While Season 1 of RWBY held all the untapped interest for me that a show could possibly have, Season 2 faced the problem of me already knowing a lot of the things that happened in it—for worse or… mostly worse. While many of the pacing problems from the first season seem to have been worked out, the second season faces the typical problem of many intermediary parts of other stories. There was too much to set up in not enough time, and not enough reasons to really care about everything that was happening. Yet despite itself, Season 2 still managed to introduce some important aspects to the Remnant’s universe and some really cool villains, in addition to some (very) small moves towards more diversity.
In fact, Season 2 starts by introducing us to two of our new villains: Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black. The two take the initiative to “remove” one of the defectors of the White Fang, which is met with frustration by Torchwick since he was supposed to go take care of it. However, it’s clear that Emerald and Mercury don’t answer to him. Rather, their leader is a mysterious young woman with glowing eyes (who remains nameless for the entire season). Torchwick immediately backs down, and the three others leave him to fuss over all the dust he stole from the previous season.
Back to Beacon Academy, tensions are building among Ozpin’s inner circle as newcomer James Ironwood—who is also the military leader of the bordering country of Atlas, and the headmaster of Atlas Academy—begins to question Ozpin’s techniques. Ironwood is convinced that a war is on the horizon and tries to stop this from happening by filling Vale with his robot guardsmen (and bringing in a bunch of warships). Glenda is furious with Ironwood for essentially constantly showing off the size of his military dick, and becomes frustrated when Ironwood refuses to trust that Ozpin knows what he’s doing. Apparently Ozpin has some knowledge that the other two do not, but Ozpin neither reveals what this is, nor harshly chastises Ironwood for his brashness.
The students, on the other hand, are preparing for the Vytal Festival: an event where all the academies for hunters/huntresses get together and participate in a fighting tournament. Given the events of the last season, though, Blake finds it difficult to rest knowing that the White Fang are up to something big. Eventually, team RWBY (along with Sun Wukong and his friend Neptune) set out to investigate possible leads on the White Fang. While they don’t discover much about the group itself, they find out that Torchwick has nabbed one of Ironwood’s high tech battle mechs and knows how to use it. After putting it out of commission, Blake is more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the plans of the White Fang. Ruby soon brings additional information during a school dance, when she sneaks out to a communications tower and catches the mysterious woman from earlier doing something with Beacon’s computer network. While the group manages to dismantle one White Fang plot, the season ends with none of the antagonists dealt with, and the leader of the White Fang ominously showing his face for the first time.
Funnily enough, my growing problem with RWBY was brought up in one of the earlier episodes of the season when someone brings up Remnant’s “diverse culture”. I had to laugh to myself a bit, honestly. While the world of RWBY is undoubtedly diverse, the writers really haven’t done anything to show us this yet. There are the faunus, but outside of the masked and uniform-looking White Fang, we’ve only seen three of them thus far (Blake, Sun, and Velvet). And certainly there are students and regular townsfolk of many ethnicities—Yang is probably Chinese, while Ruby herself is potentially biracial, and Ren is undoubtedly Japanese—but with the introduction of Emerald, that brings our count of darker skinned not background characters up to a stunning five, and only two of them (Sun and Emerald) play any meaningful role in the story. They say that Remnant has a diverse culture, but I’m not really seeing it. Even if this universe is displaced from ours and there’s no direct analogy to the numerous cultures of Earth, it’s still worrying to not even see simple differences between the various countries. There’s no difference of language, no variation in clothing styles, nothing that would distinctly separate someone living in Vale from someone living in Atlas. (Sun makes an offhand comment that people from his country of Vacuo don’t really go for fancy clothes, but that’s really slim pickings.) Hopefully once the Vytal Festival starts, some of this diversity will become more apparent.
Another downfall of this season was how much of it was spent on the unnecessary love triangle between Weiss, Jaune, and Neptune. Listen, I like Jaune, but having him pursue Weiss over and over again even after she said “no” is annoying to watch, not to mention playing too hard into the sexist dating norms already perpetuated by other media. Having other people tell him that he just has to try harder to get her to like him is insulting and a bad lesson. It’s a show about high schoolers, so inevitably relationship drama is going to come up, but having Jaune’s entire arc this season be entirely about this was really unfair to where his character seemed to be going after Season 1. At least RWBY didn’t go with the tired ‘nice guy’ trope—Weiss never had a change of heart in which she realized Jaune was a nice guy, and she didn’t go to the dance with him.
As far as most of the other characters go, this season seemed too focused on setting up political struggles between Ozpin and Ironwood, in addition to focusing on the plots put into motion by Emerald and Mercury, to actually focus on any character growth for the good guys. Ruby herself remained completely stagnant, and her teammates each had very limited moments of self-reflection. Yang and Blake managed to have a scene where Yang talked about desperately wanting to know who her mother was and why she left her, but outside of that it all seemed very “tell, don’t show”-y. Undoubtedly Season 3 will be better in this regard, knowing what I already do about it.
While Season 2 manages to stay right above “filler” territory, it was difficult to see how all the pieces RWBY’s writers laid out were going to fit together when all the characters doing something were mysterious, and planning for a future that wasn’t shown. This wasn’t suspenseful—it was frustrating. I know I’m supposed to care, and I do, but it all seems so removed from what the main cast is doing that it’s hard to marry the two back together. With tensions rising to such a level, events will come to a head in Season 3; there’s no avoiding that. But I worry that without a personal connection to the main cast outside of “bad things are happening that we must stop”, the impact will fall short of where it should have. Knowing the finale already, and that I was adequately moved, I wonder if knowing the events leading up to it will actually diminish the feelings I used to have. I can only hope that the writers spend the first part of the next season weaving Team RWBY back into things, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.