It’s official: RWBY is anime. Or rather, RWBY: Ice Queendom is anime. And the comparison to the original, “non-anime” RWBY series is inevitable. And appropriate. The comparison viewpoint on this anime is valid, but it can also be evaluated on its own. So I’ll do both today. I like what this anime did for the RWBY franchise. I like some […]
It’s official: RWBY is anime.
Or rather, RWBY: Ice Queendom is anime. And the comparison to the original, “non-anime” RWBY series is inevitable. And appropriate.
The comparison viewpoint on this anime is valid, but it can also be evaluated on its own. So I’ll do both today. I like what this anime did for the RWBY franchise. I like some parts of it by itself outside of any franchise consideration. But I also think it was lacking in a few areas, both by comparison to the original and on its own.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this experience. I say “experience” because it was different than most other anime in the adaptation realm, since it was drawing from a separate animated series as its source, rather than the typical written source or being created as an original. And I think fans of the RWBY franchise will enjoy this experience. The anime fan with no RWBY experience might enjoy this series, but might find it a little bland. It stands alone fine—you don’t have to be familiar with the original to follow along—but by itself it feels a little bland. Still, I enjoyed it, and, without more ado, here ends the spoiler free introduction.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Like much of this series, the producers behind this anime did a good job not trying to make copies of the originals here with the characters. Both their similarities and differences had positives and negatives.
One of the biggest differences between this anime and the original RWBY series is that Ice Queendom (can we call it IQ? or, even better, RWBY IQ?) is all about Weiss, whereas the original is mostly about Ruby. I’ll bring this up again in the Story section, as it has a big effect on this series in the comparison sense. But I’m stubborn: this series as a whole is about Team RWBY, and Ruby is the leader of team RWBY, so I’m gonna start with Ruby in this section.
Ruby Rose! “Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest!” She’s the one and only. I had my doubts about Saori Hayami playing Ruby before I watched a single second of this anime. Those doubts were never assuaged through all twelve season one episodes. Hayami-san used that tenor of voice we’re most familiar with from her, one made famous with characters like Yor Forger (Spy x Family), Yamato (One Piece, though she’s intentionally a little more masculine there), and Yumeko Jabami (Kakegurui). Hayami-san’s voice is very mature no matter the tenor she uses. It’s imposing and strong despite its often matronly tone. Ruby is supposed to be very young, too young even to enter Beacon Academy (a story point from the original series), yet Saori Hayami’s mature voice is coming out of this small, middle school-aged warrior.
In the comparative sense, this was not good. Say what you will about the voice acting in the original series, Ruby’s voice there seems much more age appropriate than Hayami’s version here. Hayami-san did what she could to make Ruby energetic and excited and all happy-go-lucky all the time, but the tone still didn’t match this and bothered me the whole time. Outside of comparisons: it’s Saori Hayami’s voice. She knows what she’s doing and is good at it. The comparison aspect simply overwhelmed me here and I couldn’t get past it.
One thing I was very happy about: Ruby’s silver eyes. This aspect of the original story is a big deal but the writers mostly neglect it, and it suffered as a story feature since Monty Oum’s (the series’s visionary creator) passing. It’s there and a big deal, but you don’t really think about it very often. It disappears for long intervals and then reappears remarkably but unremarkably at the same time. Not so here. While we didn’t particularly see even a hint of it visually like we do in the original series, at a key point it becomes a thing and from there on hangs ominously over the entire series, a fearsome and overwhelming power in the hands of this happy, simple girl. I loved this because I always felt this aspect was mishandled in the other series, yet here, even though it wasn’t very apparent in the story, you could sense its presence somehow much more than in the original series. It’s gotten Ozpin’s attention, as we saw in the last episode.
This is one area where fans of the original series will know what’s going on whereas people new to the series seeing IQ as their first RWBY experience will be lost in the mystery of what’s going on there with Ruby. But the effect is great either way. An overwhelming power hiding in the background is one of the most magnificent story elements in literature. Used properly its sudden emergence causes one of the strongest reactions in audiences compared to other powerful storytelling elements. I hope to see this series use it to that full effect.
My biggest disappointment about this series had to be Yang Xiao Long. Her original series character is wild, lively enough to match even Ruby’s energy, and very punkish and edgy. By comparison, this Yang was nearly invisible. She was way too subdued. Even without comparisons she almost disappeared from this series apart from some fun sequences with her on her motorcycle (I loved that part). I was very happy to see her in her original untroubled state, but she lacked a lot of the energy I expected from her.
This is even weirder considering her VA, Ami Koshimizu. Anybody recognize her name? She’s Ryuuko Matoi from Kill la Kill. Certainly the producers here cast her in this role because of that wildly energetic performance in that infamous series. What happened here? Yang seemed asleep by comparison to both the original Yang and of course the inimitable Matoi. I was disappointed about this. I still think well of Koshimizu-san for that Kill la Kill performance, but this was definitely off the mark in many ways.
Blake Belladonna felt almost the same way, but extracted herself from falling into that same pit of my opinion with some very strong character and VA work late in this S1. The license the writers created for themselves in the dreamworld (more on that later) made for some wonderful moments for Blake, who evolved from the identity-challenged Faunus of Beacon and Team RWBY into the inner id Blake, fully decked out in black on black on black and masked in the famous mask of the White Fang leader Adam Taurus, one of my favorite characters from the original series. She was badass!
Yuu Shimamura played Blake’s voice here. Like Blake herself, she was a little in the background initially, but she took care of business as the transformed Blake in those late episodes. She was a boss. Shimamura has played strong female voices before, most famously as Annie from AoT. She aided in the complete rescue of this character in this series. As Blake is my favorite character in the RWBY franchise, I was very happy to see this recovery, and much of that I attribute to Shimamura-san.
Weiss was…Weiss. Fans of the original RWBY series will know what this means. Cold, haughty, slightly disingenuous, disguising a very human heart behind a facade of hostility, snobbiness, and bluster. Hey that’s a tsundere isn’t it Hawk? If Weiss was originally Japanese I would say so, but she’s a Western creation, so she’s that way but not by name. She’s bratty tsundere, which I guess is a way to describe the Western version of tsundere. Anyway.
I joke about the tsundere thing, but being so, it shouldn’t be surprising that this character was easy for Japanese writers to adapt, since the Japanese essentially are the creator of this particular character type. Not that it hasn’t existed elsewhere, but its predominance in Japanese anime is well known, and they even named it. Larger discussion. Anyway, I was not surprised to see Weiss be as intolerable here as she was in the original series. She really does make you work to find the bright spots in her heart. I envy and admire Ruby’s sight and patience with such a person.
Since she’s the focus of this series, the writers had to position Weiss as the main character. I imagine this was a little tricky given Weiss’s original design is as a supporting character (arguably, but an argument I could make). I really liked how this was handled. She dominated this series. Any scene that she was in belonged to her. Her presence was very strong.
To those who can make the comparison, Ruby definitely held her own and was her own focal point, but Weiss was clearly her equal at the same time. To those who haven’t seen the original series, a clear dynamic was created here for primacy in the main character role between Weiss and Ruby. That kind of competition was perfect between them. It’s that competition between them, even in this storytelling sense, that’s one of the things that effectively elevates Weiss into that main character role. Her competition with Ruby is less of a factor, and endures for a very brief time, in the original RWBY series.
Another big reason Weiss effectively vied for main character status was through her voice actor, Youko Hikasa. For a VA long primarily known for her role as Rias Gremory (HS DxD), this woman has become a prolific seiyuu. I associate Rias with her as her most memorable role, but I now also group her easily with other great main character VAs out there. Even her role as Rias is elevated further in my mind due to all this other great work she’s done (and yes, Rias is a great character, wild ecchi anime or not, and a lot of that has to do with Hikasa-san). She’s magnificent in these strong female roles. She takes the original Weiss, whose haughty voice is a big part of her character, and takes it up a notch. Weiss clearly thinks she’s the brightest star in the sky even with her misgivings, and you can hear all of that in Hikasa-san’s performance here.
Weiss makes this series. She is the primary link between the original series and this anime RWBY series. Everything great about original Weiss is present here, but even just a little better. She accepts the spotlight with ease as a character, and these writers let her slide right in there very effectively. While she’s not particularly spectacular as a character, this Weiss is very clearly the focal point of this series where she could have gotten lost beneath the aura of Ruby that is so powerful in this franchise. I enjoyed seeing this adaptation of her character.
The other primary supporting characters mostly all make appearances in this show too, though they have very little screentime relatively. Nora, Jaune, Penny, Ren, Winter, Ozpin, Sun, Nicholas Schnee, even villains like Adam and Roman, all make appearances here. Fans of the original series will enjoy their brief appearances all (me).
The elephant in this room of supporting characters is Pyrrha. She’s such an impactful character from the original series. I’ll go spoiler-free here and not say why. She appeared for basically two episodes in this series and then disappeared. I wonder how that will be handled in this series going forward. Some story elements were the same as the original in this series, but also we had some divergences and certainly some original content. So we’ll see how her character is handled here. The fact that Megumi Toyaguchi (Revy, Black Lagoon; Winry, Fullmetal Alchemist) is playing her part makes me feel like she’ll have a more significant role going forward, but I cannot be certain.
One informational word on the voice actors: I’m not sure if the original RWBY was dubbed in Japanese, and if so, if it was with these same voices. That’d be kind of cool if it was the case. What I do know is that the English dub for Ice Queendom used the same English VAs as the original RWBY series. I liked this. Those boys and girls had a rough start like much in this series, and they’re still a little stiff as far as voiceover actors go (English voice acting is a different animal than Japanese voice acting, and not one I’m happy with the state of, but they seem to share some similarities, so I can evaluate them similarly), but they’ve come to be a big part of these characters. To have had anyone but them do the English voices would have been ridiculous. I’m glad the right decision was made here.
The only character that caught me by surprise was Shion Zaiden. She was the first indicator to me that this series was going to diverge from the storyline of the original series, since she’s an original character for IQ. She was just a supporting character, but simply being the signal for this series taking its own path was enough to get my attention here. She didn’t have much impact on the story other than that and enabling that story path to continue throughout this first season.
The main villains were absent completely. This could simply be because it’s too early in the series or it could be that this series will diverge so much from the original that they might not even factor into this series. Adam Taurus and Roman Torchwick appeared briefly, but Neopolitan never appeared, nor did General Ironwood. Cinder Fall and Salem were nowhere to be found. So we’ll see if these characters are introduced at some point or if we’ll get new, original villain characters instead.
Characters are a big part of the original RWBY’s success. They continually compete with the story for centricity. The writers here didn’t miss on this aspect. While they might not feel super memorable here, they were great as adaptations and could stand alone even. As someone who can compare the two series, I was very pleased with this group. I wish for more from characters like Yang, but everyone else was nice, and I look forward to what more can be done with everyone in further seasons.
Some things were way better than the original series, but some things were oddly bad too.
It goes without saying that improvement was the only option available for certain parts of the original series. Let me digress from a discussion of this series back into the original for a brief moment. Despite improving over time, certain parts of the artwork of that original were so bad they were laughable.
Chief among these were human extremities and their movements. Hands and feet were so bad in the first few volumes of RWBY that it literally was a joke. Do any of you remember watching the characters walk in that original series? It was hard to watch it was so bad. And their hands looked out of proportion. It was grotesque. Not to mention the eyes. While that series improved all these issues over time, the eyes improved the most, to a point where they had their own unique power. But initially they were horrifyingly bad. There was no expression, and any attempts at it looked wooden and clunky.
These two glaring anatomical problems with the original series artwork transitioned peculiarly to Ice Queendom. The problems with limbs and hands and feet was completely resolved. This goes without saying; Japanese anime has proudly dealt effectively with this tricky animation area for a long time, better than almost every other kind of animation out there. But the problems with the eyes….
Whatever the artists for this series saw in the eyes of the characters from the original series, all of it seemed to reappear here. The eyes were somewhat inexpressive in this series. Part of me expected a typical anime interpretation of RWBY eyes in this series, and part of me expected some sort of in-between interpretation. We got the latter, and it looks really weird.
I mentioned the original series improved their eyes a lot as time went by, but they never became different from their original appearance. This was one of the nice achievements of the original series, that they could retain the original, unique appearance of these eyes while managing to improve their deficiencies, some of which might have been somewhat inherent to the styling itself. In this series, the artists retained a lot of the deficiencies without retaining most of the improvements. I found this curious.
The final product here is slightly inexpressive and unusual looking eyes. They clearly look like an attempt to give homage to the original eye styling, and therefore retain a lot of the inexpressiveness issues of that styling. It was a peculiar experience watching the eyes in this series. They clearly were a kind of RWBY eyes, but were also oddly different.
Say what you will about the artwork issues of the main series, fight sequence animation was not one of them. In fact, one of the best parts of the original series, perhaps the best part, is its fight sequences. They’re so good that they have a powerful wow-factor, and are likely one of the biggest reasons the series had so much success. As such, it would have taken a monumental effort to top them in this adaptation. And I must say, the animators did not reach that level. It was good, very good in fact, but it wasn’t as good as the original series. That is much less of a detraction against this series as it is a testament to how powerful the original series’s animation was in this area. So it was really good here, and someone unfamiliar with the original series will find it highly satisfying to watch, but those familiar with the original series will likely agree it didn’t reach the high standard of the original series. That’s fine, but worth noting either way.
My favorite artwork improvement from the original series to this one was the coloring. Specifically, I loved the heightened emphasis on the color aspect of each member of Team RWBY. The Red-White-Black-Yellow thing is a thing in the original series, and one of the main aspects of the the acronym-team thing that’s such an imaginative part of the original series, but color-wise it isn’t emphasized nearly as much as it is in IQ. Here Weiss is very white themed. Yang is very yellow themed. Blake is very black themed. Ruby is very red themed. The artists overtly make a point of this, and it shows, and I really like it.
For the first several episodes of IQ, you had artwork that was almost purely an adaptation of the original series, character-wise and otherwise. Thereafter, once the story began to diverge from the original series, the artwork really took off to emphasize this divergence. Shaft, known for its often bizarre artwork, really shows off its prowess here. Weiss’s dreamscape is fantastical and wonderful from both a creative and drawing standpoint. The visuals laid out before us are highly imaginative, fantastically presented, amazing and magnificent and awesome to our eyes and minds. They’re everything that the visual aspect of world building should be.
This stood out the most in the characters. I mentioned Blake’s alter-ego transition, “Negative Blake,” earlier. That was great. Blake became the evil-badass version different from her good-badass version, and not only did the producers of this anime take this opportunity to use original touches like Adam’s mask and a kimono-like outfit, but they even further emphasized her black color-scheme aspect with this transformation. The black and red combining here were amazing. But Blake wasn’t the only one to benefit from this alter-ego transformation.
Initially I didn’t quite know what to make of the General McArthur thing going on with Nega Weiss. I’d seen it in the promos for this series, and it had caught my attention as it had lots of people’s. I really liked it. She looked commanding, ambitious, cold, distant, immovable. I say McArthur because of the aviator glasses and the overcoat and military hat, but plenty of people quietly whispered the dreadful name of General Esdeath too when they saw Weiss in the promos. You’re going to get my attention anytime you can channel the aura of one of the baddest girls in anime into a character.
This work in the dreamworld clearly set this series apart from the original RWBY, and the artwork was a really big part of that. This series went from RWBY adaptation/remake to its own original creation with the creative work poured into the latter parts of Ice Queendom. While certain visual elements of the original series are almost too good to overcome, the artwork in this anime made some room for itself in this franchise. At the same time it definitely retained enough similarities to clearly belong as part of the franchise, despite retaining some of the original artwork’s quirks along the way.
So I like it. I’m not jumping up and down over it, but I like it. It does good work for the RWBY franchise and clearly is an anime version of it. I needed both of those conditions to be met for me to have a good opinion of this show overall, and both were definitely met. I look forward to the visual adventures of further seasons of this series.
Like the artwork, the story followed a familiar path for a while and then diverged into original material upon entering the dreamworld.
But the divergence didn’t initiate there. The story began to separate gradually as it became clearer that Weiss would be at the center of this tale. I could tell pretty early on that this wasn’t simply going to be a remake of the original series. I mostly knew that going in, but once I saw Weiss taking on a primary role more and more then I knew for sure. Once the story entered the dreamworld and Negative Weiss became a thing, I was ready for this series to forge its own path.
And it did. All kinds of things started to change. The first was the introduction of a parasite Grimm. Grimm in the original series are almost all bigger than humans. I can’t right off think of one that wasn’t in fact. They’re usually overwhelming forces both individually and collectively. Obviously this Grimm had to be tiny. This Nightmare Grimm was a new thing to me, but it was at the heart of the creativity behind this original storyline in the dreamworld.
I liked this. I liked that it gave us a new way to experience the role of our Grimm Huntresses. As much as I like the storyline’s evolution in the original series, it really did evolve the characters away from their role as Huntresses. I liked that we could experience that again here in this fresh new RWBY series.
But more importantly the Nightmare Grimm opened the dreamworld. Here the creativity of the creators behind this series shined. Dreams are often hit-or-miss in all kinds of different fiction media. Sometimes they’re too trite or too simplistic or they stray into the impossible without a good reason, like visions into the past or future just for convenience in the story. Other times they’re more like this, and very dreamlike. Everything in Weiss’s dreamworld is connected to reality, but only in that subconscious, bizarre way that strong dreams are. Everything’s right except it definitely isn’t. The writers did a great job with this here.
Perhaps one of the most fun parts of the dreamworld were the peculiar things audiences could recognize from elsewhere and pick out. I think the walls and giants were definitely an Attack on Titan thing. Some people said the plot to save Weiss drew on some traditional fairy tale tropes, which I kind of see here and there. I want to claim the talking doors were a One Piece reference, but I think we had talking doors in the original series (might be wrong), and either way that could easily just be its own thing. The doors to anywhere could have been a Doraemon thing too. I think there might have been some references, maybe intentional maybe not, to 1986 and similar dystopian literature with certain aspects. I’m pretty sure there were more things than just these but I can’t think of them right now. I just remember thinking that a lot of the dreamworld felt like it was touching a lot of other works of literature, and I liked that.
The world building in the original series is definitely one of its strongest points. Remnant which might be Earth but also might not be, and the mining of Dust as a focal point of human societies, the Grimm and their counterbalance effect on the human race’s advances, and the interactions of the natural with the supernatural are all nicely done, particularly for Western media, which often makes worlds far to generic and unimaginative in its media without a good reason for doing so. In other words, world building is usually neglected in Western media, whereas it’s a fairly big focus in anime (isekai notwithstanding). It would therefore be easy for Japanese writers to incorporate this Remnant world into their storytelling methods. I was happy with the result, so far at least through one season.
I got a little lost in the plans to extract Weiss from the dreamworld. I liked that items from the original series like Relics played a factor here, but I wasn’t sure in the end how all of this worked together to awaken Weiss. I could have honestly just been a little lost in all the other things going on and in my own observations of the series, but I feel like this part of the story was a little cumbersome, and perhaps not very well thought out. It’s a small thing, but it bothers me in the aftermath of this series.
As there has only been one season to this point, the story is very limited. A lot had to happen in one season. IQ spent several episodes essentially remaking the beginning of the original series at the outset, then had to move right into moving the focal point to Weiss and the dreamworld, and thereby forging the original storyline. All of that had to happen in twelve episodes. So there isn’t much story yet. But this S1 story was good for all that, making good use of the many nice elements of the original series in this new series. So far I’m happy with it.
Music: I always liked the RWBY music. I recommend you sit down a take a listen to it sometime, particularly as you read this review, though it might be a little late now if you read it in order. It’s a lot of fun, and fans of the original series will recall a lot of memories of the show from it. There always was a lot of vision behind this show, and the music was a big part of that, especially at the beginning of the series. The music was a little different, both from what I was used to in anime and even American cartoons and such and from my personal tastes. But I’ve always liked it. I therefore liked that Shaft tried to stay true to that musical style in RWBY IQ. It wasn’t the same, and so not as satisfactory, but I can see where they made the effort. I know for sure at least one of the original songs made its way into this show, Weiss’s theme song, Mirror Mirror, where she mourns being the loneliest of all, but there might have been others as well. Anyway, I’m happy with the music.
So RWBY is finally anime!
Here comes the part we’ve all heard: to the vast majority outside Japan, “anime” means “Japanese anime,” and connotes this very specific thing we all know and love. I am happy to use that word with that definition exactly as it is, and so exclude the original RWBY series from the world of “anime.” However, for people inside Japan, “anime” reportedly refers to any animated work. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is therefore “anime” to the Japanese, as is The Simpsons. We may not like this—we don’t, it’s okay to admit it—but it’s simply a different definition given geographic and cultural differences. It is what it is and shall remain so without argument from me. RWBY, therefore, is anime by some definitions but not by others.
This matter was more hotly debated than you might have realized. If you did realize it, well, I sympathize, because that means you either witnessed or partook of these debates at some point. I say “debates” out of my love for all of you, for as you all know, discussion in much of the world of anime is not always so high-minded or peaceful (“savage” might unfortunately be a good description), something I hope to maintain here in spite of all that. That aside, people were long not in agreement whether RWBY was “anime” or not.
Thankfully we can put that to rest now. Not that anything has changed in regard to the original series—argument your way all over that still if you want to, and I will love you no less for it—but this truly “anime” RWBY series takes a lot of the fire out of those debates. RWBY can be “anime” on some level to all debate participants now, savage or otherwise.
Why is all this necessary here Hawk? Because as long as I adhered to the outside-Japan definition of “anime” laid out above, I was never going to be able to review the RWBY series. I hated this, because I loved that series in the same way I love anime. I felt it was very “anime-like,” and viewed it in much the same way. But I wasn’t going to get to review it here, because I insist on only reviewing Japanese anime here, or at least anime in which Japanese anime production plays some part. The most I could do was make references to RWBY as that thing out there, like the titans outside the walls in Attack on Titan or the Americas in Vinland Saga. It might be kind of funny, but I was always a bit sad I couldn’t review this series.
Until now. Because now we have RWBY: Ice Queendom, which is anime by all definitions, and I can dive headlong into the RWBY franchise via the portal availed me by this Japanese series. That more than anything predisposes me to really like this show.
So how was it overall? Better, worse, the same? The comparisons to the original are inevitable, and appropriate as I said. But I don’t think we need compare it as better or worse or neither. Instead I can honestly say I like what RWBYIQ did for this franchise. I mean just that. I like that it allows me to write about RWBY in an anime vein. I like how it uses the original series as a foundation and contributes to its evolution, but forges its own path at the same time: it grows a fine new branch on the RWBY tree. I like how it draws on the characters of the original and gives us a bit of a new look at each of them. I like how it takes the art and blends it with traditional anime styles. I like a lot about this series.
I don’t really dislike much about this series actually. It’s one of those situations where you know something could be better, but you’re not unhappy with it as it is anyway because of all the other parts you like. Things can always be better Hawk, that’s not saying much. No, that’s not true. The Monogatari series, the anime of anime, can’t really get better. Your Lie in April can’t really get better, as unhappy as its tragedy makes us. The argument could be made that even shows like Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan, Monster, Nichijou, Non Non Biyori, One Piece, and one of my lesser known favorites, White Album, can’t really get any better, though I know a lot of you would debate me on these, and I would happily hear you out. So RWBY: Ice Queendom doesn’t reach that level of course, but it does reach a level where I’m satisfied to such a degree that I cannot feel dissatisfied. For a series like this, where such a major addition is being made to an established franchise by a totally different culture’s entertainment media, that’s a very good compliment. It means that the new addition added wonderfully to the franchise. You can’t ask for more than that from such an endeavor.
RWBY is anime! Go crazy! I love it! I look forward to subsequent seasons from this specific addition to the RWBY franchise, as I continue to hope for the best for Remnant and Team RWBY and her friends.
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