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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)

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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

RWBY Speculations

SPOILERS!!!!!!

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!

There.  I’ve said it.  A lot.  If you haven’t received the message by now then you’re not going to.  This post contains major spoilers for RoosterTeeth’s animated web series RWBY, which is a fantasy story set in a cyberpunkish world.  If you’ve not watched this remarkable series through the end of Volume 3, then DO NOT READ ON PAST THIS PARAGRAPH.  So many surprises will be ruined for you.  Go watch RWBY Volume 1 – 3 immediately, either on Netflix, here on youtube, or here on the RoosterTeeth site.  In my opinion, it’s the best show around right now, in spite of its anime presentation.  (In general, I don’t really get into anime, but I’m a sucker for a great story, good characters, imaginative setting, etc., no matter the format.  RWBY definitely has all of those things.)  I assure you, it is well worth your time.  And best of all, it’s family friendly, so nearly anyone can watch it.  If you’ve seen any of RoosterTeeth’s other shows, you know how much of a surprise that is.  I’ll be doing a series of posts over RWBY for the next several weeks, partly to keep myself distracted from the fact that Volume 4 won’t begin until sometime in autumn.

This is the point of no return.  Turn back now unless you enjoy ruining good stories for yourself.

So the first thing I’ll mention is this: Yes, these posts on RWBY are super late.  RWBY Volume 3 has been finished for some time now, and other people have likely hashed through all of this stuff.  But I started on the first volume of RWBY about three months ago, so until recently I’ve been way behind the actual airing of the show.  I literally just watched Volume 3 when it was released on Blu-ray/DVD a few weeks ago.  So don’t get your panties in a wad if I repeat things you’ve read many times before.  This is a simple rundown of things that my friends and I have wondered/discussed/argued/violently-shouted-obscenities about over the last couple of weeks.

Why don’t we jump in with the most soul-crushing moment?  I am, of course, talking about the death of Pyrrha Nikos.  I mean, this was the climax of the show to this point, and it’s definitely the scene that everyone is obsessed with, for a multitude of reasons that we’ll delve into later. (Not at all because it left the majority of the audience curled up in the fetal position and blubbering for two hours).  Pyrrha was my favorite character in the show, which is saying something, because RWBY is chockfull of great characters.  Watching her die in what is easily the coldest, most brutal death scene RoosterTeeth has yet presented was gut-wrenching to say the least, and it had me in a nearly comatose state for a good two hours after the credits rolled.

There’s a lot to discuss here, beginning with the question that everyone keeps arguing about.

Is Pyrrha really dead?

My answer?  Yes, she’s really dead.  Hard as that is to hear, it seems pretty clear to me.  For one thing, I kind of want her to be dead.  Let me explain.  So many great shows have slowly lost their ability to generate emotional impact precisely because they create an atmosphere where death scenes are not often final. (Yes, I’m looking at you Buffy.)  Nothing drives the emotional impact of a story quite like a sense of finality, and if the audience responds like this: *Shrugs* “Eh, they’ll be back.”  You’ve got a problem.  To put it bluntly, I love Pyrrha – she’s my favorite.  But if RoosterTeeth brings her back, it will definitely set a precedent for the show that I won’t be entirely happy with.

Now, as to why I think she is dead, I’ll address some of the issues my group of RWBY-watching compatriots have brought up to question whether she’s “really gone.”

Issue #1) That wasn’t Pyrrha fighting Cinder, it was an illusion of Pyrrha conjured by a repentant Emerald.

Nope.  Sorry guys and gals.  This one is not going to fly with me.  This entire theory is based on the single line Emerald utters in Volume 3, Chapter 10 after Cinder revels in the chaos of the grimm attack on Vale.  Emerald, with admittedly sorrowful looking features, states: “It’s almost sad.”

Really?

Guys, come on.  So a baddie makes one statement of pseudo regret, and we take that to mean that ten minutes later she betrays her leader’s masterplan?  A masterplan, might I add, that took great lengths of time and astronomical amounts of effort to bring to fruition?  Emerald has never shown any compassion in the past, but the fact that RoosterTeeth gave her such a line does make her seem more realistic as a character.  It does not, however, suggest that suddenly she has repented of all her evil ways.  IF such a theory were to be what Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross (the writers) intended, they would have built up a bit more of an inner struggle within Emerald’s character arc prior to the Cinder/Pyrrha showdown.  Now, it could be a sign that they are taking Emerald’s character that direction in the future, but the fact that she regrets the deaths of hundreds (maybe thousands) of people as the price of their machinations just makes her seem like, you know, a realistic villain instead of a completely evil villain with relatively little depth.

Conclusion:  Sorry, fellow Pyrrha-lovers.  I feel you, but that was indeed Pyrrha who was fighting Cinder, not an illusion copy made by Emerald.

Issue #2) Pyrrha didn’t “die,” she evaporated into cinders.

This is an argument that I will give some credence. It actually has some decent evidence to back it up, and, in my opinion, it carries the most weight of all the theories in denial over Pyrrha’s death.  Basically, proponents of this theory are saying that Pyrrha has become incorporeal or has been captured – citing that Pyrrha disintegrated into sparkly ash instead of falling dead at Cinder’s feet.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but hear me out.  Now, what’s the evidence? First and foremost, while there hasn’t been a lot of visible “on screen” death in the show so far, the deaths that have been seen look just like you would expect.  No flickering away into little wisps.  No glowing disintegration.  (This is excepting the grimm, of course.  They do disintegrate upon death.  I’m speaking of sentient deaths, specifically humans and faunis.)  Everyone who has died on screen thus far has done exactly what you would expect them to do: crumple to the ground and remain there.  Pyrrha on the other hand, is struck by Cinder’s arrow and literally dissolves from the point of impact.  This is unprecedented in the show so far, so it carries some credibility.  On top of that, consider Cinder’s enigmatic “Add her to the list” quote from Volume 2 (speaking about Pyrrha) and you have an interesting concept.  So far, the writers have yet to reveal what Cinder was talking about.  And finally: Ospin is missing.  Missing.  Not dead.  That is made very clear following his encounter with Cinder.  Even Salem is addressing him at the end of Volume 3, so he’s clearly still around somewhere.  He didn’t defeat Cinder in combat, it’s unlikely he ran away, and even if he did, wouldn’t he get in contact with Qrow or Goodwitch?  It’s possible that he was captured by Cinder, and that is why Salem is addressing him as if he is standing right next to her.  If Oz was captured, then it would follow that Pyrrha could have been captured in a similar manner, and was “transferred” to Salem’s location through an unknown power that Cinder possesses – a power which transfers her in disintegrated form to Salem, where she is reconstituted.  After all, those floating cinders of ash do spring up often when Cinder uses her powers.

Like I said, it’s the most persuasive theory, but I still don’t buy it.  First of all, yes, no one has yet died by disintegration, but Pyrrha is the first to be killed in such a manner.  (I know Amber was killed by one of Cinder’s arrows, but her death does not linger on screen, so we don’t know if she disintegrates or not.)  More importantly, Pyrrha is the first person to be killed by Cinder since she acquired the powers of Fall.  It could be an effect of the Fall Maiden powers mixed with Cinder’s penchant for scorching her opponents.  As for Cinder’s quote from Volume 2, she could have simply been referring to opponents they (Cinder, Mercury, Emerald) would need to keep an eye on or prepare for or possibly just deal with to get them out of the way.  It’s possible she even was referring to the fact that Pyrrha could be used as a means to further agitate the situation they planned to create during the Vytal Festival Tournament.  If so, they undoubtedly succeeded.  The Oz theory is neat, but ultimately unfounded in anything but speculation at this point.  Also, I’ll put up another post later on Ospin and where I believe he is.  Suffice it to say, I don’t believe he was captured by Salem.  As such, Salem was not addressing him as he stood right next to her (in captivity), but she is addressing him from a distance, as she seems to have done at the very beginning of Volume 1.  More on that will also be discussed later in the post on Ospin.  Finally, the ash could simply be a visual effect of Cinder’s powers, much like the rose petals that spawn around Ruby.  Why does Pyrrha actually disintegrate?  Well, Cinder just recently had become incredibly powerful.  It stands to reason that her abilities had been amplified to the point that they had such an effect on her target.

Ultimately, it’s a fairly well-constructed theory.  I would only be slightly surprised to find in Volume 4 that some or all of it is true.  However, I can’t really get behind it at this time – still a bit short on compelling evidence for me.

Issue #3) Jaune’s semblance will be revealed later in the show as a resurrection ability.  Then, he will raise Pyrrha from the dead.

I am still uncertain how anyone thinks this is plausible.  We’ve been given a few hints as to what Jaune’s semblance might be, but there has been literally nothing to suggest that he’ll be able to raise others from the dead. Plus, that would strike me as a bit of a deus ex machina on the part of the writers, which I don’t believe Kerry and Miles will stoop to.  I think there are a couple options as to what his semblance will be, but they will have to wait for a later post.  Suffice it to say, resurrection is not one of them.  Conclusion: This is the wishful thinking of die-hard Pyrrha fans who are desperately trying to convince themselves she’s not gone for good.

Issue #4) Why she died: Pyrrha’s death is a crucial plot point for RWBY character development.

I won’t go into much detail here since I plan on making this the topic of my next post, but this is one of the major reasons why I feel Pyrrha’s death was final.  It facilitates crucial change in many character arcs that I believe Monty Oum, Kerry, and Miles had in mind from the beginning of the show’s creation.  Obviously, this was a huge event in many of the character’s lives, and it’s going to lead to some serious change, especially for Jaune and Ruby.

Once again, as sad as I am to say it, I think Pyrrha is dead for good.

Whew, that got to be a rather long post!  Stay tuned, next time I’ll be back with a look at the effect Pyrrha’s death will have on the characters and the show as a whole.

What do you think?  Am I wrong? Or am I right?  Is Pyrrha actually dead?  Join the discussion, and let me know what you think is going on in Remnant as we await Volume 4!