RWBY has returned for its eighth volume in its long and epic saga. The tensions are at an all-time high as Salem and her forces have emerged on the kingdom of Atlas ready for war. With the general of Atlas, James Ironwood, branding team RWBY as fugitives, our heroes now have to figure out unconventional ways to save the people of Atlas and Mantle from impending doom. I was excited for this volume, considering that the events of the volume would take place over the span of two days. Not only did Volume 8 live up to the hype, but it is also the best volume of the show so far, elevating RWBY to heights never before seen. Spoilers for the eighth volume of RWBY ahead.
After the events of Volume 7, the situation in Atlas and Mantle was dire. Salem and her minions arrived on a Grimm whale that released numerous amounts of Grimm onto the land, forcing Mantle to fend for themselves after Atlas abandoned them since General Ironwood cares solely about the survival of Atlas. Due to unforeseen events, Penny is now the Winter Maiden. With her allied with Team RWBY, whom Ironwood cast out of Atlas after they betrayed him, they set out to defend Mantle and figure out how to undo Salem and her evil schemes.
This volume is tremendous in so many ways. The animation quality, the writing of the villains, Winter Schnee’s growth and the continued development of Ren and Nora’s relationship make this the best volume in the show.
Rooster Teeth’s animation has come a long way since the start of RWBY. The art style has evolved from blank backgrounds to scenic and immersive atmospheres that make the viewer feel as if they are in Remnant. The level of detail displayed in Mantle’s design is extraordinary, allowing us to see how the war has devastated the city and how desperate the situation is. The animation and attention to detail alone raise the stakes of each scene, especially in the first couple episodes where Team RWBY and Happy Huntresses were protecting Mantle from incoming Grimm attacks.
The fight scenes continue to be extraordinary, evolving from the fights seen in the two previous volumes. This is in stark contrast to the paused backgrounds during the final few fights of Volume 5. What were once bland fights are now full-blown spectacles such as the battle between Team RWBY and Cinder in the void as the citizens were evacuating to Vacuo. The action was always clear, making it easy to understand the environment around the fight.
The character expressions were top-notch, allowing the visual storytelling to excel due to the high-quality animation. Two examples of this are the way Rwby’s face is animated to show her questioning her morality and the way Harriet’s face grimaced during her conversation with Vine in episode 14. Ruby has started to question if what she is doing is right and if she and her team can do anything to help anyone. The frustration and sorrow on her face every time she vents to her friends is powerful, allowing me to feel sympathy and a deeper connection with her than we have ever had over the course of the show. Similarly, displaying Harriet’s grief over losing Clover was emotional, allowing the audience to feel for a character we loathed for the rest of the volume. The animation allowed us to see how much pain she was truly in, making Clover’s death in Volume 7 even more impactful.
Another strong aspect of this season was how well they wrote the villains, especially Hazel and Cinder. In Volume 5, Hazel was underwritten as a seemingly cool-and-collected henchman-turned-madman to get revenge on Ozpin, who is still within Oscar’s body. The motive made little sense as Salem, who Hazel works for, indirectly killed his sister, yet he blamed Ozpin, who simply allowed her to carry out her choice of being a huntress. The confrontation between Hazel and Oscar was unsatisfying in Volume 5.
Luckily, Volume 8 fixed this problem, making Hazel a better character. Hazel reveals that he works for Salem because he could not kill her no matter how hard he tried and realized working for her was the best method going forward. However, he starts to have a change of heart after Oscar plays into his grief of the loss of Gretchen, his sister. Hazel, by watching Oscar release Jinn, the spirit of knowledge within the lamp, learns that Oscar is trustworthy. He helps him and his friends (Ren, Jaune and Yang who had come to rescue Oscar) escape from Salem’s lair. In desperation, he creates a large explosion, destroying Salem temporarily and distracting her forces enough to allow the group to escape. His growth as a character in Volume 8 was satisfying, unlike the initial reveal in Volume 5, making the plot of Volume 8 even more intriguing.
Like Hazel, Cinder receives major development this season, transforming her from one of the show’s weakest villains to potentially one of its best. Before Volume 8, the audience did not know why Cinder was hell-bent on being evil. On top of this, she was completely one-dimensional and her actions seemed unreasonable at times. This season, we learn through flashbacks that she was abused as a servant before standing up and killing her oppressors, along with a huntsman who was attempting to help her. After all her previous failures, she learns to “trust and work with others” to get what she wants instead of just using them after a painful conversation withy Doctor Watts. Even though she backstabs Watts and Neopolitan in the end, her humility and intelligence demonstrated throughout this volume makes her a much more threatening villain and well-rounded character.
Much like the villains, several of the heroes have astounding arcs during this volume. Winter Schnee becomes one of my favorite characters in this volume. After being militaristic and under Ironwood’s control, she stands up to him when she realizes he is going too far to protect Atlas when he states that he is willing to destroy Mantle. This is first displayed when she stops Ironwood from murdering Marrow after he stands up to Ironwood’s decision to bomb Mantle. Due to her altruistic actions and relationship with Penny, Winter becomes the Winter Maiden after Penny sacrifices herself to pass the responsibility on to her. Witnessing Winter become the Winter Maiden is incredible, allowing her to become a leader in many ways and grow from the shell she was previously hiding within. I cannot wait to see more of her in Volume 9.
My favorite aspect of this season is the progression of Ren and Nora’s relationship. They split up at the beginning of the season due to the moral conflicts the two now face after the events of Volume 7. Nora goes with Ruby to help launch Amity Tower and warn the rest of Remnant about Salem, while Ren goes with Yang to help protect the citizens of Mantle as telling the world about Salem would only spread fear. After a heroic moment, Nora gets into a serious accident where she absorbs too much electricity, causing her to fall into a coma. When Ren and Nora reunite at the Schnee mansion, they have a heart-to-heart, leading to their conversion in episode 11, “Risk,” which is my favorite moment in the entire show.
Nora explains to Ren, “we have always been Ren and Nora, but I don’t know who Nora is,” as Ren had been spending time to figure himself out over the last two volumes while Nora has always been reliant on him. Ren agrees and says, “boop” to her, which is how Nora had expressed her love for him throughout the earlier volumes of RWBY. This line is powerful because the two had been so dependent on one another and need to grow as individuals before they can truly be the best partners they can be. With Ren having already figured out who he is apart from Nora, it is Nora’s turn to figure out who she is apart from him. A person’s identity should not be based solely on another person; rather a relationship is two people who know who they are sharing their lives with. I can’t applaud the writing by Kiersi Burkhart, Miles Luna and Eddy Rivas enough.
My small issue with this Volume is an issue RWBY has struggled with since volume 4: that Team RWBY are some of the least interesting characters in this volume despite being the protagonists. Blake has little to nothing to do in this volume and the other three characters, while having their great moments, aren’t as interesting and some of the conflicts feel forced. While Ruby and Yang’s argument about what to do after the end of Volume 7 is understandable with Ruby wanting to warn Remnant and Yang wanting to protect Mantle, the conflict feels forced and their reunion later on did not impact me as too much was happening alongside it, leaving no real resolution to the conflict. I hope that with our characters stranded in an unknown dimension to begin Volume 9 that we can see this team grow more like they did in Volume 6.
The voice cast for the show is incredibly loaded. The three that stood out most this volume are Samantha Ireland as Nora, Aaron Dismuke as Oscar and Jessica Nigri as Cinder. Ireland gives emotional depth to a usually light-hearted character with her performance as Nora and her delivery during the conversation with Ren brought me to tears. Dismuke is excellent, portraying a character wishing to escape the inevitability of merging with Ozpi, while trying to convince Hazel to seek vengeance on Salem by showing him the truth. The amount of layers Oscar has give Dismuke a large range of emotion to portray and I can’t wait to see more of him in Volume 9. Nigri brings the power and cunning to Cinder that we had always hoped to see, but had never gotten before, making her finally feel like a threatening villain. Lindsay Jones as Ruby, Neath Oum as Ren, Elizabeth Maxwell as Winter and Jason Rose as Ironwood are all fantastic as well.
Overall, Volume 8 of RWBY was a welcome change in story with its best moments reaching the peak of quality in television. I loved the writing for this season, especially how it developed characters such as Nora, Cinder and Winter. I cannot wait for the ninth volume as we head to Vacuo, a completely new location than what has been seen so far in RWBY.