RWBY: Official Manga Anthology Volume 1 Review
When RWBY debuted in 2013, it proved to be a mega hit for Rooster Teeth; striking a chord with many anime fans due to its unique style, obvious anime influences and fantastical fight choreography. Over the years, as the story evolved into something greater than the school-based comedy/fantasy antics where it began, the series grew beyond its influences into becoming one of the first, and so far, most successful American-made anime series in Japan. Not only does the Japanese dub have veteran actors playing the leads, but Series 3 and 4 had limited runs in Japanese cinemas, and now manga has been commissioned to expand upon the much in-demand material. Sadly, its creator Monty Oum, who had a life-long love for anime and once dreamed of his own work taking off in Japan, did not live to see it happen as he passed away in 2015 during the production of Series 3. However, his work continues to be loved to this day and now the Japanese-created manga, based upon the American web series, has finally made its way to the UK.
I need to clarify something before we get into the meat of the review: this is NOT the manga by Shirow Miwa that is an adaptation of the original web series. This book is actually an ‘official manga anthology’, which serves as a companion to the main show. This is the first book of (supposedly) four volumes where we focus on each of the girls in Team RWBY – Ruby, Weiss, Yang and Blake – with mini stories centred on them that take place across the series’ timeline. The first volume is all about the youngest member and titular character Ruby, with each story written and drawn by various mangaka. As a result, the stories are presented differently and are varied in length, but all serve to be ‘canon’ companions to RWBY.
There are twenty stories in total, and they take place at different points across the first two series of RWBY, so there’s lot of mini-moments of Ruby to digest if you’re a fan of the character, and no two stories are alike. There are however not set in chronological order; for example, the first one seems to take place not long after the team is formed, which is followed by a story that serves as a ‘missing moment’ between Weiss and Ruby during Episode 7 of Series 1. This is where prior knowledge of the show will come in handy, as you can mentally jump to where each story takes place without much confusion.
The strongest offerings in this book are the ones that create comedy from the characters’ interactions and show how much Ruby has developed. In ‘Seeks the Fruit of Love’ Ruby’s sudden fascination with finding a boyfriend has her searching all over the academy, interacting with main and side characters. Then ‘Name of the Rose’ shows Ruby having a conversation with the mysterious headmaster Ozpin, with interesting and funny results. There are also a lot of stories that centre on Ruby’s turbulent relationship with Weiss, and whilst the two do bounce off each other very well both in the show and manga, the number of stories about them far outweigh the stories of Ruby interacting with anyone else. It’s a shame that there is no dedicated tale exploring Ruby’s relationship with her sister Yang or one that goes deeper into her friendship with the woefully under-used Penny. While this doesn’t ruin the reader’s enjoyment, it would be ideal if future volumes could devote time to showing the girls’ friendships with other characters as the relatively short episodes of RWBY don’t always allow for it, especially in the latest series.
Twenty-three different artists, mostly mangaka, have been involved across the twenty stories, but there are also contributions by two original character designers from Rooster Teeth. You only need to flick through the coloured pages at the start to see how drastically different the art is from story to story and this is where the book’s greatest failings lie. There’s no attempt at consistency; I can’t find a lot of the mangaka listed in this book on Google, leading me to believe that they’re not well known or haven’t been long in the business – and it shows. The stories themselves are fine, but the art is wildly inconsistent and distracting, often more like quick doodles the artist drew at the last minute right before the publishing deadline, and it can be difficult to recognize characters from one page to another. Some stories are laid out like 4-koma, and it’s fun to see RWBY presented in such a way. For every other story, however, the illustrations range from mediocre to terrible. So, if an art style or choice of aesthetic can be enough to put you off reading something (I am one of those people) then this book could be a struggle to get through.
Despite the wildly varying art styles, this first anthology of RWBY manga stories is an entertaining, varied and funny read, especially if you’ve missed the school-comedy vibe of the earlier series and are not into the darkness that’s crept into the later series. The first book, Red Like Roses, could have benefitted by having more variety but it’s clearly been made with love for the series at the heart of its creation, so if you’re a fan of RWBY, it’s worth picking up.