May 28, 2018

What’s Going On With RWBY?

With BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle right around the corner, I was thinking of convincing my brother that RWBY was worth a closer look -- as compared to no look at all.  Granted I knew I had a 0% chance of convincing him to watch; almost every time I make a recommendation to him, it ends up being a Green Eggs and Ham situation sans the last few pages.  Still, the thought and the upcoming game release gave me an impetus.  I haven’t seen a single episode of RWBY Volume 5 yet, and I doubt I could call myself a fan if I skipped out.

…Except I still haven’t seen a single episode.  And as much as the thought worries me, I think I know why.

My YouTube recommended videos are going nuts.  I just wanted to look up some old RWBY clips to show my brother, but thanks to the site’s bonkers algorithm, I once got a whole line of videos analyzing the show.  I didn’t watch any of them for fear of spoilers; despite that, I saw the titles one after another.  They were some pretty damning titles.  Stuff along the lines of “What Went Wrong” and “Worst Volume So Far?” and “Fixing RWBY Volume 5”.  Now I’m just sitting here tugging my collar.

I’m new to the franchise.  I only happened to get “in there” a few months before Volume 4 dropped, and I figured I did so at the right time -- more than enough content to get through, and more than enough new material waiting in the wings.  And on top of that?  I liked RWBY.  I still do.  I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything, and its flaws are notable, but it’s no trash fire.  It’s solid.  Or…solid enough.

I don’t know.  Honestly, it feels like I’m a victim of gaslighting here -- like I have no choice but to start doubting myself and my sanity.  What if RWBY isn’t as good as I thought it was?  What if my fanhood was misplaced, and watching Volume 5 will only prove how wrong I was to trust the show?

I’m hoping that it’s not that dire of a situation.  Anyone who’s read this blog for long enough knows that my tastes don’t always sync up with the general consensus COUGHCOUGHlastofusCOUGHCHOKE so there’s always the possibility that I won’t hate something just because plenty of other people do.  I mean, I like Kamen Rider Wizard, and from what I can gather I’m one of about four people who has no problems admitting that.  Then again, I assume that the other three have been sent to the gallows by now.

I guess I’m just trying to wrap my head around how RWBY could go astray in the eyes of the fans.  And to reiterate, it’s not as if it’s the perfect show prior to Volume 5.  Setting aside glaring issues with production values (which have been ironed out over the years), I think it really started to struggle once it tried to push its slate of villains, none of which were all that interesting or charismatic.  Except Torchwick, but nah.  Gotta push Cinder for SummerSlam.  

By extension?  The more it leaned toward serious plotting, the more it sacrificed its strengths in exchange for…well, not nothing.  But the RWBY I became a fan of was one with its own character and energy -- a jaunty pace that made it easier to overlook the problems.  As soon as it slowed down and made the drama the focus, it dragged like a plane grafted to a herd of elephants.  Blake, Yang, and Weiss all had drama interwoven into their characters that the volumes pushed through, fleshing them out while simultaneously building toward an emotional level-up for each one.  

Yang and Blake’s relationship woes in the back half of Volume 3 were actually pretty effective, because the show had built toward that sense of betrayal in multiple prior episode -- and culminated in a solid climax that left everything in shambles as well as in the air.  Then Volume 4 happened, and killed a lot of that forward momentum so that three of the four main girls could sit around and be saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad (in varying degrees, but you get the idea).

You know what the bigger issue is?  Let me answer that with a question: why is Ruby the main character?

I’ve been wondering that for a while, Volume 4 or otherwise.  I wondered even more back when I was doing my own, alternate take of Volume 4 -- what I’d do if I had the keys to the proverbial car.  Had I bothered to finish it, the first line of the final post would ask that very same question.  Why is Ruby Rose the main character of RWBY?  Maybe the real issues stem from there, and have only magnified with each passing volume.  After all, I’ve got two rules as a writer.  1) The main character is the most important character (as the one who informs and shapes the story, passively or actively).  2) If your main character is bad, your story is bad.

Ruby isn’t bad, per se.  It’s just that, like a lot of main characters, she’s surrounded by people that are way more interesting.  The core issue is twofold, then: she hasn’t done enough to justify her leading role status, and, more importantly, she’s starting to be a misfit in a show named after her.  She’s cheery, hyperactive, and the trigger for countless laughs/shenanigans.  The more serious the show gets, the more that central aspect of her being gets suppressed -- and we’re not left with much as a result.

Blake, Yang, and Weiss all get moments to show that they’re more than just their designs or archetypes -- including one crucial scene where the three of them chat about their foibles in the middle of an assignment/mission.  In hindsight that scene was kind of heavy-handed, but at least it gave them something -- and other scenes piled on that drama, as naturally as they could, before and afterward.  Ruby only starts getting stuff specifically aimed at her in Volume 4, and even then it’s not very substantial.  That would probably explain why that volume put more effort into pumping up its bit players -- blissfully unaware that I don’t need or want fleshing out (and haphazard fleshing at that) for Ren, Qrow, or Ozpin/Oscar…because they’re bit players.

I know those guys and others have their fans, but I need more for the main characters -- and the main character most of all.  Right now it feels like the only thing that makes Ruby special and/or the leader of her team is because she hit the genetic/superpower lottery.  Ozpin wanted her because she’s got silver eyes, which is apparently a big deal, but hell if I know the context behind it.  Ruby just happened to tap into that power on accident at the very end of Volume 3 (in a “transformation” fit for a DBZ episode), and Volume 4 decided the best way to handle the explanation there was to not explain anything at all, or even show it’s still a concept that exists.  God, I’m really starting to retroactively hate Volume 4.

So I guess all of this is leading toward one conclusion: apropos of me not seeing any episodes yet, my guess is that the easiest, most direct way for Volume 5 to falter is for it to double down on the show’s weaknesses.

I already (probably?) know that Team RWBY reunites thanks to an incidental glance at YouTube.  I don’t know when that happens; it may very well be in the volume’s final episode, which…makes me wary.  I want meaningful content -- the sort of thing that gets me hyped, or laughing, or breathless in the wake of action, comedy, or drama (respectively).  I want to feel something, but RWBY at its worst can’t provide that with its commitment to non-commitment.  Or over-commitment, in some cases.  (You did NOT need to spend an episode going over Ren’s cookie-cutter backstory, guys.)    

Let’s be clear, though.  I haven’t written off RWBY yet.  I can’t do that without giving the latest content a fair shake.  Even though Volume 4 disappointed me, the saving provision was that Volume 5 could come and make things all better.  Based on some of the reactions I’ve picked up on (however tangentially)?  I’m in for a rough time.  Still, it’s something I have to do, so I can decide for myself if I still want to watch these girls spring into action, or if it’s time for me to cut them loose.  Time will tell.

But I’m looking forward to finding my own answer.

…Well, that, or watch My Hero Academia.


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