Directed by Kenjirou Okada & Toshimasa Suzuki
Produced by Shaft
Streaming on Crunchyroll
If you were on the internet in 2013 and ’14, it was impossible to not be at least passingly familiar with RWBY. I’m not a fan, and considering the amount I’ve heard about the series, I know surprisingly little about it. Despite being all the rage with my online friends at the time, nothing piqued my interest.
I had a general idea of the story, its color-coded protagonists, and how well it was loved in spite of its…shall we say, rough presentation. I won’t ever tell someone not to watch a show because the animation is bad, but personally, it’s too important to neglect. Animation is a visual medium, and there’s so many anime out there that have phenomenal writing and presentation, and I’d rather spend my time watching those.
But that was all going to change. RWBY got its own anime adaptation from Shaft and the director of March Comes in Like a Lion, even sound design by Jin Aketagawa. I had a lot of reasons to get excited about this, and that first episode was absolutely…okay. I was thoroughly whelmed. Okay, no problem it’s a slow start, that can work, let’s try the second episode and…what happened?
Even after cautiously tailoring my expectations, RWBY did not manage to live up to a rather low bar. In fact, it impressed me by boasting one of the sharpest declines in quality between a first and second episode I’ve seen since The Detective is Already Dead. That alone makes it worthy of a proper breakdown, so let’s just get into it.
As I briefly touched upon, RWBY began as an animated series for Rooster Teeth, created by Monty Oum, where its 3D animation was hard on the eyes. The series is still ongoing, gearing up for a ninth season, but that first season absolutely blew up. Like, for someone getting into anime and animation at that time, RWBY got thrown around in the same breath as Death Note and Sword Art Online as the mega-hits you had to watch.
The series follows four girls as they seek to become Huntresses who valiantly defend humanity from the monstrous Grimm. The title is derived from the heroines’ names: Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, who sport the colors red, white, black and yellow. Okay, I’ve seen Power Rangers, I get the gist.
The first episode is all about introducing you to each character as we gear up for the
Hunter Exam Huntress academy entrance exam. The script writer has a tall order; we need to get a feel for each of the characters, sow the seeds for the interpersonal conflicts that will arise as they begin to work together, and throw in an obligatory action scene for each of them. This is Shaft after all, so we should expect some flexing on the animation, right?
Yes, but mark that with an asterisk. I’m struggling to find the words here, because it’s rare to see an anime that seems so confused about how to distribute its production values.
The dialogue scenes, particularly in the first episode, employ some creative direction. Rather than a simple back-and-forth, there’s a lot going on in the way that such simple scenes are rendered, and the directors are taking full advantage of the camera in a way that only animation can manage. In the action scenes, though, the camera is steady and follows the battles intently, as if proudly proclaiming that they don’t need camera tricks or pretensions to spruce up the fights.
Make no mistake about it, the fights can be genuinely harrowing, but we’ll come back to that. Outside of the action, the backgrounds can be vibrant and intricately detailed, or so plain and rudimentary that it looks like they submitted the rough draft for broadcast. The characters can be expressive and snappy, or they can be choppy off-model disasters.
How do you wrap your head around a show that looks great some of the time and terrible the rest? I don’t want to say they should have skimped on the fights, but the jump from gorgeously rendered battles to the characters looking like cardboard cutouts when the dust settles is jarring. I’d prefer the visuals be consistent, rather than going all or nothing.
And the second episode drops off hard. If the first episode had shaky moments, then the second was an earthquake. It makes it worse that Crunchyroll aired the first three episodes as a single hour-long block, only emphasizing the stark drop in quality.
But hey, RWBY has survived shoddy presentation since the beginning; it’s all about the story and characters! So, that has to mean the writing saves it, right? I think you already know the answer.
I’m more than willing to cut an anime slack on its visuals if the writing is good. The problem is that I have no clue how everyone got so invested in RWBY in the first place if it looks like garbage and the story’s just Hunter X Hunter but also nowhere near as good.
The main problem is that we have four main characters who all have to share a small amount of screen time. Nobody gets a second to establish their personalities except maybe Ruby, and that’s bare bones. When the fights look good, I can turn my brain off and just appreciate the visuals, but there’s otherwise nothing going on here.
Weiss wants to be a Huntress in spite of her father’s wishes, so he subjects her to impossible tests to discourage her. Great, but as her sister says, he agreed to let her go in the first place if she succeeded, rather than just telling her flat out no. He’s not overly concerned about her well-being, judging by the giant monster he makes her fight, and he’s not domineering enough to go back on his word, so I don’t know what purpose his resistance serves at all. Oh, just to make a cool fight happen?
Blake shows up initially as part of a terrorist group who quits when she finds out that they were going to kill people. Sorry? I mean, not to endorse terrorism, but why did you sign up with extremists if you are not one? It might have been interesting if we were shown that Blake has firm beliefs and motives, but they never give that impression and all I learned about her was that she doesn’t want to kill people. So, we’re two for two on empty action scenes that don’t mean anything.
Ruby and Yang are just unremarkable. Yang is a basic older sister type, and Ruby’s a sort of genki girl, not realizing the store she’s in is getting robbed because she’s listening to her headphones, but like every other piece of character writing here, it’s half-baked. Her action scene is the most artificial, fighting these random petty thugs that happened to show up where she could demonstrate her skills. Wow, RWBY is batting a thousand on meaningless fight scenes that don’t add anything to the plot!
Maybe I’m doomed to not understand the hype around RWBY. I considered checking out the original series to see if they missed something crucial in the anime, but I have to admit that what little interest I had before has faded into nothing. It wasn’t enough to grab my attention a decade ago, and with what mediocre efforts have been put towards it now, it still hasn’t.
If you want the best possible RWBY viewing experience, just watch the fight scenes and turn on a Linkin Park song so you can pretend it’s a cool AMV. With that, RWBY: Ice Queendom has earned an unenviable Mediocre Boring.
This isn’t how I wanted to start the summer season, but shame on me for thinking that this would be a nice way to kick things off. I guess now is the time to tell you I’m taking it easy this season, at least for my standards. I might review some of our returning anime, assuming they give me a reason to talk about them, and you know I’ll always go to bat for Danmachi.
I’m actually looking forward to the reviews for new anime I’ve got lined up, though, so look out for those recommendations. You can follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress to get notified when those go live, or on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talk about all the anime I’m watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.
|Mediocre||RWBY: Ice Queendom|