What’s it about? In a world overrun with monsters known as Grimms, fighters come to Beacon Academy in order to train as Hunters and Huntresses. Four young women–enthusiastic newbie Ruby Rose, her badass older sister Yang Xiao Long, haughty heiress Weiss Schnee, and stoic member of the White Fang organization Blake Belladonna–find their separate paths drawn together at the school with the shared goal of protecting their world from the monsters that haunt the shadows.
I still fondly remember when Rooster Teeth dropped the RWBY “red” trailer in 2012, nearly a decade ago. No one had a clue what this series would become: from an outside vantage point, it looked like an action series focused on four very shippable and cosplayable young women, all mappable onto various fairy tales. “Red” hinted at a strong Red Riding Hood, “White” hinted at a Cinderella of sorts, “Yellow” was a kickass Goldilocks fighting off folks in bear heads, and “Black” potentially hinted at a spin on a female Robin Hood–at least from my perspective. (I do know that “Black” and Blake are much more inspired by Beauty and the Beast though.)
Flash forward to 2022 with RWBY: Ice Queendom, a series that’s not a reboot, not a sequel, but is actually set in the same universe in a canon-adjacent way. It’s a curious way to tackle a new addition to the sprawling RWBY universe, which includes everything from novels to the animation itself to… well, now an anime produced in Japan by SHAFT.
You know: the same SHAFT that did Puella Madoka Magi Magica, Assault Lily Bouquet, Bakemonogatari, and numerous other titles, just to give you some examples. It certainly gave me a lot of enthusiasm going into this because–oh yeah–RWBY: Ice Queendom recaps a whole lot of story across its three episode premiere (which released as one video) and… whew, let’s get into it.
The premiere function best when viewed together. At this time, they’re not split: if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. That is to say that there’s no clean break to separate them: episode 1 rolls into episode 2 which rolls into episode 3. Viewing them by stopping at the customary twenty-four minute mark results in a strange non-ending, which means you’ll need to commit a good chunk of time to getting the 411 on this premiere.
So, what happens? Short answer: a lot. Long answer: a looooooooooot. Funny answer? It kind of recaps those trailers I mentioned in a way I didn’t expect. (Or alternatively: I’ve just forgotten the opening of the series because it’s been a hot second.)
Jokes aside, episode 1, when left to stand on its own, is a table-setting episode: viewers meet four young women with unique abilities, each in curious situation of their own that ultimately leads them to Beacon Academy, a school for those who desire to become Huntsmen and Huntresses. And… that’s kind of it because let’s be real, there’s not a lot of plot: there’s just four sequences that combine in the end to jump viewers into the academy .
But of course, it doesn’t really work on its own: you need episode 2 and 3 to make sense of everything, otherwise you get left with a lot of questions and zero answers if you’re a newcomer. Heck, even by the end of the third part of the premiere, I was still left with a few questions. While this is a pretty solid adaptation of a lot of the original two-hour season one, it also got some new tidbits that complicate the world.
It’s at this point that I think I should mention that these episodes are infodumps: infodumps that assume you’re coming from the source material. Episode 1 is especially bad about this, playing on the outright assumption that you have enough background knowledge to grasp the slew of moments it dashes through.
I have to wonder how Japanese viewers of this might feel, especially since RWBY’s core fandom is focused in North America (or was initially). While I’m sure there’s a decent amount of viewers watching this with knowledge of Rooster Teeth’s work, certainly someone turned on the TV on June 24th, was like, “I’ll check this out” and felt a HUGE amount of confusion: moreso because while these are technically three episodes in one, I’d really like to reiterate that you kind of need to watch them all.
If you’re like me and had an RWBY phase, then most of this is fairly familiar: you’ll piece things together, which is helpful because there’s not a lot of explanation for newcomers. However, if you’re not, get ready to hang on because a lot of names are going to get tossed your way without a lick of context (initially) for the wide, wide world of Remnant.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is kind of a one-to-one adaptation at points. Not in a bad way, but in a kind of jarring way. I genuinely didn’t know it would adhere to the first volume so closely; but y’all, it really does expect viewers to come in having done their homework first, at the very minimum.
In terms of animation, holy dust, RWBY: Ice Queendom‘s very pretty: I had an inkling it would be, but it’s like… just really nice to look at. All the 3D models of RWBY’s main series come alive thanks to SHAFT’s animation, especially during the action sequences. That delicious sakuga kicks in and everything is as fluid as can be, resulting in really satisfying payoff almost every time.
The same can be said of the soundtrack, which I was a big fan of: it evokes a lot of what I loved musically about RWBY’s source material, even if we don’t have Casey Lee Williams on the soundtrack. It’s satisfying, and while the music mostly hides in the background, when things pop off it really lets loose, resulting in a pretty satisfying soundtrack that I’d love to have a copy of when it inevitably comes out.
Point is, there’s a lot that’s satisfying about RWBY’s structure, and a lot that really invokes the source material. I respect that, especially since this is and isn’t the same story. In fact, after watching all three episodes, I’d say that “canon adjacent” really is the best term as episode 2 starts to diverge from volume 1 and by episode 3, we’re in a very different story.
There’s something enjoyable about seeing RWBY reach a new peak of success. It feels like something that Monty Oum would most likely be proud of, though I cannot speak for the departed as he’s a creator to me, not someone I’ve ever known personally. Still, given the amount of passion poured into RWBY’s entire world, I like to think that all of Rooster Teeth is really thrilled that this series is getting its time in the limelight.
Overall, I think this is a very your mileage may vary: either you’re going to be here for another go around with RWBY, or you’re not. If you’re a fan –whether presently or in the past– you’ll probably kick it with this series just to see how it deals with RWBY’s sprawling cast of characters and just to witness where the story goes. If you’re new to the franchise as a whole, this might be a lot to take in, and may be something you catch up on since it’s definitely leaning towards its own unique story. This is definitely a risky way to approach things, but given that this is a companion series versus an addition or a sequel, I do think it’s kind of the only way this story could have been executed to draw in the most viewers possible.
Also, shout-out to a genuinely non-binary character who like… is really why I’m here. I didn’t touch on them too much because this really is an examination of episode 1 and the premiere overall, but y’all? My non-binary monarch is the best addition to this series.
In the end, it looks like it’s 2012 and I’m back on my bullshit, AniFam: RWBY: Queendom reawakened something in me, and honestly… I’m just kind of thirsty for a bit of nostalgia and curious to see where this “not a sequel, not a reboot” reimagining will go. Between the banging fighting songs, the pretty animation, and my undying love for the titular RWBY girls, I’m so here for this. Call me optimistic, but I hope that come the end of this summer season, this’ll be something I’ve stuck with. Time will tell, but for now? I’m definitely a RWBY fan.
Editor’s Note: Series composer Ubukata Tow was arrested on (later dropped) charges of domestic violence in 2015. RWBY voice actor Arryn Zechs expressed discomfort with Ubukata’s involvement as a domestic abuse survivor; the issue was reportedly resolved internally, with Zechs deciding to donate her payment for the series to charity.