Hello and welcome to another RWBY review. Today, I decided to do a full review of RWBY volume 4.
Now, I will be the first person to be harsh on the first three volumes of RWBY. I find them derivative of their anime inspirations without enough narrative meat to justify their existence and one of the main draws, the fight scenes, to have degraded due to Monty Oum’s death. However, the third season did do some things with its narrative that might have put the story on track and maybe enable RWBY to be the best anime inspired web series possible
Sadly and to my severe disappointment, that was not the case.
One of the issues is the fact that the narrative, tone and characters haven’t really changed despite the events of the third volumes. The third volume made a drastic shift towards a darker and more severe narrative where both the metaphorical symbol of protection against the Grimm (Beacon) and one of its shining heroes (Pyrraha) were snuffed out. This shift could have made volume four a volume where the leads must refocus and deal with their loss as well as the external threats of their world. Instead the volume largely sticks to its original narrative beats and tone much to its detriment.
That’s not to say that there aren’t improvements. Weiss’s arc does have her change in terms of character for the better. Weiss’s issues with her family are given more grounding than the simple line of “my father made life hard”; her life is shown to be overly controlled and tailored for public perception. In addition, she starts to rail against both her family and the society of Atlas that is cold and callous towards the fallen Vale. This shows that she has some drive and independence and also establishes her as opposite to her initial characterization in the previous volumes as the cold, elitist heiress
Ruby’s arc is the least egregious as her story does reach a point where there is something to lose, her uncle. However, she doesn’t really change as a character in her own right. Despite all that she has seen and despite teaming up with three people who have lost someone dear to them during the attack on Beacon, she remains the naïve, innocent and idealistic girl from volume 1. There are only two token nightmares about the Fall of Beacon but otherwise there are no moments of severe outrage, anger or frustration at the world. She also never reaches a point of contemplating what it means that heroes don’t always save people and don’t always win. This should be even more prevalent with Ruby and the remnants of JNPR traveling through areas full of death due to the Grimm.
Blake’s arc is far more anger inducing as she repeats the same arc from volume 2: having to rely on her friends and allies again. While this could work in theory as it was her past with the White Fang that partially caused Yang to lose her arm, it ends up being a case of cyclic character development. Blake is shown being the cold loner that she was at the start despite Sun showing up to help. In fact, she suffers from an issue I have with anime characters in times where they act social stunted and don’t explain themselves properly; Blake only explains her reasoning as to why she’s returned to the loner archetype at the very end when her opening up to people would seem the most like an asspull. Her dynamics with Sun exemplify this problem as Sun, instead of being a valuable partner, is reduced to a punching bag and laughing stock for comedy that undermines Blake’s arc. Even the moments between Blake and her family are undermined by comedy that ends up making dampening any arc she has.
Yang’s arc, while not cyclic like Blake, is the worst of the individual character arcs and thus, extremely frustrating. Yang at the end of the third volume, lost her arm to Adam. This could have led to many different possible story lines as Yang very much is proud of her physical capabilities; the loss of the arm could have delved into PTSD or how she will cope with her skill being hampered. Unfortunately, the story taken explores none of these aspects. An artificial arm enters her story very early on and at first, you might think that this is merely signaling that there will be a payoff at the end and many episodes of her dealing with the trauma. However, the next scenes dealing with her involved a slight jump at a broken glass, a nightmare that doesn’t really haunt or torment to any real degree and a talk with Professors Oobleck and Port. These scenes are all we get before she puts on the artificial arm. This is strike one of her story as it makes it seem like she got over her trauma too easily. While I am of the understanding that there could be more possible consequences in other volumes as PTSD isn’t something that can flare up, the presentation in RWBY makes it seem like she had only a few moments of trauma before finally coping with it. This presentation makes us feel put off her story arc as it seems like everything was for naught.
The issues of the character arcs are further amplified by the fact that the time scale of the series is erratic. Initially, the writers stated it was six to eight months since volume 3 in universe. However, this seems contradicted by many events in the show: why does it take 6 months to get from vale to Menagerie, what has Weiss been doing for six to eight months? Doing nothing? What about Yang, is there any time between her scenes of fear and trauma and equipping the arm? The unclear time frame of many things in the show make it hard to be invested in the show.
If the issues with the time scale don’t get you, the degradation in quality of RWBY’s fights will. The fights in RWBY suffer from poor framing of shots and poor timing of cuts. An example of this is during the Tyrian’s fights. Tyrian’s brief fight with Ruby alone has the camera switch the axis of where they are positions which disorients. Another scene, where Tyrian jumps from Jaune’s shield has three direction changes for Tyrian which further confuses the geometry. Qrow vs Tyrian doesn’t improve things as it still has axis shifts as well as cuts on the impact between weapons. This leads to lost sense of geometry in the scene and perceived lack of force on the impacts not helped by rather lacking sound assets that don’t deliver impact. The sea dragon fight also suffers as there are too many frames ripped from another fight, Cloud vs Bahamut in Advent Children, to the point that the fight seems like a rip off than an homage and it’s not helped by the sprinkling of comedy during the fight. The Nuckelavee fight also has issues, mainly with the monster. The arms don’t move fast enough or sharply enough to make them seem threatening; their movement gives the feel more of a balloon used at used car stores than an eldritch terror. Sound of impacts also don’t have any weight to them and give the fight more of a funhouse feel than a life or death situation.
The setup for future seasons also is limp and lifeless. Oscar, a new character that is host to Ozpin’s soul, is given little characterization of his own self and serves more like a sentient vessel in terms of characterization. The plots with the White fang and Salam’s group seem pointless as there is no real effect of any of this, just build up. While build up is important, we need to see a small consequence of this build up, whether it’s militarization of the White Fang or movement of supplies. Even the resolution in the end where the four members of RWBY set out to Mistral seems more like a sudden return to Status Quo than a preparation for a major fight as it felt that everyone except Weiss really didn’t change and even Weiss isn’t given that much.
In the end, RWBY volume 4 disappoints from a character plot perspective, a fight perspective and even from the perspective of setting up for the next season