This is an interesting thing to review, as I have little to no experience with Monty Oum or Rooster Teeth in general. I’m not a fan of Red vs. Blue, and have otherwise tuned out Machinima altogether from my Youtube viewing experiences (with the exception of Sanity Not Included). I can’t compare a series like RWBY to anything else because I simply don’t have that affiliation with its creators’ roots or anything of the sort. I can only look at RWBY for how it is on its own. That being said, my background experience with Machinima ends here.
I was drawn to RWBY for the same reason I’m drawn to many anime-styled series: it looks weebish. I’m a weeb and I like weeb-looking things. It’s in my nature. To a degree, this is both a curse and a guilty pleasure. A curse knowing that I can be drawn to any shitty production as long as it “looks nice” (No Game No Life) and a guilty pleasure because it can make a show more tolerable (Senran Kagura). RWBY is no exception. Despite the fact that the animators for this series are working on a lower-than-average budget and are, frankly, amateurs at their craft, its trailers and overall style make it an intriguing view for the weeb-friendly eye.
The series begins like many others: with a shit-ton of exposition. The type of exposition you would see in the beginning of a grand epic or a tale of adventure and myth. It tells of some energy thing that people want or something called “dust,” and it balances out the power of natural elements or whatever. It’s not entirely explained. And then, wouldn’t you know, bad guys show up and rob a Dust Bank, when one of the henchmen come across Ruby Rose, the first of many major characters that make up the show, who kicks some bad guy butt without much effort because they wanted to go the Dragon Ball route and make the hero overpowered without much effort. Yay. The bad guys get away and then Ruby gets sent to an academy for training people to be superheroes or whatever. Y’know, high school, but with survival skills and magic powers. She’s joined by her sister, Yang, among others as she tries to survive the trials with which this academy puts her through, testing her will as both a hunter and a leader of her own team; team RWBY.
Within the first few minutes of RWBY (that’s not exposition), one thing is immediately clear: the production team went all out with the action scenes. There is far more effort put into fighting maneuvers than there is with trivial dialogue and actions between characters. Sure, Ruby can pull off god-like feats of acrobatic maneuverability, complete with fast-paced swings from her blood red megascythe of destruction, but Yang can’t give her a hug without looking as stiff as my dick whenever
Weiss Blake is shown on-screen. That being said, the actions scenes were some of the more enjoyable bits of eye candy for this show (as the design isn’t entirely polished enough for sexual fan service), and it only adds to the anime style that RWBY is known for. The design itself is also a plus, as each character looks distinguishable (if not hyper-exaggerated based on their archetypes) enough that I could point out each character without resorting to hair color.
RWBY is also similar to anime in the sense that its storytelling resorts to being overly vague about everything and “setting up the stage” for a big, dramatic conclusion in who knows when? The giant chunk of exposition at the very beginning is really all that the viewer is treated to in terms of story, otherwise, it’s fairly character-driven. In fact, if not for the “evil to be evil” villains in RWBY showing up randomly to fuck shit up, this entire show would just be character development through conflict (more on that later). The only “story” aspect being shown in RWBY consistently throughout is through aspects that make up each character’s life or situation. That’s it. It’s basically a sort of slice of life situation ever since the first episode, with bits of action and pseudo-adventure layered on as it progresses.
With little to no story to fall back on, let me introduce the most important aspect of RWBY: its characters. The main cast is enormous, with six characters making up what I consider “the main group” of heroes in the series. This being said, there are a number of other characters that make up the minor character list as well, with the total amount spanning double-digits in all. That’s a lot of characters to develop and make likable for a show with limited screentime.
The characters that make up RWBY’s main cast are Ruby, her older sister, Yang; Weiss, Blake, Jaune, and Pyrrha. Ruby as a character is optimistic and, frankly, generic. Her upbeat attitude is enough to get by, but she falls under the stereotype of “justice for all” that many main characters have now a days. Jaune, the sole male character in the main cast and, ironically, the weakest (or weakest in composure) of the bunch, is exactly as described: weak, with a dream of not being weak in the future. It’s only fair (and cliché) that there’s implied romantic tension between him and Pyrrha, who is known for being among the strongest hunters at the academy (her personality is much like Ruby’s, if not more mature). Weiss has a cold and elitist attitude, one who was born into privilege and riches unlike many others. The rich and perfect brat, if you will. Yang is carefree and a wild-spirit, much like how one would compare a wild animal to be, and entirely affectionate towards her sister. Finally, Blake is a quiet soul. If you couldn’t get that from her appearance, you might not be very perceptive.
Each character gets their own amount of screentime, ranging from “favored” to “forgotten.” Weiss seems to be in the middle of most of the conflict (perhaps due to her obvious personality flaws), while Yang gets no attention at all towards development. However, one of my biggest issues with RWBY is the style with which they develop their characters. It follows a similar formula all throughout, with little to no variety. One character has an opinion. Another character disagrees with that opinion. They scuffle. Some random character talks sense into them. They resolve the conflict. Whether this be through Weiss believing Ruby shouldn’t be the leader of the group, Weiss and Blake at odds over a certain “terrorist” group, or Jaune questioning his self-worth, they all seem to follow the same guideline. This makes the writing feel repetitive and forced, and makes the show wholly predictable on top of it. Not to mention, a lot of these conflicts come out of nowhere with no foreshadowing whatsoever. The first example is excusable, but Blake suddenly having an opinion after being treated like a cast-off up to that point makes her character, and all others, feel as though they’re driven by the plot, as opposed to them driving the plot.
To make matters worse, let me speak of the worst factor that RWBY has to offer: dialogue. The dialogue is atrocious. Many times characters come across as odd or clumsy, even if their character types don’t exude that. Not to mention, their entire dialogue only serves to establish either their one character trait or the plot. At the beginning of the series, I understand. Ruby is in a new environment and she isn’t sure how to act or behave. Same goes for Jaune. Otherwise, most uttered is either “I’m the good guy,” “I’m the bad guy,” “I’m the voice of reason,” or “I’m comic relief.” The dialogue isn’t alluring or constructive. Try as they may to make it humorous (and it really, really isn’t), that’s all they seem to want to fall back on. This does little to affect the monotonous mood of the show outside of the action scenes, and it doesn’t do much for the charm of the characters themselves.
A few other negatives include the use of bringing in new characters while already established characters haven’t been developed yet and the logic of some of the characters (Pyrrha finds Jaune reliable because…?), but those are minor quirks. One last thing I wish to highlight is the voice acting. It’s not award-worthy, but it’s worth noting. As flat as the characters are, the voice actors do as much as they can with what they’re given. It’s appreciated, from a viewer standpoint, when a voice actor makes dialogue seem profound through emotional inflection. And as much as I don’t care for the character, Jaune’s actor probably did the best job among the cast. He never stops talking, so it’s warranted.
I can only hope that RWBY can improve upon its flaws in Volume Two, as there is certainly potential in this project. Shore up the dialogue (please stop the amateurish empathy and humor) and give adequate screentime to the wide array of characters and RWBY could make for not just an entertaining watch, but an impactful one. Still, they have a long way to go if they want to make that happen. They need to actually focus on a storyline, for example.
Final Score: 5/10