#1 An anime-inspired passion project
RWBY was a dream project by the late 3D animator Monty Oum, who had grown to fame via online videos like Haloid and other animations showing cross-over battles between famous characters. After working with Rooster Teeth for a while to produce Red vs. Blue, he one day came up with a recipe for an original show that played perfectly to his strengths.
That a lot of love was poured into RWBY is immediately obvious, as it very much indulges in the things Oum enjoyed. Starring a cast of four young girls in a rich fantasy world, the plot involves a war between humanity and beast-like horrors known as the Grimm. Using a combination of weapon arts and magic powered by the mystical element “Dust”, huntsmen and huntresses across the four kingdoms are locked in an eternal struggle to fight these monsters back, and our four heroines, as well as all the friends they proceed to meet, are studying to join them.
Cute girls, amazing weapons, detailed character design, and fights that are quick and full of impact. It’s exactly what Monty wanted to make and his entire team went at it full force.
#2 Growing heroes
One thing I noticed when the show first began to air was that a lot of people were calling out the writing for being simplistic and featuring characters that were “obvious tropes”. It wasn’t too hard to see what they were talking about: Ruby is an energetic genki girl, Yang the party-loving but caring older sister, Weiss a bossy rich girl who struggles to socialize, and Blake was this somber girl that stuck to herself. It’s fun to look back on that and reflect on how things have changed.
It’s important to note when tropes are being used as a foundations to build on and when they are being played straight, the former of which is the case for RWBY. While you can describe most of the cast in one sentence, that is just a first impression of them. Everybody has a story and more of their depth begins to show as the anime continues. By volume 5 it’s evident that the characters have grown, both in age and personality.
After all, Ruby might be a genki girl working to be an effective leader and Weiss a snooty rich girl slowly growing closer to her team-mates, but how do those story lines change when drama strikes. Watching Ruby in particular deal with the aftermath of the show’s more dramatic turns, as friends die in battle or are torn from her life, is a major emotional factor in the show that kept me coming back each season. Jaune is a favorite character of mine for this very same reason, especially as he stands to improve the most both as a person and as a fighter.
#3 Fantasy of all shades
The show is set in the fantasy realm of Remnant, which has an interesting balance when it comes to technology and the state of the world. While the cities of Vale are very similar to our modern world, it is surrounded by vast forests and untamed countryside. Similarly, other nations live much more natural lives, such as the large Faunus (think half-beast, half-men) village of Menagerie, which looks more like a paradise resort than a village, or the kingdom of Mistral which is nothing like the organized, concrete cities of Vale.
Of course there are also the weapons, which tend to mix melee and ranged capabilities into one. Each character has signature arms, such as Ruby Rose’s scythe which can, with a few twists and folds, turn into a huge rifle. Most every character can pull this off with their weapons of choice and besides making the fight scenes look fantastic and fast-paced, it’s also just rad to see a fantasy show do this.
As for whether the show is a dark fantasy or light fantasy (is that even a thing?), I have to say it freely switches between the two and does this remarkably well. At times it’s definitely a traditional-feeling fantasy story, such as when Weiss is locked in her mansion because her family doesn’t want her to be a huntress, and we get to see her train in secret and plot an escape. That storyline is pretty much suitable for all-ages, but what I appreciate is that RWBY doesn’t pull punches when it comes to setting and delivering on its narrative stakes.
While the show starts off as an inoffensive “school girls fight monsters” action romp, it develops a strong story over time, pitting the kids against foes they are ill-prepared for. The grim reality of the world certainly is dropped into their lap well before they are prepared to handle it and RWBY is a show with consequences to it, as well as a sense of weight that many “real” anime could stand to learn from. Main characters die, often in brutal or incredibly sad ways, and get-out-of-death free cards aren’t really around. The events of the story also have devastating permanent impact on the world of Remnant, all of which caught me really off guard.
#4 Kick-ass music
I had never heard of Jeff Williams before I started watching RWBY, but it’s certainly a name I won’t soon forget afterward. The soundtrack for this show is really unique and unexpected, featuring many different songs in many different genres. There are ambient background tracks for sure, but just as often the show will feature pumping action tracks or elaborate songs that feature lyrics and everything. Red Like Roses and I Burn from the the Red and Yellow trailers respectively showcase this tremendously, with the former being a somber tune that changes into a quick-paced battle theme, and the latter being a party song with Linkin Park-like rap parts in it.
The way the show handles its music in combination with its key moments is really amazing and it often turns an already thrilling fight sequence into a major character moment. Putting I May Fall over the introduction fight for Velvet elevated her to a favorite side-character of mine and having Red Like Roses Part II feature during a big fight early in the show meant it still remains as my favorite fight scene in the series so far.
All because of Jeff Williams and his daughter.
#5 Watching it improve
There is no denying that RWBY is a flawed show and compared to many anime out there, it doesn’t always look favorable. Its visuals are stumpy, its comedic moments oftentimes awkward, and it’s going to be one of those shows where I do both a Reasons to Watch and a Reasons to Skip piece. It has issues, many of them, but watching this production improve has an appeal all of its own.
Seeing the show now and comparing it to when it first began is mind-blowing. In a brief few years it has improved so much it’s hardly recognizable and it’s one of few shows where I’d say the behind-the-scenes content on the blurays is a must watch if you are getting them anyway. It’s incredibly interesting to see an amateur production like this expand, how voices are recorded and how its production pipeline functions. Adding to this, the show is available entirely for free, whether you watch it on Crunchyroll or on Rooster Teeth’s own website. If you feel like supporting the creators you can get the each seasons + a ton of bonus content for 19 euros a piece, which is dirt cheap compared to other anime.