RWBY: The Official Manga, Vol. 1 — Review

So, confession time: I’m a fan of the animated series RWBY from Rooster Teeth. You can find the show on Rooster Teeth’s website, free for all to watch. It is equally free and watchable on Crunchyroll. The show is also available on YouTube. RWBY (pronounced like “ruby”) is an American show, but one strongly inspired by anime, and in fact it feels more like anime than any other American-made cartoon I’ve seen (excepting, perhaps, Avatar: the Last Airbender).

A shot from S1 Ep. 1. And bear in mind that the quality of the visuals and animation steadily improves.

Now, the purpose of this post is not (primarily) so I can gush about how great this webtoon is, but I need to offer the caveat that that my fondness for the source material may have biased my opinion of the manga adaptation. RWBY, at least at first, is a story about young huntsmen and huntresses living in a futuristic/fantasy setting and training to defend civilization from endless droves of monsters known as the Grimm. Naturally, things slowly escalate. Most episodes are under twenty minutes in length.

Considering its grounding in anime, both thematically and aesthetically, it’s rather fitting that RWBY should receive a manga adaptation, and I was eager to try it. Volume 1 covers roughly the first eight episodes of the show’s first season. That said…I was super unimpressed by this volume. It doesn’t live up to the excellence of its source material, nor is it a particularly good manga when considered in a vacuum.

“RWBY” is derived from the names of Ruby, Blake, Weiss, and Yang.

First, even if we leave aside the question of how good of an adaptation this is, and consider the volume strictly on its own as a manga, it falls short. I haven’t read a huge number of manga, but of those I have read, this was one of the worst. In many scenes, the only way I could tell what was happening was the dialogue + my memories of watching the show. The art left me completely in the dark. And even with my knowledge of the show, there were still moments while reading the manga when I had no idea what I was looking at. Also, on a number of occasions, the speech bubbles were positioned so ambiguously that I couldn’t tell who was speaking, which just compounded my confusion. How am I supposed to get anything out of this manga if I can’t figure what’s happening or who’s talking?

Judged as a manga, “Things lookin’ bleak, and they’re bound to get worse,” when we consider this volume’s merits as an adaptation (to borrow a line from the show’s S5 OP). There were just too many aspects of the source material that couldn’t be converted into manga form. Color is important in RWBY, but you get none with manga. The fight scenes in RWBY tend to be highly kinetic affairs, and the manga’s art just couldn’t keep up. The show has an excellent soundtrack that a manga naturally lacks. And RWBY has some really strong voice acting. Without those emotion-laden voices, the characters I’ve come to know felt more flat and generic, though occasionally hints of personality manage to shine through. Between the art’s issues and various changes to the story and dialogue, I also noticed that some significant foreshadowing was lost.

RWBY the animated series has a ton of interesting characters, some really cool world-building, an anime-esque balance of humor vs. drama, and some absolutely amazing fight scenes. RWBY the manga lacks these things. I can’t recommend it, but I heartily recommend the show on which it’s based. I’m still looking forward to season 8, which will probably start airing sometime this October, but I won’t be consuming any more of this manga.

New chapters of RWBY can be read for free on VIZ.

2 thoughts on “RWBY: The Official Manga, Vol. 1 — Review

  1. I love RWBY! I’ve been waiting for a post on the show. I hope there are more to come! 🙂

  2. 😩 This show though. I’ve been on the roller coaster since the beginning, and honestly I’m getting to the point where I think I might be done. Ever since end of season 3 the best thing I can say about any of the stories is that season 6 and 4 aren’t bad. I’ve bought 4 manga (1 being side stories and the others basically being professional fan fiction) and I can’t say I’m surprised that an actual adaptation isn’t any better. At this point I might just drop one of my favorite shows. It makes me sad.

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