Developing the story and opening up the world of Remnant continues to take top priority in RWBY: Volume 4, even as decidedly dark undertones replace much of the lighthearted humor for which the series has become recognized.
(SPOILER ALERT: This review will discuss major events from the end of Volume 3)
For the first time Team RWBY has split up, each member off on their own in Remnant, which has been left fragmented ever since the Fall of Beacon. With communication between its kingdoms defunct, mistrust and dread growing among the population, and a wide roster of enemies making their moves, everyone is more vulnerable than ever.
Volume 4 spans fourteen episodes, most of them ranging from twelve to twenty minutes, with the last one lasting twenty-seven. The first one starts by introducing us to a dreadful land filled with the Creatures of Grimm, where and Salem, a sorceress-like figure, is holding a meeting with her confederates. After giving us a taste of the villains, the fun kicks in with Ruby Rose, Nora Valkyrie, Jaune Arc, and Lie Ren as they pause their trek to the kingdom of Haven to fight a Geist, a phantom-like Grimm. It takes a few more episodes to begin covering Blake Belladonna as she sails to the Faunus-filled village of Menagerie, Yang Xiao Long as she stays home and gets acclimated to the loss of her arm, and Weiss Schnee as she readjusts to the affluent loftiness of her household in Atlas.
Meeting an ever-widening cast of characters, traveling to new locations, learning more about the history of Remnant — Rooster Teeth doesn’t let up with its dedication. But here’s what I can’t get over. The chemistry between Ruby, Weiss, Yang, and Blake is what really gives that extra spice, which is obviously lacking once they’re not together. The closest we get to that point is the comedy between Ruby, Nora, Jaune, and Ren (RNJR, or “ranger”, as Ren suggests in the first clip), including the bunny hoodie, my favorite Volume 4 gag. Some laughs can also be found with Blake and Sun Wukong, her casual monkey Faunus pal. Yang and Weiss’s scenes lack the RWBY-esque lightness the most.
I know I’m not used to Team RWBY being divided, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of the series’s energy is missing as a result. It also has to pick up the slack after the tragic deaths of Penny Polendina, a robot friend of Ruby, and Pyrrha Nikos, the fourth member of what was formerly Team JNPR with Jaune, Nora, and Ren. And it can’t fall back on the familiarity of Beacon Academy, which students and professors had to abandon after it started crawling with Grimm, hence the Fall of Beacon. Professor Ozpin, — the Dumbledore-esque headmaster of Beacon, deemed missing since its collapse — does return, although it’s in a manner that piques your interest, to say the least. The only location that amazed me with its visuals was Menagerie, a tropical paradise marred by the fact that the kingdoms stuck two-thirds of the Faunus population there, making it overcrowded. It’s even strange to see Cinder Falls take a back seat as she tries to manage the powers she stole from the Fall Maiden (quite a few Falls, aren’t there?) in Volume 3, after being a thorn in Team RWBY’s side for so long.
As always, new characters are introduced without clogging up the cast, including Jacques and Whitley, the father and younger brother to Weiss, and also male analogues of her once-superior self; Ilia Amitola, a chameleon Faunus affiliated with the White Fang; Ghira and Kali Belladonna, Blake’s parents; Corsac and Fennec Albain, brothers who are also affiliated with the White Fang; Raven Brawnwen, Yang’s mother and the leader of a bandit tribe; Tyrian, Watts, and Hazel, three of Salem’s henchmen; and Oscar Pine, a farm boy who is inextricably connected to Ozpin. They really nailed Tyrian, an exaggerated version of the insane villain stereotype, with his maniacal giggles, the way he twists around and sharply jerks his braided ponytail, and a little secret that rounds out his design perfectly once it’s revealed. And they’re all sharing space with familiar faces like Qrow Branwen, Ruby and Yang’s uncle and Raven’s brother; Cinder and her minions Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black; and Adam Taurus, a bull Faunus high up in the White Fang.
Neither weaponry nor Grimm get as much attention as in past volumes, but there are things like a prosthetic arm that Atlas built for Yang and foldaway wrist blades on Tyrian’s wrists. We also get to see much more of Qrow’s Harbinger, an oversized sword that transforms into a scythe. Aside from the aforementioned Geist, there’s the Sea Feilong, which you could think of as a Grimm twist on Rayquaza, and the Nuckelavee, whose hideous form I won’t spoil in case you have not watched Volume 4 yet.
The history of Remnant expands when Qrow tells a legend about the creation of Remnant and the four Relics. It’s connected with Salem, who controls the Grimm. Fantasy stories that revolve around heroes and villains struggling to acquire items of godlike power and save or destroy our world are a little too numerous, but in this case I like the RWBY-ish spin on that element.
Three parts of Volume 4 struck me as remaining true to the heart of the series. One, flashbacks of Ren’s life show, among other revealing details, how he and Nora first met when they were kids. You see how close they are in previous volumes — honestly, they’re an adorable couple — but the flashbacks show just how far back they truly go and adds more depth to their relationship. Two, a small scene where Ruby watches Jaune from afar as he practices his sword-fighting, where it’s made clear how much Pyrrha remains on his mind. And three, Weiss’s character arc advancing to the point where, out of everyone in Team RWBY, she has grown out of her Volume 1 personality the most. It becomes obvious when it’s set side-by-side with everyone’s pretentious attitude at a social gathering in Atlas.
RWBY is well-known for its fantastic music, and that continues here with Jeff Williams as the composer and his daughter Casey Lee Williams as the singer. “Bmblb,” “Let’s Just Live,” and the acoustic version of “Boop” with the Videri string quartet are a few of my favorite selections from this volume.
While some of the spark is missing from RWBY: Volume 4, it’s still pretty good, and the ending gets you to anticipate what will unfold next for everyone, especially the individual members of Team RWBY. Aannnnddd . . . that plot twist right before the final clip’s credits start rolling made me gasp. I’m not joking. As always, watch the post-credit scene.
Windup score: 87/100