Over the last two weeks, I watched all of the YouTube anime RWBY, a 65 episode ongoing series on Rooster Teeth’s channel.
It was kind of necessary after starting the RWBY manga anthology: Red Like Roses.
Let me just say, I have a soft spot in my heart for anime and manga because of how much I enjoyed them when I was younger. Back then, I was a bit weird and bad at reading, so I gravitated towards cartoons, anime and books with pictures to help me visualize the story (I hadn’t discovered comic books yet). For me, manga almost always had something that the real world didn’t: Magic and a sense that the protagonist, and me, vicariously, were special. I craved that specialness and otherworldliness.
When I first found the RWBY anime, I was fascinated by the style: a mix of 3D, motion-capture, and computer generated animation. The style has a way of making fight scenes look cinematic, as the virtual camera is moved through 3D space to make smooth transitions. It is unique to anime and an aspect of RWBY that impressed me.
I started to read Red Like Roses. And I was enjoying it, until I started to realize that, while the jokes, characters, and fighting were entertaining, I had no clue what was actually happening on the pages in front of me. Then I did what any dork that obsesses over fantasy worlds would do (looking at you Star Wars and Game of Thrones): I watched all of it. And then it all made a lot more sense.
The first thing that made me face palm was the name of the show, which was never explained in the manga. The main character of RWBY is also named Ruby, and I had always pronounced them the same in my head. She is the leader of a team at Beacon Academy, the school where she learns to be a huntress, and the other members of her team make up the rest of the acronym: Weiss, Blake, and Yang.
To be brief for the uninitiated (though I highly recommend that you watch the show): In the world of RWBY (a mixture of future and fantasy), there are monsters called Grimm. In response to the Grimm, the humans of Remnant (and a race of people with animal traits referred to as Faunus) started training at academies like Beacon. These people became Hunters and Huntresses, warriors that draw on their Aura (their soul) and their Semblance (a power specific to them) to fight the Grimm.
However, all that is not enough for you to truly appreciate what Red Like Roses is trying to accomplish.
Red Like Roses is a collection of 20 stories that take place in-between the main story of the anime and reinforces the relationships amongst team RWBY, with a focus on Ruby’s effect on all the others. After watching the entire series, I knew the characters, but felt that there was a leap in the team’s relationship. It seemed to me that they started to respect each other, but there was no real definitive moment where this group really started to love one another. So, when they all reconnected later in the series (they get separated in the fallout of one season finale), and talked about how they were like family, I accepted it with some reluctance.
But Red Like Roses fixed that for me, completely. The collection of stories focuses on their connection and how they really become friends while they are at Beacon. It shows them grow together in a way that the show doesn’t really have time to. If you really like the anime, this companion to RWBY will give you some spice to add to that story meal.
While all of the stories in Red Like Roses are good, two stand out for the way they break the traditional manga mold: Hair Like Roses and Beacon Days (Ruby).
Hair Like Roses (by Moromoimaru) is a story focused around Ruby telling her team that she wants to dye her hair red for consistency among the team, because every one of their names matches the color of their hair. It’s a silly premise that develops into an introspective look at Ruby’s insecurity about her place on the team.
The brilliance of this story comes from the way it’s structured. Each new page is titled to show the stage of the conversation. The top of the page has “Confession” when Ruby admits her reasoning for wanting to dye her hair. Then as she explains it, it reads “Team RWBY.” This continues through: “Stating a Case,” “Advice,” “Scamper,” and finally “Solution.” This was an interesting and new way to diagram a conversation about team dynamics as it happens. It is like a lesson on the structure of dialogues, which I found very entertaining.
Beacon Days (Ruby) (by Mojojoj) is my favorite story in the book. It is eight mini stories structured as four vertical-panel snapshots depicting what life is like at Beacon for Ruby. She is younger than all the other students at Beacon, and this story explores the juxtaposition of her immaturity and her position as team leader. Mini stories like “Team Leader,” “Speech,” and “Girl Talk” all explore this duality. “Team Leader” shows Ruby taking her role seriously and not seriously, simultaneously. She wakes up early, brushes her teeth, sets out on a mission, and… it’s a mission to wake up Weiss.
Ruby has always wanted to be a great leader for a team of Hunters and Huntresses (the moment at which she decides this is in the manga), which she succeeds at, but she is also still a kid. She is growing up and maturing throughout out the manga, but at heart she is fun and silly.
Overall, this manga is a fun read, but only if you know the characters and the world of RWBY. I suggest you pick up this book, and while you're waiting for Amazon to deliver, start watching the series, you wont regret it. (Then look out for the next book featuring stories about Weiss in August!)