What’s Black and White and Red…from right to left?
RWBY’s been enjoying another successful year both on and off shore, wrapping up its fifth regular season in addition to the first seasons of an aftershow and behind the scenes segment, on top of a just-announced third season of a comedy show and airing a compilation of the first three seasons on Japanese TV. However, amongst those is an underrated gem, significant in that it’s what we’re talking about right now: An official manga adaptation!
Running for fifteen chapters (condensed to twelve in the collection) between November 2015 and February 2017, the RWBY Manga was published monthly in Weekly Shonen Jump’s sister book Ultra Jump and was written and drawn by Shirow Miwa. Miwa is most known for his own manga, “Dogs: Bullets & Carnage”, and has an oddly specific skillset for this job. See, just as RWBY started life as four character specific shorts about its main cast, Miwa’s “Dogs” had four COMICS that did the same for its quadra-tagonists, which were then turned into four OVAs. So, he seemed to perfect man for the job of translating the already animated RWBY trailers into print form with his own art style.
The first two thirds of the volume cover Miwa’s remake of the trailers told in two chapters each, though with more dialogue and redesigns of the enemies fought in each story, as well as extra scenes added to expand on the world and with hindsight of the plot that had been written by its third season. For example, the White trailer, focusing on Weiss, adds flashbacks with her sister Winter (first seen in Volume 3) and brings in a completely new character for her to work off of while shedding light on her reasons for attending Beacon. The Black trailer remake gives hints at Blake’s exposure to Faunus racism (something annoyingly absent in the show itself), and Yellow gives Yang’s fight more detail and banter. The exception in the remakes is Ruby’s Red trailer, considering it was more a proof-of-concept teaser than its own story, so that’s filled in with an original plot set during Volume 1 about Ruby fighting stock bully character Cardin in a mock fight. So, if you ever wanted to see that guy get his ass beat without having to waste time on Jaune’s insecurities, you MAY like that!
The remaining third is also an original story, set between the first and second seasons about B-Team JNPR teaming up with RWBY to take on a squid-type Grimm fusing with a bunch of giant snakes to make an eight headed monstrosity, with some fun cameos from other series favorites like Penny and Roman sprinkled around the big action scenes. It’s a neat detour from the main plot that personally makes me wish they covered more self-contained stories in the show.
The nature of RWBY as an “anime” has been a topic of debate since the series started, but it’s hard to deny its international fanbase, especially in Japan. So, with that in mind, a manga was likely inevitable. But what this also brings to the table is a refreshing outside creative force getting their hands on these characters for once. I have my own list of issues with the show proper as long as my arm, not the least of which being the treatment of ostensible protagonist Ruby, but I do hold a strong affection for the show’s world and characters. Coming from another writer’s perspective gives us a chance to see some other areas of a character’s personality that aren’t as explored in the show as I’d like, such as Ruby’s fascination with weapons or Weiss’s more argumentative tendencies, and more JNPR group dynamics that I don’t think even the show ever really did even while Pyrrha was alive.
The remakes give a greater insight into things that the trailers either didn’t have time or didn’t think to explore, like Ruby’s motivation to become a Huntress, Weiss’s ambition of defining herself outside of her family name, and Blake’s decision to leave the White Fang. The original story of the latter third is, again, a fun little side story of just the main cast being themselves in an extended comedic action scene that’s just a nice read (and personally one I hope the voice cast gets around to recording one of these days). The official stance on the manga’s connection to the show’s canon is naturally ambiguous, but it has select elements that I think the more official installments could stand to use more of.
That all said, this is obviously not for many outside RWBY’s own fanbase. As mentioned, the remakes and original stuff are fun for people familiar with the characters and story, but it’s not super compelling stuff by any means. Maybe if you’re a fan of Shirow Miwa’s art style and other works, this might grab you to see more of his stuff in action, but not much beyond that.
Overall, a nice supplemental to hold fans over once the seasonal break for the show starts, but not much else. I do, however, hope it sells well enough to get other artists and authors to add their own takes to this ever-expanding world and franchise.
Review: RWBY Manga Volume 1 - 7/10