The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
RWBY: Ice Queendom
How would you rate episode 1 of
RWBY: Ice Queendom ?
Community score: 4.0
How would you rate episode 2 of
RWBY: Ice Queendom ?
Community score: 4.0
How would you rate episode 3 of
RWBY: Ice Queendom ?
Community score: 3.8
What is this?
RWBY: Ice Queendom' presents RWBY in beautiful 2D anime visuals. RWBY imagines a world filled with horrific monsters bent on death and destruction, and humanity's only hope is dependent upon powerful Huntsmen and Huntresses. Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long are four such Huntresses in training whose journeys will take them far past the grounds of their school, Beacon Academy. Though each may be powerful on their own, these four girls must overcome dark forces and work as a team if they truly hope to become the next generation of Remnant's protectors.
How was the first episode?
I've been a fan of RWBY from the beginning—before the beginning, actually. I remember watching RWBY creator Monty Oum's Dead Fantasy machinima series way back in 2007 and following him on Deviant Art for years after. I was excited when he joined the Red vs Blue team and even more so when he got a chance to make his own original work. And while he is no longer with us, I can't help but wonder how he would feel about his series—one so clearly based on shounen anime—being turned into an actual anime by a major Japanese animation studio. I suspect he'd be ecstatic (though I'm sure he'd have a few things to say about the massive step down in the fight choreography).
Ice Queendom is a retelling of RWBY from the beginning. In fact, the first two episodes are often scene-for-scene adaptations—taking the story of the four girls meeting and forming teams and combining it with their character introduction trailers (which were basically short films). Sure, some things are out of order and other scenes are outright skipped, but almost everything here is something we have seen in the original—the key word being “almost.”
There's a real sense of excitement when a never-before-seen character shows up or when we see Weiss and Jaune have a strange, unknown mark growing on their necks. It's a good way of showing us there's a part of the story we don't yet know. It's still too soon to tell how much of this anime will be new material, but the way these three episodes mix the old and new is perfect for keeping things interesting in the long run.
Of course, as I hinted at earlier, Ice Queendom isn't without its issues. While the original's CG animation hasn't exactly held up over the years, its fight choreography and cinematography has. Most of the time, Ice Queendom doesn't even come close in this department. The sole exceptions come in the fight between Ruby and the Dust Thieves and the killing blow that Ruby delivers to the giant bird...and even then they still fall a bit short. And on the aural side of things, RWBY just doesn't feel like RWBY without the Jeff Williams/Casey Lee Williams score; its absence is especially noticeable in the fight scenes. (Though I'll be the first to admit that the insert song in the first episode does rock).
All in all, while I wasn't exactly impressed by these first three episodes, I will say I was thoroughly entertained. The way the tiny alterations and omissions subtly change our heroes (especially Jaune) was endlessly fascinating to me, and I'm excited to see where the original parts of the story will go. For me, the question isn't if I'm going to keep watching, but whether I'll be watching it subbed or dubbed (and that's a question I haven't had to ask myself about any anime for the past two decades).
I'll admit I've never gotten the hype for RWBY. Even when it first started coming out, and I was a diehard Rooster Teeth fanboy, I just couldn't get into it. Maybe I'm too deep in the weeds, since I can recognize damn near every shonen battle series the show pulled inspiration from, and I didn't get the appeal of seeing those ideas with worse animation and worse-er writing. But when this anime spinoff was announced, I was also intrigued. What would an American production so obviously inspired by action anime look like when coming full circle? As of this three-episode premiere, the transition is pretty seamless: Ice Queendom is a pretty accurate approximation of the original, preserving its strengths and its many faults.
First the good stuff: There are some real cool fights. Episodes one and two both feature some really nice-looking action sequences, showing off the versatility of the various characters' individual powers and transforming anime weapons. The animation for these sequences is decidedly different from the late Monty Oum's kinetic, over-the-top choreography. But it makes up the difference with bold and eye-catching line work mixed with some great effects animation. Combined with the cast's distinctive character designs, these make for some exciting spectacle. The non-action animation is...okay. There's a lot of inconsistency in how they render the characters' faces from shot to shot, and a lot of talking heads, but overall it's certainly more cohesive than the early CG of the original show. There's even a concerted effort to recreate the hard rock buttjams of the original show's insert songs, and those were pretty fun.
Everything else is…well. Go back to what I said about being too deep in the weeds. RWBY takes so many aesthetic and world-building ideas from other series, which is fine in and of itself, but I've never felt like there was anything special or engaging underneath all of the color-coded characters and high-tech weapons. The main story is a jumble of cliches with supernatural monsters, teens at Anime Fighting School, and some embarrassingly clumsy fantasy racism with its race of animal people. That's all on display in these first three episodes of Ice Queendom, and while it never dips into being terrible, it's too thin and tired to work on its own. And it's certainly not good enough to compensate for the characters.
Frankly put, the dialogue in these episodes is just bad. Most of it is exposition, with characters explaining bits of the world to each other like they're reading directly out of the series bible. The rest is either stock, vacuous anime-isms or just plain amateurish. Despite being the leader of the titular quartet, Ruby has no discernible personality outside of being airheaded, which is still more than Yang has going for her. Blake's entire character is tied to the poorly thought-out Faunus plotline, and mostly amounts to her being angry at Weiss for being racist against catgirls. Speaking of, Weiss is the only character with any texture to speak of, but it's mostly built around being unlikable. She's egotistical, constantly talking down to her teammates who are too passive to confront her on it, and is just generally unpleasant in a way that's annoying rather than compelling as a character flaw.
Finally there's the stuff that just feels unfinished. Specifically the entire climax of episode three. There's a whole series of coincidences that leads to Blake and a new character confronting the bad guys. Then, right as you expect an action scene to happen, the show cuts away to a different scene with Weiss, then returns after the fight's already happened offscreen. This would be weird, but inobtrusive, except the fight apparently involved Penny, a character we met moments before the invisible fight, who apparently showed off some cool powers, and we're just not allowed to see it. It's a bizarre conclusion that feels like it was only included because all this was in the original show, but they didn't have time to show any of it since they needed to get to the new material for this spin-off's branching storyline.
It's a mess, and it cements that this project is probably going to be as messy and inconsistent as its progenitor. This is looking to be a weak season, so maybe I'll stick around out of morbid curiosity, but unless your favorite soda is Dr. Thunder and your favorite band is Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, I can't recommend this to you.
The original RWBY web series passed me by a long time ago, and my only real familiarity with it are the memes, plus a video essay or two on the perceived successes and failures. My impression, at least in the early years, was that it was a fairly cliché and messy story that mostly existed to give the Rooster Teeth animators an excuse to indulge in Monty Oum's famous 3D fight scenes. I liked those Haloid and Dead Fantasy videos as much as anyone back in 2006, but RWBY's aesthetic never appealed to me enough to justify taking the plunge. Now, though, the franchise is being retold as an honest-to-God anime adaptation, by Studio Shaft no less, so if ever there was a time for me to become a RWBY convert, this is it.
I will say this: RWBY is definitely more appealing to me as a 2D production. The character designs translate very well to the new aesthetic, unsurprisingly, and there's none of that goofy looking mid-budget motion-capture around to take you out of the story. Plus, even though the series' famous action obviously can't translate one-to-one to this version of the story, we do get some seriously badass sequences that are nearly worth the price of admission alone. Ruby's convenience store fight in episode one is the highlight of the bunch, though she gets another great cut in the group monster fight from Episode 2, and Weiss even gets a great showstopper in the back third of the hour long premiere. Sequences like those gave me some insight into what made the RWBY franchise so popular in the first place.
There are problems, though. The first and most obvious one is that the production is unfortunately very inconsistent. Outside of those select few incredible sequences, the vast majority of the show looks merely adequate, and there are a number of individual shots and cuts that look borderline unfinished. It isn't just that the character models vary wildly in quality and detail, or that the background art is equally unpredictable; the direction and storyboarding don't do the show any favors. Some of the less important action cuts become borderline incoherent with all of the choppy editing (especially in episode 2), and the dialogue heavy scenes are often shot and cut in the most pedestrian manner possible. It simply isn't very fun to watch, which is a big problem, especially when you're bundling the first three episodes of your season into a mini movie that is over an hour long.
All of this would be much easier to excuse if the plot and characters were still compelling, though, yet I'm afraid to report that RWBY: Ice Queendom's story is just as flat as I figured it would be back in 2015. There's nothing terrible here; it's a perfectly functional riff on YA fantasy tropes, but it never becomes anything more than a hodgepodge of clichés and archetypes that other series have done better. Ruby is your average plucky heroine with a heart of gold, Blake is the standard brooding girl with a dark backstory, Yang is the older sister, Weiss is the rich snob who is also kind of racist against the Faunnus, and all of them use their weapons to beat up monsters really good. The world-building surrounding Beacon Academy, Dust, and the Grimm is nothing special, and the less said about the completely superficial racism allegory, the better.
Longtime fans might get a kick out of seeing their favorite moments redone in a new style, and if you've been putting off jumping on board the RWBY train for all of these years, you might have a better time with The Ice Queendom. In the long run, though, it doesn't seem like Shaft's latest effort will be enough to paint over the flaws that seem baked into the core of what RWBY is all about. It's not bad, but it's not very good either.
I'm a NWBY to RWBY, but I always assumed there was something to it. There must be some incredible characterization or powerful themes or original concepts to make up for that jank-ass CG. Now that it's getting some decent 2D animation at SHAFT, perhaps it'll be watchable. But after watching the debut, I'm confused about how this series attracted such a large and devoted following.
Okay, the first three episodes of RWBY: Ice Queendom, posted to Crunchyroll as a single video, weren't bad, exactly. I didn't hate watching it. I just had a hard time paying attention when nobody was swinging swords because that was some of the most boilerplate shonen writing I ever did lay my eyes and ears on. It's just well-worn trope after trope after trope: the energetic and talented but untrained newbie, the quiet girl with a past, the snobby ojousama, magic school, entrance exam that goes awry, beast people as stand-ins for real-world oppression… It's like the action cliché store was going out of business, and RWBY bought up their entire stock.
Perhaps this is mean—RWBY was a passion project and a love letter to the kind of anime the creator, Monty Oum, was personally into. He passed away before he could see it adapted into a hand-drawn anime. I also know that this was a speedrun of the first season, meant to catch up new viewers before branching away from the original plot. But there's no changing the fact that if I were playing shonen cliché bingo, my card would have blacked out well before the end of the episode. It's just not very good.
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