(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Sparks”)
Here we are for more of Rooster Teeth’s fantasy anime web series, RWBY—specifically, “Sparks,” the twenty-minute fifth chapter of Volume 7, released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on November 30. This is the kind of chapter I’ve been hoping for, where it provides a good mixture of action, compelling character interactions, and plot progression.
We open with a great montage of Team RWBY, Team JNR, and Ace Ops doing missions and training exercises, accompanied by an upbeat new track from Casey Lee Williams. One of my favorite bits is the Nuts and Dolts moment when Penny Polendina calls out “Salutations!” to wake up RWBY in the morning; mostly everyone is groggy, except Ruby Rose, who’s so enthusiastic for the day ahead of them. Another good one shines the spotlight on Bumblebee, when Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long are taking down Grimm in the Dust mine, and Marrow Amin tells them they’re always teaming up and they should branch out; in response Blake and Yang work together to kill even more Grimm, and Marrow concedes their unspoken point by saying, “Really, really good stuff!” There’s also moments for White Rose, Renora, and Ruby and Yang; Jaune Arc helping kids cross the road; Weiss Schnee and her sister Winter training together; General James Ironwood training with Oscar Pine, which explains that shot in the opening titles; and RWBY all sitting together and dozing off. This is such a fun opening that my only complaint is that it lasted for merely two or three minutes; I would have immensely enjoyed an entire episode of this material.
I was pleasantly surprised by the return of Team FNKI. I always loved the character designs for Neon Katt and Flynt Coal, and their song “Neon.” This time around, their team is training with JNR and Oscar (or ORNJ, like the fruit). It’s good to see the fight and all of them chatting afterwards. Neon makes a comment implying that Lie Ren is Nora Valkyrie’s boyfriend; I’m not sure why the show doesn’t confirm Renora already. And Nora, in accordance with her seemingly infinite appetite, jokes about eating a huge sandwich, which gets followed up by the animation of one of the FNKI members turning into said sandwich.
The next segment covers the shipment of parts for Amity Tower (still can’t get over the satellite scheme) through the tundra and to the mine-turned-launch-station. Ruby and Penny are together in the front of the truck, and Penny mentions she’s excited to work with Ruby in a “professional capacity, as friends.” She doesn’t have a team in Atlas because her job takes up all her time, and she asks if it’s normal to feel like there are things she needs to do and things she wants to do, which Ruby validates. I can’t tell if the “professional capacity” line is meant to convey romantic tension or if it just runs along with Penny’s unique vocabulary—it could be a bit of both. This is one of my favorite moments all volume, because it’s full-on Nuts and Dolts, especially when Ruby almost falls asleep on Penny’s shoulder.
Then we cut to the back of the truck, where Qrow Branwen and Clover Ebi (Qrowver, maybe?) are playing cards, and Clover wins the game. With his good luck, of course. So . . . the show is really doubling down on his and Qrow’s fortune Semblances. And my question is, why is this so damn necessary? Qrow’s bad luck Semblance has never made much sense, and now we’re dealing with twice the silliness. Not only that, but they’re one hundred percent gay for each other and completely shippable, which only makes their luck mumbo jumbo vex me even further. Really, though, they’ve been adorable since “Ace Operatives” and I think Clover is a great support for Qrow, especially when he tells Qrow to not deflect compliments. But their Semblances . . . (sound of frustrated groaning).
The truck is forced to stop at a gate blocking their path, and Robyn Hill (Cristina Vee, Miraculous Ladybug), the Mantle activist whom we’ve all been waiting for, is there with one of her Happy Huntresses, Fiona Thyme (the lamb Faunus who was spying on the mine last episode). Robyn wants to know why they’re taking away supplies that are important to the Kingdom and what makes the Tower so important. After some back-and-forth arguing—this confrontation drags for about a minute too long—Penny comes out with her telekinetic swords and tells Robyn to call off the Huntresses approaching the back of the truck. Robyn complies, and her allies, Joanna and May, apparently deactivate invisibility tech. Before Robyn opens the gate to let the truck move ahead with its delivery, Clover wishes her luck for the upcoming Council election, something which came up in their dispute. I like how Robyn is being portrayed as a hero antagonist, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how she’ll play into the rest of the volume and its political affairs.
The last thing this chapter focuses on are Weiss and Winter, who we see training together and practicing their summoning abilities before having an intimate talk that’s reminiscent of the one they had in Volume 3. Winter remarks that Weiss is “no longer the little girl clinging to the Schnee name,” and Weiss expresses her wish for Atlas to open its borders. “Everybody thinks what they’re doing is right,” she observes, “but usually they’re just looking out for themselves and their secrets.”
The next part is Winter taking Weiss on a long walk through Atlas Academy. And I mean a long walk, maybe half a minute or so of passing through corridors, a computer lab, and stairs before reaching their destination. They also pass by numerous cameras along the way; maybe this is setup for Watts hacking into the security later on. Weiss watches through the glass as Winter tends to an elderly woman in the other room, and their talk afterward reveals that she is Fria, the Winter Maiden. She’s going to pass away any day now, and Ironwood has assigned Winter to inherit her powers when that happens—something that we’ve predicted for awhile now. Weiss asks if she was bothered that Ironwood groomed her career, and Winter responds that it did at first, “but it’s a privilege now to do real good. The destiny was chosen for me, but I’m making it my own now.” And Weiss comments they both had to carve out their own way.
I just have to pause and point out how Winter becoming the Winter Maiden sounds ridiculous enough that Weiss couldn’t even say it out loud. Winter should have been given a different name beginning with a W. But otherwise I find this compelling; I’ve always liked Winter, and this is a strong scene for her that gets boosted by well-written dialogue. Also, this definitely means Summer Rose is the Summer Maiden.
The chapter ends with Weiss and Winter getting an alert about a press conference being held by their father Jacques (well, better him than Tyrian or Watts), who blames Ironwood and his embargo for the trouble in Atlas. He is shutting down all of the Kingdom’s nonessential Schnee Dust Company operations, promising to fix everything if he’s elected to the Council seat. This incites an uprising from people living in the ground city below, and Winter delivers the final line: “I think Father may have just provided the spark that’s going to set this kingdom on fire.” Hence the chapter title (although the “sparks” could also refer to the relationships between the characters). I’m iffy about this line, but no one is talking about cake, which is a plus.
Out of the five chapters we’ve seen thus far, “Sparks” is in my Top 2. It spends a great deal more time on meaningful character moments than the other chapters, although I wish we could have concentrated more on the missions and training in the opening montage. As for the Winter Maiden, because we’re expecting her powers to get transferred to Winter, there might be a plot twist where Weiss or Penny become the Maiden instead. And now this volume is digging deeper into politics, with Jacques crippling the job market in Atlas to smear Ironwood’s name and get voted into the Council. I initially thought this was a stupid ploy until I remembered that our very own president pulls this sort of nonsense on a regular basis. Jacques is officially RWBY’s Trumpian figure, and the plot is definitely heading into fake news territory.
I know we got quite a few Bumblebee moments, but I’m still left wondering whether they’ll ever go out on a date or have a talk about their relationship status. It will be a huge problem if RWBY ends up queerbaiting us.
Going back to Jaune’s crossing-guard segment of the montage, all the moms were into him, and one of them even offered him a pie. Nora said, “It’s totally the haircut.” I guess it’s because his spiked-up hair makes him look taller?
I’ve heard of a theory that Robyn has a Semblance that compels people to tell the truth. It sounds strange, but it would give some explanation as to the deliberate way Clover spoke to her. And the background music here is supposed to be the musical cue that accompanies scenes involving Semblances.
I’m highly anticipating the next episode this Saturday, “A Night Off.” The screen grab above is of Ruby and Penny, the former looking weary; Jacques and Robyn are on the screen behind them. “After constant missions and vigorous training sessions, the kids finally get a night off to relax! But attending a political rally may not be the most leisurely activity.” It will most likely be a rally for Robyn, and that fight with Tyrian in the opening titles could happen here. But please, for the love of mercy, don’t have him creep out of the shadows at the end.
Windup score: 92/100