RWBY (pronounced ‘ruby’) is a stylish American action series (web) that tells the story of girls who are trained at a training institution to become ‘huntresses’ to protect humankind against ‘the Grimm’.
The character designs of RWBY’s girls are fantastic and obviously influenced by Japanese anime. The web series is produced by Rooster Teeth Productions, based in North America. The show includes some popular tropes seen in Japanese anime and manga (such as swinging a body-sized scythe) but its storyline and crisp dialogue lines are filled with American charm.
This is a unique fusion of Japanese and American animation, and it is widely supported worldwide: RWBY has reached an amazing 150 million views. In addition, Japanese dubbed Blu-ray & DVDs have already been released, along with theatrical releases here in Japan. It’s becoming more popular throughout the world.
From left to right, Gray, Miles, and Kerry
We are fortunate to have the RWBY creators, Mr. Gray Haddock (@graymartigan), Mr. Miles Luna (@TheMilesLuna) and Mr. Kerry Shawcross (@kerryshawcross) with us today who will let us discover the heart of this animation. In this interview, we’ll also uncover their steps to success and the passion towards their work. So, here we go!
* Please be aware that the interview may contain spoilers.
Written by: Yuzuru Fushimachi
Interviewed by: Koudai Kurimoto (@koudai5511)
◆The beginning of ‘RWBY’ and the highlights of ‘Volume 3’
– Thank you all for coming today. First, could you please tell our readers who you are and how you are involved in RWBY? (*1)
The RWBY “Red” Trailer was released at New York Comic Con 2012 for the very first time. It was then followed by the series of trailers named ‘White’, ’Black’, and ‘Yellow’. In July 2013, ‘RWBY Chapter 1: Ruby Rose’ was released. Warner Bros. Japan announced the launch of the series in Japan on July 2014, and ‘Volume 1’ was released in theaters on November 14, 2015.
Gray: I am the head of the animation department. In the making of ‘Volume 1’, I was in charge of editing and composing. Since ‘Volume 3’, I’ve been working as a co-director. I also play the role of Roman Torchwick. (played by Shinichiro Miki in the Japanese dub)
Miles: Along with Kerry, I’ve been with this animation since the early stages of the project. I work as a co-writer and co-director as well as a director for the other actors. In addition, I voice Jaune Arc. (played by Hiro Shimono in the Japanese dub)
Kerry: I was working on the early development with Miles and Monty, whom we sadly lost a couple of years ago(*2). I am a co-writer, and I also took on the roles of a co-director and a compositor for ‘Volume 1’ and ‘Volume 2’. In ‘Volume 3’, I was a director.
■*2 Mr. Monty Oum
The creator, director, and animator of RWBY. After creating ‘RWBY Volume 2’, Monty passed away at the age of 33 due to a severe allergic reaction. He is the one who created Haloid and Dead Fantasy. He shared his idea of RWBY to the staff after releasing ‘Red vs. Blue’ Season 8-10.
– Thank you. Now, could you please tell us the story behind the birth of RWBY?
Kerry: At the time, we were working very hard every day and night to create ‘Red vs. Blue’, which played a big part in the establishment of Rooster Teeth Productions. When I went home after working on one of those nights, Monty showed up telling me, ‘I had a dream of four girls in four different colors.’
– That definitely reminds us of RWBY, doesn’t it? So, what did you actually say to him when you heard about that?
Kerry: I said, ‘Yep, I like it, but first, go to bed’ [laugh].
– That is such an important piece of advice [laugh].
Kerry: Two weeks later, Monty suggested, ‘Let’s make an animation with this idea.’ We were like ‘Sure! Let’s do it!,’ and got pretty excited about it.
Gray: It was like, ‘We don’t know how to start, but it’s going to be fine!’ [laugh]
Miles: We showed the company founders Matt and Burnie (*3) Monty’s sequence animation where ‘Crescent Rose’ transforms its shape. They immediately liked it!
■*3 Mr. Matt Hullum and Mr. Burnie Burns
Rooster Teeth Productions emerged from the production of ‘Red vs. Blue’, a fan-made animation personally created by the founders, Mr. Matt Hullum and Mr. Burnie Burns. ‘Red vs. Blue’ was created as a Machinima (*4) series of Microsoft’s FPS Halo, and it became a great hit overseas. It first came out unlicensed, but officially became licensed later on. This led to the establishment of Rooster Teeth Productions.
Machinima generally refers to voicing over images from computer game graphics. It’s often created using the replay function of first-person shooters. Sometimes, it is generated using a game engine instead of developing it on video games (in-game images). In Japan, ‘Hunter Nisshi (A Hunter’s Log)’ based on Monster Hunter is a good example.
Kerry: Right after that, Monty began working on the RWBY ‘Red’ Trailer. As a result of that, we are here today.
– Were there any cartoons or anime that greatly influenced you in order to create RWBY?
Kerry: I’ve been influenced by a lot of works over the years, but I think I was especially influenced by the works Gurren Lagann and Fairy Tail.
Miles: There was also the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. In this cartoon, a group of people with special abilities play a significant role in their magical and mysterious world. I find this part is similar to our RWBY. In addition, I suggested that the team all watch the anime Black★Rock Shooter to check out its actions and technical effects.
– RWBY was a great hit overseas and continues to be the same in Japan…so, what do you really think about it?
Kerry: Honestly, I still can’t believe this. Almost every day over the last few years, we’ve been in touch with Warner Bros. to discuss its distribution in Japan, but I’m finally able to feel that this is happening for real after seeing its theatrical release and the reactions of fans while being in Japan.
Until now, I had this excitement in me, but it’s still at an imaginable level. However, now, I can clearly feel it and I am so thrilled.
– Currently, ‘Volume 3’ is in theaters here in Japan. What did you think of it with a Japanese voice cast on a big screen?
Miles: It was very interesting. I actually found it very amusing to discover that the Japanese cast acted differently from how we did in some scenes. Watching it on the big screen was certainly exciting as well as very entertaining. I must mention that the Japanese voice actor playing Jaune did a much better job than me [laugh].
– I would love to pass that word to Hiro Shimono [laugh].
Gray: We’d seen this animation thousands of times during the production. Although it had been a while since I watched it last, it still surprisingly made me emotional at the premiere. At that time, I was still recovering from jet lag, I felt like I’d been woken up by an amazing shocking sensation [laugh]. I truly believe that the performance of the Japanese cast was outstanding.
– It sounds like the production team is very impressed with the Japanese dub of ‘Volume 3’, which is currently showing. What are the highlights and favorites in this animation that you’d like to mention?
Gray: In ‘Volume 3’, a tournament called ‘Vytal Festival Tournament’, mentioned in both ‘Volume 1’ and ‘Volume 2’, is going to finally be held. The trainees are going to show their achievements in the training, so I would say that is one of the highlights.
We’ve always continued sending out a message to RWBY series’ fans that ‘this animation is going to grow.’ At the end of ‘Volume 3’, something is going to happen that will stretch your perception of the RWBY world. You can see such changes in ‘Volume 3’, and this is one of the crucial aspects.
Spoiler Line (The following will contain some spoilers)
Miles: There is a real powerful scene right after Penny is destroyed in ‘Volume 3’. In that scene, Ruby stands against the Grimm holding Penny’s sword. She is normally depicted as a cheerful character, but you’ll see a significant difference in this scene. I think this change makes the scene very natural somehow…it’s more realistic.
Also, the scene describes another side to Ruby. When something bad happens, she is the first one who stands up and faces it. You can see this side of Ruby very clearly here.
Kerry: My favorite part comes after that scene. It’s where Ruby is surrounded and protected by others. As soon as everyone keeps Ruby safe from the crisis she was facing, she must have felt relieved and loved. So, I think this was a really moving scene.
Gray: He is talking about the ninth episode ‘PvP’ (and the tenth ‘Battle of Beacon’) here. This is not necessarily a positive story, but it is very powerful. Every time I watch this, I get goose bumps.
The uncontrollable Cinder in this episode indicates the end of the peaceful times in ‘Volume 1’, ‘Volume 2’ and the first half of ‘Volume 3’. Up to this scene, the story flowed as if we were slowly ascending high on a roller coaster. From this point forward, we experience a dramatic descent. Kerry always had a plan for a bigger story, and this is one of the beginnings for a more dramatic turn of events.
– ‘Volume 3’ contains very compelling characters, and I find them to be Japanese outside but American inside. Is there anything specific that you had in your mind during the process of the character designs?
Miles: We didn’t see the characters as Japanese or American while creating them. We followed what we thought is the best for the story, and that may be why some people see them as American.
Kerry: To establish the characters, we had the intention to group them into stereotypes. By doing so, it is much easier to deliver the sense of ‘this character is this kind’, and we can go deeper building those characters. That’ll hopefully help our viewers understand the characters better.
Miles: For example, Yang is very outgoing and pictured as a party girl. At the same time, you can clearly tell that she has a strong maternal instinct. She briefly shows her caring side in the show. When her father is busy, she looks after Ruby in place of Ruby’s mother.
As for Jaune, he first appears to be silly and shallow and of the class-clown type, and he knows that is exactly how people see him. Slowly, he opens up about the fact that he actually doesn’t like being such a fool. Describing different sides of the characters may be contributing to deeper character development.
– In RWBY, I get the impression that there are attempts to deepen the characters not only in conversation, but also in action scenes. Was there anything specific about expressing their actions?
Kerry: I believe that the character personalities have great influence on their fighting styles. For instance, Nora loves fighting, and she is even smiling during fights.
Miles: In fact, I am now creating something like a character encyclopedia called ‘Show Bible’. In it, there is a section about the fighting styles of each character. It’s going to tell you the details of ‘how they move’, ‘how their weapons work’ and so on. All these things are what make it possible to write ‘Show Bible’. It shows how much we engage our mind to their individual characters during fighting scenes.
Gray: Here are some examples for Team ‘RWBY’. Ruby bravely stands against difficulties in combat. Weiss fights elegantly as if she is dancing. Blake makes tricky moves to baffle the enemies, whereas Yang chooses to deliver a head-on attack thrusting her own fist.
That’s how they normally face the enemies. However, there are times when they can’t just overcome their difficulties in their ordinary ways, and another highlight is to see how they react during such times. In the latter half of ‘Volume 3’, we’ll see them in that kind of troubling situation. They individually choose different styles of fighting, so it is certainly interesting.
– Yes, I definitely found that interesting. In many battle animations, it is common to see characters confront enemies using new powers or new weapons. In this case, it is sensational seeing changes in their fighting styles.
Kerry: Actually, I often compare RWBY to Harry Potter. In Harry Potter, the protagonist faces various problems as he grows, and he grows even more while he tries to overcome those problems. We have the same flow in RWBY, which is a significant similarity between them.
– The actions of individuals are amazing, of course, but the fighting scenes as a team are really impressive. Did you put extra thought on the visual effects of team attacks?
Miles: Teamwork is one of the important themes of this animation. It indicates that teamwork is vital when people from different backgrounds gather and work collaboratively, whether you like each other or not.
Kerry: This was one of our initial themes and will be from now on throughout the show.
Miles: To express great teamwork, we believe cool teamplay is effective.
– We don’t see many martial arts films these days, so it was very exciting.
◆ What’s going to happen in ‘Volume 4’? Let’s discover more about ‘RWBY’!
– Now, could we please talk about what’s happening with RWBY from here? In terms of graphics, there are significant changes in ‘Volume 4’. What is the purpose or intention of this?
Kerry: We are a startup company that relies on the Internet and we grow with our works. The changes in ‘Volume 4’ are a step towards what we were aiming to achieve at the beginning. The end of ‘Volume 3’ reflects the end of one chapter, so we thought that was good timing to create some changes.
We’ve been getting closer to our original idea, thanks to the warm support from our regular American and Japanese viewers. We really appreciate this. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all very much.
– How about the action? Are there any changes in ‘Volume 4’?
Kerry: In the first 2-3 episodes of ‘Volume 4’, we were aiming to draw different sorts of fighting scenes. Massive fights held by hunters/huntresses outside Beacon are a symbol that tells viewers that this volume will be different from the previous ones.
– With as little to no spoilers as possible, could you please tell us how ‘Volume 4’ develops and share some of the highlights with us?
Miles: One of the highlights in ‘Volume 4’ is that four stories will develop simultaneously. For the first time ever, the members of Team ‘RWBY’ are separated. This is a very tricky setting for us to create the story, but I believe it’s an interesting challenge at the same time.
Gray: Another highlight is its concept, which is ‘traveling’. This is not just about traveling physically or geographically, but also traveling mentally while staying in one spot…some characters grow in such a way.
Miles: It was always set in the Kingdom of Vale until now, but ‘Volume 4’ is set in somewhere bigger. We certainly decided to stick to this world long ago, and finally the time has come to deliver the World of Remnant to our viewers. This is definitely another aspect we’d like everyone to check out.
– For the Japanese market, there is a lineup of ‘Volume 1-3’ theatrical releases, Blu-ray and DVD sales and a manga publication. Is there anything else you’d like to try around the RWBY theme?
Miles: I’d love to see RWBY toys [laugh].
Gray: Oh, Jaune’s body pillow would be great, too [laugh]. FYI, one of our staff owns a Sun Wukong body pillow.
– A Sun Wukong’s body pillow! Nice [laugh]. All right, here is the last one. Could you please leave some messages for the Japanese fans?
Kerry: Really, really, really….thank you very much! We’re so grateful to have great supporters and we’ll do our best to keep entertaining our fans.
Miles: We are absolutely thankful. I still can’t believe that many fans in Japan are feeling so much inspiration watching RWBY. We create our animation being inspired by various works from Japan. During our stay in Japan, I learned that inspiration leads to other inspiration, and this inspiration sparks newer inspiration. We’ll keep up our creations sending out inspiration to our fans.
Gray: For those who are new to RWBY, I’d like to hear what you think of this animation. The story takes a sudden turn from now on, so now is a good time to start watching. Please check it out.
Last but not least, I would like to mention that we are most thankful to those fans who have been watching RWBY in Japan from the beginning. Those fans showed their love in cosplaying and fanart, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we are here today because of those girls and boys. In return for such love and support, we’ll continue to work hard. I hope you’ll love the upcoming RWBY.
– I certainly look forward to it, and I would love to enjoy it forever. Thank you all very much for your time today.
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RWBY is a CG animation with designs that anime fans in Japan can relate to. This series is available in English on Rooster Teeth’s YouTube Channel. You can currently purchase Japanese-dubbed /subtitled ‘Volume 1’ and Volume 2’ on Blu-ray & DVD. Volume 3 was released on Blu-ray and DVD in Japan on December 21, 2016.