Rooster Teeth is a production company most known for their very popular YouTube channel featuring a collection of shorts made for the web. Their biggest hit is Red vs. Blue, a web series still going strong in its eleventh season. Coming off the popular Red vs. Blue series, animator Monty Oum has created and directed an anime-styled series using pure digital animation.
The premise of RWBY will be very familiar to genre fans, featuring a group of students modeled after classic fairy tale characters. This volume comprises of RWBY’s first ten episodes, introducing the characters and setting the stage for future plot developments. Anime fans will find a lot to like in this Americanized attempt at anime, though its animation is a little rough in the beginning and will take some getting used to for those accustomed to hand-drawn art.
The main focus is Ruby Rose (voiced by Lindsay Tuggey), a 15-year-old girl patterned in appearance after Little Red Riding Hood. Ruby wields a weapon named the Crescent Rose, a giant scythe that also happens to double as a sniper rifle. She attends Beacon Academy, a school that trains monster-slayers. In the semi-fantasy world of Remnant, special people known as Huntsmen and Huntresses have to slay terrible monsters called Grimm creatures and other demons. Their world is a hybrid of modern technology and fantasy tropes.
Ruby Rose has to learn to work with her classmates as they train together on missions at Beacon Academy. White-haired Weiss Schnee (voiced by Kara Eberle) is a riff on Snow White. Ruby’s older sister is Yang Xiao Long (voiced by Barbara Dunkelman), a buxom blonde inspired by Goldilocks. Blake Belladonna (voiced by Arryn Zech) is the black-haired mystery girl, patterned after Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Each girl has her own unique weapon and distinct personality, drawn from common archetypes found in anime. Oum helped create the character designs for them with artist Eileen “Ein Lee” Chang, one of the more popular artists to have sprung to fame from the Internet.
These first ten episodes are about introducing the characters and setting up how the world of RWBY works. RWBY will feel instantly familiar to anime fans, using the fairly common premise of young students wielding great power in a school environment. The voice work by the entire cast is uniformly superb, particularly from the lead characters. Each voice actor seems perfectly cast for their role. It would be hard to imagine anyone but Lindsay Tuggey voicing Ruby as the friendly heroine. The digital animation is highly refined for RWBY’s main characters and some of the various locales they visit, but veteran anime watchers will find the web-quality animation rough and unpolished at times.
The one weakness in RWBY is its primary male character, Jaune Arc (Miles Luna). He is the stereotypical, emasculated male character commonly found in anime. His running sub-plot is supposed to provide some emotional resonance but feels rushed and incomplete. Some small changes to his character would materially improve the series as it continues.
While the concept behind the series seems outlandish at first blush to uninitiated viewers, the idea of young women using massive weapons in deadly battle against evil is well-trodden ground for Japanese anime. The battles are fast and intense with a creative visual design. The more enjoyable parts of RWBY are seeing typical high school hijinks between the differing personalities as they grow together in experience. RWBY’s story looks to have been planned out far in advance, giving hints as to future developments. This first volume ends on a bit of a cliffhanger with a post-credits tease. Anime fans will find a lot to like in the splashy character designs and easygoing storytelling of RWBY. Watching it one can’t help but be reminded of Soul Eater, the popular anime released by Funimation in the United States.
RWBY was born as a series of web shorts. Its animation is constructed using purely digital software such as MAYA. RWBY’s final look is a far cry from the more familiar digital ink and paint process known to traditional anime fans. RWBY’s style is reminiscent of animated cut-scenes from modern videogames, though likely budgetary issues have led to a number of compromises in the animation. This Blu-ray presentation is probably the best RWBY can look due to limitations in the animation itself.
The ten episodes of RWBY run slightly over two hours, at a combined length of 126 minutes. Presented in interlaced format at 1080i resolution, the digital video is framed at 1.78:1. The main feature is encoded in AVC at acceptable video bitrates, running approximately 24 Mbps. It is not a flawless video encode from a compression standpoint. Some banding and other more subtle compression artifacts pop up on occasion. One wonders if some of the banding is endemic to the unpolished animation itself, a common problem in cheaper productions. The anime designs for the main characters are excellent, most fans will lap up the color-based scheme behind them.
Before RWBY’s many virtues are sung, aliasing is another noticeable problem. The first few episodes have definite aliasing problems at times, easily discernible along the black outlines of characters and when the camera rotates in certain directions.
If one can set aside the early episodes which look more primitive in design and refinement, RWBY provides a vivid Hi-Def experience like most pure digital animation on Blu-ray. The color palette dances off the screen in vibrantly rendered life. Its fully-saturated primary colors are an excellent test for your display’s color fidelity. Inky black levels are the backdrop for RWBY’s perfect contrast and incredible clarity. Some animated backgrounds have less detail and work put into them than others, dropping the consistency from scene to scene. This is still a unique visual experience that transcends its inherent limitations.
RWBY’s audio would have likely garnered a perfect score if it had been presented in lossless form. Instead we get a perfectly fine 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack at 448 kbps. Animation has a huge edge in sound design since everything has been recorded in a studio specifically built to record hi-fidelity sound and vocals. RWBY is no exception to that observation. Its soundtrack features clean dialogue in a pinpoint presentation. The lush musical accompaniment and various surround cues envelop the listener. The entire mix is on the cusp of demo-caliber material with its highly engaging sonic presentation.
Cinedigm has provided no subs of any kind for RWBY.
Rooster Teeth has gone the extra mile for RWBY, providing two commentaries that are quite fun and a number of short featurettes that will prove interesting to most fans. Cinedigm has packaged this release in a snazzy, black-colored Amaray case, a rarity on American soil.
Behind The Scenes (07:02 in HD) – Director Monty Oum and writers Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross go over the genesis of RWBY and give a glimpse into the thinking behind it.
Chapter 1 Storyboard – A cool feature that runs alongside episode 1 when enabled. A small box shows the rough-looking storyboards as they match up with the final animated product for the entire episode.
Fan Art (04:41 in HD) – Production staff talk while examples of some fantastic RWBY fan art play on the screen. The fan art is in a variety of different styles, from Western comic books to Japanese Manga.
RWBY Cosplay (02:34 in HD) – The four main characters are all brought to life by devoted cosplayers in authentic costumes. Each cosplayer gives brief answers and shows off their intricate costumes.
Red Trailer (03:29 in HD) – Each of the main characters get an extended trailer that focuses on one character, usually telling a mini-story and working as their own short. The animation quality is actually better in these trailers than the main series and are must-see for fans. Each short is designed to highlight the unique qualities of each character. A very cinematic intro for Ruby.
White Trailer (03:47 in HD) – Weiss struts her stuff.
Black Trailer (05:12 in HD) – Blake gets her own special solo mission.
Yellow Trailer (05:44 in HD) – Yang is the star of this funny short.
Rooster Teeth Trailers (11:21 in HD) – Mostly unrelated to RWBY, these are seven various shorts from Rooster Teeth. Red vs. Blue is prominently featured in some of these shorts.
Director Commentary – Monty Oum, Kerry Shawcross, and Miles Luna all talk about RWBY in this loose conversation. It is a free-for-all discussion and sounds more like three friends shooting the breeze than a typical commentary. A fun, lively commentary with a lot of self-deprecation and humor.
Cast Commentary – The main voice actresses for RWBY provide their own spirited discussion about the series. This one greatly reminded me in tone of the various cast commentaries done for Funimation’s Blu-rays.
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