RWBY: Ice Queendom – 04 – Her World, Her Rules

If you’re going to go three weeks between episodes (since the first three were available in week one) following with a character-centric bottle episode is probably the way to go. We don’t see how Weiss is discovered or how the rest of her team takes her before Shion; instead we’re right beside Ruby inside Weiss’ nightmare world as she tries to find her bearings and rescue her still-new comrade.

She arrives in a harsh winter wonderland with an psychedelic sky, but at least she can use her weapon as a snowboard, and spends coins in order to communicate with Shion, create shortcut doors, and bring up the map of where she’s been. Considering she only has a finite amount of coins, I’d say she’s actually way too liberal with their use early on.

After witnessing a Schnee-brand train being attacked and derailed by White Fang, Ruby follows the tracks to an Orwellian nightmare of a city, packed with statues and portraits of Weiss’ father. The city is populated by a bunch of patrolling robots who salute with “Big Nicholas” (instead of Big Brother) and laborers who might as well be automatons with their highly structured, joyless days working to fatten their boss’ pockets.

When blending in doesn’t work (I mean look at her), Ruby tries to climb the vast walls of the city’s central tower, but is pushed back by magical brambles. She then encounters a “Silly Prison” for “dummies” depicted as members of JNPR who meow kind of like cats a a pet shop. Ruby is a little disappointed Weiss sees their comrades like this.

As for Weiss herself, she’s been given an Esdeath-like makeover. Her sister is a bat who alerts her to Ruby’s movements, while her always-looming father orders her to take care of the intruder. Wanted posters appear instantaneously, and before long Ruby is cornered and finally comes face to face with Weiss.

As you’d expect, Weiss isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and in any case regards Ruby with nothing but disgust and contempt. Seeing all this trippy shit inside Weiss’ head, Ruby is compelled to believe that all the time Weiss was trying to make nice, she was actually harboring hatred for everyone else, including her.

Shion tells her it’s not that easy; that the Nightmare itself casts a sinister shadow over everything. Ruby is an intruder, and so the Grimm will use everything at its disposal from Weiss’ mind to throw Ruby off her game. But it’s clear that Weiss’ existence prior to joining the rest of RWBY has been harsh, cutthroat, and above all devoid of love and warmth. Hopefully Ruby can heat things up a little and bring the ice princess back from the brink.

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

 

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Dropped

With a full slate of shows to follow this Spring, I needed Combatants to really knock one out of the park in its third week to justify keeping it around and…it just didn’t. It was a dull, dreary affair, full of sloppy character models, sketchy animation, unfunny comedy, and a cast that are rehashes of Konosuba characters, only less likeable. Agent Six it probably the show’s biggest misfire, as the show is well aware that he’s supposed to be an dishonorable bastard, but gives us zero reasons to want to watch him.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 02 – Assembling a Team

With far less exposition to dump on us, this week’s CWBD is an improvement, flowing much better structurally and focusing on its kooky characters, like the artificial combat chimera Rose and Grimm, archpriest of Zenarith, god of undeath and disaster.

While both are eccentric to say the least, Alice deems them two of the more powerful assets at their disposal. With their ultimate goal of defeating the Demon Lord in mind, they can’t be picky about personalities.

And just like KonoSuba, there’s nobody here whose personality you’d call “normal.” Alice comes closest, but she’s an android. Six continues to be a cad, racking up Evil Points. Rose is a timid glutton who has a sinister chuunibyou side. Grimm wants a man, and Six would seem to do. Grimm and Rose were both exploited by the military as frontline weapons.

The newly-formed party first tastes battle after harassing a demon lord army supply train, which distresses Snow because she wants more exciting frontline combat so she can affort to pay off her sword (the news she clawed her way to where she is from nothing makes her character more interesting).

Then two of the Demon Lord’s Elite Four arrive: the voluptuous Heine of the Flame (whose “cosplay” reminds Six of his comely bosses back home), and Gadalkand of the Earth, who straight up murders Grimm, just like that!

Even though his sole interaction with her was catching a glimpse of her thong, Six still wants to avenge Grimm, but Gadalkand and Heine both withdraw before he can fight them. Then he learns from Snow and Rose that due to her demon blood and position as Zenarith priest, she comes back to life no matter how many times she dies…which should prove quite handy!

While Six continues to be, for the most part, pretty scummy, he comes off far better this week, especially when he sits vigil over Grimm’s corpse in the temple of Zenarith. When she wakes up, she’s surprised he’s there because he didn’t want her to be lonely.

The episode closes on a sweet note, as Six orders her a spiffy new Kisaragi-brand wheelchair and the two go on an adorable date racing through the wastelands and breaking up couples in a village. This is still no KonoSuba, but I came away from this second episode feeling like it’s starting to find its own voice, and liking everyone just a little bit more.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 01 (First Impressions) – Falling From Grace

With the director of Master Teaser Takagi-san (and this years excellent Those Snow White Notes!) and the creator of KonoSuba, you could say my hopes for this series were somewhat inflated from the get-go. So I regret to report that while this opening episode of Combatants Will Be Dispatched! was okay, it was not great. It didn’t come close to meeting those hopes.

We open with our (anti)hero Combat Agent Six meeting with two busty women in elaborate, skimpy fantasy cosplay and equally lofty names and titles. Everything is serious for the first few seconds as they inform Six of his mission to investigate an Earth-like planet. But then Six calls out Astaroth and Belial for their chuunibyou getup and dialogue.

While this knocking on the fourth wall is a common occurrence in KonoSuba, and it’s intriguing that Six’s two bosses have real Japanese names, his joking around felt premature and forced here, which can be said about a lot of the ensuing comedy. KonoSuba’s jokes based on Kazuma’s perviness and fish-out-of-water status was comparatively so natural and effortless.

It doesn’t help that right off the bat these characters are all some combination of generic, unlikeable, and inconsistent. Astaroth and Belial seem to be in a position of authority, yet Six apparently helped the two found the “Kisaragi Corporation” they all work for, and Astaroth even seems to be harboring a crush on him.

Why, then, does Six let the two women, along with generic “scientist girl” Lilith, boss him around by shoving him into a teleport tube to this random planet? Six is introduced to the “high spec pretty girl” android Alice and shoved in a teleport tube before there’s any satisfying explanation of what exactly is going on. The episode is waving its hands at us saying “just go with it,” but I’d have preferred something more solid to go with!

My initial theory, as Six and Alice are dispatched to the Earth-like world (appearing 30,000 meters above the surface) is that Astaroth, Belial, Lilith and Six are gamers in some kind of VR-RPG. That explains how they alternate between playing their roles as agents of universal domination and a group of regular human friends.

The remainder of the episode is all about Six landing in a vast ruddy alien wasteland, heading to a nearby city, and learning about his new android assistant. Alice’s primary feature is an apparently city-leveling self-destruct, which calls to mind KonoSuba’s Megumin’s all-or-nothing Explosion. Otherwise she’s just a little girl, and as such, when packs of dog-like beasts attack, it’s up to Six to defend them.

Alice also serves as a rather clumsy provider of exposition, explaining how Six amasses “Evil Points” by doing bad shit, which he can then spend on stuff by writing it on paper and scanning that paper with a gizmo on his wrist. While somewhat novel, it seems like a rather inefficient system. Also, while we know Six starts out with 300 Evil Points, we don’t learn how many he spends to put a shotgun in Alice’s arms.

The show seems to be full of decisions and details that force me to think about why those choices were made instead of just sitting back and enjoying the silliness. Alice just said she was physically just a little kid, yet we see her moments later wielding a shotgun without issue. And why just a plain-old shotgun? It’s a fantasy anime, why not come up with a more imaginative weapon?

After defeating the beasts, Six and Alice are approached by Snow, a female knight straight out of SAO. While initially both suspicious of the two but otherwise noble and dignified, Snow’s not-always-hidden “other side” is apparently extremely obsessed with recognition, money, and glory—in the same way Darkness is obsessed with being punished and ravaged.

Snow is also the personal knight for the Kingdom of Grace’s lovely Princess Tillis, and she’s apparently such a good bodyguard that she lets two total strangers—a highly-trained spy and his android assistant/bomb—into the same room with their weapons! Grace is also a land where real-world items like tanks are regarded as mysterious ancient artifacts.

One such artifact used to make it rain in the kingdom, but is malfunctioning. Alice shows her worth by fixing it, only for Six to insist on resetting the activation password to “Dick Festival”. He helpfully explains that making Princess Tillis say those words will net him Evil Points, and I can’t argue with him there.

The problem is, Tillis’ father, who I’ll call “King Santa” for now, would also have to say those words, so Six and Alice end up tied up. Even so, the King is grateful the artifact was repaired, and Tillis, citing her country’s desperate need for warriors to fight beasts, decides to make Six one of her knights. Snow is dubious, but Six reminds her she said she’d take “full responsibility” for whatever happened with the rain-making machine.

As a result, Snow essentially gets demoted to Sir Six’s XO in their interceptor group. Along with Alice, the three-person party has been set—I just wish I was more excited about it! Not helping matters is the fact that while overall the series looks fine, there are some glaring off-character model moments that are less excusable in a first episode whose job is to impress.

But mostly, Dispatched! is too similar to KonoSuba not to invite unfavorable comparisons to the older series, which not only aired first but crucially also aired at a time when I frankly had more of a stomach for Kazuma / Six / Rudy’s pervy antics. If I’m sick of Six’s schtick one episode in, it does not bode well for the future.

The next-episode preview is presented as a broadcast on a TV in Kisaragi Corp.’s break/club room as Astaroth, Belial and Lilith have tea and snacks, adding credence to my theory the “corporation” is more of a gaming club formed in high school. We’ll see if the show can redeem itself next week.

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