In my corner of the internet, it’s difficult to avoid mentions of RWBY. The webshow just finished up its third season, and understandably fans were exploding with all the feelings that usually come with an intense finale. However, something about this time actually prompted me to go check out what all the fuss was about—something big happened, and despite not being in the fandom, I wanted to know. So, being the rational person I am, I skipped right to the last two episodes of Season 3, spoiling everything for myself and saying “fuck it” to character arcs. Yet it was thanks to that impulsiveness that I finally decided to sit down and watch the show in its entirety. While I know that people love the characters, the general consensus in the parts of fandom that I see is that the show itself isn’t written very well. So, going into the episodes proper, I wasn’t exactly expecting much. And what did I get? Something charmingly imperfect, and better than I was led to believe.
Moe essentially did a synopsis of Season 1 (and part of Season 2) in her post here, but I’ll go over it again for simplicity’s sake. We follow titular character Ruby Rose—fifteen and perky as can be. All her life she’s been reading and hearing the tales that float around the country of Vale, and because of that she has no greater wish than to become a Huntress and protect people from the creatures of darkness (called Grimm). With help from her uncle and her indomitable spirit, her fighting has progressed to a level far beyond others of her age. So when the store she’s shopping at is robbed, it takes very little for her to start decimating the thieves. However, she’s soon put out of her league when Roman Torchwick, criminal extraordinaire, shows his face and brings in his fancy aircrafts. Ruby is supported and saved by Glynda Goodwitch, and while Glynda doesn’t stop Torchwick from getting away, she brings Ruby to the immediate attention of Ozpin. Ruby is thrilled to see Ozpin, as he’s the headmaster of Beacon Academy—where all young Hunters and Huntresses go to train (it’s like high school). She’s even more delighted when he offers her a spot at his school, which she of course accepts.
Despite now attending Beacon with her sister, Yang Xiao Long, Ruby has a difficult time making friends and fitting in. She does end up making friends with Jaune Arc—a boy who tries to get by on fake confidence, but is really a huge nerd—but also ends up making fast enemies with Weiss Schnee, the heiress to a huge corporation. Ruby has little time to work on her friendship, though, as not long after arrival the students are made to pick their partners that they’ll spend the rest of their time at Beacon with. And by “pick” I mean “are slingshotted into the Grimm-filled woods and forced to partner with the first person they make eye contact with.” Though Ruby does her best to find Yang—or Blake, a quiet bookworm she met earlier—she ends up running into Weiss first. While they end up accepting their partnership, immediately the two suffer from a lack of communication and bumble around until they decide to put their pride aside and work together. Eventually, teams of four are made, and Ruby ends up in the aptly named Team RWBY with her partner Weiss, along with Yang, who managed to partner with Blake.
The rest of the season focuses on building the tension not between the girls, but between the Faunus and the humans. For a long time, the Faunus—humans with animal features—have been subjugated by humanity, and while there has always been protest against this, now the Faunus can fight back via a group called the White Fang. While the White Fang used to be a peaceful protest group, in recent years they’ve taken to fighting back literally, taking the lives of many. There seems to be discord among the Faunus as to whether the White Fang are doing any actual good, and when Blake is revealed to be a Faunus who used to be a part of the White Fang in the last episodes, she even sadly states that despite the brutal methods, more people than ever have started to treat Faunus equally. However, it’s out of fear rather than respect. And with people like Torchwick using the White Fang seemingly for his own nefarious gains, the audience is left wondering if the Faunus really have broken free of their subjugation as much as they think they have.
Honestly, I’m surprised at how much happened in this first season; I tried to condense the summary as much as I could and it still feels too long. For a show about high school fighters, RWBY has a lot of meat to it. A lot. So much so that it felt like when the writers had to decide between lore building things and character building things, they usually ended up with character building. This isn’t a complaint (it’s a character-driven show, so obviously that should have the most importance), but I did find myself getting a little frustrated at the lack of explanation of the magic system in the RWBY-verse. Dust is the physical manifestation of magic, but why is it crystallized and how do people use it? Semblances are a more temporal/spacial manipulation of magic (as opposed to Dust’s elemental properties) as seen by Ruby’s superhuman speed and Pyrrha’s manipulation of probability, but nothing is really explained about why semblances work the way they do or how they come about. Maybe the second season will go further in depth—I hope so.
I think one of the biggest point of confusion for me going into this was that I didn’t know what age group the show was for, so I didn’t know how to assess the writing or presentation. The trailers leading up to the premiere seemed darker in tone, more serious. However, now having watched the first season, while RWBY does have its darker points, it’s definitely a show written more for younger teens than ages twenty and up. While it may somewhat contradict the trailers, it makes the light-hearted tone a lot more enjoyable, and I think it’s important to have a show like this for younger teens since it focuses so much on friendships and becoming the best you you can be.
I wholeheartedly agree with Moe’s assessment of the main cast: everyone is portrayed in such an interesting, differentiated way that you forget that shitty stereotypes are even a thing. I’m pleased to say that this focus extends to even the supporting cast (who honestly captured my heart more than the main four). For the first season, the supporting cast is mostly team JNPR, who aren’t foils to team RWBY so much as, well, supporters. My surprise favorite of the crew is Pyrrah, who Weiss presents as “the perfect teammate” after trying to partner with her. Before attending Beacon, Pyrrah has made herself a household name by winning several tournaments and getting her face on the front of a cereal box; however, Pyrrah doesn’t hold herself above anyone else at Beacon. In fact, she’s kind of a huge nerd who loves helping people, stands up for what’s just, and is trying to just be a part of something instead of being kept on that pedestal. This is shown especially through her interactions with Jaune. No one really understands why she chooses weakling Jaune to be her partner, but she sees through his lady-killer facade to his insecurities and tries to get him to be the best he can be. And he’s allowed to go at his own pace, which is a great message to send.
The other members, Ren and Nora, have been friends for what seems like forever. Glenda makes the remark that she feels sorry for Ren having ended up as a partner with Nora since they’re so different—Ren is quiet and subdued while Nora is like Ruby, but about five hundred times more hyper and willing to jump into dangerous situations for shits and giggles. Instead of working against their differences, the two embrace them, becoming one of the strongest pairs in the beginning. Nora is never belittled for her excitement and overzealousness, while Ren is never told to “break out of his shell” or “live a little” simply because he’s more reserved. And while Moe already spoke about Jaune, I have to mention that I love how his character openly recognized that pulling the whole macho shtick was ultimately harmful to himself and his team. By rejecting this toxic masculine image he thought he had to live up to, he’s on the way to becoming a better person and a better warrior.
Mechanically speaking, the pacing of the show is a little weird sometimes, and a couple of jokes are out of place and kind of tone deaf, but these are problems that any first season of a show is susceptible to. The voice acting is, admittedly, a little hit or miss, and if you know the people from Rooster Teeth, it’s impossible to not hear them (Yang is basically VA Barbara Dunkelman’s normal voice). However, I’m really looking forward to marathoning the second season! If you’re following along at home, or have already watched the series, feel free to drop me a line in the comments!