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The Power of Stories

“There’s power in stories.” – Varric Tethras

I’m a bit of an oddball.  Always have been.  But I’m not ashamed of that fact.  It makes life more interesting for me.  I like to imagine it makes me enigmatic as well, but that’s probably just me indulging my not inconsiderable ego.

The point, however, is this: I’ve got some unusual ways of looking at the world.

For instance, if you asked everyone on the planet about the meaning of life, what do you suppose the answers would be?  They would be far-ranging, but I think we could expect a dozen or so common themes around which the majority of people’s answers would cluster.  We’d hear about love and service to others, adventure, experience, survival, proving your worth and living simply.  We would most certainly run into people who believe life was about serving God, just as we would discover that many people believe life has no purpose at all.

But me?  I think everyone is wrong.  And I think everyone is right.  Because I believe the meaning of life is all of these things.  It just depends on what story is being told.

The purpose of this website is the same as that of life.  Story.  In the end, everything comes back to story.  Everything about human existence concerns and hinges on narrative.  Each individual life is a story, every day is a story, every activity, every event.  That’s what history is – stories that last.  Even religion is made of stories, the ones that inspire or motivate us to be better.  Stories are all around us, in everything we do.  Life, after all, is just one vast saga.  We’re all characters, and we each have a part to play.  It’s all about stories with us, and, in the words of expert storyteller Varric Tethras, there’s power in stories.

That’s why storytellers do what we do.

The careers of all storytellers – authors, filmmakers, playwrights, video game developers, even songwriters – are built on the assumption that stories are powerful.  That stories change people.  They challenge us to grow and explore, to look at the world in new ways.  They cause us to re-evaluate the world and our place in it.  Research is beginning to suggest what storytellers have known for eons: that stories affect how we think, how we perceive life and the world around us, and, by extension, the way we act.  But we don’t really need new research to tell us that, do we?  The evidence is around us in daily life, and it is apparent in even the most cursory glance through the past.  Stories have proven throughout human history to be far more than just art or entertainment.  They are often radical agents of change.  To demonstrate this, I could cite a number of stories from any one of the major religions in the world, but that seems a bit too obvious.  How about The Illiad?  Homer’s epic influenced generations of Greek tradition which ultimately, in turn, affected every aspect of western civilization.  It also kept in place a Greek warrior ethos that radically reshaped the world through the actions of Alexander the Great.  (Funnily enough, Alexander was not Greek, but the Macedonians of his time adored Greek culture and emulated it in almost every way.)  Alexander was raised on The Illiad.  He was greatly inspired by the ethos it espoused, and he believed himself to be a continuation of its epic.  A new Achilles for a later age.

Where would the world be now if not for The Illiad’s influence on one of the great shapers of history?  Somewhere very different, that is certain.  This is just one example out of thousands, tens of thousands, of examples that could be used.  Stories are powerful; the world in which we live has been shaped by story as much as man.

So, have I gotten my point across?  Are stories powerful, or am I just a ranting lunatic?  (The latter is very probable.)  If you agree that stories have almost unlimited influence in our lives, then I invite you to subscribe for more posts.  I’m going to try to get some discussion flowing in the future, that way you don’t have to read only one person’s highly biased opinion.  After all, the internal and external conversations brought about by stories are what unleash their change-creating potential!

Announcement – Putting the Writing Career on Hold

I received some exciting news yesterday. Well, news that is exciting for me, but which will prove to be a drain on this blog, my current book projects, and my writing aspirations on the whole. In short, I was selected for a slot in Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Army. That means: A) I will be out of contact for up to a year in various training camps, and B) that even after I finish with training I will be working 40+ hours a week in a profession not particularly conducive to a budding writing career. I may even be deployed for long periods of time with no chance whatsoever to write.

So, both a happy and sad day.

On the one hand, I’ll get to live a life of service to others – something that has always been important to me. On the other, my dream of becoming an influential storyteller will slow to crawl. But that’s life. Sometimes we have to put one dream on hold to fulfill another. I will be able to write for decades to come, but serving my country is something best done while I’m still young and physically capable.

Anyway, the point is that I will continue to write and post and market and build a following while serving as an officer, but it will likely be much slower than before, and may halt completely for the better part of the next year. That being said, I’m considering having a proxy (friend or relative) continue running my blog, social media accounts, and marketing efforts while I’m in training, so be on the lookout for some occasional content from him or her.

Thank you to everyone who has followed and/or stopped by to read my thoughts or support my writing endeavors! You’re all the best. I’ll get back in touch in about a year (or sooner if I’m able).

The Current News in Storytelling – Beauty and the Beast

The big news in storytelling right now is Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, which is causing quite a stir with not only its enormous box office haul, but also its social commentary. I’m writing, of course, about the uproar over Disney having included their first-ever gay character. (Symbolically they’ve already done so in a previous prominent Disney film, but, from what I understand, Lefou is the first to be openly portrayed as gay). Now, we’ve already discussed my views on agenda in stories, and I’ve not yet seen B&tB, so I’ll refrain from commentary on if they violated my number one rule. I will have to present some opinion here, however, and the blowback could get nasty. I struggled for a long time trying to decide if I should write a post over this, since it’s such a charged issue. I certainly have no desire to introduce politics into my website’s storytelling vibe, but it is the biggest storytelling news of the day, and storytelling, in all it facets, is what I claim to cover.

So, without further ado: Beauty and the Beast, a gay Disney character, and immediate bickering. This is the big storytelling news right now, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I’m left wondering if this should actually be a big deal, because it all boils down to one fact.

This is America, ladies and gents, and – call me crazy – but in America, you’re free to live however you want, provided your actions don’t endanger others.

If you want to live a homosexual lifestyle, be my guest. You are an adult and an American. You’re free to live how you see fit.  If you believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, then, by all means, continue to believe that. You are an adult and an American. You’re free to believe as you see fit.  When you start trampling on each other’s right to freedom, that’s when I get cranky.

No, you can’t live in a bubble where you are never exposed to same-sex couples. Newsflash, you live on a planet with other people. You will run into individuals/lifestyles/moralities/actions/cultures/viewpoints with which you do not personally agree. Other people are not required to behave as you believe they should, nor are they required to share your principles. If that were the case, society would have already agreed to my proposal for weekly worldwide watch-parties of The Lord of the Rings.

No, homosexuals, you cannot live in a utopia were everyone agrees with your lifestyle. Newsflash, you live on a planet with other people. You will run into moral codes that do not jive with your personal views on morality. Other people are not required to accept you, your lifestyle, or anything at all, really.  This is America, remember? In America, people are free to live as they want, believe as they wish, and support what they like.

Wow.  That got to be quite the rant. If you’re ready for a conclusion, here’s my take on the matter: People are free to include gay characters in their stories. Why? ‘Cause ‘Murica. People are free not to like that a story has gay characters and refuse to support it with their business. Why? ‘Cause ‘Murica. We may not be the most virtuous or enlightened country on the planet, but by God we’re the freest. And the thing about freedom? There’s a good chance it won’t ever foster the best in us, but it does allow us the chance to be best we can be. In my opinion, that’s really all we need.

RWBY Volume 4 (Part 4): The Power of Stories

(This is Part 4 of a four-part post.)

*SPOILERS*

The Power of Stories: Why is RWBY a Powerful Tale?

RWBY is a powerful story.  It affects people, it entertains them, it gives them questions to ponder.  Few people who’ve seen it are left unaffected.  I personally believe the reason for this is because RWBY has something for everyone, something with which everyone can identify.  The characters feel real.  Every RWBY fan I know can point to a character and say “he/she reminds me of my sibling/friend/parent/etc.”  And it’s not just the characters either.  Few stories so blatantly (and effectively) combine numerous genres and storytelling formats.  RWBY can be comfortably described as an anime, web series, and film series, and appeals even to the video game playing crowd because it incorporates so many hallmark concepts from the gaming community.  In a similar way, RWBY is difficult to categorize by genre as well, at times seeming like science fiction, at others high fantasy, cyberpunk, dark fantasy, steampunk, drama, tragedy, comedy, and action-adventure.  Do you like stories with loads of eye-popping action?  RWBY’s your tale.  Prefer witty dialogue between characters who play off each other well?  Sit down for some RWBY.  Maybe quirky humor is your thing?  Roosterteeth has you covered with RWBY.  How about intense drama?  You know the answer.  Need a high fantasy-type quest?  RWBY.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  RWBY is not only diverse in genre and format, not only diverse amongst its character cast, it’s also diverse in plot type and theme and settings, etc., etc., etc.  RWBY has something for everyone, and this range is a huge part of its success.

RWBY is also a Coming-of-Age tale, which is traditionally a popular type of story to tell.  Why?  Because all of us have personally experienced growing up.  Many of the most popular stories in the world are Coming-of-Age stories (think Harry Potter).  RWBY is no different.  We recognize our own journey in these kinds of tales, even if they don’t remotely resemble our personal coming-of-age on the surface.  But it’s not the surface that matters, it’s the inner experience, the internal struggle.  It’s the identification we feel with the protagonists as they go through a journey that is, at its core, the same for everyone.  After all, the loss of innocence and the shedding of youth is a singular experience, and it leaves a deep impression on all of us.

Last but not least, a large part of RWBY’s power comes from its themes.  While the show is diverse, the themes are foundational.  They are timeless.  They are the most powerful kind of themes, because they are about universal principles.  Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, friendship, loyalty, serving others – these are just a few of the principles on which RWBY is based.  They span country, culture, and societal boundaries.  Everyone knows these principles, and everyone needs to be reminded of them from time to time.  Universal principles lie at the heart of RWBY, and this, more than anything, is what gives it such influence with its audience.  It reminds them of truths they know, but often forget.  And the best part?  RWBY does this not by cramming a message down people’s throats, but through example.  The characters espouse these ideals with their actions, and, as with any good epic, we are inspired by what we see and hear.  RWBY, ultimately, is powerful because it reminds of us of the best parts of us, the good of which we are capable when we embrace the principles we all know, but often forget in our struggle through life.  Ruby says it very well, in a mirror expression of what the show helps the audience to realize:  “I wanted to be just like the heroes in the books, someone who fought for what was right and protected people who couldn’t protect themselves.”

I hope you enjoyed my analysis of Volume 4 and RWBY as a whole.  Did you agree or disagree with any of my assessments?  There’s nothing I love more than a lengthy discussion of a good story with other fans, so be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Previous page: RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 3)

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 3)

(This is Part 3 of a four-part post.)

*SPOILERS*

Con: Goodbye, Innocence.  Welcome to the Real World

This one isn’t so much a legitimate complaint as a personal preference.  Let’s face it.  The tone of this series has changed.  Drastically.  I often miss the harmless banter of the early days at Beacon, because now I have to deal with a never-ending stream of despair, melancholy, weighty discussions, angst, disappointment, grief, and uncertainty.  For Grimm’s sake, if it weren’t for the lifeboat known as Sun Wukon, I’d have drowned in the misery.

And, yes, I’m well aware that this sobering atmosphere had a point.  The first trio of volumes, and its soul-crushing conclusion, symbolized youth and the inevitable loss of innocence.  But I don’t have to be any more pleased about it in RWBY than I was in real life.

Pro: Fan Favorites Get Some Well-Deserved Screentime

I love the four girls, and I love my boy Jaune, but it was nice to see some background primary characters get some significant screentime.  Few characters have deserved backstory attention and character development as much as Ren and Nora.  (Except for…maybe…Pyrrha.  Too bad that will now never happen).  Ren’s significant arc this season, while a bit hackneyed, was welcome.  I mean, how can you not like the guy?  This was Ren’s volume to shine, but we also got to see a satisfying amount of focus on Nora as well, which everyone always enjoys.  Renora shippers (who, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone) around the world are rejoicing after Vol. 4’s conclusion.  It’s basically canon now.

Con: Machine of God

All aboard the HMS Deus Ex Machina!  No, seriously.  In this instance, the deus ex machina was actually a ship.  A flying frickin’ ship.  RNJR has defeated the big nasty.  Whew.  Still far from Mystral, they’re not out of the woods yet – literally or figuratively.  Qrow could die!  How are they going to save him?

But wait! What’s that?  It’s a bird! It’s a plane!  It might as well be superman, because it pulled both RNJR and the writers out of a hole as effectively as any godlike alien from Krypton.

In one instance of many in a finale rife with letdowns, a scouting ship swoops down out of the sky to pick up our weary, but triumphant, heroes from the predicament in which Miles and Kerry had written them.  Way to use author-god powers to pull your characters out of a spot!

Guys, the use of deus ex machina is just bad writing, plain and simple.  When a storyteller pulls characters out of a trouble with a random intervention, plot always suffers.  For the most part, characters need to work themselves out of their own problems.  As happy as I was to see RNJR reach their destination, it felt somewhat hollow.  The question of Qrow’s survival drove a lot of the tension this volume, and instead of finding a way for RNJR to save him, RT went with: *Shrugs shoulders* “Eh, they just got picked up.”  I understand why they did it.  They were crunched for time.  They would have needed another two episodes or more to satisfactorily get the team to Mystral and/or save Qrow.  But, frankly, a time-crunch is not a satisfactory excuse.  All it does is reinforce my original criticism that they tried to fit way too many plot threads into too little time.

Con: Falling Asleep During a Horror Movie

Our big baddie of the volume (besides Tyrion) was set to be a truly grueling obstacle for our heroes to face.  I’m speaking, of course, about the Nucklavee Grimm.  RT did a great job building up this adversary; I was riveted by suspense.  That, I thought each time I saw more of its grotesque body, is the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.

And then the Vol. 4 finale happened.

Wow, what a disappointment.  I thought we were going to get some kind of grim reaper/apocalypse horseman type of grimm, and instead we got Mr. Fantastic.  Have you ever fallen asleep during a horror movie?  It kinda felt like that.  What was supposed to be terrifying, horrifying, and every other kind of fying ended up being a bit of a joke.  I never felt like the characters were in in true mortal danger, which contrasted tellingly with the last few episodes of Vol. 3, a time when I chewed off all my fingernails because the suspense was so hardcore.  Instead, I spent more time laughing at the absurdity of Stretch Armstrong.

Great buildup, but the final monster just did not deliver on the hype.

Pro: The Cabal

Expanding world = expanding cast of characters.  Not least of which is a virtual cabal of new villains!  We get another faunus villain (and c’mon, who doesn’t think that freaky scorpion isn’t scary?), as well as a few other, still enigmatic new faces.  I’ve no doubt we’ll see more of Hazel and Watts in future volumes.  It’s disappointing Torchwick will no longer be with us, and I’m still wondering when Neo will make her reappearance, but you can’t have everything in life.  Salem’s coven more than makes up for the absences and expands the conflict into a global one in the process.  Following the finale, I still have no clue where Hazel is going, Tyrion is as crazy (or more so) than ever, and Watts clearly has some maneuvering up his sleeve with Leo.  Everyone still loves to hate Cinder after last season, and I can’t wait for her to get back into the field with her trio of collaborators: Mercury, Emerald, and rage-fueled revenge.

Con: Snow White and the Mediocre Character Arc

Poor Weiss got the boring end of the plot this time.  Her character arc?  Pretty much nonexistent.  The whole plot thread served basically as a vehicle for exposition on her father’s greedy self-interest, the wealthy’s indifferent apathy, and Atlas’s growing isolation.  Weiss had nothing to do all season except wallow in self-pity and escape at the end.  Now that we have been informed of the state of affairs in Atlas, I’m looking forward to Weiss being a part of something important again.

Pro: I Burn

How good was Yang’s character arc?  Just really good, right?  It was super short, but it fit.  I was worried her developmental arc would take her through a depressed, self-pitying stage, which just wouldn’t have been appropriate for who she’d been established to be.  I burn, her theme says, can’t hold me down.  Yang is the girl who will get back up every time she gets knocked to the ground.  A prolonged stage of depression and self-pity would not have been true to her character.  PTSD was a much better choice and an excellent Volume 4 adversary for RWBY’s indomitable firecracker.  She struggled with the psychological and physical wounds inflicted by Adam (and those inflicted, unintentionally, by Blake), overcame them, and set off to be the person she is: Ruby’s protector and an unstoppable hero.  Simply and exquisitely done.

Con: This Show’s Not Big Enough for the Two of Us – Does RWBY Need Two Princesses?

This is, again, more of a personal preference complaint, and a super small gripe.  Personally, I disliked the reveal that Blake’s parents were basically royalty.  I saw it coming from a mile away, but that didn’t mean I was happy about it.  Why do our protagonists have to be born into importance?  Weiss has filled that role already; we don’t need another one.  Part of what made Blake a compelling character was the fact that she was a rogue, a nobody who made something of herself because she wanted to change the world.  Call me crazy, but this smacks of the “Disney” plot type, where the protagonists are generally some type of nobility, “born into greatness” if you will, with something special about who they were born to be.  This is America, dammit, where we don’t need bloodlines for greatness (in theory).  We forge it ourselves, even if we come from nothing.  Come on!  How about we have a commoner hero for a change?

Pro: A Sun in the Heart of Darkness

Seriously, everybody.  This show has been kinda a downer since…well, you know.  The unspeakable events of Volume 3’s gut-wrenching climax.  And let’s be real, the saving grace keeping alive the flickering flame of lighthearted fun is Sun Wukon, who qualifies as a figurative star shining into an otherwise gloomy plot.  Thank goodness that guy was around bothering Blake with his optimism.  And on top of the lighthearted tone he brings?  He’s proving to be one of the most selfless and likeable characters on the show.  (Yes, yes, go ahead and rail at me, Bumbleby fans.  Just because you feel your ship slipping away doesn’t make it any less true.)  Sun never gives up on Blake, despite her repeated relapses into despair and misplaced anger.  So far, he’s a wonderful example of unconditional love in RWBY, committed to helping the people he cares about even when it’s inconvenient and downright painful for him.  Blake clearly needs to let off some steam building up from all those feelings of guilt and impotence, and the guy offers himself up as a sacrificial target for her frustrations.  Never complaining, never retaliating – just being there again the next she needs him.  Gents, take a note or two.

Pro: Meet the Parents

A couple who is actually loving and supportive of their child?  Ghira and Kali, I would like to shake your hands or bring you in for a giant family hug.  Raven, Jacques, Alcoholic-mom-of-the-Schnees, get your crap together.  Tai, you’re doing great too.  Good job, buddy.  But the Belladonnas.  The Belladonnas.  Wow, is it nice to see a healthy family dynamic or what?  Here’s hoping we see a lot more of them in the volumes to come.

And who didn’t enjoy poor Sun’s predicament?  That was good stuff.  Ghira will figure out eventually that Sun’s a self-sacrificing gentleman, I’ve no doubt.

Pro: Dad Shorts

You know, I was really worried that Taiyang would wind up being “that typical dad character.”  (I mean come on.  He wears dad shorts.  Dad shorts.)  But that didn’t end up being the case at all.  He is unique, with his own individual flavor, and, of no less importance, his own distinct parenting style, which was probably as important (or more so) than any other factor.  Current stories, when they’re trying to introduce a loving father, typically fall into the same old stereotypes over and over again.  RT managed to avoid that with Tai, while still showing that he cares deeply for his girls.  This is a dad that doesn’t pull punches (sometimes literally), even when he knows it might be painful.  You get the impression that he is devoted to Ruby and Yang, hard but fair.  What a relief after the dearth of “cool dads” who have come to typify fatherly love in contemporary storytelling, appearing more like a buddy to their kids instead of, uh, you know, a parent.  Clearly, Tai believes that hard truths will end up helping his daughters more in the long run than it hurts them in the short term, and that is a refreshing mindset that contrasts beautifully against the typical portrayal of father figures.  You’re awesome, Tai.  Thanks for being the dad character without “being the dad character.”

Con: Sinking Ships

I swear to Grimm, if any of you launch a ship of Jaune/Qrow because of that lingering scene in the finale, I’m going to set something on fire.  Probably your house.  We’ve got approximately twelve thousand too many ships in this fandom already, many of which could be labeled as ‘inappropriate’ at best.  Seriously, get a handle on your imaginations, ya perverts.

Pro: The Evolution of the Tin Man

Ironwood has always been a good but misguided character since his introduction in early Vol. 2.  It’s nice to see him grow this volume as a unique, deeper character in his own right instead of acting in his usual plot role of a well-meaning foil to Ozpin’s wisdom.  Whether or not you agree with his political decisions this season, most everyone has come to see him in a…much more favorable light than they had before, because of his obvious good intentions, protective nature, and defense of a browbeaten Weiss.  And though we are meant to see Ironwood’s isolationist approach as a bad decision, it certainly shows that he’s growing as an influential character in the show, making choices that fit very well with his Lawful Order personality and his attitude of safety before all other considerations.  I’m very interested to see where they go with his character in later volumes.

Conclusions

All in all, Vol. 4 easily takes the regrettable prize of my least favorite season of RWBY thus far.  It has its good points, but it suffers from a number of plot problems, artistic departures, and a lack of the signature Monty style I’d come to associate with the show, making it impossible for me to put it on the same level as the Beacon Trilogy.  Many of my complaints stem from my original point that Roosterteeth tried to grapple with nearly ten plot lines in a three-hour window, instead of the two or three they followed in the previous seasons.  The rest of the problems were stylistic choices that really boil down to personal preferences, such as the animation change.  Many viewers were very happy with the switch to Maya.  I was not, and that’s something I’m just going to have to deal with as RWBY moves forward.

But Vol. 4 is still recognizably RWBY, and it had many commendable aspects as well.  Besides, this was likely always intended to be something of a transition period, and, as I know from writing such chapters in my books, transitions are never the equivalent of the stages they leave, nor are they comparable to the next big act they’re meant to introduce.  Mystral’s underworld is looking like an exciting place to explore; hopefully RNJR (and a reuniting team RWBY) will be up to the challenge.  I enjoyed RWBY: Volume 4, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what’s in store for Remnant.

Bottome Line:  Despite personal disagreements with the new stylistic direction and some plot missteps, Volume 4 carries on the tradition of RWBY in an ever-expanding and delightful fantasy world.  I demand Volume 5.  Immediately.

Previous Page: RWBY Vol. 4 Analysis (Part 2)            Next Page: RWBY – The Power of Stories

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis (Part 2)

(This is Part 2 of a four-part post.)

*SPOILERS*

Analysis

Con: Roosterteeth Bit Off More Than It Could Chew

My number one criticism of Volume 4 is this: There are far too many separate story arcs.  Miles and Kerry seem to have forgotten that they have only three hours max screen time to work with per season, and, as a consequence, lost control of their story by trying to cram too many plot threads (some of which were unnecessary) into one volume.  All our girls needed to go through their own, individual growth, as did the remaining members of JNPR, but many of the character arcs seemed to lose any purpose or significance in the limited space of an already too expository volume.  If nothing else, I’ll just come to terms with this volume as a transitional season, doing some dull, but clearly needed, work of returning the plot strings into a cohesive bundle after last volume’s scattering.  In part, it had to be done in order to expand to a world stage from the preparatory phase of Beacon, but, without doubt, it could have been handled better.

Pro: Expanding World

Some of the bad news from this volume is because we’ve left Beacon, but a lot of the good news is that we’ve left Beacon.  As sad as I was to say goodbye to the things we love and the innocence of youth, it is super satisfying to see an expanding, diverse world in which the plot can unfold.  From new cultures to new characters, Vol. 4 makes clear that RWBY will ultimately be a grand epic in a fully realized universe, not just a Harry Potter-esque series that takes place largely in a boarding school.  Here’s to future adventures in one of the cooler fantasy worlds to be created in the past decade.

Con: A World of Black and White: Where’s the Gray?

Nope, not talking about Gray Haddock, though there has been a sad lack of Roman Torchwick this season, owing to the baddie’s disappointing demise.  I’m talking about the apparent viewpoints, legends, and history of Remnant, most of which can be categorized as saintly or pure evil, with little in between.  With a few notable exceptions, the fourth volume sank further than ever into the trap of black and white interpretations, especially in the World of Remnant videos.  I literally started laughing out loud at Qrow’s explanation of “The Great War,” which cast the conflict into the starkest terms of good vs. evil.  Vale and Vacuo good, Atlas and Mystral evil.  Only after they were defeated did Atlas and Mystral learn the error of their horrible ways (kind of) and agree to stop their completely one-sided aggression and racism.  Let me tell you something, kids.  Stories with this much black and white never feel authentic, because they aren’t.  They don’t feel realistic because no large conflict has ever been clear-cut.  Tolkien and some few others get away with it because their stories are written specifically as commentaries on the dynamic of good vs. evil, but what’s presented here is a human vs. human (and faunus) conflict, and those are never simplistic struggles of good against bad.  Black and white explanations of events, however attractive they may at first seem, are always likely to be wrong.  In fiction, just as in real life, explanations of this type are going to feel off, unbelievable, to a discerning audience.  So far, RT has slipped into that trap.  Hopefully it’s something they will correct in later seasons, because right now everything about the backstory feels stilted as a result.  To fix it, they’re going to have to start showing differences in perspective that lead to conflict, not straight-up morality against immorality.  They’ve done, meh, okay with that in a few areas, such as dissension within the White Fang, Ironwood’s hard, practical approach opposed to Oz’s calm idealism, etc.  But so far, the series history is descending further and further into explanations of good, reasonable people pitted against others who seem to have no understandable motives.

Con: New Does Not Equate with Better – Departing the Original Style

The frickin’ animation!  I have a love/hate relationship with this new look.  It’s also listed as a Pro below, where you’ll find what I liked about the Maya graphics.  But I’ll get right down to it on what I hated.

Let’s be clear, the visuals have never been the biggest draw for me when it comes to RWBY.  A lot of anime fans I’ve spoken with have said that they couldn’t get into RWBY because the animation is so strange (which strikes me as comical, seeing as they are already fans of one of the stranger niches of storytelling in the world).  I tend to consider solid plot, characterization, theme, etc. over the superficial parts of storytelling.  To me, having great graphics/visuals is akin to a beautiful icing.  When it’s there on an already wonderfully baked cake, it enhances my enjoyment, turning a tasty snack into a delectable delight.  But it doesn’t work the other way around.  You need a good cake – a good foundation – before icing even becomes a factor.  If a tale has mediocre storytelling underneath the glitter of stunning visuals, I can fit all the craps I give about that tale into a thimble.  Luckily, RWBY does have great story characteristics, so this is my complaint about the frosting.  After all, if you put vanilla icing on a cake, I’ll still enjoy it, just not as much if it were chocolate.

When it comes to the animation, my complaint is this: It’s not the same.  I know that sounds extremely petty, and I am aware that there were many extenuating circumstances recommending the switch, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story and characters feel a little different because the look has changed so drastically.  I don’t know why Monty originally decided to go with Poser, but I would hazard a guess that part of the reason was that it had a decidedly 3D look that lent itself well to his vision of a blend between anime and video game style graphics.  While RWBY, in the fourth volume, is still technically 3D, it looks much more 2D than in seasons before.  It’s a change that admittedly brings it closer to a mainstream anime audience, but one which I consider to be a poor trade.  RWBY is awesome because it is so unique, and its visual style has always been distinctly its own.  I would encourage RT to put a premium value on the things that give RWBY its unique flavor in the future, and not discard them unless absolutely necessary.

Pro: And Sometimes New Is Better

Yes, I may prefer what I consider the canon RWBY visuals of Poser, but that won’t stop me from admitting that the new animation looks fantastic.  Everything is more detailed, from facial expressions to backdrops.  Compare similar shots from the first and fourth volumes, and your jaw will hit the floor from the difference.  We’ve come a long way, Roosterteeth, from the black silhouettes of background crowds.  Sometimes change isn’t for the better – I would have preferred a continuation in Poser – but sometimes pushing the boundaries pays off as well.  In fact, I’m having a hard time figuring out how RT Animation plans to improve on the graphics in later volumes.  Yeah – it looks that good.  Gone are the awkward shots of the lower body (Poser had trouble with feet and leg movements), and each individual character looks even more distinct.  Good work, RT.  I’m not a supporter of the animation switch, but I will give credit where it’s due.  And it is definitely due here.

Con: FIGHT! Fight, Fight, Fight…

It seems like many of my complaints can be boiled down to Monty did it different, and this one is no exception.  You see, the combat this volume was just…disappointing to me. Once again, it didn’t feel the same as it has the past three volumes, and I’m going to point the finger at the fact that Monty is no longer at the helm.

See, in the past three volumes, combat has been governed by silent, understood rules that are never explicitly mentioned in dialogue, but can be observed in the fights themselves.  Concussive shots, as from Crescent Rose or Nora’s hammer, can propel the wielder of the weapon that fired them in an opposite direction, as according to physics.  Auras will “soak” damage done to an individual until their aura is depleted, and only then will they be susceptible to physical harm.  Even semblances have rules that govern how they can work.  For instance, Weiss’s glyphs can hold a person or object at a certain angle until released, allowing someone, say Ruby, to balance on one upside down or run up the side of a building lined with them.

Many of these rules seem to have been discarded in Vol. 4 for no apparent reason.  Nora can now fire her hammer/cannon and fly in spirally circles.  Ruby’s semblance now allows her to not just move super quickly, but also semi-teleport as a cloud of rose petals, disregarding the fact that no one has deigned to explain that.  I mean, people are basically flying, changing direction midair on a whim, without any physical explanation for how.  Monty’s fights made sense.  They operated within defined, if only implied, boundaries that made their enactment plausible and their tactics satisfying.  In Volume 4?  Not so much.  Instead, we get fights where the victorious strategy is: “Guys, we hit it harder.”

Yeah.  Even if such a strategy doesn’t make any sense in that circumstance.

The combat, while a huge draw to RWBY for some, is much like the visuals for me.  I loved the earlier fights in this series.  They are so innovative and well-done.  But at the same time, it’s the story and characters that hooked me.  The fights, like good graphics, are just more awesome frosting on top of the RWBY cake.  However, just because I don’t consider something essential doesn’t mean I’m not going to say something when I see it going downhill.  My final verdict is that combat has definitely declined in this volume from the quality of its predecessors, whether because of the new animation, the absence of Monty, or simply changing stylistic choices.

Pro: Music

The soundtrack hasn’t been released yet (unfortunately), but from what I noticed during the episodes, Vol. 4’s music is as strong as ever.  Jeff Williams has had the tone of this show down since the first second, and it shows, because the music has always been one of RWBY’s brightest facets.  From the fun of FNKI to the creepy drawl of Salem’s refrain to the rocking RWBY title themes, this show can be encapsulated in its music, and Vol. 4 is no different from its predecessors in that regard.  Keep up the good work, Jeff and Casey!  I’ll be on the lookout for the soundtrack release!

Previous Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 1)                                     Next Page: RWBY Analysis (Part 3)

RWBY Volume 4 Analysis – Required

I know I’ve not had new content for a while, but I’ve been preparing an extra-special post for you.  In fact, it’s become so special (and lengthy) that I’m going to break it up in to four or five separate posts.

This marks the first of my story analysis entries for my theme, The Power of Stories.  If I get a good response, I’ll keep doing these.  If not, I’ll probably stick solely to posts on storytelling in general.  Hopefully, we can get a good discussion going, because I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on these stories as well.  Let’s take an in-depth look at one we love.

RWBY – REQUIRED Entertainment

As most people reading this are no doubt aware, I’m a huge fan of Roosterteeth’s hit web series RWBY.  The fourth volume of this American anime concluded only a few weeks past, so I thought now would be a great time to break down the latest volume to see what worked, what didn’t, and why this story is so powerful.

Is it necessary for me to call spoilers?  We’re going to be discussing the fourth volume of an ongoing series.  Do I really need to point out that there will be major plot points, characters, etc. discussed that could ruin the twists and turns?  Just to be safe, for the people who also need the giant CONTENTS ARE HOT label on the sides of their coffee cups: SPOILERS AHEAD.  Do not continue if you’ve not watched RWBY Volumes 1-4.

I’m going to break down stories in list form, a kind of pros and cons list, with the most important issues first, ranking to the least important as we proceed.

So, without further ado, my story evaluation of:

RWBY Vol. 4

RWBY Overview

RWBY is hard to categorize for a lot of reasons.  It’s visual style most closely resembles anime (especially in this fourth volume), but beyond that and a few derivative style quirks, it has few of the hallmark Japanese-esque qualities that traditionally mark a show as “anime.”  Its characters and world are based off of fairy tales, but it doesn’t fit in that category either.  The Brothers Grimm type folktales are simply used as an inspirational backdrop.  The humor and dialogue have a distinctive Roosterteeth flair, of which I’ve not seen the likes in anything other than a RT product.  It has loads of action, but that action is in a style more akin to a video game than a film or anime.  Even the world setting can’t decide if it’s science fiction, medieval fantasy, or cyberpunk!  My point is that RWBY doesn’t fit anywhere.  And that’s awesome!  It defies not only genre boundaries, but also any form of format classification, and that’s part of what makes RWBY such a great experience.  While it borrows from many sources, it is somehow utterly unique, in a cross-genre, cross-media niche of its very own.

If you’ve read to this point, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the show through Volume 4.  If you haven’t, leave now.  Go read something else cool on my site.

Now, if you’re still here I’m sure you’re up to date, but I still feel compelled to share some backstory on Volume 4 as a foundation for my evaluation.  While counting down to the internet airing, I was equal parts worried and eager for RWBY’s next installment.  My excitement was caused by the long interim since Vol. 3’s emotional conclusion, but I was apprehensive for two reasons.  1) This would be the first volume of RWBY with no input by its mastermind.  Monty Oum, RWBY’s creator, had worked on several scenes for Vol. 3 before his untimely death, but the fourth volume would be devoid of his influence.  (Excepting, of course, his vision for the long-term series arc, from which co-writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross are working.)  Needless to say, losing the heart and soul behind a project means that it will be affected, and I was worried to see how.  2) Roosterteeth Animation decided to make the switch from Poser, the animation platform chosen by Monty for work in the first three volumes, to Maya, the most widespread animation platform in the world.  Now, I understand RT Animation’s decision to do so.  They’ve been expanding rapidly with the success of RWBY, and new employees are already proficient in Maya, which cuts down on training time for an unfamiliar platform like Poser.  Also, one of the constant criticisms for the first three volumes was the animation, which many viewers believed inadequate.  Personally, I was happy with the Poser look, and the volumes were looking better and better with each season, but RT agreed with the need for an upgrade, which I suppose I can understand.  For these reasons, I feared the show wouldn’t feel the same, and to a certain extent I was right.  Let’s dive into RWBY Vol. 4!

Next Page: RWBY Volume 4 (Part 2) Analysis

A Preliminary Note on Story Analysis

For the last several weeks, I’ve been posting a lot of content on the nature of storytelling, so it’s high time we took a break for something a little lighter.  We’ve yet to actually dig in to any individual plots, which is as key to realizing the power of stories as analyzing storytelling.  After all, stories are the best advocates of their own influence.

Stories I break down on this blog will be separated into two categories: Required and Anathema.  I’ll evaluate a lot of Required stories, but very few Anathema, mostly because I’m largely a nice guy who rarely thinks it proper to firebomb other storytellers’ hard work.  That being said, it will happen on occasion that I detest a story enough to actively work against its creator.  You can assume one of two things about the evaluations I post.  If I post about a film, web series, TV show, video game, book, etc. on this blog, I either 1) love it and think everyone should partake, or 2) believe it should be mercilessly ripped apart line by line.  I will indicate which at the beginning of the post.  Cons that are listed on the former should be taken with a grain of salt, since I am obviously recommending the story while airing any grievances that (I believe) detract from the possible maximum impact of the tale.  The upcoming evaluation I’ll have out on RWBY soon is an excellent example of a Required tale.

As for Anathema, I’ll generally tell you exactly how I feel, with little mollycoddling to blunt the blows.  An example of something that would go in my Anathema folder would be anything I ever post on the Twilight series.