(SPOILER ALERT: This is a full breakdown review for “War”)
What’s new, readers? Did you have a good Christmas? I mean, as good as it can be during the pandemic. Hopefully, you followed social distancing protocols. Since I’m in quarantine with my mom, we spent our Christmas watching Tenet, which was everything I wanted and more. My mom was into it as well. Shocking, considering she can’t stand Inception or Interstellar, though she did find The Prestige to be engaging. We proceeded to watch another brilliant movie the next day, Pixar’s Soul, along with Burrow, a cute SparkShorts entry with Winnie the Pooh influences in its animation style. The day after that we put on Happiest Season, a glimmering and heartfelt holiday romcom elevated by its queer story, though I wish it would have been willing to subvert the tropes of its genre. We’d see Wonder Woman 1984 too, but finances are currently tight and we can’t afford to splurge on HBO Max when we’re already paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus. It’s a good thing Hulu comes free with the household’s Sprint plan. And holy crap, this Friday will be the first day of 2021. Never before have I been so eager to bid adieu to a year like 2020.
Okay then, let’s get into RWBY, the fantasy anime-style web series from Rooster Teeth Animation. Chapter 7 of Volume 8, “War,” was released on Rooster Teeth FIRST on December 19, and it was directed by Connor Pickens and written by Kiersi Burkhart, with additional writing from Miles Luna. We open on the Atlas military in the farmland outside the city repelling the Grimm that constantly spawns from Monstra’s oily goop and its huge maw, and General Ironwood opens up the underground subway to get the citizens the hell out of Dodge. The sign reading “Pickens Square Station” is a nod to the director of this chapter and the head editor of the show since Volume 3. The girl who points at the flying Grimm up above and says “Dad? Look!” as though they’re a swarm of butterflies strikes me as strangely funny.
We transition to the Ace Ops’ ship flying to the City of Atlas. Jaune, Yang, and Ren have been arrested, making me wonder what happened when the Ace Ops slapped the handcuffs on them. Did the kids put up a fight? Maybe. Did Marrow point at them and tell them to stay? That hinges on whether his Semblance would have been convenient for the plot. Whatever happened to the Ace Ops’ search for Penny? Incarcerating the kids should be a low-priority task. Anyway, when Jaune claims Monstra is where the Hound went with Oscar, Vine asserts, “Grimm don’t take prisoners.” Apparently, it’s out of the question to consider the possibility of a millennia-old witch abducting a boy who’s sharing his body with Ozpin’s soul. Winter gives Ironwood a ring and he tells her about a plan for her and the Ace Ops to deliver a bomb to Monstra on foot, with no explanation as to how they’ll bypass all the sludge and Grimm around the whale. Ren, Yang, and Jaune, worried about this tactic putting Oscar in jeopardy, urge the officers to save him first.
The episode goes to Monstra, where Emerald is spying on Salem as she dramatically waves her arms like a conductor to manage the Grimm goop pouring out of her whale’s mouth. Emerald proceeds to listen in on Hazel and Ozpin inside the torture chamber. The soulboy hangs from a meathook to which his wrists are tied, his blood drips on the floor, more blood is caked on his clothes, and he has two black eyes, leaving me wondering just how much more agony I have to see him endure. When Ozpin asks Hazel if he’s ever questioned why Salem wants his assistance with locating the Relics, he says, “We share a vision. She’s gonna create a new world order, no Kingdoms, and no Huntsman Academies.” Ozpin ruins this dream by informing him there won’t be a world left if Salem collects the Relics, that “All she craves now is release. Death.” Hazel gives Ozpin a smack before revealing he already tried to kill Salem repeatedly, but she kept coming back to life and she eventually convinced him she’s the only way he can satisfy his thirst for revenge. After learning this new detail of Hazel’s backstory, I’d very much like to see a flashback that shows how Salem manipulated him into joining her circle.
At Schnee Manor, Weiss expresses her concern to Ruby and Blake about Nora, who remains out cold, and Weiss says they need a doctor. Ruby has an irritating part where she looks out the window at Monstra and says, “It’s massive. Way bigger than a Leviathan. What can we even do?” Gee, I don’t know, dial up the brightness of your silver eyes a few notches? Once again, we have a character who possesses an extremely powerful ability but refuses to utilize it due to Plot Convenience Syndrome. Then May comes in to update them about Fiona not getting a word from Yang’s team. She goes on to say, “It’s chaos at the crater. Atlas has its army, but Mantle only has us. People are dying.” Weiss responds, “People are dying here, too. Don’t you have family in Atlas?” May: “No. Mantle needed me, and to the Marigolds, that meant I wasn’t their son anymore. And I made sure that everyone knew that I wasn’t their daughter. So forget ‘em. They’ve got Henry [her brother, I assume], yours have Whitley. You get what I’m saying.” The gang continues to be wishy-washy, so May asks, “Which side are you on, anyway?” and Blake answers, “We’ve heard that before.” In other words, Blake is comparing May, who advocates defending Mantle, to Ironwood, who is all for abandoning Mantle. Good lord, my butt wants to fall off when I watch these characters that I’m so invested in act like utter fools. Then Ruby says, “There are no sides! We want to help everyone. We’re all facing Salem together. And together is the only way we’re going to get out of it.” The scene ends with a shot of a pensive-looking Whitley eavesdropping on them.
Why are they even having this fight (which reeks of the All Lives Matter debates they had back in Volume 6)? If they go after Monstra, the source of all the Grimm, they can save both Atlas and Mantle, whereas if they focus solely on defending Mantle, they’ll be stuck taking down an endless stream of monsters. At least May’s status as a trans woman has been canonically confirmed. I appreciate how the writing smoothly slots her story into the scene and doesn’t come off as forced, though I wish (a) her Semblance was something other than invisibility and (b) the show didn’t frame her against the Huntresses in their tiff.
Back in the torture chamber, Hazel is reluctant to believe Ozpin’s claims about Salem wanting to gather the Relics to call down the Gods so they can destroy Remnant, therefore circumventing her immortality curse and killing her too. Oscar makes an admirable character choice by regaining control of his body, divulging that “Jinn” is the password to the Lamp, and encouraging Hazel to use the last question and learn the truth. I like that this presents Hazel with an opportunity to make a crucial decision and hopefully break away from Salem. If he asks the Lamp, this could be the time when we get the flashback about how they met. I’m saying “if” because Emerald overheard the convo, and she might end up grabbing the Lamp and asking the final question. As for Salem, I’m glad we have confirmation for her motives. They seemed straightforward in her backstory episode in Volume 6, but recently I was beginning to wonder if the show retconned her plan. But nope, she’s going to get around her curse by annihilating the world. It really is sad when you think about the fact that she’s doing all this purely so she can die. If only the Gods weren’t such douchebags, taking away Ozma and then cursing Salem with immortality.
Emerald tells Mercury everything she found out as he packs his duffel bag, but he’s unwilling to put any stock in Oscar and Ozpin’s words. He reveals he’s going to Vacuo and makes it clear he’ll continue following Salem’s orders, then says they can’t defeat Salem, especially since Hazel already attempted that and failed. It’s hilarious when he says, “And all of this is pointless, anyway. Salem’s not ending the world,” and Tyrian pops in with maniacal giggles and says, “Of course she is! You’re surprised? Salem is destruction incarnate! Our mistress wishes to see the end of it all! There is no ideal more beautiful. If you couldn’t see that from the start, you must be out of your mind.” I never thought I’d say this after Volume 6, but Tyrian was the chef’s kiss in this scene. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a repellant psychopath who murdered Clover, but he can be fun when the show uses him in the right way. It’s funny that he’s the only one who’s on the up and up while the rest of the circle has been misled into believing Salem is working towards a new world order. Then Mercury, who momentarily looks anxious about Salem’s plan, and Tyrian take off for a flight to Vacuo, meaning we won’t see them until Volume 9. A small part of me feels bad for Mercury having to share a ride with one of the grossest passengers possible, while the rest of me is luxuriating in schadenfreude. Since it appears that Volume 9 will be set in Vacuo, I hope this means Sun Wukong will come back, because we haven’t seen him in a while and he’s one of the few young males in RWBY who doesn’t ooze toxic masculinity. Side note: why was that Beringel spying on them from its perch up on the ceiling? We better see the heroes fight those flying monkeys sometime.
Back in the Ace Ops’ ship, Jaune takes a crack at persuading Winter to let him and his friends, suggesting they can do a test run and survey the whale for the Ace Ops, and in the process they’ll search for Oscar in the process. The Ace Ops think this is a stupid strategy, with Elm stating, “We don’t let feelings get in the way of making the right call. Trading three lives for one is stupid.” The thing is, Jaune’s idea is actually quite solid. And shouldn’t the Ace Ops be willing to do almost anything to rescue Oscar, considering he’s the bearer of Ozpin’s soul? Ren laconically expresses the care he has for him, which makes Harriet scoff, “Feelings don’t matter, the job matters.” Then Ren says, “No! No one is replaceable.” However, Neath Oum, Ren’s VA and the brother of RWBYcreator Monty Oum, didn’t put emphasis on the end of the line, making it sound off. I understand Neath isn’t a professional voice actor, but it nonetheless annoys me how clumsy his line readings can be. This also started a meme about Monty playing Ren for Volumes 1-3, then Neath replacing him for the rest of the show. So yeah, maybe Kiersi and Miles should have written a different line for Ren.
Oh, but as it turns out, Ren realizes a new facet of his Semblance—emotional telepathy. I get that this power and his ability to mask emotions and hide from Grimm are part of the emotion-related superpower range, but the difference gap between them is considerable. What’s next, Ren tinkering with people’s emotions like Jasper Cullen? Anyway, he sees red flower petals flittering around Harriet, then notices more colorful petals around the other members of the Ace Ops. He gleans from these clues that Harriet and Elm are mad, Marrow is sad, and Vine is calm, and he also looks at himself to see pink petals that may indicate his love for Nora. Ren says the Ace Ops are actually sad about losing Clover and they can’t be a good team because they push back on their emotions, which he claims is the reason for Team RWBY beating them in Volume 7. Elm and Harriet are furious that Ren put their feelings out there, but Winter stops the argument and orders her captives to do Jaune’s plan. Harriet opposes this, calling them liars and traitors, but Winter uses her higher rank to shut her up and warns they’ll drop the payload if Jaune’s team doesn’t return in time. As the Ace Ops let them off, Ren tells Marrow and Winter they don’t want to be part of this anymore, and he sees green, yellow, red, and blue petals around her that indicate she’s conflicted.
Honestly, I loathe this scene. Why does the show think we need colored petals to realize what the Ace Ops are going through? I didn’t need that when I figured out weeks ago they’re all grieving Clover. But the show makes such a huge deal over Ren’s announcement of the Ace Ops’ feelings, as though we couldn’t deduce that for ourselves. Not only that, but it’s official that RWBY won against the Ace Ops because the latter team isn’t emotionally synchronized. Are. You. Kidding. Me. Whatever happened to RWBY winning simply because they’re an amazing team? I bet we’ll have this whole arc where the Ace Ops learn to be on the same emotional page and, like the Volume 7 track goes, trust love, and it will be inane.
In the Schnee Manor’s foyer, Ruby proposes committing breaking Qrow and Robyn out of prison. May says the crew can either join her in protecting Mantle or get dropped off outside the city to fight Monstra, and they need to decide what to do without Qrow and Robyn. Then the Schnee family’s former butler Klein comes back because he’s a doctor, apparently, and Whitley made a house call on Nora’s behalf. If he’s a doctor, why did he work for the Schnees as a butler? Why didn’t Weiss or any of the others call a doctor earlier? Why do Klein’s eyes have to keep changing colors? I do enjoy the hug that Weiss shares with her brother, a gesture that he reciprocates after a moment of surprise. I’m still rooting for a reconciliation between all three Schnee siblings. However, a rumble and then a crash halts everything, and Ruby, Blake, and Weiss find in front of the mansion a smoking crater made by a green-splattered Penny, whose eyes are green rather than red. Exactly how long was she plummeting for? Amity Tower isn’t that high. The episode concludes on her reaching up and saying, “I’m… I’m sorry,” then fainting.
Overall, “War” is a typical chapter for the show, by which I mean it’s terribly uneven. Forty percent of it is effective and entertaining, while the other sixty is sloppy and tiresome. It’s not a horrible way to begin the mid-season break, but it’s far from being the best way. Looking at what we’ve dealt with this season, I keep wishing the writers would give the main characters more agency to drive the narrative. One of the worst things you can do in a story is make your characters reactive instead of proactive. Unfortunately, all Ruby and her companions do is engage in nonsensical disputes and stand around waiting for surrounding events to launch them into action. They used to be the stars of the show, but now we barely have time to flesh them out thanks to the bulky cast. The Ace Ops aren’t helping the situation. Go on Reddit and you’ll find dozens of threads complaining about this bunch of useless blockheads. I will confess something—I don’t know how I’m feeling about the fact that I’m liking Jaune more and more. The majority of the fandom loves dunking on this guy, but he’s becoming gradually more sensible as Volume 8 develops. All he needs is a new haircut to get rid of those headbananas.
A sneak peek for the next chapter was recently released, showing an unconscious Penny surrounded by Ruby’s team and Klein in a bedroom of the Schnee Manor, with Willow showing up in the last few seconds. Until Chapter 8 drops on Rooster Teeth FIRST on February 6, we can speculate on how the second half of the volume will unfold. Will Watts soon force Penny to fight her friends? Indubitably. Who will use the Relic of Knowledge’s last question, Hazel or Emerald? I think it will be Hazel. Could Jaune’s team run into Salem while recovering Oscar? Possibly. As for deathwatch, I’m raising flags for Ironwood, who needs to pay for his fascism and doesn’t deserve to go through a redemption arc; Pietro, who might sacrifice himself for his daughter by transferring his Aura to her and reviving her; and Hazel, who could turn around and sacrifice himself to protect Oscar.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy, stay strong, and let’s look forward to the new year with cautious optimism.
Windup score: 55/100