It’s still a contentious issue whether RWBY belongs in the annals of anime or if it’s a case of cultural appropriation, but the world of Remnant has been accepted by otaku in the US, here in Blighty and even in Japan.
Production company Rooster Teeth, who rose from online upstarts to a formidable digital presence, claim volume 3 of their flagship “anime” to be the point where the web series hit its stride; though this accomplishment sadly coincided with the death of series creator, writer and director, Monty Oum. The featurettes included on the DVD reveal a creative team as much in love with their IP as keeping Oum’s legacy alive.
RWBY’s most polarising attribute was its animation quality, or rather the lack thereof, but volume 3 ushered in a seismic stylistic shift. The details of the mo-capped characters have a more lustrous presence, with the wind picking up and interacting with their clothing and hair. The menagerie of characters and weapons are a cosplayer’s delight, as each is basically the sum total of their threads and haircuts. The background, too, is packed with impressive environmental details and wreathed in varied lighting that makes the setting – a blend of neo-classical, sci-fi and fairy tale – easier to invest in. The CGI is still an acquired taste, but this time around we’re treated to a visual feast, with anecdotes and fables rendered in manga strokes.
Perhaps the other area detractors were keen to pick up on were the voice cast – admittedly a mixed bunch. This many episodes in, however, they’ve each made the characters their own, and Lindsay Jones is chief among them. Despite her squawking intonation, Jones has crystallised what Ruby Rose sounds like and it’s difficult to imagine any other actor in the role. Vic Mignogna, brings a gravel tones to Ruby’s uncle, Qrow Branwen, showing the widening industry appeal of the franchise and its roster of characters. This is reflected in the Japanese dub cast, a most impressive bunch, with Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan and The Irregular at Magic High School alumni among them.
For this writer, it’s taken until the latter half of this volume to really connect with any of the characters on a meaningful level. It’s RWBY at its most affectionate, its most heart-wrenching and, perhaps most crucially, its most complex. But the pick ‘n’ mix approach to anime tropes can leave the series wanting. Unlike the Chunin Exams of Naruto, say, or any of the vital fights in One Piece, where character and motivation is revealed through combat, RWBY simply presents the spectacle in all its gamefied glory. But they’re tremendous fun, shot with all the flair of a Marvel movie, with plenty of cool touches like Flynt Coal’s trumpet and Neon Katt’s glo-stick nunchucks to name but two.
Even with the step-up, the series still takes a good three episodes to get going, which is the fundamental drawback of the mini-episode format. Yes, the DVD release smushes the 12 episodes – each of varying length – into one drawn-out movie, but its better viewed in an episodic format to better appreciate the character and narrative development. And the pieces are all in place for the series to flourish into something essential. With that in mind, does it really matter whether it’s anime or not?
Extras: World of Remnant History Videos, Behind-the-Scenes Production Diaries, Audio Commentary Tracks with Cast and Crew