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Saturday, 1 November 2014

RWBY Series 2.

Today's review isn't spooky, unfortunately, but here's the last of the spooky archive reviews, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Series 2.

RWBY, now having just finished its second series, is an indie web animation series telling the story of Ruby Rose, a young woman who attends Beacon Academy, where teenagers are trained to hunt soulless monsters, along with her teammates, rich girl Weiss, enigmatic Blake, and enthusiastic bruiser Yang. Having discovered an alliance between crime boss Roman Torchwick and revolutionary group the White Fang at the end of series 1, series 2 sees Ruby preparing for an inter-school tournament while trying to figure out what Roman is planning. Meanwhile, Roman's benefactor, mysterious witch Cinder, has infiltrated the school with her two cohorts. 

It seems like only yesterday that I reviewed RWBY Series 1, not least because it genuinely can't be more than a month ago. When I reviewed it did not match up especially well with when it ended, to say the least. 

My review could basically be summed up with 'it's not professional quality, but then, it's an indie production, what were you expecting, and there were marked improvements over the course of the series.' I went into series 2 expecting more of the same, with maybe a few improvements. 

Well, colour me pleasantly surprised. 

Like this.

Firstly, the amount of content has increased by a lot. The first series had more episodes - sixteen to the second series twelve - but they were a lot shorter and more inconsistent in length, and it totalled out at about a hundred minutes of content compared to the second series' roughly hundred-and-fifty minutes. This is a pretty big increase, especially when you consider that a series like Legend of Korra has about two-hundred-and-forty to two-hundred-and-sixty minutes of content a series, and that if RWBY undergoes a similar content increase between series two and series three, then the third series will level out at about two-hundred-and-twenty-five minutes, nearly professional standard. 

Seriously, that's some pretty animation.

Secondly, the animation has also drastically improved. The first series was very bare bones in its animation, replacing all background characters with silhouettes and having the quite simplistically rendered characters often either engaging in a limited array of actions, or being replaced entirely with two-dimensional sprites for short sequences. In the second series, both silhouettes and 2D sprites were gone entirely, which is no mean feat considering that not only is there more content to animate, as established above, but also more characters, with the cast having increased by no less than twelve characters - and for the characters already present, six alternate outfits.

(The addition of more characters is either a calculated decision or a happy accident. I drew a comparison between RWBY and Bleach in the last review, in that both draw a considerable amount of their intrigue from the mystery of what various characters' weapons and abilities are, and that's an angle which is only strengthened by a large and varied cast.)

Coco is a particularly good new addition.

Thirdly, we do see some improvements in voice acting and music. Neither were terrible in the first series, although the voice acting definitely had its moments, but they're more consistent this series and we do see a few changes for the better, so that's always nice.

All of which will fall absolutely flat if the series doesn't succeed at telling much of a story. The first series did a wonderful job of setting up the world, but it was very much the first chunk of a larger story, and it stopped rather abruptly in that regard. This series seems more balanced - it has a beginning, a middle, and an end of ... sorts, although it still feels less like a self-contained story (and even a series which is part of a longer story should be somewhat self-contained) and more like somebody just cut off a chunk of that story section, causing it to come to a screeching halt. 

We get a few old staples of the genre in this series too, like the school-dance-that-goes-wrong episode, and the teacher-reveals-hidden-depths episode, and the all-out-battle-against-monsters episode. By 'the genre', I mean the 'magical school' genre, which is completely a genre in its own right, and I will fight anybody who says otherwise. It's always nice to see those old staples again - they're cliches, but they're cliches for a reason, that reason being that they provide a lot of opportunity for dramatic moments and character development within a fairly loose and adaptable framework, and those are not bad things.

Oh, hey, Oobleck.

Once again, the series really shines during its fight scene. There are a fair few this series, certainly more than in the first series, which is a plus, even if some of them are better than others: The fight scene in the last episode was awkwardly paced and in sections very oddly animated, while the one in the episode previous was nearly perfect. 

So, overall, there's room for improvement, and as before, if this wasn't an indie series, I might be a little harsher in my review of it. It is, however, rapidly catching up with its professional brethren, and by series 3 or 4 could potentially be on par with them, which would be a massive deal. It has already become one of the first Western cartoon series to be licensed in Japan, which is fairly astounding.

RWBY can be found on Crunchyroll or on the Rooster Teeth website, and it's free both places. If you're interested, I urge you to watch on one of those two sites, and in so doing support independent content creators and, with luck, fuel an even better third series. 

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