Making something new is hard, and the most difficult part of that is definitely the beginning. RWBY is a case in point. You might remember seeing its “Red” trailer on the internet a long time ago; it was a visually stylish action scene with fairy-tale motifs and over-the-top visuals. When the actual series launched it was…not quite as impressive from the get-go. But did it stay that way?
The Quick RWBY Overview
RWBY (if you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s “Ruby” like the gemstone) is an American anime-inspired webseries about teenagers with cool powers and weapons (which are generally “gun + traditional weapon”, whether that’s “gun-scythe”, “gun-gauntlets”, or “gun-nunchaku”) who go to a special academy to learn how to fight big scary monsters called “Grimm”. It was developed by now-deceased machinima artist Monty Oum, whose previous projects included Haloid (a fully-choreographed fight between Master Chief and Samus Aran) and Dead Fantasy (a multi-part series of fights involving Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy characters), and uses a 3D cel-shaded animation style that looks like traditional Pixar-style 3D animation crossed with action anime.
A Rocky Start
Honestly, the show didn’t start off great. It had one big thing going for it: Monty is a seasoned combat choreographer, and he loves doing flashy, cool-looking action scenes. When a fight scene gets going in RWBY, it looks pretty cool, and there’s some jawdropping stuff even as early as the midway point of the first season. But outside of setpiece combat scenes, well, a lot of the rest of the show feels a bit awkward. Mostly, characterization seems a bit one-note and interjected, characters don’t come across very well when they’re not fighting (because the animation team has a lot to learn when it comes to portraying dialogue), and the writing is not stellar. To top it off, it can feel really abrupt and short on substance due to the short length of the episodes: as an example, the first three episodes are 12 minutes, 6 minutes, and 6 minutes, respectively.
All that said, if you have the patience to sit through the early rough spots of the show (and since it’s so short, there’s not actually that much to get through), it winds up being pretty fun as the seasons go on. We’re currently headed into Season 4 right now, and things are finally really revving up. If I said that about a typical-length show, that’d be a pretty low recommendation, but in the case of this show, it goes fast enough (and there’s enough fun things in the early bits) that it’s worth at least a quick shot.
Things Start Clicking
This show draws somewhat on traditional shounen anime tropes, including the practice of spending a large amount of episodes in build-up mode, introducing world concepts and characters in between early fights, so that it can turn around and actually do plot things with them. For RWBY, the dividing line is around Season 3. Which, now that I think about it, is oddly similar to how the Dresden Files really pick up at Book 3, but I digress, before I’m tempted to write a blog post on how Harry Dresden is a middle-aged shounen protagonist.
We’re talking worldbuilding, character development, plots coming to fruition, flashback reveals, honest-to-goodness foreshadowing, and fallout. Like, big-time fallout. Everything gets more nuanced, more developed, more interesting to watch, and by the time the season wrapped up, I found myself incredibly satisfied. It felt like there’d been some pulling of punches through the first two seasons. Well, pulled no more. Season 3 moved the world and the story to a place that I’m excited to see develop; it’s the launching point of a whole new set of narratives.
As a bonus, there’s some visual upgrades that also get wrapped into Season 3. The setpieces get more ambitious, more attention is given to the fluidity of the animation, and they start pushing the detail and quality level of the visuals, to boot. It’s pretty nice.
Is RWBY For You?
If you think this sounds interesting, go into the show with the “popcorn” expectation. You’ll get to watch some cool flashy stuff, you might cringe at some of the early writing and non-fighty animation, it might be a wash. But then it’ll slowly start picking up the pace, picking up bits of the setting that you thought they might have forgotten, and it’ll start getting its act together. As of now, it’s a pretty good show, and I can finally say it’s strong entertainment.
As a parting note: Monty Oum, series creator, passed away shortly before the release of Season 3 began. Requiescat in pace.