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