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RWBY Volume 1 UK Anime DVD Review

13 min read

RWBY Volume 1 CoverWelcome aboard the hype train…

What They Say:
A young hero, an exalted heiress, a troubled rogue, and a party girl…. These are the four members of RWBY, a team brought together and trained for the sole purpose of combating the rampant evils that plague the fantastic world of Remnant. RWBY focuses on 15-year-old Ruby Rose, a young girl who has just been accepted to Beacon Academy. This ancient school was founded to train the monster-slayers known as Huntsmen and Huntresses. However, Ruby will not be alone. Upon arriving at Beacon, she is promptly paired with Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long. If these four girls want to graduate they’ll have to learn to work together both on the battlefield and in the classroom.

The Review:
Audio:
Set up in 5.1 English only (made by American company Rooster Teeth); the audio is pretty good overall in terms of the vocals, however in the earlier episodes in particular I noticed that some of the background noises were significantly weaker. This changed later in the series and my audio options were set in their default but it was noticeable. This also was the case in the voice actors commentary where later in the commentary two of the actresses were not heard very well compared to the other two (not as close to the audio/microphone equipment?) – in terms of the actual show the main cast is perfectly acceptable (no subtitle track to compare though in terms of synching or distortion) but there are definite notable lapses.

Video:
Set on a 16:9 on a full screen format, the set up is pretty strong, especially with the unique animation as it was flash style web series. Again, no real comparison to any anime series I’ve done obviously with no subtitle track, so in terms of how it syncs with the audio I saw no problem. There were no transition problems or slowdown, or animation issues when pausing – admittingly as I hadn’t seen any of Rooster Teeths’ work beforehand the web style animation was certainly unique and interesting but I got used to it quite quickly, so overall it is actually really good to watch on a HD screen, though in some of the early episodes again it did seem a little blurry though again that became nullified as the show continued.

Menu:
The menus are really eye-catching. The main menu has Ruby in her Red Riding Hood style cloak (the characters all inspired by classic story book characters) with rose petals/blood floating in the background as a moonlight sky is showcased over a patch of snow. Each sub-menu has one of the other characters in a melancholic pose (taken from their trailers showcased in the extras) – the selections are on the top left, which include Watch As Movie (all episodes in one flow), Scene Selection (in chapters), watch by episode (same as scene selection but with the show’s opening), special features and more from Rooster Teeth (trailers). It is easy to select and switches to the next menu with no problems, and can go back to the main menu easily – plus with the chapter select and the episodes being so short, easy to go back to if needs be.

Extras:
Extras seem to be where the first volume of RWBY shines. First of all, we have two commentaries of the show, one involving the directors and one involving the voice cast. The directors’ commentary features Miles Luna, Kerry Shawcross and the late Monty Oum. I will mention that despite not being familiar with Rooster Teeths’ work because a lot of my friends are, I was aware of the sad passing of Monty and this, combined with another extra where you see him in, will make funs I’m sure appreciate his work and life – I definitely had a tear in my eye when listening in and realising this won’t happen for the 3rd season that is due to happen.

The directors commentary is very informal (talking as much about eating jellybeans as much as the show at times) but they talk about everything they can – ranging from the voice actors/actresses, some history about the show, plenty of comedy, how fans have reacted to do it and the idea of production in wanting to make an anime and how it was planned during their other main show Red vs. Blue (Volume 11 soon to be reviewed). Monty explains how he wanted to set up the relationships and their development, and the directors have fun talking about their favourite characters and of course, their favourite pairings (both male/female and female/female). Influences in the scenes are discussed (ranging from Top Gun to Looney Tunes), how fairy tales were used, how ideas were changed, how the weapons came about, etc. In the last chapter, Sean Nuville and Ray Haddack (animators and post supervisors) join the commentary – where they are pretty much just distracted by the scenes and fights.

Commentary number two involves the four main ladies, Lindsay Jones (Ruby), Kara Eberle (Weiss), Arran Zech (Blake) and Barbara Dunkelman (Yang) – a similar commentary with information mixed with socialising. A few things different was how they worked with voices from background characters which might have been staff or actual voice actors from some of the cast favourite anime (one of them fangirled over the fact a voice actors from Kenshin was involved ^^) There are a lot of comic moments around the actresses as they discuss anime tropes involved in their characters, whilst comparing the RWBY girls with both eastern and western animated characters. They talk about how they wanted to say their lines and if the director preferred it that way, RWBY cosplay, the fan base, what Montys’ vision were, their favourite lines, leads ups and moments, and about the Easter eggs in the show. Both commentaries do have plenty of information, but are mostly quite fun.

Another extra is on RWBY cosplay as four cosplayers (professional?) at a convention talk about the show and what it means to them – one of them Kristina Nguyen (Blake) working on the show for example. A short segment seeing the impressive outfits and why the show influenced them to do the outfits.

There is a Behind The Scenes segment – this is the one where you see Montys’ face so again, be ready for emotion. We get the ideas of colours in the show and how RWBY came out and its fairy tales influence, bringing other artists on, why people got involved with RWBY, with some shots of the show in between and how they are involved, with audio, animation, cinematic and web camera angles all demonstrated told by Monty, Kerry, Miles, Kathleen Zuelch (producer), Taylor Pelto (art director) and Gray Haddock (lead editor). It is just under 10 minutes but tells us as much as you could in that time.

We also get the four trailers which were introduced for each character on Rooster Teeths’ website between 2012 and 2013 – it is fun to see what appeared to be the original characters and how they change – this is most demonstrated in Weiss who appears to be a cool collected character similar to Blake, and then turns into a rival who always interjects to Ruby in the show (initially). They showcase the battle animation and what each girl is capable of (Yangs’ being the most fun and explosive in my opinion) – it also gives a good demonstration of how much effort they wanted to put into it, with the beautiful music during Ruby and Weiss’ trailers standing out.

Lastly, we get a fan art section – which is talked over by Miles Luna who introduces it and how they did a RWBY poster contest, and then got a huge influx of art after the trailers came onto the internet. The amount is huge and impressive, and in a lot of different styles – showcasing the fandom the show has.

In short, a TON of extras and much appreciated as it is a show designed from scratch from a US company so it was much easier to get these sort of behind the scenes/background stuff, so fantastic.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
RWBY is one of those big internet phenomenon’s that I knew about but never actually saw or get involved in, despite a number of my friends not only really into it, but have cosplayed in it (the first time I was privy to it, it had just started to air – and one of my friends participated with me in a human cosplay chess match already cosplaying as Yang who was the latest of the characters introduced, and already a full group was at the convention I was at). An American series that is heavily anime influenced, aired on the web at Rooster Teeth, it got so popular that it actually got a deal to be released as DVDs, and Manga Entertainment got the UK licence.

But…is it worth the hype?

The initial story explains the origin of the story, with the fairy tale influence with creatures known as the Grimm, with the humans trying to fight against them, discovering the power of a component called ‘Dust’ which is the basis of their destruction and also the creation of their civilization but there are warnings that peace is not going to be likely…

Cut to our main character, Ruby, a cute young girl who is energetic, fun…and badass. Her first actions are beating up a few robbers, with one of them becoming a bit more of a major plot point in Torchwick as he escapes. Ruby however is scouted because of this by a professor named Ozpin of Beacon Academy, a school for training hunters and huntresses. Ruby accepts an invitation, also reuniting with her eldest sister, the fun loving but punch-tastic Yang. Despite the obvious love between the sisters, Ruby is looking for friends and literally bumps into Weiss, an heiress who has a slight snobby attitude to Ruby, but she is defended (kind of) by the fourth main character Blake, who criticizes the company Weiss is an heiress to. We also get our first of the other group that will be involved in this show, a young man named Jaune, who seems out of place compared to the rest as he doesn’t seem that competent…

Obviously despite the differences, (Blake being a quite bookworm, Weiss a slight snob, and Yang/Ruby being energetic siblings) these are going to be our main team but it doesn’t get confirmed until an initiation ceremony. During this, we see our other members of the second team getting focus, a really over the top young woman named Nora, and her near silent male partner Ren, but the one that caught my eye the most was Pyrrha, an attractive but badass woman who seems to be the top student enrolling, yet she is very down to earth, doesn’t mind Jaune being around when he’s being a bit annoying and flirty (this changes quickly enough fortunately) – these 8 characters will be the main focus in two teams as the initiation ceremony begins with a bang…literally, they are shot into the Emerald Forest as they have to make teams via eye contact and bring chess pieces which will eventually form their team of 4. Each of the team members has their way of landing safely (Pyrrha having to ‘assist’ Jaune is hilarious), but the groups both separately and together have to face a lot of the Grimm, and a combination of people talking about the others to aid the character development, some fun moments (like Ruby and Weiss are a riot together). In short, the 8 of them do succeed both via planning and using their own strengths to get the pieces and kill the Grimm – and the teams are formed, as team RWBY (Ruby, Weiss, Blake, Yang) and team JNPR (Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren) – interestingly Ruby and Juane are made leaders, much to Weiss’ annoyance and Juanes’ surprise as he seemed to be the weakest of the 4…

This point then develops the characters personality more as we get the 8 of them in the school – rushing to class, and Weiss being annoyed with RWBY but the teachers do have a point in their decision leading to the girls learning to work out their differences and accept they are on a team. Juane on the other hand seems to develop a fair bit more as he is bullied by one of the other teams, and it is learned that he actually cheated to get into the Academy, which the main bully Cardin uses to blackmail him. Thanks to Pyrrha (who may or may not actually like him) he does gain more confidence, kills a Grimm that could have killed Cardin, and after being dismissive of wanting help, admits to Pyrrha that he wants her to help him.

The final small arc involves Blake as there is a festival being prepared for the school – a group called the White Fang are being blamed for a Dust robbery who Weiss detests, yet Blake seems to defend them. We get introduced to a couple of important new characters in Sun, a refugee who seems to recognise Blake, and Penny, another energetic girl who has come to participate in the festivals’ combat tournament but seems a little off. The main conflict is that Blake has/had connections with the White Fang, and so is Sun which explains a lot of her back-story, culminating with the return of Torchwick, a big battle, showcasing Pennys’ uniqueness, and the volume ends in a climax introducing perhaps the main villain…

The set up ready for the (hopefully) second volume is done well, and the story flows as a three act narrative in all these short chapters. We have the introduction of our main characters and what the world is they live in, the teaming up of said characters, and then the lives of them working as a team with a climax ready to continue further. Because of how quick the episodes are it is best to watch continuously to not upset the flow. With this being something totally unique, the story is a slow builder. This volume mostly deals with the characters, and even then whilst some do get some really good moments and/or development (Juane and Pyrrha seem to get most of it in comparison to the ‘main’ four, though Weiss and Rwbys’ personalities are showcased a lot and Weiss does get nicer gradually after problems with both Ruby and Blake), some do get left behind and though some of them are still dynamic and memorable enough even in short bursts (Nora and Yang), it doesn’t seem an even spread initially – hopefully future episodes/volumes will continue this and develop Yang, Nora and Ren better.

I do like that the characters are all memorable enough for the most part – Ruby and Weiss have quite a lot of good moments, whilst Blake does get her moment right at the end after being pretty much the silent one for most of the series. The fact Juane and Pyrrha have the most development suggests that the two teams may actually be equal in airtime despite the show being called RWBY, which I am fine with – Juane is the most interesting character so far after being a comic foil for the initial episodes, we learn that he has cheated to get in, feels bad about it and feels out of place, and despite having the best student and fighter (who is not only kickass, but legit nice) wanting to help him out, he wants to deal with it on his own, but in a change of the trope, he actually listens to her and then does ask for her to make him stronger, the bullying arc was probably the strongest in terms of the mini stories happening.

The problem I have is that at the moment, there is no strong plot in terms of final narrative. The finale suggests that there will be something big ready to set up and the introduction of a couple of new characters (Penny in particular seems to be very interesting) means that the story will continue more, hence why I am looking forward to the next volume as it did enough to keep me interested, but that was mostly due to the character interaction rather than the story. There is a lot of intrigue involved – the fairy tale motifs, the weapons, how the teams are going to sync in (the moments where they do fight together during the initiation arc was really fantastic to watch) – just that initially there aren’t enough of those moments. The times in school are fun to watch, but aside from the Juane bullying part, it was more of Ruby/Weiss trying to get along, which to be fair did develop to the point they are friends, but not so much in story.

It is hard for me to conclude about this volume. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but at least initially I’m not sure if it was worth the hype. I am not familiar with any of Rooster Teeths’ work so I cannot say about the fans of their shows – I am going in unprepared and taking the show at face value. As a web series American styled anime like show, it definitely has a lot of potential. The story at the most is fairly traditional, and there are a lot of good moments involving the cast. It is definitely setting up something big, and the volume did enough to keep me interested at least. I am hoping the payoff is going to prove that the hype is worth it…

Summary:
RWBY has been a show that has been in the head for 2 years without watching, and now finally viewing it – the animation style, the voice work, the action, it is a step in the right direction for Rooster Teeth to make an anime style show of their own. The characters are fun, the narrative decent and the story explained well enough to follow on. There isn’t too much of a plot at this point but it is going in the right direction – and I hope that the direction is goes in makes me understand its popularity, as from this volume, I’d say good…and the potential to be great.

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: June 29th, 2015
MSRP: £9.99
Running Time: 123 minutes

Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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