RWBY Volume 4 – One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for RWBY Volume 4

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Regular listeners of The Entertainment Dome may recall that I already discussed  RWBY Volume 4 in great detail during its initial run. Almost every week, my co-host and I would talk about the latest episode and share opinions and theories as to what would come next. But while we did have fun and intend to do weekly recaps of Volume 5 once that starts, those were only first impressions.

Was this volume as amazing as I initially believed it was or does a second viewing reveal some more problematic issues I wasn’t aware of? Let’s find out together, shall we?

Positive: The New Animation

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I was pretty surprised to see the series get an animation bump for Volume 4. Whilst watching the new short they made for it of Ruby battling some Grimm, my jaw spent almost the entirety of it on the flaw just because of how much better it looked. If I’m being honest, it’s a little jarring seeing how much of an improvement it is over the previous volumes. I don’t want to knock the initial animation style since, while I have heavily criticised it in the past, I felt it had enough of a unique style to carry it. Plus, it did get a lot better as the show went on.

But I feel this new animation can do a much better job at bringing in new fans who may have been put off by how the early volumes looked. And it’s not like the style has changed completely; it looks like it has evolved. Both the characters and the world are still recognisable to long-time fans but everything seems more lively. The characters move more fluidly, the environments are more detailed (though all those destroyed and abandoned villages began to blur together as the volume went on), even the faces have become more expressive and are probably the best they have ever been. One of my favourite earliest examples is Jaune’s face during the Geist Grimm fight in the first episode, which quickly went from confidence to worry to utter panic in less than a second. He even ran his fingers through his hair without said hair freaking out or glitching. Good job, animators.

Admittedly, I couldn’t help but notice the occasional stiff movement here and there (some bits in the opening, for example) but they’re even less frequent than in the last volume. If you blinked, you’d probably miss them.

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Oh, and can I just quickly mention how good the new character designs are? I fell in love with them the moment I saw them, especially Yang’s sick biker jacket combined with her robot arm. You could probably make the argument that they didn’t need to change their designs but, if they had to, I’m glad that they turned out like this. Not only do they feel like natural evolutions of their original designs (because, let’s face it, if Ruby suddenly started wearing blue for some reason, the fandom would probably riot), they exude maturity, highlighting how the characters are having to grow up to deal with their oncoming struggles. That being said, I’m glad they didn’t give every character a new design, like Sun, Emerald and Mercury. No need to fix something if it isn’t broken.

Basically, the new animation’s great and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Positive: The Music

I’m gonna be honest, I’m only bringing up the music out of habit at this point. If you’ve read any of my previous RWBY reviews, you’ll know by now that the music is the one thing that I’m guaranteed to love in every volume. So rather than needlessly ramble about why I like the music in its entirety, here’s just a quick selection of some of my favourite tracks from Volume 4.

  • Let’s Just Live – probably my favourite opening song so far thanks to its catchy beat and hopeful message
  • This Life is Mine – a slow but powerful song that segues into hard rock and symbolises Weiss’ resentment towards her father
  • Armed and Ready – headbangingly awesome track that perfectly fits the recovered Yang and her returning determination

Positive: Salem’s Villain Squad

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I remember being so excited to finally see Salem at the end of Volume 3 and was looking forward to seeing more of her and her connection with Cinder in Volume 4. But I certainly didn’t expect her to have her own squad of antagonists. This may seem like a weird thing to get excited over but, for whatever reason, knowing that Salem had more allies than I thought drove my hype levels up.

It helped that, within that opening bit of the first episode, I immediately wanted to know more about them. Watts won me over with his smug attitude, sense of superiority and rather lean design. He didn’t look like a fighter at all, which makes me wonder what he brings to Salem’s group. As for Hazel, his burly frame made it apparent that he’s probably very strong but his neutral expressions and quiet nature made him a hard read. Aside from that, there was nothing about them that made them look evil. They honestly looked relatively normal, which only makes me more intrigued. How did Salem find them? Or did they come to her? Why are they working with her? And as for Tyrian, well, I’ll get to him later on.

I’ve always loved villainous organisations so knowing that Salem isn’t just a one-woman show makes things more interesting. Plus, their introduction paints Cinder in a slightly different light.

Positive: Cinder’s State

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Ever since the ending of Volume 1, Cinder was the closest thing we had to a main villain. Torchwick was revealed to be working for her, she was coming up with all the plans and calmly manipulating everyone from the shadows. She was mysterious, calculating, powerful and just radiating pure evil. Between her causing the destruction of Beacon, her implied defeat of Ozpin and her murder of Pyrrha, I was eager to see someone, anyone, get some payback against her. But Volume 4 immediately did something shocking that I wasn’t expecting – show another side to her.

When we first see Cinder, she is weak and broken. She can barely speak above a hoarse whisper and needs Emerald to act as a mouthpiece for her, most of her body is completely covered up (her left arm constantly hidden by a long sleeve) and we even learn that she lost an eye because of Ruby’s silver-eye-powered freak-out. She had become a shadow of what she once was, and I kind of liked it. Not because I thought she deserved it but because seeing her in such a vulnerable state made her a lot more interesting.

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This was only accentuated by the appearance of Salem’s evil council and her interactions with Salem herself. The way the other villains act and talk to Cinder indicates they don’t think much of her, despite her acquiring the Fall Maiden’s power. She’s also submissive to Salem; maybe even a bit afraid of her. We had always viewed Cinder as the head honcho, but Volume 4 revealed that, despite her skills and power, she’s the ‘kid’ of the group – a young girl caught up in something far more diabolical. The way Salem speaks to her almost like a strict mother only highlights this.

By putting Cinder in such a weakened state, it only makes her inevitable return to form more exciting and more terrifying, especially since the last episode shows that she has a lot of hatred for Ruby and probably wants nothing more than for the poor girl to beg for her life, before Cinder snuffs it out.

Negative: Emerald & Mercury Do Nothing

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While Emerald and Mercury aren’t exactly personal favourites of mine, I was a little disappointed to see them pushed to the sidelines in this volume. Emerald’s only contribution was to act as a translator for Cinder, and Mercury… actually Mercury didn’t do anything. Hell, I don’t think he even got a line.

You could make the argument that this was intentional since we’ve now got even stronger, threatening villains in play but while I do like Salem’s villain squad, it doesn’t mean I want to see these two become irrelevant. They played such a big part in the previous two volumes; why would you suddenly ditch them when we’ve got to know them?

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It’s even more annoying since, like Cinder, the existence of these other villains changes how I perceived Emerald and Mercury. That first scene of them watching Grimm emerge from those black pools with grimace and horror on their faces made me realise that they’re kids too; kids that have suffered and grown bitter at the world and have ended up being dragged into something far more sinister than I think either of them expected. It actually gave them a more sympathetic edge despite all the horrible things they helped cause in Volume 3.

However, I’m somewhat positive they’ll get back into the spotlight in the future at some point. Hopefully, later appearances will see them interacting with the other villains more, maybe even questioning whether they should continue down the path their on? At least they got it better than Neo (seriously, please bring her back or at least explain where she went).

Positive: Team RNJR

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I was particularly ecstatic when Volume 3 ended with the remnants of Team JNPR leaving with Ruby. Aside from the occasional focus on Jaune’s character and growth and Pyrrha’s deal in Volume 3, it never really felt like Team JNPR were ever part of the main story, so to see them become more directly involved was just very pleasing for me.

It’s also nice to just see them working together and hanging out. The last few volumes helped establish that, despite not being part of their team, Ruby was already good friends with them, even though they never spent a lot of time on screen together. Ruby’s sudden inclusion manages to feel natural; she doesn’t stick out. Plus it’s just really cool to see how they fight together, with Ruby’s and Nora’s combos being personal highlights.

My only real gripe is that I feel like Team RNJR could have been explored a lot more but that’s something I’ll get into a bit later. I’m just happy to see what once were just another couple of secondary cast members elevate somewhat and get more focus, and I can’t wait to see more of them.

Positive: Weiss’ Home Life

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I remember back when I was watching Volume 3 and we got some hints towards Weiss’ home life and her estranged relationship with her father. Though she was clearly avoiding him and didn’t exactly hold him in the highest regard, I wondered whether her animosity was justified. Was her father really as bad as she made him out to be? Maybe there was a lack of communication? What if her father was actually a decent guy in the end? Turns out I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Volume 4 gave us proper insight into Weiss’ home life and her relationship with the rest of her family and, by God, it was depressing. Jacques Schnee was revealed to be the quintessential abusive parent; greedy, selfish and clearly lacking any respect or love for his daughter. What makes him work as an unlikable bastard, though, is he’s not portrayed as some moustache twirling super-villain. He’s not like Salem or her cronies who are at least aware that they’re the bad guys.  He almost feels real – he possesses numerous traits that we recognise in people in real life. Add on top of that his slapping Weiss, cutting her out of her inheritance and the revelation that he married into the Schnee family and twisted what was once a respectable name into what it is now, and you’ve got one great “love-to-hate” character.

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Then you have Whitley, who I didn’t trust for a single second once he appeared on screen. Even so, the fact that Weiss is shocked by how nice he’s being at first is enough to highlight how strained the Schnee family is. And it’s still sad when Whitley reveals his true colours of being a little shit, having manipulated Weiss himself. She actually seems pretty devastated. Like father, like son, I guess (though I’m banking on Whitley stabbing even Jacques in the back later).

Weiss doesn’t even have her mother to go to. In fact, she’s completely absent aside from Whitley mention she’s in the garden “drinking again” and her pretty sombre appearance in the family painting. Not even a line of dialogue from her and I feel bad for Weiss’ mum; driven to implied alcoholism and, as a result, dividing the family further. What the hell did Jacques do to her?

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This is even highlighted with how sterile Weiss’ home looks. I mean, it’s pretty but the pure white symbolises how empty it is. In some shots, it looks like there’s nothing there; just big empty spaces, which make Weiss look even smaller and alone.

The one bright side was the butler Klein, who immediately won me over due to being one big reference to the Seven Dwarfs, right down to having multiple personalities which, despite how different they are, all clearly love Weiss and support her. Hell, he risks losing his job to help Weiss escape. I really wish he had actually left with her just so I could see the two interact more. It was just nice to see someone in Weiss’ home life who was so open with her. I know Winter loves her too but she’s not exactly someone who’s open with her emotions.

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With Weiss getting a little sidelined in previous volumes, seeing her get this much focus again was great, even if her circumstances were awful. But it’s what made her eventual departure all the more satisfying and I can’t wait to see her reunite with her old friends, and maybe she’ll eventually deliver Jacques his comeuppance.

Positive: Jaune’s Characterisation

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It would’ve been so easy to have Jaune become a brooding, grumpy asshole following Pyrrha’s death. Fortunately, that’s not what happened. In fact, Jaune’s character remained relatively unchanged. While he’s more confident in his fighting abilities and has improved as a strategist, he’s still the same awkward but lovable goofball we first met. At the same time, however, there are multiple moments that show how the end of Volume 3 has affected him.

In Episode 2, we see him using a video from Pyrrha to help him train. This alone can be interpreted in a number of ways. Does he still feel like he needs her guidance or does he watch it just as an excuse to hear her voice again? It’s never properly addressed and I don’t think it should be. It adds to the tragedy.

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However, while he’s clearly heartbroken (as demonstrated by said scene and his animosity towards Qrow), he never makes it all about him. Hell, he never mentions Pyrrha to the others aside from one brief scene between him and Ruby where he reassures her that she’s not to blame for dragging him, Ren and Nora into the mess they’re in. It’s honestly a very sweet moment because he acknowledges that Ruby is also hurting over losing Pyrrha and even points out how she lost Penny and her team too.

I don’t know what the CRWBY has planned for Jaune in the future but I’m glad that he didn’t descend into a selfish, whiny brat and is instead maturing into a fine fighter in his own right.

Positive: Blake’s Arc & Interactions with Sun

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Blake was never my favourite member of Team RWBY. Not because I particularly dislike her or anything; I just prefer the other three more. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed how her character was presented in this volume, and it’s ironically because it was the exact opposite of what I expected/wanted.

When we first see her on that boat, she’s on edge; paranoid. Even the sound of children loudly playing is enough to make her place a hand on her weapon. We’re immediately reminded that the events of Volume 3 have left her damaged. And when she discards her bow to the ocean, it’s not in a triumphant “I’m gonna own my identity” kind of way. Between the sombre music and her subdued mutter of “Won’t be needing this,” it feels like she’s given up. Granted, she is returning to Menagerie, the Faunus’ home, so there’s no reason to hide who she is but there’s still a sense of sadness to it. It’s as if she’s choosing to no longer hide because she has no intention of stepping outside of Menagerie or seeing her friends again.

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Which leads me to the reason she left to begin with. Back in my Volume 3 review, I actually complained about Blake leaving without saying anything to the others. I didn’t think it made much sense considering she was going to go avenge Yang; it felt like it was creating forced drama. Then Volume 4‘s third episode came out and proceeded to make my criticism irrelevant (only three weeks after I published my review – thanks CRWBY!).

Turns out she wasn’t going on a one-woman rampage against Adam and the White Fang. She was just going home; she had, in fact, ran away again. Not only is this much more interesting and tragic but it just makes sense. Seeing her new home ruined and her new friends badly hurt by people she used to associate with would make her do this. I feel we keep forgetting that despite her maturity, Blake is still a teenager and it’s understandable for her to be scared by what she saw and choose to leave in the hopes that her friends won’t get hurt again by being involved with her.

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It’s what makes her dynamic with Sun in this volume great too. As someone who was kind of miffed by how little the two hung out in the previous volume, I was very pleased to see him show up on that boat and make the same misconception the audience made. Even though he’s wrong about why Blake left, he still chooses to accompany her home and doesn’t even judge her on her decision to leave. He sticks by her because he’s her friend and that’s what they do.

Though while the two had developed something of a rapport in the first two volumes, their relationship feels very strained here; mostly due to Blake. Sun continues to act like his goofy self but Blake is clearly in no mood to tolerate it this time. She seems to get genuinely frustrated with him, even hitting him at points, but it’s not because she hates him. She just doesn’t want to see him get hurt and is almost trying to drive him away, whereas he is trying to bring more levity into her life and, while maybe a bit insensitive at points, is genuinely trying to help. He puts up with a lot of Blake’s anger towards him because he knows that she’s hurting deep down.

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The scene the two have in Episode 11 is the crowner, though, because Sun drops the goofball act for a few minutes and calls Blake out, saying that she can push her friends away all she wants but she doesn’t get to make her friends’ choices. It’s just great to see a character who’s usually comedic get real for a moment and show his devotion. And if her smile afterwards is any indication, Blake truly does appreciate Sun’s efforts, and I can’t wait to see the two bounce off each other more in Volume 5.

Positive: Yang’s Recovery

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Unlike Blake’s arc, Yang’s was pretty much what I expected to be. But, in this instance, that’s not a bad thing since I got what I wanted – seeing Yang coping with the aftermath of losing her arm and managing to recover.

Don’t get me wrong, though; it was still depressing to watch. When we first see Yang, she’s such a far cry from her original, peppy self. Her posture is slumped slightly, she moves a bit slower, she’s wearing much more casual clothing, and she sounds so tired. There’s no energy, no spark; she was already in a bad place at the end of Volume 3 and this is a continuation of that. She doesn’t even jump at the opportunity to attach the new mechanical arm Tai got for her.

In her first scene, we just watch her do stuff around the house like sweeping the porch and checking the mailbox. It’s oddly jarring seeing a character like Yang doing such mundane tasks in an equally mundane way. It also demonstrates how she’s adapted to only having one arm. While you obviously feel bad for her, she seems to be handling herself well. It’s a small hint that she might be coping with it a bit better than we assumed.

At least until she drops a glass and its shattering triggers a flashback to Adam, causing her to lunge back, breathing heavily. Just when you think she might be getting better, we’re shown that relaxing at home for several months will never erase those memories. Though she does replace her arm later (more on that in a bit), the emotional scars are probably forever; something that’s highlighted in Yang’s nightmare.

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I’ve mentioned it before but I have a real love of nightmare sequences and Yang’s, while maybe obvious, was presented very well. The ominous music, the faint but still discernible screaming in the background, Adam glowing bright red to contrast with the grey surroundings, Yang’s attacks going through him like he’s a ghost as he slowly advances towards her and draws his sword, his frigging smile – the whole thing’s just quietly terrifying. Even though Adam himself never appears in this volume, scenes like this show that his prescence and impact are still felt by the cast.

The most surprising aspect of Yang’s recovery, though, is her admitting that she’s trying to accept the loss of her arm and the reason she hasn’t tried the replacement is because she feels she needs to deal with the consequences.

“Do you want me to pretend nothing happened? I lost a part of me. A piece of me is gone, and it’s never coming back.”

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It’s weirdly refreshing to see an injured character refusing to return to action not out of fear but out of a sense of responsibility. Not that this stops her from putting the arm on later, whether it be because she’s convinced by her dad’s reasoning or because she realises how worried he is about Ruby and decides she needs to recover to go find her. And let’s be real – we all cheered when she put the arm on. It just looks so rad, especially when she spray paints it yellow.

While Yang’s recovery happened probably much quicker than it arguably should have, I feel it was still handled relatively well within this volume. We got to see Yang at her lowest and eventually regain her confidence and spirit, though a part of me wonders whether she’s completely back to normal. Somehow, I doubt it; maybe her inevitable rematch with Adam won’t go exactly how we all think it will. Regardless, I’m excited to see what adventures Yang will get into in Volume 5.

Negative: Did Tai Cross a Line?

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I might be reading too much into a single, minor moment but, on a repeated viewing, it sticks out like a sore thumb. And it’s this line from Tai during Episode 4 when he’s berating Yang.

“If you honestly think you’re ready to go out there on your own… well, guess you lost some brain cells along with that arm.”

The second he said that, I was just as aghast as the other characters. Where the hell did that even come from?! It’s just so needlessly mean spirited, and the fact that it came from Tai, who has been presented as a generally loving father, made it even more jarring. But after that awkward pause, Yang jokingly punches his arm with a lighthearted response.

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“Oh, it’s okay” I thought, “He’s allowed to say that.” But the more I began to think about, the more I wondered whether if that really was okay just because of Yang’s reaction. I know for a fact there are at least some people that now detest Tai because of this line, regardless of any of his other actions.

Furthermore, watching it again made me realise how completely random it is. Tai never demonstrates this kind of attitude again and nobody addresses it afterwards. It only exists as an awkward segue into the other characters talking about Yang’s arm.

If I may play conspiracy theorist for a moment, it feels like the writers wanted a “shock” moment; a moment to completely take the fan-base aback with how out-of-nowhere horrid it is, only to quickly deflate the situation. But unlike actual “shock” moments like Pyrrha’s death or Salem’s reveal, this adds nothing. All it’s managed to do is piss off some fans who think Tai crossed the line.

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It’s such a damn shame since Tai is, otherwise, a pretty great dad in my opinion. When he brings Yang’s new arm to her, you can tell how enthusiastic he is about it, yet he doesn’t pressure her to try it on straight away. He’s clearly upset about it, though, and the look on his face when he sees Yang have her mini-panic attack in the kitchen shows that he really wants to see her get better.

I also love the little speech he makes in Episode 4 about what being normal means. He knows that Yang wants to go out and explore the world, like she said back in Volume 2, and she doesn’t need to give up on that dream just because she lost her arm.

Between this and the sparring matches the two have, I get the sense that Tai is the kind of person that values brutal honesty. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, and maybe that stems from how he’s more of a warrior than a father. Let’s not forget that he was devastated following both of his wives’ disappearances; maybe he’s a bit emotionally stunted?

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I still think Tai’s a good character and I wholeheartedly believe he cherishes his daughters and would do anything for them. It’s just such a shame that because of one line, his image will forever be tarnished for some people.

Positive: Qrow & Raven

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This volume did a lot of good for the Branwen twins. Qrow was already a great character and we got to see a different side of him, and as for Raven… well, she actually showed up and we finally got a more definite look at her character. And, wow, is she a bitch.

Even though she only appears in one brief scene, her conversation with Qrow manages to perfectly sum her up and the two’s relationship. Despite clearly being on speaking terms and both opposed to Salem, there’s some clear resentment; each of them accuse the other of abandoning their “family.” It’s almost sad to see these two almost at each other’s throats, if it weren’t for how unlikable Raven is (in a good way, though).

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She acts as if Qrow was in the wrong for deserting the people who raised them, even though said people are bandits responsible for attacking and destroying innocent villages. She even thinks that just because she stepped in to save Yang that one time, that’s enough to be a good mum. She doesn’t even ask about her. It’s kind of great to see all my preconceptions of her be thrown out the window, though I am glad Raven isn’t a definitive villain. Antagonistic, maybe, but she doesn’t want to see Salem succeed either, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see her switch sides given her whole “survival of the fittest” mentality.

Oh, and I want to give some quick praise to her voice actress, Anna Hullum, who does a great job at making Raven sound both self-righteous and menacing. The moment she started talking, I was like “Oh, I do NOT like you.” This is apparently her first ever acting role too so kudos there.

Qrow, meanwhile, manages to become even more likable. I initially wasn’t fond of how he did the classic mentor thing of not directly assisting Ruby and co., choosing to hang back and keep an eye on them, but it’s later justified when Qrow reveals that his Semblance literally causes bad luck for those around him. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this at first but it’s actually an interesting way of explaining why Qrow prefers to be alone, and considering how much he genuinely loves his family, it paints him in a more tragic light.

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I was also glad to see him eventually step in and permanently travel with Team RNJR. I feel like most trickster mentor archetypes wouldn’t do what he did; he recognised Tyrian as too much of a threat and immediately rushed in to save Ruby. The animators did a great job showing how Qrow handles panic and fear, stumbling over himself as he runs to intervene and demanding that Team RNJR stay out of his fight with Tyrian with a fearful and serious look in his eyes – an emotion we had never seen Qrow display before.

Both Qrow and Raven look set to have important roles in the next volume and I, for one, can’t wait to see how Qrow interacts with some other cast members and what Raven’s deal actually is.

Positive: Blake’s Parents

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While Tai’s status as a good parent might be debatable for some, there’s no denying that Blake’s parents – Ghira and Kali Belladonna – are awesome; possibly the best parents we’ve seen so far, because they’re so damn supportive and caring. This is established the second they appear on screen and see Blake for the first time in so long. Though somewhat surprised, they’re just happy to see her; Kali pulling her daughter into a tight embrace and Ghira smiling softly.

It’s even more heartwarming once we find out that the last time they were altogether, they had had a massive argument regarding Blake choosing to stay with Adam and the White Fang. Blake is clearly regretful of her actions and is even shocked that her parents would continue to love her after the things she said. But they never held that against her and always hoped they’d get to see her again. Hell, Ghira says as such and is just proud to see his daughter not go down the wrong path.

While Ghira himself is a very typical stoic but kindhearted dad character, it still works very well, partly due to Kent Williams’ performance. It’s one of those character archetypes I’m a sucker for. He’s clearly a strong and capable leader, certainly no one you’d want to upset, but he’s also capable of compassion and can be a relaxed individual when around family and friends. And though his dislike of Sun is a tad cliche, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it funny.

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As for Kali, again, she’s not a character we’ve not seen before but she fits the mold of the doting mother while also still treating Blake like an adult. She also has a few goofy traits of her own, which explain why she gets along with Sun so well. Her falling through the door in Episode 11 is probably my favourite joke in the whole volume. In short, Blake’s parents are just great and I wouldn’t say no to seeing more of them.

Negative: The White Fang’s Portrayal

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Remember how the White Fang were introduced as misguided protesters that believed they had to resort to violence to achieve their goals of equality? Well, it’s beginning to feel like that interesting and complex idea has been ditched. Between Volume 3‘s climax and their few appearances in this volume, it looks like the group is now just another band of bad guys.

It’s kind of annoying because the revelation of Adam actually leading a splinter group of the White Fang could’ve led to some cool conflicts. Like, we could’ve seen another side of the White Fang – those that genuinely wish for peaceful protest but are attacked because of their affiliation; maybe we could see how Sienna Khan – the actual leader – deals with this inner conflict. But we’ve seen no sign of any of this, and considering Salem intends to bring Sienna in on her cause, it’s highly likely that this won’t be explored at all. It just reeks of a wasted opportunity.

And while I’m on the subject of complaining about the White Fang, I can’t help but also take umbrage with Corsac and Fennec. When they explained the splinter group, I was pleasantly surprised to see these two acknowledging the problems it caused and not blaming Blake for no longer wanting to support their cause, while still saying that she’s welcome back. Then it turns out they’re actually super evil and working for Adam, which is more boring than anything at this point. Oh, and how come they were included in the opening despite only showing up for a few minutes in the entire volume?! (Wouldn’t be a RWBY review without me bitching about the opening, would it?)

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The chameleon girl, Ilia, is also important now to Blake’s character apparently? Like, she just shows up out of nowhere, is immediately established to have history with Blake and even looks set to play an important role in the future. The Blake short they made for Volume 5 actually focused more on Ilia, summing up her backstory and demonstrating her old friendship with Blake.

It’s not like she’s a particularly bad character or anything; it’s just that I haven’t been given much of a reason to care about her. Maybe if she had been established as early as Volume 1 and we got to see a few interactions between her and Blake; maybe demonstrating how the rift in their friendship grew.

Her and the two foxes may play more integral parts in the future, but as of now, they feel almost extraneous.

Positive: Ren’s Arc & Backstory

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Of all the things I didn’t expect to see in Volume 4, Ren getting his own little character arc and backstory was probably the least expected. At the time, it almost seemed to come out of nowhere, but I didn’t think it was a bad thing. If anything, I was actually super curious. Ren never had any real focus in the previous volumes; most of the time, he was pretty much half of a double act, so I was fully on-board with getting to know a bit more about him.

Granted, Ren’s backstory isn’t anything groundbreaking and it hasn’t necessarily changed how I perceive him as a character, but it was just nice to see other sides to him and learn more about where he came from. And it was kinda depressing.

We already knew Ren didn’t have any family thanks to a throwaway line from Nora in Volume 3, but to actually see why that’s the case – losing his family and home to the Grimm – was still a shock to the system and a tad distressing to watch, especially when his father orders him to run, leaving him with the lesson that it’s always best to do something rather than nothing. And if that wasn’t depressing enough, we even see how he first met Nora, who was once a homeless child forced to steal bread just to survive. Won’t lie, seeing the happy-go-lucky girl we’ve known for years as a scared, crying child got to me, as well as when Ren gives her a toy hammer, cementing these two’s relationship and why they’ve remained so close.

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But it’s not necessarily Ren’s past that I loved watching. It was seeing his past come back to haunt him. Throughout his journey with Team RNJR, he’s forced to confront the memory of losing his home and everyone he loved thanks to Shion Village’s destruction and coming across the abandoned Oniyuri. Not to mention he keeps seeing traces of the Grimm he considers responsible for everything. Imagine that – losing everything you know and love because of a single creature, and learning that many years later, the thing’s still alive and ruining other peoples’ lives.

I’ll cover said Grimm later on, but I loved Ren’s reactions to seeing it again come the final episodes. His initial (and understandable) fear of the beast, and it potentially taking away his new family, melting away and replaced with unyielding rage. I’ve got to hand it to the animators once more for how they did Ren’s face during that confrontation. Those were the eyes of a man hellbent on revenge.

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I just kind of wish his actor, Neath Oum, delivered a slightly more intense performance during those moments where Ren gets consumed by his own anger. I still think he does a solid performance, but it feels like he’s trying to maintain Ren’s stoicism even when he doesn’t necessarily need to. Maybe it was a voice direction thing?

Regardless, even though Ren’s arc only lasted in this one volume, watching him get his revenge against the Grimm was still immensely satisfying. The best part was when the thing screamed directly in his face and he just stared back and cut its limbs off, one by one, before chopping the head off with the knife his father left him. I’m personally more of a “revenge is never the answer” guy myself but, sometimes, even I approve of some good old fashioned payback.

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Was this arc needed? Probably not. But it’s appreciated, because it made Ren more than just Jaune’s other teammate or Nora’s friend. It gave him a bit more agency; by understanding him a bit more, I now care more about him and want to see him succeed in any battles he may have in the future. Now, how about we get some Nora backstory?

Positive: Oscar & Ozpin’s Dynamic

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I feel like I should dislike Oscar. He’s suddenly introduced to the story with no real build-up, is revealed to have a connection with Ozpin and we’re pretty much told that he’s super important now. But, for whatever reason, I’m actually OK with Oscar’s introduction and his role.

Maybe it’s because you get a sense he’s important from the second he appears. Even then, I suspected that he and Ozpin were related somehow (my initial theory was that he was Ozpin in the past). I guess it’s because Oscar’s status raises interesting questions and creates a good mystery. Ozpin (now a voice in Oscar’s head) even states that he went through the exact same thing Oscar did. Ozpin was already a mysterious character and I actually kind of like how the few pieces of his past we get create new questions.

But what I really like about Oscar is his initial refusal to listen to Ozpin, if only because of how natural it is. He’s still a kid, now believing he’s gone insane and being told that he needs to leave home and embark on some dangerous journey. Even though he apparently doesn’t want to be a farmhand for the rest of his life and would probably love to go explore the world, the fact that some disembodied voice in his head is telling him this almost drives him over the edge. You do feel so bad for him.

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At the same time, though, it’s clear Ozpin isn’t happy about it either. You can tell that he wishes he didn’t have to force this responsibility on Oscar and is trying to make it as easy as possible for him by being patient and understanding. But, sadly, you can’t make a situation like this easy, especially for a young boy like Oscar. Even when Oscar finally agrees and leaves, there’s this sense of sadness to the proceedings. Oscar does say he feels he’s doing the right thing, but you almost can’t help but feel he’s doing it because he’s given up and just wants to get it over with.

Oscar looks set to play a bigger role in Volume 5 and I hope we not only learn a lot more about him and his “destiny” but also maybe develop his and Ozpin’s relationship more. Hopefully, the two will grow a bit closer and develop some banter.

Positive: Tyrian

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I’ve already gone into why I love Salem’s villain squad but, out of all of them thus far, Tyrian is easily my favourite. Not because he’s the most interesting or unique or has the coolest design; he’s just God damn crazy and I love it.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have an antagonist that’s just insane, and everything about Tyrian works in his favour. The way he moves, the faces he makes, the way he talks (his VA Josh Greille was clearly having a lot of fun playing this guy); it’s just so entertaining to watch. He’s one of those characters where I just enjoy his prescence every time he’s on screen.

He also backs up his threatening demeanour by being a competent and unpredictable fighter. Team RNJR have demonstrated to be great fighters and have good chemistry, but they didn’t stand a chance against him. Even when Qrow stepped in to help, Tyrian still had an edge. To see even someone as strong as Qrow struggle further highlighted how dangerous he is. Oh, and whilst we’re talking about it, the Qrow vs Tyrian fight is possibly my favourite fight in the whole series thus far. It’s just… wow.

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But, unlike other psycho-like characters, Tyrian has one facet to his personality that I think makes him stand out a bit more – his worship of Salem. He doesn’t just work for Salem as an excuse to kill people; he is genuinely devoted to her, referring to her as a goddess. And when Ruby cuts his tail off, his attitude shifts. He starts cowering and constantly muttering “She’ll forgive you.” He doesn’t just worship Salem – he is afraid of her.

And when he does return to Salem, he is on his knees, begging for forgiveness. It was something I never would’ve expected from him after his initial debut, but it added another layer to him that makes him more than just your usual crazy psycho. Plus, there’s his reaction to Salem’s response. She doesn’t strike him or even yell at him. All she needs to say is “You disappoint me” and that’s enough to break him; his crying turning to angry screams and then mad cackling as he needlessly and brutally murders a nearby Grimm. Even Cinder seems put off.

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As much as I love him, though, I hope the show uses Tyrian sparingly. His impact would lessen if he kept showing up; I feel Volume 5 should let another villain take the spotlight for a while (my bets on it being Watts). That being said, I look forward to Tyrian coming back at some point. I just hope he doesn’t become another personal enemy for Ruby. Like, she already has Cinder. Let some of the other heroes get their own adversaries.

Negative: How the Relics Are Introduced

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Remember how I complained about how the Maidens were introduced in Volume 3? Well, now I have the exact same complaint about the Relics. Not with their existence (again, just like the Maidens, I like the concept); it’s just how they’re introduced.

There’s barely any foreshadowing to them; we’re just told about them in a big exposition dump by Qrow. Granted, Salem and Raven do refer to them throughout the volume before their reveal but was there any indication to their existence in the previous volumes? I don’t think so.

Plus, now that we know that these are what Salem’s really after, it kind of makes the Maidens feel less… special? It’s probably just me but when the Maidens were introduced, they created this air of mystery and wonder. They confirmed that real magic existed and the idea of the villains obtaining that power was played up as a horrifying one – the worst possible scenario. Remember when Cinder finally obtained the Fall Maiden’s power? It was one big “Oh shit” moment.

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Now that we know that Salem’s real targets are the relics, the Maidens’ impact feels lessened. They’re just a bonus for Salem; something she can acquire just to make her scheme that little bit easier to accomplish.

I’m sure the Maidens will continue to play a big role, but I can’t help but think that maybe we didn’t need two sets of McGuffins to find.

Negative: Quite a Bit Happens Off-Screen

One problem I began to notice on my second viewing of Volume 4 is that, because all of the main characters are scattered across the world and perspective has to jump back and forth between them all, there’s quite a lot that we don’t get to see. In some cases, that’s not an issue. We don’t need to see every step of Team RNJR’s journey, for example. Unfortunately, though, there’s quite a bit that I feel like we should’ve seen.

I mentioned it briefly earlier but it feels like Yang’s recovery happens a little too quickly, and that’s because we don’t see all the steps. Granted, we don’t need to but it is a tad jarring to see her transition so easily. Like, she puts the new arm on and the next time we see her, she has immediately got used to it. It feels like we missed something.

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Or how about Ocar’s deal? One scene, he is vehemently refusing to go to Haven. But when we next see him, he’s packed up and heading out. We’ve clearly missed a scene here. Plus, we’re told that he wants to be more than a farmhand but we never really see any evidence of that.

And as much as I liked seeing Team RNJR, I was honestly looking forward to seeing how they’d learn to fight together. I figured there’d be some initial tension; maybe Ruby and Jaune both attempting to lead the team, Ruby not being able to gel with the rest of Team JNPR’s fighting styles – there was some interesting potential there.

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I understand that the writers ultimately needed to show the most important and integral parts of the story but I do think this show could benefit with some filler focused solely on character growth and interactions. Maybe instead of RWBY Chibi, they could’ve created some short mini-episodes that fill in the gaps from the show or explore some of the supporting cast like Ironwood, Emerald and Mercury or even some of the other students from Beacon. I think that’d be a great compromise; keep all the filler stuff in its own seperate series and make it optional viewing.

I reckon this issue will become less of a problem once Team RWBY gets back together; I just hope that it at the very least remains a minor issue and doesn’t grow into a big problem.

Positive: The Nuckelavee Grimm

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What else can I really say about the Nuckelavee Grimm aside from “Holy shit, that is terrifying!” I’m almost mad at how scary this thing is because I don’t know if the show can ever top it, at least in terms of design. They were hyping it up throughout the whole volume and, once it showed itself, it paid off.

Like, I thought it was gonna be some really big ox or horse but, no, it’s a giant horse with some sort of demented imp-thing attached to the back, with long, wiry arms. And its unnatural movement made my skin crawl, with the way it suddenly jerks and twitches all over the place. And that scream… Dear God, how did they make that? It doesn’t even sound like it could’ve been man-made. Did the sound designers literally open a portal to Hell and get some unimaginable beast from its depths to yell into a microphone for them?

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Oh, and on top of that, it may have possessed some human-level intelligence, considering it was keeping old weapons as trophies in its cave, adding to the reveal that it’s been operating all these years. It even still has some weapons sticking out of its back, as if no one was able to come close to harming it. No wonder Ren freaked out upon seeing it.

As far as one-off Grimm enemies go, this is probably the best one they’ve done. It served as a good final antagonist to end the volume on. I’m sure we’ll get plenty more awesome Grimm designs in the future, but it’s going to be pretty hard to top this one.

Positive: The Ending

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When I say that I loved the ending to Volume 4, it’s not necessarily because of what was accomplished per se, but rather how it’s setting up for what’ll happen in Volume 5. Team RNJR have made it to Haven along with Qrow and all the other characters are now converging to the same spot. Weiss, Blake and Yang are all heading in that direction for their own reasons, but it hopefully means that we’ll be seeing the team back together sooner than we thought.

At the same time, there’s still a great sense of imminent danger, what with the reveal that Lionheart, one of Ozpin’s allies, is also working with the villains for currently unknown reasons. The ending is basically just a lot of set-up for certain characters and potential events; it’s the kind of ending that just makes you excited for what’s to come.

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So, what’s my final conclusion? Well, my first viewing of Volume 4 was a blast. I think I enjoyed watching it more than Volume 3. But after taking off my hype goggles and looking at it a bit more critically, I don’t think it’s as strong as the previous volume.

However, I think part of that is because this is the start of a new chapter in RWBY‘s overarching narrative, unlike Volume 3 which acted as a conclusion to the first act. It feels like a step back because we need to return to slightly more subdued ground to calm us down, rather than keep on escalating.

Basically, Volume 4, despite the problems I have with it, is still a step in the right direction. It proves that the jump in quality in Volume 3 wasn’t a one-off and the show is continuing to improve.

I have some high expectations for Volume 5 and I sincerely hope that it’ll either meet said expectations or maybe give me something I didn’t know I wanted. Or it could just bring Neo back. I’d instantly love it if they did.

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