My 2 Cents on RWBY: Volume 8—Chapter 5, “Amity”

(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “Amity”)

What’s new, readers? Disney’s four-hour investor day last Thursday unloaded a deluge of news about their intellectual property. We’ve got the Ahsoka Tano spinoff series, which I hope will pit her against the devious military strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn; Patty Jenkins being the first woman to direct a Star Warsmovie; the delightful Chris Evans being the perfect pick to voice Buzz Lightyear in Lightyear, an animated movie centered on the space ranger in the Star Command cartoon that inspired the action figure played by Tim Allen; the MCU Spider-Verse is official, with Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Kirsten Dunst, Emma Stone, Alfred Molina, and Jamie Foxx coming to Spider-Man 3; the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special; a Fantastic Four movie directed by Jon Watts, also known for directing all the Tom Holland Spider-Man flicks; Owen Wilson’s silvery mane; and plenty more announcements. It’s times like this when my inner geek cartwheels with elation. I’m especially impressed by the 2021 lineup of Disney Plus MCU shows: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Ms. Marvel, and Hawkeye. After the content drought between Seasons 1 and 2 of The Mandalorian, it’s nice to know nothing like that will happen next year.

Now, let’s talk about RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 5 of Volume 8, “Amity,” was dropped on Rooster Teeth FIRST on December 5, and it was directed by Paula Decanini and written by Miles Luna. We begin with Penny arranging bombs in the Schnee Dust mine at the same time that Pietro and Maria are prepping Amity Tower up above. Penny and Pietro have a radio talk that amounts to her wanting to remain in Atlas and be its guardian and him replying, “I’m your father and I’m telling you that you belong on Amity.” So I guess staying on the Tower is supposed to be a safe plan in spite of Salem and Monstra being in their immediate vicinity? Okay then. But it is nice when Maria says, “Don’t you think Penny has had enough people telling her what to do?” Amen to that.

When Penny flies up to the Tower, they activate the stabilizers and start the countdown for the bombs. Things seem okay until Cinder arrives atop a ship, having blown a hole adjacent to one of the Tower’s stabilizers. Then Amity’s jets boot up in unison with the bombs detonating in the mine below and setting off a chain reaction of multicolored Dust explosions. This bit bewildered me until I realized the power of the explosions are meant to help send off the Tower. Yeah, this is on track with the bizarre laws of physics to which the show loves adhering.

After a brief scene where Ironwood and the Ace Ops find out Amity is starting up, the episode dives into two brawls—one between Penny and Cinder (the latter creating glass swords out of the floor is a clever sequence) and one between Maria and Neo. Maria saying “Get away from her, you bi—” before Neo rams her ship into the mech is a tad too blatant of an Aliens nod, but I like it anyways. Another good beat is Neo disguising herself as Ruby in response to Maria asking her what she wants. I bet the animators have plenty of fun playing with Neo’s visuals. As for Pietro, he panics upon learning the stabilizer next to the gaping hole Cinder burnt into the Tower is malfunctioning. The Tower ends up drifting and a three-minute countdown begins for it moving out of broadcast range, so Pietro resorts to fervently typing away at his terminal. Amity is still in range at this point, though, so couldn’t he have begun transmitting the message? It probably would have been short enough for Remnant to receive the majority of it before Amity floated out of range.

The next segment, which centers on Penny and Cinder, delivers some of the most compelling fight sequences I’ve seen this volume. The rapid and creative aerial choreography parallels with the battle they and Winter had at the end of Volume 7, and I love how Penny combines her Maiden powers with her innate abilities. Cinder merging her glass swords into a bow and shooting a few arrows is great, too. Then we get a little Maria-Neo action, but not nearly as much as I would’ve preferred. Since Neo is the kind of fighter who’s skilled at ripping off your ass and handing it back to you on a silver platter, it’s good to see Maria being able to hold her own. It makes sense, too, considering her legendary past as the Grimm Reaper.

Cinder begins melting the beams that support the platform, but Penny stops her and asks why she’s serving Salem. “I don’t serve anyone,” Cinder answers, even though it’s clear the exact opposite is true. “And you wouldn’t either, if you weren’t built that way.” “I choose to fight for people who care about me,” Penny responds, and I agree with her. While Pietro did design her to be a protector, she’s fully capable of making her own choices, doing what she believes is right, and standing up for her companions. If she were truly the obedient robot that Cinder wants her to think she is, she would have remained loyal to Ironwood and unlocked the Vault for him.

The next few seconds are terrifying as Cinder latches onto Penny, tries to grab her with that scary AF Grimm arm, burns Penny’s hand, and finally clamps her Grimm claws onto Penny’s face. Hats off to Penny’s VA, Taylor McNee, for giving quality yells that brought me back to Salem bombarding Oscar with rainbow beams (too many kids shrieking and getting tortured this volume). It has to be agonizing for Cinder to drain her Maiden powers. She didn’t even let go the first time Penny shoved her away with those ice swords; her arm simply stretched and held onto Penny’s face, forcing her to kick up her feet and blast Cinder away with her jets.

I love the beat where Neo heads for Maria and pulls her sword out of her parasol, but then Penny beams her into her ship and breaks her Aura. Then Penny and Cinder return to their fight, with Emerald using her hallucination Semblance to summon multiple fake Cinders around Penny. This callback to Emerald tricking Pyrrha into seeing Penny’s legion of swords in Volume 3 is made all the more chilling by the fact that both events happened inside Amity. Fortunately, Penny doesn’t die this time around, thanks to her heat signature vision that allows her to pinpoint the real Cinder and knock her unconscious with a laser. This terrifies Emerald enough to bring her to tears, shoot once at Penny, and threaten to destroy the computer, even if Penny kills her in the process. So Penny lets her go, and she carries Cinder to their ship and flees Amity with Neo (whose face of pure irritation makes me interpret it as “I told you we shouldn’t have gone on this stupid mission”). It’s interesting to see Emerald show so much devotion to someone who treats her like shit, and I hope this volume takes time to address their relationship. One possible outcome is Emerald will realize she doesn’t need to deal with Cinder’s crap anymore and she’ll break away from the abuse. Emerald could also sit Cinder down and try encouraging her to leave Salem, since it has to piss her off to watch Salem belittle Cinder.

Next, Pietro says they’ve missed their window for sending out the transmission because of the broken stabilizer. Penny, however, suggests she could push the Tower back up into the window, an idea that Maria supports and Pietro vehemently opposes. When Maria tells him to “remember the big picture,” he replies, “I don’t care about the big picture! I care about my daughter!” The scene brings up more of the feels with the following exchange between Pietro and Penny: “I lost you before. Are you asking me to go through that again? No. No. I want the chance to watch you live your life.” “But Dad, I am trying to.” See, it’s occasions like this that remind me why I continue to watch this fiercely uneven show, even when the plot is misbegotten enough to melt my brain and let it spill from my nose. It has a core cast of characters whose journeys and interactions I deeply care for, and I want to witness their growth as they face the highs and lows of their quest to stop Salem. This particular scene is touching to watch as Penny shows her courage and Pietro comes to understand that as much as he wants to shield his daughter from danger, he needs to let her fulfill her duty. The synergy between the dialogue, the emotion that McNee and Pietro’s VA Dave Fennoy infuse into their line readings, and the animation of Penny and Pietro’s physical mannerisms further elevate the scene.

Penny goes through with her plan to push up the Tower in an exhilarating Iron Man moment, helping it successfully deliver the prerecorded message to all of Remnant. Now, I know Ruby is supposed to be the main character of this show, but I feel like assigning her to be the herald of Salem’s existence isn’t the most practical decision. Imagine if a teenager spread a broadcast of that scale around our world; wouldn’t you find it the teensiest bit hard to take seriously? Realistically, they should have picked one of the Happy Huntresses, Pietro, Maria, or any other adult for this job. But I do appreciate the show evolving from Ruby saying she wants to be a Huntress in the Volume 1 premiere to her opening the broadcast with, “I’m Ruby Rose. I’m a Huntress.” Again, I’m always here for the character beats. As the message tells everyone about Salem, the Maidens, the Relics, Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon and Headmaster Theodore from Shade being able to confirm the info, and Ironwood not being trustworthy, we cut between various shots of RWBY characters: Bill and his #1 Dud mug, the drunk guy and his pal from Volume 7, Saphron and Terra Cotta-Arc and their baby Adrian, a dejected-looking Whitley in his dad’s study, the refugees and Fiona’s uncle in the Mantle crater, Neptune and Sun out in the deserts of Vacuo (the shot is zoomed out so far from them that it’s obvious the animators didn’t have time to work on a closeup), Ilia in Menagerie as she gets a call from Blake’s father Ghira, Joanna, the shopkeeper in From Dust Till Dawn (the store that provides the opening scene for Volume 1) and Glynda, Tyrian and Salem (the latter petting her minion with a look on her face like this video recording is part of her scheme; maybe she wants Remnant to lose their nerve and stir up enough negativity to attract her Grimm), Ruby, Blake, Weiss, an unconscious and bandaged-up Nora, and Taiyang and Zwei.

In the scene that shows Ironwood, the Ace Ops, and Watts watching the message as well—with Marrow’s smile definitely indicating he’ll switch sides soon—Watts, who is back out of his cell and tinkering with Penny’s stolen sword, removes a chip with her symbol from the weapon and replaces it with a ridiculous chip that has a red W. Hooboy, I have questions. Is this red W his official logo? Does he imprint it on all of his tech? Did he customize a top hat, socks, or any other articles of clothing with the emblem? Why does it feel as if the show thinks this personification of spoiled milk is a crafty genius? Red isn’t even his color theme; it’s only there to boost his cartoonishly sinister personality.

Anyways, he plants the chip in the sword, causing Penny’s eyes to flicker between red and green. She struggles to hold up Amity and fight off Watts’s evil chip until her eyes become glassy and she begins plunging through the atmosphere, flames swallowing up her body. Honestly, it’s heart-wrenching when Pietro says, “Please, baby, say something,” and we see that moment where Penny’s eyes regain some light before she closes them and gasps, “I love you.” Then there’s nothing but static over the radio. I know she’s not dead, but that still doesn’t detract from the scene’s ability to make its viewers choke up.

We return to Ironwood and company, with the general realizing Penny isn’t responding to his calls and then getting provoked enough by Watts to throw his Scroll at him. Ironwood orders Winter, who’s in a spiffy new uniform, and the Ace Ops to verify Penny’s condition. Harriet is going to escort Watts back to his cell, but he sneaks Ironwood’s Scroll behind his back with all the cunning of a kindergartner hiding a Snickers bar. Plot Contrivance Syndrome is rearing its head once again; it’s unrealistic for Ironwood to leave behind any piece of technology in the presence of a man who is essentially six weasels in a trench coat. In any case, I predict this will allow Watts to keep pulling Penny’s strings. He might even hack into the prison and commit an outright jailbreak.

The chapter ends on Yang, Ren, and Jaune at the tundra outpost trying to get back the broadcast. Racing after rumbling sounds in the distance, they end up encountering a Grimm river with a Sabyr head floating to the surface of the reddish-black sludge. Where is this river headed, you may ask? Why, Mantle, of course. Now, I pretty much called this in my breakdown of the Volume 8 premiere: “They want to evacuate everyone to the slums, which is inside this big crater; that in itself is right beneath the floating city of Atlas. It’s like they’re begging Atlas to fall and squish everybody.” Look, I’m not saying they could have anticipated this particular event, but it isn’t difficult to predict the problems likely to arise when you gather people inside a crater into which anything could fall—a floating city, rocks, poisonous goop, Grimm, snow. But no, the crater is now at risk of being turned into a giant Grimm lake.

Overall, “Amity”—with its combination of convincing character beats, superb voice acting, and riveting fights offsetting the plotting lapses (and that says a lot, because the lapses really do push my buttons)—is giving “Fault” a run for its money for the spot of Favorite Volume 8 Chapter. It’s about time the show provided Penny the opportunity to shine as the unequivocal star, something I don’t think we’ve ever seen in any previous episodes. This is a character who gave us her salutations in Volume 1, remained much beloved in Volumes 2 and 3, tore our hearts to shreds with her tragic loss, made her welcome return from the dead in the Volume 7 premiere, and wrapped up that season by becoming the Winter Maiden. It’s amazing to see how much she’s grown throughout the series, and I’m glad this chapter gave her the space she deserves.

Now that Winter is on the hunt for Penny, I wonder if we’re coming up to the point where she’ll be forced to reflect on her current path and her partnership with a ruthless fascist. After all, she escaped a toxic household lorded over by her cold and imperious father by enlisting in the military, which gave her a new home built on respect, structure, and unity. But said home is falling apart now as Salem looms over Atlas and Ironwood spirals deeper into tyranny. Considering the rapport Winter was establishing with Penny last season, it would make sense for Winter seeing Watts controlling Penny to be the time when she finally says “To hell with this” and betrays the general. It’s equally reasonable to predict the mid-season finale will end on a showdown between Penny and Winter/The Ace Ops, which will be painful to witness.

I’ll be back when Chapter 5, “Midnight,” (not at all a foreboding title) goes on public release on December 19. All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.

Windup score: 83/100

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