In a world where monsters known as Grimm walk the planet and terrorise civilians, a hunter or huntress is a dangerous job to aspire to, but ever since she was little, Ruby has had a dream of becoming just that. Due to her exceptional battle skills, she skips a few school years and is able to join Beacon Academy, an elite school where trainees learn to become the greatest hunters and huntresses in the world. Ruby hopes to join the school with little fanfare, just keep her head down and learn the ropes. But with the heiress Weiss Schnee, the distant Blake Belladonna and her larger-than-life older sister Yang Xiao Long – it’ll be anything but!
Let’s clear up some confusion you may be having before we dive into this volume. There are technically three different manga adaptations for the web-original series RWBY. One is a four-part anthology of centred around the main cast (which I reviewed three out of four books here), there’s a one-off volume released back in 2018 which is a collection of stories set around Volumes 1 and 2 of the original show, and then there’s this – marketed as ‘The OFFICIAL manga’ – which tells the story from the very beginning, with the aim to be faithful to the show rather than spawn new stories from the original material.
Volume 1 of the official manga covers the first eight volumes of the web series; despite the episodes themselves being quite short (ranging from 4 to 14 minutes) there are necessary adjustments and cuts to the story here and there to help fit narratively into a new format. But the good news is that most, if not all the important plot beats are all here. We’re introduced to Roman Torchwick from the beginning who’s interrupted by Ruby during a heist, Ruby meets all the main characters from the show, including Jaune, Ozpin and so on, and we see all the vital battles during the opening ceremony that helps build the teams that we follow to this date in the original show.
The main changes to the story, however, are centered on our heroine, Ruby, both via the narrative and her personality. The original web series did jump from viewpoint to viewpoint of the other characters, so we got to know (for example) Nora and Ren before Ruby was officially introduced to them. In this manga however, it’s exclusively Ruby’s story, so we don’t get an in-depth look into the personalities of anyone outside of her and her main team mates, Blake, Weiss and Yang. This has the unfortunate effect of making the introduction of the others rather underwhelming in comparison; using the Nora and Ren example once again, from the manga exclusively, you get no sense of Ren’s stoic nature or Nora’s larger-than-life personality. Speaking of personalities, Ruby herself has had a tweak. In the original series she’s very perky, positive, not afraid of confrontation but also a little naïve. Here, however, she’s much more sombre, introspective and barely speaking to others if she can avoid it. It’s an interesting change; whether we’ll see a long-term effect, reason or consequence of such a change remains to be seen.
However, lack of comedic tone from our heroine is also carried over to the vibe of the story, making it a more fantasy adventure affair, rather than the original’s comedic action tone. Which means that Nora’s quick-firing speech and Ren’s calmer persona don’t get the chuckle they need to help the reader engage with the characters. Weiss’ icy personality clashing with Ruby’s nature is toned down so now Weiss is more on-board with Ruby’s plans earlier on in the story – negating the character development she’s due to get later on. Even when the series does try for some comedy, it falls flat, such as Jaune’s being sick in his introduction which is done off-screen and yet Ruby’s dialogue when she first meets Jaune is still kept in, so that’s a punchline with no set-up. Considering how the later volumes get more serious and darker in nature, you can see what the manga is trying to accomplish by making the tone more consistent, but it could be argued that the comedic tone not only makes the darker themes later on hit the audience more devastatingly, but it also help make this (admittedly) not-unique set-up stand out more, because it’s the main cast and their unique natures that made us want to stay, not the magic/monster-based world that has been seen many times before.
But what about the combat? The unique choreograph that put the series creator, Monty Oum, on the map in the first place? Obviously, being a book, it’s impossible to replicate his exceptional style within a few panels. They certainly try and make the battles feel epic, with lots of close-ups of the blades hitting the enemy, and full panels showing off the massive size of the monsters they have to face, but it doesn’t do anything that makes the series’ unique combat style translate, or even attempt to make its own style so that it can pay homage to it in some way. It’s a shame overall.
The art style itself, however, is a plus. I can’t find any other credits to Bunta Kinami’s name, but their style is already 100% better than anything done in the anthologies. Their style is not only consistent but is also able to compensate for the limited animation that RWBY had at the start, so there’s no blacked-out NPCs in the background, the Beacon Academy building is given a grand style to match its reputation, and Monty Oum’s original character designs shine here, as each character is very distinctive from the start.
The official manga adaptation of RWBY is an interesting altered take on the beloved series, but the changes fail to convey what made the original show fun to watch in the first place. This book isn’t even a more accessible version of the story, as the original series (at least the first six series) can be watched entirely free on Rooster Teeth’s YouTube. The changes made here may pay off in the long run, but right now it’s for collectors and/or hardcore RWBY fans only.
You can read the opening 3 chapters for free on VIZ Media’s website now.