Things I Hate About RWBY

RWBY (pronounced “ruby”) is an animated show about a magical girl combat college (there are boys there too). Facebook friends may have noticed I’ve gotten pretty into it (though only up to volume 3), but at first I felt this lingering discomfort. Why? Well…there are just so many ways in which it’s not very good.

(Spoilers, because this is mostly a rant. There’s a picture at the bottom if you want to skip all that, though.)

  • The names of all the characters are clever references to fairy tales and myths from around the world…which they then decide to pronounce with a completely American accent. I’ll just complain about three of them.

    The first and most obvious is “Yang Xiao Long”, with “Yang” being the personal name (and pronounced “yayng” /jæŋ/ rather than “yahng” /jaŋ/). That’s definitely backwards from how it would be in Mandarin, and not just because of the order; surnames in Mandarin are almost never two syllables, and “Xiao X” is a common pattern for personal names. On top of that, it’s weird to apply that name to someone who isn’t Asian in appearance or inspiration. At least they pronounce “Xiao” as “shao” rather than “zao”, though, a common American mistake.

    Another of the main four is “Weiss Schnee”…pronounced, again, as Americanly as possible. I really wanted her last name to be pronounced “shnay” /ʃne/ like it would be in German—it could have even been a point of contention between her and the others at first. The “ee” sound just sounds overly whimsical or something. (There’s also the first name, which in German would be pronounced “Vice”, but I guess I had already given up on that.) Weiss is one of the characters more closely linked with her fairytale inspiration, and the Germanic pronunciation would have made that even stronger. (Somehow Weiss’s name bothered me more than Yang’s, probably from long exposure to mangled Asian names alongside properly spoken European ones.)

    But the most frustrating name choice was “Sun Wukong”. Like Yang, the name is applied to someone who isn’t at all Asian in appearance, though at least the character is inspired by the Monkey King whose name he shares. And like Yang, his personal name is “Sun” and family name “Wukong”…which makes sense with RWBY’s Color Naming Rule, but feels terribly wrong for Mandarin. “Yang Xiao Long” isn’t the name of any established mythological figure as far as I know, but Sun Wukong is.

    I’ve mostly gotten over all this, but there’s still a twinge at all these awful names, and sometimes it comes back when they introduce a new minor character or pronounce someone’s full name again. Ugh.

  • The naming mess is a specific complaint, but I could also make a more general one: the writing just isn’t very good. It definitely gets better as the show goes on, but a lot of emotional moments fall flat (“are these people actually related? they’re not acting like it”), and there are plotholes, and sometimes there’s a tension buildup that doesn’t pay off, and, well, it’s just not a very deep show. (This may be partly influenced by what I was watching and reading previously, that I was looking for more than was actually there.)

  • On that note, the voice acting is not great for a number of the side characters, in that “This sounds recorded from a script rather than you being in that situation” way. Most characters who are around for a while are either pretty good from the start or settle into it, but the side character thing can be a problem, and even main characters sometimes slip up in really important situations. So…yeah.

    (Additionally, the voice actors of the main four are still settling into their characters in Volume 1, leading to Ruby, Weiss, and Yang sounding a bit samey. They exaggerate their accents and spread out their vocal registers later, but you have to get through Volume 1 with that. For me, this really drove home how much of a difference it could make just to find people whose voices are naturally spread out to begin with. But now their voices fit perfectly. Mostly.)

  • There’s a “guy in a dress” punchline in Volume 2. I’m done with those; they’re too close to transphobia. (I can’t find an educational link at the moment, sorry.) In theory this could be the same joke as wearing utterly ridculous mismatched socks or something, but in practice we’re in a culture where a man wearing a dress has all sorts of extra baggage. It helps that the creator of RWBY was an avid cross-player and therefore almost certainly didn’t mean it harmfully, but I could still do without it.

  • While RWBY has four girls as its main characters, it’s still not always that feminist. In particular, Glynda is always the one cleaning up, and Ironwood doesn’t really treat her as an equal. I’m not saying this is terrible—the first part is also a fairly McGonagall role as well—but again, I’d be happy to see less of it.

  • There are too many things going on in this world: magic Dust, aura vs. semblance, the existence of Faunus, probably more. In retrospect a lot of it does end up getting used, but Dust as an explicitly-mentioned thing could have been dropped altogether.

  • The fight scenes aren’t really plausible. The heroes are overpowered and inconsistently powered, and there are plenty of places where they could have just lost then and there. Again, you have to just go with it.

  • The animation is usually pretty good (at the level it aspires to), but sometimes it’s just way too much movement. For example, most people don’t actually wave their hands next to their face for emphasis when they’re just having a normal conversation.

But at this point I’m shading off into silly complaints, and I’m also the person who took forever to start watching Steven Universe because the art style put me off. (Specifically, Steven’s face looked stupid.) It’s now of course one of my favorite ongoing shows.

So…what kept me in RWBY, up through Volume 3? (I’m keeping Volume 4 and the new Volume 5 on hold until I finish a few other things I have going on.)

  • The action scenes are like watching someone play an RPG and just hitting one Limit Break after another. If that’s the kind of thing you like, RWBY’s action is great.

  • The episodes are dangerously short: under 10 minutes for most of them in Volume 1, and nothing above 30 minutes even in the more involved Volume 3. So it’s easy to watch just one…more…episode…

  • Ultimately, though, a lot of RWBY’s screen time is spent between the action scenes. I didn’t know what to make of this at first, but at some point I started caring about the characters, and then it turns out I’m a sucker for these kinds of slice-of-life stories. Sometimes I like seeing people play board games in the library. Sometimes I like seeing sisters tease each other.

  • A big chunk of Volume 3 is basically Pokémon Stadium battles. Which was great in Pokémon and in Smash Bros, so.

  • On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Volume 3 actually has consequences. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t watched it, but it’s like the growing up that happens in the Harry Potter series: in the first book you never really feel like he’s in danger, and by the end everything is out to get him. Somewhere in there there started being consequences.

  • To counteract that, there’s also a comedy spinoff series, RWBY Chibi! Watching this was when I knew I was sunk—it’s just one step away from reading silly fan comics. (Which I’ve done too now.) The first season of RWBY Chibi is set after Volume 3 and the second after Volume 4, so be careful of spoilers.

  • The music. RWBY makes heavy use of leitmotifs for the characters, usually based on the songs in the teaser trailers, and…well, I love that musical device, a clever little reference from one song to another, or sometimes even a whole remix (referencing: that one battle in Volume 3). There’s even more going on than that, with the musical themes of two characters introduced in Volume 3 being melodically similar to the themes for the main characters they’re related to. (Any fellow fans want to rhapsodize about all this?)

    Even without my penchant for leitmotifs, the music’s not bad, and transitions pretty smoothly between orchestral movie soundtrack and straight-up rock songs. (The lyrics of most of these songs are pretty meh though.)

  • There are two character designs based on K-pop stars.

  • Although I criticized the worldbuilding above, the world of Remnant does seem to be pretty well thought out, and more than that there are definitely some long plays and clear planning ahead that went into it all.

  • Finally, this is a world filled with puns, stupid jokes, and fun moments, including a brief but amazing elaboration on the word “tussles” in Volume 2 in the style of “Scalia”. As an incorrigible punster myself, I could hardly fail to be endeared to these kindred spirits.

So you know what, I’m enjoying RWBY. It’s not fine art, but it doesn’t have to be. Bring on the RPG action and the slice-of-life and the coming-of-age for four magical girls at combat college.

You can watch RWBY on YouTube.