWBY) will be up to the challenge.  I enjoyed RWBY: Volume 4, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Remnant.

Bottome Line:  Despite personal disagreements with the new stylistic direction and some plot missteps, Volume 4 carries on the tradition of RWBY in an ever-expanding and delightful fantasy world.  I demand Volume 5.  Immediately.

 

The Power of Stories: Why is RWBY a Powerful Tale?

RWBY is a powerful story.  It affects people, it entertains them, it gives them questions to ponder.  Few people who’ve seen it are left unaffected.  I personally believe the reason for this is because RWBY has something for everyone, something with which everyone can identify.  The characters feel real.  Every RWBY fan I know can point to a character and say “he/she reminds me of my sibling/friend/parent/etc.”  And it’s not just the characters either.  Few stories so blatantly (and effectively) combine numerous genres and storytelling formats.  RWBY can be comfortably described as an anime, web series, and film series, and appeals even to the video game playing crowd because it incorporates so many hallmark concepts from the gaming community.  In a similar way, RWBY is difficult to categorize by genre as well, at times seeming like science fiction, at others high fantasy, cyberpunk, dark fantasy, steampunk, drama, tragedy, comedy, and action-adventure.  Do you like stories with loads of eye-popping action?  RWBY’s your tale.  Prefer witty dialogue between characters who play off each other well?  Sit down for some RWBY.  Maybe quirky humor is your thing?  Roosterteeth has you covered with RWBY.  How about intense drama?  You know the answer.  Need a high fantasy-type quest?  RWBY.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  RWBY is not only diverse in genre and format, not only diverse amongst its character cast, it’s also diverse in plot type and theme and settings, etc., etc., etc.  RWBY has something for everyone, and this range is a huge part of its success.

RWBY is also a Coming-of-Age tale, which is traditionally a popular type of story to tell.  Why?  Because all of us have personally experienced growing up.  Many of the most popular stories in the world are Coming-of-Age stories (think Harry Potter).  RWBY is no different.  We recognize our own journey in these kinds of tales, even if they don’t remotely resemble our personal coming-of-age on the surface.  But it’s not the surface that matters, it’s the inner experience, the internal struggle.  It’s the identification we feel with the protagonists as they go through a journey that is, at its core, the same for everyone.  After all, the loss of innocence and the shedding of youth is a singular experience, and it leaves a deep impression on all of us.

Last but not least, a large part of RWBY’s power comes from its themes.  While the show is diverse, the themes are foundational.  They are timeless.  They are the most powerful kind of themes, because they are about universal principles.  Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, friendship, loyalty, serving others – these are just a few of the principles on which RWBY is based.  They span country, culture, and societal boundaries.  Everyone knows these principles, and everyone needs to be reminded of them from time to time.  Universal principles lie at the heart of RWBY, and this, more than anything, is what gives it such influence with its audience.  It reminds them of truths they know, but often forget.  And the best part?  RWBY does this not by cramming a message down people’s throats, but through example.  The characters espouse these ideals with their actions, and, as with any good epic, we are inspired by what we see and hear.  RWBY, ultimately, is powerful because it reminds of us of the best parts of us, the good of which we are capable when we embrace the principles we all know, but often forget in our struggle through life.  Ruby says it very well, in a mirror expression of what the show helps the audience to realize:  “I wanted to be just like the heroes in the books, someone who fought for what was right and protected people who couldn’t protect themselves.”

I hope you enjoyed my analysis of Volume 4 and RWBY as a whole.  Did you agree or disagree with any of my assessments?  There’s nothing I love more than a lengthy discussion of a good story with other fans, so be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Previous Page: RWBY Vol. 4 Analysis (Part 2)

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a four-part post.)

*SPOILERS*

Analysis

Con: Roosterteeth Bit Off More Than It Could Chew

My number one criticism of Volume 4 is this: There are far too many separate story arcs.  Miles and Kerry seem to have forgotten that they have only three hours max screen time to work with per season, and, as a consequence, lost control of their story by trying to cram too many plot threads (some of which were unnecessary) into one volume.  All our girls needed to go through their own, individual growth, as did the remaining members of JNPR, but many of the character arcs seemed to lose any purpose or significance in the limited space of an already too expository volume.  If nothing else, I’ll just come to terms with this volume as a transitional season, doing some dull, but clearly needed, work of returning the plot strings into a cohesive bundle after last volume’s scattering.  In part, it had to be done in order to expand to a world stage from the preparatory phase of Beacon, but, without doubt, it could have been handled better.

Pro: Expanding World

Some of the bad news from this volume is because we’ve left Beacon, but a lot of the good news is that we’ve left Beacon.  As sad as I was to say goodbye to the things we love and the innocence of youth, it is super satisfying to see an expanding, diverse world in which the plot can unfold.  From new cultures to new characters, Vol. 4 makes clear that RWBY will ultimately be a grand epic in a fully realized universe, not just a Harry Potter-esque series that takes place largely in a boarding school.  Here’s to future adventures in one of the cooler fantasy worlds to be created in the past decade.

Con: A World of Black and White: Where’s the Gray?

Nope, not talking about Gray Haddock, though there has been a sad lack of Roman Torchwick this season, owing to the baddie’s disappointing demise.  I’m talking about the apparent viewpoints, legends, and history of Remnant, most of which can be categorized as saintly or pure evil, with little in between.  With a few notable exceptions, the fourth volume sank further than ever into the trap of black and white interpretations, especially in the World of Remnant videos.  I literally started laughing out loud at Qrow’s explanation of “The Great War,” which cast the conflict into the starkest terms of good vs. evil.  Vale and Vacuo good, Atlas and Mystral evil.  Only after they were defeated did Atlas and Mystral learn the error of their horrible ways (kind of) and agree to stop their completely one-sided aggression and racism.  Let me tell you something, kids.  Stories with this much black and white never feel authentic, because they aren’t.  They don’t feel realistic because no large conflict has ever been clear-cut.  Tolkien and some few others get away with it because their stories are written specifically as commentaries on the dynamic of good vs. evil, but what’s presented here is a human vs. human (and faunus) conflict, and those are never simplistic struggles of good against bad.  Black and white explanations of events, however attractive they may at first seem, are always likely to be wrong.  In fiction, just as in real life, explanations of this type are going to feel off, unbelievable, to a discerning audience.  So far, RT has slipped into that trap.  Hopefully it’s something they will correct in later seasons, because right now everything about the backstory feels stilted as a result.  To fix it, they’re going to have to start showing differences in perspective that lead to conflict, not straight-up morality against immorality.  They’ve done, meh, okay with that in a few areas, such as dissension within the White Fang, Ironwood’s hard, practical approach opposed to Oz’s calm idealism, etc.  But so far, the series history is descending further and further into explanations of good, reasonable people pitted against others who seem to have no understandable motives.

Con: New Does Not Equate with Better – Departing the Original Style

The frickin’ animation!  I have a love/hate relationship with this new look.  It’s also listed as a Pro below, where you’ll find what I liked about the Maya graphics.  But I’ll get right down to it on what I hated.

Let’s be clear, the visuals have never been the biggest draw for me when it comes to RWBY.  A lot of anime fans I’ve spoken with have said that they couldn’t get into RWBY because the animation is so strange (which strikes me as comical, seeing as they are already fans of one of the stranger niches of storytelling in the world).  I tend to consider solid plot, characterization, theme, etc. over the superficial parts of storytelling.  To me, having great graphics/visuals is akin to a beautiful icing.  When it’s there on an already wonderfully baked cake, it enhances my enjoyment, turning a tasty snack into a delectable delight.  But it doesn’t work the other way around.  You need a good cake – a good foundation – before icing even becomes a factor.  If a tale has mediocre storytelling underneath the glitter of stunning visuals, I can fit all the craps I give about that tale into a thimble.  Luckily, RWBY does have great story characteristics, so this is my complaint about the frosting.  After all, if you put vanilla icing on a cake, I’ll still enjoy it, just not as much if it were chocolate.

When it comes to the animation, my complaint is this: It’s not the same.  I know that sounds extremely petty, and I am aware that there were many extenuating circumstances recommending the switch, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story and characters feel a little different because the look has changed so drastically.  I don’t know why Monty originally decided to go with Poser, but I would hazard a guess that part of the reason was that it had a decidedly 3D look that lent itself well to his vision of a blend between anime and video game style graphics.  While RWBY, in the fourth volume, is still technically 3D, it looks much more 2D than in seasons before.  It’s a change that admittedly brings it closer to a mainstream anime audience, but one which I consider to be a poor trade.  RWBY is awesome because it is so unique, and its visual style has always been distinctly its own.  I would encourage RT to put a premium value on the things that give RWBY its unique flavor in the future, and not discard them unless absolutely necessary.

Pro: And Sometimes New Is Better

Yes, I may prefer what I consider the canon RWBY visuals of Poser, but that won’t stop me from admitting that the new animation looks fantastic.  Everything is more detailed, from facial expressions to backdrops.  Compare similar shots from the first and fourth volumes, and your jaw will hit the floor from the difference.  We’ve come a long way, Roosterteeth, from the black silhouettes of background crowds.  Sometimes change isn’t for the better – I would have preferred a continuation in Poser – but sometimes pushing the boundaries pays off as well.  In fact, I’m having a hard time figuring out how RT Animation plans to improve on the graphics in later volumes.  Yeah – it looks that good.  Gone are the awkward shots of the lower body (Poser had trouble with feet and leg movements), and each individual character looks even more distinct.  Good work, RT.  I’m not a supporter of the animation switch, but I will give credit where it’s due.  And it is definitely due here.

Con: FIGHT! Fight, Fight, Fight…

It seems like many of my complaints can be boiled down to Monty did it different, and this one is no exception.  You see, the combat this volume was just…disappointing to me. Once again, it didn’t feel the same as it has the past three volumes, and I’m going to point the finger at the fact that Monty is no longer at the helm.

See, in the past three volumes, combat has been governed by silent, understood rules that are never explicitly mentioned in dialogue, but can be observed in the fights themselves.  Concussive shots, as from Crescent Rose or Nora’s hammer, can propel the wielder of the weapon that fired them in an opposite direction, as according to physics.  Auras will “soak” damage done to an individual until their aura is depleted, and only then will they be susceptible to physical harm.  Even semblances have rules that govern how they can work.  For instance, Weiss’s glyphs can hold a person or object at a certain angle until released, allowing someone, say Ruby, to balance on one upside down or run up the side of a building lined with them.

Many of these rules seem to have been discarded in Vol. 4 for no apparent reason.  Nora can now fire her hammer/cannon and fly in spirally circles.  Ruby’s semblance now allows her to not just move super quickly, but also semi-teleport as a cloud of rose petals, disregarding the fact that no one has deigned to explain that.  I mean, people are basically flying, changing direction midair on a whim, without any physical explanation for how.  Monty’s fights made sense.  They operated within defined, if only implied, boundaries that made their enactment plausible and their tactics satisfying.  In Volume 4?  Not so much.  Instead, we get fights where the victorious strategy is: “Guys, we hit it harder.”

Yeah.  Even if such a strategy doesn’t make any sense in that circumstance.

The combat, while a huge draw to RWBY for some, is much like the visuals for me.  I loved the earlier fights in this series.  They are so innovative and well-done.  But at the same time, it’s the story and characters that hooked me.  The fights, like good graphics, are just more awesome frosting on top of the RWBY cake.  However, just because I don’t consider something essential doesn’t mean I’m not going to say something when I see it going downhill.  My final verdict is that combat has definitely declined in this volume from the quality of its predecessors, whether because of the new animation, the absence of Monty, or simply changing stylistic choices.

Pro: Music

The soundtrack hasn’t been released yet (unfortunately), but from what I noticed during the episodes, Vol. 4’s music is as strong as ever.  Jeff Williams has had the tone of this show down since the first second, and it shows, because the music has always been one of RWBY’s brightest facets.  From the fun of FNKI to the creepy drawl of Salem’s refrain to the rocking RWBY title themes, this show can be encapsulated in its music, and Vol. 4 is no different from its predecessors in that regard.  Keep up the good work, Jeff and Casey!  I’ll be on the lookout for the soundtrack release!

Previous Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 1)                                     Next Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 3)

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis – Required

I know I’ve not had new content for a while, but I’ve been preparing an extra-special post for you.  In fact, it’s become so special (and lengthy) that I’m going to break it up in to four or five separate posts.

This marks the first of my story analysis entries for my theme, The Power of Stories.  If I get a good response, I’ll keep doing these.  If not, I’ll probably stick solely to posts on storytelling in general.  Hopefully, we can get a good discussion going, because I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on these stories as well.  Let’s take an in-depth look at one we love.

RWBY – REQUIRED Entertainment

As most people reading this are no doubt aware, I’m a huge fan of Roosterteeth’s hit web series RWBY.  The fourth volume of this American anime concluded only a few weeks past, so I thought now would be a great time to break down the latest volume to see what worked, what didn’t, and why this story is so powerful.

Is it necessary for me to call spoilers?  We’re going to be discussing the fourth volume of an ongoing series.  Do I really need to point out that there will be major plot points, characters, etc. discussed that could ruin the twists and turns?  Just to be safe, for the people who also need the giant CONTENTS ARE HOT label on the sides of their coffee cups: SPOILERS AHEAD.  Do not continue if you’ve not watched RWBY Volumes 1-4.

I’m going to break down stories in list form, a kind of pros and cons list, with the most important issues first, ranking to the least important as we proceed.

So, without further ado, my story evaluation of:

RWBY Vol. 4

RWBY Overview

RWBY is hard to categorize for a lot of reasons.  It’s visual style most closely resembles anime (especially in this fourth volume), but beyond that and a few derivative style quirks, it has few of the hallmark Japanese-esque qualities that traditionally mark a show as “anime.”  Its characters and world are based off of fairy tales, but it doesn’t fit in that category either.  The Brothers Grimm type folktales are simply used as an inspirational backdrop.  The humor and dialogue have a distinctive Roosterteeth flair, of which I’ve not seen the likes in anything other than a RT product.  It has loads of action, but that action is in a style more akin to a video game than a film or anime.  Even the world setting can’t decide if it’s science fiction, medieval fantasy, or cyberpunk!  My point is that RWBY doesn’t fit anywhere.  And that’s awesome!  It defies not only genre boundaries, but also any form of format classification, and that’s part of what makes RWBY such a great experience.  While it borrows from many sources, it is somehow utterly unique, in a cross-genre, cross-media niche of its very own.

If you’ve read to this point, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the show through Volume 4.  If you haven’t, leave now.  Go read something else cool on my site.

Now, if you’re still here I’m sure you’re up to date, but I still feel compelled to share some backstory on Volume 4 as a foundation for my evaluation.  While counting down to the internet airing, I was equal parts worried and eager for RWBY’s next installment.  My excitement was caused by the long interim since Vol. 3’s emotional conclusion, but I was apprehensive for two reasons.  1) This would be the first volume of RWBY with no input by its mastermind.  Monty Oum, RWBY’s creator, had worked on several scenes for Vol. 3 before his untimely death, but the fourth volume would be devoid of his influence.  (Excepting, of course, his vision for the long-term series arc, from which co-writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross are working.)  Needless to say, losing the heart and soul behind a project means that it will be affected, and I was worried to see how.  2) Roosterteeth Animation decided to make the switch from Poser, the animation platform chosen by Monty for work in the first three volumes, to Maya, the most widespread animation platform in the world.  Now, I understand RT Animation’s decision to do so.  They’ve been expanding rapidly with the success of RWBY, and new employees are already proficient in Maya, which cuts down on training time for an unfamiliar platform like Poser.  Also, one of the constant criticisms for the first three volumes was the animation, which many viewers believed inadequate.  Personally, I was happy with the Poser look, and the volumes were looking better and better with each season, but RT agreed with the need for an upgrade, which I suppose I can understand.  For these reasons, I feared the show wouldn’t feel the same, and to a certain extent I was right.  Let’s dive into RWBY Vol. 4!

Next Page: RWBY Volume 4 (Part 2) Analysis

The Storyteller’s Voice and Art Individuality

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend.  Art isn’t your pet – it’s your kid.  It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon

The idea that I discussed last week – that a storyteller’s purpose is to give questions, not answers – rankles some people, most of whom are storytellers who regularly ignore this purpose, thinking themselves wiser than their audience.  My post from last week does require some caveats, however.  Once we accept the purpose of the storyteller, there is a second truth we must embrace: Your voice matters.  It may not be your place to tell the audience what to think, but it is your job to tell a story, and one that is ultimately meaningful.

Your storytelling voice matters, and sometimes it matters in ways you never expected.

Now, I know the quote that I used this week is from a storyteller who regularly violates the purpose of storytelling.  No one knows better than I the appalling number of times Joss Whedon has downright browbeaten his audience with opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when he desists from forcing a specific agenda, he is a peerless storyteller.  And the discernment shown in the above quote is striking.

The first part of my point is that your voice matters, and that’s important to grasp before we move on to the next half.  Your artistic voice matters.  I may repeat it a thousand times in this post, but it’s an important truth to embrace as a lifelong artist.  If you don’t embrace it, you won’t be a storyteller, plain and simple.  You’ll give up.  You’ll stop telling stories.  If you believe you’re shouting into the void, how long do you think you’ll sit around listening to your own echo?  Not long for some.  Years for others.  But, if you don’t embrace the idea that your art has unique value, you will eventually quit.  Embrace this truth.  You’ve got a voice, you’ve got questions to give the world, and only you can deliver them the way you do.

If you accept that, we can move on to my second point, summarized by Whedon as “interpretations the author did not intend.”  Often, your work will become something you never planned for it to be.  One of the greatest facts about this world is that people are different.  They interpret life and experience and art in a way distinctive to themselves.  You don’t always get to choose how your art affects people, and that’s okay!  After all, you may be the god of your stories, but that doesn’t make you the God of this one.  Your only duty is to tell stories to the best of your ability, putting 110% of your work and effort into each one.  And don’t apologize for them!  Never apologize for your art, whether it is received poorly because it is interpreted as you intended or not.  It’s your art, and just as you’ve no call to force your audience to think as you do, they’ve no call to silence your voice.  Tell your stories – without preaching, without bowing to the whims of social critics – and tell them well.  Tell them with care and with meaning and with purpose, but don’t fret over interpretation.  Sometimes people need something specific from a story, and yours provides it.  Life influences people to equate what they see in art with their experiences, and you can’t control that.  So don’t try to!

Storytelling, like life, isn’t about having it all together or being in control.  It’s about doing the best we can, and trusting that something larger than ourselves will handle the rest.

Tell your stories, because your voice matters!  But relinquish control, because worthy art is always bigger than the person who made it.