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Thursday, 17 July 2014

RWBY (Series 1)

RWBY (Series 1).

There's a large segment of the internet that let out a collective gasp of joy at the announcement of RWBY approximately a year and a half or so ago (very approximately). It had snow, and music, and fairytale themes, and anime designs and transforming weapons and female protagonists and Monty Oum, creator of fan favourite web animations Dead Fantasy. It was as if the sky had opened and a choir of angels had descended, clasping amidst their fingers the promise of an epic series that would change the face of animation forever while still, at the same time, catering to everything people liked about the face of animation they already had.

I also think a lot of that segment of the internet then proceeded to set their expectations gigantically too high in spite of common sense suggesting otherwise. “Hwhy?!” They cried when the first few episodes came out, and yes, that 'h' is intentional, it's meant to suggest a gargling nasal noise. “Hwhy are the episodes so short? Hwhy does the animation cut corners? Hwhere is the cameo by actor of stage and screen Sir Patrick Stewart?!”

It's as if they forgot that, while the trailers were beautiful, Rooster Teeth is a small indie company with very few people working for it and not a gargantuan amount of funds, time, or energy to throw at RWBY. Or, I say that, I mean 'not as gargantuan as a massive corporation', as what they produced is still miles beyond anything I can do (less importantly) or anything that had really been done in web animation before (more importantly).

Anyway. RWBY tells the story of Ruby, a young girl who, after fending off a gang of criminals with her scythe-slash-sniper-rifle, gets inducted into Beacon Academy, a school for training huntsmen and huntresses, specialised hunters who take on the soulless creatures of Grim. Which is – basically it. It is snippets of her time at the school: Making friends with shy, retiring student Jaune Arc; joining a team with frosty rich girl Weiss, mysterious Blake, and her own sister Yang; doing trials, attending lessons, all that jazz. There isn't really an overarching plot for the series as much as there is a premise.

Will you two on the left pay attention, please.

(It's worth noting at this point that Series 2 is coming out later this month, and seems likely to be plot heavier than Series 1. Whether that turns out to be the case, we will see, but I think a lot of people will be quite happy either way.)

Which is not really a criticism, plenty of episodic series work just fine on that principle. If I were going to criticise that plot, I'd say it's not massively original, because it's – well, it's not, and that's worth mentioning. It is half a dozen anime, books, and films. It is a very done plot. Which has not at all stopped it from capturing the imagination of a not inconsiderable group of fans – the fact that it was doing extraordinarily well on anime site Crunchyroll, competing on an even level with giants like Free! Iwatobi Swim Club and Attack on Titan is proof of that, as is the masses of fanfiction and fanart depicting both the canonical characters and original characters set in the same universe.

Another criticism, one which seemed to cause quite a stir amongst its fanbase, is that the episodes are very inconsistent in length. I'm not going to protest the shortness, I think that'd be churlish (and hypocritical besides, after talking about how Rooster Teeth has a limited budget). I will protest the lack of uniformity, that people could tune in one week and get a fifteen minute episode, and tune in the next and get a four minute episode.

(Again, it's worth noting here that Series 2 will, in fact, have episodes of a uniform length.)

Nice cloak.

A third criticism I saw but don't really hold with is that the voice acting is bad. Which – okay, um. I watched the Yang trailer. When I rewatched it, I meticulously skipped the parts with voice acting because they were horrifying and it was like something out of Garo and I kept expecting the voices to take my soul and devour them. I watched the series with the preparation of cringing, and sometimes I did. That having been said, the voice acting is, on the whole, not bad. Not Shakespeare, for the most part, but certainly no worse than a lot of professional voice acting. The voice actors all emote, with varying amounts of sublety. They all more than adequately portray their characters. It's a little cartoonish (which is an odd pejorative to apply to … a … cartoon … Wow, I'm suffering from some massive cognitive dissonance), yes, but not distractingly so. It also noticeably improves over the course of the series. They're not all Tom Hiddleston by the end, but there is a distinct improvement.

(Some voice actors stand out as being good from the start. Monty Oum himself as Lie Ren springs to mind.)

Also, he has dual knifeguns, which is nice.

It's not poorly written either, with some really good lines.

Where the series really shines is its fight scenes, though. As far as animation goes, non fight scene situations are often – not lacklustre, but cutting a few corners, such as having food vanish into people's mouths, and having background characters be literal human shaped clumps of darkness. But the fight scenes are fast paced, frenetic, well choreographed (er – okay, you know what I mean, no choreography is actually involved, I mean very well … very well … you know what I mean, guys) and beautiful to look at. It's only made better by the interesting variety of weapons. Amongst the main cast's armaments are the scythe-slash-sniper-rifle, a magical rapier, fist-gauntlet-shotguns, a grenade-launcher-hammer, a flintlock-pistol-nunchucks-bo-staff, a sword and shield, a spear-hunting-rifle-sword-and-shield, a mace, a dozen swords-on-strings, and perhaps most bizarre of all, a one-sword-dual-swords-uzi-whip. Every character is unique in how they fight, and every fight scene sets out to show off just how unique they are.

('Every character has a unique fighting style, oooh, what are they all' is a formula that has worked well for anime before. Bleach owes at least 70% of its popularity to the utter obsession of its fandom with finding out what each character's respective abilities are.)


If it was a series made by a massive corporation with money to spare, this review might be harsher, but it'd probably still be a mostly positive one. I enjoyed this series. In all of its clich̩ ridiculousness, I did genuinely enjoy it, I had fun tuning in every week, and I'm looking forward to the second series. It's not high art Рthe creators wouldn't claim it is, I think Рbut it's so much fun. Also, completely free to watch, which can cover a multitude of sins, since you are by definition always getting something better than what you paid for.

It can be found on Crunchyroll or on the Rooster Teeth website. Probably elsewhere too, but if you're going to watch it, just – just watch it on one of those two sites. It costs you nothing but benefits the creators and furthers the cause of indie web animation. 

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