WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for RWBY Volume 2
Last year, I wrote a review on the first volume of RWBY, the online animated smash hit of RoosterTeeth and the creation of the late, great Monty Oum. I had always planned to review the second volume once it was complete and with Volume 3 already several episodes in, I figured it was now or never. Let’s get things started and review the good and bad of RWBY Volume 2.
Negative: The Opening is Misleading
I remember when the OP for Volume 2 was released in order to generate hype. It did its job phenomenally; despite my reservations, I couldn’t help but get excited for what was to come. Which is why I was particularly disappointed when I found out that everything the opening suggested would happen… didn’t actually happen.
I mean, most anime openings that I’ve seen would not only show off the cast of characters and general tone of the show but in some cases, would also foreshadow events that would occur. It feels like Volume 2‘s does that but ends up not delivering on it.
For example, the shot of all of Beacon’s students dropping from the sky into the town, suggesting that they were about to take part in some epic war, doesn’t happen. Oh sure, there’s that Grimm attack in the final episode but that didn’t capture the same kind of scale that the opening did (more details on that later).
Or how about the shot of the villains marching forward whilst surrounded in flames? That was really cool but what bothers me is that Junior and the twins from Yang’s trailer are displayed in that shot but have very minor roles in the actual story. Hell, the twins get less than five seconds of screen time. Why present them as being part of the main villain squad if they’re not going to actually be part of the main villain squad?
The worst offender for me, though, is towards the end where Team RWBY engage the main villains themselves, because these encounters never happen – aside from Ruby’s brief encounter with Cinder in Episode 7 and Blake’s short fight with Torchwick in Episode 11, but like I just said, they’re brief. Ruby didn’t even know who Cinder was.
“Oh, but they’re obviously foreshadowing for later volumes” you might say. Probably, but I feel that by showing these fights in the opening, you’re creating the suggestion that these fights will happen soon, and that’s not what happened. Volume 3‘s opening showcases the exact same fights, so hopefully these will actually happen this time.
Positive: The Good Parts are still Good
It was highly unlikely that the show’s level of quality would drop after the first volume but I was still pleased to see that the things I liked about it were still there.
The action, naturally, is still amazing, exciting and creative. Highlights include close quarters combat on a train, Team RWBY taking on a giant robot and possibly the best food fight ever.
The writing is still good, particularly the comedy. I actually think it’s even better here. There were so many great jokes, both verbally and visually, that had me giggling.
“My dear, we’re not just looking for an underground crime network! We’re looking for an UNDERGROUND CRIME NETWORK!”
The music is still fantastic, whether it be peppy, ominous or intense. All the background music is perfectly matched to the scene, and every vocal track is a joy to listen to. I’m serious, I forgot how good the vocal tracks for this volume were until I rewatched it. You’ve got Time to Say Goodbye, Caffeine, Boop (which actually started me shipping RenXNora) – my only (albeit incredibly minor) complaint is that I don’t think we needed two songs dedicated to the JauneXPyrrha relationship.
Even the voice acting seems to have improved a bit. Like I said, I didn’t think it was terrible last time but there were certainly less awkward line readings, though I do think some of the actors could try and sound a bit more intense during the more serious moments.
As for the animation, well…
Negative: Animation can still be Awkward
As I said in the last review, the animation is by no means bad and has certainly improved in some areas. One of my biggest gripes was with arm and hand animations and, during the second half of the volume, that area seemed to have been worked on.
Somebody also decided to have actual background characters, rather than the black silhouettes from the first volume. I actually didn’t mind that aspect; choosing to focus only on important characters and keeping the crowds faceless, but showing actual people in those crowds does help the world feel more alive.
That being said, the animation on those background characters can be slightly awkward. I saw several of them point with there whole arm; seemingly incapable of moving their fingers, and at one point half of a crowd of people had their left arms slightly raised for no reason.
The worst example was easily a short scene of Cinder running across rooftops. It’s brief, but it was a little bit painful to look at, especially when other movements can be so fluid.
Again, I understand that RWBY doesn’t have much of a budget and, if given the choice between focusing on animation for the main cast or the background characters, it should obviously go towards the former. It’s just that it can be rather blatant and, as a result, very distracting.
Though, on a related note, the animation style used for Yang’s flashback was frigging beautiful and I’d like more of that please.
Positive: The Pacing has been Improved
Maybe pacing is the wrong word, but one of my biggest criticisms of the first volume was how it sometimes felt like nothing happened in certain episodes, most notably the ones that lasted only four or five minutes. Fortunately, this was one of the first things that was fixed.
Every episode of Volume 2 lasts at least ten minutes, which I think suits the show much better. Whenever the credits rolled, I felt that something was achieved, whether it be plot progression or character development. There never felt like a lull in the story or a wasted moment, and while this did mean that we didn’t always get an episode every week, I think it was worth it in the end.
Positive: The New Characters are Great
RWBY is one of those shows where new characters seem to come in by the mother lode and the introduction of one, no matter how minor, can send some fans into a dizzying high of excitement. While I love the concept of a huge cast of characters, it’s all too easy for the writers to get caught up in creating cool, new characters rather than focusing on the actual important ones.
Fortunately, if Volume 2 is anything to go by, that’s one pitfall they’ve avoided. Every new character was established well, and got moments (even very brief ones) to show off what they could do, without overstaying their welcome or feeling like they were being forced upon the viewer. They’re all likable in their own way and I know that everybody has their own favourites.
For me, those were new baddie Neo and scene stealer Coco Adel. The former for having a really cool design, using a simple parasol as a weapon and managing to be graceful, cocky and sadistic despite being completely mute. She is surrounded in mystery and, honestly, I don’t want to know her origin or anything. She’s cooler without it.
As for Coco, well, within seconds of joining the final fight, she casually struts up to a large Grimm, mentions how miffed she is that it destroyed her favourite clothes shop, kicks it in the balls and beats the shit out of it with her handbag, which also turns into a massive Gatling gun. If that description alone doesn’t make you fall in love with her, then nothing will.
Negative: The Villains are Hiding in Plain Sight
This is more of a personal complaint than an actual criticism but it really bothers me that our main antagonists can so casually interact with the heroes without the heroes realising they’re the bad guys.
I know it’s meant to be dramatic irony but I’ve always preferred the idea that the viewer should only know just as much as the heroes know. By knowing who the villains are, I have more knowledge than the heroes which, by extension, makes the heroes seem dumber in my eyes for not figuring things out. I know the heroes aren’t actually dumb but that’s how it feels to me.
What makes it worse, though, is that when the heroes do eventually find out that Cinder, Emerald and Mercury have been duping them, they’re going to be all surprised and maybe horrified and I’ll have to put up with them going “I can’t believed they lied to us” or “I thought we were friends” or something to that effect, and I’ll be sitting here not caring because I saw this coming!
It’s not a terrible writing convention but it’s one I’d prefer wasn’t here.
Negative: Did People Die during the Episode 4 Fight?
Another personal point but it’s one I can’t help but write about. During Episode 4, Torchwick is chasing our heroes on a motorway and casually smashes through cars, sending them flying all over the place. I’m assuming that those cars had drivers, which begs the question: did people die?
I only bring this up because it’s never addressed. I guess we could assume that nobody was seriously hurt but those cars weren’t just being shoved out of the way – they were being knocked into the air. I’ve seen some characters survive worse in this show but I would’ve appreciated a bit of clarity concerning that scene.
Positive: Team RWBY make Progress
Another one of my main complaints about Volume 1 was how it felt like Team RWBY didn’t really accomplish anything in terms of the actual plot – as a team, at the very least. Sure, they took down the Nevermore but that was just to establish their future connection and fighting skills. In regards to the actual overall story, Blake was the only one to really get involved. I expressed hope that actual story progression would be made in this volume and, while we’re still in the dark about some things, I can certainly say that Team RWBY is at least getting involved with the action.
From the second episode onwards, the group took initiative, rather than coincidentally getting caught up in the plot. While I do think Weiss got won over to the idea way too easily (she says that, as students, they’re not ready to get involved but immediately changes her mind), it was great to see them trying to figure things out for themselves, making plans and trying to remain covert. It made their victories feel like they were earned and their losses all the more painful. There’s nothing worse than having passive characters that let the plot come to them and RWBY has thankfully avoided that.
Positive: Jaune and Pyrrha are too Cute
One of the biggest problems of heavily focusing on a romance is that you’re going to divide people into two camps: those that can’t stand it and those that love it. As you can probably guess, though, I’ve fallen into the latter.
It’s just… god damn it, they are too cute together. Don’t get me wrong, aspects of it are quite cliché but I’m a sucker for a romance if it’s well written, if those involved have good chemistry or if it’s really, really cute.
I was surprised by how invested I got with it. When Jaune mentions how Pyrrha must have loads of guys clamoring over each other to ask her to the dance, she quite heavily mentions how no one has. And Jaune doesn’t get the hint! God damn it, man! Forget Weiss, you’ve got a red-headed bad-ass pining for you!
At the dance, when Pyrrha finally opens up about how much she appreciated Jaune treating her like a normal person as opposed to the warrior messiah everyone else does, it kind of made me go “d’awwwwwww.” Hell, she outright says there and then “You’re the kind of guy I wish I was here with. Someone who saw me for me.” In other words, “I’m super in love with you! How have you not seen it yet?!” Aside from being a nice character moment, it explained why Pyrrha was so drawn to him in Volume 1; everyone else saw Pyrrha as ‘above them’ and treated her as a celebrity or an idol. Jaune didn’t know who she was to begin with and, even after he found out, was willing to have normal conversations with her. My point is, it’s really sweet and I like it.
What’s followed is Jaune fulfilling his promise by putting on a dress, despite the embarrassment, and dancing with Pyrrha. I’m not quite sure if this means their relationship has officially upgraded so I’ll have to wait till Volume 3 to find out. It’s not something that everyone’s going to be invested in but if I hear either one of these two utter the three magic words, I will squeal like a little girl.
Negative: Cinder’s Disguise in Episode 7 was Terrible
Seriously, now did nobody figure out it was her? It’s not like she’s hiding somewhere; she’s walking around the school in broad daylight! All she did was put on a domino mask and that was it (and in some shots, she wasn’t even wearing it but that’s an animation error). She didn’t even change her hair. She could’ve dyed it, worn a wig, put it in a ponytail; she could’ve done anything to change her appearance slightly. How the authorities didn’t immediately pick up who she was after the fact astounds me.
This isn’t necessarily a problem unique to RWBY; several other shows and movies have done the same thing. The most obvious example being Superman – apparently, the dude just needs to put on some glasses and suddenly everybody’s fooled. But just because others do it and somehow get away with it doesn’t mean RWBY should do it.
Negative: Was Zwei really Necessary?
I’m probably going to piss some people off here with this one. Don’t get me wrong, Zwei’s adorable and, to his credit, he does take part in fights and shows combat potential. I don’t know how Oobleck knew Zwei could be used as a fireball projectile but… whatever, it was cool.
But I can’t help but feel Zwei was included just because they wanted to put a cute dog in (I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Monty loved corgis) and with a quick rewrite, you could probably take him out and lose nothing.
“But he was the one that caused Ruby to find the White Fang and follow them to their base” you cry. True, but you could have easily had Ruby still be on watch duty, spot the White Fang and opt to follow them.
“But he led the team to where Ruby was when she got captured.” Again, true, but considering Yang noticed she was missing anyway, you could’ve just had the team go look for her and come across the hole with her scythe nearby.
Zwei add’s an extra level of cuteness but if he didn’t exist, I don’t think it would change much.
Positive: Team RWBY have great Chemistry
That’s not to say that they had bad chemistry in the last volume but I swear, every interaction the team had in this volume was gold. Everything from the serious scenes, like Yang telling Blake about her past, to even simple scenes like the board game in the library, complete with Weiss going from clueless newbie to maniacal supervillain to overly weeping and hugging a just as distressed Ruby, was fantastic.
I realised whilst I was watching that, in Volume 1, most of the interactions were between two specific characters rather than the whole group. Again, they were really good but seeing the whole team interact with each other really highlighted their friendship; I genuinely felt that, despite their difference in personalities, these four were close.
And, of course, this was expressed during fight scenes as well. I wrote about my love of teamwork in the last review already so I won’t repeat myself but I will highlight one of my favourite examples.
Episode 11. The team’s on the train, trying to stop it. Weiss and Blake come across some White Fang member wielding a chainsaw. Weiss tells Blake to go ahead whilst she holds him off. The fight starts with Weiss charging at him, but just as he lunges at her, she backflips and Blake, before dashing off, blocks his chainsaw and disorientates him, allowing Weiss to perform a follow-up attack. It was so brief and so little but I remember almost screaming at how hype it was, especially considering their interactions during the last two episodes of Volume 1.
So, yeah, character interaction is really good. Moving on…
Negative: Yang’s Mum comes out of Nowhere
And before any of you say “But she got set-up in Yang’s flashback,” I already have a retort. All that flashback told us was that Yang’s mum was missing. While it left the door open for her to possibly show up, it didn’t establish that it would happen soon.
I mean, she literally just shows up with no build-up or proper foreshadowing and is now apparently super important. Why was she on the train? How did she know to get on the train? Why did she show up then? It feels as if there was a scene that got cut. If there was at least an establishing shot of her watching Yang from afar or even her in the shadows where we can’t even see what she looks like, her appearance would’ve felt more natural.
I’m looking forward to seeing what her story’s about and what she’ll bring to the show; I just wish her introduction was handled better.
Negative: The Final Fight is Disappointing
Yeah, remember how I complained in my Volume 1 review that the final fight was really disappointing? Sadly, that’s something I find myself moaning about again.
On the one hand, it is slightly better than Volume 1‘s since Team RWBY are actually working together for this one. Not only that but JNPR, CFVY and even a couple of the teachers get involved (complete with a decent scene of Jaune taking out a Grimm on his own and Coco’s aforementioned awesomeness) but, it all felt too easy. We see a lot of Grimm and some stuff gets blown up but it didn’t really feel like there was much at stake going on.
We didn’t see the heroes struggling to deal with the amount of Grimm that were running around, we’re only told that people got hurt (really, no one died?) and we even see Glynda fix part of the broken road with just a wave of her wand. She does it with so little effort; how am I supposed to feel sad about the town getting wrecked if the damage can be undone so easily?
Also, Sun and Neptune did jack-shit. They show up for just a single joke and that’s it. It would’ve been cool to see the two do more considering they were quickly taken out during the Episode 4 fight, but no. And they even fist-bump when it’s all done. You did nothing! You don’t get to fist-bump! And where the hell’s the rest of your team?!
Overall, Volume 2 is very much an improvement. I felt like it was going in the right direction and, when the credits rolled, I was left feeling more positive about the show’s future as opposed to how I felt during Volume 1‘s ending. My biggest concern is that RWBY will get too caught up in its own mystery that it would rather add more questions than answer the ones it already has. Only one way to find out, I guess.