It’s always odd when a non-eastern studio produces something that can be classified as ‘anime’. From the likes of Avatar: The Last Airbender to it’s sequel and things like the recent Teen Titans Go!, the influence of Eastern animation is pretty prevalent; it’s popular, it’s accessible and it stands out.
RWBY is a key example of an ‘anime’ made by people that clearly love the style and have watched a lot of it.
The set-up for the show is a fractured world separated into 4 kingdoms, with various ‘schools’ training young people to become ‘Hunters’ (and Huntresses) to guard their homes from a mysterious bestial enemy called the ‘Grimm’ (There’s a general thematic field of fairytales, which is quite nice). The main characters are 4 mismatched young women from varying backgrounds with very different personalities who are part of one of the main ‘teams’ at one of the ‘Huntress’ schools that make up the show’s principle cast. RWBY follows their trials and tribulations as they try to learn how to be guardians of their people, make friends and maybe even save the world.
Written, produced, performed and by RoosterTeeth (gaming/internet entertainment based group who you can find with a handy google search), RWBY sets off into its third season with aplomb; with already-established characters, setting and style it continues right where the previous two left off.
RWBY Season 3 follows its predecessors’ patterns in terms of narrative by beginning with whimsical school-day drama with convoluted half-revealed plotting going on in the background, slowly building up to a climactic showdown.
The third series is a clear utilisation of the standard anime ‘tournament arc’- a well-trodden narrative direction wherein characters are pitted against eachother. It’s old hat and it’s here where RoosterTeeth‘s love shines through– there are elements of Dragonball Z here with even hints of Pokemon (the random-terrain selected battle arenas are warmly familiar) and although it’s a good set-up the earlier ‘team battles’ themselves seem like more of a build up to the more intense, tension-heavy one-on-one fights. All the characters have ridiculous, over-the-top weaponry usually in some kind of duality-combination style (scythe & gun, an umbrella which is also a shock-staff and one of my personal favourites; a handbag which is also a minigun) which adds a deal of spectacle to the fight scenes. The animation itself is for the most part solid with a few discrepancies– sometimes movements can look a little jilted when they’ve been placed over static backgrounds or in close interactions the broad style and unified animation system (the majority of characters work off very similar base models) can seem a little limiting, but the battles and clashes (the one-on-one fights as mentioned in particular) are very well put together and fluid, again reminding the viewer just how passionate the creators are about their influences- and it must be noted that these people are doing this purely off their own backs, they do not have a multi-million dollar animation studio, just several people with Macbooks.
The pace is a bit faster than in previous instalments for me but that may be the nature of the ‘tournament arc’ narrative and the fact the primary plotline had yet to be resolved (i.e. a big confrontation between the primary villain and the heroes) which we get a little bit of. The Team at RoosterTeeth continue ongoing plotlines with varying success; some things from previous seasons feel like they get dropped a little bit in favour of the main storyline but most characters get some satisfaction, screen time and development. The creators also introduce a few new plotlines with less success; it feels like some elements are introduced arbitrarily or too quickly, but given their tradtional format (YouTube videos released sequentially) this probably makes more sense when watched that way.
Throughout, the characters themselves manage to be entertaining (though a little annoying in places) and well performed (Again, for an essentially non-profit production this is impressive), though the writing is generally quite overt; there’s not a lot of subtly to RWBY but given its influences and the style it’s trying to emulate, it’s not needed here- there’s tonal shifts, characterisation rampant with massive over-expression and bright, impractical costumes and weaponry abound- but again, this is standard fare for an anime so it slides. My only gripe is that the creators don’t take RWBY further than it’s roots and influences and do something different. The animation style is different and they’ve created a suitably stand-alone world, but the archetypes, the comedic beats and slapstick gags are almost pound for pound just as they would be in any anime; and it feels more like a regurgitation or imitation than a love letter, they ape the style through learned behaviour rather than stylistic choice. A standout decision which does break the mould somewhat is the inclusion of a few sparse ‘storybook’ sections (not unlike the now-famous section in the penultimate Harry Potter film) where previous events are told through traditionally-drawn semi-animated tableaux which- every time they were utilised -impressed me and added a fresh, stark feeling to the episode.
Other than this, the thing that stood out to me most was the music- I remembered the opening theme to be particularly good but the musical choices in season 3 are fantastic; there’s some really wonderfully-sung tunes with a combination of orchestral and beat-heavy music mixed in which is always a pleasure to listen to as well as some great-fitting accompaniment to the scenes they feature in.
The formatting for the DVD/Blu-Ray Release is a little sparse; keeping in mind it is a small-scale production made by a team supported entirely by a fanbase rather than big-producer backing. As mentioned, the ‘episodes’ were traditionally released on YouTube, however here they’re available as one ‘feature-length’ film. This works well in some places, where episodes follow directly on, but not in others where there is a time skip or major location change, where fluidity is lost somewhat- helpfully, the DVD offers the option of watching it in it’s original ‘chapters’ so this may work better for some.
The subtitling is handled well and a welcome addition. The ‘special features’ (including the ‘World of Remnant’ mini-sodes explaining the history of the world in the show) are a nice inclusion which make the package feel like it’s more than a quick way to monetise something that is freely available online.
From what I infer (and on the microscopic chance there’s anyone from RoosterTeeth reading I’m sorry if I’m assuming) RWBY was one anime-fan’s vision (the original creator of the show is sadly no longer with us) to make a story using the styles of one of his favourite mediums. Without pushing much further beyond it’s playpen, RWBY manages to achieve this while being entertaining, fun and ridiculous.
At approximately £9.99 if you shop around or a little more if you want to support the creators at RoosterTeeth (which I suggest you do) and buy it directly from them, if you’re a fan of the series this is definitely worth having; if you’re not, give the first few episodes of season 1 a try (they’re FREE) and see if it’s your thing, then go pick up the DVDs.
(and for the record, my dual-weapon would definitely be a flamethrower/broadsword hybrid)
Dir: Kerry Shawcross
Scr: Miles Luna
Starring: Lindsay Jones, Kara Eberle, Arryn Zech, Barbara Dunkelman, Jen Brown
Music: Jeff Williams
DOP: Patrick Rodriguez
Number of Episodes: 12
Episode Runtime: 13mins
RWBY: Volume 3 is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Manga UK