Rooster Teeth’s fantasy anime-style web series, RWBY, takes place in the world of Remnant, where brave Huntsmen and Huntresses are given the task of defending it from the ferocious Creatures of Grimm. Starting back in 2013, it has now progressed onward to the thirteen-episode Volume 7, picking up where we left off at the conclusion of Volume 6—with our favorite band of Huntresses, Team RWBY (Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long), and their companions reaching the Kingdom of Atlas with the Relic of Knowledge in tow. All they need is to have the Relic safely stored in Atlas, but this simple mission soon unfolds into a much broader endeavor involving political unrest, the Schnee family, the surprise return of an old friend, an activist running for the Atlesian Council, and two villains orchestrating chaos from the shadows on behalf of Salem, the big bad of RWBY.
I’m going to come right out of the gate and tell you that RWBY: Volume 7 is a difficult season to review. There are many things I love about it, there are many things I dislike about it, and then there are the giant problems that speak to the bigger issues of RWBY and Rooster Teeth as a whole. It kicks off with the first chapter, “The Greatest Kingdom,” which is unusually subdued for a RWBYpremiere but does an admirable job at introducing us to the sociopolitical tension and the militaristically dystopian atmosphere of Atlas, getting us back in the groove with the protagonists, and setting the tone for the next twelve chapters.
Volume 4 was the first time the show had any of its plot threads take place in Atlas. But Volume 7 is the first time that the show spends every episode in the Kingdom, which is actually made up of two parts. One is the poverty-stricken Mantle on the ground, and the other is Atlas, the technologically-advanced floating city above it. Similarly to how RWBYconveys relevant messages about racism and bigotry with the Faunus and the White Fang, it now takes this opportunity to explore the social gap between the masses living down in Mantle and the elite living up in Atlas. I was also intrigued by how it uses the Council election to mirror our current political environment in a frighteningly familiar manner.
As I said before, there are many compelling elements of the story, but they’re punctuated by comparatively dull segments that mar Volume 7 with uneven pacing, a flaw that pops up often in RWBY. And once it reaches a certain plot twist towards the end that erases much of the progress the story has built up to that point, it makes the prior events feel meaningless and leaves us bewildered as to why we had to watch it all. In terms of the dynamic action sequences that have become a signature of RWBY, we don’t get much of that because of the volume’s focus on Atlas’s political concerns. While I wish there had been more fights, the ones reserved for the last two chapters are clearly the best this volume, infused with the show’s classic attributes of intense energy and fast-paced choreography.
As for the characterization side of Volume 7, it shines the most through Penny Polendina, the android girl who was once thought dead but returned in the premiere with a desire to validate the humanity of her soul, an arc that pays off well in the end. I also appreciate the development of General James Ironwood, the Atlesian military figure whom we haven’t seen since Volume 4, as he struggles to balance his resolution to protect Atlas however possible against his deep-seated fear of Salem, giving him sympathetic nuances even as we suspect the dubious path he’ll head down. The rest of Weiss’s relatives pop up as well, including her father Jacques, who engages in Trumpian machinations while running for the Council election. As for the primary antagonists this season—sociopathic scorpion Faunus Tyrian Callows and disgraced Atlesian scientist-hacker Arthur Watts, both whom were introduced as Salem’s minions in Volume 4—they are downright irritating. They think they’re so smart, but they have no clear motivations, they spout cringey dialogue, and they have reached a point of flanderization so abominable that it’s almost hilarious.
One of the most prominent newcomers is Robyn Hill, a Mantle activist who is in charge of the Happy Huntresses (RWBY’s spin on Robin Hood and his Merry Men) and runs against Jacques in the election. While she does have a compelling character design, the impact she has on the main plot is quite extraneous despite how apparently involved she is in it, and she doesn’t get a satisfying resolution to her arc. There is also Atlas’s elite unit of Ace Ops officers (again, RWBY’s take on Aesop—they sure do love their fairy-tale paronomasias), who are likable enough as side characters. I especially favor Marrow Amin, a dog Faunus who provides an intriguing perspective as he works for a government known for being intolerant of his species, and Clover Ebi, the unofficial leader of Ace Ops and the show’s first queer coded male who ends up engaging in what’s definitely an mlm ship (Fair Game), albeit one that never gets confirmed with a kiss or something similar, with one of the other characters.
As the cast keeps expanding on a Game of Thrones scale, it gets harder to ignore that the show is drifting away from Team RWBY as the central protagonists. Even as Ruby embraces her role as a leader, and Weiss deals with family drama, and Blake and Yang have their Bumblebee moments together, they all get sidelined to make space for the rest of the characters. I would appreciate it if Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross, the directors/head writers, and the rest of their writing team give Team RWBY the most screen time next volume. With the way things are going, though, I don’t believe that will be the case, and it’s sad because the four of them are such vibrant, well-constructed characters who are completely capable of carrying the show by themselves, as exemplified by the first few volumes.
All throughout Volume 7 I found myself being amazed by how much love and care the production crew devoted to the show. One of my favorite shots is in the premiere, when the heroes fly their airship to Atlas and the camera pulls up to the floating city, making the whole thing look so crisp and beautiful. I watched the show on a smartphone, but I imagine it would look gorgeous on a TV. Seriously, I’m not tossing out hyperbole when I declare that RWBY, animation-wise, is one of the best shows we can watch at this moment. And I’m glad about Volume 7’s abundance of split-screen shots, something that was first employed during the Bumblebee-Adam Taurus clash last season, much to our delight. I hope the animators keep experimenting with these techniques in the future.
As always, music proves to be one of the biggest strong suits for RWBY. Jeff Williams has been composing the scores and the songs since Volume 1, with his daughter Casey Lee Williams lending her talented voice as the primary singer. She also wrote the ballads for the volume’s last two songs, “Until The End” and “Fear.” Other vocalists were included as well: Santi C for “Celebrate,” Caleb Hyle for “Hero,” and Adrienne Cowan (featured with Casey on my favorite Volume 6 track “Nevermore”), Dawn M. Bennett (voice of Ace Ops officer Elm Ederne), and Erin Reilly for “War.”
New Grimm, such as the sabertooth-like Sabyr and the centipede-like Centinels, join the bestial legion, although they’re not as interesting to me as the Apathy from Volume 6. We also see the return of familiar creatures like the ghoulish Geist and the elephantine Goliath. But the beast that shows up right in the last few moments of the finale is undoubtably the best Grimm this volume, as bizarre as it is, and I can’t wait to see more of it next season.
It’s extremely frustrating that the way queer representation was handled will always taint Volume 7 for me—that is, the queerbaiting, the homophobia, and the transphobia. You can check out the full extent of my thoughts on this matter in the breakdowns for the last two chapters. But what I’ll say here is, simply enough, this season boasted the most egregious abuses in regard to queer rep. Granted, RWBY has never been a shining beacon for the LGBTQ community, but this time it just feels like an unrepentant slap in the face from the writers. It hurts even more that Rooster Teeth kept queerbaiting us on Twitter. This is the biggest backlash I’ve seen the fanbase give against RWBY, and I hope it presses Rooster Teeth to start listening to us.
Very likely because of what I just talked about, Volume 7 has left a very bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it will fade over time, maybe it won’t. And it’s a shame because this volume is objectively satisfactory, even with the plotting problems. I’m higher on Volume 6 in terms of the story, and it did a relatively better job on the queer front by featuring Jaune Arc’s sister Saphron and her wife Terra Cotta, and by pumping us up on the possibility of Bumblebee. On the other hand Volume 7 is definitely no Volume 4. At this moment it’s hovering around the middle of my list of Favorite RWBY Volumes. The queer issues are always going to tarnish it, though.
I’m excited about where RWBY will head with some of its characters. I’ll come back with the chapter breakdowns when Volume 8 arrives at the end of the year. But you don’t have to wait so long for more Rooster Teeth content—the highly-anticipated second season of gen:LOCK will premiere on HBO Max. That’s right, more Holons, more intelligent and character-driven storytelling, and more Cammie, our absolute favorite Scottish hacker.
Windup score: 70/100