Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: RWBY Season 1

I'm going to preface what I'm going to say by stating that everything about RWBY screamed "this is going to be great" to me before I watched it.  It felt like it was equal parts Mai-Hime (which I should get around to talking about at some point, since it is absolutely crazy) and Red Vs. Blue, which is understandable because the creator, Monty Oum, choreographed and (I believe) helped animate some of my favorite fight scenes from RvB.

Plus, it had trailers leading into it that looked like this.

How could I possibly not love it?

Spoiler alert, I didn't love it.

Part of it, I think, is that I went into it expecting the four main characters (the "Red," "White," "Black," and "Yellow," respectively) to already be the peak of what they do.  I wasn't necessarily expecting this to be a "high school drama."  To me, that's a pretty huge disappointment.

Here's the reason why, and I know I've addressed this before in other articles.  I hate how adults are always useless in any series that takes place in high school.  Look at the Harry Potter series.  Look at every series from Japan where a teenager is the only hope to pilot a giant robot or be the most elite soldier in the universe.  Look at one of my favorite things turned into one of my least favorite things.

If this was a highly trained unit, that's fine.  But the moment I realized they were going to a school to learn how to be "the best," I knew immediately what was going to happen.  All of the adults who are apparently so skilled they can train these generations of fighters will simply fade into the background, be oblivious, or simply be useless, and it'll be up to the kids to save everybody.

I mean, it extends to everything from Hocus Pocus to Red Dawn.  And I'm kind of tired of it.

But, I wanted to give the series a chance.  I hadn't watched it while Monty Oum was still alive (he passed away not too long ago after complications from what was, to my understanding, a rather simple medical procedure), and I did really like the other work of his I had seen.

So I watched.  I found a couple of characters I really liked.

Pictured, characters I really liked.  They aren't the lead characters.

I found a few characters who made my grind my teeth.

And after watching the first season I decided that I had seen enough.

Actually, that's a lie.  Halfway through the first season, I decided I had seen enough.  But I watched the rest despite myself to give it a fair shot.

I want to list my grievances, but let's start on the things I like.  The soundtrack is pretty neat, but I think it relies a bit too much on lyrics being "deep" than simply letting the music set the mood.  Watch that trailer up above again.  Do you really care what the words are saying during that opening, or are you just watching the animation?  Sometimes a song's lyrics can make a movie's most defining moments, other times they're just background filler.

Okay, I'm getting negative, back to positivity.  Soundtrack was all right.

The choreography of the fight scenes was, as expected, pretty great.  Large complex battles against monsters and the forces of evil (or at least the forces of "we have no idea what their end goal is") are cleverly done and precisely timed.  Fights are clean, but complex, and while there are a few moments where you wonder just what the limits of the physicality of the characters are, nothing makes you go "wait, no, there's no way they survived that."

Plus, shotgun gauntlets are awesome.  Never let anybody tell you otherwise.
Some of the voices are extremely good, in particular the voice of Yang (seen above beating the tar out of a DJ in a bear suit) reminded me a lot of Jennifer Hale, which is probably about one of the highest compliments I can give for a "new on the scene" voice actress.

So why didn't I like it?

Well, here's a few reasons.

Again, all the teachers are useless or simply willing to let their students possibly die.  One even unleashes a monster boar into a classroom and doesn't seem at all willing to step in to help when it disarms a student and has the student at its mercy.

Characters don't really seem to grow.  "Red" and "White" in particular keep having the same story arc over, and over, and over again where White puts down Red, Red becomes determined to prove herself to White, Red screws up, White indicates that she doesn't hate Red, they work together to solve the problem.  Then it all starts over again.

Side characters are introduced that are significantly more interesting than some of the main cast, but we know they'll be pretty irrelevant later on because they're not who the show is named after.

The series tries really hard to grab hold of a lot of Japanese tropes that are just rather annoying, such as the stoic character paired up with the bubbly airhead, the one rather incompetent young male who falls in love easily, people jumping twenty times their height with no real indication given as to why they're able to violate physics so well...

But mostly, I think the series suffers from a few too many characters, an unfocused story line, and animation that at certain times is crisp and clean in its cel-shaded style, and other times feels like someone simply banged out an episode in Adobe Flash and called it a day without really editing it.  Arms sometimes bend out in funny ways, character faces lose any sense of depth making them look like eyes stuck on a paper plate, and words don't always sync up with mouths (which is funny, because while I do know this has a Japanese dub on it, I had assumed it was originally English).

Also, it's animation, guys.  Look at that animated image up above there.  Notice all the jump cuts that really take away from really getting a sense of how the character moves.  It's short, jerky motions that don't really give me any sense of how the character moves.

It's not a bad series, by any means.  I've seen much worse.  Much, much worse.

I've seen some downright terrible animated series.

This isn't really good, it's not really bad, it just, in the end, seems to balance out to "average."  Good fight scenes filled with some rather flat characterization and a strict adherence to the rules of an art form that hold it back instead of trying to break them and become something truly special.

I'm not going to watch the second season.  You're more than welcome to tell me why I'm wrong and NEED TO SEE IT OMG in the comments below.  Who knows, maybe you'll convince me.

After all, I was talked into watching a show about magical horses once.

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