The official manga anthology of RWBY continues its focused look at the main protagonists with Volume 2 centred on the ‘Ice Queen’ herself, Weiss, and Volume 3 being all about Blake. It’s interesting they have these two back-to-back as, despite their rocky relationship at the start, the two have a fair amount in common. They have many emotional walls and secrets about their past that they keep guarded, they don’t trust easily but are very determined in their goals. They also happen to be on opposite sides: Weiss from a very privileged background but broken family that are anti-Faunus, whilst Blake is a Faunus from a loving family but broke off to join the terrorist group known as ‘The White Fang’, only to escape when she realised how toxic they were. Despite parallels making them ideal for back-to-back stories, sadly their volumes are not as equally entertaining.
Like the first volume, each book contains many one shots of the girls that take place during the time they were at Beacon Academy, and each story is drawn and told by various different manga artists. Most of the artists are complete unknowns with limited experience within their field but much love for the property they’ve contributed to. Like the Ruby volume unfortunately, the artwork is still incredibly inconsistent, with styles drastically varying from one story to another and there’s noticeably a range of talent here, with only a handful being actually good, and the rest disposable. The lack of quality control is more evident in Volume 2 with Weiss looking especially ugly in many of her own stories, which is such as a shame since the character herself would be horrified about how she’s portrayed. One of the lowest moments of the book comes in the story ‘White yellow Criminal’ by Ritsu Hayami that not only has many panels with backgrounds ranging from dull to non-existent, but the attempt at the action scene is so clunky that you can’t tell what move Weiss is supposed to be performing.
Volume 3 still has stories displaying varying degrees of artistic talent but the quality is much improved with a lot more detail, shading and care taken in drawing the characters. I don’t know if the artists simply had more love for Blake, or just extra time to draw their visions clearly, but Weiss sadly gets the shaft here.
In terms of story content, the vibe is similar to the opening volume with many ‘moments’ of the girls from the Academy, usually with their own team, and the timeline jumps around throughout the book. One story could take place at any time during the first three volumes of the original show, whilst others specifically reference episodes and sometimes act as sequels. For Volume 2 ‘Mirror, Mirror’ Weiss’ tales start off nicely with her interacting with each of her team mates and looks into her family dynamic, especially with her elder sister Winter. Halfway through the book, however, the stories start to become much less memorable and more repetitive. There’s only so many times you can explore Weiss’ need to be independent and not rely on anyone, or her inferiority complex with her sister, before it becomes a moot point. It’s a shame because there are a lot of shorter stories in this book that explore other aspects of her character or relationships that could have been explored more; like her relationship with Mercury (which doesn’t get enough screen time in the show), her continuing to work through her own prejudice against Faunus, or even a story that explores her relationship with a family member that isn’t Winter – like her mother whom we’ve yet to see on screen or the younger brother we’ve not seen since Volume 4 of the original show.
Luckily, Blake’s volume ‘From Shadows’ has a lot more variety and is therefore the better book. Due to Blake’s controversial past, we do get brief glimpses into her time in The White Fang, with recurring character Adam making appearances, and there are many stories of either herself or her team getting used to her being the ‘Faunus’ of the team, but the volume doesn’t run it into the ground like Weiss’ book does. There are several stories of Blake interacting with side characters Velvet, Sun and Mercury (that we don’t see enough of in the show), a story exploring her love of books with Ruby, and even a mini-story of Blake tackling whether a local ghost story is real or not. The variety of fun and storytelling is very much to be welcomed and makes the whole volume, and the character, stand out a lot more. Considering most people just see her as the ‘ninja girl with cat ears’ it could have been easy to fall into the same trap as with Weiss, but the book doesn’t and it’s all the more entertaining for it.
Both volumes come with lovely colour pages of the characters at the front, as well as a foreword from RWBY character designer Ein Lee about how each girl’s design came about.
The RWBY Official Manga Anthology volumes continue to be a labour of love for the artists, as well as for the fans; if you are a fan of the series, these new book collections will offer some new insights into your favourite characters. The art and story quality continue to be hit-or-miss but overall there’s a lot of fun reading to be had with both these books.