Hugh David on the full monty Asian-American animator Monty Oum passed away tragically on the 1st February this year at the age of 33. RWBY (pronounced Ruby, the lead character’s name, but also an acronym of the four lead characters) is his legacy, a fully CG-animated web series that is as close to anime as a series made outside of Japan can be, so much so that Warner Bros Japan have bought it to dub and release locally. Winner of both a “Webby” and a “Streamy” in 2014, the UK gets to see what the fuss is all about this May.
Oum’s trademark action sequences and stylistic tics familiar to fans of his earlier Haloid and Dead Fantasy “pro-am” fan videos are here finally given the story and characters they always needed to evolve beyond first-class eye candy. Remnant (the world of RWBY) and our heroes Ruby, Weis, Blake and Yang, are a fine blend of elements from sources as diverse as Harry Potter and Fairy Tail, “drawn” with a design sense that blends Japanese RPG and anime influences with Western styles. There’s even a political situation that makes for a bit more variety in the good guy/bad guy stakes, involving a nefarious criminal organisation called White Fang that used to be a rebel movement. However, the basic set-up, of warrior kids training to be monster hunters in a school, is the stuff of classic anime shows. The voice acting in English and the script frequently sounds exactly as you would expect a dubbed anime to, albeit with the flow and gags that work naturally in the language.
The only hurdle for viewers who haven’t spent years playing videogames or watching online animation develop through the Flash years to its current status is the style of the animation. The smoothness and lack of details wherever the story doesn’t need it are the qualities that some have found off-putting about all-CG animation in the past. However, what was once merely the sign of a low budget and/or technical limitations is now an actual aesthetic, and the storytelling embraces these rather than ignoring them.
With what are effectively magical girls and boys teamed up at high school kitted out as JRPG characters, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros Japan thinks they can sell this back to yer actual Japanese otaku. Use of visual language such as “chibi” re-sizing of characters for comic effect should indeed aid the show in affecting the transition; rare is it to see something produced by one nation so clearly in the visual idiom of another, other than in martial arts and action films. It’s the same feeling Hong Kong movie fans got when they saw The Matrix. The story, characterisation and humour are very much RWBY’s own, and it’s a real joy to see something that, for all the nods, has a clear sense of its own world and story, told with confidence. Monty Oum’s legacy may indeed be much more than just stylised pretty girls kicking butt in collapsing environments; he may have opened the next chapter of successful international animation.
RWBY is released by Manga Entertainment on 29th June.