Tag Archives: The Power of Stories

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 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!

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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!