Strikingly stylish and vivacious, RWBY is a comic that catapults off the page. The fluid movement of artist Shirow Miwa’s panels make this adaptation of the anime created by Monty Oum a fast-paced, energetic breeze of a volume. Pronounced like its protagonist’s name, RWBY follows the up-and-coming squad of huntresses Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang as they hone their skills in combat and magic in order to protect their world from encroaching evil.
RWBY isn’t a story born of inauspicious promise. Our introduction to the would-be Little Red Riding reaper has a Van Helsing-vibe as lycan limbs fall like confetti. These are the Grimm: a plague of mythical monsters that once overran the Earth. These days, hunters harness the energy of “dust,” essentially an intangible life force present in all things, in order to subdue the plague and maintain some semblance of peace. The allusion to the Grimm fairytales is intentional. In fact, I believe much of RWBY’s successful aesthetic choices can be contributed to favorable comparisons with other cultural phenomena, including Japanese and Greek mythology.
Upon a cursory perusal, the impression RWBY gave me was “Sailor Moon meets Harry Potter,” and my deep dive only served to confirm this. Scythe-wielding gothic heroine Ruby Rose resonated with me as a Hotaru Tomoe (from Sailor Moon) lookalike, and the surrounding cast of colorful, ditzy, formidable girl power make for Sailor Senshi stand-ins. The prestigious Beacon Academy, one of four universities dedicated to the training of huntsmen and huntresses, gives the series its vehicle for progressing the plot. Our leading ladies, under the tutelage of their professors and rivaled by Team JNPR, face off with fantastical foes using their supernatural skills, not unlike another famed group of magical teenagers.
Unlike similar titles in the genre, the members of Team RWBY are no neophytes. Each young woman gets her own focused chapter in this volume. These episodes are lean on flashbacks, giving you just enough origin story to set expectations before bringing you up to speed. Weiss, the level-headed and prodigious heir to a fortune, longs to step out of her father’s shadow and stand on her own merit. This struggle turns literal when her caretaker turns loose a colossal medieval mecha on her for diverting from her father’s orders. Blake, a member of racial minority called faunus, has a falling out with her rebel comrades after their once peaceable means fall by the wayside. The charismatic-bordering-reckless Yang has a brush-up with local yakuza. Curiously, Ruby herself doesn’t garner too much of the spotlight after the groundwork is laid down, instead serving as an intermediary connecting the dots along the way.
The brisk pace of the plot is refreshing, lending itself to the kinetic energy that flows through the work. This blitz, however, has the drawback of feeling shallow. Entertaining as it is, this installment didn’t do enough to endear me to its protagonists. Weiss aside, I couldn’t tell you at this juncture what drives Ruby and her friends. Their goals or motivations remain to be fleshed out.
I have touched on the impressive movement of Miwa’s panels and storytelling, but my single greatest gripe has to be the texture. RWBY tends to front-and-backload chapters with rich splash pages and well-defined sequences, but the meat can be bare at times. The dearth of shading on some pages makes it downright difficult to focus on anything else: the white space just radiates off the page. Panels without any background whatsoever seem innocuous at first, but become less forgivable as they begin to cluster on the page. Serial offenders of this tend to be dialogue-heavy exposition. If I am giving the benefit of the doubt, that may be the preferred time to “take a page off,” but doing so ejects the reader out of the world of Remnant and back in front of their comic book. Given how stunning the artwork can be at its height, these low points were a bummer.
Unlike the subject of my last review, RWBY is a manga accessible to a wide audience, but I would label it for teens or YA. The violence depicted is about as tasteful as it gets, and there is ample humor throughout. Never too serious and without a dull moment, RWBY would make a great introduction to the genre for any aspiring young readers you may know. The flip side is that while fun and frenetic, RWBY leaves something to be desired for mature or seasoned readers. A fresh departure from works that require considerable time investment or are heavy in nature, RWBY isn’t a manga that’s going to stick with me.
Grade for Younger Audience: B+
For me personally, I can’t grade RWBY higher than a C+. I have several young readers in mind, however, that would have a blast with this romp of a comic. For them, I’d wager RWBY more like a B+.