「Red, White, Black, Yellow / This is Beacon / A Nightmare Comes」
I’m ashamed to say it, but the first three episodes of RWBY – Hyousetsu Teikoku taught me exactly what made RWBY appealing for those who could stomach the 3D animation and voiceovers. Through the small batch of episodes that premiered in late June, Studio Shaft was able to prove that it could not only handle translating RWBY into the same kind of 2D animation that the show’s creators were inspired by, but also improve on elements that made the original show a hard-sell for those who can’t overlook the limitations that creator Monty Oum and Rooster Teeth faced whilst trying to bring their vision to life.
A-ROSE TO THE OCCASION
I might both be the best and worst person to tackle a 2D remake of RWBY. For the latter, it’s because my only run-ins with the series are through Team RWBY’s appearance in BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle and the first episode. I hadn’t continued past Episode 01 of the original because, frankly, the 3D animation and voice acting were hard for me to get past. It’s a petty reason since RWBY felt like it was a victim of its circumstances as a 3D cartoon trying its best to fit the mold of a supernatural academy anime from the aughts.
At the same time, I admire the tenacity that RWBY and its fans have by cultivating such a strong reputation for an online 3D anime series. As someone who had been stuck in the Danganronpa fandom from 2011 until about 2016, I have no shame in getting invested in franchises where fans have gotten a little scary. When I saw that massive spreadsheet of all the ship titles, I was impressed with how much work, dedication, and feverish obsession must have gone into cataloging what kinds of ships people in the fandom were invested in.
It wasn’t until I learned that Studio Shaft would be in charge of this particular adaptation that I was truly interested in seeing if there was anything I missed out on. I might’ve missed the immediate moment that the three episodes were dumped online, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.
Everything about the anime feels like a massive upgrade from everything I saw in that first original episode, and it mediated a lot of the issues I had with getting into the show, to begin with. Additionally, it’s neat to see how they take a Westernized perspective on anime tropes and re-translate them back into a Japanese anime. Shaft adapts it pretty easily, playing around with the original’s comic panel motif while doing more justice to action sequences.
I can’t help but feel sad since Monty would’ve probably seen this show as a loving tribute to the vision he had in mind for his wide-spanning supernatural story about conquering adversity with the help of powerful, supportive friends. It’s hard not to get guilty thoughts about critiquing the show’s aesthetics when it’s part of RWBY’s appeal, and the team behind the original put their all into making the exact story that I was happy with throughout the three episodes of RWBY – Hyousetsu Teikoku.
At the same time, I’m glad that the adaptation exists to bridge the gap between those who are already fans of the show and those who would be more on board if it already were a predominantly 2D anime version where each fight looks like flowy eye-candy, and the cast is round up by prolific Japanese VA’s like Hayami Saori, Hikasa Yoko, Shimono Hiro, and Koshimizu Ami. It’s very inspiring to see how a show manifested from the hard work that went into Red vs. Blue and Dead Fantasy managed to have a solid 2D transition.
EPISODE 01 – WELCOME BACK TO 2013!
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the first episode. It seemed to jump around a bit as far as wanting to get the perspectives of each member of Team RWBY. But as it started to wrap up, I’d have to say it was pulled off rather well.
By the time you learn that each of the four girls is going to enter Beacon Academy in the kingdom of Vale, it’s easier to make out what to look out for as the show starts to focus on the plot threads centered around each of them. Within this span of time, we get the gist of the high expectations placed on Weiss Schnee, the tug-of-war struggle Blake has with being part of the half-human, half-animal Faunus race while also trying to avoid the pipeline placing her within the pro-Faunus extremist group White Fang, and the role that Dust plays in human society.
You also get a little detail on what led up to Ruby Rose stopping the Dust robbery and being accepted into the academy. You don’t get as much on her half-sister Yang Xiao Long beyond her support for her little sis, but instead, you get a nice introduction to Ruby as a precocious yet powerful young girl.
EPISODE 02 – THE HUNTER EXAM
For the most part, it was a cool way to be familiarized with the character dynamics of the main cast for both Team RWBY and Team JNPR. It’s also where the animation kicked a ton of ass with its fight sequences.
It was an episode where we had a clearer understanding of what these girls’ personalities are going to be like as they survive a number of attacks from Grimm monsters and human or human-like foes. To me, one of the standout characters of this episode was Jaune, who, in spite of his ditzy, empty-headed vibes, winds up surprisingly being down-to-earth and quickly convincing Pyrrha to follow along with him instead of Weiss.
Speaking of Weiss, she also has quite a lot of attention centered around her in Episode 02 considering how it forces her to realize that she has plenty of work to do on how she interacts with others. She’s quick to be judgemental of Ruby’s status as a newbie and Blake’s support for the White Fang. At the same time, life seems to humble her every step of the way as she has to cope with her family’s high expectations not taking her straight to the top as Ruby is assigned to be her leader and Pyrrha is more interested in Jaune’s humble demeanor than Weiss’ attempts to schmooze with the celebrity student.
EPISODE 03 – JUST LIKE JAUNE ARC WOULDA DONE
In fact, Weiss’ misfortunes follow her even further in this episode as she is directly called out for many of her flaws. One of her teachers goes so far as to call her rage about not being the leader of Team RWBY “a temper tantrum”. On top of all of this, her trauma from having to contend with attacks from the White Fang prompt her to shift into prejudice mode as she fights with Blake over her supporting the White Fang and being a Faunus person.
One odd thing about Weiss is that she has a habit of flipping on a dime. She’ll despise Ruby’s attitude and resent her because she thought she’d be entitled to the leadership position instead of Ruby. But then after a moment of reflection, she’ll act like the sweetest person on the planet and offer Ruby her undying support to curry favor with the higher-ups by performing her role to her fullest. Meanwhile, she’ll lump Blake in with the rest of the White Fang for being a Faunus, and then decide that, after venting with Yang, she’ll make amends with her.
I’m not sure if she’s genuine or not with any of her actions, but I suppose that’s what makes her kinda neat. That she is flawed and is too conflicted to have any convictions that would’ve made her a clearer shoo-in for an authoritative position.
I think in this episode, I really enjoyed the screentime that Blake Belladonna received. The ideological warfare going on in her head between wanting to uplift the Faunus community while also avoiding the pipeline towards domestic terrorism creates a highly complicated dilemma for her. She’s forced to decide how she’ll fight for her community without resorting to sticking with the White Fang as their ideals manifest into a more toxic form of rebellion. It provides an interesting perspective given how many of the show’s protagonists are in positions of privilege, and Blake’s POV offers a dramatically different view of what the world is like for those who aren’t fully human.
To be honest, it felt like there wasn’t as much focus in this episode compared to the first two. Where Episode 03 served as a compilation of shorter arcs such as Weiss learning to try to tolerate Ruby being the team leader and Jeune having to be brought back out of Grimm-induced despair. I read that there were a few missing details such as Penny having a longer introduction or Jeune’s arc going into the bullying he faces. While I have absolutely nothing of value to add to what was and wasn’t changed in these three episodes, I’d like to say that, at the very least, RWBY – Hyousetsu Teikoku manages to accomplish its goal of taking RWBY’s earlier arcs and giving them a nice, TV anime sheen to them.