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RWBY Recap 3: Manpain, Music, and Motherhood

After over a year of reflecting, rewatching and reviewing RWBY Volume 5, the best way I can describe the volume is as a series of ups and downs. There’s good parts, there’s alright parts, and there’s parts that made me want to scream into my pillow.

The final four episodes of V5 — ‘The More the Merrier’, ‘Vault of the Spring Maiden’, ‘Downfall’ and ‘Haven’s Fate’ — embody this sentiment. They are overall decent episodes, but there’s not a lot of memorable moments. Thus for my final review of RWBY Volume 5, I’ve taken a leaf out of Julia’s book and have used the same format as her Daredevil Season 2 review. I’ve broken down the season into what worked well, what didn’t work at all, and what worked just fine.

This man’s death scene was AWESOME

The Bad

The Sexism

Well if the title of this article didn’t give it away, one of my primary issues with this part of the volume was female characters (in this case Weiss Schnee and Gretchen Reinhart)- getting hurt to further the development of male characters (in this case Jaune Arc and Hazel Rainart).

As it turns out, Hazel joined up with Salem after his younger sister Gretchen was killed during a training mission while she was studying at Beacon to become a Huntress. While this is certainly plausible in the world of RWBY, the fact that her character exists solely to give her brother motivation to join the villains is unpleasant, to say the least.

The only real plus I can see for this is how it provides Oscar a nice moment of character development as he takes to heart Ruby’s speech about choosing to be a Huntress. And while this does feel like an attempt to inject more agency into Gretchen’s character, it doesn’t change how Gretchen’s entire existence is to motivate Hazel. And as much as I enjoyed the moments between him and Ozpin/Oscar, it’s still uncomfortable to see his character development being based off a woman’s death.

Sigh

And then there’s Jaune.

Now if there was ever a contentious character in RWBY, it would be Jaune. Pretty much all of his plot in volumes one and two had some aspect of sexism to them, with the awkward love triangle of V2 being the best example.

But here’s the thing—he got better. When all of the drama with Pyrrha was going down in V3, he was there, but his character development never took precedence. He was supportive and kind when Pyrrha needed it, but the narrative always remained focused around her. While her death definitely motivates Jaune, it was her arc being fulfilled, not his.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about V5. When Cinder spears Weiss, the moment is all about Jaune. Cinder explicitly attacked Weiss to get a rise out of Jaune, and the narrative makes no attempt to give Weiss any involvement in the situation. It’s all about Jaune’s anguish and how it helps him finally unlock his Semblance.

The whole scene is just one big bundle of misogyny. There’s no attempt to give Weiss any character development;  she just lies there as Jaune gets his moment. It’s all the more unsettling given the awkward romantic history between the two. Had Weiss intentionally taken the blow—perhaps to save Ruby—it would’ve been another matter entirely. Her putting herself in harm’s way to protect the friends that she’s grown to love and cherish would have been a natural progression of her character arc. Sadly, both for Weiss and the series, which has been moving away from sexist tropes over the last few years, this was not the case.

Well, there’s always Volume 6

Ruby’s Character Arc?

Once again, I found Ruby’s arc—or more accurately, lack thereof—a lowlight.

I’ll admit that things were a little bit better this time around. Ruby’s interactions with Cinder showcased a side of our hero we’ve rarely seen: anger. If you pay attention to the way Ruby says Cinder’s name, there’s clear anger in her voice. This isn’t the first time she’s done it either. Something I neglected to mention in my previous article was how Ruby behaves when she mentions Cinder to Qrow and Ozpin/Oscar. The way she says “what about the Fall Maiden?” hints at her ongoing animosity towards Cinder.

All of these little displays of Ruby’s anger towards Cinder were nice touches of character development for her, as they show Ruby’s experiences throughout the series have left her a little less naive and a little more bitter than where she was at the start of the series. But as much as I enjoy these little indicators of Ruby’s growth, they’re not enough.

At five volumes in, Ruby still has had precious little in the way of character development.  While volume five has shown a bit of improvement, it’s still severely lacking. I mean, what even was her arc this volume? While episode five did show her feelings about the Fall of Beacon far more than V4 ever did, I can’t think of a single moment in V5 that felt like significant, tangible character growth for Ruby. She’s supposed to be the protagonist, and yet she feels more like a side character than anything else.

I’m sure there’s a character arc around here somewhere…

The Good?

The Fights

The last four episodes of V5 were essentially one giant fight sequence. RNJR, Qrow, Weiss, Yang and Oscar faced off against Cinder, Mercury, Emerald, Raven, Vernal, Hazel and Leo. The result?

It was okay.

I didn’t dislike the fight, I just didn’t love it. The choreography was solid and I enjoyed the individual fights, but the sequence just felt a little lacklustre. It certainly lacked the gravitas of the Fall of Beacon, the only other time the show has stretched out a battle over several episodes.

My main issue is that because there were so many one-on-one fights going on, it was impossible to show all of them in their entirety, with the exception of Raven vs Cinder (which I’ll cover later). The result is that while the fights are good, they’re not great. Not seeing how many of the fights conclude means the audience doesn’t get the full emotional impact of the fight, which was a shame since there were quite a few matchups with a lot of emotion behind them; Qrow vs Raven, Yang vs Mercury, and Jaune vs Cinder. While these fights all had some degree of emotional impact, the constant back and forth definitely lessened said impact.

Take Jaune vs Cinder. If that fight had occurred by itself, the writers wouldn’t have had to worry about balancing the run time against all of the other fights. More time could be spent exploring Jaune’s trauma, (excellent voice acting by Miles Luna, by the way) and Cinder’s character, such as what motivates her to be such a ruthless killer. The emotional beats between the two could be fully explored, rather than fighting for space amongst the other dozen characters.

Naturally, this is always going to be an issue when you have an ensemble cast. I still enjoyed what we did get: Oscar taking Ruby’s ideals about being a Huntsman to heart, Weiss declaring that she’s more than just her last name, and Emerald’s giant Salem illusion, amongst other things. I just hope we get to see each of these moments explored more in the future.

Welp, that’s a lot of characters.

Blake’s Plot

While not nearly as bad as supersonic Drogon, I do feel the writers cheated just a little in having Blake and co. train up a militia and get to Haven in two weeks, when it took her 6-8 months to get from Beacon to Menagerie. Just a thought.

Anyways, Blake’s arrival was pretty good. Accepting the help of others has always been a struggle for her, so it was a neat little moment when she showed up with the Faunus militia to combat the White Fang.

Her confrontation with Adam’s a bit tricky to review. On the one hand, building up to a fight then ultimately not following through with it can be frustrating. On the other hand, Blake utterly destroying Adam with words was fantastic. “ I’m here for Haven, not you.” Denying an abuser control over their victim is an incredibly important step in breaking free from their grasp, and I appreciate the show’s focus on that over a fight.

I also want to take a moment for Ilia. Finally, an LGBT character!! After years of promises and speculation, we finally have a canon gay character. I mean they kind of gave it away with her last name being rainbow, but still, definitely an improvement on one still image of a gay-coded couple in episode one. And while having only one LGBT character still leaves room for improvement, two points;

  • The pilot that helped Weiss was initially going to mention having a boyfriend in Atlas, but the line was removed after the cast noted they would be introducing a gay character and then immediately killing him off. Kudos to Miles and Kerry for acknowledging a problematic trope and avoiding it.
  • Volume 6 😉

Music

So this is more of a gripe about V5 as a whole, rather than just episodes eleven through fourteen. But why no music?

Yes, I know, Jeff Williams gave us three wonderful songs with the Weiss, Blake and Yang character shorts: ‘Path to Isolation’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Ignite’. And I’m not going to drag Williams for his hard work. I just think that it would’ve been better to have one character short, and then put the other two songs in the volume.

Part of the RWBY experience is undeniably the music. Every song that Williams gives the audience is packed with meaning. ‘Path to Isolation’ is about Weiss’ loneliness. ‘Smile’ is about Ilia concealing her identity as a Faunus. ‘Ignite’ is Yang’s battle song (a fitting return for her after V4). By putting most of the songs outside the volume, it changes the show. Every new song adds something to a scene, whether it be ‘This Life is Mine’ showcasing Weiss’ defiance, ‘I’m the One’ giving backstory to Emerald and Mercury, or ‘Bad Luck Charm’ hinting at Qrow’s Semblance. The scenes with songs are thematically richer and more emotionally impactful, and V5 shows this. The reunion of Team RWBY is all the more emotional because ‘All That Matters’ is playing. ‘All Things Must Die’ makes the fight between Raven and Cinder worth watching even more.

While I get that the character shorts exist to excite the audience ahead of the volume’s release, I feel like Rooster Teeth put themselves in a tough spot by making them the musical focus of V5. I’m not saying a song would magically fix all of V5’s issues, but it would certainly help.

Overall though, the songs we did get were pretty good.

  • The Triumph — sets up the tone of V5 while building off of the events of V4.
  • Path to Isolation — great look into Weiss’ lonely home life.
  • Smile — interesting insight into Ilia’s life pre-White Fang.
  • Ignite — reflects Yang’s passion and ferocity, especially relevant coming off of V4.
  • All Things Must Die — conveys the emotions of both Raven and Cinder as they clash.
  • All That Matters — heartwarming, and does a wonderful job showing what Yang thinks of Blake.
  • This Time/From Shadows Part II — one of the best ending songs of the show, and caps off Blake’s growth.

The Great

Raven vs Cinder

I mean…do I even need to say anything?

Best fight choreography of the volume, great music, and a true showcase of just how powerful the maidens are. What more could you ask for?

Yang

Yang once again proved to be the absolute highlight of Volume 5, finding resolution with her mother, reuniting with Blake, and coming to terms with her disability in just two episodes.

Starting with ‘Downfall’, we get Yang letting go of the past…literally. Seizing an opening during the fight against Team Cinder, Yang races to go confront Raven. Mercury grabs hold of her arm to try to stop her, and for a brief moment, Yang’s eyes flash red; she’s angry, she wants to fight- but then she detaches her arm and escapes.

This brief exchange caps off everything Yang has been trying to do since the end of V3. She’s learnt to keep a level head in battle (what lost her her arm in the first place), and she’s not letting her trauma define her. Letting go of that arm and going to confront Raven without it was her way of accepting what had happened to her, and not letting it control her.

Character…

…development

And then, of course, she confronts her mother.

I’ll be honest, this might be my favourite moment of the whole show. Yang pretty much deconstructs Raven’s entire character, calling her out on all of her flaws and hypocrisy, exposing how cowardly she truly is. And at the end of it all, Yang resolves to do better—to stare Salem in the face, rather than run away. And even then, it’s still not easy. When she retrieves the relic, she breaks down crying.

This was the perfect payoff to Yang’s arc. She finally gets closure about her mother, not by winning her approval or emulating her, but by surpassing her. Where Raven denies her flaws, Yang admits and accepts them, resolving to do better. She’s no longer the hot-headed teenager from V1,  she’s a formidable young woman than Salem should watch out for.

And if that wasn’t enough, we finally see Team RWBY back together again. There’s still trepidation on Yang and Blake’s parts, but the acknowledgment of those concerns made the scene that much more poignant.

Overall, Volume 5 had was alright. It definitely left some things to be desired when it came to pacing, but the tone and character development had noticeably improved since V4. The series still has a fair bit of growing to do, but I’m happy to stick around for the ride.

Awwww

Images courtesy of Rooster Teeth

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