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Saturday, October 1, 2016

RWBY: BEACON, VOLUMES 1-3 (STEELBOOK) -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

The creative team at Rooster Teeth and Cinedigm (the creators of RED VS. BLUE) have really outdone themselves with the stunningly beautiful and exciting American anime epic RWBY: BEACON, VOLUMES 1-3, the first major story arc in the ongoing series.  In fact, watching it may have gotten me so spoiled that from now on, few other examples of this k‌ind of animated adventure will live up to its level of wonderfulness. 

If that sounds like an exaggeration, it's because I tend to do that when I'm having a fantastic time.  I reviewed the third volume of this saga on its own earlier this year (which you can read HERE), and even without the first two as backstory it wasn't long before I was caught up in the sweeping tale of a futuristic world called "Remnant" (whose now-peaceful countries are the remains of a cataclysmic world war) in which super-powered teens train at academies to become huntsmen and huntresses who protect the world from evil.

This evil consists mainly of roving packs of huge, vicious animal-monsters known as Grimms.  However, human and semi-human villains plot against the forces of good as well, some of them even posing as students and infiltrating Beacon academy where our favorite superheroes-in-training strive to take their places as guardians of the world.

The main team of wannabe huntresses is known as RWBY (pronounced "ruby") whose color-coded members consist of the childlike, excitable Ruby Rose (red), ice-queen heiress Weiss Schnee (white), mysterious, moody Blake Belladonna (black), and Ruby's outgoing older sister Yang Xiao Long (yellow). Like everyone else at Beacon, each has her own individual super-power and preferred weaponry.  

At first they seem to be the usual girly-girls we find in such series as "K-On"--they're funny and sometimes a little ditzy in addition to being great athletes and warriors, and not above the occasional bout of slapstick comedy--but as the events of the story progress they and their classmates reveal many levels to their characters as the various interpersonal conflicts become progressively deep and emotionally resonant, and often carry over onto the field of battle. 

The sharply-written script is filled with snappy, natural-sounding dialogue that avoids being dumb or stilted. What's more, the large cast is loaded with appealing characters (the voice acting is superb), each of whom is fascinating in his or her own way.

Since this is a story about teens discovering themselves and each other, even the "cooler" and more seemingly invincible students get to reveal their sensitive, vulnerable sides as well as a few insecurities that are helped along by the understanding and empathy of their peers. 

Naturally, all of this teamwork, friendship, and acceptance contributes to a general feelgood ambience that's just pure fun.  There's even an impromptu group dance during the charming ballroom dance sequence that rivals the one in DEAD KIDS for pure uninhibited joy.

In sharp contrast, it's the somber, fiercely dramatic and often action-packed scenes where RWBY really goes into overdrive.  Consistently dazzling displays of imaginative fight choreography, brilliant direction, an excellent musical score, and eye-pleasing design shatter monotony and keep each new battle as fresh, thrilling, and unpredictable as the last.  The gorgeous candy-coated visuals have the look of vibrant cel art that's been brought to life with finely-rendered computer animation and motion-capture. 

Battle sequences come at the viewer at a breakneck pace that's edited rapid-fire but still easy to follow.  The battle between the young heroes and two terrible Grimms--a giant vulture and a monster scorpion--within the ruins of an ancient temple during a training mission is one of the most breathtaking and spectacular displays of animation of ANY kind that I've ever seen. 

Yang's deflating remark at the end ("Well...that was a thing") is just the sort of dead-on attitude of serious fun that permeates this entire collection.   One incredible action sequence follows another, including a furious competition between the different training academies which then becomes a spectacular and sustained battle royale when the villains, led by ultra-bad-girl Cinder and juvenile-delinquent-deluxe Torchwick, launch their final attack on Beacon. 

For me, a giddy feeling of "this is gonna be good!" preceeds each fight, which never disappoints. It's the kind of all-out wonderful genre goodness that makes me glad I became a nerd in the first place.  If I were still a smoker I'd have had to light up when it was over.

As I said in my review of volume three: "I don't often see a story escalate from colorful action-filled fun to catastrophic disaster epic the way RWBY: VOLUME 3 effortlessly does...this is great anime entertainment that left me wanting more."

The 3-disc Blu-ray set from Rooster Teeth and Cinedigm is packaged in a cool limited-edition steelbook case with plastic slipcover.  Total feature running time is 7 hours and 19 minutes.  There are no subtitles for disc one, but discs two and three contain English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. Each disc is generously endowed with commentary tracks, informative behind-the-scenes featurettes, character profiles and other backstory info, trailers, and other goodies.

While some hardcore anime fans tend to be more blase' about it (according to various forum posts), this is some of the best anime I've ever seen.  Heck, it's one of the best things of ANY kind I've ever seen.  Watching it gives me the same feeling of exploring something new and amazing that I had the first time I ever saw AKIRA.  And while that may only be my immediate excitement over it talking, it sorta tells you just how exciting it is.  RWBY: BEACON, VOLUMES 1-3 is spectacular in a way that no other medium could express, and watching it is pure, exhilarating entertainment.

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