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RWBY Review Volume 3 Episode 1: Round One

Hey guys, gals and non-binary pals! Ok, yes-I’m stealing that from Thomas Sanders.

Today I’ll be reviewing the first episode of Volume 3 of RWBY. With creator Monty Oum’s passing in early February 2015, I’m sure many of us were concerned for the future of RWBY, and whether the season would live up expectations without Monty’s help.

And my god, it sure did. This was hands down the best volume of RWBY yet. The show blew me away every week, and left me hungering for more. The switch in tone greatly improved the quality of the series and was executed incredibly well. While the latter half of the season bombarded us with shock after shock, the twists and revelations were organic and stayed clear of being purely for shock value. While the first half of the season was arguably slow, the sixth episode alone more than made up for it.

So without further fanboying, let’s pick apart why this show is so damn good and how the first episode kicked it all off.

TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR ABUSE

The episode opens with a lovely little scene of Ruby talking to her mother’s grave. While RWBY is filled with fantastic action sequences, the quiet, tender moments still hit home. And in light of Monty’s passing, this was the perfect way to start the volume. A beautifully animated landscape, an intimate conversation between Ruby and her mother…coupled with the bird symbolism, the scene was a beautiful tribute to Monty. Not to mention, it slotted into the plot nicely. We’re reminded of how strange it was that Ozpin let Ruby into the school two years early. While I don’t consider this an absolutely vital plot point to address, it did provide set up for the reveal in episode 12. The same could be said when thinking about the episode 12 death, and how the Monty symbolism and the fact that Ruby is talking to…well, a tombstone. Maybe that’s just me.

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And we get our first look at Taiyang! Alright I was pissed off that we didn’t get a closer look at him, but my grievances with the tease are outweighed by the overall quality of the scene.

Then, it’s off to the Vytal Festival! I was happy to see Dr. Oobleck again after his significant character development last season.

BEGIN MATH NITPICKING. SKIP IF YOU DON’T WANT MATHS TO PERMEATE YOUR FREE TIME.

Small nitpick over the explanation of the rules here: just how many battles are there for the team stage of the battles? Because if you do the math, to get eight students in the singles stage, with only one match for the doubles and team stages, you’d only have thirty-two teams, or one hundred and twenty-eight students competing. Out of all the year levels from all four academies? I don’t buy that. If it was three battles per stage, like how it would have played out in the singles stage if it weren’t for…well, that’s for my episode nine review. But back to the math, if you had three battles per stage, then you’d have…crap, you’d have five hundred and twelve teams, so two thousand and forty-eight students, which is five hundred and twelve students per academy, so one hundred and twenty-eight students per year level…

Unless it’s structured so that there’s three fights in the singles round (if you go all the way), two in the doubles round, and one for the team round, which would mean sixty-four teams, or that’s two hundred and fifty-six students in total. So that’s sixty-four students per academy, and sixteen students per year level, which about matches what we got for Ruby’s year. Assuming some students sit the Vytal Festival out, that means maybe three hundred-ish students studying in the four academies of Remnant right now? Well with the massive Grimm population, it’d make sense to have a small human population, which would mean less Huntsmen and Huntresses…I can see why the Grimm are so prevalent in Remnant.

Oh gods I just spent two hundred and sixty-four words nitpicking over math. Oops.

Next we get a brief glimpse of the four protagonists before jumping to some shots of the Amity Colosseum, as well as the world of Remnant. I’ve gotta give credit to RT here, because the artwork here was top notch.

I do have a gripe though, and that’s with the background characters. Something I noticed throughout the entirety of Volume 3 and also in Volume 2 was while there’s decent amount of diversity in the design for female background characters, there are a lot of male background characters that look a lot like Jaune or Mercury.

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See what I mean? While there’s a difference of skin tone, hair tone and occasionally eyebrows, they look extremely similar. I know that Rooster Teeth can’t create a completely unique look for every single character, but this level of similarity is ridiculous.

Then there’s the explanation of the rules by Oobleck and Port, which was brief and to the point, but does raise a question-how do the first and second years make it anywhere near the final round of the tournament if they’re going up against third and fourth year students? Wouldn’t they have a monopoly, given that they’re far stronger and more experienced? We do see three students in the final line up apart from Yang, Mercury, Penny, Sun and Pyrrha, so they might be third or fourth years? We never see them fight, so I don’t know.

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And maybe I’m jumping the gun here and writing material for my episode 6 review early, but this most certainly rustles my jimmies. The presence of Mercury and Pyrrha does make sense, because they’re both badasses and way above average (see Pyrrha vs CRDL-in your face, Cardin). Penny is also pretty powerful, but for both Yang and Sun to make it? Yang is overpowered, so I guess, but Sun…eh, no. I don’t think he’s strong enough, especially with his team’s unity problems (more on that next episode).

According to Rooster Teeth, he was supposed to lose in the doubles round with Neptune against Nora and Pyrrha anyways, but they cut that scene. So maybe they put him in to fill space, but couldn’t they have had another older student. A female one perhaps? They would’ve kept the two most important fights, and kept a sense of believability in how the tournament would actually play out. Because that would mean there would be six high-caliber fighters (Pyrrha and Mercury included), making the somewhat questionable inclusion of Penny and Yang more acceptable. Because while they’re strong, strictly speaking they’d probably lose to the older competitors. I suppose that’s the power of being a main character for you.

The only explanation I can think of is that when Cinder was rigging the matches, she did it in such a way so she knew what the one-on-one lineup would be. But even then, there’s no way she could have eliminated all of the second, third and fourth year teams that would have prevented the first year contestants making it to the final round.

And now for my final nitpick…while it was nice to glance around the world of Remnant and see the different climates, the images were static. No characters moving whatsoever. Not to mention, the designs looked a tad cartoonish. They looked like they had come out of AdventureQuest, not RWBY.

Still, regarding the fight scene…well done, Rooster Teeth.

The fight between Team RWBY and Team ABRN was great. While it lacked the darker undertones of the fights later in the season, it was a lot of fun to watch and a great way to kick off the season (I know it’s volume but I’m just going to stick with season from now on). The choreography and animation was on point, and all of the girls got a moment in the spotlight. It was also obvious how the protagonists’ teamwork has improved, particularly with that final attack where they combined their abilities to defeat their opponents.

That being said, there were minor issues with it.

Firstly, the soundtrack. Okay, I will not deny that I loved this song. RWBY’s music has and continues to be one of the best aspects of the show. “It’s My Turn” is a song that fits in well to the overall mood of the sequence, getting you excited and invested in the battle before you. That being said…what the hell was with the lyrics?

“You were the one who held me down and told me I was going nowhere. You should know your place. Accept your fate and show good face and be thankful that you’re there!”

This is quite clearly a song about an abusive relationship. So…what is it doing in RWBY? Well, I have a theory-it’s for Weiss.

Weiss’ family forms a huge part of her arc this season. Winter pops up in the third episode, and her father in the twelfth. And less than a minute after the song stops playing, Weiss gets a call from her father, who is strongly implied to have abused her. And Winter reinforces this when she smacks Weiss in episode 3. While RWBY is meant to emulate an anime, comical violence included, I could definitely see Winter copying her father’s abusive tactics. Weiss does seem eager to garner Winter’s approval though…

Maybe that wasn’t the intention and I’m reading too deeply into things, but RWBY is a series where it’s very important to pay attention to the music. “Red Like Roses Part II” is the best example-during the Volume 3 livestream, one of the cast members commented on how telling the song was about Ruby and her mother. So we know they’re not just messing with us-these songs are rich with meaning and purpose, and need to be analyzed carefully. A song that discusses an abusive relationship and breaking out of it in the first episode? In a season where Weiss strives to find her own path in life?

Sorry folks, that is no coincidence. That’s musical foreshadowing. While it does throw off the otherwise upbeat mood of the fight, it’s otherwise a very clever accompaniment.

With that aside, I can delve into pettier complaints; I need to start doing a “12 Days of Nitpicking” thing or something….

Why wasn’t Reese Chloris wearing a helmet? Surely this can’t be the first time she’s been knocked off her hoverboard? In a tournament setting that’ll just leave you with a sore butt, maybe, but out in the real world? She’d be a snack for the Grimm. Maybe she’s inexperienced, but surely an instructor must have pointed out the flaws of her weapon at some point?

Who knows. She did seem a little cocky during the fight, and that led to Blake defeating her. So maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s a reflection on Team ABRN as a whole. The other Team ABRN member who made noticeable mistakes was Bolin Hori (the guy with the staff). He was in the perfect position to launch a sneak attack on Ruby (to be fair she didn’t notice him, so 5 points from Hupplepuff-oh come on she’s so a Hufflepuff) but instead he gave away his position, and he got kicked in the chest by Weiss.

And this reminds me a bit of Game of Thrones. One of the criticisms of GoT is that the writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) only seem capable of making a character look intelligent by making every other character in the scene extremely stupid, rather than say in Captain America: Civil War, where both sides make very reasonable points and it’s not black and white. I could see a bit of the former example in Team ABRN. To be fair though, it wasn’t a lot, it just pales in comparison to that of Team RWBY’s. While Bolin and Reese did pull of that nice little maneuver to free Nadir Shiko, that just doesn’t match up to the team attack pulled off by RWBY that wins the match. A move that does make Yang seem a little OP personally…then again, given how the rest of the season goes for Yang, I’m willing to forgive that.

But overall, the fight was excellent. It was great to see how much RWBY had developed into working as a team, utilizing the abilities of every fighter to create the best attack possible. In hindsight, it’s a tad tragic to be honest. They’ve come so far, yet by the end of the volume, they’ll all be torn apart.

Following the conclusion of the battle, RWBY is famished, so they go to the fair grounds to get some om-noms. One facetious comment from Weiss later, and the groundwork for the plot of Volume 3 starts to be laid. Weiss gets a phone call from her father but elects to ignore it. I have to say I liked this, because coupled with Weiss getting her credit card rejected, it was a great way to set up her arc without much of a fuss. It’s nice and quiet, but works well. And the same goes for Ren and Nora, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The team then runs into Emerald, who continues to project the illusion that she’s their friend in order to find out who RWBY will be sending into the doubles rounds. If we hadn’t had her scheming with Cinder for the entirety of last season, I would’ve have bought it. She comes across as a genuinely friendly person, only cracking a bit when finding an excuse to get out of lunch with RWBY. I’m kind of hoping this is how Emerald actually turns out to be by the end of the series, because it looks like she’s the villain being set up for a redemption arc. Maybe I just like seeing characters being nice to each other-unlike another show I watch that doesn’t seem to understand the concept of positive women relationships-but I do think it’d be a great way to end Emerald’s story arc. She does seem a lot less evil than Mercury and Cinder, so who knows.

Also, apparently Mercury likes smelling shoes. I know, I know, he was trying to play a part, but the fact that Emerald didn’t question him about it at all is a bit weird. Also, hasn’t Mercury been sociable in the past? He wasn’t exactly rushing around Beacon making friends, but he was confident enough to volunteer to fight Pyrrha. As someone who is socially awkward, let me tell you that that’s not how it works. Not to mention, he openly banters with Yang right before their fight. It’s not a big inconsistency, but it’s noteworthy.

Or maybe I just like nitpicking too much 🙂

Oh, and can someone point out to Emerald that talking about RWBY when they’re only a few metres away from you is not a good idea? While “How can they be so happy all the time?” was the most meta line this episode, don’t declare your hatred for your friends where all and sundry can hear. At least wait until you’re back in your room with your boss…by the way, why is Cinder participating? I know that they need a team of four, but having your leader walk around in broad daylight in the same building where your arch-enemies are? Couldn’t you just introduce a new villain and put them on the team instead?

And how are they all passing as students anyways? Have they actually been attending Haven and just getting up to evil shenanigans in their free time? I know Emerald can create illusions, but not enough to trick an entire campus of students and teachers.

One last thing to consider: while it’s smart of Emerald to exploit her ‘friendship’ with RWBY to find out their strategy, is she doing this to every team? Does she have forty-seven different teams that she has connections to, or are Cinder’s team individually making friends? Maybe RWBY is one of the few teams who hasn’t registered their doubles fighters in the database, because we know that Cinder has access to that…

Moving on, lunch! I’m not going to take issue with the sheer quantity of food they’re eating, because I’ve watched way too much anime to care about this, or how quickly the shop-owner guy prepares Blake’s lunch. So forgive me if my future reviews do not mention certain unrealistic behaviors-it’s only because I’ve seen them a hundred times before.

Although the credit card one is new. What is that thing made out of, iron?

I am liking this trend of using small, otherwise unnoticeable events to get a character’s plot going. While Weiss’ Credit Card Crisis happens for all of a few seconds, it does give us an idea of where her character is going. Nice job Rooster Teeth.

Thankfully for our heroes (and their stomachs) Team JNPR arrives, and Pyrrha offers to pay. While it was funny to see Blake’s vulnerability when faced with an empty stomach (nice progress from being a total recluse in season 1), I have a question: how are they paying for any of this?

Weiss’ father is very wealthy, so for her to have a monthly allowance makes sense. And we know that Pyrrha is a bit of a celebrity, so she’s no doubt earned money off that. But the others? Do they get an allowance from Beacon? Are they being paid for the missions that they’ve done? Maybe they’re getting money from home, but that does leave the question of Ren and Nora, who we learn have no parents or home to get an allowance from.

While this was a tiny detail hidden in Nora’s anxiety-ridden rant, I really have to give credit to this. While I don’t mind exposition, I am always impressed when writers find clever ways to sneak important details about a character in to a conversation without it being obvious. So good job RT. For that and capturing the feelings of every teenager at some point in their life.

Me during exams.

Me during exams.

But it’s nice to see JNPR nervous. It certainly strays away from the ultra-confident protagonist cliché that I’m so sick of seeing. Vulnerability is good, writers! Especially in men (take a hint, D&D!).

Then we’ve got some well-animated crowd shots (I know they’re just repeats, but it’s better than just static smudges), Cinder hinting that the battles are rigged, and we see the first second of the JNPR vs BRNZ fight. Which, by the way, is inconsistent with the beginning of the next episode…but I’ll talk about that next week (which is when I’ll discuss the opening song if enough people so desire).

So overall a solid premiere. There were nitpicks here and there, but otherwise I had no problems. The music was excellent, the action was very well executed, there was some clever setup for Weiss’ arc…

Oh! Shout out to Neath Oum for his portrayal of Ren. I’ve never particularly liked Ren or his voice, but kudos to Neath for taking over his brother’s role in what must’ve been a time of great emotional upheaval.

But not much to say beyond that. This was a likeable episode, but it lacks the darker themes of the latter half of the season, making it less noteworthy by comparison. For me the darker the tone, the more I enjoy it–providing it’s executed well, which RWBY is. Plus, by the time I’d gotten around to watching this episode, I’d spend the better part of two years working on a fanfic in a tournament setting, so I was kind of tired of them. So I may have some bias there.

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Join me next week when I tackle New Challengers!

P.S. Yes, I am aware of Shane’s letter. These reviews are not meant in any way meant to comment on the truth or falseness of that letter. They’re for my personal enjoyment, nothing more.


Images courtesy of Rooster Teeth Productions

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