Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

June 6, 2016

Let’s discuss RWBY (Part 2).

Is it even possible to talk about RWBY without talking about shipping?  I don’t know.  Can you talk about any story without talking about shipping?

I don’t know.  I jumped on the RWBY train so late that I had to solve a Dan Brown-style mystery just to find the station.  There’s a lot of ground I need to cover in terms of the fanbase, but I’m not 100% sure I’m ready to take the plunge.  There was apparently a “Lettergate” controversy recently where a scorned employee tried to slander Rooster Teeth/the production crew, and…well, not a lot of people came out of it clean.  But even without that, there’s still too much to catch up on.  Opinions, theories, reactions, and who knows how many in-jokes; the most I can hope for is to enjoy the fan art that pops up on the subreddit.  Most of it, I’ve found, focuses on the relationships between the characters -- well, give or take.

I’m not complaining about it or saying that it’s wrong.  It’s hard to pretend like RWBY doesn’t lend itself to a shipping bonanza, given that there’s literally a mini-arc that has all the cute boys and cute girls getting together for a school dance.  But still, you’d think that with the sheer preponderance of fan art featuring two characters snuggling up or flirting with each other, the show was actually a romance instead of an action series.  Or…is it a comedy series?  Or…is it a drama?

I might be thinking too hard about this.  Let’s move on to something else.

There’s a point where it SPOILS
There’s a point where it SPOILS
There’s a point where there are lots and lots and lots of SPOILERS in this post

Yeah.  Nailed those lyrics.

So there’s been something on my mind for a good while with this show.  In the world of Remnant, there are Hunters and Huntresses who use weapons and superhuman abilities (their Semblance) to fight off bad guys like the monstrous Grimm.  Fair enough.  And there are schools throughout the world that help those with sufficient talent become even stronger.  Also fair; as RWBY has taught us, even if you’ve got natural talent or intense training, you can still get mollywhopped by someone who’s got even more talent or training.  (See: Yang vs. Neo.) 

Sometimes the line blurs, to be perfectly honest.  Pyrrha’s apparently an ace Huntress who’s already skilled enough to take on multiple opponents at once, not to mention her past successes elsewhere -- which led to her becoming a celebrated figure with brand deals to her name.  Why the hell does she need to go to Anime Hogwarts?  In all but one or two instances, she’s demonstrably a cut above the rest.  And even then, some of the fights in the show are so slick it seems as if these characters are already as well-trained as they need to be.  One of Pyrrha’s teammates, Ren, shows that he’s basically a gun-slinging kung fu master that can go toe-to-toe with a giant snake demon in his first training exercise, so where do you go from there?

I guess one of my issues with the show is that I wish there was more of it -- which to be fair is as much a compliment as it is a complaint.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more episodes per volume, because there’s plenty to explore.  I remember getting extremely frustrated when Ruby mentions offhandedly that she and her teammates had been practicing and training extensively up to that point…but there were only a couple of scenes showing off their training.  And more pressingly, it’s training that doesn’t correlate with the action.

There’s a cool action scene where Team RWBY shows off the fruits of their labors, attacking with a series of coordinated attack formations based on their colors (Blake + Yang = black + yellow = Bumblebee).  It’s nice to see that they’re working together, but how much more potent would it be if we got to see them stumble through learning those attack formations instead of them suddenly capable of working in perfect sync?

I suppose it’s all in service of establishing the girls (and the boys, on occasion) as a bunch of anime badasses.  But that feeds into my bigger point: what happens when you live in a world full of anime badasses?

How do you regulate a world where superhumans walk the streets?  Can you even do that?  It’s interesting to note that Ruby is a furious fighter with her scythe, but without it she’s significantly less dangerous.  With that in mind, I’m under the impression that, even without her scythe, she’s still technically a murderous half-pint; she doesn’t need it to create a sonic boom that flattens her foes.  She just needs a running start to wreak havoc.  Not to throw shade on the police -- fictional or otherwise -- but they might not be of much use if someone like Ruby ever went rogue.

I’d imagine that stuff like the X-Men comics have tackled that issue pretty well by this point.  The Civil War comic is probably another good example, and I’d be surprised if DC didn’t have some kind of equivalent in its annals.  In a series where superhumans run rampant (and are the main characters), then inevitably they’re going to go up against superhumans -- which means that there are not-so-nice superhumans out there.  Later on in the story, the military flies out to play overseer to Beacon and a big whompin’ tournament -- and they feel compelled to bring in droves of armored soldiers, warships, and even mechs, because of course there are mechs.  Granted that’s as much a safeguard against a Grimm invasion as it is a means to stop criminal Hunters and Huntresses (probably more so), but how do you keep the peace when even a single teenage girl wields phenomenal powers?

Believe it or not, I think RWBY has a good answer.  My theory is that its world is geared to preemptively stop crime via brainwashing.

It’s a safe bet that Ruby does what she does partly to pay tribute to her mother, the late Summer Rose.  Even so, she’s completely in love with the idea of being a Huntress.  Having been raised on the ideas and tales of heroes past, she wants to take up her scythe and fight because…I don’t know, I guess because it’d be cool.  She’s not wrong for thinking it, I suppose; if you live in a world littered with superpowers and besieged by monsters ripe for the slaying, then I’d bet droves of teens (and children, and adults, and senior citizens) would line up for the chance to fight for justice.

Is Ruby really the only one who’s so hyped about becoming a Huntress?  She’s the most nakedly honest about it, but everyone has their reasons for wanting to take up arms.  For her teammate Weiss, becoming a Huntress means securing liberation from her father and his sprawling corporation.  For Yang, it means having the freedom to live a life of fun and adventure.  Then you’ve got Jaune, who basically lies and cheats his way into Anime Hogwarts because he wants to live up to the family name (to the point where he uses the traditional weapons).  Those that become a Hunter or Huntress can make the romanticism of the job -- of scores of anime series in general -- into a reality.  Fame and fortune await those who take up arms and fight for a noble cause!  There’s literally no drawback…except for the fact that the world essentially thrives on its “warrior culture” to mask its failings and concerns.

An interesting quirk of the Grimm is that they thrive on negative emotions.  Or to be more precise, they’re actively attracted by it.  As far as I can tell, there’s no upper limit to the attraction range of negative emotions; so, if the people feel fear (or presumably, sorrow, or anger, or anything of the sort), then whole armies of the monsters might rush toward the source.  Given that we’re talking about creatures that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Kingdom Hearts game, they’ve got more than enough potential to make a bad situation worse.  And they do, by virtue of two major incidents in the area around (and in, ostensibly) Anime Hogwarts.

It’s like…do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer makes a time machine out of his toaster, and ends up changing the present into a world where Ned Flanders is the undisputed ruler of the planet?  And he uses his influence to create a dystopian nightmare scape that forces everyone to dress like him, smile like him, act like him, and think like him unless they want a chunk of their brain removed?  RWBY reminds me of that.  Maybe the measures taken aren’t so extreme, but they don’t have to be.  You either sell people on the promise of being sick anime heroes -- and the bourgeoisie having sick anime heroes to make all their problems go away -- or let the natural culture and mindset take root.  That is to say, “If you let fear and negative emotions get the better of you, then you and everyone you love will die.”

So I guess that explains why the majority of Volume 3 is built around a big whompin’ tournament.  Gotta give people all over the world a heaping helping of soma.  Then again, as a quasi-anime, it was only a matter of time before RWBY had a tournament arc, wasn’t it? 

One of the things that annoyed me throughout these first three volumes of RWBY is that they keep paying lip service to “dark times ahead” and “danger incoming”.  I mean yeah, headmaster Ozpin -- playing the role of Anime Dumbledore -- is eventually proven right, but damn does it take a long time for his ominous words to pay off.  Up until about the back half of Volume 3, RWBY is still deeply rooted in stylish action and sugar-addled comedy; even when the threat is supposed to get in gear and the villains are supposed to be making their move, you still get scenes like Weiss and Yang vs. Flynt and Neon.  It’s not as if there aren’t threats that need to be taken care of, but when they do show up, they’re on a smaller scale than the ominous tones of the headmaster and crew suggest.  It actually starts getting frustrating after a while.

I’d chalk that up to what I consider to be RWBY’s weak point thus far: its villains.  Well, let me run that back a bit; one of the earliest villains, Torchwick, is actually pretty good.  He’s a sleazy, sarcastic asshole who has enough skills to go up against Ruby and crew, but would rather resort to staying on the sidelines or using the help (and the occasional mech) to wreak havoc while he sets up for a big score.  He’s a character that fits into the context and tone of the show.  The problem is that in the end, he’s ultimately superseded by Cinder.

Oh, if only.

It wouldn’t be an anime without a “just according to keikaku” character, so here we have Cinder Fall…and I’m not going to lie, I find her unbelievably boring.  To be clear, I don’t hate her because all of her plans come to pass.  That doesn’t help the situation, given that part of what makes Torchwick better is that he has the capacity to fail and struggle without losing his credibility.  She doesn’t struggle.  She’s capable of infiltrating Anime Hogwarts, stealing critical information, hacking into the tournament’s proceedings, spying on everyone, rigging matches, and instilling fear amongst the populace by breaking their trust in the establishment/warrior culture without anyone finding out who she is or what she’s doing.  Like, I feel as if all it would take to shut her down is a decent security camera.

But whatever.  She carves out a big win, and nobody can stop things from going just according to keikaku.  Fine.  My issue is that she’s utterly dull.  All she really does for most of the show is slink around, sit with crossed arms and/or legs, remind her cronies (and the audience) that “everything is going according to the plan” or “it’s just a matter of time” and put on her smug anime face.  That’s it.  Again, and again, and again, save for a couple of fights.  In a show full of endearing, changing characters, she has about as much appeal as a brick wall covered in makeup.

I mean yeah, she ends up succeeding in the end and gains (more) power from one of Remnant’s four legendary maidens.  But minutes afterward, she immediately gets one-shot by Ruby once she taps into her hidden Protagonist Powers.  Cinder’s status is unknown for now, but I honestly hope she’s been removed from the story.  She did her part, and now it’s time for her to say goodbye…in a method that Nappa’s no stranger to.

But let’s get back on track.  I think Cinder’s pretty lame (and Mercury and Emerald aren’t much to write about, either), but the idea behind her plan isn’t wrong.  The timing is, given that she gives a Bane-style speech seconds after a major event, ousting herself as the conspirator…but whatever.   She’s shaking up the establishment by breaking down its fantasies -- showing that they’re not safe just ‘cause, and that their champions are as fallible as any mortal man.  Given that her schemes end up having Yang look like a psychopath and turn Pyrrha into a murderer, I’d say she makes Hunters and Huntresses look more fallible than any mortal man, maybe because you can’t trust superhumans to do the right thing. 

And she shows that the government -- or any authority figure -- can’t be trusted, either.  Ozpin points out that when Ironwood (a military official and a fuckin’ sick badass) brings in an army to protect the area, he’s scaring people with their presence.  It’s a reminder that violence, villainy, and peril still exist in the world; the fighters from fairy tales aren’t enough to protect anyone from the Grimm -- and the criminal underworld, and terrorists on the losing end of racial abuse -- and they’re a liability in their own right.

And the military seemed to agree with that assessment even without Cinder’s input.  They opted out of trusting the Hunters and Huntresses and put their stock in armies.  Machines.  Mechs.  Raw military force.  They tried to pretend like they could trust Hunters and Huntresses by introducing Penny, a combat android disguised as a teenage girl (because of course it’s a teenage girl), but when their lie was exposed…well, what did they think was going to happen?  That people would laugh off the idea of the military trying to supplant traditional flesh and bone with loyal automatons?

Remnant is (or was) a world built on illusions.  It needed those tales of heroes, and the warrior culture, to survive.  People needed to believe that anime badasses would solve all of the world’s problems, and that danger didn’t push inward with every waking moment.  But now the illusion’s been broken.  Cities are in shambles, people have died, the military’s scrambling, the Grimm are out in full force, the terrorists are gaining steam, and the panic of pedestrians all over the planet are only serving to make things worse in a vicious cycle of fear and discord.  How the hell do you bounce back, knowing that some smug teenager may have pulled the trigger on a complete societal breakdown in a thwarted bid for godhood?

*shrugs* Iunno. 

But to reiterate?  I might be thinking too hard about this.  So let’s move onto something more fun.

The true strength of RWBY isn’t necessarily its action, or its comedy, or even its drama (which to be fair is actually pretty effective, but more on that in a bit).  It all starts with the characters.  And it should; characters create opportunities, after all.  They’re the ones who go on adventures, experience every plot thread in person, and give the story its quintessence -- that je ne sais quoi you can’t do without.  The shipping RWBY’s endured is a testament to that; it’s not just because people want to see Blake and Yang together, but because their relationship -- real, imagined, and everything in between -- means something to the fans.  The characters themselves mean something to the fans.  It’s the optimal storytelling state.

Or part of it, at least.  The other part is that, in the best case scenario, you can’t decide which character is your favorite -- or if not that, then you have to struggle to give top honors.  I went through that struggle with this show.  It’s true that Jaune takes it for me because he has the most comprehensive arc (no pun intended), he could potentially be the main character if prompted (though I’m kind of glad he isn’t), he’s basically what would really happen if someone from the real world tried to become a Hunter/Huntress, and…well, he’s a comedic dynamo.  But when it comes to choosing between Team RWBY’s characters, that’s a true test of will.  And courage.

I did ultimately settle on Blake, and I’ll explain why.  But first, let’s go through the rest…with the proper music, of course.

Ruby Rose!!
This show wouldn’t be what it is without the cheer and energy of Ruby.  It just wouldn’t.  Now, if you were like me and hadn’t seen any of her in-universe and properly contextualized, then you might have never guessed that; how many bright individuals do you know that would dress up like something out of a gothic novel and use a giant scythe as their weapon of choice?  It’s a weird juxtaposition, is what I’m trying to say here.

But is it really, though?  Now I can’t help but wonder.  Despite her chummy exterior, Ruby’s actually reluctant to bond or work with others -- at least in the early goings.  She grows out of it once she becomes the team leader and meets the other characters, Penny chief among them.  It’s not as if Ruby has some massive epiphany about the power of friendship and trust, but I don’t think she needs that.  Maybe she’s fine as-is, knowing that she goes from someone clinging to Yang’s shadow (her older sister’s shadow) to a would-be Huntress that can stand on her own, work with others, bond with potential allies, and earn the respect of her peers.

And that’s kind of what makes the Volume 3 tonal shift hit her hardest.  There’s a part of me that’s ready to say Ruby changes the least (or at least the most subtly) over the first three volumes, but the groundwork is there for some HUGE developments going forward.  She made some good friends over the course of the show’s run, but now two of them are dead.  Her comrades are scattered across the globe.  Her sister’s a broken shell.  And she has a certain boring villainess to thank for it all.

If she was going to make a slide to the dark side -- or become The Anime Punisher -- I wouldn’t blame her.

Weiss Schnee!!
Weiss isn’t nice, but she’ll suffice.  With her ice, don’t think twice, since she’ll entice with her vice that…uh…shit, that’s all I’ve got.  I tried, though.

You know, the more I think about RWBY, the more tempted I am to say that its characters are startlingly reminiscent of the guys from Yu Yu Hakusho.  Or if not that, then at least they match on a superficial level.  Ruby is Yusuke, the leader who -- despite being an unconventional hero -- has the skills and will to get the job done (even if it means going against authority).  Yang is Kurama, in the sense that they’re nice people that you don’t want to make angry.  Blake is Hiei, a cool-headed fighter with extreme speed and a sharp tongue.  So by the process of elimination, that makes Weiss Kuwabara -- the rival to the leader that’s the butt of several jokes and ousts him/herself as an ass, but believes strongly in a personal code of honor.  Or dignity, such as it is.

I’m not complaining, though.  Weiss is cool because she’s such a stark contrast to most of the other characters; she’s willing to play the wannabe queen bee, and it’s great.  Even when her character develops and she becomes a nicer person, she’s still got that edge to her -- which to be fair is justified when it’s basically confirmed that she suffered from abuse (mental and emotional, at a bare minimum) at the hands of dear old dad.  Her lifeline is basically her greatest enemy.  That’s gonna create some tension.

It’s weird, though.  When she’s around most of the cast, she acts as if she’s an audition away from nailing a part in Mean Girls.  When she’s around her family -- her sister, primarily -- she basically turns into Ruby.  You are what you hate, eh Weiss?

Blake Belladonna!!
Blake is my favorite, because she’s basically an anime edgelord done right.

I know I just compared her to Hiei, but that’s an unfair pairing.  Like, Hiei’s fine for what he is, but speaking personally, it seems like his coolness has an expiration date.  He’ll get some moments to show off how “badass” he is, but after that?  Ehhhhhhh.  And of course, there’s Sasuke from Naruto, who’s long since become legendary for being a “badass”, a genius, a troubled youth, and just the shittiest person imaginable.  There are other examples, but you know the type.  Blah, blah, blah, traumatic backstory.  Blah, blah, blah, super skills.  Blah, blah, blah, I show nothing but contempt to everyone around me.  How dull can you get?

Blake circumvents those problems.  As a Faunus -- a beast-man, as well as someone long since subjected to prejudice -- she’s been through some rough stuff.  She started out as a freedom fighter looking to secure basic rights, but things spiraled out of control and she bailed.  She’s out for redemption, to the point where she’s turned her back on her past.  At least, she tried to.  Not only do her old foibles remain, but she’s also picked up a couple of new ones.  She’s out to do the right thing, but she’s basically killing herself over it -- becoming obsessed with justice and peace, and taking out the bad guys.  It even reaches a point where she works so hard, she’s got bags under her eyes -- to say nothing of her life at Beacon suffering as a result.  It’s nothing a stern talk from Yang can’t solve, though…complete with the two of them hugging it out.

The resident cat girl manages to keep her edge with her natural stoicism and cynicism -- which is entirely justified, because she lived through a life of misery the other students would’ve never thought possible.  So basically, she’s not cool because of her sweet moves or her dark past or even her cool exterior.  She’s cool in spite of them -- because there’s more to her than just an effort to impress an audience.  She shows a range of emotions, she struggles with her faults (by her own admission, she’s a coward constantly on the run), and she has an arc.  How can you not love that?

Yang Xiao Long!!
If not for Blake, Yang would be my favorite -- and even now, I’m tempted to swap out their places.  I guess I have to give it to Blake in the end, because she develops a bit more and a bit sooner than Yang.  For what it’s worth, though?  Yang’s got one of the coolest weapons in the entire series.  Shotgun gloves?  Hell yes.

I wonder what it’d be like hanging around Yang if she was a real person -- powers and all.  If she’s basically the Hulk and Bruce Banner rolled into one, then does that mean that people have to walk on eggshells around her?  Would they even want to get close to her, knowing that it wouldn’t take much for her to blow a gasket and make with the murder?  It’s hard to say.  I suspect that those who make the effort will never have to worry about Yang climbing aboard the murder train, because she’s fiercely devoted to protecting her friends/family and keeping them happy.  For strangers, the line’s a lot blurrier.  And who knows what Volume 4 means for Yang, seeing as how she’s basically shattered into pieces by Volume 3’s end.

She may not be my favorite (by a tiny margin), but Yang is one of the show’s most important characters.  Why?  Because she’s emblematic of the drama that RWBY can offer when prompted.  The idea is to create scenarios where you care about the characters -- when you want to see them happy and succeeding, not wrought with despair.  So while Yang swings between a grinning joker and a brutal brawler, no one can call her heartless.  She goes WAY out of her way to support her friends, Blake in particular.  She pulls the cat girl out of her fever thanks to the bond they share…and when Blake doesn’t return the favor -- when she’s the only one to not believe that Yang broke Mercury’s leg on accident -- you can see the betrayal written all over her face.  The tears go a long way toward that.

It’s not just a one-and-done, easily forgotten moment, either.  Blake gives her reasoning behind her continued distrust for Yang, but it’s not enough to change the latter’s opinion of the former.  She still leaps at the opportunity to save Blake when she’s facing certain doom -- and Yang’s reward for her loyalty is losing an arm. 

And then, adding insult to injury, Blake ends up bailing on Team RWBY, presumably because she feels responsible for what happened.  Given that Blake explained prior to her exodus that she was a coward with a penchant for running away (that’s the principle on which her Off-Brand Shadow Clone Jutsu works), the evidence was there beforehand -- even if the audience couldn’t see it coming until it played out onscreen.

I guess that’s what makes RWBY such a strong show.  Everything matters.

The characters matter.  The action matters.  The comedy matters.  The drama matters.  The world matters.  The ideas, themes, and messages matter.  It’s trying its hardest to be an anime, but there’s more to it than that.  It’s willing and eager to pay tribute to the medium rather than make fun of it, or try and show how little it matters, or how bad it is.  The crew behind it knew what they were doing, and went for it.  They still are, presumably.  They won’t stop, presumably.

And I don’t want them to.  I want to see more of these characters.  I want to see more of this story.  I want to see Ruby take charge as the lead heroine.  I want to see Weiss find her independence.  I want to see if Blake and Yang reconcile -- and hell, I’m actually hoping they become an official couple.  I want to see Jaune in any capacity.  I want to see Volume 4, 5, 6, and however many installments it takes to see these Hunters and Huntresses earn their happy ending.

I’m a fan of this show.  And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Plus, think about it.  If this is truly following the trajectory of an anime, then they’re probably gonna do a time skip.  Worked for Naruto, didn’t it?

Forget I said anything.

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