Tuesday, May 12, 2015

RWBY Volume 1 and 2 in Retrospect

I've mentioned to folks in the past that RWBY often made me rage at the pacing of the show, the presentation of the characters, and their relationships to each other. I decided to re-watch both volumes back-to-back today since I had nothing else to do, and... I was actually surprised at how incorrect most of my complaints were. Do I still have complaints about RWBY? Yes, but most of the ones I used to have were very unjustified. In this post, I'm going to go through and debunk a lot of my old complaints with what I observed in this most recent viewing.

Complaint: The first two seasons have too little plot progression and can't decide which characters to focus on.

Actually, RWBY hasn't completed its first season yet. The two releases thus far have been volumes, and a typical season of anime (from which RWBY draws much inspiration) contains 3 volumes. Viewing volumes 1 and 2 as the first two-thirds of a season, they are actually paced exactly the way you would expect of this kind of show.

Complaint: Team JNPR gets way too much screen time compared to Team RWBY.

Actually, Team JNPR has less than half the screen time Team RWBY has, and much of it is actually shared with that team. Jaune in particular gets targeted with this criticism quite frequently, especially centered on the "Jaune gets bullied" arc. Cringe-worthy though that arc may have been, it's actually quite short, and prominently featured Pyrrha and Ruby throughout. Jaune is the focus, yes, but not to nearly the degree that the criticism makes him out to be.

Complaint: Jaune and Ruby should have been paired up as a couple or at least as very good friends.

This was a very particular nitpick I had since I previously felt there was little tying the two teams together to justify JNPR's screen time. In reality, Jaune and Ruby are portrayed as being very good friends, it's just that a lot of this happens in the "Jaune gets bullied" arc that a lot of folks instinctively skip. The truth is, Jaune and Ruby hit it off in the very second episode and remain quite close throughout the series.

It's actually very rare for the show to go more than about 20 minutes of screen time without these two having a moment. What was Jaune's first reaction when Ruby went to meet Yang in the auditorium? Disappointment that he'd have to wait to see her again. Who does he look to initially for support in the Emerald Forest? Ruby. Who did Ruby initially consider trying to team up with? Yang, Blake, or Jaune. Who was the first to say they were worried about Jaune being bullied? Ruby. Who was one of his closest confidants through that arc? Ruby. Who did Jaune immediately seek out at the dance when he was alone? Ruby. Who was the first person Ruby called for help from in Mountain Glen? Jaune. Not to mention many smaller moments between these. There is no reasonable argument for saying these two aren't close: Ruby and Jaune have been portrayed as being at least close friends from the very beginning. Being as they're the leaders of the two teams, of course the show is going to give team JNPR a fair amount of screen time: we need to know what Ruby's friend is doing for their moments together to have their full impact.

Complaint: Ruby is the main character, and we know almost nothing about her.

Are you kidding me? We know more about Ruby than perhaps any other character in the series. We learned almost her entire background in the very first episode, and almost the entire first half of Volume 1 is spent inside her head. Since then, we've seen how this has molded her as a person from the perspective of others, and we continue to see her grow as a character throughout. We even got a bit of bonus background when Yang tells Blake about their mothers. No other character has had anywhere near this much development. About the only thing we don't know for certain about her is exactly why she became a huntress, other than her mother having been one and her stating in the first episode that she "wants to help people," but even in that respect it's more information than we have about half of the cast.

Complaint: Team JNPR has more overall development than Team RWBY.

Again, this is completely false! The great majority of the show's screen time is spent on Team RWBY and fleshing out their characters. I paid attention, and we actually know next to nothing about Team JNPR: Pyrrha's famous, Nora and Ren are old friends, and Jaune's great-grandfather fought in "the war." Beyond that? Really nothing. They're the B-cast, when we do learn something about them it's always during a time when the A-cast is moving the plot along.

Contrast with our other characters: Again, we know more about Ruby than anyone else. We know quite a bit of Yang's story from her infodump with Blake and the campfire at Mountain Glen, and can infer other things from her actions; i.e. she is apparently quite popular, possibly a bit of a man-eater, a brilliant student (it's plainly stated that Beacon only accepts the best), etc. Weiss has stated that she grew up in a very strained environment, between her father's questionable actions and the White Fang killing or capturing family friends. Her initial demeanor, quick shift to being friendly, and short temper are, to me, tell-tale signs of someone who has never really been shown much kindness until now, and is overcompensating to try and hold onto that. Her occasional outbursts in Volume 2 show that despite being outwardly friendly, she is still very insecure and quick to revert back to lashing out at people.

Blake's character development got started rather late, only beginning at the end of Volume 1, but we quickly learn that she never really had a childhood to speak of, has spent most of her life being frustrated at everyone and everything, and is only now starting to come out of her shell. Yet, like Weiss, the change is far from drastic. Sure, she can bring herself to be sociable when she and her teammates are out doing something, but what happened right after the incident at the docks? She retreats into frustration and tries to solve everything herself. In this respect, she and Weiss are actually quite similar, if for opposite reasons.

In Conclusion

Yes, I still have some complaints. Team CFVY still burst onscreen a little too suddenly at the end for my tastes, Cinder should probably be playing a bit more active a role by now than she actually is, and Penny actually isn't onscreen enough in my opinion, considering how much Ruby's other friends appear onscreen. Overall, though? I'd say RWBY's plot progression and character development are actually moving along quite swimmingly so far. I think a lot of criticisms are not justified, and stem mainly from how the episodes were initially released in Volume 1 (which, admittedly, was one of the worst releases possible; 5-minute episodes once per week!?).