“RWBY” returns, looking better than ever

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After a year of waiting, Rooster Teeth’s anime-inspired hit show “RWBY” is back. Now in its fourth volume, “RWBY” continues to balance out fights and dramatic scenes with moments of humor and good character work and animation that is much improved from previous volumes.

The basic plot feels like it’s straight out of a Japanese role-playing game. The world of Remnant is overrun by the creatures of Grimm, mindless monsters that live only to kill humans. In humanities’ defense are Huntsmen and Huntresses, trained warriors who use unusual weaponry, spectacular abilities and the mysterious substance known as Dust to drive the Grimm back and let civilization grow.

Fifteen-year-old Ruby Rose (Lindsay Jones) is a young, sweet, innocent Huntress in training, whose skills with her massive scythe/sniper rifle hybrid gets her into the esteemed Beacon Academy two years early. She is joined by her boisterous older sister, Yang Xiao Long (Barbara Dunkelman), spoiled but good-hearted heiress Weiss Schnee (Kara Eberle) and the enigmatic Blake Belladonna (Arryn Zech). Together they make team RWBY, and must learn to fight and get along as a group if they’re going to stop the rising evil forces that threaten to destroy their world.

The show was, and in many ways still is, a cheaply made, non-professional animation. As a result, the first few episodes were lackluster. Main characters mostly had the same model and face, with only outfits and hairstyles telling them apart. Scenery was sketched in broad strokes, and background characters were simple black silhouettes. Character’s voices didn’t always work either, as most voice actors were amateurs who hadn’t gotten their roles down yet.

But the show has noticeably improved as it’s gone on. Voice actors have grown into their characters, the plot has gotten tighter and the animation has steadily improved as the creative team has gotten their act together. 

This came to a head in the last volume, which saw a dramatic rise in the stakes of the show after a relatively low-key first two seasons. Beloved characters died, Beacon Academy was trashed beyond repair and the main characters were scattered across the world, each worse off than when they started.

Volume Four picks up a few months later. Ruby and her friends, all of which have new costumes and abilities, are still dealing with the fallout of the last volume. Each are facing their own personal demons while making new friends and reuniting with old ones. Meanwhile, the evil responsible for Beacon Academy’s fall has started to move again, setting its sights on another kingdom and on Ruby herself, who possesses a mysterious power that is now a threat to them.

At only two episodes so far, it’s still too early to tell if Volume Four will continue to live up to elevated expectations with its story and characters. We’ve only seen Ruby in her travels for answers and Weiss dealing with her distant family, while the other two protagonists haven’t appeared yet. The animation on the other hand has noticeably improved by leaps and bounds, with a new animation program that makes the characters and world look better than ever before. Characters have a greater range of both motion and emotion, and clothes and backgrounds have far more detail than they did in earlier seasons.

“RWBY’s” strong points have always been fun characters, good writing, spectacular fight scenes and an impressive original soundtrack and these things have only improved as the show has continued, with one exception. “RWBY” was originally the brainchild of the late Monty Oum, who was considered a wizard when it came to making fast-paced, intricate fights that ran solely on rule of cool. His tragic, unexpected death in 2015 meant the rest of the creative team had to struggle to take his place, not always with great success. While fights are still fun to watch, with each character having their own unique weapon, powers and fighting style, there’s a noticeable, if slight, dip in quality. This hasn’t been such a big problem this season so far, with its emphasis on character interaction, but might be an issue further down the line.

Some viewers might also be turned off by the very blatant anime influences in art style and presentation. The show looks like a computer-animated anime, complete with overly long, intricately animated opening credits, face-faults, sweat drops and other common tropes found in Japanese anime, to the point that it’s gotten a substantial Japanese fan-base and an official release there.

This next volume is still in it’s infancy, but so far appears to be taking what has been established and improving upon it, just like what “RWBY” has been doing all along.

“RWBY” airs on Saturdays on Rooster Teeth’s website for paid subscribers, and on Sunday for free subscribers. Everyone else will have to wait a week for it to be posted on YouTube.