Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 7

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Volume 7 is among the best RWBY has to offer, while it personally takes third place in my ranking of the Volumes, it has to be said it’s a definite improvement over the last couple of Volumes.  There will be spoilers.

Despite what I just said Volume 7 has a couple problems, not least of which was the ending.  It kind of made me want to tear my hair out.  You end an episode on a giant cliffhanger like the reveal of massive enemy army, not a season.  Could you imagine if the Two Towers ended with Saruman’s army just starting to besiege Helm’s Deep but not actually showing the battle?  It would be so shit.  I actually compared it live with a friend of mine to what Avatar the Last Airbender would have been like if Book 2 ended when the drill reached the wall of Ba Sing Sei, and he laughed at how bad that would be.  Ending where Volume 7 did is a terrible idea.  Big cliffhanger moments only really work on a short wait.  I’ve got tons of shit to watch, play and do between now and Volume 8, do you think I’ll still be hype by then?  Maybe a little, but if it came out next week I’d be hype as fuck.  Terrible plan, marring what was otherwise a mostly solid Volume.

Probably the biggest selling point of Volume 7 is the setting and the locals that in habit it.  There’s a massive wealth divide between the twin cities of Atlas and Mantle, and Atlas is by far the most tech & science focused of all the major cities in Remnant.  General Ironwood, the de facto ruler of Atlas, is probably one of the best things about Volume 7 as well.  I know a lot of people are pissed that he made of some of the decisions he did but I thought they did a great job with his character.  He’s a guy who is mostly trying to do the right thing, but because of his failures at Beacon he has to work in total secrecy and it’s putting even more strain on the tenuous relationship between Atlas and Mantle, as well as turning most of the civilian authorities and populace against him.  I’ve seen many people angry that he wasn’t more open from the outset or that he didn’t work with Robin earlier but frankly anyone who says that is being naive.  Robin did not strike me as a good guy until after Yang & Blake convinced her Ironwood was trying to help, in fact I was somewhat stoked for the idea that she might incite a rebellion or attack a vital supply caravan and invite further retribution, and that the chaos she creates would be the how Salem’s forces infiltrate the city.  For a project of Amity’s importance secrecy is paramount, especially considering how Salem & Co. favor infiltration before bringing out massive Grimm attacks.

Moreover I personally love the way Ironwood falls apart at the end, how after a few whole season of the man clearly struggling with his own doubts, he gets a couple episodes worth of hope and then it all comes crashing down.  He sees a single calling card from Beacon’s destruction, timed with a Grimm attack, and his paranoia kicks into overdrive.  He goes full “if you aren’t with me, you’re against me” and shatters the alliance between his loyal troops and Ruby’s teams/allies.  He makes the worst possible calls with his best intentions and you can see the full effect his failures at Beacon and his grip on power has on him and his subordinates.  They have convinced themselves following Ironwood and his tough calls is the right thing to do even when they don’t want to do it, deep down.  And I think one of the best parts of all of this is that Ironwood is convinced he can’t win.  He’s defined victory as saving Atlas no matter the cost and he assumes they can’t stop Salem’s invasion, that’s the whole reason he abandons Mantle – he’s convinced he’ll lose so his best move is to reduce his losses, no matter how heartless that proposition is.

And look where it leaves him, Salem and his army are at his doorstep and he’s lost critical assets, let alone gotten the city to safety.  He was so sure his way was the only way forward he didn’t consider just how badly it could fail, because not everyone involved would agree.  A classic mistake among authoritarians, they fall into “if only everyone agreed with me” mindsets and their plans come to ruin because there’s nothing which everyone agrees on.  Though in Ironwood’s defense I do think this reaction is exacerbated by Ruby making the single biggest mistake in the entire Volume, telling Ironwood that Salem is immortal.  That news almost destroyed the unity and fighting spirit of Ruby and her friends, and they are much more tightly knit than Ironwood’s forces, let alone the civilians of Atlas and Mantle.  Telling Ironwood that Salem was a foe he literally couldn’t kill may have helped convince him that escaping Salem was the only victory he could achieve.  Pro-tip:  Never tell your allies or armies they can’t win before the battle begins or that tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The inner struggles of the Ace-OPs, Penny and Winter are also good.  Winter is perhaps in the worst position of all and shows one of the best balances between emotion and disciplined devotion to Ironwood.  Her loyalty to Ironwood is absolute and thus she goes along with his worst decisions – but she is consistently shown as not necessarily agreeing with his course of action.  Penny of course occupies a special position as well since she’s sort of Winter’s inverse.  Despite the fact Penny is a literal robot she ultimately sides with her emotions over her orders.  The Ace-Ops also have a decent variance on this balance, with Harriet being the most extreme in her devotion to Ironwood and therefore struggling the least in confronting Team RWBY, Marrow being the most reluctant to engage Team RWBY and Vine and Elm sitting somewhere in the middle, though with great difference in their emotional reactions.  The only Ace-OP who is poorly done in this regard is Clover.  At the very least Clover should have worked with Qrow to recapture Tyrian before fighting Qrow, instead the moron almost exclusively attacks Qrow when the fight is a free for all and thus forces Qrow to work with Tyrian when they decide to go 2v1.

That being said I don’t see why the good guys even bothered capturing Tyrian and Arthur.  They should have just killed them.  At best they could be tortured for information and be used as proof to the public of Salem’s conspiracy – but they already announced the conspiracy and suspects publicly so why bother?  Better to kill them and remove the threat they pose than to capture them and risk losing them.  I mean shit Ironwood captured and lost Torchwick, surely if anyone would be in the “kill them now just to be sure they aren’t a problem again” camp it would be him.

All of this inevitably brings me to the real thrust of this Volume, which would be a critique of order/authority.  I think Rooster Teeth did a great job portraying the problems of order going too far, what happens when the troops hunker down and follow orders no matter how wrong those orders are.  That being said I think this message is weakened by the fact their is no real commentary on the weaknesses of a lack of order/authority.  If not for the power and unity of the Atlas military Salem wouldn’t even need to infiltrate and subvert it, she’d just steamroll it.  I feel like a lot of the complaints I saw directed towards Ironwood’s side came from an idealistic view of unity without a strong central authority – and those people are wrong.  Ironwood’s faction is a massive bulwark protecting Atlas that Salem has to divide before she even attempts to overwhelm it.  Without his tight grip on power security and military preparedness would be down.  Even if we assume Salem’s forces couldn’t just crush a weaker Atlas outright, we do see hints of what would happen without Ironwood’s grip on power.  Corruption, like we see from Jacques Schnee, would be all too easy to exploit.  And sadly one of the weaknesses of more democratic government is that it tends to be slow, since that’s what checks and balances are for, you need a strong central authority when you’re at war.  Even in the US the President is called the Commander in Chief for a reason, if a dire situation arises he has to have special political powers to address it rapidly.

All that being said, I do think the presentation of order gone too far was quite good, and well thought out in it’s overall construction.  The loud and frequent calls against Ironwood and the military, see the military close rank so to speak.  They trust each other more than they trust the rest of Atlas and Mantle so when push comes to shove and they have to follow Ironwood and their friends at the expense of Atlas and Mantle, they do it.  Likewise Salem’s agents actively trying to foment civil unrest and capitalizing on Ironwood’s authoritarian grip on power was a great touch.

My real disappointment here was Robin and her faction.  I think this Volume could have done a much better study of order/authority, i.e. they could have showcased the problems of a lack of it as well, if Robin and her faction had been given room to inadvertently become pawns of the bad guys.  I think an intense period of civil unrest and violent rebellion led by Robin would have been a great story and actually set a better stage for a similar ending to the Volume.  What if after episodes of hard fighting against the Robin, her faction and the violent rebels of Mantle – news comes in from military outposts of an unthinkably large Grimm invasion, bearing down towards Atlas and Mantle, and the exhausted fighters on both side look at each other with shock and all the major players think “oh shit” as they realize they will have to scramble like mad if they want to mount any serious defense, or that maybe, shooting Atlas into the atmosphere is the only option for the city’s survival.  That’s the story I would’ve written given given the setting and characters, I mean shit, that way you can still have the RWBY vs Ace-Ops bit too, it just gets far more bitter as that option looks more and more like the only way forward.

The only other real problem I had with this Volume was the hamfisted, almost gay Qrow and Clover duo.  Setting aside the potential homosexual nature of the relationship I though their relationship was badly done from the word go.  Qrow is older, bitter and cynical and even with all his doubts I can’t for the life of me find it believable that he would be inspired or uplifted by a younger guy who just happens to have the opposite semblance.  It was cringey to see.  Especially since we know Qrow has a tendency to like to be alone, but now he’s all happy to hang out with Clover.  It was just bad writing and I’m think it’s safe to pin this one on Rooster Teeth and the political bent of the people who work there.  I think they were able to mostly leave their politics behind them but if anything this Volume screams progressive pandering it’s the Qrow and Clover bits – well until the last fight when Clover dies anyway.  I’m not bothered by the idea that Qrow could be gay, even if nothing until this point suggests that, I’m bothered by the shit writing that has him looking meek and lacking in confidence while working with a younger guy.  Nothing in Qrow’s character until this point depicts anything that would suggest this behavior.  If anything he’s got a strong lone wolf streak and a cynical confidence from years of experience and a bitter realistic world view that prevents him from usually being shocked.

The last two things really worth mentioning are the changes to combat and power training.  Thank god, Volume 7 finally returned to some training.  I’m all for characters gaining skill by doing real combat, but training is a great way to explore their powers and skillsets in depth, because you don’t have to worry about enemies trying to kill them.  Ruby’s power in particular just went from difficult to beat to nigh-unstoppable.  Seriously, if Ruby mastered a shorter weapon or hand-to-hand combat I think she could beat just about anyone, since her super speed lets her pass through objects.  Adding new tech like Yang’s sticky bomb rounds and Crescent Rose’s reversible blade was also a nice touch, finally expanding an arsenal that has stayed pretty static since Volume 1 or 2.

The real glory though was the combat itself and oh boy was this a return to form.  The Ace-Ops fight against the Gheist was great show of their powers and the tactics they use to make the most of their skillsets.  Of particular note here is how the relatively humble powers of Clover, Elm and Vine are just as valuable to the flow of combat as the much stronger, individually exceptionally powers of Harriet and Marrow.  That fight was nice expo of sorts on the Ace-Ops and a return to tactics but it really set the stage for the real crown jewel, the Ace-Ops vs Team RWBY.

The fight is very dynamic with strong use of environment, tactics and emotional turmoil.  And to anyone saying that the Ace-Ops should have won, well you weren’t paying attention.  Not only does ever member of Team RWBY have a strong semblance, compared to just half to the Ace-Ops, but when the order comes down and emotional tensions are high, the Ace-Ops are all over the place, while team RWBY is unified.  Important to this is all the work that came before, the little details show the how much less unified the Ace-Ops were and how some of them got closer to Team RWBY than others, etc.  Also take into consideration the differences in how much they’ve been through.  The Ace-Ops spend most of their time hunting down low level Grimm and criminals, with all the resources and authority they could possibly need at their disposal.  Team RWBY meanwhile has faced treason, temporary dissolution of the group, lots of time fighting against greater forces on their own and much stronger Grimm over the course of their journeys.  They’ve gone through the fires and really forged themselves into a much stronger group.  The Ace-Ops never had that level of testing and when they got their first true test they crumpled before their opposition did.  Also Marrow held back big time, if he had had Harriet’s conviction and aggression the Ace-Ops probably would have won, it’s that the Ace-Ops lacked the same strength of emotion and conviction that leads to their downfall.  Personally I think the main selling point of that fight was the Yang & Blake vs Elm & Vine portion because that was much more tactically rich – which is a shame because I really want to see Ruby personally start kicking more ass again, but she did have the most difficult and dedicated opponent so oh well.

That being said one minor complaint I have is with the auras.  In past Volumes everyone seem like could take a lot more punishment and the time their aura broke was arbitrary, not it seems like 1 or 2 good hits is all it takes.  I’m glad the team at Rooster Teeth is working on dealing with aura as a defense mechanism, but frankly it still feels like they are just having the aura break at convenient times rather than with any kind of tactics or consistency, and the brevity of some fights compared to other fights being much longer and drawn out is a bit of a disappointment.

Overall Volume 7 is a very strong volume.  It has great battles, a strong emotional thru line, solid thematic grounding and strong execution on most fronts.  It has some hiccups in the writing and the overall construction, and it did not capitalize on the full potential of some characters or aspects of the setting, but it did a good job.  Definitely stronger than Volumes 5 & 6.  I would personally rate it lower than Volumes 3 & 4, but it’s the first Volume since those two to reach the same general caliber of quality.  Hopefully Volume 8 follows in 7’s footsteps and proves itself worth the wait.