The Vytal Festival tournament is finally happening at Beacon Academy, with all schools and their hunters-in-training participating. Team RWBY blast through the first stage but as they prepare to enter the next round of matches, they think the enemy is safely taken care of outside the school gates. But as bigger political players such as Weiss’ sister Winter and Ruby’s uncle Qrow come into the academy, the enemy is slowly moving their plan into action that is set to tear the whole world of Remnant apart.
Whilst RWBY volume 3 was streaming, the production team included a viewer discretion warning at the bottom of their videos addressing their unexpectedly large amount of younger viewers. It warned that the series was going to get darker and more mature from now on, and that the older audiences that had introduced RWBY to their young siblings/family/etc. should be cautious of that. This message from the creators wasn’t an overstatement or cute sentiment; Volume 3 of RWBY really does deliver on their promise of darker content. It does nothing less than cause an earthquake on the solid, safe ground that the series had been naively walking so far. It’s a game changer to all characters involved and it’ll be incredibly interesting to see where volume 4 could possibly take us next.
You could be forgiven though for being completely oblivious to this as the volume opens up in a similar vein to the previous ones; quirky characters joking around, cool action sequences and tender moments between the teams as they build towards the final stages of the tournament. It’s only from chapter 6 onwards that the mood starts to turn from eccentric to mysterious to heart-breaking in quick succession. This isn’t, thankfully, a case of whiplash in tone, it’s been carefully handled in the background by the older members of the cast. The trope that RWBY manages to avoid throughout its run is making its adult characters useless; in weaker-written fantasy shows led by young teens, the adults are mostly used to hint at the bigger picture, providing exposition when required but never doing anything substantial. In RWBY, however, from the very start they’ve been working behind the scenes, carrying the heavier themes of the story and trying to keep the status quo whilst the children continue their education. It’s from chapter 6 onwards that it becomes increasingly harder for the adults to keep the darker undertones of the world from the children, and the two become intertwined, resulting in the characters – and in turn the audience – going through many emotional roller coasters that send our heroes spiralling into chaos in various different ways. Bad guys have their moments of victory, the good guys are pushed off their pedestal, hope is replaced with despair and even some long standing characters die in the process. The game isnt changed on the same level as in Game of Thrones, however for the intended audience and market, RWBY could have taken the safe option many times in this volume but instead avoids it and goes for the hard route with no punches pulled. If you’ve been investing heavily in the mythos and characters so far in RWBY, prepare to shed a few tears in this volume.
The cast is forever growing, especially with volume 3 pulling all-new students from other schools into the fray; a few look like they were made in the random character generator in Soul Calibur IV whereas others, such as the rollerblading Neon, looks like a creative meeting on steroids. A lot of fun has obviously gone into forming the new members of the cast and their powers, and a lot of cosplayers will be happy with the challenging outfits too. As for character development, team RWBY have been given a lot in the previous volumes so here they take a back seat. Instead, to match the darker tone, we get the villains Cinder, Mercury and Emerald having a whole chapter dedicated to their forming and reveal of their master plan. Cinder wasn’t a character I took seriously in volume 2 as she seemed to be all bark and no bite, but volume 3 completely changed my mind about her. She’s still snarky, but has far more sinister depth than I expected. A lot of the bigger emotional punches come from her and her voice actress Jessica Nigri performs brilliantly in the role.
Jeff Williams and Alex Abraham return to compose the score; due to the darker nature of the show there are far more heavy rock numbers here than in previous volumes including the opening growler ‘When it Falls’ and the kick-ass villain song in the end credits ‘Divide’. But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, the soundtrack is incredibly varied; due to the tournament battles incorporating new party members, their unique abilities and varied battle grounds, the music goes with the crazy flow. The battle between teams SSSN and NDGO has fast paced Celtic strings as a nice backdrop to the mountain/pirate shipwreck grounds, whilst Weiss and Yang’s face-off with Flynt and Neon breathes new life into the characters themes introduced in volume 1 with jazz remixes. The series ends was a beautiful piano ballad ‘Cold’, an obvious tribute to the passing of creator Monty Oum, ending the emotional journey tearfully in more ways than one. The release date for the soundtrack hasn’t been confirmed at the time of writing but due to its sheer raw emotional power and variety, it’s safe to say that Volume 3 provides the best soundtrack for the series so far and will be one to check out fully when it’s out.
Speaking of Monty Oum, this is the first volume since his passing, but those who were afraid that the battle sequences at least were going to suffer the most after his departure will be glad to know that they’ve been faithfully continued. They are still as creative, frantic and evenly distributed between characters as ever. If you watch extremely closely, however, you’ll notice that there’s a new slight shift in focus towards having tighter shots and pauses to see the characters’ reactions as the fights progress. These added pauses may slow the action down a tiny bit but they work best in the latter half of the volume when there are more duels with emotional weight, as we get to see the character’s moods shifting as the tides turn with or against them. As for the character Lie Ren, who was voiced by Monty originally, he’s now voiced by Neath Oum. It’s nice that they’ve kept the voice within the family, but it’s clear that Neath isn’t a voice actor as half of his lines come off flat. That’s not to give the actor too much flak, as any replacement would have been hard to find due to the stoic nature of the character. Lie barely had any lines across the first two volumes; you’d think that would make it easier to find a replacement but on the contrary, fewer lines means it’s harder to gauge exactly what makes him tick and get the tone correct. Experienced or not, any voice actor would have struggled, so going with a familiar member was probably the best course of action to nurture Montys memory. Monty Oum will be missed, but his spirit will live on in his work.
DVD extras include trailers for Crunch Time, Lazer Team and the upcoming game RWBY Grimm Eclipse. The various shorts that streamed online explaining the world of Remnant in greater detail – including specifics on huntsmen, the tournament and the Four Maidens story that plays a large part in the world building in volume 3 – are also included and really worth a watch after drying your tears after the credits roll. In addition, there are cast photos and commentaries from said cast and the director. Even if you only invest in the DVD version there’s plenty of RWBY magic to soak up whilst waiting for Volume 4 this autumn.
RWBY Volume 3 is a sucker punch to the series and fandom; it starts off all smiles and joy but then suddenly changes the whole game with dark story twists, emotional character development and changes to the status quo, leaving Volume 4 to create a whole new landscape like no other volume has come close to before. If the soft tone of the past 2 volumes has left you underwhelmed or feeling that the retread of similar material in the fantasy genre wasn’t enough, Volume 3 will be a welcome change. Fans will also be completely absorbed in the fast track emotional train RWBY is now set on. RWBY Volume 3 comes highly recommended. Just remember to pack tissues, especially if you’re watching it as a movie.