As the RWBY series heads into darker territory with Volume 4, it strives to develop the story and open up the world of Remnant—the latter which it achieves with much more success.
(SPOILER ALERT: This review spoils a few major events in Volume 3)
For the first time in Rooster Teeth Animation’s fantasy-action anime-style web series, Team RWBY has split up. Each Huntress is off on her own in Remnant, which has been left fragmented ever since the Fall of Beacon. With communication between Remnant’s kingdoms defunct, mistrust and dread growing among the populace, and a roster of devious enemies conniving to make their moves, everyone is more vulnerable than ever.
Volume 4 spans fourteen chapters, each one ranging from twelve to twenty minutes, the last one being twenty-seven. The first one starts by introducing us to a hellish land where the ravenous Creatures of Grimm are seemingly born 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 toward the kingdom of Haven to fight a Geist, a phantom-like Grimm. It takes a few more chapters to begin covering Blake Belladonna as she sails across the sea to the Faunus-filled village of Menagerie, Yang Xiao Long as she stays home with her father and struggles to acclimate herself to losing her arm (thanks a lot, Adam!), and Weiss Schnee as she readjusts to the opulence of her household in the Kingdom of Atlas.
Meeting an ever-widening cast of characters, traveling to new locations, learning more about the history of Remnant—Rooster Teeth is taking advantage of this chance for its heroes to explore beyond the walls of Beacon Academy. But here’s what I can’t get over. The chemistry between Ruby, Weiss, Yang, and Blake is what really gives the series fhat 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), including the bunny hoodie, my favorite Volume 4 gag. Blake has some great interactions with Sun Wukong, her easygoing monkey Faunus pal, and Weiss has pretty good scenes, too. I struggle to appreciate Yang’s scenes, since they feel quite empty and pointless in spite of the opportunities she has for compelling character moments.
It doesn’t help that not only is some of the series’s energy missing, but parts of the story can get quite dull. While Team RWBY going their separate ways is partly at fault here, I had hoped that the directors/writers, Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross, could still make the plot enthralling—especially since it has substantially darker undertones as a result of the events in Volume 3, which include 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 the story can’t fall back on the familiarity of Beacon Academy, which students and professors had to abandon after it became infested with Grimm (hence the Fall of Beacon). Professor Ozpin, the headmaster who has been MIA since his battle there, 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 Fall take a back seat as she tries to control the powers she stole from the Fall Maiden (funny, isn’t it, Fall and Fall?) in Volume 3, after being a thorn in our heroes’ side for so long.
Plenty of new characters join the cast, including Jacques, Weiss’s father and president of the Schnee Dust Company, and Whitley, her younger brother (both Schnee men are as pompous as Weiss used to be); Ilia Amitola, a chameleon Faunus working with the White Fang, who unfortunately represents a huge misstep for LGBTQ inclusion; 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 the bandit-filled Branwen Tribe; Tyrian Callows, Arthur Watts, and Hazel Rainart, three of Salem’s underlings; and Oscar Pine, a farm boy who is inextricably connected to Ozpin. They really nailed Tyrian, RWBY‘s own incarnation of The Joker, with his maniacal giggles, the way he twists around his body and sharply jerks his braided ponytail, and a little secret of his that rounds out his character 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 twin brother; Cinder and her minions Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black; and Adam Taurus, a bull Faunus who ends up staging a coup to take over the White Fang.
Neither weaponry nor the Creatures of Grimm get as much attention as in past volumes, but there are cool things like a prosthetic arm built from Atlesian technology 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 I like to think of as a Grimm twist on the Legendary Pokémon Rayquaza, and the Nuckelavee, whose hideous form takes after a horse-like demon of the same name from the mythology of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.
The history of Remnant expands when Qrow tells a legend about the creation of Remnant and the four Relics, and its connections with Salem, who controls the Grimm. It’s pretty typical to use these stories about heroes and villains struggling to acquire items of godlike power in order to save or destroy our world, but in RWBY‘s case, the trope is utilized well enough.
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 go and adds more depth to their ship. Two, a small, perfectly-written scene that makes it clear how much Jaune misses Pyrrha as Ruby watches him practice his sword-fighting from afar—one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, actually. And three, Weiss’s character arc advancing to the point where, out of all her teammates, she has clearly evolved from her Volume 1 personality the most. It becomes particularly obvious when it’s set side-by-side with everyone else’s pretentious and lofty attitude at a social gathering in Atlas.
At least the conclusion of this underwhelming volume makes you anticipate what will unfold next for our heroes. And I’m not using hyperbole when I say that the plot twist that came right before the credits started rolling made me audibly gasp. Watch the post-credit scene, of course, and then let’s hope the next volume does a better job of meeting our expectations.
Windup score: 74/100