I remember the first time I saw the web series Dead Fantasy, which pitted all of the female characters of Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy against one another in a super stylish series of animated fights, and falling in love with it immediately. So when I learned that the mind behind it all, the late Monty Oum, was developing a new series, in the form of Rooster Teeth’s RWBY, I practically jumped for joy at the prospect of that same kind of hyper-stylized action, but now with a story and original characters. Over the near four years since the first season’s debut, that story and those characters have grown in a way that is nothing short of amazing, going from a seemingly bright tale about teenagers fighting monster-of-the-week enemies to a much darker, bleaker narrative of those same teenagers fighting to protect the world and each other from a much more human enemy — and in some cases, failing to do so.
RWBY’s series premiere features the protagonist, Ruby Rose, (no, not that one), doing the most standard superhero thing possible — stopping a robbery in progress. What follows over the next 15 episodes are such events as: “Ruby goes to a new school with her sister!”, “Ruby makes friends with a girl on the street who might be a robot!” and “Ruby’s friend Blake tries to fight a gang war by herself!”.
That last one aside, RWBY’s first season is pretty basic and lighthearted. Everything turns out okay, and the heroes rejoice and look on to tomorrow. Conversely, the latter half of the third season and the majority of the recently wrapped fourth volume make a hard shift, seeing the brutal on screen death of multiple characters, the dismemberment of another and the proverbial scattering of the principal cast to the four winds. The stakes get higher and the rules change; no one is truly safe anymore, something lampshaded by the season 4 finale’s title, “No Safe Haven”.
The music in the series reflects the change in tone as well, particularly the season two and three soundtracks. Although it can be argued that season two got the ball rolling on the change, the musical composition remains very similar to the first season’s with vocal tracks like “Dream Come True”, a fun, happy, love song from the point of view of Pyrrha, pertaining to her feelings for her teammate, Jaune:
Maybe I’m too tall or not your type
But I’m not giving up, I’ll get it right
Being close to you is my intention
I see more in you than the rest of them do
And I’m not gonna let you fall
I’ll swallow my pride, time after time
Cause you’re worth it all
In season three, however, there are three songs from the points of view of the villains, including a much darker opening theme than the preceding seasons, in the form of “When It Falls”:
Maybe red’s like roses? Maybe it’s a pool of blood
The innocents will lay in when in the end, you fail to save them
Their dying eyes are wide and white like snow
And now they know the cost of trusting you’s obliteration
Mirrors will shatter
Crushed by the weight of the world
The pillars collapse in shame
The stakes and scope of any narrative have to escalate over time in order to keep it interesting — that’s what kept Dragon Ball Z interesting for so long — and RWBY is no exception to that, and it does so in an exceptional way. Ruby and her friends have managed to become quite the lovable cast, showing that there’s more to them and their story than just flashy weapons and great fight scenes, something that they needed to do to keep viewers invested until season five begins this Fall.
Then again, maybe I’m just over analyzing things.