Every object can double as a gun. Even a desk lamp.
Monty Oum, creator of the Dead Fantasy fan videos, has with Rooster Teeth created a new animated web series, written and directed by aspiring animators, writers, and actors. The series name RWBY is touted as an “American anime”, but what does this really mean? Let’s dig in!
Honestly, RWBY is a mixed bag for me. After watching the trailers, especially the Red trailer featuring Ruby, I think I was as hyped as anyone. There was an aesthetic 3-way pileup of a cyberpunk, Touhou, and Vocaloid while doused in Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The Red trailer had Ruby wielding a most badass gun-scythe dispatching shadow wolves as a stoic hunter who gives her prey no quarter. I was captivated at first sight as this Red Riding Hood shot and slashed her way through the wolves. Things looked very cool through the trailers but the actual release was where the rubber met the road.
The animation is rather decent. The models do have an alright amount of detail, and it looks on par with a smaller production. There are hiccups since all background characters are mere silhouettes; this reminded me of NPCs in a bad game made by Idea Factory or Compile Heart. The models remind me frequently of a Miku Miku Dance video, so the animation looks more awkward during “typical-anime-reaction-cue.” But again, we’re not expecting Little Witch Academia as far as production value goes. Adding more on the positive end of the production, the soundtrack is legitimately impressive, and I have no qualms with it. It’s very memorable and still worth a listen. And since it is Monty Oum, the fight scenes are impressively choreographed.
Now about the story, we have a very typical shonen-esque deal. World used to be in darkness, powers of light come forth to drive it back using some kind of limited mana power, there’s a battle school for young people with cool weapons to train, and our group of heroes assemble by fate to stop the returning darkness. It’s very cut and dry. I mean, I can’t really count how many battle-school scenarios I’ve seen before or what sets it apart. The times where Ruby has an amazingly cool moment are shot down by some “insert ‘anime-type’ shenanigan here” moment. So unlike Soul Eater, which uses its darker and pseudo dark moments to augment its zaniness and silliness, the comic relief is more at odds with the serious portions.
The characters themselves are also a bit problematic. The acting is very hit-or-miss in conveying emotion or establishing the heroines motivations at times, so some lines feel wooden or lack context. But the casting itself isn’t too bad at all. Characterization is a little all over the place. For example, I would not have pegged the quirky Ruby to be the shy loner type who talks to weapons more than people when she was talking perfectly fine to important Beacon Academy faculty in episode one. Ruby even has the guts to approach Blake and capture her interest. Jaune, aka the class dork that is the inevitable love interest, cues his first appearance as a nice guy who can barely talk to any chick except our supposedly anti-social Ruby. However, in episode four, he goes full douche on Weiss and Pyrrah in a way that’s still jarring even after the justification was given.
Right now the web series is still kind of lacking. I can excuse the animation because of the aforementioned point, but since this is neither fanservice a la crossover Dead Fantasy videos or just a bunch of fight scenes, the writing and story need more attention. If the writers put some extra “omph” into their craft, I’d say the series could rise up as an “American anime” instead of the same core premise we’ve seen before. The series doesn’t do much besides toss a bunch of standard archetypes around; what it really needs is some deeper themes or twists to the droll formulas.
Soul Eater has its themes of madness and synchronizing one’s soul. Blue Exorcist has its premise of the main character being the prince of Hell enrolled in an academy to exterminate his own kind. Even though this setup has been seen before, it’s not a bad one. It just lacks focus, which exposes the problem with making an “American anime.”
If I wanted to “make anime,” I’d quite honestly start by discarding that notion altogether. Why? Because if it’s to be considered “an anime,” it somehow requires certain plot elements, jokes, and character archetypes. Unfortunately, the process is all backwards because you certainly don’t write a good drama by checking off “evil twin, sudden illness, mandatory Korean military training, etc.” The original inspirations and themes of the story should be what’s put at the forefront. Case-in-point.
In Panty and Stocking, Gainax wanted to make “a cartoon.” Gainax took what they loved about American cartoons and laid it around what was legitimately good humor of the western style. They molded the bits and pieces to agree with the story and jokes, not the other way around. If the writers focused on refining the battle school story and the overall narrative, they could fit in and trim what “typical anime things” they liked into the story instead of stitching them together.
At the end of the day, I’m not seeing anything so special in the “anime-esque,” but I do see potential to execute a good story, especially with those character designs, fight scenes, and that soundtrack. There is always potential in investing in young talent, but it needs a real push to evolve into something greater and become what it’s striving to be. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching, but if it picks up then I’ll see. At least the gun-scythe is cool, right? Join me next time when I juggle Materia.