RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 11 – Prelude to Feeding

Shinpei, Sou, and Ushio with her nifty Shadow powers are looking like a great team against their Shadow adversaries…at first. As they go deeper into Shadow territory they find themselves increasingly outnumbered and outmatched.

Two other groups head into the sewers: the well-armed and prepared Minakata and Nezu, and Mio and Tetsu, the latter just hoping for some tough guy cred, while Mio wants to follow someone who is clearly Shadow Shiori, who isn’t lying when she says Shin is “down there”.

After another wave of Shadow Babies is defeated in a cave full of undersea life (shades of Nausicaa), Ushio collapses, and finally comes clean to Shin and Sou about her arm. Since Shiori damaged her main body, she needs data from the original Ushio’s body to repair it…but Ushio was cremated, so she can either endure the pain and bleeding or delete the arm, limiting her abilities.

While Tetsu and Mio continue to tread far too close to their demises (and Tetsu gets himself copied; as we know Mio is immune), suddenly Tokiko turns up to confront Team Ushio, with a pair of Shadow Baby heavies. Shinpei waits for her to get close enough, then shoots her shadow full of nails and…nothing happens. Tokiko isn’t a Shadow…she’s just Tokiko.

If there’s one complaint I have with this tripartite excursion to the Hiruko Caves, it’s that it’s hard to gauge where each group is in relation to one another. You’d think Shinpei, Sou and Ushio, not to mention Tetsu and Mio, would hear Minakata’s shotgun blasts in a cave. And yet, the three groups never meet or even realize they’re all in generally the same place.

Undefined spatial relationships aside, one lesson that applies to all three groups is Never wander into the caves. Minakata and Nezu end up facing off with Shiori (who only pretended to be killed earlier) and her much bigger and tougher multi-limbed pal, who copies a shotgun, shoots Nezu in the chest, and Minakata in her liver as she’s fleeing.

This just shows that there are dark and deadly things down here that either no human has ever seen and lived to talk about, or in the apparent case of the Hishigatas (sans Sou), they’ve known about all too long. It’s a family secret, but back at their dad’s lab, it seems clear that he’s taken an active role in the cultivation of Hiruko and/or Haine.

Knowing they’re out of their element, Shinpei surrenders to Tokiko, who agrees to show them everything and come clean to her brother—as long as they don’t tell Mio, one thing Toki-chan apparently couldn’t bear. They arrive in the core of the cave where both Hiruko and Haine dwell, and their stomachs are growling. Usually a joke in anime, here it makes the skin crawl.

It’s now 9:00 PM, and “time to feed.” With the next episode ominously titled “Deadly Night”, I’m with Ushio in thinking Shinpei has probably abandoned this loop as a viable chance to fix everything. Progress has definitely been made, but much has gone wrong.

At this point, all Shin can hope is that he gathers enough info for to make the next loop more of a success before dying and returning. That probably means heading to the caves much earlier next time, and preventing Ushio from getting wounded.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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