RWBY Beacon Steelbook [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Rooster Teeth / Cinedigm
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th October 2016).
The Film

**** Although this review covers the steelbook release featuring volumes one through three of the series, in-depth coverage is restricted to the first season due to time considerations. ***

The legacy of self-taught web animator Monty Oum who passed away last year at age thirty-three due to an allergic reaction during a medical procedure, RWBY (pronounced "Ruby") refreshingly focuses on the values of friendship and teamwork without sexualizing and fetishizing its glamorous-looking ass-kicking females. Set in the world of Remnant, inhabited by humans, a hybrid cat/human race known as Faunus, and a diverse race of monsters known as Grimm. The heroes of RWBY are hunters and huntresses whose weapons are an extension of their aura (which itself can be harnessed as a protective barrier). The granddaughter of a Dust (a source of energy useful in everything from weaponry to spells) merchant, young Ruby Rose (voiced by Lindsay Jones) catches the eye of Beacon Academy's headmaster Professor Ozpin (voiced by Last Girl Standing's Shannon McCormick) and teacher Glynda Goodwitch (voiced by Red vs. Blue's Kathleen Zuelch) when she nearly gets killed foiling a Dust robbery by Roman Torchwick (voiced by series editor Gray G. Haddock) and finds soon finds herself promoted early and joining vivacious older sister Yang Xiao Long (voiced by Barbara Dunkelman) as a first year student at Beacon. Outgoing and popular, Yang nevertheless cares for her younger sister and has fruitlessly encouraged her to branch out and make friends, but Ruby has yet to learn the value of being on a team. Her first meeting with haughty Dust heiress classmate Weiss Schnee (voiced by Kara Eberle) is disastrous, but Ruby seems to find a kindred spirit in bookish loner Blake Belladonna (voiced by Arryn Zech) who has issues with the Schnee company's exploitation of labor and business practices, as well as a possible love interest in insecure and awkward legacy recruit Juane Arc (voiced by series co-writer/co-director Miles Luna). The first season follows the recruits through their first major training operation, pairing up and fighting monsters on an obstacle course where to fail is to die, during which Ruby learns the value of teamwork and finds herself appointed the leader of Team Ruby composed of Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang) and Juane finds his voice as the leader of Team Juniper, composed of Juane, the confident and nurturing Pyrrha Nikos (voiced by Jen Brown) who helped Juane unleash his aura impossibly perky but brave Nora Valkyrie (voiced by Samantha Ireland), and Nora's long-suffering childhood friend Lie Ren (voiced by creator Monty Oum). The last third of the first series tests the unity of the two teams as a series of Dust heists blamed on the Faunus militant group White Fang has Blake reeling from Weiss' intolerant comments and revealing herself as a Faunus and a former member of White Fang who left when its methods turned from protest to terrorism. Convinced that someone else must be behind the Dust robberies, Blake teams up with a cocky and charismatic rogue Faunus named Sun Wukong (voiced by Michael Jones) to investigate while Ruby must convince her team that Blake deserves the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, Team Juniper is threatened when Juane finds himself bullied by Team Cardinal's arrogant leader Cardin (voiced by Adam Ellis) who is out for revenge after being shown up by Pyrrha.
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Video

Originally produced for web-viewing, the Blu-ray discs are encoded as 1080i60 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1. The imagery is sharp, colorful, and exhibits depth during action (from battles to the characters just showing off their moves) and during camera movements over environments but tends to recede into a somewhat flattish appearance during expository scenes and establishing shots (in which background characters are moving flat silhouettes even when they are in the same light as the main characters).
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Audio

Despite the otherwise high technical specifications of the disc, the audio is encoded as lossy Dolby Digital 5.1. It is not always an immersive experience, but there are plenty of directional effects, some atmospherics in the surrounds, and the music is always full-bodied (each season has a different theme song). Volume 2 and Volume 3 add English SDH subtitles to the episodes while the audio is still Dolby Digital.
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Extras

Extras start off with two audio commentary tracks. The first features directors Monty Oum, Kerry Shawcross, and Miles Luna and the second with voice performers Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkelman, Kara Eberle, and Arryn Zech. Both tracks are heavy on banter but convey the sense of collaboration (which includes series crew contributing vocal performances and the voice performers having input into the look and characterization of their roles), provides some context for the character designs and names (it is evident that the four leads are color coded, but "Jaune Arc" is not a male "Joan of Arc" so much as "jaundiced"). The crew also point out a number of effects and other artistic touches that were not storyboarded but added just before the final rendering step. The disc is authored in such a fashion as to allow the series to be viewed as a "movie" (112:50) with one set of opening and closing credits or each episode successively (126:24); as such, there is no commentary over the individual episode opening and closing credits. The behind the scenes (7:02) segment introduces Oum, Shawcross, and Luna, covers Oum's initial concept for the series and development in concert with various Rooster Teeth artists. It also introduces some of the voice artists and looks at the steps of creation from drawing and rendering to editing. Next up are the Red Trailer (3:29), White Trailer (3:47), Black Trailer (5:12), and Yellow Trailer (5:47) that were used to promote the series on the web and immediately drew reactions from Rooster Teeth studio fans who we learn in the Fan Art featurette (4:41) started creating their own artwork pieces before the series started airing. The RWBY Cosplay (4:41) is self-explanatory, showing off some of the convention fans dressed as their favorite characters, while the Chapter 1 Storyboards (11:08) is a picture-in-picture look at the storyboard and the final imagery.
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Extras for Volume 2 are a bit more expansive with four audio commentary tracks: (1) directors Monty Oum, Kerry Shawcross, Miles Luna, and Gray Haddock, (2) voice performers Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkelman, Kara Eberle, and Arryn Zech, (3) animators Joe MacDonald, Shane Newville, and Monty Oum, and (4) crew David Fabelo, Patrick Rodriguez, Jeffrey Yohn, and Gray Haddock. Fan Art (10:27),RTX Panel (38:12), Season 2 Trailer (12:26), and Storyboards (13:39). The four Production Diaries (52:25) focus on different aspects of the design and execution of the series while the four World of Remnant (9:10) provide some much-needed background on the topics of "Dust", the "Kingdoms" that make up Remnant, the creatures of "Grimm", and the power of "Aura" that would have been welcome on the first disc. Extras for Volume 3 scale the commentaries to two with: (1) directors Monty Oum, Kerry Shawcross, Miles Luna, Gray Haddock, and Koen Wooten and (2) voice performers Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkelman, Kara Eberle, Samantha Ireland, and Miles Luna on episodes 1-6, and Lindsay Jones, Barbara Dunkelman, Jen Brown, Shannon McCormick, and Gray Haddock on episodes 7-12. "3,2,1, Begin!" (13:52) and "No Heroes in the End" (13:48) are overview pieces on the series. Also included are "CRWBY Photos" (1:02), "RWBY Volume 3 Trailer" (1:46), and more helpful "World of Remnant" featurettes (14:24) focusing on the "Vytal Festival Tournament", "Huntsmen", "CCT System", "Four Maidens" (once again featurettes that would have been welcome on the first disc).

Overall

The legacy of self-taught web animator Monty Oum who passed away last year at age thirty-three due to an allergic reaction during a medical procedure, RWBY refreshingly focuses on the values of friendship and teamwork without sexualizing and fetishizing its glamorous-looking ass-kicking females.

 


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