Out of the three available seasons, some of you will be pleased to know that after watching the third season (finally), I can safely say that Season 2 of RWBY was the worst one. I had a few complaints about the overabundance of exposition without being given a reason to care about it, and character development that seemed to go backwards instead of forwards. Season 3 may still not have been a perfect season, but its narrowed scope allowed me to actually care about the dangers befalling Beacon Academy and the students in attendance.
The previous season left us with excited conversations about the Vytal Festival, and that’s just where Season 3 picks up. With students from all four kingdoms and their respective academies, everyone is eager to show off their own strength and fight for the pride of their homes. While the RWBY crew is kicking butt, behind the shadows Cinder (the mysterious villain from last season) and her cronies, Mercury and Emerald, are pulling the strings towards an unknown purpose. Evildoing aside, this season introduces us to two new important characters: Winter Schnee, Weiss’s older sister who works for Ironwood, and Qrow Branwen, Ruby and Yang’s uncle. The two do not get along—Winter represents the militaristic sentiment of Ironwood and Qrow represents a more freeform vigilante version of a huntsman—and they cause a huge disturbance, but thanks to the festival, it’s easily forgotten by most.
As the Vytal Festival continues, student Pyrrha Nikos is summoned by Professor Ozpin, Gilda, Ironwood, and Qrow. Understandably she is confused and this confusion isn’t assuaged after Ozpin tells her why she is there. He explains that while some of the fairy tales around Remnant are false, many more of them are true. Especially the one about the seasons. The tale goes that four maidens spent a year taking care of an old man, and in return the old man gifted them with incredible powers. However, what essentially no one in Remnant knows is that these powers still exist in the body of four seasonal “maidens”. As you would expect, the maidens are heavily protected by the hunters and huntresses; however, the current Fall Maiden Amber was lethally wounded and is only being kept alive by machine. Ozpin wishes Pyrrha to inherit these in comparable powers, before they transfer to the one who attacked Amber (since the powers go to the girl who the Maiden thinks about before she dies).
Back at the tournament, strange things are happening: fellow Beacon combatant Coco reports seeing her teammate approaching her when he was already knocked out, and Yang is attacked by Mercury, but people only see Yang break Mercury’s legs with no reason of self-defense behind it. With Team RWBY disqualified from the tournament, Ruby takes to cheering on the other teams as Yang tries to understand what happened. She heads to the next match—between a still undecided Pyrrha and Penny—but feels something is amiss and heads into a maintenance hallway. It’s there she finds Mercury, who was supposed to have gone home to “heal” after his “leg getting broken”. Instead of explaining anything to her, he attacks her, and while Ruby doesn’t realize that it’s Emerald with her reality shifting powers that caused so much strife, she does realize that something is up. Yet, when she runs back out to the main stage to warn her friends, she finds that Pyrrha has already killed Penny—another victim of Emerald’s illusions.
It’s at this moment the feeds from the festival are hacked. Cinder starts speaking to the audience about how the kingdoms will lead everyone to war and sowing general distrust among everyone. It’s here that the White Fang, too, show up and begin dropping Grimm on Beacon and Vale. In a panic, everyone begins evacuating, but Ruby and the other students remain behind to try to protect what they can. While the students manage to put on a good show—Ruby even takes out Neo and the just-broken-out-of-jail Torchwick—Pyrrha is not in time to receive the Fall Maiden’s power. Instead, they all flow into Cinder: the one who attacked Amber in the first place, and who showed up to finish what she started, taking Pyrrha’s life in the process.
With the situation in Vale mostly under control, the season ends with Ruby heading out to the kingdom of Haven to continue unraveling Cinder’s plot, Weiss being escorted back to Atlas by her father, Blake missing, and Yang recovering in her bed from losing an arm. While things are still hopeful, nothing will ever be the same again.
While Season 3 introduced a lot of people from all the different kingdoms, it still didn’t really manage to separate them as a different culture than Vale, but I can let this slide here, since there was a lot going on and not really ample time to get into it. However. If, during Ruby’s travels, we don’t get to see any differences in culture or language or anything like that, that is inexcusable. Still, I was glad to see that there was a lot more racial diversity in the Vytal Festival, and that everyone was equally as competent as the next person. I still hope, though, that in Season 4 we’ll get to see more characters of color in larger roles that “that dude that had that one battle and lost”.
Another step up from the last season was that Season 3 focused very little, if at all, on romance, and especially not any worthless love triangles. While, arguably, the flirting between Sun and Blake is cute crush material, the series is getting me excited by setting up Yang as the love interest for Blake (or at least to my thirst for a non-hetero ship in this show). Where romance was truly explored in this season was the reveal that Adam, the leader of the White Fang, was Blake’s lover, and that he is, and probably was, very abusive. Blake alludes to this earlier in the season after Yang is disqualified for attacking Mercury. She asks Yang to tell her to her face that she didn’t attack Mercury out of cruelty—that she wants to believe that Yang wouldn’t do something like that, but her previous experiences with someone who changed into a person who would absolutely do that leave her uncertain and afraid. While Blake does end up trusting Yang, it becomes obvious that Adam was this person who affected her so much. She is immediately terrified of him, and he uses lines like “why must you hurt me” when she tries to get away from him. It’s Yang who comes in and tries to protect Blake, quickly losing her arm for the attempt. And now it’s Blake who must win back Yang’s trust after leaving her to her fate alone, in this scary new world where she feels she can no longer punch things to protect herself. I truly look forward to seeing this part of their relationship develop, and even more to Adam getting completely and utterly destroyed.
I also wasn’t expecting this season to give the audience examples of capable fighters who have all lost appendages. While Yang will probably spend much of Season 4 trying to learn how to adapt after losing her arm, Season 3 revealed that Mercury’s legs are actually both mechanical. Additionally, half of Ironwood’s body is metal prosthetics. Furthermore, I hope RWBY continues to add characters like Neo, who was mute: it would be great to see characters who also happened to be blind and Deaf still kicking a bunch of ass.
It seems that finally in Season 3, the RWBY writers hit their stride. What I thought was going to be a tedious, boring season of fights that didn’t really matter to the plot at large ended up being a soul-crushing expose of “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. And while some of the deaths didn’t feel as impactful as they should have (Neo and Torchwick), the season as a whole finally did what I wanted the show to do all along: give me a reason to care. Even though my favorite character is now dead and I will never forgive the writers for this wrong they have committed, I’m truly excited to see what happens in the next season!