(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “The Grimm Reaper”)
From a peek at a pair of conniving villains and the backstory of a legendary Huntress to the inspiring progress of Team RWBY and company’s journey, “The Grimm Reaper” is yet another laudable chapter that Rooster Teeth has brought to RWBY: Volume 6.
The seventh episode of Volume 6, lasting sixteen minutes, begins with Cinder Fall and Neo in the Relic-less vault beneath Haven Academy. While playing with a dagger in her hand, Cinder reminds Neo that the two of them have a vendetta against Ruby Rose and that, while Salem has instructed Cinder to refrain from killing Ruby, Neo isn’t obligated to obey such orders. She also states that, as a way to redeem herself in Salem’s eyes, they need to steal the Relic of Knowledge before Ruby and her crew takes it to Atlas. Her monologue includes a neat bit of animation where she melts the dagger into molten metal. With a wordless handshake Neo swiftly agrees to Cinder’s scheme. I predict the partnership will end, probably dramatically, when one or both of them encounters a motivation that makes it beneficial to do so.
The next scene shows a flashback of a young Maria Calavera crossing a rope bridge over a foggy canyon in a Grim Reaper-esque guise of a skull mask and an indigo cloak. I also suspect that La Calavera Catrina, the Mexican figure of Death, and Day of the Dead iconography played a major role in the costume’s inspiration. Once Maria jumps onto a Nevermore flying out of the fog, she draws a pair of gravity Dust-fueled sickles that are magnetized to each other, allowing them to swing around and shoot through the air under Maria’s control. It took a while, but Volume 6 is getting around to showing weaponry that can join the ranks of Crescent Rose, Magnhild, and all that other amazing gear. The airborne battle ends when the Nevermore crashes, but it’s not quite dead, so Maria unleashes the light from her silver eyes and turns it to stone.
And that is when a band of mercenaries ambush her. The leader is Tock, a crocodile Faunus based on the old croc from Peter Pan, with green scaly skin, razor-sharp teeth, and a distinct British accent. She refers to Maria as the Grimm Reaper and declares that these are “the last sixty seconds of your life,” even winding up an alarm clock clipped to her belt with a flourish. Maria easily overcomes Tock’s goons, but Tock handicaps her with a merciless slash of her cutlass right across the eyes. As Maria screams in agony, Tock mentions offhandedly that her boss, Salem, ordered her to take out Maria’s eyes, so she might be able to spare her life. Then she sidesteps a sickle that Maria throws and says that she respects a fight to the end. However, Maria summons the sickle to shoot up and stab Tock in the back, followed by the implication that she beheaded her. I feel regretful that such a unique character was killed off so quickly, but I hope we can see more of her in flashbacks.
In the present, an elderly Maria finishes telling her story to Team RWBY, Qrow Branwen, and Oscar Pine. A stunned Qrow says she was a legendary Huntress, the “Grimm Reaper,” and his sword-scythe, Harbinger, was inspired by her sickles. Funnily enough, this is what led Ruby to create her own Crescent Rose, the famed sniper-scythe. It is curious, though, that a figure as remarkable as Maria/Grimm Reaper was never mentioned before, especially if she played such a significant role in Qrow and Ruby’s lives. The RWBY writers have all the major story arcs worked out, so they could have at least dropped a small reference to her in an earlier volume.
In spite of Qrow’s words of respect, Maria deprecates herself for not doing more to fulfill herself as a Huntress after losing her eyes, even after undergoing the surgery for her peculiar goggles. It’s no small gesture that she commends Yang for her courage, the two of them having lost a physical part of themselves in the war against darkness. She also commends the children for rising up against their enemies and expresses her sadness over not doing more. Ruby asks her to train her silver eyes, and Maria seems open to this. Before she can answer, Ruby’s phone rings, and the caller is Jaune Arc (finally!). He confirms his team’s train made it to Argus. Realizing that her phone is getting a signal, Ruby holds her phone up in the direction of a large hill, at which point we read Jaune’s contact name, “Vomit Boy,” a hilarious Volume 1 callback. The heroes ride up the hill to find the walled city of Argus on the other side (finally!).
The long-awaited return of Jaune, Nora Valkyrie, and Lie Ren begins as energetically as you might expect when Nora lunges at Oscar with a hug that pushes him to the ground. Everyone is happy to see each other, and the reunion between Jaune and Ruby is particularly emotional. Then the whole group rides a trolley through the hilly port city, which pulses with the air of San Francisco as Jaune, Nora, and Ren explain Argus’s history. If you look closely, you’ll catch a theater advertising “The Fall of Beacon.” After everyone gets off the trolley and Oscar asks Jaune where Team JNR has been staying, we meet one of Jaune’s many sisters, Saphron, and her baby boy Adrian. It never gets old to see Ruby become ecstatic over the littlest things, and being introduced to Jaune’s family is no exception. I’m also glad that Rooster Teeth is introducing LGBTQ characters into the RWBY universe with Saphron and her wife Terra Cotta.
At the family home, Saphron’s relationship with her kid brother is clearly illustrated by the way she affectionately teases him. When Terra praises the group for doing their duty to defend people but questions Qrow about why he brought along children, he stumbles for an answer, but Ruby uses the incoming food to quiet him. As Terra steps away to take a crucial phone call, Saphron reveals that Terra is a technician at the military’s relay tower and has been taking the heat ever since it went faulty. When Ruby brings up the plan to ask the military for permission to travel to Atlas, Jaune hesitantly claims that his team already took a crack at that. The episode ends with a quick-cut to Team RWBY attempting it for themselves and the base clanking its gates shut on them.
Simply put, what a great episode. I do wish more forethought had been put into how Maria became woven with RWBY under her Grimm Reaper identity. But everyone is at Argus, Team JNR is back, and a small part of Jaune’s family has joined the cast. I’m sure Saphron, Terra, and Adrian are becoming some of the most endearing fan-favorite characters. It’s good to know that Cinder and Neo are still pursuing their quest for vengeance, and hopefully more of the reptilian Tock will be shown in future episodes. Now we need to wait and see how our heroes will jump over this next hurdle between themselves and Atlas.
Windup score: 93/100