RWBY Volume 1 (2013)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 11/30/13
Director: Monty Oum

After seeing the "Ruby" trailer back in March (which still makes me cry), this became the most hotly anticipated show of the year. Action animator Monty Oum flexes his creative muscles to assemble the most exciting animated series to come along in years, aimed directly at all of my sweet spots. In a world threatened by monsters, hunters and huntresses are trained in the art of combat to protect the whole of society. But the greatest threat to Mankind comes from within... The story begins with 15 year old Ruby Rose being enrolled at Beacon Academy to become a huntress. She's two years younger than her classmates, but she's already an exceptionally skilled fighter and the headmaster sees great potential in her. She's also an immature, socially awkward geek with a weapons fetish. The rest of the primary cast includes Ruby's older sister Yang, industrial heiress Weiss, mysterious loner Blake, and a goofy misfit named Jean. They're all going to have to settle their differences and learn to work together in order to graduate.

The writing is admittedly juvenile, formulaic, predictable, and cliché, but steadily improves as the characters get fleshed out and the show finds its rhythm. The character design is superb and the costuming is outstanding. The animation is also quite good, blending 3D technology with traditional anime styling to create a pleasing aesthetic. The characters themselves fall into the standard high school and harem style anime stereotypes, and the girls are all charming and adorable. Naturally, the male characters are annoying and I could do without them - especially the pathetic and bumbling Jean (aka Vomit Boy). I understand the point of having a character like him, but I'd much rather have the story drop the chaos factor and just focus on the girls. The voice acting is decent and also steadily improves as the characters find their footing and get over their initial forced girlieness.

Where the show really excels is in the action department, and seeing the girls in combat is a feast for the eyes. This is where Oum's creative genius comes into play and showcases his amazing and unconventional talents. His angles, choreography, cinematography, and weapon design are breathtaking as well as visually overwhelming. The fight scenes are a beautifully intricate dance of grace, precision, and poise, delicately balanced with mayhem, bloodshed, and wholesale destruction. Pacing and rhythm are crucial, and I'm constantly amazed with the things he comes up with and how he incorporates them. Fantastic stuff, and I'm anxiously looking forward to future installments. The music is also worth noting, as it nicely complements both the action and drama, and adds an additional sense of class to the production. Well done.

Monty Oum and Rooster Teeth have done a very respectable job with this series. It manages to capture the long absent spirit of old school anime, before everything was all about giant robots, enormous breasts, moral decadence, and existential angst. Despite the extreme violence, there's a freshness and lightness to the show, as well as a sense of hope and wonder. In many ways, it reminds me of "Sailor Moon" (1994) with its youthful innocence, cheerful demeanor, and moral compass. (you can easily map the character archetypes to that show as well) It's like a breath of fresh air in a genre that's lost its way in recent years.