Hello guys! First things first-a question. Are you tired? Tired of inconsistent sloppy and illogical storytelling? Inconsistent characterization? The abundant use of sexist tropes?
Well have no fear, RWBY is here!
I know, I know, I talk about Game of Thrones way too much in my reviews. But every time I compare the two shows, it becomes more and more apparent that Miles Luna, Kerry Shawcross and the late Monty Oum are/were far better writers than D&D. So hats off to them.
Also, if you’re reading this, chances are at one point or another you’ve come across the plethora of excellent analysis of Game of Thrones by Wendy, Kylie, and Julia. If you haven’t, stop playing Pokémon Go and go read their stuff, they’re brilliant.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s dig into RWBY Volume 3 Chapter 4: “Lessons Learned”!
…seriously, leave that Zubat be. They’re everywhere.
(FYI I’m doing my title analyses at the end of my reviews from now on, because it helps with structure-heads up to Ozzy Man Reviews for the inspiration.)
The episode kicks off with the fight between Emerald & Mercury and Coco & Yatsuhashi. And I can sincerely say that this has to be one of the best tournament fight scenes I’ve ever watched. However…
One of the problems that RWBY shares with anime is that the tournament arcs often contain battles where the competitors don’t mean anything to each other. While the fight between Person A and Person B might be really flashy and well directed, it’s never going to have the same impact as a fight where the characters know each other. And even then that may not be enough.
Say your two favourite characters, who’ve never met each other before, somehow get into a fight. You’re on the edge of your seat as they use the abilities you’ve come to know and love against each other in an all-out duel. When it’s over, you decide to rewatch it, and end up doing so more times than you’d care to admit. And that’s great and all, but it just doesn’t leave the same impact as it would if they had a reason to fight.
Take Captain America: Civil War. Particularly in the final showdown between (SPOILERS) Cap, Tony and Bucky, they’re fighting for a reason. Cap wants to protect Bucky, and Tony wants to kill Bucky because he assassinated his parents. It’s heart-breaking. It’s intense. It’s gut-wrenching to watch, and yet you can’t look away.
And to be fair, not every fight can be like this. Whenever Team RWBY fights the Grimm, it’s not going to have the same impact because they’re fighting mindless monsters. And that can actually be beneficial to character development in and of itself-the Volume 1 battle against the Nevermore and Death Stalker was crucial in building the relationships between the members of Team RWBY and Team JNPR. Battles like that lay the groundwork for battles such as Tony vs Cap, which itself had the groundwork laid by the Chitauri invasion of New York and many other instances of the two butting heads (funnily enough, judging by the way the season ended and the song ‘Divide’, Remnant may soon be facing its own Civil War, but I’ll touch on that in my final review). It’s just that when you compare to battles like the ones we see in Civil War; you realize that battles like Emerald & Mercury vs Coco & Yatsuhashi just aren’t as good.
Look, comparing things is always going to reduce enjoyment of one of them. That doesn’t mean that all comparison is worthless (see ASOIAF vs GoT). It’s just something to keep up your sleeve for when you need it. And to be honest, I probably should’ve made the points I just did back in the second episode review, where the fight scenes were the most meaningless of the season, or in a separate meta. At the end of the day, it’s just something I want you all to think about. The character motivations in this battle are fine, because Emerald and Mercury are well established as antagonists, and from what we know of Coco and Yatsuhashi they are reasonably good people. Yes, I would’ve loved to see them win, because they’re absolute badasses, but as someone pointed out in a YouTube comment (don’t remember who, sorry)-they’re minor characters. Emerald and Mercury are not. While there was material to work with, it just wouldn’t make sense for minor characters to beat two of the primary antagonists.
So that was my only real nitpick of the fight, although it’s applicable to the entire season. Otherwise, this was an amazing fight. The fight choreography was on point, with the fast-paced action keeping the audience (well, me at least) on the edges of their seats. The way the camera moved around quickly made the fight an exhilarating watch, and the top-quality animation helped with this.
Speaking of quickly moving camera angles, speed played a huge part in how this fight played out. The end of episode three strongly suggested that Cinder was arranging the matches so that Mercury and Emerald would win, and this episode we see her efforts paid off. Because while Coco and Yatsuhashi are definitely a duo to be reckoned with…they’re slow.
Coco and Yatsuhashi have very powerful weapons, but let’s face it: they’d weigh a ton. And Cinder knows this, so she sends Mercury and Emerald against them because their weapons are lighter, giving them an edge over their opponents. Not that they really need it-holy fuck Mercury is a badass.
And yes I’m gushing over this because it’s clever. It builds Cinder up as a villain because we know she’s not prancing around with her fingers crossed and hoping that it doesn’t all go to hell. She’s carefully making her plans and they’re working. This is what makes me excited to watch RWBY. It’s not about who can hit the other person harder. It’s not about suicidal heroic charges into a wall of cavalry. It’s about using your brain. Or if you’re Emerald, it’s about tricking it.
While we don’t see Mercury’s Semblance (it may be the case that he doesn’t have one, given what we learn in episode 7-do you think it’ll happen to Yang as well? It would certainly propel her story arc), we do get our first look at what Emerald can do. Admittedly, it’s easy to mistake it for Neo’s Semblance, and it is a bit odd that the villains would have two similar Semblances (they should have just had Emerald’s). Kudos to whoever made that sound effect for her Semblance-it’s great.
So while this is a tournament fight, it’s probably the most impressive one I’ve seen in a long time. Fantastic action, great animation and clever strategy are all carefully weaved together. On top of that, the fight uses one of the catchiest songs of Volume Three’s soundtrack, “I’m The One”. It’s not as nuanced as “It’s My Turn” or “Red Like Roses” but it does have some very interesting lines.
“I’m the one,
Born in a nightmare a murderer’s son”
“I’m the one,
That was ripped from the earth and exposed to the sun
By the hate and the beatings defiled by a father”
So if you’ve already watched episode 7, you know who these lyrics are about. Once again, kudos to Jeff Williams for putting in these sneaky little details.
“I’m the one,
Who rose out of filth and was loved by no-one
I’ll steal til your blind and defeat you from inside your mind”
Again, it’s obvious who these lyrics concern. And again, Jeff Williams is awesome.
And lastly, while this doesn’t exactly have thematic connotations;
“You’re looking tall, you’re looking tough
I’m sorry dude, it’s not enough
Your girlfriend’s purse won’t help you win this duel”
Ok that’s probably just an insult, but hey, who knows?
So once the battle is done, we move into some very nice character development for Weiss. But before that, we get some booing. I know this is a tiny thing (and kind of a dick move by the Beacon students), but it did add realism. While it’s uncommon to see, say for example, sports fans booing the opposing side, it’s more realistic than the Beacon students cheering for Mercury and Emerald’s victory. Nice touch, RT.
Then we cut to Weiss and Winter having lunch. Winter is leaving, which is…odd. I’d have thought they’d have kept her around a little longer. Then again, she and Qrow clearly have a history together, and given that there’s a very real possibility of chaos descending on Beacon at any moment, it’s best not to have Qrow and her clashing and causing more problems. Perhaps, but perhaps there’s another reason…Winter does say that she was just overseeing the transport of more troops (inconsistent with last episode, but then again that was in public and you don’t go spilling classified military intel to strangers), but that’s…maybe it’s just slightly weaker writing, or maybe Ironwood really did have a purpose for Winter being at Beacon. As commenter Caleb pointed out, he might have changed her orders. Because using a skilled Huntress just for a delivery mission is kind of odd. Who knows?
Nitpicks aside, this was a really well written conversation. Winter gets fleshed out a bit more as she continues to break away from the strict older sibling stereotype. Granted, she is harsh, but her criticism of Weiss isn’t completely unfair (oddly paralleling Qrow)-the robots she was fighting against weren’t fully developed yet. The commentary on her glyphs is valid as well.
Yet we do see some of Winter’s warmer side. While her struggle to compliment Weiss does point to her being more like her father than previously thought, she appears to genuinely care for Weiss. And the contrast between the two also highlights how much Weiss has grown over the series. True, Winter isn’t as bratty as season one Weiss, but you can clearly see that Winter has that harsh, elitist mindset that Weiss has gradually been shedding. It’s kind of a shame we don’t get to see her interact with Blake. That would make an interesting scene.
We also get a bit of exposition on the Schnee family Semblance, which turns out to be genetic. While it did stick out as a little odd with Winter explaining something that Weiss would clearly know very well, I understand that it was for the audience’s sake, and for the most part it fits into the dialogue fairly well. Shout out to whoever did the design for Winter’s Beowulf-that thing is gorgeous.
Speaking of contrast…it’s the Branwens/Roses/Xiao Longs!
Yeah I don’t know what to call them…
So Qrow, Ruby and Yang are playing Remnant’s version of Mortal Combat, and we get to see how they interact as a family for the first time. Surprisingly though, I can see some parallels between Winter and Qrow; both break away from stereotypes and both aren’t afraid to be brutally honest. Qrow is arguably a lot more fun though. I still don’t think he’s the best representation of an alcoholic family member, though…
Question for the comments; are any of you the ‘cool’ auntie or uncle? I’d love to hear some stories.
Anyways, apparently being an experienced Huntsmen makes you a better gamer (I suppose it enhances your reflexes?), as Qrow demolishes Ruby and Yang. We also get a gorgeous flashback sequence. Rooster Teeth always does a fantastic job at these. They look like they’re straight out of a fairy tale book, and that fits in well with the fairy tale basis of the four lead characters (interestingly, Blake isn’t in this episode) while giving off an almost mystic feel. With the help of the soundtrack, you really do feel quite immersed in the world of Remnant.
The flashback also helps build Qrow up as a bit of a playboy which is…eh. While there’s obviously nothing wrong with being attracted to women, the glorification of the playboy attitude it…a little troubling. I don’t know. RWBY is usually pretty clean when it comes to sexism, and I doubt the writers are actively trying to incorporate sexist stereotypes. Again, comments section feedback would be appreciated.
After Qrow points out some harsh truths (admit it, you felt like Ruby when he made the point about stopping crime in Vale) and some potential foreshadowing to Ruby almost saving a certain someone later this season (Ruby’s comment on silver medals nails it for me), we get some hints at Qrow’s past. While I did like this sequence, particularly the way Qrow covered Raven’s face, and the way Yang stares at the picture, I do wish they’d been a bit clearer on the family relationships. Here’s a point where I actually wouldn’t have minded some slightly odd or out of character dialogue so that I didn’t have to spend the next few episode wondering who Qrow shared blood with.
And another thing-why didn’t Yang try and get a better look at that picture? Has this been something that’s come up in the past? I highly doubt that Yang’s too nervous to ask about her mother, so maybe she’s tried before and Qrow or Tai got really upset? His eyes did go wide when he saw Yang staring…
(Speaking of details, shout out to whoever did Qrow’s eyebrows :D)
Overall, this was a great scene. While the animation for Ruby’s skirt was a bit off, and there were a couple of potential plot holes, it was otherwise a hilarious family moment. And when Qrow leaves, he gives some advice that is pretty applicable to the real world. As relieving as it would be to exit university going “I’m done! I don’t need to do any more bloody learning!” there’s always more. Whether it be sexism, politics, corruption, global warming, or any number of things, there’s always more being uncovered. Always more to learn…so good job Qrow.
We cut back to Winter training Weiss. We get another hint that Mr. Schnee’s abusive parenting has rubbed off on Winter. While the smack isn’t played off for laughs like it was last episode, it’s still troubling. Perhaps Winter leaving so soon isn’t as bad as I first thought…
Getting back on track, the whole scene demonstrates how Weiss is starting to form her own identity. Watching her train is interesting (although not enough buildup for the episode eleven reveal), particularly when she gets angry and uses her Semblance. While I obviously don’t have a Semblance, I did feel a connection with Weiss here. Maybe it’s because I read too many manga and comics, but Weiss’ frustration at her shortcomings with her Semblance resonated with me. Yes, she’s training to be a professional monster killer, but that doesn’t make her any less human. Her struggles with financial independence and desire to break away from her toxic family life are issues many of us can understand.
Finally, after some sass and kind words from Winter, the sisters go their separate ways. The brief display of Weiss’ summoning and her walking away from Winter has some nice symbolism attached to it, but the music is what made it for me. While this episode suffers from the same issue that episode two did, in not making enough use of RWBY’s spectacular soundtrack, what we do hear of “Mirror Mirror Part II” shows that it’s just as nuanced as “Red Like Roses Part II”.
“Some believe in fairy stories
And the ghosts that they can’t see
I know that I could do so much
If I could just believe in me
I’ll tell you something
I think I might change it all…”
The obvious themes of identity, coupled with Weiss refusing to answer her father’s call, and Casey Lee William’s beautiful voice, make for a wonderful ending to a great episode.
Overall, this episode was centered about character development and it’s easy to see why RT used the title “Lessons Learned”. Weiss takes a lesson from Winter in not only developing her Semblance, but in establishing her identity. Ruby and Yang have hard truths given to them by Qrow, who teaches them to never stop growing. Even we as the audience learn-a bit of Qrow and Winter’s backstory, and how strong Emerald and Mercury are (through Coco and Yatsuhashi). Even the music gives us new information, with hints to the pasts of Mercury and Emerald. And while their short fight was the only action sequence this episode, Luna and Shawcross us that they know there’s more to a story than just fighting.
So that sums it up for RWBY Volume 3 Chapter 4! Next time, we’ve got…
See you then!
Also, I will be reviewing Volume 4 when it comes out…LET THE HYPE BEGIN.