Much like Avatar: The Last Airbender, RWBY is an animated series that was staring me in the face for so very long before I actually sat down and watched it. Here are a few thoughts on the show.
First off, this isn’t a review; I gave up on writing those years ago, and for good reason. If you’re not familiar with RWBY, it’s an animated web series created by the sadly-departed Monty Oum and produced by Rooster Teeth. Two seasons have been broadcast so far, and third is scheduled to be released later in 2015. The series has a number of interesting traits that are worthy of discussing.
The Animation Style
Cel-shading is probably the best way to describe it, but when you watch the series, it becomes obvious that everything is actually CGI. The choice is interesting, and given that RWBY is a web series, it lends a sheen of quality that other series’ do not have. Although the show doesn’t have a multi-million dollar budget, the producers make the most of what they have and the result is pleasing on the eye. The anime-esque look of the series is no doubt a deliberate choice for reasons discussed below.
This I perceive as a weak spot of the series, but not for a lack of skill on the part of the production team. Everything is a bit too fast-paced and shakycam syndrome is endemic throughout. In this I compare it with many a low-budget CGI mockbuster whose directors are all too eager to make the audience aware of all the flying shots they can do with CGI even though many directors have been using a less-is-more approach since the early 90s.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether a steadier hand and slower cuts would have made a not-inconsiderate difference in the apparent quality of the series. Perhaps this is something that web animation in general has to work towards, in much the same way that a lot of early animation wasn’t so much directed as it was staged. What is lacking now will come in due course, and perhaps as RWBY continues, we will see a refinement in its direction too.
Monty Oum deserves credit for this because RWBY pushes animation (and web animation in particular) in a new direction. Animated comedies are all over the place like a bad rash, so it’s refreshing to see a series whose focus isn’t comedy. Instead, it’s all about fantasy and action with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure. All other aspects of the series aside, its genre alone makes it stand out.
RWBY’s appeal and broad success (if the views are anything to go by), is proof that web animation can be produced in other genres besides comedy. In this regard, it is not surprising that an anime-esque style is used. Anime series have long been produced in a variety of genres, and perhaps the choice was a deliberate one seeing as western audiences are more used to seeing non-comedic animation in that style as opposed to traditional western ones.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you’ll know that I have a real affinity for female characters. RWBY has four main female characters: the lead protagonist (Ruby) and three supporting ones (Weiss, Blake, and Yang). The remaining cast are fairly equally balanced. I will give praise in that the characters are of a much fuller nature that what you normally find in a web series, and although they are not what you’d find in a large-budget TV show, they are a real development in the right direction for animated characters on the web.
The characters are also what could be described as ‘natural’, that is to say they are closer to real-life than the exaggerated types that animated shows tend to be populated with. This (coincidentally) parallels King of the Hill more so than any other western show in a similar vein. Inherent flaws are not as glaring as the best dramas, but there is more than enough room to work with, and the character do undergo a degree of growth throughout the series.
For better of for worse, merchandising is the lifeblood of just about every internet-based show. There’s no getting away from it since viewers are extremely reluctant to pay for the actual content itself. Here, Rooster Teeth has done a first-rate job.
Not only do they have a store, they’ve also populated it with a good mixture of items. There are the staples such as T-shirts and stickers, but there are also other items such as scarves, coffee mugs, and, figurines:
Rooster Teeth have put a bit of thought into this part of the puzzle, and rightfully so. A good variety of merchandise is much more likely to entice viewers to buy something. T-shirts are always extremely popular because they’re easy to make and relatively cheap, but people can only have so many, and that’s a limiting factor.
Another aspect to the merchandising is the soundtrack to the series, which has received an official release for each season. This is a rare occurrence, with many TV shows never receiving an official soundtrack even with enormous demand from fans. Essentially Rooster Teeth is beating them to the punch by putting the soundtracks out there. It take little effort on their part, but it is an efficient way to derive revenue that would otherwise be forfeited. Note that they are offered for sale in addition to being available on streaming services like Spotify and Rdio.
RWBY isn’t a series that exists in isolation. Producing studio Rooster Teeth is an amalgamation of sorts with series, video games, a convention, and discussion forums all under its belt. These all serve to reinforce each other and to provide viewers with a community in which to participate.
Note how different this is from simply throwing videos up on YouTube. That site is a community onto itself, whereas Rooster Teeth provides fans with the space where RWBY (and their other products) are the common theme for fans to rally around. The other benefit of this is that it provides the studio with a direct conduit to fans with which to communicate with them directly, and to solicit feedback. The benefits for both parties are obvious, and something that a 3rd party site like YouTube doesn’t accommodate near as efficiently.
How RWBY is Broadcast
As a web series, RWBY follows the more traditional weekly release schedule. This makes sense on the web because new episodes can be released and viewed as they come out, and viewers can wait and binge if they prefer. Naturally the series is available on YouTube, and on Rooster Teeth’s own site; giving viewers an option of where to consume it.
Besides the release schedule, another interesting aspect to the show that is somewhat unique is that it’s available on other services such as Netflix. For that, the individual episodes are combined into a feature-length presentation. This is a clever way to attract viewers who may not want to watch 15-minute episodes, on their TV, but will watch something longer, or are completely unfamiliar with the series and stumble across it as they browse for something to watch. Remember, as large a library as Netflix has, it is still infinitely smaller than YouTube.
Despite being anachronistic in 2015, the series is also available on Blu-Ray and DVD too.
Yet again, I am kicking myself for ignoring what is right in front of my eyes. RWBY may not be my favourite animated show of all time, but after checking it out and spending a bit of time discovering it, I’ve come to appreciate many of its aspects. The series has a lot going for it, and Rooster Teeth has undertaken some clever and successful decisions to ensure its success. The entire endeavour has been done the right way, and hopefully it inspires others to use similar intelligent thinking when it comes to their shows.