Review for RWBY: Volume 5
You get this silly thought that Internet streaming is ‘always on’, and that content magically appears there, but the fact is that the modern world of television via ISP is much the same as it was over the air, or through a satellite. The programmes have to be made, are released to a seasonal schedule, and each season probably ends with a cliff-hanger. RWBY is no exception, with a dozen or so episodes a year, and a serialised storytelling style that simply invites tantalising hiatuses. That makes Manga Entertainment’s own hiatus with Rooster Teeth something of a mixed blessing. After volume 3, we had to wait over two years for volume 4, but that does mean that we get volume 5 on the same day, and we don’t have to wait to find out what happens next. Then again, we’ll have to wait once more for volume 6...
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. 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 5 begins, Ruby, Jaune, Ren, and Nora have made it to Haven Academy in Mistral, alongside Ruby’s uncle Qrow, but all isn’t as they expect when they meet Principal Lionheart. The relic is unguarded, and the Spring Maiden is missing. Qrow believes that she is with Ruby’s stepmother and his sister Raven Branwen, of the Branwen tribe. Yang is getting used to her new prosthetic arm, and has made it to Mistral, and she’s going to find her mother. Weiss Schnee has also made it to Mistral after escaping her father’s mansion, and the first thing that happens is that she’s captured by Raven Branwen. Blake Belladonna is nowhere near Mistral, but she has her hands full trying to regain control of the White Fang. It’s going to be even harder now Adam Taurus has murdered the leader and taken her place. And Salem’s plans continue to unfold...
RWBY Volume 5 is presented on this Blu-ray disc in feature length form running to 243:41, or you can watch all fourteen episodes individually, which with the credit sequences takes the runtime to 246:47 (This time most of the credit sequences remain as part of the ‘movie’). Oh, and stay tuned for a post credits sting after episode 14.
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. The anime style gags have been toned down, 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.
RWBY Volume 5 is a 2-disc release, with extras on one disc, the main feature plus commentaries on the other. Given we now have over four hours of footage, that is understandable, but this time we also get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track, the first time RWBY has had lossless audio on home video, and the difference is palpable. The sound is richer, better defined and it makes better use of your surround set-up. The dialogue is clear and the subtitles are present and correct. About the only thing that bugged me was the opening theme, which is an unskippable dirge for season 5.
The discs autoplay a trailer for Rooster Teeth, before booting to an animated menu.
There are two commentaries on disc one, a director’s commentary and an animator’s commentary. I didn’t listen to them other than to confirm that they existed.
The rest of the extras are on disc two.
5 Years of RWBY lasts 10:30 and is an at times melancholic retrospective.
There are three character shorts on this disc for Weiss, Blake and Yang, running to a total of 12:29.
CRWBY offers 14 featurettes that look at the making of the series, and they have a total runtime of 53:38.
There is a 52 second CRWBY Photos slideshow.
Finally there are trailers for RWBY Volume 5, Gen:Lock, Nomad of Nowhere, Master and Apprentice, and Becoming Jessica Nigri.
RWBY just keeps on getting better in almost every way. This volume, we finally get lossless audio on the disc. With Volume 4, the animators switched to new software, and the quality of the animation and the character designs has been coming leaps and bounds with each successive release. RWBY is really punching above its weight now, aesthetically speaking. The writing is coming along well too, with strong character development, and a more thoughtful approach to storytelling. It’s just that the fifth season of RWBY isn’t quite as good as the previous volumes.
I think that’s an inevitable consequence of how the story has unfolded to this point, with each successive release upping the stakes, increasing the action, and intensifying the emotion. The fourteen episodes of season 5 is where the show takes something of a breather, It’s about rediscovery, and reconciliation for the main characters, it’s about coming to terms with what has come before, and finding the strength to face what will come next. But the bottom line is that the big climax that this, and indeed the previous season has been building up to, the attack at Haven Academy really does feel like an anticlimax rather than an emotional, action-packed crescendo.
Season 4 had everyone splitting up and going their separate ways, and the end of that volume saw them overcome their particular issues and set a course of travel. Ruby had made it to Mistral along with her uncle Qrow, and with Jaune, Ren, and Nora. Weiss had managed to escape the confines of her family mansion, and too decided to head to Mistral. Yang had overcome the immediate trauma of losing her arm, and had decided to reunite with Ruby. It was just Blake who looked to be going in another direction, having left the life of the trainee Huntress behind, and retreated to the safety of her family on Menagerie. But when it turned out that the White Fang group was up to no good there, she decided to take responsibility for her kith and kin, even if she was no longer a Huntress. Given that the White Fang are integral to the plan to destroy Haven Academy, it’s pretty clear that Blake will inevitably wind up in Mistral as well, and the RWBY reunion will occur.
I think season 5’s problem is that it doesn’t quite use its characters effectively. That’s particularly true of Ruby and her group, who having made it to Mistral are practically in a holding pattern for the duration of this volume. They’re basically hanging out, waiting for the climax, ostensibly training, and looking for help to bolster their ranks, but not really moving forward until the final few episodes on this disc. The same is true of Weiss, who while she gets into a few scrapes, and is even captured for a while, is basically on a no detours journey to the conclusion. The narrative and emotional thrust of this collection come from Blake and Yang.
Blake has to deal with the White Fang plot on Menagerie, a plot which has embroiled her childhood friend, Illya, and which threatens the lives of her and her family. Not only has she the challenge of defeating White Fang’s plans on the island, but she also has to convince an apathetic population to take back control of their destinies, and choose to do what’s right. Yang on the other hand decides that the quickest way to find Ruby is to ask for her mother’s help. The problem is that Raven Branwen is the leader of the Branwen tribe of outlaws, and she’s not big on maternal affection. Instead she does what is expedient to keep her tribe safe, at any cost, and given that her tribe is where the Spring Maiden wound up, she’s faced with having to make a deal with Salem to stay alive, and that puts her in conflict with Yang. And that’s the arc that plays through the conclusion of this collection.
RWBY Volume 5 is a big story arc in the grand scheme of things, but it plays out in a minor key, so that the triumphs of the characters seem somewhat tarnished, the losses not so heart-rending. It downplays the narrative peaks, and focuses on the emotional conflict more, and that is really supposed to be carried by Yang and her mother. But we really only get to know Raven in this collection, and for the most part she comes across as a heartless and irredeemable character. By the time she shows some humanity, it’s too late for me to care. If you’re collecting RWBY, you’ll be happy to know that technically, this is the best release yet, but otherwise, it will leave you hoping that Season 6 will pick things up again.