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March 27, 2017

Shower Thoughts with RWBY (Part 1)

Oh, I’m sorry.  Did you think it was over?  Did you think we were done?  Nah, son.  It ain’t over till it’s over.  Wind that clock back.

In any case, RWBYI put up a post a while back that went into Volume 4, and my less-than-ideal reaction to it.  I don’t think it’s a “season” that breaks the show beyond repair, but I do feel as if it’s the weakest offering yet.  It’s a shame I have to be so negative towards a show I genuinely like, but here we are.  And here I am, specifically.  See, when I was thinking about the post, I had more things planned than just taking a steaming dump all over Rooster Teeth’s 3D anime.  But in typical Voltech fashion, that post ended up reaching the 4000-word mark, and there wasn’t much room for anything else.  Like the positive stuff.

Here’s the thing: I’ve said on multiple occasions, and in multiple posts, that I want to be a writing hero -- a storyteller whose works can put smiles on the faces of others.  It’s a lofty goal, for sure, and one that can only be reached with sufficient amounts of training and skill.  Pumping iron or running laps aren’t what’ll make me a better writer, though; mental effort will.  And to that end, confronting RWBY presents me with a unique opportunity.  If I want to be a great writer, then I need to be able to provide possible alternatives instead of saying “THIS THING SUCKS” and moving on.  How would you fix it?  How would you do better?  And so on, and so forth.

So that’s what I’m going to do…eventually.  But first, there’s a question that’s been on my mind: are the characters in RWBY going to turn into Grimm?


The Grimm that infest the world of Remnant are predatory nightmare creatures -- inky, ebony creatures constantly decked out in skeletal masks.  It’s been made a point in one of the world-building, in-between videos that the exact nature of the Grimm is unknown.  That right there raises a red flag for me; it suggests that A) the reveal of said exact nature is coming as part of some jaw-dropping plot twist, and B) it’s not going to be pleasant or welcome for our heroes. 

Since the Grimm feed on negative emotions, my guess would be that that’s what they thrive on -- coupled with the auras and mystical energies that run through the world.  I mean, how easy would it be for the Grimm to be people if that was the case?  Aura + corruption from negative emotions = Grimm transformation.  I mean, there are theories in the field of quantum physics that suggest human thought actively changes the world around them, so why not take it up a step with a world that has legitimate reasons to dread (and even suppress) negative emotions? 


It kind of feels like “Grimmification” is what RWBY is leaning towards.  Volume 4 puts its leading ladies -- Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang -- in dire straits that they need to handle, which they do; however, it’s only done after they endure acute emotional turmoil.  (Your mileage may vary on how effectively that turmoil was shown off, but it’s still there.)  Weiss in particular lashes out in a way that’s strikingly uncharacteristic, and summons an energy creature to go on the attack after raging at some aristocrats at a ritzy party.  There’s tension bubbling under the surface for her, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before she erupts.

And you know what?  I’d actually like to see that.  If RWBY really is heading toward darker territory, then one way to sow that is to do more than have Teen Girl Squad and Friends be sad all the time.  Give them a fall from grace as literal as possible; let the heroes-in-training end their careers before they even start, and become the very monsters they tried to defeat.  Or, alternatively, have the adults -- whose hands are no doubt sullied beyond repair -- start transforming first, so that the new generation is forced to overtake the old…only so that they have a catalyst to start transforming in kind.

And if they overcome it?  I don’t know.  I’m sure Bleach can give them some pointers on what to do.


The alternative theory about the Grimm is that they’re the dead given new life.  Cursed life, but life all the same.  I’d imagine that there’s a lot of resentment, anger, and other negative emotions plaguing the dead of Remnant, which keeps them from earning the rest they desire.  Coupled with the casualties in the story -- from the ones we’ve seen to the ones explained/implied in backstories -- it feels like it’s only a matter of time before our heroes have to face off with the walking dead.  It’d be a development that’s not that surprising, but there’s a lot that can be taken from it; having Jaune fight against a Grimmified Pyrrha would be like Christmas, a birthday, and National Pi Day rolled into one.

Granted there’s no guarantee that that’ll happen -- I think it’s been confirmed that Pyrrha will never return in any capacity -- but I’m still inclined to believe that the Grimm are more complex than just random monsters the good guys can cut down without impunity or guilt.  I mean, Sable is supposed to be the big baddie of the series, right?  And she’s more or less human.  It’s not hard to imagine her being the end result of too much corruption, and a cautionary tale of what happens when a Huntress gets in too deep with the darkness.  Having something similar to it happen to the good guys -- up to and including the main cast, especially Ruby -- is an opportunity that the Rooster Teeth crew could take in a thousand interesting ways.



But that’s enough theory-crafting for now.  This is a measure of my ability and savviness as a writer; it’s a way to see if I can provide something better instead of taking shots and leaving it at that.  I’m not going to say that my stuff is inherently better or guaranteed to succeed if carried out to the letter.  Still, it is an alternative, so take it as you will.

The thing that got to me about Volume 4 was that it took away the stuff that made RWBY into the show I’d long since come to enjoy.  Dropping nearly all of the humor was a bad move, but in hindsight?  The bigger issue is that Volume 4 also loses a lot of -- for lack of a better term -- momentum.  A lot of it feels like the show is on a holding pattern until Volume 5; stuff gets set up and characters are put in emotional distress, but in terms of actual progress?  Even though it’s there, it still comes off (for me at least) as slow and insubstantial.  It doesn’t say good things about a show’s sense of progression when one of its episodes is titled “Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back”.

So what would I do, since I’m such a blatantly brilliant and ultra-popular font of wisdom and virility?  Well, I have some ideas.  Chief among them: given the chance, I’d make each member of Team RWBY face the worst…by forcing them to face their best.


The cast of RWBY is the main draw, which is the case for a lot of stories.  People are fans of Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang for a reason; fans resonate with and cling to those who sync up with their tastes.  When a story willingly deviates from that, it increases the probability of something degrading or falling apart down the line -- like audience enjoyment.  For me, that’s what happened with Volume 4.  By and large, the heroines don’t feel like the heroines anymore -- and as understandable (and necessary) as it is to have something like Volume 4 happen, I wish it didn’t have to come at the expense of most of the core cast going home and being saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.  Until they decide not to.

So before I say anything else, it’s important to emphasize an under-the-hood change to my hypothetical Volume 4: focus more on the core heroes -- particularly on an episode-to-episode basis -- and axe the stuff that drags the pacing down.  Oscar, Raven, and Ironwood are going to be important someday, but today is not that day.  So dump their scenes (and several others featuring a lot of “tense” dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in The Walking Dead) and put that time back into the heroes.  You’ve got a limited amount of time per episode and a limited amount of episodes per season, so it’s probably not a good idea to drag your ass.


Next step: when I say “force them to face their best”, I mean that they have to take on the challenges of the story on their specific terms.  Again, the heroines didn’t feel like the heroines throughout this latest volume; Yang the feisty joker turns into Yang the depressed and moody, shell-shocked veteran.  That’s a major transformation with tons of merit, but the novelty of it wore thin.  And even then, that’s not the Yang we know and love.  Imagine what it would be like if it was, though.  You’d think that those two elements -- her personality and the weight of the plot/tone -- would be incompatible but…I’d say that’s kind of the point.  You can juxtapose the two in order to force change upon a character, instead of breaking them down just to have them crawl back up to the same place they were before.

RWBY, JNPR, and the rest spent pretty much the entirety of the first three volumes in Anime Hogwarts -- a (relative) safe haven where they could develop their skills as Huntsmen and Huntresses.  Up until the big tournament arc, they were all isolated from the world; they were led to believe that they were hot shit, even though that was only because they had a safe space to strut around in.  To me, it seems like the best way to develop their characters is to have them face the world’s realities while confronting a simple truth.  As important as their core characteristics are, they’re not enough to guarantee victory or joy along the road.


Furthermore, watching Volume 4 made me realize something: I think I would like it a lot more if it followed a video game format -- something not unlike the average fighting game.

I don’t mean that as a way to say it would improve if it had an arcade mode that made 90% of its content non-canon.  What I mean is that the core draw of the series is, presumably, the core quartet.  Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang all get their moments, but through my viewing I kept having the same thought: “I wish this was a video game so I could play through each character’s story.”  I wanted (and still want) focus on those four, even if it meant gimping other elements -- and even then it’s not a zero-sum situation, because you could frame that stuff in the context/from the perspective of the leading ladies.  Flitting back and forth between primary, secondary, and tertiary characters does more harm than good.

I get it.  Stuff needs to be set up for future plots, future episodes, and future volumes.  But those attempts to flesh things out” came off as anything but.  What’s so important about the big guy that Oscar meets, to the point where he scored a spot in the intro as one of the bad guys?  Good question.  What makes mustache man in one of the other schools so threatening besides a tenuous connection to Sable -- or, better question, who the hell is he and why should I care?  Why should I care about future stuff if the present is being compromised for it?


I think it’s a perfectly valid (and sometimes preferable) approach to 1) start with a core character and 2) work your way outward from there.  Build a world around them -- a playground for them to test and display the ideas that weave through them -- and explore the possibilities that result.  The frills can wait until they’re actually relevant.  I mean, I appreciate some of the stuff that they’ve tried to do.  The implications behind Ren’s Semblance -- which allows him to calm people down -- are massive, because it could mean that he’s the natural-born enemy of the Grimm.  Or, alternatively, he could become the ultimate Grimm repellant.  But that’s stuff that won’t matter until some point way into the future, and right now it’s treated as a reveal that’s hardly the game changer the camera tries to sell it as.

Same goes for Qrow and his Semblance.  So it turns out the reason why he’s a lone wolf (and why he wouldn’t approach Team RNJR until absolutely necessary) is because he has an aura of bad luck that brings misfortune to everyone around him.  I think the intended reaction Rooster Teeth wanted was for fans to go “Whoa, of course!  Now it all makes sense!  The clues were there all along!”  But even if the clues are there, my general reaction was a lot less pointed.  Qrow’s not a full-fledged character yet, so why put the spotlight on him when it’s more important to show off the fractured Team RWBY?  By the same token, why start hyping up the bad guys now when the only one who does anything is the Scorpion King -- and that “anything” includes crying after losing a fight and disappointing Sable?


Volume 4 didn’t do enough with its core cast.  It did some stuff, sure, but (speaking personally) I didn’t think it was substantial as it needed to be.  That’s a problem.  If you’re not going to use your core characters 100% of the time, that’s fine.  But in exchange, you have to do something else to compensate.  Show off something that’ll make this episode interesting, and don’t use this episode to make us believe that that episode coming in half a year is gonna be, like, so awesome, you guys.  There’s a chance that an audience member won’t even make it to that point if they don’t have any foundation for their fandom in the present.

I can’t speak for every fan or casual viewer out there, but I’d bet that the main draw is the cast -- if not Team RWBY, then certainly those closest to them.  So, to reiterate: the best way to get the most out of such a character-centric story is to focus on those characters.  Did Volume 4 as is do enough to satisfy the fans?  Some would say yes, some would say no.  But since this is about me, I have to do what I can to lay these thoughts to rest.  And there’s only one way to accomplish that.

IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!


No, wait.  I mean…it’s headcanon time.

Well, not literally.  As in, not right now.  But eventually.  Like, really soon. 

…Please be excited.

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