There are a lot of problems with Volume 8, but before I break into them one by one I think I need to address the influence of team Rooster Teeth and how it’s changing the series as a whole. Mounty Oum has been gone since Volume 2 but it would not be a stretch to imagine his creative vision had a lot more sway in say Volume 3 & 4 than Volume 8. And while I think Rooster Teeth has done an admirable job with the series overall, it’s biases are creeping into the show more and more, to the point that we don’t just have a couple egregious examples – though we definitely have those – but there are shifting trends in what exactly RWBY is about and I don’t think the changes are getting better.
Volume 8 is also the Volume where I can’t help but feel some key aspects of the old RWBY are being lost, chief amongst them being Ruby herself. I know I’ve harped on about this almost every volume review since Volume 4 but seriously when is this girl going to kick ass again? And not in the hurr durr look at Ruby she’s a badass sense. What the early Volumes painted Ruby as was someone whose combat skills and affinity with her profession of choice are not only high enough to be brought to a huntsman academy early but to put her in charge of her older peers. However this came at a cost, which was that Ruby had the social acumen of young, shy introverted girl and almost no skills outside of combat. Up until Volume 8 my favorite line in the entire series was Ruby saying “meeting new weapons is like meeting new people, only better.” In her own quiet way she is kind of supposed to be a badass, but one without the personal skills or confidence to be a stone cold motherfucker. And yet she’s had so few moments to really shine in combat since the early volumes that what was once a minor problem has become a major one. Now more often than not the fights are either easy for everyone or are hard but require Ruby’s silver eyes to save the day or in the case of Grimm dog not even save the day. Sure those eyes of hers are important, no mistake about it, but what happened to the girl who went 1v2 against Torchwood and Neo and won? What happened to the girl who coordinated a rookie team’s abilities on the fly to the point she could drag a giant Grimm eagle up a cliff and decapitate it?
It’s not like Rooster Teeth hasn’t thrown her any bones at all since Volume 3 or 4, but with ever increasing frequency since the silver eyes were introduced the story of Ruby has shifted from the story of her skill to the story of her eyes. The only part of her character I still feel the series has right is her emotional side, which was one of the better parts of Volume 8. For some time now she has been the rock of the team, the one who wouldn’t give up and seeing her start to break down after the team reunites as Ironwood threatens to destroy Mantle was a great touch. It brought it back home, that oh yeah she is actually the youngest person around and she needs to be picked up when her hope in humanity wavers. I like that she is young in enough in her mindset to believe more or less in the good of people despite all that she’s seen, rather than be the tired cynic. I like that she she doesn’t have the personal fortitude to stay positive when it seems her big gamble fails. I like that she feels enough pressure to feel hopeless at least temporarily. She’s done a good job keeping her team together despite a long series of situations which tested their resolve and skill. Sadly however she so rarely is doing so like she did in the Huntsman Exam – we don’t see her calling the shots and directing her teammates, prioritizing targets or formulating tactics. We’ve never seen that much of it honestly. And I think that’s a real shame. I have no idea whether this is from Rooster Teeth or if it’s all in keeping from Mounty Oum’s ideas, but I definitely feel that we need to see Ruby be a tactician again, especially if they aren’t making her perform above and beyond in personal combat.
Anyway moving away from Ruby the most egregious problem with Volume 8 is Ironwood. If you read my review of Volume 7, you may recall that I felt the portrayal of Ironwood in Volume 7 was a good one. In Volume 7 they struck the right balance of Ironwood trying to be a hero and leader, balanced against a guy who can make tough calls and who isn’t very trusting. Someone who is convinced their way is the only way forward and brooks no disagreements when push comes to shove. Volume 8 builds on that foundation and swiftly turns Ironwood into a cartoon villain. He goes from killing a city councilman who gets in his way, to freeing Arthur Watts to sabotage Penny so he can destroy her and bring the Winter Maiden back under his control – directly sabotaging Ruby’s plan to call for aid – to outright threatening to destroy Mantle if his demands aren’t met and trying to kill his own Ace Ops. The last two are especially bad because when he makes that threat the Grimm are not in same kind of shape they were before. At the start of the Volume, the giant whale Grimm is pumping more and more Grimm out and presents a huge threat. The situation is dire and it’s somewhat understandable that Ironwood might remove any civilian authority getting in his way during a critical moment. Killing the city councilman seemed like a bit of an over-reaction, like why not just detain the guy, but I could roll with it. Sabotaging Penny by working with one of Salem’s associates to regain control of the Maiden powers? Not a risk I would take, nor a risk I think he would take, but I was willing to let that one slide because it was narratively interesting. Threatening to destroy Mantle after the Grimm Whale is already dead and the Grimm forces greatly reduced? That’s lunacy and there’s no way I buy that the Ironwood of Volume 7 would make that call. It gets even worse when he was about to kill Marrow for refusing the order, especially since Winter and one of the other Ace Ops do not seem at all keen on the plan even if they aren’t rejecting the order directly. Then by the end he’s trying to kill Winter, as his character spirals downwards towards a truly ridiculous level of self-destruction.
Moreover one of the strengths of the Atlas military in Volume 7 is that it was mostly unified, almost monolithically so, with Marrow being the only one reluctant to follow Ironwood’s order to capture Ruby and her allies. If 60% of his innermost elite circle disagree with his plan I would bet that Atlas military unity is crumbling fast. I can’t imagine for example that anyone in the Atlas military who has any family in Mantle, would be willing to follow the order to destroy it, or allow their comrades to follow this order. This is a move that is frankly too stupid to make. I was always a little bummed out that Volume 7 didn’t explore the virtues of a strong central authority in times of crisis, well now we know why, because Volume 8 was planning to turn Ironwood into a tinpot dictator with the charisma and strategic genius of a drug-addled hobo in a business suit.
One of the trends I think is coming from Rooster Teeth that may not have been in Mounty Oum’s creative vision is the increasing focus on relationships and emotions. In a broad sense they were always there so I don’t want to make out like I think Oum never had these aspects in mind when working on RWBY. However the relationships and emotions of the more recent Volumes feel much more, dare I say progressive in the Western sense. The almost gay not quite bromance between Clover and Qrow last Volume is the most blatant example. But things like Nora saying she needs to find herself, and Robin trying to tell Qrow that killing Ironwood is him being selfish and not fighting for the good of everyone – they feel very preachy and progressive in a way nothing else in RWBY really did. That’s not say there hasn’t been heavy handed or babies first moralizing before, but at least back then it felt relevant to the plot, this more recent shit is almost exclusively character driven including at the expense of plot. Like Robin is flat out wrong in that example I mentioned, removing Ironwood from the picture practically guarantees the situation gets better since Winter doesn’t want to bomb Mantle, and frankly I want the Qrow of Volume 3 back please, that motherfucker was a confident cynic who not only didn’t need pep talks from people half his age but was pretty derisive of anyone weaker than him. That Qrow was cool and it felt natural, even if some of that was façade to hide his own demons – hell especially because of that, it felt like a natural façade too. But some of this dialogue just feels like idealism, and sure idealism has always been there, but it’s getting more prevalent not less, despite the world coming under more pressure. And worse it’s teens and young adults telling older adults what’s what – like they have their heads on straight and know better. Sometimes they do. But it comes across as a total disregard for the wisdom of the older generation and that’s a trend which is very much rampart in Western progressivism.
All of this being said there a couple serious highlights to this Volume. Oscar/Ozpin subverting Salem’s forces was a great move and one that felt very natural. Emerald in particular has felt like the odd man out in this organization for several Volumes, so seeing her switch sides was good. Likewise Hazel turning on Salem and pulling out all the stops and doing as much damage as he could was not only a great scene but a strong character moment for someone who also seemed pretty out of place in Salem’s organization. He was there because he hated Ozpin and Salem was Ozpin’s enemy but a lot of his attitude throughout earlier Volumes suggested he wasn’t really for all the killing that Salem demanded of her henchmen or caused with her Grimm. Neo being something of a chaos factor, was a good touch even if they didn’t do a ton with her beyond having her “kill” Yang.
The real stars though are ironically enough Cinder and Arthur. We see Cinder’s backstory and while it’s pretty trite and heavy-handed it does get the point across. Cinder was a girl who was looked down on and badly mistreated growing up. She had only one person backing her up and he was an infrequent acquaintance. Her efforts to improve herself only earned her more ire and grief from her masters. And so eventually she kills her masters and her teacher, who won’t let her walk away from the prior murders without punishment. It helps explain why Cinder has been so restless and reckless, and by extension much less threatening than she was in the first 3 Volumes. Back then she was mysterious, on the offensive and in control. Then something goes wrong. Ruby deals her a horrible blow and her great moment of triumph is marred. She’s back to licking her wounds and bowing her head to her master, Salem, and it grates. It’s why she keeps making mistakes and can’t just sit around and follow orders, it runs counter to the person she has tried to forge herself into. And despite the fact Salem gives her no credit, she does actually do a lot of damage during this conflict with a few key actions. I won’t necessarily say it makes her a better character, but it does make her a more human one.
Arthur meanwhile makes less than sense than ever while also basically dropping one of the best scenes in the entire series. I don’t really see why Arthur is working with Salem. As I write this I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head what he’s done that made him end up a bad guy, prior to our meeting him. I know why he has a bone to pick with Atlas but I don’t know why he’s working with Salem – he just doesn’t seem like he would be all that keen on ending the world. He thrives in this world and he’s the most sane and competent of Salem’s followers – barring the fact that his presence by her side is questionable at all of course. His method to sabotage Penny was a good bit of narrative work but his real glory was his verbal beatdown of Cinder. Him berating her as she threatens to drop him off a building is one of the best scenes in the series, hands down. The fact they actually have him let go of her arm once he decides he’s going to roast her was a great touch and really helped sell the scene. But it was this line that really did wonders – “You think you’re entitled to everything just because you’ve suffered, but suffering isn’t enough. You can’t just be strong, you have to be smart. You can’t just be deserving, you have to be worthy.” I especially like the last bit, about being worthy and the amount of emphasis the VA puts on that dialogue is absolutely crucial. This is not just Arthur roasting Cinder, he’s actually imparting one of the best bits of advice in the entire series and trying to hammer it through her thick fucking skull. He’s laying bare all of her failings and telling her that her failings are why she’s in the miserable position she’s in. That she doesn’t have everything she dreams of because frankly she isn’t worthy of those dreams. And the fact that Cinder not only relents but that the pair sit down and cool off afterwards, with Cinder practically sulking into a corner – that right made them two of the most relatable villains in the show.
Sadly that about covers the highlights of Volume 8. I mean the portal plan was clever but dropping half the main cast into the “void” Ambrosius specifically told them not to fall into – least convincing dramatic moment in the entire show. Likewise the Penny actually becoming human bit, a very nice and emotional scene and oh – she’s dead like 2 episodes later. Talk about a waste, fuck if you were going to kill Penny anyway they should have done as Penny initially requested, have Ruby kill her and become the Winter Maiden. That makes way more sense strategically and it’s a better bit of narrative work. They could have made a scene about making bitter sacrifices when times were dire, make the characters become more mature by the weight of the actions they felt forced to take. Instead we get a cute and clever plan that would have actually been good if it you know, lasted any meaningful length of time. Like I still remember when Pyrrha died and it had way more impact than Penny’s death, despite the fact Penny had Jaune kill her. Oh and the Ace Op with the extendable aura arms died too, felt like a footnote when so many other characters either died or appeared to die. Ugh.
Back when I started drafting this up I intended to describe Volume 8 as an uneven mess with a number of glaring weakness but a similar number of strengths. But fuck me the finale of this Volume was garbage, like this is the worst RWBY has been in years, maybe even since the shitty bully arc back in Volume 1. I sat through this finale hating almost every second of it. It did literally everything wrong. It had a bunch of deaths, and fake deaths, mashed together with little to no build-up, it had Ruby suck at fighting to point she was getting handily beaten by Neapolitan whom she fought more competently against back in Volume 3, despite the circumstances then being less in her favor. Ironwood completed his journey from flawed and crumbling hero to outright failure and it was both shit and cringe. Like the only good bits at all were Cinder kicking both Neapolitan and Arthur Watts to the curb in her attempt to curry more favor with Salem. And even that was more mildly interesting than actually good.
And sorry but I can’t stress enough how fucking tired I am of seeing Ruby suck ass. Her whole fucking deal was that she was supposed to something of a budding prodigy with regards to combat. That was how she was depicted in Volume 1. Since then they’ve given her more advanced weaponry, turned her already powerful semblance into a semblance that should be a literal nightmare to fight against and given her magic eyes that destroy all but the strongest enemies outright. How in the hell is the Ruby of Volume 8 being portrayed as less effective in battle than the Ruby of Volume fucking 1. At this point there is simply no excuse. Anyone with an ounce of creativity, imagination and logic should be able to envisage just how difficult Ruby should be to deal in personal combat. With the way her Semblance works now she probably ought to be able to go toe to toe with Cinder, or any Maiden for that matter, and win. Her abilities are that good if she ever was allowed to use them properly. But no she’s doing worse than ever and she doesn’t even get to take tactical command when fighting major enemies anymore. I’m reminded of that bit a few Volumes ago where they made a big deal about teaching Ruby to fight better unarmed and it culminated in one little punch against Mercury. It was a total waste of time and huge missed opportunity. Her Semblance would synergize extremely well with CQC, so if they were going to bother having Ruby train in that vein why didn’t they do anything with it? Why are we getting away from action scenes that make any goddamn sense and spending more time talking and feelings and doing what’s right?
You know for a long time now I thought RWBY had moved past the first draft stage of it’s writing and development. It’s had its stumbles from time to time but it was at least generally competent and delivered on some good action set pieces, interesting Grimm and had a story which made sense even if the pacing was messy. It had enough good points to make up for the rough patches. Volume 8 doesn’t. This is the closest I’ve been to dropping RWBY since Volume 1 and in large part I chalk that up to most of this Volume feeling like a first draft. Certain arcs or character moments felt solid or even incredible – but so much of Volume 8 felt slapdash and amateur by comparison. Given how long I’ve been following RWBY I’m sure I’ll watch Volume 9 – but unless the trends that made this Volume as bad as it was change fast, I can’t see myself sticking around much longer. At some point I’d rather set this aside and just write my own headcannon version than watch the real thing come crashing down.