Oct 11 2022

RWBY: Better Than Its Fandom Thinks

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I vaguely remember when the original RWBY trailers came out, thinking “Huh, neat.” But I wasn’t particularly interested, and stayed that way for a long time. It didn’t really make a ping on my attentional radar until late into volume 6, when the “bumbleby” ship became pretty darn close to official with the Blake/Yang/Adam fight. Running concurrently with all the heavy-duty shipping in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the obvious parallels between Blake/Yang and Catra/Adora meant it was all but impossible to be aware of one and not the other. Without any context of the show, I watched the big BMBLB fight isolated from the rest of the show, and thought, “Huh, neat.” But that was enough that when Tulok created a video on How to Play Yang in D&D, I both understood the references and thought, “Y’know, that sounds like a fun character to play.”

Aurora Sparkfall, monk of the radiant dragonFast forward a few years to when my buddy InkBlitz announced he wanted to run a Spelljammer-meets-Treasure Planet campaign. I decided that now was the time to dust off the character idea, and Aurora Sparkfall, monk of the Order of the Radiant Dragon, was born. And since she was inspired by Yang, I figured it was a good time to finally go and actually watch the show.

But searching for RWBY online showed me its fandom first, or at least the noisiest parts. My search results were filled with things like “RWBY: How to Ruin a Franchise,” “Why I’m Never Watching RWBY Again,” “RWBY Volume 5: The Worst Thing Ever Made,” “RWBY: A Frustrating Mess,” etc., etc., ad nauseam. I’d also brushed up against RWBY shipping wars as part of the She-Ra fandom, given their overlap, and the impression I’d received was that RWBY was essentially a string of cool fight scenes strung together by the worst-written plot-hole ridden ever. That didn’t really match the little bit I’d watched, but I figured that was just because I’d seen some isolated good parts.

So that’s what I went in expecting. I binged the first three seasons in one day, playing in the background while I drew, and… they were good. Rough visually since they were animated in Poser, and a bit choppy since they were originally 5-15 minute webisodes made for YouTube, but fun adventure stories with, yes, cool fights. I knew that Monty Oum, one of the creators of the show and the primary fight choreographer, had unexpectedly passed away between volumes two and three, and so much of the criticism of the show seemed to draw a sharp “Monty Era vs. Post-Monty Era” line, that I figured I must have seen all the good parts and the precipitous drop must surely come shortly.

Except it didn’t. The show got more polished, the writing got more focused, the characterization got deeper… the show kept getting better. And while I think the fight choreography did become a little weaker, everything else around it was so rapidly improving that I quickly became hooked and eager to see what came next. Critics’ cries of “The show has gone off the rails!” and “This isn’t what Monty wanted!” become more and more inexplicable as I saw setups that were clearly made in the first few episodes lead to payoffs that made absolute sense long after his passing. (Plus, how would the critics know what Monty wanted better than the people who actually developed the show with him? Surely if The Secret Notes of Monty Oum were a thing, the RWBY team would have as much access to it as randos on the internet.)

So over the course of three? Four? weeks I’ve caught up with all the currently-available RWBY, including the end of volume eight and the trailer for volume nine, due to come early next year, and I have thoughts. Specifically, that RWBY is much better than its fandom seems to think it is. There are places where it doesn’t line up with my personal preferences one way or another (the soap opera-esque focus on plot and dramatic thrust over character development being a big one, and its tendency to get weighed down in political shenanigans that everyone knows will be blasted by the inevitable season-finale-apocalypse anyway being another), but these things aren’t bad by any stretch, they’re just not my cup of tea.

As far as actual flaws? I dunno, its tendency to mistake “references” for “depth” is an issue, but then again, how many hundreds of times has Star Trek made extremely tenuous links to Shakespeare or Moby Dick and patted itself on the back for being so smart while it did so? The constant ship-teasing is getting perilously close to queerbaiting at this stage and the audience’s collective shouts of “GET ON WITH IT!” are hurting suspension of disbelief. But hot take: these flaws aren’t actually that bad. RWBY is not ruined, volume five was not the worst TV that ever worsted, and RWBY doesn’t need “fixing.” The worst that I can say about it is that the last two volumes felt to me like they were written by committee rather than following a strong vision, but then again volume nine is a giant left turn and seems like it will be interesting and surprising.

So, yeah. RWBY is good! Not as slam-dunk good as She-Ra, or as impressively realized as something like the MCU, but still something I like, I’m glad to have watched, and am looking forward to seeing more of. I’d call that a success.


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