RWBY: Volume 4 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Flatiron Films / Cinedigm
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd June 2017).
The Film

Created by the late Monty Oum (who passed away in 2015 at age thirty-three due to an allergic reaction during a surgical procedure), the web series RWBY continues in its fourth volume in the aftermath of the fall of the kingdom of Vale after an attack on the Beacon Academy as the quartet of hunters and huntresses formed from the remnants of teams Ruby (RWBY) and Juniper (JNPR), who having other things to do than argue over whether they are now team JNRR ("Junior") or RNJR ("Ranger") consisting of young RWBY leader Ruby Rose (voiced by Lindsay Jones), JNPR leader/strategist Juane Arc (voiced by series co-writer/co-director Miles Luna), perky but brave Nora Valkyrie (voiced by Samantha Ireland), and her long-suffering childhood friend Lie Ren (voiced by Oum in the first three volumes and by his brother Neath Oum) are making their way on foot to the kingdom of Mistral, battling monsters on the way as they stop through villages on the fringe. Meanwhile, former RWBY member Weiss Schnee (voiced by Kara Eberle) heiress to the Schnee Dust Company ("dust" being the key component of magic for hunters, huntresses, and various sorcerers) whose chief export has been embargoed in the aftermath of the attack to prevent other kingdoms or parties from waging war has returned home and kept under watch of her father Jacques (voiced by Jason Douglas) who would rather she be more ladylike and use her more refined talents for the benefit of the family's image for the shareholders. When she makes a scene at a benefit concert in disgust at those who seem to have no regard for the people killed at Beacon and Vale, Jacques disinherits her and makes her spoiled younger brother Whitley (voiced by Howard Wang) his new heir, keeping her under lock and key. Teammate Blake Belladonna (voiced by Arryn Zech), a member of the cat-like Faunas species and former White Fang revolutionary, has also returned home accompanied by fellow Faunas Sun (voiced by Michael Jones) to the remote island afforded to the Faunas in place of the equal rights they have demanded of the humans to find that her father Ghira (voiced by Kent Williams) ignorant of White Fang's involvement in the attack on Vale. Although the faction's representatives claim that the act was carried out by an extremist splinter cell lead by Adam Taurus (voiced by Garrett Hunter), Blake and Sun remain suspicious of them, driving a wedge between father and daughter. Ruby's older sister Yang (voiced by Barbara Dunkelman) lost an arm in the attack and has been living withdrawn at home in the aftermath under the care of her father Taiyang (voiced by Burnie Burns). Unbeknownst to them, Yang's and Ruby's estranged mother Raven (voiced by http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0586003/) and uncle Qrow (voiced by Vic Mignogna) are separately searching for the "Spring Maiden" to help them fight Tauras' real boss, the goddess Salem (voiced by Jen Taylor) who ordered the attack on Vale in search of an ancient relic. Salem is helping Cinder Fall (voiced by Jessica Nigri) who lost an eye to Ruby in the Beacon attack to harness her newfound powers and has sent psychotic Faunas Tyrian (voiced by Josh Grelle) to capture Ruby for revenge, but her formidable fighting skills conceal a further destiny yet to be revealed to her. Team RWBY's and JNPR's mentor Professor Ozpin (voiced by Shannon McCormick) is dead, but he may still be able to offer them guidance if only he can convince young farmer Oscar (voiced by Aaron Dismuke) that the voice in his head is not a psychotic delusion and that he actually has a destiny beyond the farm that is more than a fantasy. Although a twelve episode web series, the fourth volume of RWBY on Blu-ray and DVD editions provides the option to watch it as a "feature" since the episodes are more like chapters very little in the way of "conflict of the week" structuring. New viewers are definitely recommended to catch up with the earlier volumes easily available via producer Rooster Teeth's YouTube channel or a steelbook of volumes one through three to get a better sense of character and the extensive worldbuilding (some of which this viewer even found necessary to consult the contextual Blu-ray extras to clarify). With the main members of team RWBY scattered and dealing with their own personal conflicts we also see Juane mourning the loss of teammate Pyrrha Nikos (voiced by Jen Brown, here in a video recording played on a loop on a very iPhone-looking device belonging to Juane) whose confidence and nurturing instilled his own belief in his still-developing abilities the first act comprises an almost laborious ninety minutes of setup from the roughly three hour plus total before the nature of volume four's central conflict is clarified by way of some around the campfire exposition; because of this, volume four may be best watched on an episode-by-episode basis rather than as the feature option unlike the previous story arcs. A certain necessary dramatic dreariness also does not help things, with the bits of humor this time around falling flat, but those more invested in the series may still find this volume more compelling than this reviewer.
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Video

Whereas the previous Blu-ray seasons were encoded as 1080i60, season 4 is presented on Blu-ray as 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 (the DVD side is also progressive). The color scheme is deliberately dialed down in many scenes so that the colors associated with the hunters (particularly Ruby's red) really pop when they appear on screen, giving a sense of depth to the animated image (more so than the shadings and perspective lines of the scenery).
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Audio

Audio on both discs is lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 but it gets the job done, and probably is a step up from web versions since they are in stereo on the company's YouTube channel (presumably they may be available in 5.1 on some other streaming services), with music, sound effects, and atmosphere given a bit more depth but full use of the surrounds is often saved for action set-pieces. Optional English SDH subtitles were helpful with setting and character names (i.e. the spelling of "Qrow" which fitting sounds like crow since the character has one as his familiar).
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Extras

Extras include a pair of audio commentaries: one with directors Gray Haddock, Miles Luna, and Kerry Shawcross that is satisfyingly focused on the technical aspects rather than the muddled storytelling. They discuss the new animation techniques, contributions of the new sound designer, and point out the "fuck you shots" (complete setups that frustrating from every step of drawing to rendering because of the scope of the sets or the simultaneous movement of camera and characters) per episode. Exclusive to the Blu-ray side is a second crew commentary featuring lead animator Joel Mann , visual effects artist Quentin Holtz, compositor Brian Arndt, and sound designer Chris Kokkinos which is also technically-oriented but also covers the overlapping collaboration between departments as well as the research that goes into designing various visual and aural elements. Both discs feature the "World of Remnant" (29:16) segments which are expanded in terminology and length over the segments included on the volume 3 Blu-ray. Both discs also share the short "CRWBY Photos" (0:51), but exclusive to the Blu-ray side are "A Grimm Inroduction" (7:56) which sheds more light on the creatures of Grimm as well as a behind the scenes video titled "RWBY Production Diary" (9:03).
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Overall

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