(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “With Friends Like These”)
Welcome back, readers, for more discussion of Rooster Teeth’s fantasy anime-style web series, RWBY. Released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on January 25, “With Friends Like These,” Chapter 12 of Volume 7, would be a wonderful penultimate entry in this volume if not for the atrocities committed by the concluding scene.
In the opening scene Clover Ebi intends to arrest Qrow Branwen on General James Ironwood’s orders, and they and Robyn Hill fight. The Fair Game conflict runs with a common trope—someone having to betray a person with whom they’re close in order to follow a command from their superior. Even while restrained by his handcuffs Tyrian Callows manages to take over control of their ship (where did he get the pilot’s cap) and crash it.
We cut to Winter Schnee and Penny Polendina as the former tries to convinces herself that Ironwood is doing the right thing in order to protect Remnant. She states, “My personal feelings don’t matter,” even as Penny speaks up and challenges her conscience. I’m glad we’re getting more of these incisive Penny-Winter interactions.
The fight between Team RWBY and the Ace Ops starts with a split-screen shot, a technique that I’m glad to see being utilized so often this volume. I especially love it when Harriet Bree says, “You think you’re going to stop us? We’re the best Huntsmen in Atlas,” and Ruby Rose remarks, “You were. Then you trained us,” followed by her petal-zooming out of Ironwood’s office—definitely one of the show’s best Ruby beats. While Harriet chases her down, Yang Xiao Long and Blake Belladonna proceed to clash with Elm Ederne and Vine Zeki (who flaunts all his limbs for the first time, unveiling Mr. Fantastic Aura-legs on top of his arms), and Weiss Schnee battles Marrow Amin, the only Ace Ops officer expressing reluctance in engaging in this brawl. I don’t think I can get enough of Weiss and her Arma Giga.
The next scene shows Qrow emerging from the ship’s wreckage outside Mantle. Robyn has been knocked out, and Qrow is left to face off against Clover by himself. Clover comments on Qrow’s “endless cynicism,” and says, “We don’t have to fight, friend,” to which Qrow responds, “You don’t know my friends. That’s how it always goes”—implying that he’s hurt other friends of his with his bad luck Semblance. Meanwhile, Tyrian extricates himself from his handcuffs, dislodging his thumb, and then he has the even more wince-worthy moment of popping it back into place. He goes on to join the brawl, which turns into this very strange situation where Qrow is essentially helping him fight Clover, a subject to which I will return later.
We cut back to the RWBY-Ace Ops battle, which is now being accompanied by a top-notch new Casey Lee Williams track, with additional vocals by Dawn M. Bennett (voice of Elm), Adrienne Cowan, and Erin Reilly. Ruby defending Weiss by deflecting Marrow’s chainsaw-gun with Crescent Rose is a fantastic moment. Same goes for any shots where Bumblebee teams up, like when they hit Elm simultaneously—although it is odd how this correlates to the way they took down Adam Taurus last volume. Weiss returns the favor to Ruby by shielding her from Harriet with the ice wall. Now, all the Ace Ops officers’ Auras have been shattered (it’s a little humorous watching Weiss dragging Marrow’s body), and Blake and Yang plan to look for the rest of their crew, while Ruby and Weiss will head to the Winter Maiden. Maria Calavera and Pietro appear at the end of this scene, so we know they’re going to be a part of the finale too. Maria tends to get the wryest lines, and that doesn’t stop here: “This is the part where they ask us to help.” Of course, you have to think to yourself—well, where has she been all this time, and how did she and Pietro make their way up to Atlas? I suppose that’s unimportant in relation to the plot.
As for Team JNR, they’re still outside Oscar Pine’s room, and then the farmboy himself comes through the hallway. But, surprise, the real Oscar hurtles out from the end of the corridor and clocks his imposter, Neo, in the face. The Relic of Knowledge flies off her belt and Oscar picks it up, and now we have Team ORNJ preparing to scuffle with a parasol-brandishing Neo. It’s interesting how Oscar says a girl came into his room and she looked like someone; I’m assuming he means she disguised herself as Ruby, so why didn’t he just come out and say that? Also, what was Oscar doing before he ran out into the hall? It seems Neo knocked him out and put him away in some other room, and then he regained consciousness, but we’re pretty much glossing over how he escaped whatever she used to restrain him. As for his punching Neo, I find it unrealistic that he did it so forcefully; his physical strength is nowhere near that of any of his companions. Finally, how does Nora Valkyrie know their foe’s full name, Neo Politan? Jaune Arc does mention that they haven’t heard good things about her, implying they know about Neo through Team RWBY. But then you have to wonder how RWBY knows Neo’s name. You could tie this into the bigger issue of how anyone knows her name, since she never talks. Is it a nickname that Roman Torchwick came up with?
Winter and Penny are now with the Winter Maiden, Fria, who is inside one of two tube machines; the last time we saw these things was the end of Volume 3. Penny says, “You said your personal feelings don’t matter.” Winter claims she’s determined to protect the Lamp, even if it means killing the Winter Maiden. But she admits that “we must acknowledge our personal feelings, wrestle with them. It ensures us that we’re on the right path. It’s what makes us human,” to which Penny says, “I think I understand.” Then Cinder Fall breaks in, stepping up the Volume 3 vibes. Again, I am very happy that she and Neo are back. She threatens Penny, telling her to step aside or there won’t be anything left of her to salvage. “What do you think of that?” she asks, and Penny quips, “I think it gives me personal feelings.” Hoo boy, the show sure does cherish its cliches. Watts’s cake line is far worse, though.
Once again we return to Fair Game and Tyrian. Clover ties up Tyrian with his fishing rod, but then Qrow leaves his sword-scythe Harbinger unattended, and we know something bad will happen when Tyrian notices it. Qrow gut-punches Clover, shattering his Aura. Qrow asks why he can’t just do the right thing, and Clover answers, “Sometimes the right decision is the hardest to make. I would trust James with my life. I wanted to trust you.” And then Tyrian pulls a Loki and stabs him in the back with Harbinger. And we get the Volume 3 splash screen. And there’s an awful lot of blood. And Clover’s pin falls off. Tyrian flees the scene of the crime, framing Qrow. “Someone had to take the fall,” Clover tells Qrow, who promises, “James will take the fall.” We have a magnificent sunrise providing the backdrop for this somber scene, and Clover’s final words before he dies are, “Good luck.” Yes, that’s right. Good luck.
“With Friends Like These” (a very befitting title, unfortunately) is an incredibly controversial chapter, and will very likely become my least favorite chapter of Volume 7. I will give credit where it’s due in regards to the well-paced scenes, the energetic fighting choreography, and the absolutely stunning animation. This could have been a Top 2 chapter for me, perhaps even my favorite for Volume 7. The production crew is doing high-quality work for the show, and they deserve praise for that. But then Clover has to get buried. Honestly, I’ve been readying myself for this—if you’ve been reading my breakdowns, you know I foresaw this weeks ago—and I was expecting to feel apathetic once it happened. But no, I am now left extremely upset. Not only is Clover dead, but the show also contrived the circumstances so it ends up being Qrow’s fault. Why the hell was Qrow even fighting alongside Tyrian, a serial killer who poisoned him back in Volume 4 and almost killed him? Why did Qrow toss Harbinger away? His character motivations here are so baffling.
Let’s say this went the way I predicted, meaning Clover and Qrow still have their fight, but then Clover decides to follow his moral compass instead of his general’s orders, and he sacrifices himself to save Qrow. He would have gotten buried anyways and it still would have been terrible, but at least Qrow wouldn’t be responsible. Or how about this—don’t kill off Clover and destroy the only gay male-male ship on the show. I thought they would at least kiss, but they couldn’t even give us that. And what are they going for with the effing splash screen? They already used it when Adam lopped off Yang’s arm, as if it’s something we want to embellish with beautiful anime visuals. Now it’s being used again for the death of a partner in a gay ship, which also happens to be the most gruesome scene in the whole series, and all of it just feels so weird and crass and frustrating. Clover’s good luck didn’t even work when it was supposed to, and I’m perplexed as to whether Qrow’s bad luck was meant to affect him. Oh yeah, and Tyrian didn’t get his comeuppance and die; he got away with murder, literally, and we’ll have to worry about him popping up one or two years from now.
I feel very sorry for Qrow, because now he has to cope with his guilt, and all the progress he’s been making throughout his arc—staying sober, being a responsible adult around the kids and a person with whom we can empathize—is going to fall apart as a result. I don’t see any point in the show torturing him like this. Now he wants to hunt down Ironwood, and I’m not sure I’ll like whatever unfolds there. Even though I was certain for a while that Clover would die, I continued to be a Fair Game shipper, fortune Semblances and all, because they were adorable together. But nope, Fair Game, a ship that Rooster Teeth plugged every chance they got on Twitter, is done for.
Which leads me to segue to the issue concerning Rooster Teeth, the RWBYwriters, and their attitudes toward queer representation. Why is it that they’re all tweeting about Fair Game and Bumblebee and May Marigold when the series isn’t giving these matters explicit coverage? Specifically when it comes to Fair Game, it’s inappropriate, cruel, and hypocritical for them to tweet so much about it, get us all pumped up for it and queerbait us, and then off Clover. The farthest they’ve gone for queer rep is Jaune’s sister Saphron and her wife Terra Cotta, but they were side characters who appeared for only a few episodes. Everything else, including Ilia Amitola and the gay pilot from a few seasons back, has been implied. I feel bad for the LGBTQ members of the RWBYproduction crew, and I’m disappointed in Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross for this huge mistake. With the way things are progressing, I’m not even sure Bumblebee will get confirmed in the finale, although there is that small, hopelessly optimistic part of me that’s holding out for the kiss.
All right, I’ve been ranting about this topic for long enough. I just want to cap it off by saying that the way Clover’s death has been executed is a junction of multiple appalling elements, and it doesn’t ruin the entire chapter or the volume itself, but it is a stain that’s as glaring as the ones that Clover’s blood left on the snow.
I need to reiterate that the fight choreography was spectacular. The flow and the fast pace reminded me of the first two volumes. I loved the White Rose and Bumblebee team-ups and how they’re all working in harmony, which contrasts with Ace Ops and how they’re fighting separately. This was a point the show underscored earlier, with Ace Ops being work friends instead of real-life friends, and RWBY being such an effective team because of the experiences they’ve shared and the bonds they’ve grown together. I’ll admit it, even the Fair Game-Tyrian battle was engaging, although I still can’t fathom why Qrow would ever side with Tyrian.
We’re obviously going down the road of Penny coming to terms with her identity, a classic arc trope for AI characters. The question is, will this culminate with her becoming the next Winter Maiden? Since she was resurrected her role in the plot has been extraneous, aside from her getting framed for the rally attack, which turned out to be inconsequential. But if we run along with this story thread where she’s trying to understand herself and her “personal feelings,” it would be perfect for her to inherit Fria’s powers, proving that while her body may be that of a robot, her soul is as real and human as any of us. I know Winter is supposed to gain the powers, but I think Penny will end up proving to Fria that she’s more worthy of becoming the Winter Maiden, and so when Cinder kills Fria, the last girl she’ll think of will be Penny. There is the off chance that Weiss will turn into the Winter Maiden, but I believe it’s unlikely.
Besides the final scene, another part that truly bugs me is the growing irrelevance of Robyn’s arc. She was unconscious for most of the time, and I was really hoping she would wake up and help Fair Game. I’m not confident that she and her Happy Huntresses will get a satisfying resolution.
The finale this Saturday will have to unpack so many things—Salem’s approach, the Winter Maiden, Team ORNJ vs. Neo, Ironwood, possibly the fall of Atlas and/or the launch of Amity Tower, maybe something about Summer Rose—that I’m wondering if some of it will have to spill over into next season. The volume finales are usually half an hour or so, but I feel like even that might not be enough time. I’s odd for me to say I’m anxious about the show being too dense with content, because there have been parts of this volume that just dragged, and I wish it had been paced better.
All right, see you for the finale of RWBY: Volume 7. Until then, #RIPClover, and on that note, #RIPMamba.
Windup score: 70/100