(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “As Above, So Below”)
Welcome back, readers! I hope you all enjoyed the holiday break and New Year’s. Now we’re getting back into Rooster Teeth’s fantasy anime-style web series, RWBY, and we will analyze “As Above, So Below,” Chapter 9 of Volume 7, released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on January 4. The title obviously refers to Atlas and Mantle, but it is also an occult saying, the definition being, “What happens on one level of reality also happens on every other level; the microcosm and the macrocosm behave alike.” It’s an okay title, better than some of the other ones they’ve come up with. As for the chapter itself, it offers material that is undoubtably enjoyable, but there are some frustrating parts that knock it down a few pegs.
We start off with a quick scene where Maria Calavera and Pietro realize Mantle’s heating has been deactivated in the midst of a snowstorm. Then we cut to the dinner between Jacques Schnee and General James Ironwood from the previous episode. The other present Councilmembers express dismay over Ironwood having two Council seats and his habit of making unilateral decisions. There’s an odd moment where the bunny Faunus servant from the last chapter briefly enters to speak in hushed tones with Jacques; I’m not sure whether this is related to Arthur Watts, or maybe the secret camera Willow planted in Jacques’s study.
Robyn Hill suggests testing Ironwood with her lie detector Semblance, but then Weiss comes in and reveals the underhanded arrangement that Jacques made with Arthur Watts. Weiss plays the video of the meeting in his study, and once again we’re subjected to hearing Watts’s infamous line: “What if I said you could have your cake . . . and eat it too?” Just when it was beginning to fade from my memory, too. I understand the show is using this terrible line of dialogue to help us remember the scene, but I suffered enough just hearing it once, and now I have to put up with it again. And the bit where Councilman Sleet jumps up from his chair and yells, “That’s impossible, he died in the Paladin incident years ago!”—really, this is his reaction? It’s not nearly as preposterous as the cake line, but by itself it’s pretty damn silly.
The video goes on to show us what happened in the meeting after the cake line; Watts offers help with rigging the election, and in return Jacques hands over “credentials” to access Atlas’s computer system (funny how reminiscent it is of the 2016 election and the Trump-Ukraine scandal). Jacques, fidgeting and sweating in panic, tries to flee the room, but Weiss’s Arma Giga blocks the door. Then she whips out her Huntress license and declares, “Jacques Schnee, you’re under arrest.” A moment later: “Can I do that?” Yeah, that’s a good question. I thought Huntsmen and Huntresses are responsible for fighting Grimm, not incarcerating wrongdoers. In any case her busting Jacques is awesome.
We check in on a Mantle riot that’s starting in response to the heating system shutdown, with Watts and Tyrian Callows lurking nearby. Then we cut back to the dining room, where everyone is scolding Jacques for his treachery and trying to figure out how to stop Watts; Robyn reveals to Ironwood that she knows about Amity Tower.
After a small scene where Grimm, consisting of the elephantine Goliath and the sabertooth-like Sabyrs, invade Mantle, we go back to the dining room again, when Clover Ebi and Oscar Pine burst in and alert everybody about the Grimm. Ironwood is losing hope, but Oscar gives him a little pep talk and advises him to tell the truth instead of keeping secrets like Ozpin, and Ironwood ends up telling everyone about Salem.
Next we have this full-on RoseGarden scene where Ruby Rose and Oscar act all awkward and say in unison that they should tell Ironwood about Salem. They also say good luck to each other at the same time, and she flashes finger guns at him. “Kids,” Marrow Amin scoffs nearby; he did a similar thing with Bumblebee early this volume, so I guess he’s the ship-taunter. I don’t think we’ve seen RoseGarden flirt this much since Volume 5. Personally I’m not high on it, although there are RWBY fans who support it as much as I support Bumblebee and Renora. I’ll return to this topic later, because I have quite a few thoughts on it.
The gang boards an airship and starts their flight from Atlas down to Mantle. Initially I’m excited to see Nora Valkyrie and Lie Ren hold hands, but then Blake Belladonna and Yang Xiao Long, even after noticing this, do nothing more than exchange a meaningful glance. I’ve gotta say, why the hell did the show completely miss this opportunity for them to hold hands? This season has consistently dropped small Bumblebee moments, especially in “A Night Off” and “Worst Case Scenario,” and built them up for what I’ve been hoping will be a finale kiss. So it’s weird that this scene validates the heterosexual ship but not the gay one, even though this whole volume has been pushing for Bumblebee (and Fair Game, while we’re at it). For now I’ll hold off on declaring the show is queerbaiting us, but it will become a genuine issue if we get all the way to the finale and there’s no kiss.
We return to the dining room while Oscar informs Ironwood that Salem can’t be killed, and he didn’t tell the general earlier because he didn’t know who to trust. He goes on to say Ozpin would be proud of Ironwood, that he’s “bringing back the hope that Atlas was meant to inspire” and “holding the city in the skies to a higher standard.” Ironwood remarks, “You say that like you were there,” which clearly hints at Oscar and Ozpin merging. Then Ironwood says, “No more surprises. I’m not sure I can take it,” and Oscar replies, “You and me both.”
When we go back to the airship, there’s some sort of a Grimm Dragon attacking it, or at least a smaller version of the Wyvern that’s frozen atop Beacon Academy. The ship is about to crash and everyone plans to jump off, during which we have a whole lot of implied shipping. Elm Ederne hugs Qrow Branwen and Clover, and she also has a moment with Harriet Bree, who in turn has a beat with Ruby. And of course we’ve got Fair Game, which continues to be as gay as it is adorable; I’m getting more acclimated to their fortune shtick. Before leaping out Clover salutes to Qrow, who says in his husky voice, “Showoff.” He is right; Clover keeps being cocky because he has his good luck Semblance to back him up, which was why he popped open the door and was unperturbed by the Dragon outside the ship. If Clover has to sacrifice himself to save Qrow during the fight with Tyrian that we’re all waiting for, I won’t be surprised, but I’ll still be very disappointed. Whatever happens with Fair Game also has to be considered alongside Bumblebee, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
In the final scene Jacques gets arrested (yay!) and an upset Whitley runs up the stairs, but Willow doesn’t go after him. Then we focus on one of the servants—the one who smirked at everyone as they left the dining room and momentarily spoke with Weiss last chapter. When she leaves Schnee Manor and does that signature saunter, I immediately realize she’s Neo. She rendezvouses with Cinder Fall, who says, “You’re back early. Tell me you found what we’ve been looking for.” And Neo does the most Neo thing we’ve seen in a long time—rolling her eyes, doing away with her servant disguise, and flicking up her hat.
As I said before, “As Above, So Below” has good parts: Jacques getting caught for his heinous crimes, everyone learning about Watts, Cinder and Neo getting back into action. However, this is also the chapter that fails Bumblebee and presents RoseGarden in a disturbing light. Plus, I don’t appreciate how it takes away some of Robyn’s power. Most everything she says in the meeting is inconsequential to the story; we didn’t even get to use her Semblance, but I’m hoping it will have a crucial purpose later on; and she seemed quick to forgive Ironwood and go on his side, even though she should be the one who continues to criticize him for the bad decisions he’s made so far. I’m worried the plot threads concerning her, her Happy Huntresses, and her role as a voice for the citizens of Mantle will be left unfinished.
RoseGarden is turning into an increasingly problematic subject. Let me make it clear—it has always been disturbing that this ship exists while Ozpin is in the process of merging with Oscar’s soul, or absorbing his soul, or whatever happens with this reincarnation hooey. But the show hasn’t gone this far before—juxtaposing the RoseGarden scene with the Oscar/Ironwood scene, the latter which touches on the Oscar/Ozpin situation. The show executes this so deliberately that it’s almost as if it wants us to notice how weird and perverted the whole thing is. Imagine if Dumbledore died and then his soul blended with or consumed that of Ginny Weasley’s and Harry Potter kept dating her. Gross, right? Well, that sums up what’s happening here. On top of that, people with silver eyes, like Ruby, are descendants of Ozpin’s reincarnations—so that’s splendid, we can throw incest into the mix.
One theory I have heard of is this may become a tragedy; Ruby kisses Oscar before Ozpin absorbs him into his ethereal amalgam of thousands of other souls, and RoseGarden ends right then and there. I would be fine with this, and it has a good chance of happening, since RWBY has a thing for tragic romances, e.g. Arkos. Unfortunately there’s the alternative outcome—Oscar and Ozpin coalescing to the point where Oscar is technically still Oscar, and Ruby dating him with Ozpin hanging around as the spiritual third wheel (exasperated groan).
The possible return of Cinder and Neo has hovered in the back of my head throughout this entire volume, especially since the point where we left them off in Volume 6 indicated they were on their way to Atlas. I’m so happy they’re officially back now. On the villain scale they are much more entertaining, smart, and threatening than Dr. Cakemaster and Robo-Scorpion. I’m glad they didn’t make many changes to Cinder’s Volume 6 garb, including her boss eyepatch. Judging from what she said, it sounds like Neo must have found something related to either the Winter Maiden (since Cinder wants to steal her powers) or Ruby (since both of them want to kill her); they might want the Relic of Knowledge, too. If they can fight the heroes sometime over the next four chapters, that would be great. Who knows, maybe they’ll even swipe the Staff of Creation.
I would say things have a chance of getting better for Whitley now that he doesn’t have to deal with his abusive father, but Willow not following him and trying to comfort him probably hints at more trouble down the road. Again, it’s not Weiss’s duty to save him, yet the show seems to be setting it up so she’s the only one who can actually do that. I don’t know, maybe he can enroll in Atlas Academy.
A standard RWBY finale takes up three or four chapters, so the next four chapters should be action-packed. Which is good, because Volume 7 has had far more politics than fighting up to now. I’m ready for the Qrow-Robyn-Tyrian battle, a clash on Amity Tower, and some Cinder-Neo chaos. Atlas plummeting to Mantle remains on the table. As for the Winter Maiden, I’m thinking Penny Polendina, not Winter Schnee, could inherit her powers. It would play well into Penny’s self-identity storyline. All in all, I’m still highly anticipating the finale. There are many things they can do right, and there are many things they can do wrong. Let’s hope the majority of the events fall in the former category.
Windup score: 88/100