Movie Review: The Maze Runner

I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t care for the Young Adult genre. Its shining stars are, well, kind of trite. But the purpose of YA is to explore the arena of late adolescence. And the coming-of-age story is really as old as the concept of the story itself. So why am I reviewing The Maze Runner? Literally, the only reason I even know about this series is because Ken Barthelmey did some concept art for the film, namely creature design for the Grievers.

Ken is one of my favorite creature artists, so I decided to check the film out. I haven’t read the book beyond the first paragraph, so I can’t compare the two yet. It’s next on my reading list after I finish the Divergent trilogy. Okay, now to get into the meat of this.

Plot Summary

Spoiler-free Synopsis

Thomas, our protagonist, awakes sans memory in an elevator bound for God only knows where. When he reaches the top, he finds himself among a couple dozen other boys in the Glade, a large, verdant square surrounded by a colossal maze. Only the Runners are allowed to leave the Glade, since the Maze is a dangerous place. Thomas’s arrival signals a change in the status quo, and bad things start to happen: Grievers–the monsters inhabiting the Maze after dark–begin to attack in broad daylight; a girl, Teresa, arrives and upsets the fruit basket; Thomas doesn’t follow any of the rules…you know the drill. Eventually, Thomas becomes a Runner, and he and Minho, the other Runner, find what they think is a way out.

Thoughts

I’ve already mentioned how trite I think the YA genre is. And after watching this movie, I said, “More like ‘The Meh Runner’.” The trailers promise action, thrills, and an immersive, dystopian world. What we get instead is a beautiful world with underdeveloped characters, predictable action sequences, and too many unanswered questions.

The movie’s high point is in the visuals. The Glade captures the feeling of a small, primitive society well, from the foliage to the shelters to the costumes. The Maze itself is reminiscent of ancient ruins, covered in ivy, colossal, mysterious, and dangerous. And I’m very happy that they used Ken Barthelmey’s concept design as the final design for the Grievers without changing much at all. They’re supposed to be terrifying, and they certainly had the potential to be. But they aren’t. Their first scene doesn’t provide much suspense, and of their subsequent scenes, the attack on the Glade is perhaps the best. The only problem is that for most of that scene, the Grievers spend a their time off-camera. When they are prominent on camera, the action suffers from Shaky Cam Disease and Jump Cut Syndrome.

Now for the characters. Some of them are good, like Chuck, Alby, and Thomas. But others leave a lot to be desired, especially Teresa. As it stands right now, she’s little more than a plot device. Granted, this is a trilogy, so she will probably have more of a role in future installments. But all she does is provide a means of escape from the Grievers’ serum, and she has only two vials of antidote, at that. Gally is another one that just feels…off. I don’t know what it is, whether it be his Vulcan eyebrows, his crew cut, or his rapid spiral into vengeful insanity.

I don’t have much to say about the ending. It’s more open than that of The Hunger Games or Divergent, leading right into the next movie, Scorch Trials, which is due out in September. The twisty thing at the end wasn’t something I saw coming, but it wasn’t mind-bending, either.

All in all, the movie wasn’t awesome. But it was good enough to keep me onboard for at least the second one. Not bad for something that I would never have known about if not for my following Ken Barthelmey on deviantART. I give it almost four stars.

Short Story: A Meeting in Heaven

A Meeting in Heaven – Michael Bradley-Robbins

This is my creative project for RELB 303 at Walla Walla University. It is a short chronicle of the story of Job as seen through the eyes of two angels participating in the meetings in heaven mentioned in Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-6.

The story incorporates original elements, as well as elements from the Bible. There is some dialogue in classical Hebrew:

  • “Hallelu et-Adonay” – praise the LORD
  • “Niholel-yah” – we praise the LORD
  • “Bareku et-Adonay” – bless the LORD
  • “Nebarek-yah” – we bless the LORD
  • “Havel havalim hakkol havel” – quoted from Ecclesiastes 1:2, often translated as “vanity of vanities, everything is meaningless”. This is better understood as referencing the fleeting nature of life, but in this case it is an accusation of the fleeting nature of feeble faith.

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

New endeavor, redux

Well, RPG Maker has yet to be looked at, as I mentioned in my last post. But I did buy myself a refurbished iPad. I’m finding that touch typing on it is almost easy. Sadly, the Yarny app is iPhone specific, so it looks like crap and won’t go landscape. Oh well, my subscription hasn’t been active for years. If only Scrivener had an app…. I guess that’s my next thing to check for in the App Store.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’ve got a new tool at my disposal, which I can use instead of my bulky laptop. I may not be able to use my favorite keyboard layout (come on, Apple, I want my Dvorak software keyboard!), and accuracy might not be 100%, but at least it’s faster than typing with just my thumbs.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to publish my original fiction under a pen name, for a couple of reasons. First, the name I’ve chosen rolls off the tongue better than my birth name. Second, using a pen name will allow for a degree of separation between me and what I write, allowing me to use themes and maybe language that I wouldn’t want associated with my name. I’m not saying that I’m going to go as blue as a Tarantino movie–I’m too talented to work blue–but I kind of want a little bit more freedom for my characters to be themselves rather than forcing the into more PG façades.

Anyway, I’m rambling because it’s getting late, and I’m getting tired. I’m also getting back into the mood for writing; I decided to try and work on my third rewrite of Screech (now called Pacifica), but I’m working full time, so it’s hard to get anything down unless I pants it. Normally, that’s how I write, but this chapter is especially crappy. I also need to finish editing and revising chapter 6 of Forbidden, which I want to get published by the end of the month.

All right, time to get back to setting up this new toy (which is where I’m posting this from). I still have have apps to find and settings to tweak, and it’s gonna take a while.

WriYe 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again, time to begin WriYe. It’s similar to NaNoWriMo, but it lasts a year instead of a month. It’s a lot of fun, and y’all should try it. Without further ado, here is a summary of the projects I intend to be working on. I’ll add a new one (possibly a rewrite) during NaNoWriMo.

  1. Star Wars: Forbidden
    Word count: 34,757 / 50,000+
    Type: Fanfiction (Star Wars)
    Genre: Action / Adventure / Romance
    This is a tale that I have had in mind for years. It follows Jedi Master Essek Tek-Farr and his apprentice Akenna Waraven through the Clone Wars. She leads him on a path that leads him to question everything he has ever learned about loyalty, life, and love. Rating hovers around PG-13. It’s currently hosted on deviantART, but I plan on eventually putting it up on FanFiction.net once it’s done.
  2. The Tale of Tux n Tails
    Word count: 88,883 / 100,000+
    Type: Fanfiction (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
    Genre: Slice of Life / Romance / Harem
    I didn’t plan this as a Harem fic, but that’s how it turned out. This story follows my OC, Tux, whom I based on myself. Description from FIMFiction.net: Tux n Tails is a pony who has drawn the short straw his entire life. Being a blankflank is nothing if you’re still a foal, but as a stallion, he doesn’t quite fit in. He escapes his stagnant life in Hoofton to start afresh in Ponyville, with one driving force: the hope of finding both his purpose and his true love. But soon, he finds himself caught up in a vast conspiracy, with the very fate of Equestria weighing heavy on his shoulders. In it, Tux has to deal with romantic advances from five of the Mane Six (Pinkie Pie excepted). He also has to deal with Discord, who is literally out to kill him. It’s somewhere near PG, but I would rate it PG-13 because reasons. It’s nearing completion, and it is currently hosted on FIMFiction.net.
  3. Fen Agaheth
    Word count: 50,541 / 100,000+
    Type: Original Fiction
    Genre: Science Fantasy / Action / Romance
    This was last year’s NaNo project, and I haven’t written on it since I got to a verified 50K. (First time I won since 2007.) The story is set thousands of years before the first thing I ever wrote (next thing on the list), just before the downfall of the Pagan Empire. It follows Shef Ameh, a girl who is orphaned in the first chapter and gets taken in by the Agahai, an all-female order of warrior monks. Bumps along her path include the demon-possessed Zoth, a judgmental elder, and the pain of Ameh’s past. Rating is PG-13 for violence and sensuality.
  4. Res Novae
    Word count: 35,502 / 100,000+
    Type: Original Fiction
    Genre: Science Fiction / Action / Thriller
    This is the third total rewrite of the first thing I ever wrote, and my July Camp NaNo project. The story is set on the same planet as Fen Agaheth, but thousands of years in the future. It follows a distant ancestor of Ameh’s, Chf’drak. At the very start of the story, his father, the king, is assassinated, apparently by a terrorist group. His corrupt older brother takes the throne, and Drak tries to find some way to take the crown. But as he digs deeper, he discovers a conspiracy that puts his life, and the lives of those around him, in grave danger.
  5. Fire in Tyrasii
    Word Count: 26,099
    Type: Original fiction
    Genre: High Fantasy (with light Science Fantasy elements)
    Very loosely inspired by Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, even though the idea predates my reading of Eragon, or my watching the movie. The story follows the young elf Mindirallen, the last of her kind, as she finds a dragon hatchling in the wilderness. When her parents find out, they send her away; the dragon race has nearly been exterminated by the tyrannical king Neli, and consorting with one is punishable by death. And the reason being is that dragons are the number one threat against the throne. Mindi finds herself caught up in the resistance movement and a love affair with its leader Malisan. I may put this on Wattpad or something similar, but I’ll probably self-pub this on Kindle for cheap.

Review: Oscar

This week’s short review is of yet another crime comedy set in the first decades of the 20th century, and it also may contain minor spoilers.

Oscar is a 1991 film starring Sylvester Stallone in a rare comedy role, and it is a remake of a 1967 French film of the same name, which is itself based on a stage play by Claude Mangier. It is a hilarious, confusing tale of a mobster who wants to go straight in the waning years of Prohibition, specifically 1931. It was the number one movie in the US for two weeks, but it was nominated for three Razzies. Let’s see if my opinion follows that of its harshest critics.

THE PLOT (MINOR SPOILERS)
Angelo “Snaps” Provolone (Stallone) is a wealthy gangster feared by all, beholden to nobody. But to honor his late father’s (Kirk Douglas) final wish, he decides to go straight, to get out of the business of organized crime, and to become a banker. And he fully intends to do so. Aside from the short prologue explaining the impetus for the plot, most of the movie is set on the day when Snaps Provolone is going straight.

Our story begins when Anthony Rossano (Vincent Spano), Snaps’s bookkeeper accountant pops by for an early morning visit, demanding that Snaps’s number one lackey Aldo (Peter Riegert) wake him early. When Aldo protests, Anthony insists that it is “a matter of life and death.” Needless to say, Snaps is rather upset at the intrusion, and he and Anthony have breakfast in the atrium. Anthony has the chutzpah to ask Snaps for a thousand dollar raise, and Snaps tells him he’s out of his mind. In the course of the conversation, Anthony confesses to stealing petty cash (to the tune of fifty thousand dollars) from Snaps’s operation. But ultimately, his intent is to ask for Snaps’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Needless to say, he doesn’t take this news well, especially after learning that his daughter and Anthony are lovers.

Snaps has one daughter, Lisa (Marisa Tomei). But it wasn’t Lisa’s hand that Anthony sought; his affections belonged to Theresa, a young woman who claimed to be Snaps’s daughter so that Anthony would give her a second glance. She shows up soon to apologize for this deception. Meanwhile, Lisa, with the help of the maid Nora, has concocted a scheme to get out of her overbearing father’s household. She claims she is pregnant, and Snaps assumes that Anthony is the father, when the would-be father is actually Oscar, Snaps’s former chauffeur. (You can see how complicated this is getting already. We haven’t even scratched the surface.)

So Snaps tries to trick Anthony into marrying Lisa rather than Theresa. After Anthony realizes the deception, he runs out in a huff. But he returns, saying that he had become attached to the jewels he bought with the fifty grand he stole, and that he would like to buy them back from Snaps using another fifty grand he skimmed from Snaps’s operation.

Meanwhile, Nora tenders her resignation so that she can marry Bruce Underwood, the man Snaps had originally picked out for Lisa. Now we have three identical black bags floating around: one with fifty grand in jewels, a second with fifty grand in cash, and a third which contains Nora’s underwear. These three bags change hands more times than most people can keep track of, and the results are glorious.

I’ll spare you more details; this plot is extremely complicated, and it moves very quickly. But as the film progresses, Snaps gets increasingly confused and runs into more and more trouble as he tries in vain to prepare for the bankers’ arrival early in the afternoon. Twists and turns come right after one another, and by the end of the story, Snaps throws up his hands in frustration and decides to stick with the devil he knows.

THE GOOD
This movie keeps me smiling the entire time. I don’t care what the harsher critics say. This film may try to be funny, but it actually is funny, unlike some others. Granted, the plot is so confusing that you literally have to take notes just to figure out what’s going on, unless you watch it a few times. But that’s part of the fun. Watching Snaps’s world fall to pieces is a joyous experience indeed.

THE BAD
If you don’t like cerebral comedy, then this movie isn’t for you. Like I’ve said before, this plot is so complex and confusing that you will need to either watch the movie several times or take notes in order to fully understand what is going on. Yes, a lot of the comedy can seem forced, but the thing is, it works. Yes, Stallone may not be the funniest comedy actor, but honestly, that’s one reason it’s so funny; he plays the fish out of water very well.

CONCLUSION
Oscar is a confusing, cerebral comedy that a lot of people may have trouble following. I had to take notes to understand exactly what was going on, and even after seeing it a dozen times, it never gets old. This movie is one of my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it. Buy it if you can find it, but it is also available from Netflix on DVD, and occasionally streaming.

Parents’ Guide
Unlike the last film on the list, Oscar is a much cleaner PG. Violence is discussed, but it is done comedically, and there isn’t much onscreen, aside from Snaps trying to strangle Anthony (again, this is comical), and a car crash at the very end of the movie (nobody gets hurt).

Language is fairly tame. One or two uses of “damn”, and also a couple of uses of “hell”.

Sexual content is also fairly tame, having nothing aside from dialogue, and none of it is explicit. Anthony mentions that he and Theresa are lovers, and Lisa implies that she and Oscar were lovers, as well. Later on in the movie [SPOILER ALERT; stop reading here if you don’t want it], Snaps’s first girlfriend comes by to fill Nora’s position, and through a sarcastic statement he makes, she reveals that Theresa is her daughter, and consequently Snaps’s daughter as well.

Review: The Sting

This review contains minor spoilers.

THE PLOT
The Sting is a 1973 caper film starring Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Robert Shaw, about the antics of Johnny Hooker (Redford), a grifter from Joliet, Illinois who rips off the wrong man. Set in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression, the film opens when Hooker and two of his partners rip off a courier for crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw), whose goons exact revenge on the gang. This costs Luther Coleman (Johnny’s mentor and one of the three who conned the courier) his life.

Following Luther’s last advice, Hooker seeks the wisdom of Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the “big con” in effort to get back at Lonnegan. At first, Henry is reluctant, but eventually the two of them devise a plan that plays to Lonnegan’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. They will sucker him in with a rigged poker game, then get him in on a faux horse racing operation, a foolproof plan that they know will work brilliantly.

Gondorff poses as a boorish bookie named Shaw, while Hooker poses as his disgruntled employee Kelly. After losing a particularly high stakes poker game to Shaw, even after cheating, Lonnegan is livid, and Kelly comes by to collect Shaw’s winnings. When he does, he confides to Lonnegan that he wants to take over Shaw’s operation, and that he needs a powerful man like Lonnegan to accomplish the task. Lonnegan agrees to test the waters, but he isn’t too trusting of Kelly. The initial test works, and Lonnegan gets in up to his waist, then up to his neck before the ultimate con is pulled off in the very satisfying end.

THE GOODThis movie’s screenplay is based on real-life capers committed by brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff, so the characters are in some ways based on real people. This is one point of the movie that I have no complaints about whatsoever. The main characters are all very convincing, especially because they have such great people behind them (namely, Redford, Newman and Shaw).

The plot is rich and detailed, and it plays right to my inner intellectual. Once I was able to noodle the whole plan through, I found it to be deliciously ingenious. The whole time, oblivious Lonnegan is Gondorff and Hooker’s plaything, and their revenge on him for Luther’s death is sweet indeed.

THE BAD
I have few complaints about this movie, but no movie is without sin. First, I want to say something about the pacing. Oh my word, the pacing. The first half of the movie is some of the slowest paced cinema I have ever seen, outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You have to wait an hour before anything really exciting happens, and even then, the exciting parts are drowned out by the absolute banality of everything that surrounds them. Rather than two hours, the same story could have been told in an hour and a half, maybe even an hour and fifteen, and it would have been just as good a movie. But this is just my opinion.

Second, I want to contrast the preceding with the last half hour of the movie, which is paced way too fast. You spend all this time trying to think through this incredibly complex plot, and then all of a sudden, a wild Plot Twist appears! And it’s not even a good one, either! It was contrived from the very beginning, when Lonnegan sends his best hitman after Hooker (whom he has never seen and doesn’t know is also Kelly). This hitman’s identity, aside from his name, is purposefully obscured throughout the entire movie, and for what reason? To justify the existence of a plot twist. I mean, this film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But it wastes a perfectly good plot twist on crap!

Also in the last half hour of the movie, we see Lonnegan’s downfall and the second plot twist of the movie, which is actually a pretty good one once you understand it. But that’s the problem. You have to really think about it to understand what happens there at the very end. And in this era of mind-imploding plot twists, this one is mediocre at best. They should have stuck with just one rather than trying to cram two into the last quarter of the script. Seriously, I’m still grumpy at the total randomness of the first twist.

CONCLUSIONHonestly, I watched this primarily because the WWU Drama Department is putting on an stage adaptation of this film in the spring. I wanted to know what I would be signing up for, were I to audition (and I probably won’t, considering how busy I’ve been). I’d heard of it, but it wasn’t something I would have rushed out and seen. Maybe that’s why it’s been sitting in its Netflix sleeve for almost the last two months (I got it on October 10th).

Yes, the film was entertaining. It had a rich and complicated plot, which I love. It had great characters and great people giving them life. It even had its comedic moments, most notably the poker game that gives us a glimpse of just how good a conman Gondorff really is. (Seriously, it’s the best scene of the entire movie, and it goes to show just how great Paul Newman was.) But these great moments are tarnished by the slow-moving plot and the contrived hitman identity plot twist in the last quarter.

That being said, I give The Sting four out of five. It is at its core a shining example of a caper film, and while it isn’t my favorite ever, I say that you should definitely watch it if you can. You can find it easily on Netflix.

Parents’ Guide
This film takes place in an era when the n-word was bandied about like just another term. It’s used several times when referring to Luther Coleman, who is a black man, and at one point somebody calls Hooker a “g******ed n***er lover”. The movie is also from an era before PG-13, which is the modern-day rating it should have received. The language used is far above the PG level, with “sh**” being uttered several times, but it is thankfully free of F-bombs.

Also, there is one scene near the beginning of a movie that gives a peak at a burlesque act at a Vaudeville show. Two women are shown wearing tasseled pasties and lingerie. Aside from brief shots of the two main characters in bed with their women (no nudity, and sex is only implied), this is the only sexual content in the movie, and while it isn’t nudity in the canonical sense, anybody at the MPAA would consider it such, and so should you.

There is some violence, but in my experience, this is somewhat of a given for caper films. There are several fist fights. One character is killed off screen, thrown out a window. Another character is shot onscreen by Salino the enigmatic hitman. Yet another character is shot in the forehead, but considering the era, this isn’t too graphic. Finally, in the last scene of the movie, two characters are shot, one in the back, and one in the stomach. Any blood shown in the movie is obviously just red dye.

Thoughts on RWBY Volume 1 (Spoiler-free)

So the guys over at RoosterTeeth have put out a new anime1 called RWBY (pronounced “Ruby”). It’s a quasi-steampunk science fantasy set in the world of Remnant, where the protagonists fight primarily against monstrous creatures called the Grimm, as well as a school bully (in one small story arc) and an enigmatic criminal organization who has been robbing Dust stores. Dust is a mysterious element that apparently gives wielders special powers. Dust is controlled by means of special crystals. And…well, that’s about all they explain about it.

THE STORY
Our main protagonist is Ruby Rose, a young woman who wields a gigantic, shapeshifting scythe with virtually no effort. In the pilot episode, we find her in a Dust shop which happens to be the target of the enigmatic antagonist organization. She kicks major butt when they try to rob the place, and she gets into hot water when the besuited, readheaded villain turns his cane into a gun and starts shooting.

What follows is the first of many GLORIOUS action scenes, the end of which introduces a shadowy villainess with superhuman powers. Things are looking grim until the entrance of Glenda Goodwitch, a Huntress. After things blow over, Ruby is asked about her scythe, which she made herself. Glenda sees promise in the girl, who expresses interest in Beacon Academy and becoming a Huntress herself.

And this is where the show loses a little bit of its credibility. It goes from “Hmm, this is interesting,” to “Oh grief, not another high school anime.” And that’s honestly what we’re dealing with here. Yes, the setting is fairly unique, but that’s about it. From episode two onward, RWBY changes mood from an edgy, action drama to an over-the-top slice of life action comedy.

The plot follows a fairly formulaic line: Ruby makes a fool of herself on day one. Next, the protagonists consult the Sorting Hat get thrown into an entrance exam, in which they must work with a partner to retrieve an artifact and return to the starting point. Rather predictably, Ruby gets paired off with Weiß, the girl she made an enemy of the day before. The rest of the characters get paired off just as predictably: inept Jaune gets paired off with beautiful and talented Pyrrha, who is inexplicably crushing on him; bubbly, happy-go-lucky Nora gets paired off with no-nonsense Ren, whom she annoys beyond belief; and Ruby’s role model and older sister Yang, who is outgoing and confident, gets paired with bookish, quiet and insecure Blake.

After completing the exercise, concluding in an beautiful fight scene, all participants are sorted into three teams, based on the artifacts they brought back. There are two protagonistic teams, RWBY, and JNPR (pronounced “juniper”), and one antagonistic team, called CRDL (pronounced “cardinal”). The next story arc wastes spends time exploring this rivalry, particularly between Jaune Arc and his own personal bully, Cardin Winchester. But by the end of the arc, this is resolved. The next arc introduces Penny and Sun, two MacGuffins that will obviously play more of a part in the next season, but weren’t there but for show at the end of the season’s final arc. This arc also introduces a new plot device that drives a wedge between Weiß and Blake, one which felt far too random at its introduction, but upon playing out a little bit, turned out to be predictable.

Honestly, I was expecting a crappy ending to Volume 1, but I was pleasantly surprised when it ended with one of the absolute coolest fight scenes I’ve ever seen, as well as a slight plot thickening that didn’t really constitute a cliffhanger. I’m looking forward to the next season, whenever that comes.

THE CHARACTERS
I’ve already talked a little bit about the characters, but let’s dive a little bit deeper, shall we? For the time being, I will talk about only the major protagonists and Cardin Winchester, who is the antagonist for the Jaunedice story arc. I’m not going to talk about character design because, frankly, they’re all very pleasant to look at. Kudos there.

  • Ruby Rose: Ruby is the main protagonist of the series, and she is stylized after Red Riding Hood. She is named for the color her hair, but you can’t really tell unless you see her compared with Blake. I’ve never seen such a dark color described as “red”. She is the captain of team RWBY, and she wields a scythe that converts to a sniper rifle, a weapon she designed and built herself. She seems to be one of the most nuanced characters of the lot, but she still falls into a certain archetype. She is the naïve and shy, yet eager protagonist who is insecure about herself and is thrust into an environment for which she is not ready. Despite her natural talent and undiscovered leadership abilities, her naïveté is one of, if not her only weak point.
  • Weiß (or Weiss, if you prefer) Schnee: Weiß is the second member of team RWBY, and she is who I would call the “anti-protagonist”. She is one of the protagonists, but she is at odds with Ruby, the show’s main protagonist. She also happens to be Ruby’s school partner, paired up in the initiation challenge. (“The first person you make eye contact with when you land is to be your partner for the rest of your time at Beacon.” Yeah, I saw that coming a mile away.) Weiß’s name is malformed German for “White Snow”2, and her name is an allusion to the fairytale character Snow White. She is the heiress to the Schnee Dust Company. She fits the archetype of the know-it-all who can’t stand carelessness, the polar opposite of impulsive Ruby, who trips over her on the first day, spilling a load of Dust and Crystals. Her weapon isn’t as interesting as Ruby’s; it is nothing but a rapier, but it also has the ability to channel Dust and cast powerful spells, which she often uses in combat.
  • Blake Belladonna: Blake represents black, and I think by now you can see a trend in naming conventions. (Rubies are red; weiß is the German word for “white”, Blake is a name derived from Old English blæc “black” or blāc “pale”, and Yang will be discussed in a moment.) She is the anti-protagonist juxtaposed against Yang. Her character is deep and mysterious, but superficially, she is the quiet, bookish introvert. She is not only quiet, but oftentimes downright standoffish. Her past probably shows the most extensive back story of the eight protagonists, but if I were to delve any deeper, I’d be talking spoilers. Needless to say, the plot twist that reveals this back story is sudden and it will prick your ears in the midst of an otherwise dull final story arc. Her weapon is…I have no idea what it is. It is a gun with a blade on it, all of which is at the end of a cable. It doesn’t see much use, other than as a glorified grappling hook, and it isn’t nearly as cool as Ruby’s scythe.
  • Yang Xiao Long: Yang is Ruby’s sister. Bubbly, confident, and outgoing, she is Blake’s polar opposite, and exhibits many characteristics that contrast with Ruby’s. The name Yang comes from 陽, yáng, which in this case means “sun” or “light”. She represents the color yellow (though, if we were to stick to naming characters after colors, a better name would have been , huáng). She acts as a role model for Ruby. Her weapons are a pair of shotgun gauntlets (think of the Ballistic Fist from Fallout: New Vegas), which she can fire either as part of a punch, or at a distant target. I will mention her character design here only to say that hers is one of my favorites. She has a tomboyish look that matches her personality perfectly. In fact, now that I think of it, all of team RWBY has designs that match their personalities.
  • Jaune Arc: Captain of team JNPR, Jaune is an incompetent fighter who is clumsy and socially awkward. But inexplicably, he still manages to land not only the captain position of JNPR, but also the affections of Pyrrha Nikos, one of the wisest and most attractive (IMO) characters in the series. He predictably becomes the prey of snobbish, power-hungry Cardin Winchester. It is revealed during Jaune’s personal story arc that [SPOILER ALERT], and then his incompetence suddenly makes sense. This, of course, puts Pyrrha on edge, but after [SPOILER ALERT], they make up. The quasi-romantic interactions between Jaune and Pyrrha are actually some of my favorite moments3 outside of the action scenes. Jaune’s name is an allusion to Joan of Arc, and it also means “yellow” in French, matching the color of his hair. He wields a fairly average sword and a collapsible shield.
  • Nora Valkyrie: Nora is…. She’s a lot like Pinkie Pie. She’s bubbly and optimistic, and not much else. She’s obviously interested in her friend Lie Ren. Her weapon is another one of my favorites, a grenade launcher that converts to a giant battle hammer. Her last name refers to the Valkyries, female warriors in Norse mythology who decide who lives and dies in battle.
  • Pyrrha Nikos: Pyrrha is another mysterious character like Blake, but rather than coming across as standoffish, she is quiet, kindhearted, and wise. She becomes fast friends with Jaune, in whom she is obviously interested. Honestly, he doesn’t seem too preoccupied with romance, and Pyrrha seems to be fine with it, but I think she wants him to be something more. She works with him to overcome his shortfalls and acts as a role model for him, just like Yang does for Ruby. In addition to her shield, she wields one of the most versatile weapons of the series, a xiphos which converts to both a javelin and a rifle. I’ve already mentioned that I think Pyrrha is the most attractive of the protagonists, and the same goes for her weapons. She shares her name with the daughter of Pandora in Greek mythology, who was apparently named for her red hair. (In ancient Greek, πυρρός “pyrrhos” means “flame-colored”.) Her last name is a reference to Νίκη (Nike)4, the Greek goddess of victory.
  • Lie Ren: We don’t see much of him. He seems to be there just to contrast with his longtime friend Nora. He is obviously weary of her constant chatter. He is quiet and reserved, and he wields a pair of machine pistols with bladed trigger guards. His name comes from 猎人, which translates to “hunstman”.

Antagonists and others
I said I wouldn’t really get into these outside of Cardin, but I’ll make some mentions and predictions.

  • Cardin Winchester: Cardin is the school bully, and he is pretty stereotypical. He chooses to pick on Jaune, who in his mind doesn’t belong at Beacon. His name is an allusion to the Cardinal of Winchester, who presided over the trial of Joan of Arc. He is the only member of team CRDL who has any sort of depth or, really, any screen time. He wields a bladed mace which reminds me in a way of Saruman’s staff from the Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Professor Oobleck: The history teacher, who appears in the first episode of the Jaunedice story arc, is constantly drinking coffee. Literally, he always has coffee in his hand. As a result, he speaks at a rapid pace and moves like a Weeping Angel. I just found that amusing.
  • Professor Ozpin: This guy is the headmaster at Beacon, and if he doesn’t turn out to be evil, I’ll eat my hat. He and Glenda Goodwitch are named after the Wizard of Oz and Good Witch Glenda respectively.
  • Glenda Goodwitch: I don’t have much to say about her. She’s a huntress, and she kicks butt. She’s also the reason Ruby got accepted into Beacon in the first place.
  • Penny: Her last name should be MacGuffin, because that’s what she is. She isn’t there for much, but in the final fight scene, let’s just say that when she claims to be “battle ready”, she does not disappoint. I won’t say anything about her weapon of choice because [SPOILERS!]
  • Sun Wukong: a.k.a. Monkey Boy. He’s a Faunus (read: furry) who stows away aboard a ship and plays a role (sort of) in the final story arc of the season. Blake is smitten with him, and they become fast friends because– NO. I will not finish that sentence. I’ve already said WAY too much about [SPOILERS, DOCTOR]! I’ve already said that Pyrrha’s weapon is the most attractive, but Sun’s is my favorite. It’s a bō staff that converts to two gunchucks. YOU HEARD ME. Gun/nunchaku HYBRIDS. I’m literally as giddy as a kid at Christmas just thinking about it.
  • Roman Torchwick: The orange-haired, snappy-dressing Dust thief from the first episode isn’t seen again, at least in a major sense, until the final episode of the season. He’s not the worst villain I’ve ever seen, but for now, he’s pretty much a stock character.
  • Cinder Fall: She never speaks, she never shows her face (except for maybe once at the very end of the season finale), but she is quite the powerful fighter. And did I mention, she’s HOT? Maybe it’s the fire in her eyes.

Everybody else isn’t worth mentioning, honestly. All of the characters have stock character attributes, but they have enough individuality to be decent characters. My biggest problem is that none of them were given enough time to develop due to the series’s length. More on this later.

THE ANIMATION
The animation in RWBY is a mixed bag. It was created by Monty Oum, who is best known for Haloid, his Samus vs. John 117 brawl. (Seriously, click the link and watch it. It is glorious.) As such, the action scenes are beautiful. And I mean BEAUTIFUL. They are fast paced and intense, and they usually last for a good, long while. But there’s one problem. There aren’t that many of them.

There is at least one major action scene in each story arc, fortunately, but in between them is where the animation suffers. I will say that the animation does make a vast improvement as the series progresses. Namely, the lip sync goes from utter crap to passable over the course of the sixteen episodes. There are still little bits and pieces here and there that are a bit robotic, but for the most part, things smooth out near the end of the second story arc.

THE SOUND
The sound is also a mixed bag. Some of the weapon sound effects are lifted from Halo, but I’ll excuse that. The voice acting isn’t what I would call great, but it is far above “decent”. But the foreground music (namely, the opening and credits) is where this anime really shines. But, while the opening and ending songs are fantastic, but I don’t think they properly convey what the series is trying to be. But still, I totally wouldn’t mind buying the soundtrack (which is on iTunes for ten bucks).

FINAL THOUGHTS
I don’t really think RWBY knows what it wants to be. The opening and credits advertise a much edgier tone than the series actually achieves, and that’s because RWBY makes heavy use of cheap comedy. (Cheap like puns and anime comedy tropes, not cheap like Adam Sandler movies.) The action scenes will keep you on the edge of your seat, but without the little bits of comedy, the long stretches between action scenes could get really boring5. If RWBY stuck to being an over-the-top action show, it would be very nice. If it was on its face an action comedy, I would have no problem with that. It may have even worked well as an action drama. But instead we get a bipolar action slash comedy slash drama, which changes mood faster than a sad puppy when you scratch behind his ears. That being said, I liked it. I think it has a lot of potential, and as I’ve said before, I’m eagerly awaiting Volume 2.

One thing I want to make special note of is that Rooster Teeth is known for their free use of four-letter words, and even their name is a euphemism for a vulgar epithet. But, refreshingly, RWBY is squeaky clean. If it were on TV, it would get a rating of Y7-FV. Some of the characters (namely, Yang) wear revealing attire, but it isn’t tastelessly so. And the action scenes can be violent, but it is highly stylized fantasy violence no worse than, say, Transformers: Prime (which I will review soon). There are two beheadings of Grimm creatures, but there is no blood, only a bright red blotch on the animal and, in one case, rose petals blowing in the wind (this fits well with the highly stylized aesthetics).

One really big quibble I have with RWBY, though, is its length. The whole first season has a run time of just under two and a half hours if you take out the openings and credits of each episode. A sixteen-episode anime of normal episode length (22 minutes per) ends up being just shy of six hours. And honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if RWBY’s episodes were more homogeneous in length (averaging nine and a half minutes in length). But that is definitely not the case. The longest episode is around sixteen minutes long, and the shortest is under four. I remember watching while doing my homework and hearing the theme song, thinking, “What? It’s over already?!” The short length of season one makes it hard for the series to develop characters and explain things like Dust, and it almost totally ignores the series’s primary antagonist. But if this doesn’t bother you, then you can disregard everything I said in this last paragraph.

If you want RWBY to be a serious anime, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I think it wants to be an action drama, but it chooses instead to be an action comedy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it might be a good first anime for several reasons. First, it has gorgeous action scenes and isn’t very hard to follow. Second, it is light-hearted without slipping into ridiculousness. Third, it is accessible to boot; the whole first season is available for free on YouTube (playlist below), RoosterTeeth.com, and I believe Crunchyroll. It won’t cost you a nickel unless you buy the DVD or Blu-Ray, which contain the entire first season and some bonus features.

After taking everything into account, I give RWBY high marks, and I say that you should definitely watch it if you’re even remotely interested. Again, it is available for free on YouTube (link below), but if you are so inclined, RoosterTeeth.com’s store has it on DVD and Blu-Ray (I might actually pick up the Blu-Ray at some point, because 1080p action scenes).

Until next time,
MBR

Footnotes

  1. I use the term anime loosely. It is styled like an anime, but it is produced in the United States by Americans. Some purists would assert until blue in the face that RWBY is not an anime, because it doesn’t come from Japan. But I still call it an anime.
  2. The proper German would be “Weißer Schnee”
  3. Though it’s obvious that Jaune and Pyrrha are a thing, I think that Jaune and Ruby would work out very well due to a late night conversation in the last half of his story arc. But things are obviously platonic between them…for now. *evil chortle*
  4. Also related to Νίκη is the word νικαω, nikaō, which is translated in the Bible as “I overcome”. It is usually seen in the participle form as a nominative absolute, e.g. ὁ νικῶν ποιήσω αὐτὸν στῦλον, “The one who overcomes: I will make him a pillar” (Rev 3:12).
  5. Notable exception is taken for the aforementioned quasi-romantic scenes between Jaune and Pyrrha, and one scene between Jaune and Ruby.

See also

Tron Uprising: First Thoughts

Can somebody please pay me to watch this? Because two episodes in, I’m not enjoying it.

First, the choppy animation looks cheap. I know they were going for a certain aesthetic, but it looks like they have nothing but key frames.  Second, the character art is very stylized, and I am not a fan of it. Not only does it not match the stylistics of the original Tron, but it also doesn’t line up with the stylistics of Tron: Legacy.  The art director, Alberto Mielgo, may have won an Emmy for this, but I don’t care. Third, the plot is dull and predictable, and the characters are not very well realized thus far. (Especially Zed, who is an admitted idiot and has no merits whatsoever.)

I will finish this series at some point, but honestly, don’t expect high marks.