Review for RWBY: Volume 4
Oh, how naive we once were! Back when I reviewed season 3 of RWBY, I was making observations about the gaps between releases coming down in terms of months. Well, I reviewed volume 3 almost two and a half years ago, two and a half years in which Manga/Animatsu’s association with Rooster Teeth (which then comprised a large fraction of their output) lapsed, the releases dried up, and we were left hanging with shows like RWBY and Red vs. Blue. This year, they’ve resumed releasing Rooster Teeth productions, and it’s been so long that they’re actually saving time by releasing RWBY Seasons 4 and 5 together on the same day. It’s also been so long that I can barely remember what happened in Season 3, other than some Goblet of Fire type world-changing plot twists. I’m going to have a hard time putting everything back into context again, especially as I don’t have the time to re-watch the first three volumes again before starting on this one.
Inspired by classic fairy tales, RWBY takes place in a magical world called Remnant, where humanity has long fought a desperate battle against the Creatures of Grimm, but the tide turned when the mysterious element called Dust was discovered. Dust can be used to power magical abilities and weapons, and using this power, Hunters and Huntresses can fight back. Ruby Rose wants to be a huntress, and has managed to skip two years and get accepted into the Beacon Academy. But while she has kick ass abilities, and has made an evil looking scythe/machine gun to deal death to the monsters, she’s shy and uncertain of herself. This isn’t good where the class structure of Beacon means first forming four-person teams before even starting training. Fortunately, the first person on the team is Ruby’s older and exuberant sister Yang Xiao Long, but the first time she meets Weiss Schnee, it’s disdain at first sight, and it only gets worse. Antagonism is fine, but it looks like Blake Belladonna would rather not talk to Ruby at all. They’ll have to work on their communication skills though, as the four girls now comprise team RWBY (pronounced ruby), and guess who’s the leader.
As volume 4 begins, the events at Beacon Academy have left everything in disarray, and team RWBY have split up. Ruby now travels with the survivors of team JNPR to Haven Academy in Mistral to look for leads on their enemies. Weiss has returned to the family home and is expected to fulfil the duties expected from an heiress of the Schnee Dust Company. Blake is heading home to Menagerie. Yang is ostensibly recuperating at home with her father, but in reality can’t shake the trauma of what happened to her at Beacon. And meanwhile, the villains continue to advance their plans.
RWBY Volume 4 is presented on this Blu-ray disc in feature length form running to 188:36, or you can watch all twelve episodes individually (the end sequences feature character design art from that particular episode, which is worth taking in), which with the credit sequences takes the runtime to 210:39. Oh, and stay tuned for a post credits sting after episode 12.
RWBY gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p progressive transfer, which makes for a smooth viewing experience. RWBY still doesn’t look fantastic, but its visual aesthetic is growing on me. It’s a 3D CG toon-shaded animation, but we’re not talking Appleseed or Vexille here. This is definitely a low budget affair, and it resembles 3D animation that’s some 10 or 15 years old, on a par with movies like A.Li.Ce. The anime style gags have been toned down though, and there’s a greater consistency and quality of animation. It seems that the animators are improving as they go along, and the characters are fitting into their environment more believably, even though the quieter, more dramatic moments can still look a little unimpressive.
But then there’s an action scene, and RWBY can be utterly breathtaking. The choreography, the cinematic direction, the visual style is all so dramatically accomplished, that for those brief action sequences, you totally forget the budget drawbacks. The character designs are also very well thought out, making each character instantly recognisable while remaining appealing.
Once again we get a DD 5.1 English track at a rather wimpy 384kbps. You do hear the surrounds put to work, but you’d expect something with a little more oomph. The balance between music and dialogue is much better here than on the first disc, and you can maintain a constant volume level. The dialogue is clear enough, and thankfully we get subtitles now.
The disc autoplays a trailer for Rooster Teeth, before booting to an animated menu.
You get a couple of making of featurettes on this disc, with A Grimm Introduction (7:56), and RWBY 4 Production Diary (9:03).
There is a brief photo gallery of the production staff in CRWBY Photos running to 0:51 as a slideshow.
World of Remnant lasts 29:17, and offers background to elements of the story.
Finally there are trailers for Eleven Little Roosters, Day 5, Sex Swing, Camp Camp, and Lazer Team.
There are also two commentaries on this disc, a director’s commentary and an animator’s commentary. I didn’t listen to them other than to confirm that they existed.
As much as the story unfolded, with the various twists and turns that caught the attention and enthralled over the first three volumes, RWBY was pretty formulaic, and following the Harry Potter comparisons, it was the boarding school fantasy adventure genre. All the challenges that the characters of the show faced, with the creatures of Grimm, the White Fang, and the minions of Salem, it all had the safety net of Beacon Academy and the faculty, the school setting to fall back on. And then the conclusion of volume 3, the Vytal Tournament and the fall of Beacon Academy tore all of that up. Characters died, sacrifices were made, and what was safe, what was comfortable was all torn away. This fourth season deals with the consequences and fallout from that, and it really pushes the dramatic stakes as a result. It’s also great for character development.
Team RWBY has fallen apart at the start of this season, and so the focus splits four ways, we follow Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss on their separate journeys. The political situation has changed since the fall of Beacon, and Ruby is travelling with the survivors of team JNPR to Mistral and Haven Academy, on the neighbouring continent. Ruby is dealing with her losses, while Jaune, Ren and Nora have to deal with the loss of Pyrrha. They have to work together to deal with the Grimm, and they also learn that some ominous things are happening to the villages on the way to Mistral.
Yang has to face what has happened to her, the loss of her arm, and the trauma that results. She’s back home with her father, trying to come to terms, and when she’s presented with a prosthetic arm, she’s hesitant to try it. It’s very much a battle against her personal demons for Yang, and is perhaps the least dynamic of the story arcs in this collection, although it is dramatically fulfilling.
Blake feels responsible for what has happened to Yang, and she has decided to go home to her family on the island of Menagerie. Sun accompanies her with the belief that she’s on some sort of mission to deal with the White Fang group and Adam Taurus, but the reality is that she’s running away, convinced that her friends were hurt because of her. She has to go through a healing process as well, although this has to be accelerated when it becomes clear that White Fang are advancing their schemes on Menagerie.
Weiss is also back home on Atlas, back with the family concern, living the life of the rich and the privileged as heiress to the Schnee Dust company, and her frustrations grow with the schemes of her father, and people’s refusal to understand what actually happened at Beacon. Her father wants her to be a nice little figurehead for the company, but her intractability raises her father’s ire, and eventually forces her to make a decision.
Also unfolding is the story of Salem and her minions, the antagonists of RWBY, with Cinder coming to terms with what Ruby did to her in their battle, as well as her newly gained powers as the Fall Maiden. There’s also an interesting arc following up on Ospin’s death and its aftermath, with some unexpected revelations too.
It’s often a mistake in stories to split up a team of protagonists, as it’s usually the interplay between them that is the entertainment, but given the events of Season 3, it was definitely the right thing to do here. In terms of character development and character study, this is a very rewarding collection of episodes, while in terms of the narrative, RWBY volume 4 is as strong as anything that has come before. The story is headed in a fascinating direction now, with all the story arcs seeming to converge on Mistral and Haven Academy. Thankfully we don’t have to wait long to find out what happens next, as Season 5 is released on the same day as this.