RWBY Volume 1 (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 113 minutes approx.
Question: When is an anime not an anime?
Answer: When it is the creation of Rooster Teeth.
I must confess I had not heard of Rooster Teeth or this series before, then again I am not a gamer which is an area where they made name, alongside their series of online computer animated shorts and mini-live action films. This title in particular has its origins in this form, a creation of animator Monty Oum whose love of martial arts films is very much obvious here along with many nods to anime which fans will spot a mile off.
RWBY is pronounced “Ruby” for reasons that will be explained in a moment. The setting is the fantasy world of Remnant where mankind has been engaged in a fruitless war against supernatural creatures known as the Grimm. Fortune turned to the human’s advantage when a magical substance called Dust is discovered which can awaken magical powers and create powerful weapons, giving way to the creation of a special army of Hunters.
At the Beacon Academy, the young are taught how to harness their abilities and wield their weapons correctly, which is where we meet our main protagonists. First up is Ruby Rose, who was offered a spot at the academy after she was spotted giving a group of robbers what for. There she meets up with her older half-sister Yang Xiao Long and has a rather inauspicious introduction to rich girl Weiss Schnee and Blake Belladonna. After a successful training session in which their team work comes to the fore, the girls bond and are officially put in a group Team RWBY (based on the initials their first names) with with Ruby chosen as leader!
Coming from a web based series the episodes are short, averaging between six to fifteen minutes in length and the animation completely reflects the video game background of Rooster Teeth. Straight away the visuals will be jarring as they are a throwback to the early days of CG animation and sadly do look dated. Admittedly one does get used to it in time but it will be a shock for anyone used to the extraordinary high standards of CGI animation elsewhere.
But where the gaming experience comes into its own and benefits the show is during the fight sequences which are every bit as frenetic and energetic as they are in game play – one certainly gets the impression they are watching a game demonstration. This means bodies fly about with alarming rapidity and the clash of weapons creates many screen filling sparks and flashes, which are not uncommon in anime either.
Speaking of which the influence of anime is prevalent in almost every other aspect of this presentation, extending beyond the aesthetic. The story set up of a lone skilled fighter being recruited into a specialised school to harness her abilities is familiar territory to any hardened anime fan, as is the perennial favourite of the team of colour coded fighters with bespoke weapons they can materialise out of thin air.
Running over ten episodes which clock in at just under two hours – which can be viewed as one continuous shot instead of individual episodes – the story has yet to really reveal itself. Most of the time is spent introducing the characters and depicting how they all settle in at the academy. The support cast who make up the rival groups are not well developed so one can be forgiven for forgetting about them, usually surfacing for group activities and training sessions.
It is only in the last few episodes with the arrival of a strange girl, possibly a cyborg, named Penny who latches onto the group that things start to get interesting. When Blake tries to foil another robbery by Torchwick and his gang Penny lends a hand and wipes them all out single-handedly with some unique weaponry. He departure from the scene and with whom is left a mystery, while a further puzzle arriving post credits of the final episode.
The individual personalities of Team RWBY – and that of the supporting cast – represent all the immediately recognisable tropes found in anime which even the whiny American voices can’t disguise, but they’ve been well assigned to the right cast members. Ruby’s short hair and youthful clothes match her ebullience; snobby Weiss lives up to name and dresses in white; Yang, the only Asian is a busty blonde (!) and Blake who looks Asian is the serious one with a secret.
Unfortunately the male personalities hardly break any new ground either with the apparent human antagonist of criminal mastermind Roman Torchwick being your typical suave dressed megalomaniac and the obligatory pretty boy Jaune Arc fulfilling the neutered male who eventually finds his grapes. The other boys at the Academy are typical US jock bullies while Blake befriends a brash monkey boy named Sun Wukong.
It is admittedly weird talking about this show as if it were an anime all the while knowing it isn’t. The influence of the Japanese style from the story to the visuals and everything in between is worn on the show’s sleeve in the most blatant of manners, but it is just as well that it doesn’t take itself seriously to the point it feels it anything other than an affectionate homage.
A second full season has appeared on the web followed by three bite sized adjunct but production was halted when creator Monty Oum sadly died earlier this year aged just 33. Rooster Teeth have pledged to continue the saga with a third full season coming later this year.
While its shortcomings are glaring RWBY is remarkably entertaining, not in the least at how astute the anime template has been replicated here. Its mileage with fans will depend on how well they respond to this ostensible tribute, with the lack of Japanese dialogue (and subtitles for us hard of hearing folk) being the major difference.
An interesting project to say the least.
Watch As A Movie
Watch As A Series
Behind The Scenes
Chapter 1 Storyboard
More From Rooster teeth
Rating – ***
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