So that was…alright.
It’s never fun to watch a show you like take a dive in quality, but unfortunately that’s what happened with “New Challengers”. To be fair, this episode didn’t drop to the level of King’s Landing or Meereen in the current season of Game of Thrones (I’m still astounded that Tyrion’s plotline hasn’t won Kylie’s weekly poll yet). Nonetheless, I found “New Challengers” fairly bland. Despite the high quality of the fights, it did feel more like filler than an actual episode. The plot technically moved forward, but it was at a snail’s pace.
So let’s try and get into it?
The episode opens up with the beginning of the fight between JNPR and BRNZ, and I’ve got a nitpick straight away. The characters have changed spots from where they were at the end of “Round One.” Which is okay—rewinding a little bit is something a lot of shows do. Except in this case, they don’t all rush towards one another like in the last episode; the sniper for BRNZ, May Zedong, runs towards the trees to find a good spot to attack the opposition from.
And for that I will give some credit. If Rooster Teeth had just gone with a different beginning of the fight, I would’ve accepted that, because the ending of the last episode was clearly for dramatic purposes. But they managed to change it so that BRNZ had a sensible strategy going. And to be fair, so did JNPR. Teamwork and strategy were what held this fight together, unlike with SSSN vs NDGO.
The choreography of the fight was fine, even if the characters did seem to teleport at points. I know there’s more nitpicks than that, but I’m not doing those anymore because they take up way too much text and are really tiring to write out. It was great to see JNPR show off the extent of their abilities, Jaune in particular. I’m aware that not everyone likes him, but I have to give him credit where credit is due, because he performed very well in this fight. Not in terms of his actual combat skills-they still leave something left to be desired-but his strategic skills. During the fight, Jaune successfully kept track of the opposition and quickly worked out counter-strategies to prevent BRNZ from getting the upper hand. Take when he sees May aiming for Nora (who Jaune has already sent to a position on the battlefield where she can make the most of her semblance).
He quickly comes up with the strategy of using his shield as a launching pad so that Pyrrha can jump up and block the attack. It’s clear that he knows the abilities of his teammates and how to use them effectively. While BRNZ did a good job with strategy as well, such as May shooting at Ren so that he’d be less prepared for Nolan Porfirio (the guy with the cattle prod-because apparently people use those in fights)’s attack, JNPR did better, and earned their victory. Here’s hoping that Jaune will direct the Hunstmen and Huntresses in their battles against the Grimm, not lead them from the front.
We also get an acknowledgement of shipping! This was definitely one of the highlighs of the episode, because Rooster Teeth managed to give a nod to the audience in a way that set up the underlying theme of this episode-romance. While it’s not very obvious, the fact that we see three couples addressed in some way, shape or form-Jaune x Pyrrha, Weiss x Neptune, and Blake x Sun-along with the actual ships (the one on the battlefield, and a certain Schnee’s ship) and the song played while Neptune and Sun are dancing-“Not Fall in Love with You”-is enough evidence for me to confirm that romance is the underlying theme of the episode. Could it have been addressed better? Yes. While it was there, they could’ve made the scenes with romantic undertones a bit longer so that it was clearer what was going on. But more on that later.
Scene change time! It’s…
Ok, Rooster Teeth. Enough with the puns. Wait, WHAT?! It’s Qrow! And he’s…an alcoholic?
Well…I don’t really know how to feel about this one. It’s certainly not what I expected from the character, who we’ve waited two seasons to meet. Alcoholism is also not a necessary aspect of a cool character. I know we’re all supposed to admire Qrow (even though he’s a dick next episode), but him being alcoholic…not a big fan of this one. However, we barely see anything of him before the scene changes again.
And then we’ve got SSSN vs NDGO! Port precedes to creep the audience out once again by hinting at him being a pedophile. On the other hand, …
CONFIRMED LGBT+ CHARACTER!!!
Ok, so I will bite anyone who says that Scarlet isn’t gay. The voice-acting, the distaste for sand in his shoes, and a guy in the crowd holding up a picture of Scarlet with love hearts?
Yeah he’s gay.
So good for that, because diversity is always appreciated. Especially for a show that has more lesbian ships than you can poke a stick at (NUTS AND DOLTS! NUTS AND DOLTS!! NUTS AND DOLTS!!!) and because representation for LGBT+ is always important. So here’s hoping that RWBY doesn’t pull a The 100.
We also finally meet Sage Ayana, the first named dark-skinned male character. Race is universally a problem when it comes to anime, but I don’t know if this has crossed over to RWBY. Emerald is a well fleshed out character, but the fact that Sage gets zero dialogue over the course of the season is somewhat troubling. I’m not the best person to comment on race, being white, so I’d appreciate any POC commentary on the matter.
Oh and we’ve got more evidence to support my multiple matches for the team battles theory! Port cites NDGO as crowd favourites, which wouldn’t make sense if they hadn’t appeared in any prior battles. So yay for me.
We get a continuation with the romantic undertone of the episode through a brief update on Weiss x Neptune (best shipping name in the comments will be featured next week). Weiss cheers Neptune on, who proceeds to piss her off by flirting with NDGO. Which is a shame, given that this is one of the only occasions where their ship is addressed. Yes, yes, romance does not need to define every moment of a female character’s arc, and RWBY is very good at giving their female characters arcs outside of romance. But if you’ve established a ship, two quick comments over the course of a season isn’t enough to sustain an arc, unlike Arkos. Without spoiling too much, Arkos gets several scenes which focus on Pyrrha and Jaune on a far less superficial level than Blake x Sun and Weiss x Neptune.
On the other hand, Rooster Teeth may be going for a slow burn with the romance, which makes sense given the drama the team is going through. So I’ll wait and see for this one. As for Blake and Sun, their budding romance is addressed a bit more directly with Blake actually blushing at Sun (aww) post-fight. Coupled with the fact that there’s an actual ship on the battlefield, and the song Sun and Neptune are dancing to after the battle is “Not Fall in Love with You”.
“What am I supposed to do-
Just sit here and not fall in love with you?
Can I do anything to conceal it?
Can I lock up my heart and not feel it?
Try to hide from the fact
That there’s no turning back
I’m in love”
I think this song is meant to be from both Blake and Sun’s perspective. Blake’s the one actually sitting while blushing-hence Just sit here and not fall in love with you?– but there’s another bit about not being in (Blake’s?) league, so I’m guessing that’s Sun speaking/singing.
As far as analysis goes, there’s not really much to say here. There may be some sort of implication in the verse:
“And like the autumn leaves
I just can’t help myself
I’m falling and there’s no doubt
It’s you and no one else”
So maybe this is foreshadowing of a tragic turn to Blake x Sun? Perhaps. These lyrics also apply to a pair of characters whose ship sinks this season, but I can’t really talk about that without massive spoilers. But it’s good set up and foreshadowing.
And now, fight!
And it was…alright. It’s just that as with JNPR vs BRNZ, there wasn’t a lot of substance to it. RWBY vs ABRN was fine because while it lacked the dark, sinister elements of the latter half of the season, you could see the seeds of the character’s arcs for the season being sewn. And the fights in RWBY are traditionally focused more on action than on character development. I just have a personal preference to fights that have character development in them-with exceptions (the lobby scene in The Matrix).
However, the fights this episode seemed to be rather lacking in thematic depth. There’s an acknowledgment of the romantic arcs of Blake, Sun, Weiss, Neptune, Jaune and Pyrrha, but since it was only the latter two that really got much focus this season, I can’t credit this episode with setting those arcs up.
And while “Not Fall in Love with You” was a nice nod to this, the soundtrack for this episode was mediocre. Particularly during right after Nora demolishes a chunk of the forest battlefield-electric guitar is good in some contexts, but this one? Nope. The pirate-esque music of SSSN vs NDGO was an improvement, but for a show where there have been some really good songs accompanying the fights, it was a letdown. Couldn’t they have used a remix of “Not Fall in Love with You?” They could’ve changed it to be more action-oriented, yet retain lyrics that are relevant to the theme of the episode.
And while SSSN vs NDGO had a better soundtrack vs JNPR vs BRNZ, the strategy of SSSN was just awful. NDGO worked together efficiently, while SSSN…well, really, Neptune, was just kind of all over the place.
The fight starts after Neptune flirts with NDGO, we discover another of Neptune’s weaknesses: water. So the character named after the Roman god of the sea has aquaphobia? I would normally find this irony amusing, but in this episode…eh. I hope that Rooster Teeth will give us more flaws to Neptune than fear of dancing and fear of the water, because these aren’t very interesting flaws. Neptune’s ‘flaws’ seem rather shallow and superficial.
Regardless, Neptune is a bit of an idiot. I won’t judge him for his fears (well I kind of just did, but that was on a storytelling level), but running off from your teammates like that is an awful idea. Especially when you run over into enemy territory that they literally just said was their home terrain.
There are times like this when running to a different location works—May from BRNZ climbing up a tree makes sense because she’s a sniper. BRNZ probably worked that strategy out in their first semester. But we never see any evidence that Neptune is the team sniper. I understand that he has the right kind of weapon for it, but at least have Sun order him to do it. If he’d shouted “Neptune, take the high ground and keep them out of their home turf!” that would be fine, and a decent strategy. But what Neptune did was plain stupid and selfish.
And what pisses me off even more is that SSSN wins. This level of teamwork, which was clearly inferior to NDGO, should’ve cost SSSN the match. Instead, they win. If SSSN had used a strategy to help Neptune cope with fighting near or in water that would be fine. Surely after spending a year as a team, they would’ve noticed. Failing that, someone would’ve tried to help Neptune during his training before he went to Haven Academy. But we got nothing.
This is a case where plot armor is not a good thing, because the writers are framing Neptune’s actions in a positive light. Not to mention, characters losing fights because they made a mistake, only for them to learn from that mistake, is something I enjoy in fiction. For those of you who watch the various different Yu-Gi-Oh anime, you’ll see what I mean-it’s ridiculously rare for the protagonist to lose. More than once a series is above average. So wh
So not only does this run against one of the core themes of RWBY-teamwork-it also plays into a trope that I’m growing rapidly more tired off. What sort of message is this sending to people anyways? Failure is not a curse, it’s an opportunity to grow. We need more shows with that message. If anyone wants to watch a show where the protagonist does fail, go watch Cardfight!! Vanguard. While he does get plot armor later on, the protagonist Aichi Sendou initially hooked me in by losing. During the first five episodes, Aichi loses two games and wins two games-and it is heavily implied that one of his victories was only because his opponent let him do so.
THIS IS GOOD WRITING. This actually creates suspense during the fights, because rather than waiting for the inevitable last minute move by the protagonist that wins them the match, there is the very real possibility of Aichi losing. And he actually learns from his mistakes. While I haven’t watched the show for a long time, the final line of Wikipedia’s summary for the fourth episode is this:
“Through this loss, Aichi learns that he has much more to know about Vanguard if he ever wants to play against Kai again.”
See! Okay, I’m ranting a little bit here, but it’s only because it’s so damn important. So much so that I wrote a novel-length fanfic where the protagonist loses on a regular basis. While this trope is addressed later on in the season, the fact that Neptune’s ineptitude is condoned by the story is very frustrating for me.
So after a well choreographed fight, SSSN wins. Sigh. Well, so much for that. Hopefully they get the paralyzed NDGO members out of the water so that they don’t drown.
Qrow makes some more meta commentary, and he somehow sees Winter’s ship-even though you can’t see anything at that angle. But that and a (presumably) experienced bartender lacking the spatial awareness to not knock over a glass he literally just set down are offset by the arrival of Winter’s ship, which caught my interest as it hints at the real plot of the season kicking off. “That one” is fairly ambiguous, after all.
Then we get a dance routine from Neptune and Sun (who isn’t annoyed at his friend’s idiocy in the match for some reason) and we see Blake blush. Naww.
And finally, the most impractical ship ever arrives! Well, maybe not the most, but attaching giant blue ribbons to your ship probably isn’t the best idea. I do like Ruby’s line when Weiss spots it though “What are you viewing?” Nice one.
So we’ve got a Schnee sibling scene next week (alliteration for the win)! It seems like the plot is finally starting to move along, after pretty much nothing happened this episode. Still, if you’ve managed to read all of it and have been genuinely engaged, good for you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Join me next week for It’s Brawl in the Family!