RWBY is a show that struggles mightily with establishing relationships, developing characters and having protagonists engage with one another. Several pairs almost never interact, despite being part of a tight-knit team that supposedly does everything together. Part of the reason for this is that too much time is spent on shipbaiting.
This has been a problem since RWBY premiered, and has slowly intensified over the years. Why have Ruby and Blake bond when you can just tease the masses with some underdeveloped Flower Power crap? Why develop Oscar when you can just have Blake and Yang hold hands, tantalizingly, over and over? Why do anything worthwhile when you can just feed lonely adolescents some angsty, pseudo-romantic garbage to fuel their fanfics?
It needs to stop. If Miles and Kerry want to actually develop a romantic relationship between two characters, I’m all for it. But this constant, unremitting pairing of potential lovers that is intended only to fuel online fawning, rather than actually serve character development must end for this show to thrive.
On that note, do you know what else this show spends its time doing besides providing much needed character development to its enormous cast? It repeatedly reminds us about our favorite dead characters, because the best way to honor dead people is to use them as a blunt instrument with which to cause brain damage to your audience.
RWBY is a show that sent one of its least developed characters (Oscar) out on a scenic walk, so that it could ignore him and instead focus all its attention on a character that’s been dead for three years. But don’t worry, Oscar got some cool new clothes at the very least. So even though he has the character capacity of an unpeeled raw potato, at least he looks snazzy. Can’t wait for Volume 7 when they do exactly the same thing with Penny 2.0, or whatever the hell they’re going to call her. I’m sure Oscar will go get a haircut, or something.
The real reason Miles and Kerry choose to bash us over our heads with references, flashbacks, and in memoriams, is not to explore the concept of grief or to heal characters on this show. They do it because it gets fans to watch the video, and because it harkens back to a bygone age when this show used to be good. And as long as they continue to look backwards, rather than forwards, this show never will be again.
We get it, Pyrrha died. Move the hell on, please.
Nothing screams ‘leader’ like delivering cliche, drawn-out, cookie-cutter speeches to your teammates every ten minutes. So, of course, this is what Ruby (the narrative equivalent of a sledge hammer with a squeaky-toy mounted where the head should be) does constantly on this show. Why spend time strategizing, or connecting one-on-one with your teammates, or actually demonstrating to those around you how truly broken you are inside, when you can just blithely stride to the podium and deliver a teeth-grindingly infuriating group pep talk whenever a monster hangs on the horizon?
This is not what leadership looks like in the real world. This is what leadership looks like in an aging show where characters assume patented, immovable roles that prevent them from acting like real people. Ruby is slowly turning into Rick Grimes; a tired, repetitive trope that periodically delivers speeches you swear you’ve heard before, but acknowledge are too terrible for you to have remembered anyway.
Frankly, the teams on this show have been through exactly the same shit as Ruby. They’ve grappled with it, learned from their experience, and are competent fighters. There’s literally no need for her to stand before them and launch verbal diarrhea every time a battle is at hand. And even if there were a need for it, she’s proven to be bad at it anyway, so maybe she should stop and allocate speaking duties to somebody else: preferably Maria, because at least that would be funny.
Who can forget that epic final battle in Volume 5, when over a dozen people casually stood in a room and occasionally did something resembling an attack. What a masterpiece that was, right? True, the Volume 5 finale was an utter embarrassment, but it often distracts from how awful most of RWBY’s other finales are.
Some are just lackluster, or narratively insignificant battles. Others feature battles against enemies that look like rejected Dark Souls bosses (E.G. Team RNJR vs The Wacky Waving Arm Flailing Inflatable Tube Grimm). Still others consist of battles that aren’t actually battles; mainly because nothing in those ‘battles’ ever really happens. Could the leviathan fight have been good? Sure. If there had been actual fighting.
Truth is, aside from Volume 3 (which is this show’s true outlier in every regard), RWBY never sticks the landing. You can blame insufficient staffing, but whatever the cause, this show tends to peter out as it approaches its finales. Volume 6 is the prime example of this: starting off like a glorious callback to RWBY’s golden years, and finishing in the most lackluster fashion imaginable.
Remember 90s video games, where the hero has to collect a number of obscure mcguffins so that they can take on the seemingly invincible arch-antagonist and save the world from certain doom? Well, welcome to the plot of RWBY, a show that closer resembles Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, than it does an actual show. And, no, I’m not nocking TTYD. It’s awesome, but it is still a video game.
One of the things they teach you in any college-level creative writing class is not to EVER use mcguffins. Y’know, objects that are explicitly inserted into a story to move the plot in a desirable direction. The reason why is because it’s cheap, amateurish, and distracts from character development. So, of course, RWBY has 4 mystical, ancient artifacts called Relics, that the heroes have to collect in order to somehow take down the invincible witch whose lived for thousands of years trying to destroy the world. Kinda like collecting seven crystal stars to open a door and fight a—yeah, it’s exactly the same thing.
It’s no coincidence that RWBY was far better received when it was a show without mcguffins. There’s something more fluid and natural about the Beacon arc, because the plot was moved by characters, rather than by the pursuit of inanimate objects. That makes for better storytelling, and it’s why (if you’re ever writing anything) you should avoid inserting silly plot devices like Relics into your story.
When it comes to villains, RWBY doesn’t know where the hell to even start. RWBY’s villains are kinda like a box filled with a baker’s dozen donuts. But there’s a catch. The donuts aren’t donuts. They’re concentrated nuggets of radioactive waste and—congratulations, you now have cancer.
Now, I’m not saying RWBY’s villains are so bad that they’ll give you cancer. Though, in all honesty, I think it’s worth setting up a scientific commission to find out if they do. They could—that’s all I’m saying.
But among RWBY’s many terrible baddies, there sits the crown jewel. A chunk of fuming plutonium waste that’s sure to get a geiger counter humming. And that villain is Cinder Fall, the female equivalent of an uncharismatic, boring, loner incel who hates everything and decides to shoot up a school. Like Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin, minus the menacing personality. Or like Villanelle from Killing Eve, minus the charisma.
Cinder could be compared to virtually any great villain, if and only if you subtract all that villain’s most effective features. What you’re left with is, well, Cinder “blah blah I’m evil blah blah” Fall. So evil she executed a child. So evil she shot up a school, and then tried to blow up another one. So evil she defied her master’s direct orders just for the prospect of executing yet another child.
Why is she so evil, you ask? Probably because her family was mean to her. Does that really explain how anyone could be so evil? No, but it doesn’t really matter. Because the only way somebody could be that evil is if they were born evil. Does being rejected from an art academy typically turn someone into a genocidal maniac? No, but when it happens to an evil-born assbag like Hitler, it does.
Point is, Cinder’s not just evil, she’s one-dimensionally evil. There’s nothing else to counterbalance it. No understandable motivation, no charisma, no regret. It’s like a dish that’s just bitter; no sweet, savory, or salty elements to balance it out.
People hate Cinder for petty reasons, sure. They hate her for orchestrating Penny’s death. They hate her for killing Pyrrha. They hate her for being an unrepentant bitch. But, let’s face it. Villains in other works have done worse and have maintained their popularity. Cinder can’t because she doesn’t have the attributes to save face.
Which is why, finally, at long last, Cinder must die, and a new villain must arrive to save this show. I personally believe that narrative success is heavily defined by the quality of the villain. O’Malley was a good villain, but if The Meta hadn’t shown up, there’s no way Red vs Blue would have become the masterpiece it is. Villains getting snuffed out halfway through a show and being replaced is hardly a rarity. Here’s some examples:
Breaking Bad (5 Seasons)
First Main Villain: Tuco Salamanca (Died in Season 2)
The Wire (5 Seasons)
First Main Villain: Stringer Bell (Died in Season 3)
Game of Thrones (8 Seasons)
First Main Villain: Joffrey Baratheon (Died in Season 4)
The Sopranos (6 Seasons)
First Main Villain: Ralph Cifaretto (Died in Season 4)
And, for the record, every single one of these villains are significantly better than Cinder. There’s no shame in killing her. Just get it done, and give us someone better. Preferably someone with no ties to Salem or her faction. The last thing we need is yet another boring lackey.