First Impression: RWBY: Ice Queendom

This series premiered with the first three episodes combined into one huge episode, but I’ll break my summary up into separate “normal length” episodes here.

Ruby Rose visits her mom’s grave to report that her big sister is going to attend Beacon Academy to become a Huntress, a warrior who defends humanity from the malevolent “creatures of Grimm.” Said big sister, Yang Xiao Long, arrives on her trademark motorcycle. Elsewhere, rich girl Weiss Schnee battles a Grimm in a test to see whether her father will let her attend Beacon; also in attendance are her elder sister Winter, younger brother Whitley, and butler Klein (the Schnee kids’ mom is busy getting drunk). In a forest, a girl named Blake and masked swordsman Adam carry out a heist, stealing weaponized crystals known as Dust from a railroad train. They fight the battledroids, but when Blake learns that Adam plans to kill the human crew of the train, she detaches the car he is aboard, leaving it behind as the train goes on. Seeking a present for Yang, Ruby drops by a Dust shop in the city of Vale. Thugs led by an orange-haired pretty boy appear to rob the Dust shop. Ruby beats up the random jobbers, but their leader escapes via an airship. At the police station, Professor Ozpin, headmaster of Beacon Academy, arrives and greets Tai (Yang and Ruby’s father), then offers to let Ruby skip two grades and attend Beacon alongside her sister. Blake, seemingly on the run, learns she’s been accepted to Beacon as well. Episode 1 wraps up with a montage of the four main characters we’ve met, and several we haven’t, all on their way to Beacon.

As episode 2 begins, we are briefly introduced to some more main characters: Ren, Nora, Pyrrha, and Jaune. The new students are quickly dumped into a test where they must retrieve a token from a ruin in a Grimm-infested forest. The first partner-less student they make eye contact with will become their partner for the duration of their time at Beacon. The test kicks off, and…WOAH! What have we here? An entirely new character: the gender-ambiguous Shion Zaiden, with white hair, too much eyeliner, and a really big hat. In the forest, Ruby and Weiss become partners, as do Jaune and Pyrrha, Yang and Blake, and Ren and Nora. They all retrieve their chess pieces, but a battle ensues against a giant bird Grimm and a giant scorpion Grimm. Once it’s all over, Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha, and Ren become Team JNPR (“juniper”). Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang become Team RWBY (“ruby”), the namesake of the entire franchise. We see a conspicuous shot of Weiss with an odd pattern on the back of her neck.

Episode 3 opens with Team RWBY in their dorm and attending class (which involves live combat in the classroom with actual Grimm). As Ruby and Weiss feud, Ozpin counsels the former while Professor Port gives advice to the latter. We see Jaune with a strange marking much like Weiss’s. He is discovered unconscious, now completely covered with the thorny vine pattern. Shion is called in, and we learn Shion is a Nightmare Hunter, one who specializes in a certain type of Grimm that can possess humans. The rest of Team JNPR must enter Jaune’s dream and kill the Grimm within it. Elsewhere, we hear that an event called the Vytal Festival is imminent, meet a monkey Faunus (human-animal hybrids, basically what other settings might call “beastfolk” or “demihumans”), run into an odd girl named Penny, and hear Blake lecture Weiss regarding her prejudice toward Faunus. It turns out Blake was hiding the fact that she is a Faunus. The orange-haired mob boss from episode 1 shows up with the White Fang (a Faunus terrorist organization) to steal more Dust, but Penny chases them off. We end on a cliffhanger, with Weiss’s Nightmare attacking her.

This is an anime adaptation of an anime-inspired American animated series, RWBY. I’m a big fan of the original series, so I can’t deny that influenced my perception of this adaptation. The negatives here are minimal, though. It’s weird hearing the characters speak in voices that aren’t “their own,” and it’s sometimes a little odd how certain characters look older / younger / cuter / sterner than their original incarnations. On a positive note, the visuals are lovely. One of the things people like to rag on the original RWBY about is that the animation started out…pretty bad…and though it improved by leaps and bounds, it remains obviously CG even after eight seasons. Those issues don’t keep me from loving the original series, but for those who hate CG in general or just disliked RWBY‘s subpar early animation, you have nothing to worry about in this gorgeous adaptation. I should also mention the soundtrack, which is quite strong (albeit different) in both the original series and this adaptation.

Although Ice Queendom introduces a number of characters much earlier than we ever saw them in the original RWBY (e.g., Weiss’s family), the first episode still mostly follows what was established in the source material (including the original character trailers). There’s a lot of awesome foreshadowing, some of it part of the original series, some new to this adaptation. But with the second and third episodes, we start to see Ice Queendom diverge from OG RWBY, with an entirely new character and events that weren’t at all part of the original series. The apparent reference to Weiss in the series’s title (she’s sometimes called an “ice queen” in the original series) implies that she may have a more prominent role here, but that’s not yet clear. Still, all three episodes have plenty of shots and dialogue that are easily recognizable as being directly inspired by the source material.

I’ve said before that I think RWBY is the only American series that I’ve seen that deserves to be called “anime.” From the character designs and fight sequences to the plot and themes to the blend of humor and serious moments, it’s as anime-esque as you can get without being made in Japan. It’s awesome. And now it’s literally an actual anime made in Japan. With such fantastic source material, I expected this adaptation to be excellent, and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re a fan of the original RWBY, the characters you love are back and reimagined, while the story draws on what you know and also introduces unfamiliar plot twists. If you disdained the original series for its visuals, you have no excuse not to like Ice Queendom. And if you’ve never tried either…well, I recommend both of them.

RWBY: Ice Queendom is streaming on Crunchyroll.


4 thoughts on “First Impression: RWBY: Ice Queendom

  1. As someone who finally said “I’m done” with the series after 7 a part of me really wants to come back. The other part of me isn’t ready for the heart break of never seeing the promises fulfilled that became the series.

    1. Well, I too was done after season 6. This show is a bit of a bitter sweet thing for me. It really shows both how the first few seasons of RWBY really could have benefited from tighter and more polished story writing and also how no one, not even Shaft, can compete with Monty’s fight choreography.

  2. There were 3 main take aways that I had from the first three episodes.

    First: RWBY is so much better with some professional polish of the storytelling. Particularly the way the travel to Beacon seemed to condense so much from the first season and present it in a more understandable way, not just shorter. It really impressed on me how good the first three seasons of RWBY were, that only minimal changes can really make that story shine. Too bad that the rest of the show is original and won’t be retelling season 1 and season 2, I think I’d actually enjoy that show.

    Second: As you said the animation was beautiful. High quality Shaft, especially for the first episode (I suspect a different studio did the actual animation for episode 2).

    Third: Despite the greater beauty of the animation, the fight scenes still can’t compare to original RWBY. It really drove home how amazing Monty was, and how badly the RWBY fight choreography declined after his death.

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