I almost feel bad for saying so, but it seems that the death of RWBY‘s original creator, Monty Oum, had shifted the tone of RWBY in the same direction. I went into the third volume expecting a darker tone all throughout, but was surprised when I was greeted with a pretty goofy, albeit competitively serious, debut episode. The promise of gloomy days was still present in my mind, but with the way things started off, I wondered how exactly the transition would take place.
There is something inherently different this time around. The writing is still off-putting, humor-wise, but there seems to be bigger things in play here. Something about the tone, the atmosphere of how the volume begins gives off this feeling of trepidation. Perhaps it was aided by my knowledge of a certain big spoiler that happens at the end, but in actuality, it had little to do with it. Even with the goofy writing, the third volume starts out with a battle in a school-sanctioned tournament. To start off with a battle, even with the context of being for sport, does more than opening with, say, loads of exposition or a food fight. One can tell right away that the gloves are off and RWBY is ready to provide a narrative that compares to the scale of its own potential.
Before getting into that, let’s talk about the first couple episodes and how much they blow. The first five episodes of RWBY‘s third volume follow a trend that makes the series all but engrossing. Using the tournament as a convenient excuse, the first five episodes have at least one battle sequence to them, including battles against characters who have never appeared in the series before and likely never will again, assuming they don’t get a lot of lines. This makes the battles feel dull and flash for the sake of flash, without any reason to care. We know who wins, why not turn off the brain and look at the pretty lights being shown in front of you? When those aren’t shown, the viewer is subject to the show’s humor—particularly in the first two episodes or so—which has gone from bad to horrible. I never cared for the humor in the first two volumes, but it seems the team’s sense of humor hasn’t changed a bit since the series’s debut. There was one joke I found amusing. There were about thirty others that made me twitch. It’s safe to say the first five episodes of the series serve little to the overall enjoyment I had with the series, as they seemed to want to cling to the calm nature and vaguely ominous roots that were established in volumes prior. It wasn’t until episode six where things started to, for lack of a better phrase, get going.
Once the halfway point was met, the quality of each episode gradually improved as it went along. I was surprised with how enamored I became with the developing plot, the serious tone of the show. This was what I had wanted since the end of volume one, something to really grip with the size of scope the series wanted to paint with its mountain of exposition. It showed signs before, but never got to the point where anything bad was ever accomplished, ever really felt grim, out of control. Volume Three is the first time where the evil forces have taken a grasp upon the world and taken extreme measures to ensure their plan goes accordingly. It feels detailed, well thought out. The foreshadowing leading up to the large climax present is gradual, but effective, even if the execution can be a little corny. The storytelling is on par (and executed similarly) with Volume Two, but here the viewer is treated with some resolution to the events that occur, rather than sweep it under the rug for everyone to forget in time.
Also similar to Volume Two, Volume Three has a tendency to let plot override the importance of other aspects, such as character. I’ve already mentioned above how a number of characters that have never appeared before make their debut appearance, only to provide nothing in the sense of development. The already established characters tend to take a back seat to react to the plot that is being unveiled as the episodes pass. As much as I loathe the humor, it gives the characters personality and life that they lack in more serious situations. As the mood gets to be more dramatic, so do the characters, leaving them to bask in their righteous justice and nothing more. In terms of development, I’d be hard pressed to point out any individual character who receives a good amount of development in this volume. Crow, definitely, but he’s a new character and needs it regardless. Perhaps Ozpin gets a little in terms of revealing the level of power he commands, or maybe Pyrrha because of the stress she goes through. But is that really worthy of further development? Or simply more reacting to what the plot throws at them?
The typical teams consisting of Ruby, Yang, Blake, and Weiss, and Jaune, Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora are front and center for the most part. They’re the characters that get the most attention, but some receive a little more than others. Once again, to react to the things happening to them rather than give them any sense of purpose or goal. Do they showcase their trademark quirks? Yes and no. When the situation calls for it, Weiss acts noble and uppity. Ruby is awkward and cheery. Blake is, as one puts it, “emo.” Yang is… notably calm for the most part. The only character to maintain their quirks—and improve upon them—is Nora, who is still insane for the sake of being insane. By volume’s end, I never feel these characters are showcased “correctly,” in a way that gives their personalities the spotlight while also reflecting them with their actions, set by the standards of previous volumes. Props to the development of Crow, but the rest of the cast feel as though the development team thought they’d had enough time on the frontlines.
Animation has, fortunately, improved enough to make even the most trivial of actions look smooth, though not consistently. The action scenes (later on) are very well choreographed and visually dazzling, provoking the sense of epicness I’m sure they intended. There are times when characters move robotically for the sake of “humor,” but comes off as lazy when the actions are held too long. This doesn’t happen very often as the humor tends to wear thin physically in the first few episodes. It creeps up sometimes, with a strange twitch here and there, though the animation holds steady for the most part. A subjective complaint is the use of fight scenes in every episode without any real meaning. This makes the rather stylish fight scenes feel dull and spiritless. It doesn’t evoke any emotion, aside from those clamoring for the fight scenes only. It feels like a waste to continue to waste time on fights that don’t amount to anything and waste the time to make later fight scenes all the more creative. For example, did we really have to watch Neptune and Sun do a little jig with some mindless harpies for half an episode? Neptune and Sun contribute very little to the volume at all, so why bother? Does anyone even like these characters?
A little note about voice acting, as this is still considered an “amateur” project, but I thought the cast did a really nice job throughout. Ruby’s voice actor has really improved since she started, and everyone else among the cast accurately placed the emotional depth of every situation into their voices. I was a little taken aback by how fierce some of them sounded. The tracks to accompanying scenes were a little gratuitous, calling for a number of “epic-sounding” symphonies to heighten the mood. I felt it suited better with low, ominous beats that played when the antagonists were hinting at their schemes. Otherwise, I didn’t much notice it throughout.
It is, with everything considered, the best RWBY has ever been, but only marginally. The ending is explosively satisfying (if not a little cheesy), the events that transpire within the narrative have genuine meaning and the results are damning, and the tone is suited well for the circumstances. However, whatever charm the characters had in the first volume has gone missing since then, as the emphasis of character is no longer important. Combine that with a starting line polluted with messy humor, pointless character introductions/interactions, and a feeling of dragging one’s head against the floor, RWBY‘s third volume is an uneven, unpolished track that would hesitate anyone. Fret not; Volume Three is an example of finishing with a bang, and it’s a beautiful bang, despite all the shortcomings of setting up the spectacle.
Final Score: 6/10