I Hate RWBY, It’s Awesome

TV Features
I Hate RWBY, It’s Awesome

I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with Rooster Teeth’s not-quite-anime RWBY since I was in middle school. I’ve watched the show ever since the Red trailer dropped, and it’s become one of the few shows I keep up with regularly. The character designs were cool, the weapons even cooler (the main character uses a sniper scythe!) the music by Jeff and Casey Lee Williams elevated it further, and the fight scenes are still some of the best 3D-animated fights of all time. Despite its flaws (the non-fight animations leave much to be desired, and the show features some egregious examples of telling instead of showing), I genuinely love most of the first three volumes of the show. It’s the coolest 6/10 in existence.

But the rest of the show is a mixed bag of interesting ideas, disappointment, wasted potential, and occasionally decent fight scenes. There’s a lot of discourse on whether the series fundamentally changed when creator Monty Oum tragically passed away in 2015, but it’s unfair to everyone else who works on RWBY to focus on the idea that they aren’t living up to the legacy of a genius. But with the release of Volume 9, it feels like the show may finally hit its stride again.

In the past few years, RWBY has become a delicate balancing act of almost being good and then somehow just missing the mark. It’s the web show equivalent of the student who has a lot of potential, but never does his work so it never bears out.

The main issue with the show is its writing. RWBY’s writing has suffered from attempting to punch way above its weight conceptually without ever committing. There’s a racism subplot that feels like it was written by someone who has a surface-level understanding of the Civil Rights Movement, and it kind of just goes nowhere; it exists for the idea that Catgirl Martin Luther King Jr. can be morally superior to Bullman Malcolm X, and not really much outside of that. Zootopia had a more nuanced take on animal people’s racism, for crying out loud.

Of course, no one’s necessarily looking to RWBY for high-quality writing—there’s a girl with a sniper scythe. But RWBY also hasn’t felt as cool as it once did. There aren’t weapons like canes that shoot explosives or shotgun gauntlets; now we just get guys who use fishing poles and futuristic hammers. All of the off-the-wall batshit stuff that got me into the show has been homogenized to the point where it’s devoid of any cohesive identity. We went from visually striking character designs to generic mobile game fantasy characters. RWBY was always a cheesy action show, but as it attempted to become more serious it lost its way.

Going into Volume 9 I expected much of the same. A couple of entertaining fight scenes, ideas that aren’t expounded upon, and more wasted potential. But my expectations have miraculously been exceeded. Watching Volume 9 has made me excited about RWBY for the first time since my freshman year of high school. At its best moments, I feel like Anton Ego when he ate the titular ratatouille and had a flashback to his happier childhood.

Volume 9 immediately shakes up the formula of RWBY by eschewing the familiar setting of Remnant with the colorful storybook world of Ever After, which trades the science fantasy of Remnant for bright, varied environments filled with a variety of creatures called the Afterans, all of which are pulled from the in-universe fairy tales. It provides an interesting contrast, even if at the beginning my friends and I joked about the show devolving into a kid’s show.

The core strength of the season is that, for the first time, it feels like it actually focuses on Ruby Rose. It’s been a complaint for years that despite her status as the main character, her development is given a back seat compared to many of the other subplots. Ruby is finally at the front and center of the show after almost 10 years, and she’s having a horrible time. She’s constantly reminded of every single one of her failures at every turn, her feelings are ignored time and time again, and it results in an on-screen breakdown that’s probably her strongest character moment to date. And not for nothing, we also get to see Blake and Yang finally enter a relationship after a damn near decade of ship tease.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s still RWBY after all. Tonal whiplash is at an all-time high despite this being one of the darker seasons of the show. Our namesake character commits not-quite suicide, and the rest of the cast is pretty ambivalent when we see them in the immediate aftermath. In one episode we’re dealing with fighting toy soldiers, and in the next our characters are discussing the darkest parts of themselves. It’s a bit silly.

So will Volume 9 stick the landing? I hope so. Will it irrefutably prove that RWBY is overrated? Probably not. Will I continue to watch it if a tenth volume is greenlit? Absolutely.

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