RWBY had a wonderful first volume. Great humor, creative action, and fabulous music allowed for a fun, original series despite the cliché character types and underdeveloped world. The second volume removes issues such as rigid character movements and short episode length and improves voice-acting and aesthetics, evolving the web-series as it becomes an increasingly-popular competitor in the world of anime. Despite these advancements, Volume 2 was unfortunately disappointing for me. The volume is still enjoyable—particularly when viewed as a movie rather than a weekly TV show—but poor structure, broad scope, and underdevelopment inhibit RWBY’s potential success.
“Best Day Ever,” the first of twelve episodes, is a brilliant start to the volume. The opening shot views a beautifully upgraded Vale. Black silhouettes are replaced by fully-drawn characters, and improved lighting presents a world whose multiple shades of brightness raise it over the sharp, solid shadows and colors of Volume 1. Characters enter a store as in the first volume, emphasizing Volume 2’s superior look through visible light which darkens as it moves away from the windows and ceiling lamps.
Accompanying this aesthetic variation is a shift in tone. New characters Emerald and Mercury begin with the playful interactions and innocence which dominated the first volume: both smile and joke, and Emerald expresses kindness to an old man while Mercury displays a childlike love for comic books. As the scene progresses, however, the evil nature of these characters emerges. Smiles vanish and lights dim as the two murder with a chilling lack of guilt. While Mercury and Emerald remain calm, the storekeeper becomes more and more tense and, when pushed into action, is instantly defeated. The fun of Volume 1 slowly dissipates, crushed by antagonists who demonstrate terrifying preparedness and control.
Because of the morbid opening of the episode, the following food fight is amusing but disappointing. Blake illustrates this when expressing her disbelief that “everyone can be so calm.” The food fight presents fantastic dramatic irony, juxtaposing childlike play with the first notable death of the series. People die while Team RWBY has fun, making every moment dire as the villains increase in power.
Chapters 2-4 remedy the mistake of the food fight; the protagonists acknowledge and attack evil, both discovering and disrupting their enemies’ movements. However, this momentum halts after a single, incomplete victory. Though Torchwick escapes, the protagonists switch directions to focus instead on a dance. The series changes directions as it did in the first episode, moving from tangible threat to ignorant fun. A four-episode break is allowed before Team RWBY returns to investigation. The final four episodes provide a look at the villains and their plans much like the third act of “Best Day Ever,” overshadowing the optimism of RWBY with the antagonists’ complete control over the situation.
As depicted above, Volume 2 can be split into three four-episode acts. This design mirrors the three clear-cut scenes of Chapter 1: both move from conflict to fun to conflict. The volume’s structure does differ slightly from the premiere; the second act of Volume 2 is more complicated than the food fight, for it couples the dance with Cinder’s infiltration of Beacon. Unlike in Chapter 1, however, the protagonists are aware of a hidden force conspiring against them. Thus the dance is an avoidable mistake which provides victory for the enemy.
The second act is largely unsuccessful due to its misplacement in the rest of the volume. Team RWBY acts foolishly in the premiere but matures, sacrificing childhood innocence for the pursuit of the enemy. This continues in the final act as the protagonists transcend their roles as first-year students, fight alongside a Huntsman, and come to terms with the hardships of being Huntresses. Volume 2 focuses on the transformation of these four girls into women, making a school dance inappropriate for both the characters and the series.
The dance acts as a nostalgic return to Volume 1, whose focus is on Beacon Academy and the social relationships developed there. Torchwick and Cinder are shown to have major roles, but their general absence is acceptable because interest centers on the school. Volume 2, however, establishes Emerald, Mercury, Cinder, and Torchwick as the source of conflict, making Beacon Academy unimportant in light of the antagonists’ world-dominating schemes. Thus it would be more logical to start with the dance and transition to conflict outside the school. Childhood innocence would be portrayed not in a frivolous food fight but in a distracting dance. Blake’s criticism would remain well-placed, the volume would distinguish itself from its predecessor, and the story would darken and develop in a linear fashion. Both characters and audience would incrementally discover the world as Team RWBY attends the school dance at Beacon, explores the city of Vale, and finally scours the ruins of Mountain Glenn.
Although it would greatly benefit from a reordered structure, Volume 2 works as a whole. When divided into episodes, however, the volume loses much of my appreciation. Chapters 1-4 are well done, providing a proper balance of comedy, graveness, and action and advancing the story of both the heroes and villains at a fulfilling rate. Chapter 5 starts the second act well, displaying Mercury’s extreme power and reminding us of the threat within Beacon. The following episodes, however, possess a dramatically slower pace. Chapter 6 ends with the same suspense as Chapter 5. This suspense is hardly satisfied in Chapter 7 when Cinder infiltrates the Transmit Tower, for we have no idea what she achieved in the process. Though the second act provides some of the greatest humor of the volume, prolonged suspense and the unexplained victory of the antagonists weaken story and lessen interest. It doesn’t help that the dance takes three episodes to prepare and complete. With a quickened pace, I can visualize these three episodes being condensed into one without losing suspense, humor, or character development. Rooster Teeth definitely should have shortened the duration of the dance and its related events. Such a move would not only be more efficient but would preserve my interest.
The third act is faster, more exciting, and more satisfying than the second act, particularly due to the fabulous inclusion of Oobleck. Oobleck speaks quickly but comprehensibly, providing narration in a way which surpasses Ozpin in both efficiency and amusement. While other characters suffer when it comes to world-building dialogue, Oobleck thoroughly explains Mountain Glenn and the creatures of Grimm. The creators should either present more information through Oobleck or learn to quicken other characters’ storytelling, for the backgrounds of characters, peoples, creatures, and places are all severely lacking throughout RWBY.
This lack of background was particularly upsetting in this volume, for the increased length of episodes inevitably made me hope for further development. The subseries RWBY: World of Remnant seeks to remedy this, but using separate videos to develop the world ironically acknowledges RWBY’s inability to provide its own history. Characters are developed fairly well. Mercury, Emerald, and Neptune are all new characters, and by the end of the volume we know their fighting capabilities, personalities, and senses of humor. The relationship between Blake and Sun progresses in incremental, well-paced steps. Yang finally provides background information for both herself and Ruby. Oobleck is utilized perfectly: his role is expanded as he moves from professor in Volume 1 to Huntsman in Volume 2, allowing us to see more of a previously minor character.
Despite the development gained in Volume 2, much information is still lacking. Hostility between Faunus and Humans is presented as a theme, yet the extent of racial tension is impossible to measure because the two races are never shown together on a large scale. The White Fang are enraged by Human cruelty, yet no Human supremacists are shown apart from Team CRDL (whose racist actions were presented in the first volume rather than the second). Team RWBY illustrates excellent teamwork through Ruby’s commands in Chapter 4, but we never see the development of this coordination. Jaune likewise becomes an excellent warrior, but we miss the progression of his fighting skills (apart from a single clip in which Pyrrha claims Jaune has “improved immensely,” which is unconvincing due to lack of evidence).
RWBY has presented numerous characters, and the list is growing. However, the writers are failing to develop some characters due to the introduction of new ones. Neptune and Sun are great characters, but a lot of time has been spent to establish their relationships with each other and Team RWBY. Adding Sage and Sapphire in later volumes may sacrifice quality time with Sun and Neptune. The presence of Team CFVY is awkwardly short-lived, making their inclusion in the volume feel forced and unnecessary. RWBY already has great characters which require further development: trying to include more and more characters is a tempting but dangerous move which Rooster Teeth should avoid.
The result of poor development and numerous characters results in a finale which acts more as a roll call than a life-threatening battle. Characters appear and vanish: a brief glimpse of successful combat is shown before the camera cuts to another fight. While Chapter 11 wonderfully portrays both the expertise and shortcomings of major characters, the action of Chapter 12 is laughable. Oobleck respects Grimm in Chapter 9 and fears their army in Chapter 11, yet the finale undermines the threat of Grimm through quick victory. The human antagonists show that this victory fits into a much larger plan, but the battle is nonetheless anticlimactic due to the volume’s buildup. (A single cavern of Grimm decimated the citizens of Mountain Glenn, yet nobody dies when Torchwick attracts multiple groups of Grimm into Vale.)
Though entertaining and effective in many ways, Volume 2 has reduced my desire to watch RWBY. I enjoy the humor and characters of the series, but illogical organization and inadequate development threaten a series which needs two years to complete a full season. The opening of each episode proclaims that “we can’t just wait with lives at stake,” yet characters take breaks and Rooster Teeth postpones the development of story, world, and characters. Yang claims the series is justified in its decision to “slow down,” but a particular conflict can only be stretched so far before wearing thin. RWBY will have to act quickly to prevent Emerald and Mercury from cleaning up its problems.