Special Review: RWBY (Rooster Teeth) & Miraculous Ladybug (Zagtoon x Method Animation)

For the record, I’m aware that Ladybug has like five animation studios working on it, including Toei. But let’s not make the title any longer than it already is.

Well the Spring season is over and as some of you are aware, I chose to not keep up with the majority of its output as it aired because for several different reasons, I now prefer binge-watching. Instead of bothering with anything that airs in the Summer 2018 season, I’m going to spend the next few months checking out what’s gotten everyone so excited over the last three months, which apparently is considered one of the strongest periods for anime by several notable members of the community.

And when you look at the reaction to Spring 2018 broadly, it’s not hard to see why. A good chunk of the numerous sequels met (high) expectations. Some of the original IPs made their marks as the new greats thanks to being produced with a lot of love and care. The new Sword Art Online is getting praised by the majority of anime Youtube. The romantic comedies are hitting sweet spots as well. Golden Kamuy seems to be the most popular cosplay out of all the new anime that came out this season (although the two conventions I saw Golden Kamuy cosplay at isn’t much to go on).

When an individual combines his specific tastes with this broad viewpoint though, the amount of anime to praise becomes a lot more narrow, especially when you share my preferences. I’ve already written about how I thought the big romantic comedy of the season was under-achieving trash, but what about the shows beyond that? Well due to a combination of bad judgment and personal priorities, I haven’t actually watched most of the acclaimed series in Spring, and the ones I did keep up with from Steins;Gate 0 to Tada Never Falls in Love bored me so hard I’m pretty sure I could have sued Japan’s animation industry for attempting to put me into a coma. Food Wars is still watchable, but given how long it’s gone on at this point, it’s not allowed to factor into my opinion when judging sections of anime as a whole.

Now as I also said in the Wotakoi review, I didn’t find Hinamatsuri to be funny or dramatic, and the same is true for Aggretsuko, the new Netflix comedy that’s basically Hello Kitty by way of Detroit Metal City. Still, at least I could see that both shows were made with passion and a love for the medium, which was my main problem with the rest of the dross I kept up with in Spring. Even something as passionately directed as Tada Never Falls In Love just feels like it was made less for the craft and more to cash in on a trend or fulfill some corporate obligation, and as someone who’s  watched anime for so long now, I’m getting really sick of how the anime charts are just littered with creatively bankrupt money-making schemes that shallowly play on the audiences’ feelings. You guys want me to stop being cynical about anime? How about we stop making anime for cynical reasons first?

This isn’t just me saying this either. Many anime fans have complained over the years about how there’s way too much useless junk coming out every three months or so. Compare the eighteen or so anime that were released every season in 2009 to the forty or so shows that we get on a seasonal basis now and it’s become painfully obvious that quality control has gotten even worse than it had been a decade ago, and that was the era where panty shots were everywhere. Seiji Mizushima, the director of the original Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation and Un-Go himself, drew attention when he recently tweeted about how there’s too many cartoons being made with directors working on two series at a time and whatnot. I kind of wish he wasn’t working on Beatless while he tweeted that, but maybe it’s the fact that he’s a victim of his talent getting stripped away by the anime industry’s cynicism that he knows how harmful it can be to anime on the whole.

And while I’m sure the “good” anime that I didn’t keep up with like Megalo Box and Golden Kamuy were more passionately made for the right reasons, the fact remains that the fair amount of “good” anime I did keep up with this Spring either had no artistic vision in mind, or did but said vision was lost somewhere along the line. I never have to worry about the dreaded anime burnout because I’m too well-trained in the art of watching trash to hate anime just because the majority of it is shit, plus I own many anime blu-rays and pay for all of the major streaming sites, so I could just rewatch the stuff I like at any time. Still, one thing I share in common with most of today’s anime fandom is that I like to stay in the present, and when the present isn’t delivering, there’s a limit to how much the past can alleviate the sourness. Lerche may have created my favorite romance anime series of all-time last year, but their immediate follow-ups put them back on the shit list in record time and I doubt they’ll be getting erased from it for a while.

Simply put, I needed a little break from the “good” anime I don’t know much about after the ones I did learn about ended up having a different definition of “good” than I had. I wanted to watch something that I knew for certain was made by people who actually cared for its audience and the actual artistic merits that could come from animation. As such, I spent the last week I could have used to watch the first half of the new Hero Academia binging two non-Japanese CG cartoons that I see cosplay of at anime conventions all the time due to their popularity within the fandom, RWBY and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.

Let’s start with RWBY first. The funny thing about this show is that although I don’t personally know a lot of people who have actually watched it, avoiding its name is all but impossible considering it is freaking everywhere. The series is available for legal streaming on every platform under the sun. The cosplay and fan events are numerous. The protagonists from the show even managed to make it into the latest Blazblue game whilst drawn in a more traditional 2-D anime style. So how exactly did it take me so long to watch such a popular series in the first place?

Well when it first came out in 2013, it was a very critically panned show in the blogging community. It reminds me of how a lot of people love Bakuman, but most fans who write about anime consider the show to be sexist garbage. From what I’ve heard, the main reason for why RWBY gained enough success to even have sequels after its debut were the signature fight scenes of its creators, Monty Oum, and the amount of attention it got in Japan, who probably wouldn’t be as critical of the awkward voice acting and terrible CG considering their own CG animation would put most PS1 games to shame.

Personally, I just thought it was some fan project and didn’t pay it much mind since I never watched Red v Blue or anything else Rooster Teeth did, but then the series kept going. And then Monty Oum died, which got a lot of attention from people due to young and talented and recently married he was; but the team he left behind promised that RWBY would continue without him, and that just increased its popularity even more, especially when it did manage to continue delivering on what people wanted from the show. Eventually I realized I was going to have to check the series out eventually, so I binge-watched all five seasons in a week and personally I am glad I never watched this show whilst airing because it is very frustrating in a lot of key ways.

RWBY is basically an American take on anime tropes/storytelling, and centers on a group of four girls that make up Team RWBY (pronounced ruby), a specialized school team training to become warriors called Huntresses in order to fight strange monsters called Grimm that have been spawning all over the world for unknown reasons. There’s Ruby Rose, the team leader who is about as optimistic and skilled in fighting as she is naive in how the world works. There’s Weiss Schnee, the rich girl who wants to prove that she can do things without her family helping her. There’s Blake Belladonna, a cat girl who has difficulties trusting others due to her own violent past. And finally there’s Yang Xiao Long, Ruby’s Chinese sister who’s basically the responsible one of the group.

The story is basically a Harry Potter-like hybrid of school antics and evil factions targeting the academy and various characters within its walls for their own personal agenda, right up to turning into the Deathly Hallows in its later seasons where there’s a lot of running around and the school doesn’t come up again until much later. It runs more on shonen action logic though due to having fighting tournaments and a large cast of characters who get their own arcs in-between Team RWBY’s antics, and in fact, it was the season with the “tournament arc” where RWBY was widely considered to finally find its footing and establish itself as one of the standout cartoons of our generation.

Early seasons had the audience avatar wearing a dress to the prom. Real relatable, huh?

I’m not going to mince words here: the first two seasons of RWBY are terrible and I was right to ignore this show back when it first came out. The CG animation looks stiff and doesn’t convey emotions properly, the voice-acting was awful, the plot amounted to nothing more than a lot of setup, and the most character development was given to audience avatar Jaune, who isn’t involved enough with the actual plot to carry the show on his own. What you see of Ruby’s happy attitude is pretty much what you get for the majority of the series. She never has her attitude challenged, we don’t learn much about her compared to her teammates despite her being the team leader, and her own teammates’ development most consist of arbitrary backstories that don’t really factor into the plot. Its only saving grace was that the episodes were short so you didn’t have to stick with its rough patches for too long, but imagine if you had watched this series weekly as it aired. Constant cockteases in short bursts isn’t exactly my idea of fun is all I’m saying.

Thankfully, Rooster Teeth is a company that strives to improve and listens to the audience for the most part without going overboard, because RWBY’s animation and voice-acting get a lot better with each season. More time is dedicated to later individual episodes, the world gets established more so that we understand what’s at stake (although calling magic power “dust” is still hard to take seriously to this very day), and the characterization improves massively, even giving Ruby some relatable faults whilst still allowing her to keep her chipper attitude. The only thing that gets worse are the fight scenes, which are clearly not going to live up to Monty Oum’s knack for choreography anytime soon. But if it means the rest of the show isn’t making my eyes bleed and said fights never go full-on retarded, I can accept the sacrifice.

Ruby looks so much better with shading. And new clothes.

It’s just too bad that the actual storytelling is kind of lacking, no matter how much Rooster Teeth strive to get better. RWBY clearly wants to be a big epic shonen action series, but I couldn’t tell you what the core that connects all of its individual elements is for the life of me. You know how Avatar: The Last Airbender bases its storytelling around martial arts philosophy, My Hero Academia bases its storytelling around superhero commercialization, and Game of Thrones bases its storytelling around the complicated nature of power in the medieval ages? RWBY definitely has those elements, but it doesn’t really lean on them enough or add its own unique flavor to have them function as a narrative core, so unless you just really love the series’ lore, there’s not really much to bring you back once you know all of the plot directions.

Not helping at all is that when RWBY does find a strong angle to exploit, it tends to overuse it to the point of tedium. One perfect example of this can be found in Volume 4-5, the first two seasons produced after Monty Oum’s death as well as the first two seasons to use new CG software and take place outside of the school. As the creators of the show flat-out admitted in interviews, the entire fourth season is dedicated to the heroes dealing with grief after certain spoiler-ific losses and the fifth season is dedicated to their recovery. It’s definitely ambitious in abstract, but there’s a reason most anime don’t dedicate two seasons to something that’s usually resolved in an average of 2-3 episodes, and it got so bad that Season 5 ended up getting mixed reviews from the fanbase. To put things lightly, both seasons were padded out with too much exposition that put a halt on the characterization and action. Season 4 felt like the Deathly Hallows Part 1 to Volume 5’s Deathly Hallows Part 2.

I think the scenes between Yang and her mom were the only thing people like about Volume 5.

And yet despite all of its issues, I managed to binge-watch the entire main series (that’s out at this time of writing since it’s obviously still on-going) without too many complaints. Yes I’ve had little trouble binge-watching anime I don’t like before and I may have done other stuff whilst watching RWBY in the process, but the series never really felt like a chore to get through, which is something I wouldn’t be able to say about my recent revisit to Plastic Memories. Why the hell did my friends make me watch that show again? And why the hell did most of them like such a badly conceived series?

With all of the criticisms you can throw towards RWBY, it’s clear the series was made as a labor of love, free from the corporate stank that pervades the Japanese animation industry, and that really shows with how much the technical side of things improve with each volume. The characters became likable and well-written enough to the point that I wanted to see what would happen to them next, even if their personal journeys are executed a little basically. And while there’s no excusing the pacing issues that make their arcs stop and start at times, the shorter-than-average length of the episodes combined with how I’m never intending to watch this series weekly prevented it from every truly losing me.

Blake in her post-timeskip outfit is kawaii.

That said, in no way would I call RWBY a great time and I’d only recommend it if you were curious. Volume 3 is the only season I can say is decent, Volumes 4-5 have their moments but are bogged down by bad narrative decisions, and aside from the fight scenes when they bother to show up, Volumes 1-2 are just plain bad. If you want a non-Japanese CG cartoon that’s more consistently fun and you’re not turned off by kids’ shows in general, I’d recommend Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir instead.

Miraculous Ladybug (the most common abbreviation of the title) is a French superhero/magical girl hybrid (although it can be argued that magical girls are superheroes too in a feminine sense) centered on Marinette Dupain-Cheng, a half-French half-Chinese girl who must balance her real-life of boy crushes and rock bands with being the famous “red-suited with black spots” superhero, Ladybug. In the city of Paris, an evil masked man who you will totally discover the identity of within a few episodes named Hawk Moth is transforming its despair-ridden citizens into evil beings called Akuma in an effort to steal Ladybug’s powers so he can use them to…conquer the world I guess? I’m not really sure what his real end goal is if I’m being honest.

Ladybug has the power to “de-evilize” Akuma and through sheer coincidence, a lot of the people who transform are either her friends or are close to her in some manner, so there’s always some sort of personal stakes involved whenever she’s called into action. Aiding her in these crime-fighting escapades is Cat Noir, a young boy with destruction powers and Catwoman’s clothing who is secretly Marinette’s long-time crush, Adrien. Not that she knows this, as she finds Cat Noir to be trustworthy yet annoying, whilst Cat Noir considers Marinette to be a friend but Ladybug to be smoking hot. Also, there’s the rule they uphold about how no one must know their true identities, including each other, so they never even attempt to pry into each other’s personal lives.

I’ll get you next time Ladybug. Next time!

While there is somewhat of an overarching story to Miraculous Ladybug and there are some moments of continuity, it’s mostly just your standard monster-of-the-week show where any sense of progression is relatively foreign to the writers, and you could watch alot of the episodes out of order without ruining the pacing. You can also skip a lot of episodes too. Most of them have the same character beats: Marinette goes gaga over Adrien, Adrien is clueless about everything, Hawk Moth is basically the new Dr. Claw, and Chloe (the bitchy school antagonist to the female lead character) needs to die. It does have some interesting depictions of being a teenager, the difference between your superhero identity and real identity, and other social issues, but like RWBY, it’s not integrated into the story enough to fully function as a main hook.

I mostly got through the series by doing something else whilst playing it in the background, generally paying attention to what sort of Akuma is going to show up in the episode and what sort of plan Ladybug is going to use in order to defeat them. It’s a very imaginative show with good humor that made me laugh at times, and the millions of dollars sunk into the CG animation is on display quite nicely, but you’re still watching the same formula for over fifty episodes (and counting). I think most Precure series have less episodes than the amount of time Miraculous Ladybug plans to go on.

Still, I came out of Miraculous Ladybug with a positive impression after finishing all of the episodes that are out on Netflix at the moment. It’s definitely something I’m not going to go out of my way to rewatch, but I have to be honest: I just really like Marinette as a character. Maybe it’s due to Christina Vee’s voice-acting and how she actually does different inflections when saying her catchphrases each episode. Maybe it’s because she manages to be very relatable whilst still doing a lot of things I’d expect from the cast of Sailor Moon. She’s just a really cool person in general, and if I was younger, I’d totally be tuning in each week just to see her relationship with Adrien go somewhere.

Who could these two possibly be under the masks?

There are a few noticeable issues that you have to accept in order to get the most out of this series, most of them coming from the fact that it’s aimed at a very young crowd. For starters, how no one can see through Ladybug’s and Cat Noir’s disguises is beyond me given how their hair and voices are incredibly noticeable whilst they’re in costume. This stands out all the more when Marinette constantly figures out the true identities of the transformed villains just by what they say, yet she can’t seem to recognize that the boy she has a crush on is the same crime fighting partner that tends to annoy her.

Also, the amount of times that Cat Noir loses a fight or gets brainwashed in this series is utterly ridiculous, especially compared to how well Ladybug holds up against most of the villains. I understand his powers are mostly for destruction, which isn’t that useful against Akuma, but I think something has gone horribly wrong when he loses to a transformed Chloe in a 1-1 brawl given how skilled he is at fencing in real life and such. Speaking of which, his repeated “Cat-aclysm” animation is very grating to watch after fifty times, whereas I never seem to have the same problem with Ladybug’s. Maybe it’s because Ladybug’s power gives her something new each time, whereas Cat Noir’s is always the same destruction power.

And despite the large amount of money that went into the animation, apparently there wasn’t enough budget to depict huge crowds walking the streets. Most us are aware that Paris is a very crowded city due to its population as well as the amount of tourists, but the Paris depicted in Miraculous Ladybug is more barren than Naypyidaw. I can accept people not dying or getting seriously injured amongst all of the action, especially since Ladybug’s powers can fix all destruction after purifying the Akuma, but this is Kingdom Hearts-level of empty worlds I’m seeing in one of the most popular areas of the Earth.

I’ve never been to Paris, but I don’t think the fountains are this devoid of people.

Lastly, this is just a personal thing, but Adrien/Cat Noir is voiced by Bryce Papenbrook in the English dub. People who pay attention to dubs may know him as the guy who voices every high-profile underdog whiner in anime from Eren in Attack on Titan to Kirito from Sword Art Online, and while I never watched the SAO dub, I keep imagining Kirito every time he flirts or whines. I personally love the guy, but he sure gets typecast a lot, doesn’t he?

Even with all of its issues along with my personal biases, I have to admit that I’m pretty determined to see Miraculous Ladybug through for a good while unless it turns to shit later on. Similar to RWBY, I just love the amount of passion put into this project in terms of visuals and writing, and unlike that series, the CG is good from the start and stays good all throughout (although Chloe’s animation looks like something that belongs in The Boss Baby for some reason). The action is great, the characters are fun, and while some of the villains can be just plain stupid (Kung Food anyone?), the good ones make up for them enough. I can’t really explain why this series has my attention more than the magical girl shows made in Japan or the superhero shows made in America. Maybe it’s a certain charm that only France is capable of pulling off.

I never get tired of this transformation scene.

So my final opinion of both of these non-Japanese CG “animu” is that they’re adequate time-wasters that I can tell were made for mostly the right reasons. RWBY is more my taste, but has way more obvious faults from its crappy intro seasons to the myriad of bad ideas mixed with the good ones. Miraculous Ladybug is much better executed, but it’s marketed towards a demographic much younger than me. If you don’t mind the issues I brought up and have a much stronger preference towards what these shows accomplish than I do, then I highly recommend checking them out. Otherwise, you don’t lose anything by skipping out on these shows.

Welp, that was a good break from the Japanese animation industry’s giant catalog of soulless dreck. Now let’s dive back into it with the next review. What should I write about next? Gun Gale Online? The new Highschool DxD? Maybe the new Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

Ahem!

Oh right, that show ends next week doesn’t it? Welp, seems like it’s finally time for me to join in on Franxx’s flogging. Although seriously, after the incredibly negative reaction to the recent penultimate episode, I’m starting to wonder if there are any non-wounded areas left for me to attack.

======================================================================

Speak Up

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.